Tandia (Africa #2), by Bryce Courtenay

Nine stars

Bryce Courtenay impresses again with another ‘practice novel’ as he called them when taking up the art of writing. The sequel to his extremely popular The Power of One, this novel seeks to look at South African political and social transformation (regression?) from the other side of the coin, through the eyes of a teenage girl, Tandia, and the rest of the subjugated population. Tandia is raped soon after her father’s funeral. A mixed-race bastard—her Indian father’s affair with his black house servant—Tandia does not fit into either of South Africa’s non-white populations, but remains downtrodden and the victim of extreme racism. When she is tossed from her home, Tandia takes matters into her own hands, landing up in trouble with the law and facing the man who violated her not long ago. Police officer Jannie Geldenhuis holds his power over her and, with nowhere else to go, Tandia is stuck signing a false statement of facts to save her life. When they arrive at one of the local brothels, Geldenhuis demands that she remain here, under the watchful eye of Mama Tequila, and report back on all the clientele who frequent the establishment. With the Immorality Act— a strict law prohibiting sexual relations between the races—in full effect alongside other pieces of the larger apartheid system, Tandia is sure to have a long list of those who wish to cover themselves in a veil of secrecy. Meanwhile, Peekay, young protagonist from The Power of One, is now at Oxford, reading law and honing his boxing career. He befriends a young sculptor who seeks to explore him through her artistic lens, but this forces Peekay to explore more of himself and his interactions with others. As things heat up in the boxing ring, Peekay must also dodge jabs that life is throwing his way, away from his African homeland. When Mama Tequila sets off with Tandia during a brothel holiday, they encounter the big city of Johannesburg, where racial segregation is in full-swing in the apartheid-fuelled way of life. Shantytowns and oppression populate every corner of the city, though the people rally behind their love of boxing. Tandia hears stories of many men who entered the ring and fought, transforming themselves from lowly black men to heroes for the entire community. One such boy, the Tadpole Angel, is white, but appears to have the love of all the people, as he is happy not to look at the colour of your skin, but the person inside. With Geldenhuis also on the boxing scene, Tandia is terrified that she will see him again, his ruthless ways leaving scars deeper than the ones he has delivered to her skin. With his boxing career going exceedingly well, Peekay returns to South Africa to open a legal practice, only to butt heads with some of the closed-minded police officers, including Geldenhuis. Tandia grows closer to Peekay, though the Immorality Act makes any future between them all but impossible. With race relations reaching a fevered pitch and Peekay heading up a legal challenge to the core of the apartheid system, something will have to give, while the world looks on. Brilliant in its literary delivery, Courtenay pulls the reader in and leaves them wanting so much more, while some will surely remain disgusted by the abhorrent treatment by the Afrikaner population. Recommended for all those who have the patience to endure a slow-building story about race relations, jaded politics, and the power of one man’s convictions fuelled by the determination of one woman to change her country of birth.

Those new to Bryce Courtenay will likely find the author to be one they either love or cannot stomach. This is Courtenay’s second foray into writing—his first just as brilliant—permitting the reader to experience his unique style. The novel combines well-developed characters with a plot that is rich with detail and shakes the reader to the core as the political events and police implementation come to life on the page. Some may find his writing to be both excessive and too much to digest in a single novel (or both this and the previous novel), but it is this that makes the books even more enjoyable. Courtenay uses an interesting formula in his writing, which the attentive reader will discover as they meander throughout his novels, this one being no exception. There are scores of characters who cross the pages, each serving to develop their own backstory and to offer a slice of character revelation for Tandia, as well as further enriching of Peekay, now that he has reached adulthood. The story builds on itself in such a way that the reader can see Tandia’s growth (personal and emotional) while she still struggles to find her place in South Africa’s repressive political system. Courtenay inundates the reader with names and characteristics, which may cause some to stumble or require crib notes, but, rest assured, it is well worth the temporary confusion. Having read all of Courtenay’s novels, I can see character themes that reemerge, including token characters of a variety of backgrounds. The story itself becomes a tale full of twists and turns, such that the path on which the narrative is leading the reader along two paths, Tandia’s life and that of Peekay’s time in England. I must insert here that while Peekay’s passion for the law is visible throughout the story, his development into a world class boxer is also found within the various chapters attributed to him. Courtenay does a sensational job describing these fights in detail, such that they reader (boxing fan or not) is on the edge of their seat as the match progresses on the page. One can only imagine the strife in which South Africa found itself in the 1950s and 60s, with the apartheid momentum gaining and the deprivation of the non-white population reaching its zenith. The Afrikaner population is armed and ready to exact their power at any cost. Courtenay’s narrative shows the subjugation of the black population and the brutality that is inflicted upon them. While I do not condone this whatsoever, I have always been very interested in the apartheid mentality and how the Afrikaners justified it to the world. Courtenay offers up a front row seat to the reader, hoping they will better understand what went on. It is this sort of depth that has drawn me to all of Courtenay’s books, as he offers more than a superficial look at the world, while entertaining the reader. True, his books are long and tangential, but, like a well-paced journey, they permit the reader to gather many wonderful nuggets of information from page to page. While Courtenay turned away from writing about his homeland after this piece, there are many other novels which turn their focus to his adopted country of Australia. I will be sure to revisit them in time, allowing myself to get lost in the magical style that Courtenay has, paired with his audiobook reader, Humphrey Bower. Two fantastic men who are at the top of their games!

