Charity Begins at Home (A Year of Short Stories, April), 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. April’s addition is a curious tale about a rather beige man, Henry Preston, who sought his mother’s praise and became an accountant. In his dealings with various clients, Preston crosses paths with Angela Forster, an event planner, whose diary is full of galas and fundraisers. Upon reviewing her books for the tax man, Preston discovers that Forster is shortchanging herself quite severely, paying a pittance into her own bank account while these charities are making substantial sums. Working together, Preston and Forster devise a plan to skim a little off to top and launder it in such a way that no one will be able to track it or point the finger. This works well for years, until… Another masterful piece by Archer that keeps the reader in the middle of the action for the short story. Those who love Archer will not be disappointed.

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 will review each story based on its own merits, binging with the five before me to catch up, before awaiting each instalment on a monthly basis thereafter. Another legal sleight of hand here, something Archer has become adept at creating, pitting a seemingly bumbling man against the Establishment. Preston and Forster are both quite interesting characters, though there is little time to dwell on them as the narrative builds and lays the plot out before the reader. The story flows well and does not get too bogged down in minutiae, allowing the reader to speed through this piece in a single sitting. Archer proves that his ability to hold the reader’s attention with a short story is one of his greatest assets, though he is equally able with full-length novels. One can only hope that Archer will keep churning more stories out (he does have eight months left in this year of stories) and that fans will never tire of his unending list of ideas put to the page.

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

Too Many Coincidences (The Year of Short Stories, March), 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. March brings about an interesting story that begins on a boat, or two. When Angus Henderson and Max Bennett meet after their boats bump into one another, they strike up a business relationship that could be highly beneficial. However, with Angus away for a time, Max sets his eyes on Mrs. Henderson, much younger than her husband. Ruth finds herself drawn to Max, who makes his move and leaves a mark on her heart. Working with Angus to settle some real estate matters, Max has the couple visit him in London to finalise proceedings. However, Angus takes ill and is soon sent to the hospital, where he dies, surrounded by family. Smitten with Max, Ruth agrees to marry him in short order and they continue what has been a whirlwind romance. However, something changes and soon Ruth notices that her husband is spending more time away. Longer periods of time apart lead Ruth to turn to another suitor, as she worries about how this second marriage will go. It is then that things take an interesting turn, forcing Ruth to realise she never really knew Max Bennett at all. Archer has done it again with a masterful story that can be consumed in a single setting. Short story aficionados will likely have much praise for Archer, whose ability to spin a tale leaves him in a class all his own.

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 will review each storey based on its own merits, binging with the five before me to catch up, before awaiting each instalment on a monthly basis thereafter. With little time to waste, Archer weaves backstories and character development for the protagonists, who come to life under his pen. The story, unique but with a flavour of some past pieces by this masterful author, keeps the reader intrigued and the fast-pace of the narrative leaves little time to catch one’s breath. Archer lays down a strong foundation and then uses his style to build up a story that the reader cannot help but love, adding a twist towards the end that is sure to blindside many. It is always refreshing to have some Jeffrey Archer pieces on hand, as he is able to take the reader on journeys never imagined while enjoying a cup of one’s favourite beverage. Brilliant work!

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

Caste-Off (The Year of Short Stories, February), 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. February’s story spins a tale of love, as complex as it is intoxicating. Jamwal Rameshwar Singh is a millionaire playboy with a cocky attitude and a flashy car. When he’s overtaken on the road by an elegant, but equally speed-hungry, female driver, Jamwal will stop at nothing to make her acquaintance. Following her to a hotel, Jamwal eventually learns more about Nisha Chowdhury, a woman he does not remember from his childhood. According to Nisha, a young Jamwal tied her to a lamppost and left her. Now, smitten with this woman, Jamwal will do whatever he can to have her hand in marriage. While Nisha does love him, she is well aware of the impossibility of their union. Jamwal’s father is a maharaja, therefore making their castes incompatible, though that does not seem to deter Jamwal. He would do whatever it takes, even defy his own family, to have Nisha as his wife. During a trip to break the news to his parents, Jamwal discovers just how deeply rooted tradition and caste appears to be and he must make a choice. Archer pulls the reader into the centre of this story and adds a twist that the reader likely never saw coming. Brilliantly executed, fans of Archer’s work will surely enjoy this piece, as might many who prefer shorter tales to fill their time.

