Queens of the Conquest: England’s Medieval Queens (Book 1), by Alison Weir

Seven stars

Alison Weir is back with another well-researched biography of English monarchy, but takes a new and exciting approach. Rather than a single biography of a past English monarch, Weir turns her focus onto a collection of medieval queens, many of whom followed one another onto the throne. In this first volume, Weir turns her attention to the Norman queens, who shaped what would eventually become the Plantagenets, a ruling dynasty all their own. Remembering the time period—beginning in the mid-11th century—the reader must remember that these were not entirely independent rulers, but also not the ‘wet behind the ears’ women who nodded and curtsied towards their husbands. Rather, they were women who lived during the modern creation of the England that became a key part of the European realm. Weir explores five key queens who sought not only to support their husbands, but vie for the English throne at a time when it was still unheard of for a woman to rise to power. While there was always a strong political and monarchical struggle—especially in pushing for the true role of primogeniture (eldest child, rather than solely eldest son)—within the realm, the idea that queens could be compassionate to their subjects begins to emerge. From those who sought to build connections with the common folk to the queens who would establish themselves as compassionate to the sick and dying, Weir exemplifies these women as those who knew how to curry favour with the entire English populace and not solely those at court. With additional focus on the genealogical connections between them, the reader can see how some of these issues persist from one generation to the next and how bloodlines fuel battlegrounds for the true right to ascend the English Throne. England fought a Civil War over the question of succession to the throne and lost a potential Queen Regnant who was not strong enough to vie for her blood right. Fans of Weir’s non-fiction work may enjoy this piece, rich in history and social commentary of the time, as well as those with a curiosity in England’s medieval monarchs. I did enjoy it, but find that this period in English history may precede the time period that fascinates me most.

Weir’s work is surely an acquired taste, as I have said to many people over the years. She is one of the few authors I read who is able to write in both the non- and fiction realms at an equally high calibre. Her attention to detail and passion for the subject at hand appears in every book, though some of her non-fiction work can become quite detailed and therefore a little dry. For me, the subject matter usually plays a key role in what will draw me to the book and I fully admit that medieval history can be a little too far back in time to fully enthral me. That being said, Weir makes not only a valiant effort to show how older history can be exciting, but also that there are strong ties to modern themes found in these early queens. The role of women in the English monarchy is a theme that Weir explores, discussing the three types of queens—regnant, consort, and dowager—and how history interpreted this when it came to certain members of the royal family. As always, primogeniture played a strong role in the understanding of who could ascend to the English Throne. Her research is strong and helps propel the narrative of the piece in such a way to offer the reader something they must consider before blindly accepting what happened in history. Weir does enjoy the minutiae, which may not appeal to many, but these fragments of information that may not have been seen or effectively pulled together before help to shape her strong arguments throughout. While I remain baffled as to how Weir can effectively juggle two multi-volume series simultaneously, unrelated to one another, I am eager to see where else she will go with this series. I may return for another volume, though my reticence is only the subject matter and not the quality of her writing.

Kudos, Madam Weir for such a wonderful introduction into this historical exploration of the early Norman queens. I can see there is much to say about them and you are the best person to be handed the reins.

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

Advertisements

Queens of the Conquest: England’s Medieval Queens (Book 1), by Alison Weir

Seven stars

Alison Weir is back with another well-researched biography of English monarchy, but takes a new and exciting approach. Rather than a single biography of a past English monarch, Weir turns her focus onto a collection of medieval queens, many of whom followed one another onto the throne. In this first volume, Weir turns her attention to the Norman queens, who shaped what would eventually become the Plantagenets, a ruling dynasty all their own. Remembering the time period—beginning in the mid-11th century—the reader must remember that these were not entirely independent rulers, but also not the ‘wet behind the ears’ women who nodded and curtsied towards their husbands. Rather, they were women who lived during the modern creation of the England that became a key part of the European realm. Weir explores five key queens who sought not only to support their husbands, but vie for the English throne at a time when it was still unheard of for a woman to rise to power. While there was always a strong political and monarchical struggle—especially in pushing for the true role of primogeniture (eldest child, rather than solely eldest son)—within the realm, the idea that queens could be compassionate to their subjects begins to emerge. From those who sought to build connections with the common folk to the queens who would establish themselves as compassionate to the sick and dying, Weir exemplifies these women as those who knew how to curry favour with the entire English populace and not solely those at court. With additional focus on the genealogical connections between them, the reader can see how some of these issues persist from one generation to the next and how bloodlines fuel battlegrounds for the true right to ascend the English Throne. England fought a Civil War over the question of succession to the throne and lost a potential Queen Regnant who was not strong enough to vie for her blood right. Fans of Weir’s non-fiction work may enjoy this piece, rich in history and social commentary of the time, as well as those with a curiosity in England’s medieval monarchs. I did enjoy it, but find that this period in English history may precede the time period that fascinates me most.