Kudos, Mr. Courtenay, for such a stupendous piece. Re-reading this book has solidified why I have come to call you one of my favourite authors of all times.

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

Advertisements

Formula of Deception by Carrie Stuart Parks

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Carrie Stuart Parks, and Thomas Nelson for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Moving away from her Gwen Marcey series, Carrie Stuart Parks intrigues readers with this standalone novel that is sure to send chills up the spine. Murphy Andersen is hiding in plain sight in rural Alaska, worried that the serial killer likely responsible for her sister’s disappearance might soon find her. Creating a backstory so as not to alert anyone, Andersen sells herself as a forensic artist and has been brought in by the Kodiak Police Department to sketch some memories of a dying man. These sketches are to represent five bodies the man found a decade ago on a remote island. When Andersen and a crime technician make their way to the apparent crime scene, weather works against them and they narrowly escape with their lives. Soon thereafter, people with whom Andersen has recently had contact end up murdered and her home is torched. Might this all be coincidental or is there someone trying to send a message? As Andersen remains convinced that she will get to the bottom of her sister’s disappearance, she is also working this cold case, where she discovers potential ties to a World War II extremely covert mission. While she is worried that her identity and past may soon be revealed, Andersen cannot be deterred from doing all she can to solve these two Alaskan mysteries. A well-paced thriller that keeps the reader’s attention. Recommended for those who enjoy a police procedural with a twist!

I have long enjoyed Parks’ forensic artist series, as it tackles crime fighting from a unique perspective and helps educate the reader on some of the major aspects of the author’s other career. This move away from the series allows Parks to expand the foundation of her writing, adding a younger and less jaded protagonist. Murphy Andersen proves to be an interesting character, though the intensity of her backstory is diluted as she tries to help with the cases at hand. Parks has done well to introduce a number of interesting supporting characters, many of whom complement Andersen well, though not as well as some of those Parks has created in her aforementioned series. The plot has some interesting aspects—a serial killer, five mystery bodies, a military mission— but I found the entire experience not to be as intense as I might have liked. I was able to read the book with ease, though found myself lacking a connection to much on the page. It might also be some of the psychological aspects and internal conversations that Andersen seems to have, but I felt it lacked the punch Parks usually brings to her novels. The premise is sound and the historic happenings, be they real or fabricated, offered the reader something interest to ponder as they make their way through this piece.

Kudos, Madam Parks, for a decent addition to your writing repertoire. While not my favourite piece, I can still see some of your high-calibre writing that hooked me a while back.

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

The Trial and Execution of the Traitor George Washington, by Charles Rosenberg

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Charles Rosenberg, and Hanover Square Press for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

