Sweetpea, by C.J. Skuse

Seven stars

After having written a number of Young Adult novels, C.J. Skuse turns to her darker side in penning this piece, rich in angst and homicidal actions. Rhiannon Lewis hates her life and most of those who cross her path. Using a series of diary entries, she explores this hatred by tipping her hand to the reader. Many of her entries begin with a list of those she despises the most and why they rub her the wrong way. Be it people from the news, those at her place of employment, or people with whom she must interact in public, Rhiannon cannot let things flow off her back. As the narrative progresses, the reader learns that Rhiannon was once famous for being the sole survivor in a horrific attack on a daycare facility, though she suffered significant injuries. These injuries seem to have numbed her ability to truly care for others, while also helping to foster a sense of vigilante behaviour, which she uses to restore balance in the world. Rhiannon has many secrets, but none darker than the need to punish those who have wronged the innocent and to harm people who do not serve a useful purpose in her day to day life. The narrative is full of these struggles and the list of personal enemies that Rhiannon finds troublesome seems to grow as time passes. That being said, a personal event turns everything on its head and forces Rhiannon to reassess her life and the choices she’s made; a new feeling for this seemingly cold and emotionless woman. Whatever the struggle, Rhiannon Lewis will not be the same by the end, though no one can truly tell how she’ll turn out. Skuse offers a very dark and demented path through this novel, sure to interest those who enjoy personal struggle and protagonists with deep and homicidal secrets.

I chose this book on the recommendation of a friend, who knows how much I enjoy a twisted tale. I was not entirely sure what to expect, but did hope for some psychological thriller that would keep me up well into the night. Instead, I pushed through this personal journal of a twenty-something woman who has a hit list a mile long and many deep secrets she wants to keep from others. Rhiannon is quite the repulsive character, particularly because of her attitude towards the outside world. As she mentions throughout the narrative, she has a ‘me’ side and a public persona to uphold, a difficult act to support through troubling times. However, her Dexter-like duality might serve to better underscore her struggles on a daily basis. The reader cannot help but feel a ray of sympathy for her, though surely dislikes her ongoing attacks on anyone who is not perfect. With a cast of varied secondary characters, Skuse is able to prop up her novel with a vast array of fodder to fuel Rhiannon’s fire, though no one can be sure when things will take a significant turn. The story itself is decent, though there are surely segments that drag and left me wondering how long it would take to push through. This is definitely not a fast-paced piece, nor is it something with mysterious crumbs left throughout the narrative. The reader must dedicate themselves to getting to the very end, where more surprises lie in wait. I am happy to say I made it, though the journey was anything but simple. Still, Skuse kept me wondering and guessing, with some significantly curious means of tying up loose ends by the final few entries.

Kudos, Madam Skuse, for a great piece, which differs greatly from your usual fare. I am eager to see what else you might bring up for publishing in the coming years. I know I’ll keep an eye open!

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

The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency, by Chris Whipple

Nine stars

Chris Whipple offers a stunning look behind the curtain and into the depths of the West Wing, wherein resides some of the most powerful unelected figures in the American political machine. At the pinnacle of this group is a man (for there has yet to be a woman in the role) who wears the moniker Chief of Staff (CoS). Charged with keeping the various factions at bay and protecting the President of the United States (POTUS), the CoS serves primarily as a gatekeeper, but also as the one whose job it is to fall on any political grenade and take the brunt of any blowback for decisions made in the Oval Office. Whipple explores the role of Chief of Staff, loosely formed under Eisenhower, and how it became an essential part of every West Wing since Nixon rose to power in 1968. No POTUS has been without one (save for the early years of Jimmy Carter, who thought he could do it alone), sometimes acting as a sounding board and at other times that sober second thought to prevent disaster. Whipple explores each of the CoS who filled the role, beginning with H.R. Haldeman, who guided a cutthroat Nixon away from early disaster, only to find himself stained with Watergate, which led to the downfall of his boss. Members who served in the role of Chief would make a name for themselves, returning decades later to serve even more important roles, such as Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, who guided the brief Ford presidency along some shaky tracks. Others, like James A. Baker III, would serve under Reagan, but return to guide future presidents with key political advice (read: Bush 41 and 43). Even the likes of Obama’s picks to fill the role would not find themselves rooted for long, especially Rahm Emanuel, who was the first of four men to guide the troops under the last POTUS. As Whipple argues throughout, the role is not for the feint of heart or those who have a strong personal friendship with POTUS, but rather requires a backbone and the ability to say no to the Leader of the Free World, especially at the most inopportune moments. Whipple does a masterful job a recounting some of the behind-the-scenes moments and gives foundation to major events each POTUS faced, showing how the CoS played a role in events, even when they may not have wanted to step forward. Of greatest interest, looking ahead, Whipple uses his findings to forecast the need for a strong person (or persons) to serve as CoS to the 45th POTUS, prone to march to the beat of his own Twitter characters. Political junkies will love this book, which is not bogged down in too much minutiae, though it is a sobering look for anyone with an inkling of political interest.

I approached this book as a lesser dose of politics in these deeply divisive days in America. While not an American myself, I have a keen interest in political history south of the Canadian border, something that Whipple offers here. Whipple uses key events and clashes between POTUS and CoS to illustrate that there were many times when decisions did not flow as smoothly as they might have appeared in front of the camera. There are also numerous mentions of Chiefs having to rein in their bosses, who were hellbent on making stupid mistakes, placing ego before pragmatism. With a narrative that entertains as well as educates, Whipple draws on first-hand interviews as well as documented evidence to provide the reader with as thorough a look behind the doors of power, save when doing so might violate national security. The reader can sit back and see the progression of the role of Chief of Staff, though there were times when Chiefs refused to learn from their predecessors, citing political or ideological reasons. While the role is surely political, Whipple argues that it is more a shepherd herding sheep, no matter their political stripe. And, wherever possible, protecting the man in the Oval Office from political shrapnel.

Kudos, Mr. Whipple, for such a wonderful piece. I can only hope that I find more of you work in the coming years, as it was informative but not preachy. Well worth the time invested.

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

Jack the Reaper (The Hunt for Jack Reacher Series #8), by Diane Capri

Seven stars

Diane Capri has returned to add to her Hunt for Reacher series, taking a slightly different approach to events. After an explosion in a home, everyone is presumed dead, including the elusive Jack Reacher. FBI Agents Otto and Gaspar have been two steps behind him for so long and now, it would seem, things have gone frigid. However, after the controversial document dump, TrueLeaks, transcripts of a telephone call speaking of Reacher being alive and well, which means Otto and Gaspar must rush to New York to continue their investigation. All the while, General MacKenzie ‘Nitro Mack’ Parnell has come to learn of a sizeable amount of money being hidden away in an New York apartment, money that was tied to an operation he sanctioned years ago. Now, Parnell wants what he feels is his and will stop at nothing to retrieve it. Nitro Mack has a history with Reacher as well, someone who had little love loss for his superior while still serving in the military. As Agents Otto and Gaspar piece together a better understanding of what is going on with Reacher, they are soon following the track of Parnell’s mess as he hunts down the money. As more bodies pile up and the money is nowhere to be found, everyone begins to wonder if, like Reacher, it’s disappeared in plain sight. Capri does well to stand alone while keeping Reacher true to his nature. A decent effort that Reacher fans may like, though the series grows and stands on its own merits.

As she tends to do with each novel’s introduction, Capri pays homage to Lee Child and his creation of the Jack (none) Reacher character. She speaks of how each novel she writes parallels with one that Child has created, which allows the reader to read them one after the other and notice the chronological ties. I have never done so and feel that Capri’s work can stand alone, though the elusive nature of Reacher from Child’s novels is just as strong in this series. Otto and Gaspar remain central characters here and pose no threat to overpowering one another. Many of the past novels have developed their characters, but here, it would seem as though they are in neutral and the focus is strictly Reacher and Parnell. Capri’s glimpse into Otto’s personal thoughts and a run-in within her apartment is about as in-depth a character reveal as the story offers. The secondary characters, as with the mainstream Reacher stories, change each time, though they are well placed here to deliver a strong story. While the story was good and paced itself well, I found it difficult to affix myself to everything that was going on. I wanted to, as I love Reacher, but this piece seemed less focussed on Reacher and more on how the agents would eventually fall in line with Parnell’s antics. It could be an anomaly of the series and I will not rake Capri over the coals for my own sense of confusion. Overall, a decent effort and I am eager to see if she can redeem herself with the next book, highlighted at the end of the narrative.

Kudos, Madam Capri, for keeping Jack (none) Reacher alive between Lee Child novels. You do well on your own and it shines through with each novel you produce in this series.

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

Lazarus Rising, by John Howard

Nine stars

Exploring key political figures in other countries can be a very exciting endeavour, especially for those who have a thirst for knowledge and willingness to examine unique political systems. While I have inundated myself with American presidents over the past number of years, I thought I would look to a fellow Commonwealth country and seek to better understand the life of John Howard, Australia’s prime minister from 1996-2007. In this comprehensive political and personal memoir, Howard explores his life and the great impact it played in his personal growth, as well as the important events that shaped Australia at the end of the 20th century and into the 21st. Howard divides his memoirs into three distinct periods, which serve well to differentiate time frames for review. To better understand John Howard, it serves to understand his initial introduction into politics, time on the opposition benches, and period as prime minister. While I will not try to be thorough in my examination, my skimming along the surface seeks to whet the appetite of the review reader to see some of the key highlights that leapt off the page. I seek, also, not to delve too deeply into the Australian political divide, which I realise can be quite significant. I had an Australian friend comment to me that I would surely not find much interest in Howard (in comparison to a single-term US president whose biography I read and reviewed recently), though I can honestly say this book has significantly contradicted that sentiment. The curious and dedicated reader who has an interest in parliamentary politics and foreign relations will certainly find something in the substantial memoir that Howards offers.

In his cordial style, John Howard dives right in during the opening chapters of his book to show how politics influenced him from an early age. Growing up against the backdrop of the Second World War, Howard witnessed the importance of Australian government policy from an early age, with food and petrol rationing to keep the country afloat. He discusses the deep-rooted Labor Party affinity his family held, based on the working class nature of his parents and grandparents. While Howard was not actively involved in the political process, he cites remembering going to the polls at a young age, as though the importance of democracy was firmly rooted into his psyche. It was when he left to study law at university that Howard became interested in politics, turning to the Liberal Party to meet his needs. Finding himself centre-right in his leanings, Howard found solace in the party and its policies, headed by Sir Robert Menzies, a popular and long-serving prime minister of the time. Working hard to keep the Liberals in power, Howard tested the water a few times, both federally and at the state-level, but failed to win a seat in either parliament. His dedication and determination to stick to his beliefs led him to finally win a seat under the Liberal leadership of Malcolm Fraser, another well-known prime minister. While serving with Fraser, Howard was promoted quickly, perhaps due to his attention to detail, and was soon given the portfolio of Minister for the Treasury, which, in Australia, provided him the opportunity to delivery the annual budget to Parliament. Howard discusses some of the important decisions that he was able to make during this time, shaping fiscal policy under Fraser and honing his skills as a potential leader in the future. Howard began to make a name for himself in Australia and the Oceania-Asian region during this time, while also clashing with some of the strong trade-unions and Labor Party Members of Parliament (MPs), who sought to contradict his pronouncements at every turn. While riding the high of serving in government, Howard could sense that Fraser’s wave might soon crash, turning a strong Australian Government on its head, left to the decisions of the electorate. That day came in 1983 when the Liberals were unceremoniously turfed from office after a double dissolution (Governor-General dissolved both houses and sent them to elections), leaving a Labor Party ready to negate much of Howard’s (read: Fraser) policies over the last number of years.

Howard’s time serving on the opposition benches proved quite effective for his future as Australian prime minister. Those familiar with the parliamentary system will know that there is always a ‘government-in-waiting’ or shadow cabinet, seeking to leap on any moment that the governing collective might gaffe significantly. Howard was forced to endure significant time as an opposition member, but did not do so idly. His past as Treasury Minister left him as the front-line critic of Labor fiscal policy, which sought to undo much of what he had done while at the helm. Howard did his best, while basing his criticisms in fact rather than ideological rhetoric, though it is impossible to divorce the two completely. Another aspect of time in opposition that Howard highlights relates to an Australian parliamentary adage, ‘there is much dry grass around a party leader’. In essence, a party leader is in the precarious position that anyone who opposes them significantly could toss the proverbial match and cause many issues. Howard saw the Liberals in this position on numerous occasions, as leadership questions arose and factions sought to remove Fraser. Howard tried to hold his ground and, while serving as deputy leader, saw the parliamentary party choose new directions repeatedly throughout the Liberal time in opposition (including Howard serving as leader twice). Without getting too academic here, Australia follows the British parliamentary system, whereby elected officials (in both the House of Representatives and Senate) are responsible for choosing their leader, rather than the party faithful. So, any disharmony could lead to a leader’s ouster at the drop of a hat. Howard weathered the storm here and discusses the repeated strains on his position as MP and shadow cabinet member, what with the numerous backstabbing efforts of the two factions within the Liberals. While not all that exciting for some readers, I found it quite interesting to see the struggles that rose behind closed doors and were reported in the media. When Howard ascended to the leadership role for the second time, Labor was on precarious ground, having turned to ideologically running the country, rather than putting the Australian people first. The election of March 1996 would prove highly interesting, with John Howard taking the Liberal troops into the battle of their lives.