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 will review each storey based on its own merits, binging with the five before me to catch up, before awaiting each instalment on a monthly basis thereafter. Archer takes little time to develop backstories for both Jamwal and Nisha, weaving them together and yet still developing in their respective spheres. The story rushes onwards, much like the vehicles they drove to open the piece, and takes a few hairpin turns as the narrative lays the groundwork for some superb plot thickening. There is little time to waste and Archer uses each sentence to enrich the story, tossing off the extra in short order. The reader may enjoy the building momentum that sees this young love flourish, though remain clouded by the issue of caste, so prevalent in Indian society. Archer adds his own flair to keep the reader guessing until the final sentence, his trademark. No matter what one feels about his time incarcerated, Archer frees the reader from any judgment by presenting this top-notch piece.

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

The Man Who Robbed His Own Post Office (The Year of Short Stories, January), 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. January brings us this interesting story about Chris and Sue Haskins, accused of stealing a large sum of money from the post office they own. While meeting in primary school, Chris and Sue found themselves in different circles and not showing much interest in one another. However, a few chance encounters paved the way to a wonderful relationship and eventual marriage. Starting with modest means, the Haskins’ sought to begin a business venture that could not fail. Working themselves to the bone, Chris and Sue sought to make more money than their modest fish and chip shop could produce. Working to purchase a busy post office, Chris and Sue continue to work hard and solidify strong relationships with their patrons. A letter from the Central Office governing post offices arrives with some less than pleasant news. Unsure what they will do, Chris and Sue begin to craft a plan that will work to benefit them and ensure they have a lovely nest egg. Thus begins a series of illegal events that will pad their bank accounts, as long as they are not caught. In a story that comes full circle, the Haskins’ soon find themselves before Mr. Justice Gray, baffled at the series of events that brought them to his court. Perfect for those who need a short break from their hectic lives, Archer treats readers to this wonderful short story that launches a year’s worth of intriguing pieces.

I have long been a fan of Lord Archer and his writing. While some propose to dust off the soap box and bemoan his legal issues, this has not diminished Archer’s ability to create powerful pieces that educate and entertain in short order. Commencing a short story collection not only allows Archer to continue honing his skills, but also gives readers something to enjoy when they have a little free time. In this piece, Archer focuses much of his attention on building up the backstory of Chris and Sue Haskins. Filling in just the right amount of backstory to provide context, Archer spins a story full of intrigue and fast-paced action. That this upstanding couple could turn to a set of criminal acts almost seems justified in the way Archer depicts it. With three decent length chapters, Archer keeps the narrative flowing such that the reader cannot stop reading until they have reached the final page, where even then Archer gracefully lets the reader down easily. I am so pleased to have come across this collection and will review each storey based on its own merits, binging with the five before me to catch up, before awaiting each instalment on a monthly basis thereafter.