Weir’s work is surely an acquired taste, as I have said to many people over the years. She is one of the few authors I read who is able to write in both the non- and fiction realms at an equally high calibre. Her attention to detail and passion for the subject at hand appears in every book, though some of her non-fiction work can become quite detailed and therefore a little dry. For me, the subject matter usually plays a key role in what will draw me to the book and I fully admit that medieval history can be a little too far back in time to fully enthral me. That being said, Weir makes not only a valiant effort to show how older history can be exciting, but also that there are strong ties to modern themes found in these early queens. The role of women in the English monarchy is a theme that Weir explores, discussing the three types of queens—regnant, consort, and dowager—and how history interpreted this when it came to certain members of the royal family. As always, primogeniture played a strong role in the understanding of who could ascend to the English Throne. Her research is strong and helps propel the narrative of the piece in such a way to offer the reader something they must consider before blindly accepting what happened in history. Weir does enjoy the minutiae, which may not appeal to many, but these fragments of information that may not have been seen or effectively pulled together before help to shape her strong arguments throughout. While I remain baffled as to how Weir can effectively juggle two multi-volume series simultaneously, unrelated to one another, I am eager to see where else she will go with this series. I may return for another volume, though my reticence is only the subject matter and not the quality of her writing.

Kudos, Madam Weir for such a wonderful introduction into this historical exploration of the early Norman queens. I can see there is much to say about them and you are the best person to be handed the reins.

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

The Help, by Kathryn Stockett

Nine stars

Kathryn Stockett has created this wonderful story that depicts life in America’s South during the early 1960s. A mix of humour and social justice, the reader is faced with a powerful piece on which to ponder while remaining highly entertained. In Jackson, Mississippi, the years leading up to the Civil Rights Movement presented a time where colour was a strong dividing line between classes. Black women spent much of their time serving as hired help and raising young white children, while their mommas were playing ‘Society Lady’ as best they could. Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan may have been part of the clique, born with a silver spoon in her mouth, but she held herself on the periphery, at times looking in. Skeeter was unwed and with few prospects, though her time away at college left her ready to tackle the workforce until an eligible man swept her off her feet. Skeeter returned to Jackson, only to find her family’s help left under mysterious circumstances and no one was willing to discuss it. Skeeter sought a job as a writer, prepared to begin at the bottom rung, but not giving up on sleuthing around to determine what might have been going on in Jackson. Skeeter scored a job writing an informative column in the local newspaper, giving cleaning tips to housewives in need of a little guidance. Who better to offer these tips that the hired help of Jackson?! Skeeter fostered a slow friendship with one, while building up a trust, and has an idea for a book that could offer a unique perspective in Mississippi’s divided society. Skeeter sought to write a tell-all from the perspective of the hired help, in hopes of shining a light on the ongoing domestic slavery taking place within a ‘freed’ America. With secret meetings taking place after working hours and Skeeter typing away, a mental shift took place and the idea of class became taboo, at least to some. Full of confessions and struggles in Mississippi society, Skeeter’s book may just tear the fabric of what has been a clearly demarcated community since after the Civil War. However, sometimes a book has unforeseen consequences, turning the tables on everyone and forcing tough decisions to be made. Stockett pulls no punches in the presentation, fanning the flames of racial and class divisions, as she depicts a way of thinking that was not only accepted, but completely sanctioned. A must-read for anyone ready to face some of the treatment undertaken in the name of ‘societal norms’, Stockett tells it like it was… and perhaps even still is!