In this novel of alternate history, Charles Rosenberg asks the reader to ponder what might have happened if the British Crown had been able to get their hands on General George Washington and bring him to justice in an English Court. In the dead of night, off the New Jersey coast, Colonel Jeremiah Black undertakes his ultra-secret mission. He has only one chance to succeed and many have put their trust in him. Making his way ashore, Black begins a journey that will see him play the role of a disaffected Colonial soldier, inching closer to his ultimate prize. Striking at just the right moment, Black is able to capture General George Washington and take him aboard HMS Peregrine for the trip across the Atlantic. While the journey is slow and laborious, Washington is not yet panicked, sure that he will be treated as a prisoner of war. However, Black has his orders and while he would have rather put a bullet in the military man, he hopes for long-term praise when they reach the English Coast. Meanwhile, news of Washington’s capture reaches the king, as well as the British Cabinet. George III is beside himself with delight—perhaps fuelled by his insanity?—and is prepared to levy charges of high treason, which will lead to a gruesome form of execution, one the monarch is sure will make an example of Washington. Panicked, the Continental Congress of the American States sends its ambassador plenipotentiary, Ethan Abbott, to negotiate terms and bring Washington home safely. However, Britain does not recognise the Congress or any of its officials, leaving Abbott neutered and unsure what to do. After some smooth talking, Abbott is able to communicate with the prisoner, who is prepared to face his indictment, but demands an American represent him in court, even though some high profile Brits are prepared to step up for the cause. Enter Abraham Hobhouse, whose work in a small firm has been anything but remarkable up to this point. When he is approached to represent General Washington, the chance to change history flashes before Hobhouse’s eyes, though the notoriety might also turn sour should he fail. Armed with the most significant case of his career, Hobhouse must cobble together a case to defend a man who does not deny his charges, though remains firmly rooted that the Colonial cause was just and that he led a necessary rebellion. All eyes turn to the London court prepared to hear the case, where history hangs in the balance. Rosenberg proves adept at entertaining as well as educating his reader in this wonderfully developed story that asks ‘what if’ in relation to one of America’s founding historical moments. Recommended for those who love history and its alternate possibilities, as well as those who enjoy a unique legal thriller.

Having never read Rosenberg before, this was a delightful introduction to an author with a vivid imagination for alternative history. When I first saw the title, I was immediately drawn to the book, as it sought to posit a significant change in paths to one of the central pieces in early American history. Might Washington’s capture and guilt have deflated the American States and left the English to run roughshod in the colonies, locking them into a horrible situation? Additionally, how would both sides negotiate through international law, sovereign state interaction, and during a state of war? One can only imagine in this well-paced piece of historical fiction. The characters used throughout help the story to progress nicely at different points. Rosenberg uses not only time-centred dialogue and settings, but also brings the characters to life as they seek to find a balance. The reader can feel right in the middle of the action, particularly throughout the lead up and into Washington’s trial. Rosenberg uses a mix of short and mid-length chapters to push the story along, keeping the reader wondering what is to come and how it will resolve itself. This constant pace keeps the narrative crisp and the plot from getting too bogged down in minutiae. Perhaps this is why the story seems to read to swiftly and with ease. As things built, I could find myself curious to see just how far Rosenberg would take things, having literary freedoms under the umbrella of alternate history. The final product is definitely worth the time spent and keeps the reader engaged until the very end.

Kudos, Mr. Rosenberg, for this interesting piece of American history. I will be certain to check out more of your work and keep an eye out to see what you might have 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

The Power of One (Africa #1), by Bryce Courtenay

Nine stars

The dazzling writing style of Bryce Courtenay is captured in this, his debut novel. Its intricate prose and powerful characters bring a story to life that few readers will be able to resist. In rural South Africa during the late 1930s, Peekay is a young boy who has been sent to boarding school. With English roots, Peekay struggles in this school where the Boer boys ridicule him for his heritage, turning verbal pokes into full-on malicious attacks. With war building in Europe, Peekay is led to believe by classmates that Hitler will soon arrive in South Africa to toss the shackles from the Afrikaner people, long subjugated by the English. After a number of brush-ups with others, the matron agrees to send Peekay to his grandfather’s home, a long train ride across the country. Eager to leave, Peekay begins the long train ride, soon joined by the conductor, Hoppie Groenewald. This new friend helps Peekay with the ways of the rails, as well as being an amateur boxer in his own right. Peekay develops a passion for boxing and attends a bout where Hoppie is set to meet a much larger opponent, all during the train’s layover. Peekay is astonished when he sees Hoppie box, as well as the passion that others feel about the sport. From there, it is back on the train, where Peekay must survive the rest of the journey without his dear Hoppie. Arriving at his grandfather’s home, Peekay has distant memories of life with his family, including two young kitchen maids who keep him entertained. As he tried to acclimate to life in rural South Africa, Peekay befriends a highly interesting man, one Professor ‘Doc’ Karl von Vollensteen. Doc is a former concert pianist from Germany whose interest in botany piques Peekay’s curiosity, allowing him to further his education in a less formal setting. War continues to rage and South African officials choose to detain Doc, citing his German heritage as an issue that cannot be overlooked. While incarcerated, Doc continues to share his passion of music with Peekay and the other prisoners, many of whom are poor blacks. Straddling the middle, Peekay is able to forge strong friendships with the prisoners, who respect him for not treating them as lower class citizens, as well as with the guards, who help hone is boxing skills. Still young, Peekay must sell his abilities as a boxer to those who will help shape him into the athlete he hopes to become. Peekay’s passion for learning helps him excel in school and he’s sent off to yet another boarding school, but remains close to all those who have helped him along his path. The reader can easily become lost in Courtenay’s fabulous narrative that continues to twist from here, adding depth and insight to an already powerful tale. Highly recommended for those who love complex stories that touch on history and coming of age. How do I feel about the book? As Professor von Vollensteen would say, “for this I give… eleven out of ten. Absoloodle!”