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

The Amendment Killer, by Ronald S. Barak

Nine stars

Ronald S. Barak presents readers with a sensational novel that delves into the world of US constitutional politics, kidnapping, and a developing courtroom drama. When a girl is taken from off the street on her way to school, no one seems to notice. The country’s attention turns towards Washington, D.C., more specifically the US Supreme Court, where a monumental case is about to be argued before the nine justices. The premise surrounds the introduction of the 28th Amendment to the US Constitution, which seeks to tighten the responsibilities of congressional members. The controversy surrounds not only the content of the amendment, but that it was not introduced by Congress and the state assemblies. The National Organization for Political Integrity (NoPoli) chose to hold a constitutional convention with delegates of its fifty state branches, crafting and passing the aforementioned amendment. Having made its way through the lower courts, it is now time for the nine justices to rule not only on Congress’s standing to sue based on constitutional standing to create amendments, as well as on the content of the 28th Amendment. With such an impact on the future of America, the case is being carried live on television for everyone to see, live and as it develops. During the Chief Justice’s opening remarks, Justice Arnold Hirschfeld’s cell phone buzzes with a text; his granddaughter, Cassie, has been kidnapped. As Hirschfeld tries to remain stoic, he is informed that the only way she will be returned safely is when the amendment is quashed. Panicked, Justice Hirschfeld must follow the rules laid out for him, but makes some veiled contact to ensure that his family is aware of the situation. While not wanting to tip his hand to what’s going on, Justice Hirschfeld reaches out to have an investigation commenced, though the burner phones being used and lack of substantial clues makes finding Cassie all the more difficult. Lawyers for NoPoli and Coingress battle it out, exploring what the Founding Fathers might have meant with Article 5 of the US Constitution and trying to parse out a modern day solution, all in a compacted oral argument setting, where justices openly hurl questions at the attorneys, who seek to maximise their allotted time. While arguments continue in the Court, Cassie is being kept in a secluded location, unsure why she’s been targeted. What she does know is that her diabetes will not remain under control if this lasts much longer. Bonding with her captor, Cassie is able to soon learn that her grandfather’s role in the current let of legal arguments could lead to her freedom, or untimely demise. Working off the radar while media outlets start sniffing around, Metro Homicide Detective Frank Lotello tries to craft an agreement to ensure that Cassie is released and Justice Hirschfeld can sway his colleagues. However, the constitutional arguments are compelling, forcing many to wonder why oral arguments show Hirschfeld speaking against everything he appears to hold dear. In the shadows, someone is trying to push for this amendment nullification, but at whose request? Will the Court rule properly on this monumental case and allow young Cassie the freedom she deserves? Barak has stitched together this wonderful novel that captures the reader’s attention from the outset and does not release its grip until the final pages. Recommended for those who love legal thrillers with a constitutional flavour, as well as the reader who find crime thrillers to their liking.

A friend of mine recommended this book to me, feeling that I might enjoy both its legal and criminal aspects. I had it sitting on my TBR list for a while, wanting to find myself in the right mood before diving in. Why I waited so long I will never know. Barak is able to pull the reader into the middle of this book, whetting my appetite for detailed discussion of constitutional practices, as well as using the US Supreme Court as a central tool to deliver some of the important impetus to keep the narrative flowing. Barak utilises the subplot of Cassie’s kidnapping to keep the story balanced and allow the reader to enjoy a well-rounded piece, as though to dilute some of the legal and constitutional arguments that fill many chapters. Barak effectively crafts a set of characters who mesh well together, but whose individual stories come together in a seamless manner. This gives the reader the chance to better understand those they find interesting and push aside those who do not pique their interest. In a story full of legal tangents, Barak keeps the reader guessing and wondering how things will resolve themselves. Fast-paced with a narrative benefitting both short and longer chapters, Barak paces the story well with time stamps, showing the slow (and quick) progression of the case before the Court’s expedited decision. With Cassie’s life on the line, the reader will surely push through this one to discover the monumental finality of this first-rate novel.

Kudos, Mr. Barak, for such an impactful story. I will have to find some of your other work and devour it in short order. I’m eager to see what else you can bring to life with your superior writing style.

