Red War (Mitch Rapp #17), by Kyle Mills

Seven stars

Kyle Mills is back with another of Vince Flynn’s classic novels of espionage, where Mitch Rapp finds himself in the middle of yet another international skirmish. After an attack on a prominent Russian in Central America, Rapp and those high-up in the CIA take notice, sure the Russian Government is involved. While they ponder how to handle this, Rapp is left to wonder what else Moscow might be plotting. Little known to most, the current Russian President is ill, terminally so. In what might be his last act of aggression, the president is convinced of an attack on some of his former satellite states, those in the Baltic that have since joined NATO. Sure that this will bring the Americans into yet another bloody war, the Russians begin to maneuver. Rapp and his team posit what might be going on, though many of the military forces of those countries that are potential targets remain unconvinced. It is a race against time and the two re-emerging superpowers may have one last stand-off. For one, it’s all in with nothing to lose. For the other, the world watches, as strategic force serves as a restraining deterrent. Mills does well to continue this series and takes readers on another spellbinding ride through international politics and espionage. Recommended for those who love the work Vince Flynn did before his premature death.

Since taking over the Mitch Rapp series, Mills has done well to promote a strong continuity when it comes to storylines, characters, and overall plot. That is rare, as I have come to see in other series taken over by new authors, who always like to establish their own control and usually leave the series reader deflated. Mitch Rapp remains a highly intriguing character, with his penchant for off-hand jokes, while offering a strong focus when work requires it. He is gritty, but also compassionate and keeps the reader liking this mix, for the most part. I cannot help but wonder if it is almost time for Rapp to switch to another role, thinking his body has taken enough beatings. That said, Bond is still around all these years later, right? The other characters, regulars and new faces, prove to push the story in interesting directions, with a focus on Russia and a political push towards supremacy again. The story is one that I have actually seen recently in another espionage series I read, where Russia is trying to erode the power of NATO through some of its former satellite countries. Funny enough, this may prove to be the new theme in this genre, which is nice after too many years of ISIS battles have surely drawn the ire of the genre reader. I am curious to see what else Mills has in store for this series, as there is surely much that could be developed, though I am also sure Rapp could retire and live a peaceful life once and for all. However, we all know Rapp is not the kind of guy to sit on the porch, sipping sweet tea!

Kudos, Mr. Mills, for another strong book. While not my favourite of your books in this series, it is sure to get others talking and wondering.

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

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Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley

Eight stars

An annual re-read, worth posting the review once again:

Mary Shelley’s story of Frankenstein poses less the spooky and bone-chilling tale that it has received in subsequent permutations, but rather serves more as a warning in regards to scientific exploration. The novel opens with a set of letters by Captain Robert Walton to his sister back in England. Captain Walton is travelling through the Arctic to further his scientific appetite. The captain and crew notice a large creature travelling over the ice and eventually stumble upon a nearly frozen Victor Frankenstein, who tells the story of his scientific struggles and tries to dissuade Walton from any such pursuits. From there, the narrative shifts to Frankenstein’s story, who was encouraged by his parents to explore the world of science and nature. Armed with the knowledge of the ancient natural philosophers, he takes this passion with him to university in Germany, where he is introduced to more modern ways of thinking. Grief befalls Frankenstein after his mother’s death and he turns to science to assuage him, discovering how to bring the electricity of life to that lacking its spark. Creating a being in secret, Frankenstein soon sees that it has gone horribly wrong, both the physical appearance of this eight-foot behemoth (tempered with translucent skin and pulsing veins) and the decision to play God. Frankenstein rages against his creation and flees for the city, only to return and see that the being has fled the confines of his flat. Frankenstein becomes ill and recuperates over a four-month period before returning to his native Geneva. Upon his arrival, he discovers that his younger brother has been killed. Frankenstein sees the tell-tale signs of his creation having strangled the young boy, though the crime is saddled upon a nanny and she is executed by hanging. Full of guilt, Frankenstein chases his creature and learns of the personal journey ‘he’ had over their time apart. The creature tells of how he learned the nuances of language and speech, the complexities of emotion as well as discovering of his hideous appearance. The creature vows to ruin the life of his creator unless he is gifted with a female companion. Frankenstein ponders this and promises to make one, having been threatened with more personal anguish if he fails. Frankenstein travels to the far reaches of Scotland to begin his work, eyed by the creature from afar. When Frankenstein has a final epiphany that his hands can create nothing but increased terror, he disposes with his experiment, knowing the consequences. More agony befalls Frankenstein, who seeks to destroy his creation once and for all. By the end, the story returns to Captain Walton’s ship and a dramatic set of events which solidifies the story’s underlying thread once and for all. A brilliant piece that is full of social commentary and much foreboding as it relates to science. Shelley’s original is less spooky than it is chilling for her thematic messaging. A wonderful read for those who like a good challenge.