The election of the Coalition (Liberal and National parties) again in March 1996 proved to be a turning point, not only because John Howard was at the helm, but because it ushered in a new era of Australian politics, one in which the newly-elected prime minister sought to shape the country in his own way. As Howard mentions in the introduction, this segment of the memoir fills 2/3 of the entire narrative, speaking to the detail and complexities of some topics discussed herein. Howard had served on the Government benches before, so this was not a complete culture shock, but leading a party (and country) proved to be much different than acting as a Minister. Howard recounts gaining his legs in a Parliament that remained someone in transition, having been led by Labor for a number of years. New policies and approaches had to be vetting through the parliamentary system and new faces meant trying to massage what was already a complicated parliamentary party into a workable and cohesive unit. The aforementioned ‘dry grass’ approach remained on Howard’s radar, though he did not make mention of worrying about it too often (save some jitters late in his parliamentary career). While Howard did serve through a number of elections, he chose not to take large segments of the narrative to describe the campaign trail, unlike what might be found in many of the presidential biographies and memoirs I have tackled in years past. Instead, Howard’s focus was to explore many of the key issues that arose during his time in power. Howard devotes much time to the debate over a GST (Goods and Services Tax), seeking to increase monies that could be used by the federal government and its state counterparts. The divisive nature of this tax seemed to fuel the debate for a 1998 election, where the electorate chose to keep Howard in power, thereby offering their blessing for such a significant tax. Additional issues of indigenous peoples treatment and the brewing debate over turning Australia into a republic received much discussion, the latter going to a referendum in 1999. Howard shows his colours as a strong monarchist and lays the groundwork not only for his party’s beliefs, but his own, which enriches the narrative and provides the reader with a better understanding of the debate. Seeking to help East Timor declare independence from Indonesia proved to be one of Howard’s first international dilemmas, but it would show his desire to put democracy and the stability of the region ahead of anything else. Howard also recounts his long-standing relationship with George W. Bush, with whom he first forged a relationship while he was in the United States during the attacks of September 11, 2001. Throughout the narrative, Howard returns to the importance of this America-Australia relationship, which served to balance the international political unrest at a time of much confusion. Likeminded centre-right leaders, Bush and Howard kept a close relationship throughout the former’s time in office, still speaking after they both left office. Howard uses his omnipotent view of the world political scene and experience leading Australia to offer some insights (and critiques) of leaders in both Australia and America, based on the actions he and Bush took to shape events. There is no shortage of issues that are addressed by Howard, including: the Bali attacks, immigration policy, Kyoto protocols, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and regional political cohesion. While those outside the Australian reaches might not fully comprehend the importance of these and many other topics, Howard offers interesting perspectives through the lens of his leadership efforts. By the time he left office, after Kevin Rudd and Labor swept back into power in 2007, Howard was ready to accept the decision of the electorate, though refused to disappear into the political wilderness. As a man still active in political and international statesman circles, Howard makes clear that he will always present his opinions, though not interfere with the elected officials running Australia in the 21st century.

While some were sure that I would find less interest in John Howard’s story than many of the American political biographies I have enjoyed, I feel strongly that this was an erroneous presumption. Howard lays out his story in such a way that the reader can easily comprehend what he is saying, without diluting the message. Not overly academic in nature, the reader should be aware that this is more than an Australian political primer. It addresses key areas of politics, parliament, and international relations as seen through the eyes of Howard throughout his political career. A general knowledge of the political system helps and a keen interest in learning is also an essential reader trait, but Howard discusses things in such a way that there is no need to have intimate knowledge of Australian history, both political and social. Howard’s approach is one that does not shy away from educating the reader, while also not pulling punches when it comes to those with whom he does not agree. Howard makes his political leanings known, which may trump some from caring at all. Liberal and Labor politics are surely as divisive as some of the political differences in my native Canada, but Howard is able to rise above, on occasion, and speak for Australia. That is not to say that he does not offer many potshots at the disarray that became the Labor Party in Government. His respect for the electoral process, democracy, and the right to alternate opinions shines through in the delivery of this information-rich narrative. Howard served long enough to have a strong opinion of world events and was in power during some of the most important world events in the last fifty years. The second longest-serving prime minister, Australians may not all have liked John Howard or his politics, but they should be proud to have had such a competent leader who sought to shape Australia’s place on the world stage. I know I learned a great deal and have developed a great deal of curiosity about a fellow Commonwealth and parliamentary-led country.

Kudos, Mr. Howard, for permitting me such an in-depth look into your life, particularly the political aspects. I am better for having this knowledge and you offer it up in such a way as to have whetted my appetite for more.

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

Justice Lost (Darren Street #3), by Scott Pratt

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Scott Pratt, and Thomas & Mercer 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 Scott Pratt and his work, I was pleased to receive an early copy of his latest Darren Street thriller. Having been through a great deal over the past few years, Darren Street is starting to revisit all the criminal acts that he’s committed, covered up just enough to keep him one step ahead of the authorities. That said, he feels a sense of vindication, having disposed of a few key figures who have left him feeling empty. Now he is able to turn over a new leaf, with his girlfriend ready to give birth to their daughter. As they arrive at the birthing centre, the doctor on call is not answering his pages and when he does arrive, he stinks of a distillery. Another doctor takes the lead with the delivery, which turns into something high-risk, as Street waits for news. Tragedy strikes and Street is again plagued with devastation, blaming the intoxicated doctor for negligence. When Street approaches the District Attorney General, his request for legal action hits a wall and soon learns that friends will cover for one another, no matter what. While his conscience is trying to tell him not to, Street must handle things in his own way. Additionally, Street is talked into challenging the District Attorney General in the upcoming election. While preparing for his big day, Street uses some strong financial and political resources at his disposal, but also realises that the county is riddled with corrupt officials. Knowing that Street will soon uncover their backroom dealings, some of these officials take it upon themselves to neutralise him. As Street seeks elected office, he must also dodge those who would see him face the verdict he has handed out many time before; death at any cost. Pratt does a masterful job in this third novel in the Darren Street series. Fans of his work and those who enjoy a darker thriller will surely find something exciting in this novel.

I thoroughly enjoy Scott Pratt’s writing and his unique approach to legal matters. He has developed a strong series that keeps the reader wondering just how far Darren Street will go to balance the scales once and for all. In Street, Pratt has created an interesting character, whose development has been quite dramatic in these three series books. While Street has faced adversity and taken things into his own hands, he begins to grow a conscience and has second thoughts about all the blood he’s shed. Building on the crimes that have plagued him before, Street comes to see how fragile life and his future might be if he does not change his tune. Filled with some interesting supporting characters, Pratt is able to shape the story in many different ways, as though there are a few mini-plots that all come together in the end. While I have criticised the vigilante lawyer presented in the first two novels, they have grown on me. A mix of legal matters and Dexter-like criminal activities, Pratt develops his story in an effective way, which entertains readers until the final pages.

Kudos, Mr. Pratt, for another stellar piece of writing. I have loved this newer series and will recommend it to anyone who has an interest in vigilante justice.

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

A Cold Cold Heart, by John Nicholl

Nine stars

John Nicholl is back with another spine-tinging psychological thriller that will keep the reader hooked until the final sentence. A number of young women have turned up murdered, strangled by hand and dressed in some vintage outfits. West Wales Police takes up the investigation, headed by DI Gareth Gravel, who is still trying to balance work and his personal life. When Gravel receives a surprise visit from his daughter, Emily, he is overjoyed, especially when she reveals that she’s taken a local job as a solicitor. As the investigation heats up, Gravel suffers a health crisis that pushes him to the sidelines and allows his colleague, DS Laura Kesey, to serve as temporary point-person. Kesey uncovers some interesting information from Emily that helps point the case in a specific direction, one that Gravel cannot stomach while he remains bedridden. With a killer on the loose, their home a veritable torture chamber, and more bodies piling up, everyone soon realises that Emily’s gone missing. It will be up to Kesey to solve this horrific case and locate Emily, while keeping DI Gravel from making a rash decision that could pave the way to his permanent departure from the police force. Nicholl does not falter whatsoever in this quick read, that allows the reader to feel the full gamut of emotions. Readers who have indulged in Nicholl’s work beforehand, as well as those who love a psychological thriller with a cat-and-mouse aspect, will thoroughly enjoy this book and likely push through in a sitting or two.

I have been a Nicholl fan since I sped through his debut novel, which caught me off guard. Writing about what he knows best, Nicholl utilises the depths of despair to his advantage and produces well-paced thrillers, pushing good and evil together at every turn. DI Gravel does not make his debut here, though series fans will know that he is a tough as rocks copper that places the public above his own well-being, as is clear throughout the narrative here. Giving DS Kesey some of the spotlight will surely help pave the way for future series pieces, should some of the underlying tones of the narrative prove correct. Nicholl is able to utilise a vast array of characters to pull the story together and keep the readers curious throughout. Introducing the killer in the early stages might have been a gamble for some, but Nicholl allows the reader to see the sick development of a killer blossom, turning what might have been a hunt for a serial killer into a twisted game of cat-and-mouse, with the two sides pushing slightly under the pressure. Nicholl’s writing is such that the story flows swiftly and the chapters melt away, leaving the reader to want ‘a little more’ before bookmarking their progress. Readers are in for a serious treat should they take the time to explore this piece and the entire John Nicholl collection.

Kudos, Mr. Nicholl, for always having some new spin to offer your fans. Your writing is stellar and you capture the nuances of the genre so effortlessly.

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

Home Sweet Murder (True-Crime Thrillers, Volume #2), by James Patterson, Aaron Bourelle, and Scott Slaven

Eight stars

While James Patterson has made a name for himself with his BookShots collection—a series of short stories the reader can complete in a few hours—he is again expanding his horizons. Now that he has secured television rights to a murder-based true-crime show, Patterson has also spun some of the tales into shorter stories, much like his BookShots. While I have been on an intense BookShot binge, I thought that I would include at least the first two volume in my binge read, as they are short enough to be defined as BookShots, though they are best called ‘fictionalised pieces of true crime’. These stories will capture the reader’s attention, more so because they actually happened, with anonymity peppered into the narrative to protect the victims. Sit back and enjoy, as Patterson and his two collaborators in these stories show just how far some people will go to harm those closest to them.

Home Sweet Murder (with Andrew Bourelle)

Leo Fisher and his wife, Sue, are enjoying a quiet Sunday evening when someone rings the doorbell. Unsure who it might be, Leo makes his way to the door and discovers a man who claims to be an SEC agent, seeking urgent information about Leo’s law firm. Baffled, Leo tries to deflect the man’s inquiries, but is soon assaulted. The as-yet unknown man holds Leo and Sue hostage, seeking information about the firm and any improprieties that might be associated with their business. Leo remains baffled, but this only fuels the intruder, who soon learns that he will have to take significant action to remedy the perceived lack of information sharing. In minor flashbacks, the reader learns that Leo may know something he’s not yet shared, even with Sue, but could this be enough to justify the attack? Events take a significant turn for the worse, leaving Leo and Sue to wonder if they will make it through the night. Patterson and Bourelle create this wonderful story that is paced so effectively as to lure the reader into the middle of this dastardly crime.

Murder on the Run (with Scott Slaven )

When a housekeeper and young boy are found slain, the owner of the house, a respectable Omaha doctor, is beside himself. Who could have wanted to break into his home and commit these two murders, particularly of his eleven year-old son? Homicide Detective Derek Mois agrees to do everything in his power to find the killer, no matter what it takes. There is no apparent motive and limited leads. Fast forward five years and the killer seems to have struck again, targeting a doctor and his wife. Now, Mois is armed with some parallels and acts on them. Could the medical angle be something that draws these two cases together? Following his gut and evidence surrounding the two families, Mois finds himself heading to Indiana to pull the pieces together. What he discovers is an interesting story that fuels a deep-seeded need for revenge. Patterson and Slaven are wonderful at pulling together this high-octane thriller that will keep the reader guessing until the final pages.

Both of these stories fit perfectly into this second volume, providing as much suspense and action as the initial collection. Murder is a varied crime, but glaring errors by perpetrators can sometimes unite them, as well entertain those who are away from events and reading, as in this collection. The central characters from both stories provide wonderful backstories and development throughout their appearances on the printed page. The reader can connect with them, which aids in better understanding the cases and fallout from the criminal acts. While these are true events with a fictional flavour, the stories read extremely well and all characters serve a great purpose, accentuating the numerous perspectives of the crime. These brief pieces could easily be called BookShots, with their short chapters and the story arc taking only one hundred pages or so. I am happy to have devoured the first two volumes in this series (and will read more when they come out), though I will not hunt down the television program, as I like Patterson in small doses.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson, Bourelle, and Slaven. Your stories kept me hooked on this new series and have me wanting more. Perfectly crafted for a short spell of reading, much like many of the short stories collaborations Patterson has undertaken.

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

Murder, Interrupted (True Crime Thrillers, Volume #1), by James Patterson, Alex Abramovich, and Christopher Charles

Eight stars

While James Patterson has made a name for himself with his BookShots collection—a series of short stories the reader can complete in a few hours—he seems to always be expanding his horizons. Apparently having secured some television rights to a murder-based true-crime show, Patterson has also spun some of the tales into shorter stories, much like the aforementioned BookShots. While I am on my BookShot binge, I thought that I would include at least the first volume in my binge read, as they are short enough to be defined as BookShots, even though they are somewhat fictionalised pieces of true crime. These stories will capture the reader’s attention, more so because they actually happened, with a few fudged facts to provide anonymity. Sit back and enjoy, as Patterson and his two collaborators in these stories show just how far some people will go to harm those closest to them.