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

Puppet Child, by Talia Carner

Nine stars

What would you do if you knew your ex-spouse was molesting your five year-old? That’s the question that Talia Carner poses to readers in the early stages of this explosive book. Rachel Belmore knew there was a problem with her husband, Dr. Wes Belmore, from the time their daughter was a baby. After an alarming event that Rachel witnessed at the crib-side of young Ellie, the couple split, but Dr. Belmore’s actions did not stop. Rachel began proceedings to limit her ex-husband’s access, trying to have him labelled a paedophile, but the courts would only take incremental steps. Distraught, Rachel turned to the only power she had, to refuse Wes access to Ellie, in violation of the court order. Even when Ellie did have to go, she would scream, returning after the access with mysterious injuries and bruises, sometimes to her vagina. When Ellie admitted that her father enjoyed playing ‘The Zoo Game’, Rachel could take it no longer and turned to her attorney for help. However, the Family Court judge refused to accept the pleas being made, sure that Rachel had overdramatised them. With little else to do, Rachel took matters into her own hands, seeking to protect Ellie, even if it would endanger her own freedom in the eyes of the court. Working to save her daughter at any cost, Rachel turned to family and friends, as well as an unusual source to help protect Ellie. However, Dr. Wes Belmore was not without resources of his own and would do whatever it took to ensure Ellie comes back to him. Part legal battle, part family struggle, Talia Carner pushes the reader to the limits of what they can stomach when it comes to child abuse and molestation, while Lady Justice seems to have been shelved during an election year. Highly recommended for those who enjoy a legal and courtroom battle, but not for the faint of heart when it comes to the protection of the most vulnerable.

This book was recommended to me by a friend who could not speak highly enough about its story. Working for Child Protection, it is all too common that cases such as those described in this novel cross my path, but I have tried not to become too involved as to skew my outlook on all custodial arrangements or cases of abuse. Being a parent as well, this story kicks you in the gut (and teeth), forcing you to read and try not to believe that anyone could do this to their own child. Carner’s descriptive power is strong and pushes the story off the written page and into the realm of reality. I found myself flipping back regularly to see if this were a piece of fiction or based on real events. Her detailed narrative about the strain of the abuse (thankfully for many, there is not too much overt description) as well as the courtroom battles left me feeling as though I were in the middle of events unfolding before me. The characters brought much to the story, particularly those at the forefront of the plot. I found myself pitying Rachel and hating Wes repeatedly, all while I begged that something could be done to save Ellie, even when the justice system would not. The twists and turns in the story left me surprised, as this is by no means a cookie cutter narrative, though there were some times that foreshadowing and foreboding left me able to see what might lurk around the corner. The impact of Carner’s writing left me wanting more, but also full-up with all the horrors bestowed on young Ellie, if that makes sense. I found the ongoing legal battles to my liking, as that is a genre that I always enjoy, but also some of the great backstory that shows the world still spinning and life not taking a hiatus even when tragedy strikes. Carner’s style left me wanting to see what else she has penned and hoping that many will find this book and be able to see through some of the disturbing content to find the underlying theme, that the law is not always in sync with what is just. After reading this book, if I needed any reminder of that, it’s become readily apparent.

Kudos, Madam Carner, for this sensational piece. I cannot thank you enough for putting these ideas to paper and I will tell anyone who might listen that this is a must-read.

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

Margaret Truman’s Allied in Danger (Capital Crimes #30), by Donald Bain

Eight stars

Donald Bain is back with another instalment of the long-running Capital Crimes series. Straddling a legal and mystery genre here, Bain takes the reader on an interesting journey through the world of illicit money schemes. Mac Smith has just agreed to help a new client, whose father was taken in by a Nigerian money scheme, sending his life savings into the African country, before killing himself when he went broke. Smith, unsure if he will be able to help, brings his investigator into the case, in hopes of assisting. Robert Brixton can see this will be an uphill battle, but is always up for a challenge. Brixton turns to a friend of his at the British Embassy, David Portland, who also has an interest in Nigeria, though not for the same reasons. Portland’s son has been over in the country and may have been killed while working for a security company, SureSafe. However, Portland cannot learn anything for sure, until a family heirloom is found on a Nigerian back in D.C. Portland begins to uncover that his son may have died at the hands of a Frenchman who heads up security firm, closely allied with a warlord, whose enterprises include money schemes directed towards the gullible. Armed with a passion to bring justice for his son, Portland and Brixton pool their resources and impetus to head onto the African continent for some answers, though someone lurking in the shadows wants to ensure they end up empty handed and perhaps worse. What may have started out as a simple legal remedy to help a man duped out of his life savings has become a life and death mission for family honour. Trouble is, no one is willing to stick out their heads to help, worried it may be the last thing they do. Bain has pulled another winner out in this series, whose focus has shifted from the strong legal novels to something more focussed on investigation and mystery. Recommended for those who have followed this series for its lengthy run as well as the curious reader who wants a glimpse into the political and social situation of Nigeria.