Race relations in the United States has long been an issue written about, both in literature and pieces of non-fiction. How a country as prosperous as America could still sanction the mistreatment of a large portion of its citizens a century after fighting a war on the issue remains completely baffling. While Stockett focusses her attention on Mississippi, the conscious reader will understand that this sort of treatment was far from isolated to the state. One might venture to say that racism continued on a worldwide scale, creating a stir, while many played the role of ostriches and denied anything was going on. The characters within the book presented a wonderful mix of society dames and household help, each with their own issues that were extremely important. The characters bring stereotypes to life in an effort to fuel a raging fire while offering dichotomous perspectives. The interactions between the various characters worked perfectly, depicting each group as isolated and yet fully integrated. The household help bring the struggle of the double work day (triple, at times) while the society dames grasp to keep Mississippi from turning too quickly towards integration and equality, which they feel will be the end of all normalcy. Using various narrative perspectives, the characters become multi-dimensional. Additionally, peppering the dialogue with colloquial phraseology pulls the story to a new level of reality, one that is lost in strict textbook presentation. Stockett pushes the narrative into those uncomfortable places the reader hopes to keep locked in the pages of history, pushing the story to the forefront and requiring a synthesising of ideas and emotions. This discomfort is the only way the reader will see where things were, likely in a hope not to repeat some of history’s worst moments in America’s development. However, even fifty years after the book’s setting, there remains a pall of colour and class division promulgating on city streets. While racism is not as sanctioned in as many laws, it remains a strong odour and one that cannot simply be washed away by speaking a few words. This book, as entertaining as it is in sections, is far from fictional in its depiction of the world. The sooner the reader comes to see that, the faster change can occur. All lives matter, if we put in the effort and have the presence of mind to listen rather than rule from our own ivory towers.

Kudos, Madam Stockett for this wonderful piece. I am happy to have completed a buddy read on this subject and return to read what was a wonderful cinematic presentation.

Untangling the Black Web, by T.F. Jacobs

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to T.F. Jacobs for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

When the author approached me to read this ARC, I was highly energetic, having perused the dust jacket blurb and the topic at hand. Now that I have had a chance to devour it, I realise that I made the right choice in taking Jacobs up on his offer. David Higgins is the type of lawyer you love to hate. Employed by American True Care to write the clauses and loopholes that keeps the health insurance company free from paying for many of the medical procedures of its members, Higgins carries that burden around with him on a regular basis. After his wife, Lexi, is diagnosed with cancer, Higgins is able to see the other side of the coin and is not only saddled with paralysing debt, but her eventual death. Higgins pledges to bring American True Care down and works with a secret group of like-minded individuals to infiltrate the upper echelons on American True Care to weed out exactly where things are going and how to become the more powerful whistle-blower in the country. Finagling a job as a lobbyist, Higgins is forced to liaise with some of America’s high ranking congressional movers and shakers, all to ensure the passage of key pieces of legislation. These bills will not only benefit American True Care, but allows key members of Congress to line their pockets or receive favours in kind. As Higgins begins his work, he sees all too well the evils that Congress and Big Healthcare are pushing down the throats of Americans, all of whom are helpless to do anything. Higgins comes to see that things are even more powerful than he thought, particularly when some of those working alongside him are discovered and killed. Armed with much blackmail, Higgins returns to those congressional leaders with whom he met in the hopes of turning their support away from America True Care. However, it might be too little too late, as the monstrosity that is the American Healthcare Insurance industry runs things with a titanium hammer. Poignant and truly eye-opening, Jacobs lays out a well-crafted story that seeks not only to convince readers of his cause, but also to shine lights on areas many would prefer kept veiled in darkness. Perfect for those who enjoy a political thriller with topics pulled from current headlines. Sure to make ripples upon its public release!