Murder, Interrupted (with Alex Abramovich)

Nancy Howard’s been shot gruesomely through the eye with the bullet’s trajectory headed for her brain. The mysterious man who did this is unknown to her, but her first concern is calling out for help. Moving the story backwards a bit, the reader learns of Nancy’s husband, Frank, is a successful accountant with a penchant for having sticking fingers. He’s also having quite the affair, but does not want to divorce his wife, as it might tarnish his image. Frank takes matters into his own hands by hiring a strung-out addict to act as a hitman, but things take many odd turns, leaving Frank wondering if he will ever be rid of his wife, so that he can fully focus on his new life in California. As the story moves forward, the reader sees Frank’s attempts to ensure the hit goes as planned, but Nancy is able to call for help, leading to an investigation and fingers pointing in all directions. Sometimes, allowing the blood to leave the brain for other regions proves fatal for those who concoct revenge plots. Patterson and Abramovich open the collection with this interesting story that will have readers shaking their heads as they fly through the chapters.

Mother of all Murders (with Christopher Charles)

Single mother Dee Dee Blancharde has made quite a name for herself in the Missouri community she now calls home. Her daughter, Gypsy, hands many health concerns and after they were forced out of New Orleans, it was the kindness of the community that helped provide a much needed crutch. When one of Gypsy’s friends receives a disturbing Facebook message, the authorities are called to the house, where Dee Dee is dead and Gypsy is nowhere to be found. As detectives try to piece things together, the reader is permitted a thorough look into the backstory of both Blancharde women, including the countless ailments that Gypsy has suffered over the years. When a link to a dating site proves to be a strong clue to better understand what might have happened to Gypsy, detectives soon realise that there is so much more to the story than meets the eye. Patterson and Charles provide wonderful twists in this story based on actual events. The reader will surely enjoy the build of momentum throughout.

Both of these stories were the perfect fit for this first volume. Murder comes in all shapes and forms, but it is sometimes the glaring errors of the perpetrators that serve as the most entertaining aspect of any story. The key characters from both stories provide wonderful backstories and development throughout their appearances on the printed page. The reader can connect with them, which aids in better understanding the cases and fallout from the criminal acts. While these are true events with a fictional flavour, the stories read well and all characters found herein, while not fleshed out as effectively as in a piece of complete fiction, serve a great purpose and help to accentuate the different angles of the crime. These brief pieces could easily be called BookShots, with their short chapters and the story arc taking only one hundred pages or so. I am eager to tackle the second volume of this collection, though am not sure if I will hunt down the television program, as I like Patterson in small doses (which I am sure I contradict, having almost completed my month-long BookShot binge).

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson, Abramovich, and Charles. Your stories kept me hooked from the beginning and I love how they were presented. Perfectly crafted for an afternoon of reading, much like many of the short stories collaborations Patterson has undertaken.

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

Leonardo da Vinci, by Walter Isaacson

Nine stars

“ How might you describe the tongue of a woodpecker?” And so it begins, in my ongoing attempt to learn more about important figures in history. This time, I turned to the latest biography by Walter Isaacson, exploring the life of Leonardo da Vinci. A man of many talents, da Vinci lived a full and exciting life as he sought to scratch the many itches that came to mind and paved the way for scores of significant discoveries. Isaacson offers a thorough and highly informative piece that will educate the reader without inflating the narrative with scores of minute facts. Isaacson presents da Vinci in three distinct lights throughout this piece: the animated artist, the inquisitive inventor, and the abstract anatomist, all of which are interconnected and help to better understand the man whose name is synonymous with so many things. Supported by an extensive collection of drawings, referenced throughout, Isaacson brings Leonardo da Vinci to life with this exceptional biography. Perfect for the curious mind and those who want a better understanding of art, history and symbolism without the dramatic scandal of a certain Robert Langdon.

Leonardo da Vinci was surely one of the most animated artists of his time, if not in history. Born a left-handed bastard during the golden days of those who were conceived out of wedlock, da Vinci found his early years to be ones of independent exploration. His father refused to legitimate him, nor did he push to have the young Leonardo follow in his footsteps as a notary, which left the young da Vinci to turn to one of the other important positions of the time, an apprenticeship with a local artist. Florence was a rich locale for art and da Vinci learned his trade from many who sought to teach him how to capture the human form. However, as Isaacson denotes throughout, da Vinci chose not to capture the ‘wooden’ nature of artists at the time and sought to forge his own path by injecting curves and softer depictions of canvas creations. As he grew older, da Vinci tried to instil those beliefs in his own apprentices, with a strong focus on detail and nuance to bring the portraits to life, without falling back on a ‘sack of walnuts’ when presenting images on canvas. Isaacson references something that da Vinci wrote in one of his journals, where the master artist is said to have expressed that painting is both artistic and scientific in nature, with shading and colours that helps capture the subject from all angles. Given some key backgrounds on a number of da Vinci’s key pieces of art, Isaacson provides the reader with something that will open the mind and lead to a number of questions. Biblical references and symbols fill many of da Vinci’s works, which cannot be lost on the attentive reader, though this is more than the controversial ideas Dan Brown offers in a piece of fiction. The eager reader will be happy to see that Isaacson spent an entire chapter analysing and positing the foundations of the famed Mona Lisa, as well as speaking to its intricate detail, which combines all three personas from the biography. It is clear that da Vinci’s art is both full of detail and animated in its own right, which provides the viewer a chance to thoroughly interpret it when taking the time to absorb his vast collections found all over the world. Surely the man’s art is innovative and worthy of deep exploration, without getting stuck on too many stuffy aspects.

The inquisitive nurture of da Vinci’s art work can easily be duplicated in his numerous inventions, as documented in his journals. At a time when the Renaissance was in full swing, da Vinci began to have many ideas about how he might be able to help with the new forms of artistic expression. Isaacson discusses da Vinci’s desire to help personalise some of the religious stage plays of the day, where angels had to fly from one end to the other, at a time when man and earth were sorrowfully bound together. The idea of flight and pulleys came to da Vinci, as he crafted these theoretical mechanisms. Hundreds of years ahead of his time, da Vinci had many ideas that would, at one time, find their way into the mainstream. Isaacson argues that da Vinci’s inventions could sometimes be practical means of filling a gap in what was on the market, but there were also strong influences (particularly anatomy) that left da Vinci full of questions, only to be solved by the development of some inventions to better understand concepts that were unknown to the scientific world. The reader will marvel at the extent to da Vinci’s innovative spirit, pushing the boundaries of what might be possible, all to help fill the void of his inquisitive nature. Not all of his inventions were meant to aid in artistic expression. There is surely a strong influence on the political happenings of the day—da Vinci had relationships with both the Borgia and Sforza families, vicious as they were—whereby war machines were devised. There is talk of tank-like structures and catapults to launch objects over palace walls, both ideas that would have been fostered by the bloody campaigns those two aforementioned families sought in their respective domains. The collection of drawings included in the biography permit the reader to marvel at the vast array of sketches and how da Vinci could have made a greater name for himself (as if he needed more notoriety). It is readily apparent that da Vinci’s innovative spirit was fuelled by a need to better understand the world around him, just as his art sought to open new means of expression at the dawn of the Renaissance. Well before his inventions could be formally created, da Vinci showed how his inquisitive nature was influenced by his thirst for knowledge, especially when he was parched and left to wonder about the inner workings of the human machine, the body!

Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects that recurs throughout the biography is da Vinci’s love of all things anatomical. From the veins in the hands to the inner workings of a foetus and the valves of the heart, da Vinci was keen to dissect bodies to better understand the inner workings of various organs and systems. During a time when the Church was still wavering on the dissection of humans, da Vinci sought to open his horizons by exploring the inner workings of various animals, when human cadavers were not available. The desire to better comprehend the human body fuelled da Vinci’s desire to posit about the workings of organs and systems, at a time when nothing could be done ‘live’ or with the body still functioning. Isaacson explores da Vinci’s desire to better understand heart valves and the movement of blood, simply because he could not wrap his head around what might be going on. While he could devise a few experiments and reconstructed the heart, it was only in the 1960s that much of what da Vinci predicted could be proven entirely correct. Not only did da Vinci seek to explore the anatomy of the human body, he felt it essential to depict it in sketches from all angles. Without the ability to properly store the cadavers, da Vinci had only a short time to properly sketch the anatomical subjects. Some of these anatomy explorations surely led to inventions that made their way into da Vinci’s journals and also permitted some of the intricate detail found in numerous pieces of art, namely one of his most popular, the Vitruvian Man, where da Vinci showed extensive understanding of length proportions of the ‘perfect’ subject. Isaacson explores this in detail during part of the biography and may be of significant interest to the reader. Surely his biological curiosities made da Vinci’s creations better and provided the viewer with a better understanding of the realism the artist sought in his work. It is baffling not to look at all three aspects of Leonardo da Vinci now that I have taken the time to explore them, and see just how imbued his art and innovations were with all three perspectives.

I would be remiss if I did not discuss the presentation of the biography and place Isaacson under the literary microscope. The thorough presentation of Leonardo da Vinci’s life helped create a better understanding of the man and his numerous endeavours. I will admit that I am not a major fan of art, nor do I pretend to understand the intricacies of paintings (gasp or toss the odd rotten tomato now). That being said, after reading this and viewing the countless images that Isaacson included in the book, I have a better understanding of the nuances that certain artists use, as well as the symbolism inherent for the viewer to better communicate with the artist. Isaacson takes the time to explain many of da Vinci’s influences, as well as fleshing out some of the symbols that da Vinci uses in his work. Referencing not only da Vinci’s work, but also scholarly references and fellow biographers, Isaacson provides a thorough narrative for the reader to better understand the man and some of his thinking. Adding the images to the book permits the reader to see, first hand, some of the sketches that da Vinci created at different times in his life, even if it creates an Olympic event to toggle between text and image (only made more difficult for those who used the audio version, such as myself). When referencing his various creations, having a visual compendium helps the reader to match something up with the narrative and brings the story to life in a new dimension. This enriches the experience and permits the reader to feel an active part of the process as the layers of da Vinci’s life become more apparent to the attentive reader. While some chapters are long, they ought not be daunting, as the narrative flows so well and the storytelling is second to none. Isaacson has spent as much time here as he did with some of his other key biographical pieces, all of which should be considered by the reader whose curiosity is not sated with this piece. And… as for that woodpecker question I posed to start this review, there’s a nugget of interest that da Vinci never fully explored, but Isaacson offers up.

Kudos, Mr. Isaacson, for helping pave the way towards a better understanding of this key historical figure. You bring Leonardo da Vinci to life and help the reader want to know more, which is essential in a biographical piece.

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

The Moores are Missing (A BookShot Collection), by James Patterson, Loren D. Estleman, Sam Hawken, and Ed Chatterton

Nine stars

BookShots remain a wonderful way to spend a few hours, especially when bundling a number of them together to spend a day and permitting easier comparison in a single review. In this collection of three stories, the reader is able to explore three distinct stories that will keep them on the edge of their seats. From an amateur detective thriller to a quasi-police procedural, and ending with a longer manhunt story, James Patterson and his collaborators show the distinct advantage of BookShot reading.

The Moores are Missing, with Loren D. Estleman

After paying an impromptu visit to his neighbours, Ray Gillet discovers that they are nowhere to be found. Additional snooping leaves Gillet with the distinct impression that this was not as innocent a departure by the Moores as some would believe. Cell phones left behind, scrubbed, and no contact with others in town. After approaching the Chief of Police, Gillet is visited by a Federal Marshal, who tells of an attempt to pull the Moores into Wit Sec as they report on corrupt business practices that Kevin Moore has noticed. Unsure if he can sit and wait, Gillet approaches a friend, whose cyber-sleuthing provides a few leads, which eventually point up to Saskatchewan, on the Canadian Prairies. Armed with his travel documents, Gillet begins a trip north of the border, where he hopes to find more than snow and a bunch of grizzlies. If he’s lucky, he can locate the Moores before someone else ensures they go missing permanently. A wonderful collaborative effort between Patterson and Estleman, this will keep the reader hooked (and smirking at the pokes to Canada) throughout.

The Housewife, with Sam Hawken

Maggie Denning has had quite the life change in the past two years. Once the Chief of Detectives, with her biological clock ticking, she left the force to have twins and is now a homemaker. Her husband, Karl, is a rising star in the Homicide Division, once her underling and now living the dream. While out with her girls, Maggie meets a woman who’s just returning from a night on the town. Trouble is, the next day she turns up dead, having been murdered. Maggie, ever the sleuth, cannot heed Karl’s request to stay away from the investigation and begins poking around. Soon, another woman, also a homemaker, ends up dead, but only after Maggie spies her in a compromising situation. Could there be a group of housewives who are servicing one another’s husbands and turning up dead? Maggie reveals what she knows and Karl jumps on this, sure that it might be the big break the investigation needs. However, Maggie soon learns that there is a deeper and more sinister side to things, one that may open a Pandora’s Box of lies. Can the community handle it and is she next on the list, to keep her quiet? Patterson and Hawken weave quite the story with this piece as the reader is pushed into the centre of a middle-class escort ring.

Absolute Zero, with Ed Chatterton

Cody Thurston is seeking a quieter life, working at a pub in London, where he also lives. When a dust-up with some thugs one night goes sour, Thurston tries to keep his temper in order. This former Australian Special Forces Member has a few tricks up his sleeve and is not afraid to use them. Seeking revenge, this group of thugs takes everything Thurston has and frames him for a significant crime. Fuelled to set the record straight, Thurston begins a series of events that serve to restore balance. However, these men do not play by the rules, nor are their business ventures above board. In a journey that sees him remaining under the radar across two continents, Cody Thurston will not stop until he’s finished his own personal mission, even if it kills him. Patterson and Chatterton offer up this highly explosive and most intense of the BookShot stories, which will surely entertain those who take the time to read it.