I have been reading the Capital Crimes series since I discovered Margaret Truman many years ago. That it has reached thirty novels may surprise some, but its ability to morph and keep the reader’s attention speaks volumes to its longevity. Robert Brixton, the creation of Donald Bain when he formally took over the series, is a fabulously developed character. His tough exterior helps push the story along, with grit to get to the heart of the matter. However, the softer side as he still mourns the death of his daughter, pushes through and makes the character more compassionate and worthy of attention. While he may play a minor role in the last few novels, series regular and former protagonist Mac Smith is always a pleasure to see on the page. His anchored approach seeks to allow the law to do battle rather than devious behaviour, but he has a way about him that keeps the reader from rolling their eyes. With a narrative that pushes along and keeps the story fresh, Bain does wonderful things by educating the reader about many of the nuances of Nigeria and some of the vast differences with North American life, which provides a rich plot. Bain shows a dedication to the backstory and weaves it together effectively through a mix of short and longer chapters. The reader cannot get enough as they seek to learn which twists will influence the larger story and which are dead ends to entertain. Bain has kept Truman’s series alive with his own flavour and left series fans fairly impressed. Sadly, with his death, I suppose this is the last instalment in a long-running and highly energetic series.

Kudos, Mr. Bain, for keeping the spirit of Margaret Truman alive. She would be proud with your effort and I know fans of the novels are sure to applaud this effort. I thank you for all the work you did on this series and that you may now rest in peace.

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

The Fallen (Amos Decker #4), by David Baldacci

Eight stars

David Baldacci’s latest Amos Decker novel touches on some timely material while keeping the reader enthralled throughout. While vacationing in rural Pennsylvania, Amos Decker and his partner, Alex Jamison, seek to unwind with Alex’s sister. When Decker stumbles across a murder scene, he is unable to divorce himself from his sleuthing ways. Two men are found murdered in a home presumed to have been abandoned. This is not the first murder in Baronville of late, which has seen half a dozen bodies piling up over the last few months. While Jamison is happy to let the locals handle things, Decker pulls her into the middle of the investigation as his mind races at light speed. It would appear that someone does not want them poking around, as they are caught in a situation that leaves Decker’s mental abilities tarnished. When tragedy befalls Jamison’s family, she is happy to set the case aside, but Decker is determined to get to the bottom of everything going on, including trying to learn more about the town pariah, a man whose family has influenced the community since its inception. As Decker investigates, the dire the consequences of the opioid crisis come to the surface, where towns across America are being destroyed by new and lethal drugs on a regular basis. When Decker makes a solid connection between these drug deaths and someone in town, he will stop at nothing to reveal the full picture, even if it costs him everything. Baldacci has another winner with this novel, which keeps the reader guessing while addressing some of the poignant topics making their way into news headlines around the world. Recommended to series fans and those who enjoy a well-paced thriller that has a little of everything.