Those who have not experienced a Bryce Courtenay novel are in for a treat with this piece. Not only does the reader have the opportunity to experience Courtenay’s first foray into writing but also experience his unique style, which combines well-developed characters with a plot that is rich with detail. Some may find his writing to be both excessive and too much to digest in a single novel, but it is this that makes the books even more enjoyable. Courtenay uses an interesting formula in his writing, which the attentive reader will discover as they meander throughout his novels, this one being no exception. There are scores of characters who cross the pages, each serving to develop their own backstory and to offer a slice of character revelation for the protagonist, Peekay. While the reader will notice strong ties between Peekay and one character in the early portion of the book, that individual will soon vanish, though their life lessons and impact are felt throughout the rest of the story. Courtenay inundates the reader with names and characteristics, which may cause some to stumble or require crib notes, but, rest assured, it is well worth the temporary confusion. Having read all of Courtenay’s novels, I can see character themes that reemerge, including token characters of a variety of backgrounds. The story itself becomes a tale full of twists and turns, such that the path on which the narrative is leading the reader soon changes, leaving what one might have expected to be left in the proverbial dust. This is also something that some may criticise, but I find this serpentine journey to be refreshing and forces the reader to remain engaged, rather than skim through parts of the story. As Courtenay calls this piece his loose attempt at a fictionalised autobiography (yes, the dichotomy of the statement is not lost on me), the historic moments and struggles are more than conjured up dramatisations from world events, but actual experiences that Courtenay felt. One can only imagine the strife in which South Africa found itself in the late 1930s and into the 40s. The Afrikaner population is still smarting as they are being regulated by the English, but they, too, have developed a sense that, perhaps, Hitler can come to save them and return the land to the rightful Boers. Peekay feels this throughout the novel, an English boy tossed amongst the strong-willed Afrikaners who look down upon him. However, there is also the theme of brewing apartheid, which has been loosely permitted for decades already. Courtenay’s narrative shows the subjugation of the black population and the brutality that is inflicted upon them. While I do not condone this whatsoever, I have always been very interested in the apartheid mentality and how the Afrikaners justified it to the world. Courtenay offers up a front row seat to the reader, hoping they will better understand what went on. As an aside, the book’s publication came just as the grip of apartheid was loosening, so it may be an educational piece to those who could not fathom the true horrors of the policy as it gained momentum and became a way of life. It is this sort of depth that has drawn me to all of Courtenay’s books, as he offers more than a superficial look at the world, which entertaining the reader. True, his books are long and tangential, but, like a well-paced journey, they permit the reader to gather many wonderful nuggets of information from page to page. As a friend commented to me recently, the story ends somewhat abruptly and has no strong sense of finality. Therefore, I’ll rush to get to the sequel, Tandia, to continue the exploration of Courtenay’s Africa.

Kudos, Mr. Courtenay, for such a stupendous piece. Re-reading this book has solidified why I consider it one of my favourites and a book I’d surely pack for an island isolation.

This book fulfils Topic # 3: Island Reading in the Equinox #3 Reading Challenge.