All three of these stories were the perfect fit for a collection, as they explore different aspects of criminal activity and keep the reader hooked from the opening paragraphs. The key characters found throughout offer up unique perspectives when faced with legal matters, sometimes creating their own rule book, while seeking to set the record straight. Character development and backstory is effectively used throughout, permitting the reader to feel a strong connection, even if they do not agree with the decisions being made. The secondary characters also help paint an effective image of crime and the various legal loopholes, entertaining as well as supporting in their roles. All three stories worked effectively, though none could have blended with the others; their premises unique and the approach distinct. Patterson has chosen well, not only to collaborate with these three, but to bundle these pieces together. Proof positive that there are some stunning BookShot collaborations to be had.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson, Estleman, Hawken and Chatterton, for such a great array of stories. These are the types of BookShots I enjoy reading and will recommend them to all who will listen.

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

The Family Lawyer (A BookShot Collection), by James Patterson, Robert Rotstein, Christopher Charles, and Rachel Howzell Hall

Nine stars

While BookShots are a wonderful way to spend a few hours, bundling them together can also be a great way to carry a few spine-tingling stories together, permitting easier comparison in a single review. In this collection of three stories, the reader is able to explore three distinct stories that will keep them on the edge of their seats. From a legal thriller to a police manhunt, to a familial crime cover-up, James Patterson and his collaborators show the distinct advantage of BookShot reading.

The Family Lawyer, with Robert Rotstein

Matt Hovanes is a fairly successful attorney who left the D.A.’s office when a colleague tried to play bait and switch with some important evidence. When he receives a panicked phone call from his daughter, Hailey, he knows there is trouble. Hailey’s been arrested for cyber bullying and the victim, Farah Medhipour, committed suicide six weeks before. Declaiming her innocence, Hailey agrees to follow her father’s direction, though Matt is still blurring the parent-attorney line when he asks his partner to defend Hailey. While they prepare for trial, Matt’s son, Daniel, a troubled soul himself, tells his own version of events, but backs his sister’s narrative. Matt learns that his daughter is not the angel he thinks she is and comes to see that Farah has apparently been stalking his daughter, and Hailey has retaliated by using her own popularity to isolate the victim. As the trial begins, Matt does all he can to deflect the evidence against Hailey, which is mounting, as he seeks to learn what led Farah to hang herself. When the defence rises to present its case, it is an uphill battle, with accusations, texts, photos, and smear campaigns. Now Matt must decide if the truth or negotiated freedom is the better way to go. A chilling legal thriller with strong ties to current cyberbullying and the effects that some teenagers may not consider when using cell phones as swords.

Night Sniper, with Christopher Charles

The streets of New York are not safe with a sniper on the loose. They kill randomly, in all boroughs with victims of many ages. There does not seem to be a link to any of the victims. As an NYPD Homicide Task Force rushes to make sense of this, the Chief is about to insist on a city-wide curfew. The reader sees the sniper’s perspective first-hand, in alternating chapters, as well as their rationale as they play a high-stakes game of cat and mouse. One member of the Task Force, Detective Cheryl Mabern, is not welcomed by all, especially since she’s voluntarily locked herself away in a treatment facility. A shooting gone bad and a life of vices has rounded the sharp edges that Mabern usually shows her team. As the killer hones their sights on Mabern, things take a dangerous turn, one that could cost more lives and leave Mabern with much blood on her hands. This collaboration between James Patterson and Christopher Charles proves exciting for the reader and keeps the story moving effectively until the final sentence.

The Good Sister, with Rachel Howzell Hall

When Dani Lawrence receives a midnight call from her sister, she knows there’s something wrong. Melissa has a panicked sound to her voice, which Dani realises is justified. Arriving at the house, Melissa’s husband, Kirk, is slumped in a chair and it does not look as if his excessive drinking is the case. Dani and Melissa try to come up with something to explain it, only to have Melissa admit that she’s killed her scumbag husband. Dani knows that the authorities will need to be called, but blood is thicker than any legal necessity, or is it? When the police show up, it turns to mayhem, forcing Dani to escort her young nephew away while Melissa faces a barrage of questions. Dani’s long had suspicions that her brother-in-law has a wandering eye and a group of women on the side, but could Melissa really have been pushed to the edge that dramatically? With the evidence seemingly safely stowed away, Dani soon learns that karma sometimes has a way of getting in the middle of the perfect plan to deflect the truth. Faced with added pressure, will Dani be able to keep her cool, or is Melissa destined for an extended separation from her son? Patterson and Rachel Howzell Hall work masterfully here to create a wonderful story that will enthuse the BookShot reader and keep them coming back for more.

All three of these stories were the perfect fit for a collection, as they explore different aspects of the law and keep the reader hooked from the opening paragraphs until the final sentence lingers in the air. The key characters found throughout offer up unique perspectives when faced with legal matters, each choosing to take their own approach. Character development and backstory is effectively used throughout, permitting the reader to feel a strong connection, even if they do not agree with the decisions being made. The secondary characters also help paint an effective image of the law and its various loopholes, entertaining as well as supporting in their roles. All three stories worked effectively, though none could have blended with the others, their premises unique and the approach distinct. Patterson has chosen well, not only to collaborate with these three, but to bundle these pieces together. I am eager to sink my teeth into another BookShot collection to see if it proves as effective in its presentation.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson, Rotstein, and Charles, as well as Madam Hall, for such a great array of stories. These are the types of BookShots I enjoy reading and will recommend them to all who will listen.

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

Herbert Hoover: A Life, by Glen Jeansonne

Nine stars

In my ongoing attempt to learn more about the numerous US Presidents, I came upon Glen Jeansonne’s detailed biography of Herbert Hoover. I will be the first to admit that, while I knew the name, I had very little knowledge of the man who ascended to the presidency just before the Great Depression. What little I did know, or thought I did, could have filled a thimble, most of which included that Hoover was blamed for pushing America into the abyss of the Depression. Jeansonne guides the reader through the captivating life of Herbert Hoover, while dispelling some of the myths exacerbated by a lack of documentation in history texts. Jeansonne develops a strong narrative throughout, helping the reader to see Hoover as a strong organiser, a compassionate administrator, and a prophetic statesman. Readers who have a passion for political biographies will be surprised by the details of this well-crafted tome, whose narrative is chock-full of many interesting vignettes that may change the minds of those who take the time to learn about the 31st President of the United States.

Herbert Hoover was a born organiser, ready to take the lead on any project put before him. Born in a small Iowa community to Quaker parents, Hoover was raised him to respect the teachings they instilled. While he loved his parents, Hoover hardly knew them when he became an orphan by the age of ten. Hoover began to foster a love for the outdoors after being sent to live with relatives, where he proved to be a shy boy, but thirsted for knowledge at every turn. By the time he won a spot at Stanford, Hoover settled at the California university and studied geology, a passion he would hold for most of his adult life. While he was passionate about his studies, Hoover was a keen organiser in such things as school sports, student politics, and off-campus housing. Jeansonne shows that Hoover was wonderfully dedicated at rallying the disenchanted population, tapping into their interests in all things around them, even when they felt they could not change the results. By the time Hoover left Stanford, not only did he have a passion to use his geology studies, but the love of his life, Lou Henry. They travelled to Australia and China, where the Hoovers gained the reputation for being keen organisers of some of the mining operations, previously untapped or underutilised. These organisational skills helped pave the way for one of Hoover’s greatest positions, as the organiser to help feed the Belgian population during the Great War. While not natural aggressors, Jeansonne argues that Belgium’s placement on the European continent left it in the middle of the fighting. Displaced families, especially children, were the greatest victims of the war, which left pockets of the population isolated from much of the food supply. Hoover entered the war zone and facilitated many of the needed foodstuffs in order to protect a needy population. It was here that, unbeknownst to many, Hoover would begin his meteoric rise to fame around the world for organising and helping those who could not help their plight. Less for the glory and more to actually change the situation at hand, Hoover wanted to offer himself up to ensure that no one was punished for their place in the world. This dedication and compassionate side of Hoover helped pave the way for his second significant personal trait.

Hoover’s organisation paved the way to making him one of the most compassionate administrators of the 20th century, as well as a household name around the world. After the Great War, Hoover’s reputation helped pave the way to make him the U.S. Food Administrator in the Wilson Administration, which allowed him to provide much needed food for most of war-ravaged Europe. Hoover was able not only to organise needed foods, but also pushed to see beyond the victors and vanquished, seeing the people rather than their country of origin. His administrative skills helped him gain notoriety on both sides of the Atlantic, making his choice as Secretary of Commence in Calvin Coolidge’s Administration a brilliant decision. Hoover showed a resilience to stand up to the various commercial communities in America at a time when the world was trying to sort itself out from the War. From farmers to textile producers and the various industries that proved to be the heartbeat of economic success, Hoover tried to bring them into line, as the country recovered. Not always easy to see some of the economic uncertainties that would lie ahead, Jeansonne explores Hoover’s attempts to forecast the greatest path to success, using many of the tools he had honed while working in Europe. This may have been seen as overstepping by some, but Hoover felt he had the best interest of the country in mind. Hoover always had a plan in mind and sought to deliver it to those who turned to him, even when it might not have been what they wanted to hear. The compassionate side to the man shone through, trying to look above social or economic class, while delivering everything that might be needed to make the country run effectively. This permitted Herbert Hoover to be seen as a prophetic statesman, though some would critique his inability to hold onto the reins of power as the one area he could not properly predict.

Jeansonne makes an effective argument that Hoover was a prophetic statesman, showing how he fit right into the political machine, but was never the monster or partisan hack. Hoover’s passion for the country and ability to lead helped pave the way to his success and place in the White House, though his presidency would he marred by economic disaster. Seeing what was coming down the pipeline, even as Secretary of Commerce, Hoover tried to call out and halt some of the economic practices America was undertaking in the late 1920s, showing his attempts to rally citizens and lead them through these tough times. By the time of Wall Street’s major crash in October, 1929, it was too late to stop the economic train, which would soon derail and lead to the Great Depression. Like a belled cat, Hoover could never shake the Depression’s effects and his presidency was forever tied to the start of this. It was only when FDR was given the chance to turn things around that the New York Governor was given all the credit, though much of the attempt came from Hoover’s ideas, as Jeansonne discusses at length. Hoover could not, however, get the country to see what they needed, as the bottom fell out from under it and destitution became the word of those four years. Hoover successfully brought other parts of America together, appointing some key justices to the US Supreme Court and sought to develop international ties within the larger Americas, but these were lost to footnotes in American history texts, forcing Hoover to suffer through a lack of being heard or recognised. Still, in those years after he left the White House, many turned to him to offer a well-grounded opposition to New Deal politics, going so far as to wonder if he might make another run for the GOP nomination in ‘36 or ‘40. However, new wings of the Party sought fresh blood, happy to keep Hoover on the sidelines, though many GOP politicians turned to him in the lead-up to campaigns. The man who made such a name for himself, before entering the political fray, served as an envoy on the international scene to promote American sentiments ahead of the new military conflict brewing in Europe. Jeansonne effectively argues that Hoover’s time in elective office may have been his least effective years, but he was respected and found passion in helping others, above the mudslinging.

As Jeansonne asks at the outset, was Herbert Hoover’s life unfairly judged based on his time as president? Surely, he had wonderful ideas and sought to serve the people to the best of his abilities. He did not lead America down the path to ruin, nor did he blindly turn away and hand over the White House to FDR to fix the problem. Jeansonne repeatedly argues, supported by quotes throughout the tome, that Hoover’s time in office was marred by an economic crisis that branded him a poor leader. No one looks to his time as an organiser or administrator, where he single handedly saved more people on his own than many world leaders did through watered-down policies. However, it is easier to point the finger at Hoover and forget that his ideas were recycled by FDR, whose success could surely have been built on the time in history he rose on the Democratic ticket. The reader will likely leave this reading experience to see different sides of Hoover and all he did for the world. His dedication to the people cannot be easily ignored, even if it is easier to place the blame at his feet. It is this type of biography that interests me more, where I can not only leave with new information, but also change my mind in a significant manner about a person of history.

Turning to the biography as a communicative vessel, I am wholeheartedly in agreement that Glen Jeansonne led the reader on a thorough and well-rounded piece, able to justify his ideas through research with numerous sources. Jeansonne develops Hoover as a man and a political figure, without bogging down the narrative with too many inane anecdotes or trying to offer a single-sided argument. Jeansonne provides the reader with a complete arc when it comes to Hoover’s life and utilises some of the early lessons to show how these shaped Hoover until his death. While the chapters were long and, at times, drawn out, their content permitted the reader to better understand the man behind the grandiose gestures. That Hoover was belled with being responsible for the Great Depression is disheartening, all the more so when others took the credit that he tried to develop when he saw all the warning sides. Jeansonne effectively argues at each turn, proving to be a calculating and high-caliber biographer, who could be trusted to portray the life of many others, given the opportunity.

Kudos, Mr. Jeansonne, for such a riveting piece on this lesser known president. I can only hope that your work helps dispel some of the black mark that history has used to brand Herbert Hoover.