Deemed the first ever piece of science fiction, Shelley’s story tell of the downsides of playing God with human life and creation. The themes that emanate from the story at hand are numerous and thought provoking. The reader can easily get lost in the narrative and its linguistic nuances, but it is the characters and their messages that permeate the text. Victor Frankenstein and his creature prove to be two very interesting and yet contrasting characters, developed primarily through their individual narratives. Frankenstein is the bright-eyed scientific mind who seeks to alter the path of events by imbuing something of his own making with life, only to discover that thought and reality do not mesh. On the other hand, the creature tells of a struggle to find ‘himself’ and suffers through the reality beset upon him, forced to learn to adapt under the most problematic circumstances. The plethora of other characters develop and support these two, with Captain Walton playing an interesting, yet seemingly background, role in the entire narrative. The attentive reader will see that this original piece lacks the ‘Hollywood’ flavour that has been placed upon it, where crowds with torches chase the protagonists and lightning is used to jolt the creature to life from his metal bolts in the neck. Instead, it is a piece of social commentary that prefers to scare in its foreboding and provides a much more academic approach than might be suspected by the unknowing reader. I was pleased with the novel and all it had to offer. I am sure it will provide a wonderful soapbox for those who wish to open a discussion on the matter. I would welcome it.

Kudos, Madam Shelley, for this wonderful piece. That you started it at the ripe age of eighteen baffles and impresses me. I will be adding this to my annual late October reading list!

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

Juror #3, By James Patterson and Nancy Allen

Eight stars

James Patterson collaborates with Nancy Allen to bring readers an exciting legal piece that will keep the questions coming until the final pages. Ruby Bozarth is a recent grad of Ole Miss Law School and has a desire to save the world. Hanging her shingle in a small town, she is used to defending misdemeanours and the like, most of which are simple cases. However, when a judge earmarks her to become the attorney of a local murder suspect, Ruby discovers that the law can be quite the beast. Darrien Summers is a waiter at the local country club and is summoned to a back room by text. When he arrives, he discovers the dead body of the woman he has secretly been seeing. What makes this scandalous in Mississippi is not that she is married, but that Summers is black and the victim is white. Cutting her teeth on all that is a murder defence, Ruby ends up working alongside the aunt of her former fiancé, a man she still cannot stomach having loved. While picking a jury, Ruby comes across a potential juror who seems to be acting very oddly. However, he makes it onto the panel and soon is captivated by the evidence in the Darrien Summers trial. Working her magic, Ruby inserts some doubt and hopes that she can win. However, something odd happens in the middle of the trial, involving that same Juror #3, which turns the case on its head. While Ruby tries to come to terms with the outcome, her aforementioned former flame finds himself in his own legal hot water and Ruby is thrust into her second major case in a year. Will she find a passion for the work of a criminal defence attorney or is this just one hell of a ride? Recommended for those who enjoy some of Patterson’s better collaborations and need a quick read to pass the time.

I quite enjoyed this one-off by Patterson and Allen, which worked well and seemed to get better with each passing chapter. Ruby Bozarth is that young lawyer who is as wet behind the ears as they come. However, her gumption and determination to do what is right seems to open a path towards a successful legal strategy. She trips and stumbles, but is always looking to better herself, rather than be the pompous woman that feels she can do no wrong. With a little backstory and much development throughout, the reader will likely grow to admire this Mississippi girl and all her quirks. The secondary characters work well, no matter their role in the piece, to pave the way towards an entertaining legal thriller that has a few twists few would expect. While not entirely traditional Patterson—super short chapters with a cliffhanger at each page turn—the story works well and the reader can remain engaged. Allen is to be applauded for keeping the story from turning into anything tepid, as I have found Patterson collaborations usually hinge on the second author to make or break the piece. What I did find interesting, though I debated keeping it out and allowing others to decide for themselves, is that this book almost acts as two BookShots in one—that clever Patterson project of short story writing—as the first case is completely divorced from the second, with that mystery juror firmly rooted in the early case. I waited and pondered why these two stories were pressed together, though I suppose others can chime in and offer their insights, after they have read the piece.