I have long enjoyed Baldacci’s work, which is as varied as his handful of central characters. He has the ability to place his protagonists in interesting predicaments while also pulling news from the headlines to make the novels even more relevant in a genre that seems supersaturated with books. Paring down the series characters, Baldacci focuses on Decker and Jamison, allowing both to develop some more of their backstories/personal sides and offering the reader something on which they can relate. It would seem that the opioid crisis is an ongoing hot button issue and Baldacci finds a way to spin it in a unique fashion to offer his own perspective without getting overly preachy. Baldacci’s subtle use of characters to portray opinions permits the reader to feel at ease throughout this controversial topic. With chapters that keep the narrative flowing effectively and keeps the reader wondering what’s coming next, Baldacci has another winner with this novel in an established series. Perhaps not the best of the novels, but still one well worth the time to read it, I can only wonder what else Baldacci has in store for his fans.

Kudos, Mr. Baldacci, for another wonderful book. I know you have plans for new and exciting series in the fall, but I hope you will not forget this series, which has been gaining momentum since its inception.

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

Gate 76, by Andrew Diamond

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Andrew Diamond, and Stolen Time Press for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

What at first seems to be an airline disaster thriller soon takes on a life of its own in Andrew Diamond’s latest novel. While waiting to board his flight back to DC, Freddy Ferguson notices another passenger in queue at Gate 76, a flight soon departing San Francisco for Honolulu. This passenger, a fairly attractive blonde, seems distraught and slips out of line at the last minute, rushing to board another plane. As Ferguson lands in DC, the news is full of reports of that Hawaii-bound flight, which blew up soon after takeoff and killed all those on board. Ferguson and the Private Investigation firm for which he works is soon hired by the airline to look into what might have happened. Even with a baggage handler in custody in San Francisco, something does not seem right, especially since Ferguson saw that woman acting oddly. Ruled one of the dead passengers, Ferguson knows this woman, Anna Brook, may hold the clue to better understanding what actually happened and who is to blame. Sifting through all the paperwork and following up on leads sees Ferguson chase down a tangential idea to the heart of Texas, where things take an interesting turn and leave him wondering if he can penetrate the layers of red tape put in place by the Feds. Might there be something more sinister than an act of terror? Ferguson may have bitten off more than he can chew with this case, as he battles his own personal demons from the past. Diamond offers readers an interesting thriller that evolves continuously. Recommended for those who like a little mystery with their high-paced thrillers.

This being my introduction to the world of Andrew Diamond, I was not sure how I would react. The dust jacket blurb had me hooked and the novel began well, developing not only the backstory of Freddy Ferguson’s rough life before becoming a PI, but also some of the more personal aspects to the man’s life that shaped him. Diamond creates a number of interesting characters that could, should he choose, be the foundation of an entire series. The uniqueness of some central characters mesh well and give the reader much to hold their attention, though I will admit that the story does develop in such a way that there are numerous individuals who emerge and whose storylines must be followed, causing a degree of confusion at some points. Working with a mix of short and longer chapters, Diamond pulls the reader into the middle of the story and develops the plot effectively, creating both the slow revelation and the cliffhanger moments in equal measure. I enjoyed Diamond’s varied nature when it came to presenting the narrative and the twists taken to get to the final outcome, leaving the reader to piece the entire case together over the span of the book. These twists keep things engaging and free from a predictable outcome. I’ll surely read another Andrew Diamond novel, given the chance to do so.

Kudos, Mr. Diamond, for this wonderful piece. I hope some of your other pieces are just as exciting and that you’ll consider bringing Freddy Ferguson back 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