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

Kill and Tell, by James Patterson and Scott Slaven

Eight stars

In a BookShot that has a ‘pulled from the headlines’ feel, James Patterson and Scott Slaven offer the reader something with twists throughout. While on his way back from Australia, first-rate movie director Wayne Tennet learns that his step-daughter has just gone public, accusing him of molesting her. Panic setting in, Tennet calls for his PR firm to begin the spin as they get to the bottom of this disaster. There’s no way that he could have done this and Tennet is suspects he knows who is orchestrating this, seeking to bring him down for some unknown reason. While Tennet tries to hide himself away, his PR agent handles the narrative from hereon in, which includes feeding the media just enough without admitting to anything. When a young reporter makes her break covering this story, things begin to heat-up, before Tennet appears to cave to the pressure of everything that’s been going on. With numerous players involved in this circus, everyone is providing their own version of events. Is Wayne Tennet a child molester or has he been used to help elongate the news cycle on this flamboyant story? It’s not until the final twist that the reader will learn the truth, though there’s no way anyone saw it coming. Patterson and Slaven redeem themselves after a somewhat less than stunning previous piece that I read. BookShot fans and those who enjoy something that speaks to the current Hollywood blame game situation will surely enjoy this piece.

Patterson and Slaven work well together and have some interesting ideas to keep their BookShot collaborations moving smoothly. While many men have had their careers crippled by recent allegations, it is interesting to get behind the scenes and see how these two writers depict the process. Wayne Tennet seems to be less than central character, but his actions cannot be removed from the limelight, making the careers of others at his own expense. It is the story that leaves an indelible mark, impossible to take back after its come out, that propels the secondary characters to race around and do their thing. The story explores all aspects to the allegation and how, honestly, new stars are born as soon as accusations hit the news cycle. Whether they are true seems secondary and retracting them, well, the stain cannot be removed. Patterson and Slaven provide an interesting story here, which is worth sticking with, even though it gets slow and somewhat dramatic. In the end, it’s the message that resonates with the reader, leaving them to judge innocence once and for all!

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Slaven, for a great story that plays with the mind and forces the reader to filter through what is being spoon-fed on a regular basis. I look forward to seeing what else you two have in store for readers in the coming months.

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

Steeplechase, by James Patterson and Scott Slaven

Seven stars

Returning for another collaboration, James Patterson and Scott Slaven have created this historical BookShot that will keep the reader guessing as time switches between two distinct periods. Steeplechase Park draws large crowds to Coney Island, even as far back as 1907. With the most exciting and innovative rides, crowds rush to enjoy their time and take in the atmosphere. Katie Silver has helped design much of the layout, unheard of at that time, though her reputation precedes her. Flashing forward to 2017, Silver wakes from what must be a very strange dream, as she can vividly remember herself on the grounds of Steeplechase one hundred and ten years before. As Head of Security, Silver has a lot of responsibility to keep the crowds under control and the patrons safe. However, a series of ‘accidents’ over the past few weeks has Silver wondering if she will soon have a job. As the story alternates between both times, Silver finds herself in the middle of a plot to take control of Steeplechase Park and wrestle it away from its current owners. Gangsters and low-lifes have plans that not even Silver can stop. Confused about these dreams and their meanings, Katie Silver must stop something from happening in the past so that it does not ruin things for her 2017 self. Patterson and Slaven have their work cut out for them in this piece, as they try to sell the reader on this piece of historical fiction. Some will surely enjoy it for its mysterious meandering, but I could not get a firm grasp of the story or characters depicting it.

Patterson and Slaven have taken things in an interesting direction with this piece. While I may not be the story’s largest fan, that is not to say that it was horrible by any sense of the word. I enjoy stories that transcend a single time period, but I felt I may have missed some nuances that could have helped strengthen this piece for me. Katie Silver was certain the glue that held this story together, though my missing something surely kept me from being able to enjoy either incarnation of her or the larger place she played in the story. Her dual roles surely provide both a beacon and foreshadowing for what is to come. Complemented throughout by two sets of secondary characters, Patterson and Slaven have helped to create a distinct narrative that tells of this amusement park and some of the tragic happenings that befall it over a century apart. The story seems decent and the delivery is strong, but I feel as though I missed something in receiving it, though it is entirely possible that I simply did not pay close enough attention. I have another BookShot with this duo to read and can only hope that we’re all on the same page with that one, before I pass judgement too harshly.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Slaven, for an interesting premise. I hope you find many fans who adore this, as it has potential.

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

Dead Man Running, by James Patterson and Christopher Farnsworth

Eight stars

In this political thriller, James Patterson and Christopher Farnsworth team up to create a high-impact BookShot story to entertain the reader for a few hours. Dr. Randall Beck enjoys his work as a psychiatrist, helping some of the most stressed out people who are keen to save the world. When a new client enters his office, Beck senses that there is something especially troubling going on. As the client departs, he is gunned down on the sidewalk, uttering a single word to Beck before he expires. Beck, uncertain what he ought to do, is soon approached by the Secret Service, though will not reveal anything passed along during patient-doctor exchanges. Beck finds himself placed under arrest for reasons that remain unclear to him, though he gets the feeling there is something he’s not being told. After he is able to escape, he tells his story to a friend and colleague, before trying to communicate with his client’s wife. Things become a massive game of cat and mouse, before Beck is accused of trying to kill the president at an upcoming debate. Now on the run for his life and unsure who he can trust, Beck must hope that the terminal tumour in his brain kills him before a bullet to the back of the head. Explosive in its delivery and quick-paced to keep the reader hooked from the early going, BookShot fans and thriller junkies alike will love this piece.

These are the types of stories I feel BookShots were made to depict. There is so much going on that only the rapid succession of short chapters and cliffhanger moments can truly give the story the justice it deserves. Patterson and Farnsworth pack so much into a short piece that the reader has no time to breathe or even blink. Randall Beck is an interesting character, plucked from his day job and placed in the centre of an assassination plot that has parts of the Secret Service turning on one another. The pace permits the reader to learn nothing of Beck’s backstory, but a little development as he faces death on a few occasions. The secondary characters keep the story moving and pave the way for the explosive finish that is to pass by the final few chapters. The story, by no means unique, is told in a wonderful way to keep things moving and leaving little to the imagination. The reader will love the quick turns, though the bodies pile up as the plot takes unexpected turns. Still, I can only hope there are more BookShots out there that tell of something equally as exciting.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Farsworth, for such a wonderful piece. It buoys my spirits and has me hoping you’ll come back soon to work on another project.

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

You’ve Been Warned—Again, by James Patterson and Derek Nikitas

Seven stars

Back to try another Patterson-Nikitas collaboration, which pushes the BookShot into the realm of the paranormal. That being said, this one was at least palatable. Joanie Whitmore is dreading this Thanksgiving gathering in rural Rhode Island. Her family is quite pretentious and judgemental, just what she wants for her new fiancé, Nate. As they arrive in a storm, Joanie’s fears are soon substantiated, with a cold-shoulder greeting by her father and an equally stiff mother. As the storm gets worse, Joanie and Nate are unsure if now is the time to make their announcement, but with the wedding only a month away, they have little other time, if at all. When a knock comes at the door, a stranger appears, wondering if he might be able to use the phone, as his car’s broken down. Reluctantly, the Whitmores invite him in, only to discover that the phone lines are down, which is soon followed by all the power in the house. As Joanie begins to scour the house, she discovers that its history is anything but uplifting, having been where an entire family met their fate in a murder-suicide. Soon, members of the house begin to follow that same path adding a creepier element. This will surely be one Thanksgiving Joanie Whitmore will never forget, though it may also be one she never survives. Patterson and Nikitas fare well with this piece, though some of the paranormal aspects seem more subdued than one would expect in a short story. A well-crafted piece for those who like the genre and open-minded fans of the BookShot collection.

I admit that my previous attempt with this collaborative team proved to be a disaster of epic proportions. Perhaps it was that the story rang truer as a psychological thriller than completely paranormal, but it might also have something to do with the fact that I was less on edge while reading. Joanie Whitmore’s character serves the story well, pushing it in many directions as her emotions seem to shape the way the narrative turns. There are times of high drama and others of absolute fear, which are usually seen effectively through the filters Joanie presents the reader. While a short piece, the secondary characters and the interactions they have with our protagonist prove key to pushing the narrative away from a simple A to B scenario. From loving fiancé to standoffish father to this mysterious stranger who appears at the door, all of these types of characters pepper the narrative in interesting fashion. The story was fairly strong and the reader can lose themselves in the slow development of the plot, but there comes a time when things take a turn away from the normal and into a realm of pure oddity. Still not my favourite genre of BookShot, but it’s growing on me.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Nikitas, for this better effort. I can see some stronger potential with this and hope you’ll keep working together to hone your skills as a team.

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

Avalanche, by James Patterson and David Inglish

Eight stars

Espionage is always something that BookShots help make even more intense, with the quick changes in the narrative and only a short time to develop the plot. James Patterson works with David Inglish (a relatively new face, to my knowledge, in the BookShot family) on this piece of espionage that occurs in the mountainous region of Switzerland. Dr. Robert Monroe and his wife are on their way to Gstaad to deliver a series of lectures on art. Monroe is well-known for his pre-war painting knowledge and has a reputation for being quite personable. After coming into contact with a mysterious American on his travels, Monroe arrives for the conference at a glamourous hotel, only to be surrounded with others who seem to have an unusual interest in him and his specialised skills. When Mrs. Monroe goes missing, Robert learns that the man they met the night before may have slipped him a USB filled with highly-controversial computer code, pushing him into the middle of an international incident, with his own wife a collateral. Now, many groups have placed a target on Monroe’s back, determined to retrieve the USB and use it for their own nefarious activities. With his focus on trying to find his wife, Monroe learns of a sadistic killer by the name of Pumpkin, who has his wife, but is willing to barter her life for the USB. Thus begins a series of events that pit Monroe against everyone, and all for a bit of code. How could a lowly art history professor become so entangled in this mess? Patterson and Inglish have a wonderfully entertaining story on their hands here, perfect for a snowy day or to pass the time over a few cups of tea. Recommended to all those who enjoy BookShots that delve into the darker world of spies and double-crossing.

Another successful story that kept me hooked until the very last page. Patterson and Inglish seem to have found their niche, developing this story in short order and not letting go. As they layered more within the narrative, the reader can only wonder what will happen and how the ever-increasing cast of characters will play off one another. Robert Monroe is, as the review above suggests, a mere art history professor, but finds himself pulled in the middle of a battle between numerous agencies. He loves his wife, but can surely sense that there is something going on between them. Some of the more sinister characters who grace the pages show a heartless desire to destroy all for their own betterment, no matter the means. While not entirely able to foster a strong connection with the reader, their antics do counterbalance Monroe’s goodness. The story is decent and keeps moving, which is essential in the BookShot formula, permitting the reader to remain in constant movement as they try to decipher what awaits in the coming chapters. A successful premise that is effectively executed against the backdrop of the Swiss Alps.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Inglish, as you have kept your readers entertained. I am eager to see what else you two have in store for readers in the coming months.

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

The Shut-In, by James Patterson and Duane Swierczynski

Eight stars

Just when I thought Patterson would run out of BookShot ideas, he returns for another collaboration with Duane Swierczynski to reveal this timely piece that meshes technology with something from the thriller genre. Tricia Celano is forced to live inside during daylight hours, as she suffers from a rare condition exacerbated by sunlight. Her night phobia has forced her to develop a isolating lifestyle, with her computer the only means of communicating with the outside world. Tricia’s one extravagance is her unmanned drone, which she enjoys flying over the skies of Philadelphia. She uses the camera function to peer down on locals as they go about their business. During one routine drone flight, Tricia witnesses a woman kill an unsuspecting man with an arrow, though no one seems to believe her. Already labelled ‘different’, Tricia faces an uphill battle as she tries to convince the authorities. After a second reconnaissance mission, Tricia runs snack dab into the killer, but the drone is damaged and Tricia’s anonymity is blown. The reader learns that the killer has a major plan and Tricia’s discovery may ruin everything. Tricia has little time and few people in whom she can trust to ensure the body count stops increasing. Being a shut-in, she is not sure where to turn, or who might take up her cause. Patterson and Swierczynski present a wonderful story here and keep the reader enthralled until the very last page. BookShot fans will revel in this, particularly those who like quirky thrillers will no time to slow things down.

My head is spinning with all the BookShot reading that I have been doing, but I have come to enjoy this process. I am learning so much about the writing styles of many authors, as well as the far-reaches of where short stories can take the reader. Tricia Celano is an interesting character and her unique characteristics offer the reader something interesting to explore. Isolated from the outside world, Tricia uses her internet connection and this drone to keep tabs on the ‘real world’, but once she learns of a dastardly plot, she cannot sit idly by. Some of the other characters who cross the pages of this story prove interesting, if only because they are either skeptical or trying to negate her progress. The premise of this piece is great, like the crime with no apparent witnesses caught on screen by an innocent bystander. From there, it’s time to erase any evidence, as well as the witness who could spoil everything. Told in such a way that the reader will never have a chance to rest, Patterson and Swierczynski provide all the elements for a successful story. Proof that you never know what a BookShot has to offer until you get to the core of the story.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Swierczynski, for this entertaining piece. I loved everything about this story and hope you’ll collaborate again soon.