Kudos, Mr. Patterson and Madam Allen, for an entertaining read. I hope you will work together again soon.

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

Corrupt Practices (Parker Stern #1), by Robert Rotstein

Nine stars

Robert Rotstein storms onto the scene with this sensational legal and courtroom thriller that is sure to keep the reader hooked until the final page turn. Parker Stern was once a successful lawyer working in a mid-sized firm. When his mentor—who happened to be the senior partner—committed suicide, everything fell apart and the lawyers scattered. Now, one of his former colleagues has been charged with embezzlement from a major L.A. church, one that some would call a powerful cult. While Stern has not set foot in a courtroom for quite some time, he agrees to take the case, only to have his client commit suicide while awaiting trial. If this were not enough, Stern has taken on teaching a law seminar at one of the local colleges, where he meets one of the keenest legal minds he’s come across for some time, with the curious name of Lovely Diamond. With the embezzlement case soon becoming a legal battle with the deceased’s estate, Stern will need all the help that he can get and turns to his students to cobble together aspects of the case, as Lovely takes the lead. Holding onto an inner hatred for this cult, Stern will do everything in his power to find the loopholes to show that the embezzlement is coming from within the hierarchy of the organization and that these deaths are anything but self-inflicted. He will have to turn to someone he vowed never to contact in order to learn some of the inner workings of the church, but even that might not be enough. Juggling a highly controversial First Amendment case as well, Stern forges ahead, blindly, into the courtroom and refuses to stand down until justice is served. Rotstein has so much to offer and stuns readers with his ability to weave such a strong legal tale. Highly recommended for those who enjoy novels that take the law and put it through its paces!

I recently discovered Rotstein when reading another of his standalone legal pieces, which pulled me right in. I found that his writing was not only believable, but took me on that journey inside the courtroom where few writers have been able to effectively sell a legal thriller. The story is full of complexities as well as nuances that keep the reader coming back to learn more, while providing a handful of strong characters to guide the way. Parker Stern is so much more than a great legal mind in this piece. From his early years as a child film actor to his debilitating stage fright in the courtroom, he shapes the novel in so many ways. Fuelled by his hatred for not only the lawyers on the opposite side of the courtroom, but also the organization that saw his childhood destroyed, Stern will stop at nothing to use the law to enact revenge, however he can. His legal maneuvers are surely something that will keep the reader entertained, while they marvel at his passion for the law. There are a handful of other characters who shape the story, none more than Lovely Diamond, the third-year law student whose passion for the underdog cannot be downplayed. With an interesting backstory of her own, it was only a matter of time before she and Stern would find themselves working alongside one another, in ways no one could have expected. Her passion for helping and determination to get to the root of the legal argument propels the narrative forward and keeps the reader intrigued throughout. The story of this book is anything but simple, yet Rotstein makes it easily palatable without watering down the arguments. The reader is in for quite the ride and will surely find something that suits their fancy, with a number of legal and personal issues coming to a head simultaneously. I cannot wait to get my hands on the second novel to continue this wonderful journey through the law and how the courtroom is the unpredictable battlefield.

Kudos, Mr. Rotstein, for a sensational start to this series. I will have to continue exploring the life of Parker Stern and how you shape him through the three novels you have written.