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

A Steep Price (Tracy Crosswhite #6), by Robert Dugoni

Nine stars

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

Presenting yet another stellar novel in the Tracy Crosswhite series, Robert Dugoni has not disappointed his fans whatsoever. While trying to come to terms with her pregnancy, Detective Tracy Crosswhite has yet to tell anyone, save her husband and partner, Kinsington Rowe. An added stress befalls Crosswhite as she is forced to testify in an important case that has many within Violent Crimes hoping for the best. When she returns to Seattle PD after a day of testifying, Crosswhite discovers a new detective assigned to her team, one who knows more about her than she’s comfortable admitting. Has her pending maternity leave been leaked to her Captain and is this new woman her permanent replacement? Before Crosswhite can get too wrapped up in the drama, she’s alerted to an ‘all hands on deck’ call, where two of her fellow teammates, Del Castigliano and Vic ‘Faz’ Fazzio, are out dealing with a shooting close to a playground. The victim, an advocate for cleaning up the neighbourhood of its drug and prostitution. Might someone be trying to execute their own vigilante justice to silence a do-gooder? Crosswhite is also called down to Missing Persons by a fellow detective, one who has a bad feeling about a case that’s just come up. Kavita Mukherjee, a college graduate from a traditional Indian family has up and gone missing. Her roommate and close friend has called it in, as it is so unlike Kavita to disappear. As Crosswhite takes on the case off the books, she learns that the Mukherjee family’s traditional values go so far as to want Kavita to marry and start a family. With little to go on, Crosswhite turns to a technological angle in order to seek answers. With these two cases gaining steam, the reader is pulled in deep to Dugoni’s masterful storytelling where no one is safe and no topic seems off limits. Brilliantly done and sure to appease series fans, as well as those who love a good America police procedural.

I have long admired Dugoni and his work, which seems so easy to read, no matter its length. He has mastered the art of character development, both looking forward and through well-woven backstories. Tracy Crosswhite may hold the name for the series, but it is not only her struggles with motherhood that finds its way into the narrative, but also the familial issues of another detective, who must face life-altering news. The more things change, the more they stay the same. The adage fits perfectly into this novel, as Dugoni seeks to add depth to the series and its characters, which is readily apparent to series fans. The narrative pushes forward and keeps the reader involved throughout, mixing longer chapters to develop plot lines as well as shorter ones, presenting cliffhangers and parachuting new twists into an already compact story. Dugoni never stops, though the reader need not feel tired or mentally exhausted, but rather astonished that so much of the book as progressed as they are lost in the story. One can only hope that Dugoni will not tie-off the series in the near future, as I know many who have come to love these novels and all that he has to offer.

Kudos, Mr. Dugoni, as you offer up yet another winner. I love all your ideas and can only hope that the novel plots keep coming to you as you put them down.

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

On Leopard Rock: A Life of Adventures, by Wilbur Smith

Nine stars

Master storytelling and international bestselling author Wilbur Smith takes a break from his adventure novels to offer the reader a snapshot into his personal life. Having penned this memoir of sorts, Smith explores his life, both as a young person in Rhodesia and his eventual success as an author. Having grown up on a large swath of land, young Wilbur learned the important of farming and protecting the livestock. His father instilled in him the need to always be on the lookout for predators, particularly of the animal variety. Smith shot his first lions (three in one event) as a child and used these skills to ensure he was never left unprepared. While his father was stern and happy to hand out needed punishment, Smith’s mother nurtured him and introduced a love of reading. This would continue into his boarding school years, where older prefects sought to break him down, but Smith took his punches and escaped into a world of fictional lands whenever he could. Diligent academics saw him earn a spot in university and eventually as a tax assessor, a menial job that numbed his mind, but left Smith much time to write. While his first novel left him with nothing but a slew of rejection letters—enough to paper the walls of his first flat—Smith did not give up, writing about about he knew. This led to an adventure all about the African subcontinent’s coming of age in an era when war was carving up vast lands. By the time Smith sent When the Lion Feeds to his agent, he was hopeful that all his thoughts had finally made a difference. In 1964, the novel caught the eye of many and began his passion with writing. An instant success led Smith to churn out more novels about the region, which added to his highly popular Courtney Series and thus began a passion for reading. Smith explores how his personal experiences influenced the narratives of his novels, but that they were entirely fictitious, never seeking to communicate covert messages or provide him with a soapbox for political and social views. The more he wrote, the deeper his passion grew and soon Smith was developing many novels with deep themes that touched him in a part of the world under horrific racial divide. Apartheid and white minority movements in South Africa and Rhodesia fuelled a number of Smith’s novels, though the success he found in their publication permitted him to see other parts of the world and thereby pen new pieces based on these experiences. As the reader is swept up in the narrative, Smith explores his love of Egyptology, sailing, diving, and hunting, all of which found their way into his vastly popular pieces. Anyone with a love of Wilbur Smith’s novels should not let this piece slip by, as his stories offer much to explain some of the rationale behind his popular novels. Highly recommend to anyone who enjoys biographical pieces or Africa in general, as they will walk away with much more than they might have suspected.