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

Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose, by Joe Biden

Nine stars

At a time when many politicians climb onto soap boxes and publish pieces to extol their own greatness, former Vice-President Joe Biden released this short book that seeks to rise above the fray and offer a story of hope, despair, and personal reflection. It is perhaps the first book I have read where a politician talks of their choice to turn away from high office, but it is much more than that, as the attentive and dedicated reader will discover. At the heart of the story is the struggle Biden had with his eldest son’s brain cancer diagnosis. This realisation puts everything into perspective for the vice-president, as well as the entire Biden family. Wanting to keep things private, no one would share the news publicly and Biden was still trying to serve the Obama Administration as effectively as possible. Woven into the story are countless international crises that Biden was required to handle, sometimes an eager distraction while at other times an anchor that kept him from the focus on family and loved ones. Added to that, there was the 2016 presidential election to consider. Would Biden, a capable long-term politician and hands-on member of the Executive Branch, toss his hat into the ring? Those in Democrat circles watched and waited, the country soundlessly tapped their collective foot, still unaware of the chaos that brewed for the Biden family below the surface. When Beau Biden did pass, it was both a relief and a blow to the entire Biden family, as the glue that held them all together was lost. The elder Biden tried to remember all the promises he made to his son, some in passing and a few heart-felt pleas to carry the torch. The most important of these was the promise not to let 2016 pass without a Biden running for president. The latter portion of the book, with Beau gone and Joe trying to wrap his head around it all, turns to the 2016 race. Would he run? Should he run? Could he run and make a difference? It would seem that while Biden pondered his options, the country had already placed him as a front-runner. As Biden confides, it was his decision and his alone. GOP members and the media would only offer kid gloves for so long, as well as the Clinton camp that began cursing another heavyweight to neutralise. In the end, Biden chose what he felt was best, a promise to Beau that he would do his best to be the man everyone knew. The Joe Biden who used compassion over a club, integrity over vicious words, and intelligence over knee-jerk reactions. This is a wonderful piece, suited for all readers who like the more human side of politicians, though can understand the rhetoric that goes along with having a role in the machine. Touching at times, Biden pulls out all the stops and tells a story that will not soon be forgotten.

When I picked up this book, I had just finished a thorough examination of the 2016 presidential election, one in which I was left gagging at the atrocious actions of people vying to represent the entire American population. However, I wanted to see more about the narrative from the Biden perspective, the man who chose not to put his hat in the ring. While I expected a strong political discussion throughout, I was happy to find something more complex. Within these pages rests a narrative that wove together the power of American politics, international clashes, family interactions, and a man’s struggle to come to terms with his son’s eventual illness. The reader is in for a strong piece here, forced to handle emotions and see how world events shaped the man who sought to keep it all together and away from the public eye. Biden does not pull punches in this piece, but does not make excuses either. He tells of world events (ISIS, ISIL, Ukraine, Russia), as well as domestic policies in the Obama Administration, but he also injects strong ties to family and the love they bring him. This is a piece that helps shape a man and his love for country, family, and self. It is impossible to divorce any of it effectively.

A few things that I took away from this book include the knowledge that life does not stop when tragedy knocks, promises to those who are going before us mean more than a simple nod of the head, and there is more to life than tossing mud in the eyes of one’s opponents. Anyone who has been through a personal tragedy will know that while they are numb, a simple look out the window will show that life is not prepared to stop for grieving, it moves along. Such is one of the key sentiments that Biden shares with the reader. Terror still occurs, state sovereignty is not respected, domestic issues do not solve themselves. Biden was forced to juggle all of it in order to mix his public and personal lives. It is obvious (but nice to hear) that others struggle with this as well. The list of promises made to the dying can be heart-wrenching, as the reader may know. One always promises to do this and that, if only to bring a sense of ease to the one who will soon be gone. However, Biden did not take his promises to Beau as simple window dressing, those “yah, umm, sure…” moments. He felt that he owed it to the son who always supported him and whose political light shone just as powerfully. Biden shows that he is a different sort of man, looking to others rather than his own greatness, to shape the future of his own legacy. Finally, one cannot deny that 2016 was one of the most divisive presidential election campaigns in recent history. That Biden sought to enter the race is commendable, especially looking at those with whom he would cross paths. The decision not to run, where he would be forced to face Clinton, Sanders, and Trump (and countless others), may have been determining factors. But, Biden seems less interested in gouging out the eyes of others and more about trying to build the country up. Few readers would deny that 2016 was less about policy and more about how to denigrate others in the hopes of tearing them down. Did a newly-wounded Biden really need that in his life? It is the ultimate sacrifice to bear one’s self to the electorate, especially in these days when no one holds back with their mud slinging. While there will be some readers who want dirt-only with their political stories, I would recommend this piece to anyone with a heart or who has been touched with the loss of a loved one. It seeks to unite, as much as politics usually divides, and tells of the powerlessness one can feel at the hands of cancer, but offers the strength to persevere.

Kudos, Mr. Vice-President, for such a wonderful piece. After reading this, I would strongly like to read a thorough version of your memoirs, should you choose to pen them.

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

Scott Free, by James Patterson and Rob Hart

Eight stars

Just when you think you’ve explored all the interesting angles that BookShots can take, a new collaboration pops up and something exciting coms of it. James Patterson and Rob Hart have developed something intriguing and entertaining here in this aptly-named short story. The story opens on the day Thomas Scott is released from prison after a judge rules his constitutional rights have been violated. After Scott became the prime suspect in the kidnapping and killing of three small children from a daycare at which he works part-time, an overzealous NYPD Detective is found to have illegally entered his apartment to plant evidence. With media broadcasting the news and continuing to lynch him, Scott wants out of the limelight at away from this city. The parents of the three victims are outraged and feel that the loophole has allowed a killer to go free. The detective, while on paid leave, is equally convinced that the constitutional violation was nothing more than a way to cover the truth; that Thomas Scott is a hardened murderer. Prepared for some vigilante justice, these parents want Scott dead once and for all, but they will have to catch him first. Sometimes the truth cannot set you free, if society has already drawn-up the verdict. Patterson and Hart have this masterful piece ready to impress the reader at every page flip. BookShot fans and those who like a little legal drama in their reading will surely appreciate this piece.

It is refreshing to find new pathways of enjoyment with these short stories. Patterson has a vast array of talent helping to create these stories and there’s nothing like a strong collection of writers to entertain dedicated readers. While Thomas Scott may be the central character here, the story switches constantly, allowing a handful of central characters to share the spotlight. The backstory is minimal and the development is mainly focussed on the chase for justice, but there is a better sense of these characters as the story progresses, from their angst to anger and all those points in between. There is certainly a lingering question around which character might know more than they are letting on, though it is up to the reader to forge ahead and piece the mystery together. The story is an interesting concept that grows with each passing chapter. I can say that I loved the varied points of view and the captivating slow reveal as vigilante justice takes hold and common sense melts away. This game of gangland justice shows the reader that truth can sometimes take a backseat, especially when media outlets help fan the flames and take no prisoners (alive!).

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Hart, for this piece. I will certainly revisit your work soon, given the chance. This may be one of the top five BookShots I have tackled in the last year or so!

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

Deadly Cargo, by James Patterson and Will Jordan

Eight stars

Adventure comes in many forms, which is one of the underlying premises of the BookShot collection. There is no ‘cookie cutter’ means of writing one of these short pieces, but it seems important that the action be quick and the adventure climb to warp-speed. When James Patterson teamed up with Will Jordan, they had these two ingredients in mind for a fast-paced tale on the high seas. When a distress call reaches the Casco Cove Coast Guard Station in Alaska, Lieutenant Rick O’Neill and his crew prepare to respond. As they locate the M.V. Ossora in the Bering Sea, O’Neill is slightly baffled. The Ossora, which has seen better days and was likely battling breakers during the Cold War, appears abandoned, her crew nowhere to be found. Still, the US Coast Guard is bound to answer all calls and try to help. It is only when O’Neill leads his crew aboard that things take a definite turn for the worse. This may be a trap, one that the original crew could not have known existed. Now, O’Neill is forced to turn heroic as he discovers the plan these hijackers are trying to enact, hoping that he’s not led the Casco Cove arm of the Coast Guard to their slaughter. With nothing left inside him, O’Neill must muster all his strength to bring his crew home, or die trying. Patterson and Jordan know how to keep the reader enthralled and leave nothing out in this 21st century Cold War showdown. Perfect for BookShot fans who need a little adventure to chill them to the core.

For those who have been following my BookShot month, you’ll know that these are never guaranteed successes. However, everyone once in a while I find myself in the middle of a story that has my attention and will not give up. I am happy to admit that this was one such piece. Rick O’Neill is that perfect struggling protagonist, washed-up and wanting out, only to find his skills needed one final time. Trouble is, with a man this stubborn, he does not know when ‘self’ should come before ‘country’, which leaves the crew in a precarious position. The banter between the Coast Guard and these select hijackers provides the reader with some interesting secondary characters, as well as some essential intensity in the narrative. The story is nothing unique or off the wall, but its delivery is nothing short of stellar, as it paces the release of information against a varied length of chapters. The reader will find themselves in the middle and not wanting to let go, or or relax until the final page has been turned. This is a refreshing read for me, after a few duds left me wondering how I would stomach thirty-one days of this. Thankfully, Will Jordan’s here to keep Patterson on a steady course and I look forward to another collaborative effort.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Jordan, for keeping a battle on the high seas from getting too melodramatic. I am eager to see what else I can find in the BookShot grove to whet my appetite.

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

Diary of a Succubus, by James Patterson and Derek Nikitas

Four stars

Not all BookShots are created equal. Surely, with a huge cast of collaborative authors, James Patterson’s name will be attributed to numerous genres, which will appeal to different reader bases. While I steer clear of certain genres when perusing BookShots (namely, the ‘flames’ series of romances), on this binge month, I am trying to keep my options open and reading a great deal of Patterson’s collaborative efforts. Derek Nikitas crossed my path in this piece, which seems to have more of a supernatural/fantasy flavour to it. As the story opens, the reader learns that the female protagonist is trying to lure a rich and powerful man back to his home and into bed. However, it soon becomes obvious that both are trying to kill the other. After Mark Norman Harper falls to his death, the hunt is on to find the group who are out to kill this collective of succubi, the undead who have had their souls bartered to the other side. For the rest of this painfully confusing piece, Patterson and Nikitas try to hold the reader’s attention with a cat and mouse game between the succubi and the hunters that seek to banish them once and for all. I admit that I was lost early on and could not find myself as I flailed through the piece. Fantasy and supernatural BookShot lovers, unite. The rest of us will have to see if this pair did any better when they plotted the death of Stephen King in another piece of fiction.

Reading should never be painful, nor should be it a chore that pushes the reader into areas of discomfort. Libraries, bookstores, Goodreads, and the internet are all places where the curious reader can take a plunge into most anything they find to their liking and run with it. Not everything will appeal to every reader. I have to remind myself of that sometimes, particularly when my reviewing can cut a little deep to those who have thin skin. However, Nikitas and Patterson surely have a following and for those people, this piece was surely just what they needed. Odd characters with backstories over three hundred years in the making, with both modern and antiquated perspectives to build solid characters. The story, while a dud for me, surely would have met the interest of those who enjoy supernatural phenomena and spirit haunting. I do, but this was just too odd for me and I could not find any literary handholds to keep me from sliding into an abyss of confusion. I cannot hold my nose and score it high for those who loved it, for it is the honest balance of YAH and NAY that makes a review stronger.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Nikitas, for doing your best with this. I’ll try another of your joint pieces (perhaps the aforementioned King murder) before passing final judgement. This was not my thing and I cannot sugarcoat it, but I am sure some will love it. To them, a hearty, ENJOY!

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

Stealing Gulfstreams, by James Patterson and Max DiLallo

Eight stars

Some BookShots leave the reader flying high, while others turn what might be an enjoyable experience into a free fall. Teaming up with Max DiLallo, James Patterson takes to the skies with this quick-paced piece about a man and his passion to uphold a family bond through the joys of flight. After witnessing their father perish in a fiery crash, Jack and Cole Flynn vow to keep his name alive. The elder Flynn was an air racer, perhaps one of the most dangerous activities with two wings. Racing through tracks and obstacles, the pilots put it all on the line every time they enter the cockpit. While Jack would like to say he has been able to make his father proud, that elusive first victory has continued to slip through his fingers. Additionally, the cost of fine-tuning a racing plane is nothing short of highway robbery. So, while he is still visited by memories of his father in the form of nightmares, Jack must turn to the other side of the law and steal private jets to make the money he needs to compete. Approached by a powerful gangster who has the act of fleecing the Flynns down to an art, Jack and Cole agree to steal these planes right out of their hangars. When the FBI starts to poke around, Jack must do all he can to divert their attention, at least until he secures enough to compete and leave the life. Staring down the largest heist yet, Jack and Cole must weight their options before things take a nosedive. Is a father’s legacy worth their incarceration? Patterson and DiLallo do well with this piece, which keeps the story moving and the characters believable. BookShot fans will likely push through this in short order, as it has some enjoyable storylines.

It is nice to see a successful collaboration return and find more success. Patterson and DiLallo have worked together before, producing strong results and keeping fans of the BookShot realm pleased with the end result.The story presents Jack Flynn as an ambitious man who wants to finish a task that his father could not, making him proud all these years later. The reader receives a little of Flynn’s backstory, a witness to his father’s fiery crash, as well as the burning desire to compete himself in one of the most death-defying competitions out there. Forced to sell his pride to the highest bidder, Flynn shows his determination, fuelled by an inner passion that will not let up. Adding a handful of strong secondary characters, the story unfolds and permits the reader to discover the support team that Jack has, as well as the one man who could make or break it for him at any moment. The story keeps the reader hooked for most of the arc, slowing down only in places to offer a change of pace. While not as riveting as some of the other pieces I have read, I am impressed that the story kept things moving so well and allowed the reader to remain in the driver’s seat (holding the yoke?) for the journey.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and DiLallo, for another wonderful collaboration. My BookShot binge is going well and you’ve helped to end the first week on a high note!