I’d never read anything by Jacobs before he approached me, but I am very glad that he was able to find me and provide this book. As I sit on my perch in Canada, I can only shake my head at the mess US health insurance has become, exacerbated by a president who has lost touch with the grassroots Americans who elected him. David Higgins is a wonderful character, whose goodness is balanced out with the need to work. Everyone sells a little bit of their soul at times, but Higgins seems to have had his epiphany with the death of his wife. His ire comes more from the conniving way that procedures are declined and unnecessary appointments encouraged by members of the healthcare industry, crippling the ‘little guy’ for being sick (which is the whole purpose of health insurance, no?). Adding a wonderful collection of supporting characters, from doctors to health insurance executives through to medical professionals, Jacobs fleshes out just how much of a problem this has become and how spread out the deception is being perpetrated. From there, it is the laying out of the meticulous groundwork to show the reader how corrupt things have become and a race to reveal it all. I think many readers are away that things are broken or at least skewed away from the everyday citizen, who rolls the proverbial dice on a daily basis. With all that is going on in the United States, headed by a president who wants his legacy to be dismantling anything good in America, 140 characters at a time, this book hits home and goes to show that there is no one watching the big whigs in insurance or the politicians who benefit from key votes. Sadly, Jacobs shows that money talks and those who can yell will always have more power than the simple ‘X on the ballot’, which bastardises democracy at its core. It is also a clear argument that Americans are being held hostage, kidnapped if you will, by their own government and those who collect healthcare premiums on a regular basis. That is, perhaps, the saddest fact of all!

Kudos, Mr. Jacobs for this wonderful novel. While I know it is full of opinions and anything can be turned to favour one side, I have read and seen much of this already. Your book only goes to support the problems I knew were there. This might be yet another reason for an influx of people coming to Canada, or other countries where universal healthcare proves useful to the general public.

This book fulfills Equinox I (A Book for All Seasons) Book Challenge for Topic #4: A Book with Kidnapping

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

The Gathering Murders (Torquil McKinnon #1), by Keith Moray

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to Keith Moray, and Sapere Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

In this series debut, Keith Moray takes the reader deep into the Hebrides to recount this Scottish murder mystery sure to impress with its local nuances. Torquil ‘Piper’ McKinnon heads up the West Uist Constabulary, a quiet force of three bracing for two significant events coming to the island for the weekend. The Gathering includes a bagpipe competition for which Torquil has been preparing al his life and shows off the true Highland nature of the Scottish cultural persona. The West Uist Literary Festival brights authors and book-lovers alike together to celebrate the written word in all its forms. When a Gaelic poet is found murdered, Torquil begins investigating, but cannot find many who might have wanted him dead, save for those who respect true poetry and hated his sub-par attempt. However, when author Fiona Cullen is found floating off the coast, the list of suspects is plentiful. Cullen’s novels seek to explore a thinly-veiled attack on certain people who have been involved in her life, usually causing quite a stir. Torquil must suppress the romantic relationship he had with Cullen and seek to find her killer. With an apparent serial killer on the loose in this quiet community, Torquil will have to act quickly, as suspects are soon to leave for the mainland. Trying to find a common thread between the victims, Torquil intensifies the investigation just as another body emerges. Will West Uist soon receive unwanted police presence from the Hebridean Constabulary to clean-up a mess that the locals cannot handle? Moray has a wonderful way with words and spins a decent tale here. Surely a series that will gain momentum as readers flock in its direction. Wonderful for those who want a murder mystery with much Scottish heritage woven throughout.

When the publisher approached me to read and review this piece, I was pulled in as soon as I took the time to read the dust jacket blurb. Moray transports the reader to a rural Scottish community and offers all the traditional descriptions, including a peppering of Gaelic phrasing. Torquil McKinnon proves to be a very interesting character, weighing his personal connection to the community against his desire to serve as one of its police officials. The reader will discover much of this man in the narrative, from his passion for bagpiping through to his fairly straightforward approach to policing. Added to that, the struggle to stay on the path when one of his love interests has been slain provides the story some interesting flavour. Many of the others who appear throughout the story are well presented and have their characteristics woven into the story in an effective manner. The story itself is actually quite well done, though its brevity keeps the reader from getting too far off the beaten path. Moray crafts his story in a succinct manner and keeps the story flowing well. While some may be familiar with ‘big city’ and tangential police procedurals, the reader can enjoy this close-knit story that fills the pages with Scottish lore! I’d gladly read another in this series, if only to learn more about McKinnon and the West Uist community.

Kudos, Mr. Moray, for this wonderful debut piece. I enjoyed the story and its brevity, which proves a refreshing alternative to much of what I have been reading.