Paper: Paging Through History, by Mark Kurlansky

Eight stars

Those who have been following my reviews of late will know that I have been drawn to Mark Kurlansky’s work on the history of certain edible items. In these pieces, the author depicts the evolution and exponential uses for the products throughout the centuries. Here, with the history of paper before me, some may feel that things will take a significant turn towards the mundane. Just how interesting can paper be and how can someone extol its virtues for hundreds of pages? I, too, was somewhat a skeptic, but also highly curious to see if it could be done in an entertaining and educational manner. Kurlansky posits early in the book that it it not paper, per se, that is examined here, but the evolution of human’s communication utilising paper as its conduit. Still not sold? Well, Kurlansky explores some of the early forms of written communication—from the development of ancient Chinese through intricate and interconnected symbols through the development of the Roman alphabet—and how such thoughts were placed on objects for long-term reference. Moses and those Ten Commandments were only a primitive means by which of moving from oral tradition to the document form that allowed many to view and potentially understand what had been said. Stone, clay, bark, and even animal skin seemed to be the early forms of documentation material, but paper was also being used to adequately hold words or symbols for longer periods of time. Kurlansky explores varieties of paper and their acidic levels, which also played a key role in durability, both in the short term and throughout history, as well as the varied types of plant life that could be used to create paper. From there, it was the evolution of documentation that fills the biography’s pages. Handwritten accounts served for a time, but when Gutenberg and others were able to create or hone printing presses, mass communication became possible. Interestingly enough, Kurlansky argues that history takes not the inventor of a concept but he/she who is able to find the best way to apply it to society and deifies them. That intellect has helped label concepts throughout history, pushing false praise on a number of people. As paper was less costly and easier to mass produce, it was also highly effective in the art world. No longer did an artist need to worry about waste, as they could sketch out an idea or a concept before putting it to canvass. Paper also ushered in the era of drawing and rough drafts, which proved highly useful for the likes of Michelangelo. Kurlanaky also explores some of the details around paper’s use as a political weapn, helping to fuel many a revolution through political tracts and pamphlets. There is extensive discussion of the American and French Revolutions, spread to the masses by the printed material made available. During the latter portion of the book, Kurlansky explores the economic ramification of paper making around the world, particularly paper mills and the environmental impact. The reader can see the financial side of paper and how something as simple as a sheet used for writing can be such a lucrative industry, particularly for some Asian countries, who have taken on the recycling process and redistribution of paper back into the market. For a topic that may seem rather drab, Kurlansky creates quite an interest biography that weaves the history of paper through the ages, permitting the reader to learn a little more about the building blocks of their favourtite book. Unless we’re talking about e-books, but that’s for another discussion. Highly recommended for anyone with an interest in biographies, particularly of a unique nature.

As with many of his past biographies, Kurlansky is able to pull the reader in from the beginning, laying the groundwork for what is to be an interesting piece of writing. At no time do things go ‘flat’ or lose their lustre, for Kurlansky has been able to distill all the information gathered and present it in a masterful manner, with just enough intrigue to keep the reader wanting to know more. Some may say that paper cannot be exciting, no matter how delightful the narrative, but I would disagree. Kurlansky takes hold of this topic and provides the reader with much to ponder. His ongoing theme that paper is not only so versatile but has come into its own through a variety of cultural and historical evolutions rings true. The reader is able to explore paper (and its predecessors) around the world and see how each region of the world added its own spin. Technology proved to be highly influenced by paper, something that Kurlansky also argues effectively. As the reader will notice, it was paper that brought about much of the advancements in printing and communication technology. Revolutions depended not only on overthrowing governments and monarchies, but on having the paper to rile up the masses. I had never thought of things from this perspective, but Kurlansky has a tendency of opening my mind and leaving me in awe. With jam-packed chapters that offer historical and cultural perspectives, the reader is able to see paper advancements from around the world, and the eventual connection of all these cultures into modern paper making and forms of technology that rely on this somewhat simple and forgotten cog in the larger wheel. Kurlansky breathes life into a topic that might not otherwise be of much interest, but does so in such a way that the reader cannot help but care. With easy to understand descriptions and a flowing narrative, Kurlansky shows yet again that he has a handle on the nuances of unique biographical tomes.

Kudos, Mr, Kurlansky, for another winner in my eyes. I have marvelled at all you have to say about these topics and this one was another winner for me. Keep up the excellent writing and I hope to find more of your biographies soon.

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