I caught the Wilbur Smith bug a few years ago and have been hooked on the Courtney and Ballantyne series ever since. I often wondered what gave him these ideas and how they came to pass so fluidly. Also, being the attentive reader than I am, I had to know why there was such a gap between Courtney novels and what might have helped pull Smith back into writing them. All of these answers can be found within the pages of this quick to read piece. Just as in his fiction writing, Smith develops a narrative that flows so smoothly that the reader will be shocked to see how much they can devour in a single setting. Smith may not write in an entirely chronological manner, but the themes that emerge can be easily stitched together to give the reader a clear picture of the larger story that Smith seeks to portray. It was somewhat disheartening to see Smith dismiss his previous marriages and children, as though they were a distraction to his passion of reading. However, there may be more of a story behind them, one that is not yet ready for public consumption. Additionally, in his closing chapter about writing and the passion he has for it, there is little to no mention about his handing the reins of the Courtney series over to others, who have helped to dilute the stories and lessen their quality, something that might turn new readers away from looking to the start of both series. These were thoughts I had hoped would be recounted in detail when the memoir was before me, but I am left wondering still. I did take much away from this piece, which filled in more gaps than it left. Wilbur Smith truly is a masterful writing and I will try my best to continue reading his work—as well as delving into the Egyptian series—as long as he has an idea to convey.

Kudos, Mr. Smith, for such a detailed piece. I learned a great deal and it has helped me develop an even greater appreciation for you as a man and author. I hope many of your fans will take the time to find this book, as it enriches the reading experience.

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

Book of Judas (Alessandra Russo #2), by Linda Stasi

Seven stars

In her follow-up novel, Linda Stasi returns to offer readers another religious thriller sure to shake the core of some believers. It is rumoured that a collection of ancient papers was found in Egypt during the mid-1970s, including the lost Gospel of Judas. The leather-bound codex made its way to the United States and was stored in a New York safe deposit until 2000, when someone sought to gaze upon this lost treasure. All that was left were thousands of disintegrated scraps, useless and impossible to cobble back together. However, when journalist Alessandra Russo receives a call from her best friend, Roy Golden, there may be some new evidence in relation to the Gospel. It would seem that Roy’s father, a former bank manager, lifted some of the pages back in the early 1980s and locked them away in a protective tube. Admitting this on his deathbed, the elder Golden left his son with the burden of trying to decide what to do, though did caution that trying to open the tube erratically could destroy the only documented evidence about Judas and his connection to Jesus. Splashing the news online, Russo allows her friend to bask in the glory, but is also curious about trying to read this sacred text. She reaches out to a contact in Israel, who has brokered a deal with the Vatican, in hopes of claiming the document for themselves. With a steep price tag, Russo is happy to help her friend make a profit while ensuring the information does not fall into the wrong hands. However, Roy is arrested and charged with a spree of murders, leaving him incarcerated and Russo in a panic. The only way she can pay his bail is to liquidate the codex swiftly, which may require her to fly to the other side of the world sooner than she anticipated. Juggling the responsibility of raising her son, Terry, Russo has her parents making their way back to New York, but leaves the little one with her older neighbours, who leap at the chance to help. Arriving in Israel, Russo tries to connect with her source, though soon discovers that not all is as it seems. She races around the Holy Land trying to find clues to properly unlock the codex, only to learn that Terry has gone missing. Torn between unveiling the news about the codex and her son’s safety, Russo rushes back to New York, but is forced to hand over the codex in the ensuing rush to save Terry. Could the scholarly rumours of the contents of the Gospel of Judas be true? Might Jesus have concocted a scheme with his closest friend to mislead an entire religion? Russo cannot risk letting this information fall into the wrong hands and turn Christianity on its head. A well-written piece by Stasi, who injects just the right amount of humour to keep the reader curious. Those who enjoy religious thrillers that question some of the central tenets of established religion may find this one to their liking.