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

Clean Sweep, by Michael J. Clark

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Michael J. Clark, and ECW Press for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Having stumbled upon Michael J. Clark’s debut novel, I was eager to see if the story met the hype of the dust jacket summary. Winnipeg may be in the heart of the Canadian Prairies, but it has a seedy underbelly. With the Heaven’s Rejects as the most notorious biker-gang in town, the city is constantly buzzing as criminal activity lines the pockets of a few well-connected individuals. Pastor Tommy Bosco uses his homeless shelter and ‘born again’ nature as a front, allowing him to help those who wish to disappear with few questions asked. However, he may have met his match when Claire ‘Claire-Bear’ Hebert seeks his help. Hebert, a local prostitute, and Bosco’s ex, killed one of the gang’s higher-ups and is in possession of a ledger filled with pages of indecipherable numbers. Not only is the ledger a hot commodity, but the Reject’s want retribution for her act of self-defence. While Bosco tries to stay one step ahead of everyone, Robbery-Homicide Detective Sergeant Miles Sawatski is looking to bring Hebert in for her crime. However, he’s also been tasked by an anonymous source to obtain the ledger and hand it over before the Winnipeg Police Service or anyone else can confiscate it. Torn, he must balance the pledge to protect the city with the knowledge that someone has him dead to rights. This faceless entity is trying to initiate one of their own operations, Clean Sweep, which could have dire effects. No crime story would be complete without a crime desk reporter—David ‘Downtown’ Worschuk—who wants his own shot at fame, no matter who gets burnt on the way to print . Clark offers an excellent debut novel that pulls on all aspects of the criminal element, putting Winnipeg on the map for all its less than shiny attributes. Those with an open mind when it comes to language and with an interest in a well-constructed crime thriller may find this to their liking.

Having grown up in Winnipeg, I was quite happy to get my hands on this book, to see how Clark would depict my hometown. Surely not the city I remembered, but definitely a story that mentions many of its landmarks, I found it easy to follow and paced well. Pulling out all the stops to highlight the criminality, Clark utilised many characters to depict the darker side of the ‘Peg. Bosco comes across as an interesting character who uses his ‘reformed’ front to serve him well, trying to steer clear of crime where he can, but still with a penchant to help those who can pony up the money. The character contrasts nicely with Detective Sergeant Miles Sawatski, who is trying to keep his nose clean but has been boxed into a corner with this nameless ‘Voice’ over the phone, appearing to pull his strings. Hebert and her fellow prostitutes pepper the novel with their unique style and racy language, bringing an element of reality to the story that Clark is able to capitalise upon throughout its progression. The story is somewhat unique, and not only for its location. There is a sense of cat-and-mouse to it, with the criminals seeming to be less problematic than those who are trying to snub them out, but there is still a sense that the law must prevail. Clark explores the criminal element from all angles and brings it to life on the page. To the story more generally and its delivery. This is surely not your rosy crime novel that simply explores some of the seedier aspects, but parachutes the reader into the middle of them. Language, descriptions, and some graphic depictions pepper the story, but I find them to be fitting and not gratuitous (though I am sure some will bemoan it!). It all lays the groundwork for some realistic writing and Clark seems to have the right delivery for it. Chapters are not too long and they flow nicely into one another, keeping the reader wondering and wanting to push on just a little further. Where I have some issue myself was with the ‘over-Winnipegisation’ of the novel. Yes, we understand that the novel takes place in Winnipeg and Clark is surely proud of his city (as I am of my hometown), but it would seem he chose EVERY opportunity to street or location drop, which creates a stop-and-go nature in the narrative. Perhaps it is because I know all these places too well, but the need not only to say that someone grew up in a certain housing project, but also cite the street on which it was located seems excessive. Cross-streets for coffee shops may be something intriguing once, but few readers want to hear the intersections each time (even if you were to include a street map pullout at the beginning of the novel). It would seem that Clark got a little too overzealous and editors gave too much freedom in keeping those bits in that would better be used to plug holes in the cutting room walls. Still, it’s worth noting to help him grow as a writer and with a solid story foundation, this can surely be polished for future editions and novels.