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

What Happened, by Hillary Rodham Clinton

Nine stars

It takes a village to raise a child, but only a single politician to destroy that village and a bigoted wing of a political party to sully the fabric of a country. And that became clear on January 20, 2017, when Donald Trump assumed the office of President of the United States (though I still think he thought he’d bought Twitter and was just given a large office from which to offer inane social commentary). With the country unsure of what lay ahead, many were still asking themselves ‘what happened?’, including the Democratic Party’s candidate, Hillary Rodham Clinton. This book seeks not only to analyse what happened during the campaign and on the lead-up to Election Day, but also instil into the reader some of the key issues at hand, as well as given personal insight into those issues from the losing candidate. There are, surely, some degree of sour grapes, but not from a bitter perspective. Clinton does not come across as a sore loser, but one who had a deck stacked against her. She discusses some of the key hurdles she faced, as well as two overwhelming issues (Russia and the FBI) that proved devastating to a campaign that sought to shatter glass ceilings once and for all. A wonderful piece for all those who want a closer look at Election 2016 without all the academic analysis. Clinton personalises much of the book in a sensible fashion, which will likely keep readers pleasantly surprised.

The US Presidential election in 2016 made history, of that there is no doubt. On the one hand, the Democrats nominated the first female as their candidate, while on the other, the Republicans chose a racist fear-monger who could not brag enough about his misogynistic ways. Surely, historians will have a field day with this in the next fifty years. With both camps armed and ready to go, it would seem that the list of hot button issues would shape the campaign and give voters something on which they could chew throughout the final months. Both Clinton and Trump had worked hard to etch out of their own positions throughout the primaries, facing daunting opponents, but sticking to their guns and presenting the general public with the most dichotomous set of beliefs possible. Issues such as women’s rights, minorities, socio-economic diversity, international diplomacy, executive branch continuity, and constitutional integrity prove interesting threads that emerge throughout the book. As Clinton discusses these areas, she also personalises it with her own take on events. Professional and personal experience are plentiful and she is able to spin things to show a more heart-felt approach to the entire process. That these issues reverberate throughout the narrative and help drive a wedge between the two candidates is an understatement, but it is surely Clinton’s reason for bringing them up so often.

While most campaigns are all about the issues, Clinton faced two major opponents that could not be debated away or reprimanded by the electorate. FBI involvement in the campaign, albeit indirectly, causes many headaches for Clinton, as she tried to explain her personal emails/server issue to the reader. I am no expert, but Clinton expressed that her use of a personal email was by no means a first amongst Secretaries of State, nor were there any known leaks or information of a highly classified nature that could have placed the United States in peril. The James Comey (FBI Director) insistence that there may be something criminal (or at least ethically problematic) could only serve to tip the balance against Clinton. The ongoing investigation and struggles left the American public uncertain if any wrongdoing had been uncovered, and the cryptic public sentiments made by Comey leading up to the election helped brand Clinton in a horrible way. The direct (and illegal) involvement of Russian money and meddling in the election, through social media, proved to sway the opinions of many with things that appeared online or could be found with a simple click of a cursor. I hate to use the phrase, but the amount of fake news that was floating around surely kept some of the electorate in dismay, forced to choose between two evils. It is stunning to hear what Clinton has been able to piece together on this topic. I cannot wait for more of the formal inquiry findings, at least until they are silenced. (Might this be what we all need to begin impeachment hearings?) Holding their noses, the vast majority of Americans made a choice, though I do wonder if they would have held the same opinion had all the information been readily available.

What I enjoyed most about the book was that it was not a sob story or a recitation of all the bad things done to Clinton, but an exploration of the entire election cycle, from primary fights with Bernie, through to the bitter defeat at the polls. Clinton came knocking on the glass ceiling (twice the bridesmaid, never the bride) and it would not shatter, though this is not her sole concern. The narrative is full of poignant and well-grounded thoughts about the America that chose Trump and where that will lead until 2020, when a course correction may be in order. Clinton also provides some stunning commentary from what she has seen of POTUS and his choices, using filters discussed throughout the book. This is a telling book that takes the reader through many of the areas of greatest strain in the country, which have surely been exacerbated by the election of Donald Trump. Bigotry, racism, misogyny, and elitism provide the foundation for a set of beliefs owned by the man occupying the Oval Office. While there have surely been others who have dabbled in these areas of divisiveness, it is more than the leader, the person elected to represent the populace, refuses to look outside his narrow view and govern with the best interests of all in mind. Then again, any jackass can knock down a barn, but it takes a carpenter to build one!

Kudos, Madam Clinton, for such insightful thoughts for all to share. I know some will scream #fakenews at every page turn, but we cannot expect the ignorant to be able to hold meaningful and well-rounded discussions without rushing back under their rocks. I await November 3, 2020 to see how the public will react, though I am close to positive we need only read Twitter feeds the moment the impeachment vote is tallied in the Senate.

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

Nooners, by James Patterson and Tim Arnold

Seven stars

BookShots can be hit or miss, forcing the reader to have a stiff upper lip when they come across something that does not work for them. While James Patterson and Tim Arnold have a somewhat entertaining piece here, I failed to be pulled in or sense anything captivating about which I could laud their work. Tim MacGhee is a hardworking ad man in New York’s cutthroat industry. He’s seen his fair share of success over the last decade, but at times, there must be room for growth. MacGhee has been entertaining a move to a rival firm, one that has the one thing he desires, ultimate control. However, for the time being, this former Marine must bide his time and wait for everything to fall into place. On his way into work one morning, MacGhee learns that one of his colleagues has been murdered, shot in the back of the head. The worry that pervades the office is too much and Tim heads home to his patient wife. When two more people with ties to the ad firm turn up dead, MacGhee begins to worry, more before he also saw them within hours of their deaths. Might someone be trying to send a message with these murders? MacGhee is nothing, if not entirely helpful with the authorities, revealing some of the water cooler gossip that might point to a suspect. However, with all the stress that he has on his plate, should MacGhee not be worried that he could be in the killer’s crosshairs? Patterson and Arnold offer an interesting story here, which may appeal to some readers. However, I found it lacked the needed level of suspense.

My month of BookShot binge reading has truly been a gamble. Some stories pull me in from the opening pages, while others fail to assert their literary grip on me. In this piece, Patterson and Arnold try to take readers into the exciting life of ad executives, focussing attention on Tim MacGhee. This protagonist does have some backstory on offer, as well as a little character development, which gives the reader a little better understanding about where he situates himself in the larger narrative. However, I found him to be lukewarm at best, which surely took away from the story’s delivery The secondary characters support the story as well, though I found myself equally as divorced from their key characteristics. The story, interesting on paper, seemed to lack the necessary impetus to keep things engaging. A murder should not only have a central character exploring his own life, but provide strong pacing and intrigue, with the murderer on the loose. Patterson and Arnold have the kernel of a decent story here, though its delivery left me less than satisfied.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Arnold, for this unique piece. While it did little for me, one can hope that others will see something worth their time.

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

Stingrays, by James Patterson and Duane Swierczynski

Seven stars

James Patterson and Duane Swierczynski team up for this interesting BookShot that explores a crime during a party weekend in the Caribbean. When the Stingrays are hired to explore the murder of Paige Ryerson, they must use all their grit and determination to bring the killer to justice. Killed in the Turks and Caicos, Ryerson was partying with some friends and simply disappeared. When Matthew Quinn and his Stingrays arrive, many of the players involved in the party scene that Ryerson frequented have reason to want her dead. The various Stingrays sift through the evidence and point fingers, though some of these leads turn cold as soon as they’re explored. From a corrupt cop to a playboy with a yacht, and even the captain of the sea-faring vessel, many people recount their various tales of seeing Paige Ryerson, but all promise that she was alive and well. It’s a race to get the answers, and someone’s holding out. With time ticking away, Quinn and his team must make a move and trap the killer, before they get away with the ultimate crime. Patterson and Swierczynski create this interesting piece that is sure to keep the reader intrigued as they speed through the story. Not my favourite BookShot, but this one had potential.

As with any short stories, BookShots can be hit and miss, interesting some readers while others raise their eyebrows and move on. I was not disheartened by this piece, but did not feel the connection to it that many others may feel, which only goes to show that my unique interests differ from those of other BookShot lovers. The characters were not all that intriguing to me, though they surely did offer some interesting insight into a cross-section of the population. Presenting a handful of potential murderers, the authors let the reader see some of the interesting parts about their lives. Same goes for the Stingrays, all of whom bring something to the table that might interest the reader, given the proper inclination. The story was nothing special for me, which I feel might relate to the fact that I could not connect to the Stingrays. Had I felt more of a connection to the sleuths, I might have found something in their tracking down a killer and become more invested in the story. It was not horrible, though I am not sure I’d race out to read another BookShot of the same premise. Patterson and Swierczynski provide the reader with some interesting aspects in this story, though I did not find myself enamoured. Perhaps it has to do with my not feeling my greatest, but I could not connect with this piece on any level.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Swierczynski, for a decent piece of writing. While I am not hooked, that is not to say that others will not enjoy what you had to offer.

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

After the End (Owen Taylor #2), by James Patterson and Brendan DuBois

Eight stars

James Patterson and Brendan DuBois are back with the follow-up BookShot, where the reader met Owen Taylor, a recently-retired member of American Special Operations. With as much intensity as the debut piece, Patterson and DuBois solidify their ability to keep Taylor fresh and at the forefront of the reader’s mind. Owen Taylor is quite enjoying his new life in rural New Hampshire, though some of his less-welcoming neighbours need a little reminder of common decency. When he’s visited by a former colleague, Taylor learns of an issue down in Georgia that has his name written all over it. Travelling down, Taylor discovers a former special ops has been decimated by an IED, though things are not quite as cut and dry as that. While it would be easy to point fingers at the Taliban or ISIS, some raw footage leads Taylor to believe that popular war correspondent, Jack Zach, may have tipped off the enemy to an America contingent, causing significant casualties. This pushes Taylor to agree to help and he finds himself seeking out the source. Jack Zach does not seem to want to engage with Taylor in New York, though the latter will not take a simple no. A tip sends Taylor over to the Turkey-Syrian border, but Zach’s little game of cat and mouse keeps him one step ahead. After retuning the the US, Taylor discovers that his sleuthing is not appreciated and that Zach has friends in high places. However, Owen Taylor is stubborn, if nothing else, and will not stop until he has been able to avenge this cowardly act, if he can make it out alive. Patterson and DuBois show that their collaborative skills are top-notch. BookShot fans and those who loved the opening Owen Taylor piece will surely enjoy this follow-up.

It is sometimes difficult to produce a second high-quality short story in such short order. Patterson and DuBois did well with their BookShot ‘The End’ and this sequel offers just as much to the curious reader. Owen Taylor’s character is again wonderfully developed. There is less backstory here, though Taylor does flashback to his crew on the final mission (which was the crux of the opening story). I was certain that things would remain focussed in New Hampshire, where Taylor had a new group of enemies to keep him busy, though he seems to have handled them in a single (short) chapter. Working through the skills that Taylor honed while serving his country, the reader is able to see a decent snapshot of the man and his capabilities. The story is brief and the chapters speed along, permitting the reader to catapult through to the end in a single setting. Doing the reverse of the first piece, the reader sees Taylor in his nirvana before being thrust back into the combat zone he so quickly fled. An interesting contrast and should be noted for those who like to dig deeply into a story’s symbolism. I said that I would formulate an opinion of whether I wanted to see Owen Taylor in a full-length novel after reading this piece. I can say that I would not, as I feel the quick pace of the story is the perfect setting. However, I would also not want to see numerous BookShots that pull Taylor back into the mix and away from his home. It seems too ‘agent for hire after he retires’ and would surely get old quickly. Patterson and DuBois have done well with these two stories. We’ll see if they are done or have another idea floating around between them, Owen Taylor or otherwise.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and DuBois, on a great follow-up piece. Your collaborative effort offers up some great storytelling and I can only hope to find more in the months to come (or this BookShot binge month)!

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

The End (Owen Taylor #1), by James Patterson and Brendan DuBois

Eight stars

It’s nice to be able to pick up a BookShot and commit only a few hours to a story that can—though, not always—take you away somewhere wonderful or exciting. A few cups of coffee and a little quiet time allows you to fully commit and see what James Patterson and his collaborator have to say. This story is anything but peaceful, though it reads so well that I cannot heap enough praise on it. Brendan DuBois shows that he is not only an accomplished author, but also that he has just enough flair to pull this story off and keep a large group of readers entertained. Owen Taylor is ready to retire, but has one final covert mission to accomplish before returning to civilian life. Alongside his team of four other operatives, they parachute into Serbia to handle a warlord who has been trying to drum up enough panic to bring about another World War. As Taylor and the team begin their night operation, something goes wrong, and it’s not just a hankering for home cooking. As the trek through snow and sleet continues, Taylor gets the sense that they are expected, as if someone’s tipped off the locals and traps await. One by one, members of the team end up on the short end of the lucky stick, leaving Taylor to trudge onwards to complete what he’s been sent to do, all before the sun rises. By the time he reaches his final spot, there is a new threat that awaits him and he finally comes face to face with the reason for the compromised mission. The second half of the story explores Owen Taylor from a new angle, as he sifts through not only his last mission, but his time as an operative. His dreams for solitude, love, and stability flash through his mind as he tries to decompartmentalise after years of military service. However, they say that once a soldier, always a soldier. No quiet lakeside living can remove those ingrained traits… but Owen Taylor may have no choice. Patterson and Brendan DuBois do a masterful job at jamming much into the story, without leaving the reader gasping or seeking to pull the proverbial ripcord. BookShot fans, particularly those who enjoy something with a military flavour, will surely devour this in short order.