I remember reading Stasi’s debut novel, though admit that my extensive list of completed novels has left me unable to recall the specifics of the plot. That being said, Stasi does a decent job of retelling some of the poignant parts of the backstory so that the reader can almost recollect the details of that novel. She has Alessandra Russo still established in her journalistic capacity, but also trying to acclimate to the life of a new mother. This has not put a damper on her inquisitive side and sees Russo tossing herself into the middle of another far-off adventure. Working with a few other central characters, Russo is able to fuel an interesting storyline that has the narrative evolving with each passing chapter. Of interest to me is the discussion about this Gospel of Judas and what implications it might bring forth to modern discussion. While not as earth shattering as some of the other novels I’ve read in this genre, the narrative forces the reader to surmise what problems might arise if the Church were to be faced with downplaying the revelations. As always, the Catholic Church (read: Early Church) takes it on the nose for trying to alter the biblical narrative to fit their needs, but one can only suspect that Stasi has mixed factual information with some of her own fictional interpretations to keep the reader enthused throughout. The writing was decent, full of off-hand humour, but did not come across as well founded as I might have preferred. There was a lack of crispness with the written delivery and the plot seemed to sag at times, while addressing some high-impact events or turning points in the story. All that being said, there was much effort put into this novel and Stasi has done well to offer the reader an enjoyable piece, perfect for their summer reading pile.

Kudos, Madam Stasi, for another interesting piece. I can see some of your author influences in the writing style you present and hope you’ll continue honing your skill.

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

Paddle to the Amazon: The Ultimate 12,000-Mile Canoe Adventure, by Don Starkell

Nine stars

Back in the late spring of 1980, Don Starkell began an epic canoe journey with his two sons, Dana and Jeff. They planned to travel from the Red River in Winnipeg (Canada) down through to the Amazon, into the depths of Brazil. At over 12,000 miles, this would be the longest attempted journey ever in a canoe, which would test them at every turn. From the early attempts to get their rhythm and try not to bicker with one another, the Starkells sought to create a strong connection and teamwork as they made their journey into the Mississippi. While travelling through Canada and the United States was, for the most part, smooth sailing, their crossing into Mexico started a series of events can none of them could have predicted. Being stuck on land due to the weather, running out of supplies, and the start of salt sores, which almost paralyzed Don and Dana, things were sometimes overwhelming. Six months into their trip, Jeff decided that this was not the trip for him and he left, happy to return back to the barren winter of the Canadian Prairies. This left Don and Dana to forge onwards, where gun-toting pirates awaited them, as well as various military contingents, all wanting to see their documents. While Don documented the trip, Dana honed his guitar skills and entertained locals wherever he could. The journey progressed and while there were setbacks, the Starkell men were able to push onwards and make significant progress, eventually reaching the Amazon. It was there that much of the flora and fauna changed, becoming extremely tropical (as well as dangerous for cuts and infections). Seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, these two pushed themselves past their limits and made it, twenty-three months later, to the heart of Brazil, having accomplished their ultimate journey. Left with memories and a lifetime of stories, Don and Dana Starkell made that incredible trek, paddling to the Amazon in their canoe. A wonderful read for those who can handle journal storytelling, told frankly and with much inspiration. I am so happy to have been able to revisit this story so many years later.

While I do not have a personal connection to this story, I did grow up in Winnipeg and read the complete published book in grade school, as well as meeting the author. His tale left me wanting to know all about it and I cannot be happier that Don Starkell took his massive handwritten journal and put it into something that could be published. His story is not only one of determination, but a journey of the soul, where he was able to get closer to his son (Dana) no matter the adversity that was placed before them. The Starkells faced many a dangerous experience and wanted to turn around numerous times, but did not let this spoil their sense of adventure. Sickness, disaster, political roadblocks, and even weather shaped their trip, but the Starkells simply rolled with the punches and made the best of what they could. This book, told in a number of journal entries, breathes life into this journey and helps the reader better understand what was at stake and how daunting this trip turned out to be. While they did earn entry in the Guinness Book of World Records, it was not praise or notoriety that drove these men, but the sense of wanting to accomplish something. It is for that reason that this was such a great book for me to choose as I sought something about a journey for my Book Challenge. I would encourage anyone with a sense of adventure to strap themselves in and try this book, then go out and see Don Starkell’s more troublesome adventure in Canada’s Arctic waters. But that, my friends, is another story entirely!

Kudos, Mr. Starkell, for your wonderful determination. I am so happy to have shared in this adventure and to have met you all those years ago. I hope others take the time to learn about this adventure and what it meant to you.

This book fulfills Topic #4: Here to There in the Equinox #3 Book Challenge.