Kudos, Mr. Clark, for a great debut piece. I am happy to see something of such high calibre and hope it gets rave reviews, both within and outside of Winnipeg. I’ll be sure to let you know when I come to the ‘Peg and we can grab a Timmy’s since I never was a Sal’s fan, lol.

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

To the Bright Edge of the World, by Eowyn Ivey

Nine stars

Eowyn Ivey returns with another sensational novel set in the heart of Alaska. Though completely different from her first piece, it is sure to intrigue curious readers, as did her debut novel, The Snow Child. In 1885, Lieutenant-Colonel Allen Forrester received a commission from the Army brass to lead an expedition up the Wolverine River in the Alaskan Territory, where he is to provide topographical sketches, detailed reports, and engage in significant interactions with the local Indian population. This is the first such formal expedition by the United States since procuring the territory from Russia. Armed with a crew hand-picked for him, Forrester brings his wife out to the Washington Territory, where the journey will begin. However, Sophie is unable to join her husband when she discovers that she is with child. Their time apart will be filled solely with letters to one another about their respective adventures. As Forrester and his crew proceed, they encounter many of the locals, who educate about the ways of the Indian tribes and how they have survived for millennia living off the land, while also posing questions about ‘red beards’ and their backwards ways. Forrester and his men suffer greatly from illness and fatigue, but are able to acclimate and make many astounding discoveries, all documented in reports, journals, or letters back home. Sophie has chosen not to remain sedentary, pining for her husband, but embarks on her own adventures, educating herself about the intricacies of motherhood and fetal growth, as well as the new art of photography. Already enamoured with birds, Sophie attempts to capture them in their native state, while utilising new-fangled technology. She, too, makes many a discovery and suffers a few omens that will change her life forever. In an interesting modern side-story, Ivey has Walter Forrester—grand-nephew of Allen—engage in numerous pieces of correspondence with the curator of the Alpine Historical Museum, one Joshua Sloan. Walter seeks not only to donate his great-uncle’s journals, but also many of the photographs and items brought back from the Territory. Together, they not only relive the expedition through the documents, but also examine their respective lives, as revealed through their numerous letters. All who take part of read of these adventures are forever enveloped in their greatness and serve to pass the news along to subsequent generations. Ivey amazes the reader with this piece that flows so smoothly, though is full of detail and passionate writing. Fans of her debut will surely want to find and devour this piece in short order.

After reading The Snow Child, I was amazed at the detail Ivey is able to put into her writing. When I heard of this book, I was not sure what to expect or whether it would pale in comparison. I remained equally sceptical, as I am not one for military expeditions, so wondered if I would skim through it and pick out only the most essential pieces. However, once I allowed myself to relax and begin absorbing the narrative, I was transported back in time and could not stop reading. Ivey uses a number of different characters, whose differing lenses offer a dynamic story. Lieutenant-Colonel Forrester’s documentation throughout provides not only the formal reports, but heartfelt longing for his wife, self-reflection about what he has come to discover, and angst at some of the harder pieces to fathom. The reader grows as they connect to Forrester, who seems to soften the further the expedition travels. Sophie Forrester is just as alluring a character, struck with her own troubles, but refuses to let them shape her. While many of the women around her seem happy to don gowns and speak of trivialities, she explores herself (literally and metaphorically) and the world around her, through the lens of a camera. The symbolism throughout the narrative that is contrasted between these two characters cannot be lost on the attentive reader and it becomes more telling as the novel progresses. The secondary characters prove useful to propel the story forward and offer their own personal connection for the reader to enjoy, should they desire. There is much to learn and the perspectives offer a hearty opportunity for the reader to learn much of what there is to know about the Alaskan Territory. The story itself is rich in its prose and symbols, though does not drag or become too pretentious. In fact, Ivey lightens the mood by using many snippets of journals, advertisements, medical research, as well as the modern-day correspondence between Walter Forrester and Joshua Sloan. There is no end to the wonders that Ivey is able to pack into this novel, succinct in its delivery, though opening many avenues for further reading. One can only hope she will continue to find ways to shine a light on her home state and do so in such a way as to dazzle the reader with her elegant writing style and silky-smooth narrative.

Kudos, Madam Ivey, for another winner. I will be sure to praise both your novels to anyone who has the time to enjoy them. You have piqued my interest about Alaska and the American settlements throughout the vast territory.