While still early in my month-long binge of BookShots, I have come across some great pieces that those I feel should remain on the shelf. This one has been on my TBR list for a while and I wanted to see if it lived up to some of the hype. With a sequel (which I will tackle in short order), I wondered if Patterson and DuBois could bring the intensity and yet leave some threads dangling to lure me into pushing through and getting my hands on that second piece. Owen Taylor’s character is wonderfully developed, though there is still much that can be done with him. The reader receives some backstory about Taylor’s past missions, though it is the current one, seen through a pair of Night Vision Goggles, that really pulls the reader in. Taylor’s feelings and deep-rooted sentiments as things happen in real time provide the reader with a general idea of who this military man might be. Without revealing too much, the latter portion of the book further explores Taylor and his thought processes, personalising the man and divorcing him from his soldier stoicism. While the story is brief and the chapters speed along, the reader is also able to learn a little more about those on the team alongside Taylor, which offers further exploration into the different individuals who find themselves on these sorts of missions. Patterson and DuBois do well in short order to present believable and intriguing characters, both in the Serbian darkness and the locale of the story’s latter portion (trying not to spoil!). The story was well-crafted and left me wanting to know more, though I am sure the sequel has just as much punch to it. A mix of military thrills with personal reflection offers a larger group of readers something to enjoy. It’s not all blood and gore, but also not saccharine and lovey. Patterson and DuBois have laid the groundwork for something here and I cannot wait to see where they take it. Not quite sure if I can see a full-length book out of his yet, but I suspect that my the time I finish the second story, I’ll have an opinion.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and DuBois, on a great piece of writing. Your collaborative effort offers up some great storytelling and I can see the partnership going places (as it has already).

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

The Exile, by James Patterson and Alison Joseph

Seven stars

One advantage to James Patterson’s use of collaborators is that he is able to present stories set all around the world, permitting the reader to experience new authors and locales to pique their interest. In this BookShot, Patterson brings Alison Joseph on board and shifts the focus to rural Ireland. While living in London, Finn O’Grady receives a panicked call from Bridie O’Connor, a friend from back in Galway. She explains that the old tale of the Green Man has merit, as her son saw him the night before. Out of her mind, Bridie will not accept no for an answer, pushing Finn to cross the Irish Sea to offer his assistance. While he wants to help, Finn is hesitant to return to Ireland, having been chased away when he served on the police force. The narrative explores the case that ended Finn’s police career, the rape and murder of Bridie’s teenage sister. Finn sought to crack the case wide open, disbelieving that the man who admitted to the crime was actually guilty. Trying to shake the stigma, Finn turns his attention to Bridie’s concerns around the Green Man. Well aware that the tale is simply folklore, crafted by Bridie’s grandfather many years ago, he seeks to show this to Bridie, who refuses to listen. When members of her family are found murdered, Bridie renews her feeling that the tale holds a degree of truth. Forced to cross paths with old enemies and the police chief who banished him, Finn tried to rectify that lingering case, while dispelling the Green Man tale. A killer is surely on the loose, though no one can quite be sure who it is or why to resurrect the myth. An interesting BookShot for those who enjoy the international experience, though it did not have the punch I sought to find it thoroughly enjoyable.

I am a fan of Ireland and was hoping to envelop myself in this wonderful story when I learned of its setting. There was something within the reading experience that left me less than drawn to the story or its characters, though I cannot put my finger on the specific issue. Patterson and Joseph create a strong character in Finn O’Grady, offering up significant backstory and present character development in this short piece. Finn struggles with trying to find truth in a community where lore and secrets prove a stronger reality. Having struggled with trying to find justice for Bridie and her family, Finn returns and wants to set the record straight. The story offers a number of secondary characters to help to prop-up this flashback-filled piece, though I was left slightly more confused and irritated than pleased with all the names that crossed the page. It was as though Patterson and Joseph wanted to bite off more than they could chew in this short story, forcing the reader to juggle names, places, and crimes in short order. The story was decent, filled with Gaelic phrases and hinting at some of the mystery that Ireland has always given me, though the true cultural sentiment was not as strong as I might have liked. I sought something with fewer threads to tie-off and more small-town feel to it. This story seemed to be all about past grievances and a character stain that Finn O’Grady wants to scrub away, with short chapters that created a jilted narrative. This may be one time that Patterson’s trademark writing style did not work for him. I applaud Patterson and Joseph for trying hard to tap into this fictional experiment and can see some strong foundations for a decent story, though I was just not feeling it. Call it my first let-down in this month of BookShot reading.

Kudos, Mr. Patterson and Madam Joseph, as you sought to push BookShots into the Irish countryside. Alas, I am not sure if a few pints of Guinness and a re-read would make the story any better for me.

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

The Dolls, by James Patterson and Kecia Bal

Eight stars

One of the interesting aspects to the BookShot collection is the vast array of topics that emerge from the various author combinations, serving up a little something for every reader to enjoy. Working alongside MasterClass Co-Author Competition Winner, Kecia Bal, James Patterson presents this story that is as eerie as it is futuristic. After working the crime desk in Chicago for a decade, journalist Lana Wallace arrives in Boston to work the business section and sharpen her mind in a new environ. However, as she arrives, a millionaire has been found murdered in his home, which turns the attention away from anything as mundane as the business pages. Still, Lana tries to use her crime beat past and mesh it alongside her her role to explore the business dealings of the recent victim, the second rich businessman to have been killed in recent days. What Lana finds out shocks her and leaves her gasping for air. CEO of PrydeTek, Eric Blake, was in the market to create life-like dolls that replicate humans in every way; from their physical appearance to the feel of their skin, and even their mannerisms. Labelled ‘robot companions’, these pieces of artificial intelligence can do whatever their owner desires and yet give the appearance of being entirely life-like. One of the darker sides to the PrydeTek discovery is the submissiveness of these robots, such that they are completely compliant in every way. As Lana tries to wrap her head around the sexual nature of these creations, she pokes around to find out just how realistic these robots seem to be for their owners. Discovering one such robot, Lana engages ‘Sandra’ in conversation and learns of her desire to leave the home, where she has been ordered to stay, but is programmed to remember a negative thought process from a past attempt to enter the outside world. After learning the extent of the horrible treatment of these robots, Lana discovers that a third body has turned up, yet another businessman. When a loose-lipped detective releases some poignant commentary on key pieces of evidence, Lana begins to see a larger and more disturbing picture, forced to act before it is too late. Patterson and Bal do a wonderful job presenting this 21st century piece of social commentary rolled into a thriller of sorts. BookShot fans with open minds will surely enjoy this piece, which differs from anything I have read to date.

As I have said before, it is refreshing to see new talent grace the pages of the BookShot collection. To learn that Kecia Bal earned this spot after a rigorous competition is even more exciting.Together, she and Patterson have crafted a piece that pushes the envelope, but also provides much needed insight into the world that is developing before us, even if things get a little personal and graphic at times. Lana Wallace proves to be an interesting protagonist, with her sleuthing capabilities and attempts to reinvent herself. The reader is not fully capable of engaging in a complete backstory with so little time to explore the story, but the authors do an effective job keeping the reader curious and always on their toes. Adding a number of strong (or, at least, quirky) secondary characters keeps the story moving forward and provides the reader some time to think, particularly when the dialogue and subject matter move away from traditional artificial intelligence discussions. The story itself is quite engaging, more for the eerie nature and twists embedded in the narrative, sure to keep readers talking for some time to come. I felt the story was the perfect length for a BookShot and one can hope these two will return to present more pieces of such high quality.

Kudos, Mr. Patterson and Madam Bal, for developing such interesting topics of discussion in this short story. Perhaps one of the better BookShots I have read, as it kept me thinking until the very last page.

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

Manhunt (Michael Bennett #10.5), by James Patterson and James O. Born

Eight stars

While BookShots can be a real gamble, it’s sure money when James Patterson and James O. Born team up and offer a new instalment to the Michael Bennett series. As is their annual tradition, the Bennetts are preparing for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Eager to secure a decent spot, they leave before dawn and take in all the festivities along the streets of New York. When, during the middle of the parade, Detective Bennett notices a vehicle crashing through the parade route, he arms himself for the worst. After crashing into one of the floats and pressing a detonator switch, the driver utters a baffling Arabic phrase and rushes off while mayhem ensues. Bennett leaps into action and chases down the driver, whose powerful fighting skills see him escape the clutches of the NYPD’s finest. For his heroics, Bennett is loaned to the FBI Taskforce to determine who the driver might be and what motive might explain this recent terrorist attack. Paired with Russian Embassy official, Darya Kuznetsova, Bennett is baffled as to why the Feds are utilising foreign countries to handle this investigation. After studying some of the tape from the event, its determined that the driver hails from Kazakhstan and has ties to Russia, though seems to have been turned by an Islamic terror cell for reasons yet unknown. Bennett and Kuznetsova seek to learn a little more about the man and how he might have masterminded this attack, as well as whether there is more to come. Bennett will not let up as long as the terrorist is on the loose, even if that means bending the rules set out for him. Bennett learns a little more about the driver and is baffled to learn some key information that might better explain what happened along the parade route. Might there be more to the story than meets the eye? With the Feds itching for answers and the Russian Mob on the hunt, Bennett must rush before everything disappears into a puff of smoke. Patterson and Born do a masterful job and show just how powerful a BookShot can be in the right hands. Lovers of these short stories and Michael Bennett fans alike will surely find much to enjoy in this.

Just as I have said that James Patterson ought to stick to a few key series (Michael Bennett being one of them), I also feel that there are a handful of collaborators who bring out the best in this super-rich author. James O. Born is one of those men, who has started to help steer the Michael Bennett series towards renewed success. Born is also wonderful in his BookShot submissions, dazzling the reader with high quality and succinct writing, which Patterson surely enjoys in whatever capacity he has. Tying in nicely to the previous full-length novel, the Bennetts are out in full force for Thanksgiving. Michael Bennett is, as always, a powerful character and receives a peppering of backstory here, though the number of past novels and the brevity of this piece do not leave much time for thorough expansion. The use of Darya Kuznetsova proves an interesting addition to the story, which works on many levels to add a new flavour to the over-utilised terrorist theme prevalent in the genre. Some of the twists these two discover only add to an already intense narrative, pushing the story along at breakneck speeds. The number of secondary characters also complement the story’s direction without weighing it down and forcing the reader to synthesise too much. The story is exciting and allows the reader to discover a new angle in the War on Terror, while also flirting with some of the new revelations about the former Cold War nemesis. Paced well with short chapters and just enough for an afternoon of reading, this Michael Bennett piece delivers in all the right ways!

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Born, for another superior collaboration. I can only hope that you have more lined up for BookShot fans in the coming months.

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

The Lifeguard Lawyer, by James Patterson and Doug Allyn

Seven stars

In an attempt to try something different, I’ve decided to open 2018 with a month of BookShots (or as many as I can handle until I go mad), those short stories thrillers that James Patterson began overseeing a few years ago. With piles of them at my disposal and more coming out each day, there is never a lack of them to pique my interest. Adding Doug Allyn to the mix will allow me to start the year with a new collaboration team and hopefully lead to many new and wonderful discoveries. Brian Lord has returned to his childhood community of Port Vale, where he is hiding from a recent traumatic event. It has only been a few days since his fiancée was blown up in a car bombing and Lord is one of the prime suspects. A former Assistant District Attorney, Lord is now working on the other side of the aisle, defending clients who surely have checkered pasts. After a heroic rescue at the beach, where Lord briefly returns to playing the role of his teenage job as a lifeguard, he is no longer able to hide from the spotlight and must answer questions surrounding the fatal explosion. Might one of Lord’s past clients have had a beef with his work, or seek to quiet a snitch from proceeding with their case? After being terminated for conduct deemed problematic with his current firm, Lord is out on his own, still with a handful of clients that no one else wants to touch.He’s happy to work with the authorities to find the person responsible for the bombing, but must also protect some of his own clients, both from self-incrimination and sleazy former spouses. In the meantime, Lord seeks to return to his job as a lifeguard, tired of the three-piece suits that muzzled him for so long. There, he meets an old friend and they take quite the walk down memory lane, revisiting unfinished business. Now, it is time for Lord to find the bomber before he, too, is killed, forever silencing this maverick legal mind. Patterson and Allyn craft a decent story that entertains for the duration of the piece. BookShot fans can praise this as one of the better stories in the ever-growing collection that seems to have no end. Hey, at least I will have fodder for the entire month!

I have a love/hate relationship with James Patterson and these Bookshots, though this does seem to be a decent piece of work, which allows Allyn to shine. The premise is good and the piece seems to flow effectively, based on the large number of characters who add their own flavour to the narrative. Brian Lord receives a decent backstory, as well as some redeeming characteristics as the story progresses, which allows the reader to build a bond with him throughout. He is not, however, the world’s more endearing lawyer, nor does he come across as one that I would want to read about for a full-length piece. Patterson and Allyn develop him just enough to forge a connection and pepper in some interesting secondary characters to keep the story interesting. Forcing Lord to process his feeling for his decently deceased fiancée alongside a teenage love interest allows the reader to see some of his more vulnerable aspects, though there is little time to truly tap into his sentiments for either woman. The array of other characters are interesting and serve their purpose, though I am not seeking anything too detailed or to have them grace the pages of another BookShot. The story in general has some strengths, as Lord wrestles with his life and work, while also trying to synthesise the recent bombing. Things move along effectively, and come to a head as Lord must make a decision about his life, with a lukewarm epiphany on which the reader can grasp. The story served its purpose and was entertaining, which is surely the premise of all BookShots, even those who test the waters ahead of new Patterson series.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Allyn, for presenting this well-developed piece I would read more of your collaborative work in BookShot form and will keep my eyes open for anything coming down the pipeline.

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