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

Summary Justice (Benson and De Vere #1), by John Fairfax

Eight stars

John Fairfax has an established writing career (and awards to show for it) under his given name, but has turned to a nom de plume to dazzle readers with this legal thriller, full of twists. William Benson has had an interesting life to say the least. Charged with a murder he denies committing as a young man, Benson held firm that he was innocent, going so far as to profess it to a young Tess de Vere, attending the trial to see all the action. After being sentenced, Benson kept his head down in prison, eventually offering a confession to the crime and being paroled from his life sentence. While many men would have turned to a darker side, Benson chose to hone his skills and read law, earning his degree. After a few years of taking the legal scraps that were being offered, he has the chance to open his own shop, even though many still vilified him for his crimes. Knowing all the legal loopholes, Benson was aware that his criminal record would not preclude him from being called to the Bar, even if many in the profession sought to block him. When a woman approached him to represent her in a murder, Benson expressed shock, yet was prepared to do his best. In what can only be deemed a chance encounter, Tess de Vere re-emerged after some legal dealings in France and agreed to serve as his supervising solicitor. Together, they took Sarah Collingstone’s case to trial, a woman accused of stabbing a man to death with a broken bottle. While Collingstone refused to deny the evidence against her, she professed that she had done nothing wrong. As the trial continued and Benson was faced with continued adversity—both for his past crime and the evidence the prosecution had against Collingstone—he saw a great deal of himself in his client, someone who was about to be devour by the court system. While the facts as presented may have been stacking up, Benson could only hope Lady Justice would look out for an innocent person. A fabulously crafted legal thriller that will keep the reader wondering about many of the storylines. Perfect for those who love a paced novel that does not skimp on thought-provoking moments.

Having never read John Fairfax, I was not sure what to expect with this piece, but am pleased that I took the plunge. He has a wonderful way of laying out the scene and offering enough detail to pull the reader into the mix, without drowning them. The important aspect of Benson’s past is not left to short snippets of backstory, but is developed throughout, in the preface and peppered in the early parts of each section of the book. The protagonists have their own stories, which propel the larger narrative forward, though it leaves the reader wanting more, particularly about Tess de Vere, who has returned to London from some international legal matters in Strasbourg, though little seems to have been revealed throughout the early narrative. Fairfax does a wonderful job at developing a multi-faceted William Benson, pulling on his vulnerabilities but also his strength and seeking justice for a woman who has little hope of acquittal. This tug on the reader’s heartstrings works well without getting sappy or drawn out. Fairfax is also stellar in his development of the case, both inside the courtroom with wonderful testimony and outside as Benson tries to find an out. The revelations that come up during the trial are wonderful twists and turn the reader to wondering how innocent Sarah Collingstone just might be. I was pleased to see there will be a second novel in the series and can only hope the momentum developed here lasts with the follow-up publication.

Kudos, Mr. Fairfax, for a wonderful story that kept me wanting more. I can see how you were awarded literary prizes and hope others discover your work in the near future

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

High Heels (The Year of Short Stories, May), by Jeffrey Archer

Nine stars

Master storyteller Lord Jeffrey Archer has chosen to please his fans with a new venture; a short story released each month. Those familiar with Archer’s work will know that he can not only spin long and involved pieces, but also the short story that compacts adventure into a handful of pages. May’s story introduces the reader to Alan Penhold, a trainee actuary and recently qualified lost adjuster. With his supervisor on holidays, Penhold is called out to the scene of a building fire, a high-end shoe factory. Working his first solo case, Penhold encounters many who remind him that this is surely one he will never forget, though the facts of the case are cut and dry. Likely some sort of electrical fire with an insurance payout of £4 million. Penhold undertakes some initial interviews, including with the owner, as everyone is convinced that there is nothing of note that should prevent the payout. However, Penhold discusses the matter with his wife and does a little experimentation of his own, leading to some added questions. While everyone seems happy to cut the cheque, Penhold is not quite sure. This first case may be one to remember for many reasons. Archer has done it yet again, pulling the reader into this story and leaving a twist on the end to keep things light. Those who love Archer’s short stories will enjoy this one over a quick beverage.

Lord Jeffrey Archer’s work is always full of unique perspectives, be they complete novels or shorter story such as this one. I am so pleased to have come across this collection and have reviewed each story based on its own merits, finally catching up. Now I await each instalment on a monthly basis, hoping they will be as interesting as these five. This was definitely one of the faster reads, with little time to develop backstories. However, even with a lack of character development, Archer pushes a fast narrative and keeps me wanting to know a little more. The mystery speeds up with each passing section and there’s soon little left but the reveal, which Archer does in his unique way. I have enjoyed all these pieces and now must be patient for the rest of the series to come, released for free each month to Archer fans!

Kudos, Lord Archer, for a masterful new story collection. How you find so many effective ideas that produce high quality publications I will never know.

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