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

Into the Abyss: How a Deadly Plane Crash Changed the Lives of a Pilot, a Politician, a Criminal and a Cop, by Carol Sheban

Nine stars

Late on the evening of October 19, 1984, Wapiti Air Flight 402 crashed into a bunch of trees, outside High Prairie, Alberta. Of the ten passengers on board, one was Larry Shaben, father of the author. In this information-packed book, Shaben explores not only the crash that kill six passengers, but also offers a detailed exploration of the four men who survived—Larry Shaben, a politician; Erik Vogel, the pilot; Scott Deschamps, RCMP officer transporting a prisoner; and Paul Archambault, the prisoner. Shaben cuts right to the chase and discusses the night of the crash, where Vogel miscalculated High Prairie’s landing strip, going on to document the fourteen hours the survivors spent in a snowstorm, waiting for military Search and Rescue to locate them. While this would surely make a sensational book on its own, Shaben goes further, sketching out the history of Wapiti Air and its problematic flight record, the fallout of the crash that led to Transport Canada to strip Wapiti of its operating licence for a time, and the guilt Vogel felt for having been at the yoke. Offering snapshot biographies of the survivors up to twenty years later, as well as the pall of the deaths of those who perished, Shaben pulls no punches as she tries to offer a 360 degree exploration, without pointing fingers or offering vilification. Perhaps most interesting of all is the epiphany that Deschamps underwent in the years after the event. Veiled in his own secret struggles, Deschamps came out of the event the most scarred and lost, as Shaben discusses throughout. While no loss of life can be deemed insignificant, the crash of Wapiti Air Flight 402 hit home for many, shaping the lives of ten family irreparably. That Shaben can present this horror in such a well-rounded manner speaks volumes and is indicative as to the calibre of her writing. While it is hard to offer a recommendation for this book, I would encourage anyone with an interest in the subject matter to locate this book and learn so much in short order.

It is surely not an easy thing to tackle such an emotional subject, but Carol Shaben does it in a professional manner. Her personal investment in the story is obvious from the outset, as Shaben explains how she was in the Middle East and read a small article that hit the international wires. To offer a succinct, yet thorough, context to the events allows the reader to educate themselves without being bogged down in minutiae. Through detailed interviews and document retrieval, Shaben is able to develop a strong foundation that keeps the book progressing nicely. While it is impossible to ignore the six who died (particularly when one was Grant Notley), Shaben does not dwell on them, choosing instead to develop a story to explore how the crash changed the lives of the four men who were rescued. Being sufficiently dramatic in parts, without turning things into a sob story, the author pulls the reader in and keeps their attention throughout. One miscalculation led to a domino reaction, but who’s to blame, if anyone?

Kudos, Madam Shaben, for such an impactful story that pulls the reader in from the outset. I know someone who was personally impacted by these events and I could not have asked for a more professional presentation, weighing information against the need for privacy.

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

Perfect Death (D.I. Callanach #3), by Helen Fields

Nine stars

Helen Fields is back with another instalment of her popular Police Scotland series, where DI Luc Callanach has a new case to handle that will challenge everything he knows about policing. Callanach continues to adjust to his position within Police Scotland, much different from his INTERPOL days. After his colleague’s recent promotion, Callanach is adjusting to a new professional relationship with DCI Ava Turner, who has been forced to learn the ropes swiftly. While Callanach’s attention is drawn to an apparent victim of hypothermia, Turner receives disturbing news that her Chief Inspector has taken his own life in an apparent act of suicide. Unable to see what signs she might have missed, Turner liaises with her superior’s family, only to make a number of disturbing discoveries. Callanach tries to piece together his own case, but nothing is adding up. Just as he is making some progress, he receives a personal visitor who comes with a pile of unsolicited news that rocks him to the core. Trying to make sense of what he’s come to learn, Callanach goes somewhat rogue and keeps Turner at arm’s length in the middle of an important part of the investigation, earning him some ire from his DCI. When a few more cases of unexplained illnesses show signs of outside interference, Callanach and Turner realise that there may be a serial killer lurking in the shadows, their victims varied to the point that no similarities exist. With Edinburgh abuzz, Police Scotland must make some headway to locate this killer while also trying to better understand the Chief Inspector’s drastic final act. Fields has not lost any of the momentum with this series and is sure to appease series fans and those who love intense police procedurals.

I am happy to be able to continue this high-impact series that almost fell into my lap not too long ago. Fields is able to pull on all aspects of a well-developed police procedural without getting bogged down by too much of the frivolous banter. Fields has developed her characters perfectly and brings life to them with her subtle development of their personal foibles alongside their abilities to solve cases. DI Callanach continues to show why he is the perfect fit for the Major Investigative Team, while remaining highly vulnerable as he struggles to piece together some personal travesties that have befallen him. He contrasts nicely with DCI Turner, who is not only still compartmentalising the horrors of her past traumas, but also seeking to make a name for herself in a male dominated industry. Fighting to show compassion while not being deemed incapable, Turner puts on a hard exterior and demands much of her team. The rest of the characters work well to build a strong foundation for the story, which gets better as it builds. This more unique aspect of a serial killer lurking in plain sight is sure to work well for the dedicated reader, who gets glimpses into their own struggles while also watches as the victim total grows. I have loved all three of the series novels and am eager to get my hands on the fourth, set for release this coming summer. Those who enjoy this type of book should make a little more space on their to be read shelf, for they will not be disappointed.

Kudos, Madam Fields, for keeping things intense and allowing readers to bask in a well written procedural.

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

The Third Victim, by Phillip Margolin

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to Phillip Margolin and Minotaur Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Phillip Margolin is back with another explosive legal thriller that will keep the reader pushing through until the very end to see that justice is served. Regina Barrister has made a name for herself in the Oregon legal community, defending those who have the money and need her legal prowess. Not only are clients aware of Barrister’s capabilities, but one law student has made the ultimate sacrifice to work alongside her. Robin Lockwood has done everyone in her power and when the opportunity arises, she’s keen to take an associate position with Barrister. Meanwhile, Meredith Fenner appears on a rural road, burns across her torso with obvious signs of having been held captive, claiming that she’s just escaped her kidnapper. After the Portland Police become involved, they notice her injuries are similar to those of two prostitutes who have recently been murdered. As the evidence rolls in and Fenner makes an identification of the house where she was held, attorney Alex Mason is arrested for the crime. His wife admits that Mason is quite the control freak and likes his sex kinky and a little violent, including tying her up and burning her with a cigarette. Regina Barrister accepts the case and begins defending Mason, bringing young associate Robin Lockwood along, as this is set to be a capital murder case. The evidence all points to Mason, but there is something that just does not seem right with the evidence as it has been presented pre-trial. Additionally, Regina seems to be keeping a secret that could turn this case on its head, though Robin is not entirely sure what to do. With a man’s life on the line, there is no room for error, but the evidence does not seem to lie, even if Regina refuses to see the larger picture. Margolin delivers a sensational novel that keeps pace throughout. Perfect for fans of legal dramas and who enjoy a twisted tale throughout.

I have admired Phillip Margolin’s work for a long time and find that he is usually quite on the ball with what he has to say. While one person I know strongly panned the book, I felt nothing but a strong connection to the characters and story, perhaps one of the best pieces of Margolin’s work that I have read. There were a number of characters to juggle throughout, but the central few (namely, Regina Barrister and Robin Lockwood) were strong and kept things moving effectively. Sprinkling some backstory in with character development helped to connect the reader with these two legal protagonists. Many of the others, including the third victim, Meredith Fenner, helped to up the dramatic effect of the case as things progressed and the trial opened with a bang. Of course, the secret Regina keeps throughout the novel cannot be discounted, though it would be too much of a spoiler to mention it here.The story was fairly well presented, with a strong lead-up and segments of the trial, in which Barrister and Lockwood do what they can to keep Alex Mason from facing death row, but cannot discount the evidence. While things did go well, as I mentioned above, the vast array of characters served sometimes to dilute the effectiveness of the story, as the reader is forced to recollect who belongs where and what they have said up to this point. That being said, things did all fall into place at just the right moment and Margolin shows how effective he can be in his writing.

Kudos, Mr Margolin, for another wonderful legal thriller. I love the move away from the bright lights of big city stories and hope Oregon will remain where you set future stories.

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