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

Wolfgang (Wolfgang Chronicles Book 1), by F.D. Gross

Seven stars

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

Having been asked by the writer to read through this book, I gladly took the opportunity to do so, waiting for the ‘ghoulish’ time to approach, when I would inundate myself with other tales of a similar nature. Lord Tenor Alvadine Wolfgang is a heroic vampire hunter like no other. Armed with all the tools of the trade, Wolfgang sets out to slay Lord Egleaseon, a powerful vampire. Completing the task, Wolfgang can only hope that peace has finally been established in the area. Fast-forward sixteen years and Wolfgang has started a family, including his lovely wife, Diana, and son, Dorian. When he returns from one of his missions, Wolfgang is stunned to see his house in flames and Diana clinging to life. Worst of all, Dorian is nowhere to be found, presumably kidnapped. Wolfgang sets out to locate his son, crossing paths with many ghoulish beings. With nothing to live for if Dorian cannot be saved, Wolfgang will stop at nothing and shed copious amounts of blood to track down the fiendish individual who captured his son. As he follows the path that may lead him towards Dorian, Wolfgang discovers a plot to deceive him that has been years in the making. With this knowledge, there are even fewer he can trust during his time of need. Gross does well to lay the groundwork for this series, sure to pique the interest of readers who enjoy vampires and their associated slayers.

I agreed to take the gamble and try this book, in hopes that it would prepare me for the season. While I admit that this is not a genre I read regularly, or really find a passionate connection to, Gross has done well painting a literary picture that is sure to keep those who love vampires keenly interested. Wolfgang appears to be one of those men who have the brains and brawn, particularly when it comes to slaying bloodsucking monsters. His love of killing seems only to be eclipsed by his passion for family, though that foundation is all but gone now. Using numerous tools at his disposal, Wolfgang sets out to rid the world of evil, one creature at a time, but his motivation is quite specific. How he will evolve in the novels to come remains to be seen, but Gross has much that he can do, given the time to develop this character. The other secondary characters serve a decent purpose, including the creatures he encounters on his mission, though I admit they held little interest for me. The plot is decent and the narrative pushes forward at a decent pace, even if I was not fully enthralled by the content. While the book was not up my alley, I can recognize great work and Gross surely has much to offer those who love a good vampire hunter. While no Stoker, he is surely an author to be noticed with a series worth the curious reader’s time.

Kudos, Mr. Gross, for an excellent effort. I may not rush out to continue the series, but I hope many will, enjoying each twist along the way!

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

The Exorcist, by William Peter Blatty

Nine stars

WIlliam Peter Blatty’s groundbreaking novel caused many waves at the time of its publication, though it is thought that the accompanying movie might have been even more controversial. I chose to embark on this journey, more out of curiosity than anything else. Knowing the premise, I thought I would indulge before the season of ghouls and other spine-tingling things is fully upon us. Chris MacNeil is a screen actress and lives in Georgetown with her daughter, Regan. Quite the typical twelve, Regan enjoys some independence, but is happy to engage with her mother on a regular basis. When Regan begins to exhibit strange behaviours, Chris cannot help but seek out some medical advice, none of which yields firm answers. When the oddities begin to manifest themselves into verbal and physical attacks on others, Chris is left to grasp at straws and is pushed in the direction of a psychiatrist. The name she is given, interestingly enough, is Father Damien Karras. A Jesuit, Karras works in the parish just on the other side of the MacNeil home. When Karras agrees to come visit Regan, he is fearful, yet baffled as well, though will not jump to the idea of possession, even as Chris pushes for an exorcism. With no religious ties, the MacNeils seem highly unlikely to have a demon in their lives, but nothing else seems plausible. Karras takes an academic approach to the situation and, after numerous encounters with Regan and her alternate personality, he wonders if there might be something to this talk of demonic possession. Regan appears to have all the signs and exhibits numerous tendencies that Karras has found in scholarly articles over the centuries. With a desecration in the local parish church and the gruesome death of Chris’ friend, a local homicide detective is poking around, engaging with Karras at every turn, though no one freely shares the goings-on in the MacNeil home, which might explain at least part of these occurrences. After making his argument to the Church about the needs for some form of Catholic intervention, Karras proceeds to arm himself to enter Regan’s domain, ready to do battle with whatever is inside her. It is then that things take a turn for the worse and Karras’ entire being is tested. Blatty penned this sensational piece that, even close to a half-century later, will still send chills chills up the reader’s spine. Highly recommended for those who love a great thrill ride and can stomach some graphic descriptions and language.

In one of my previous reading challenges, I pushed members to compare a book to its screen adaptation, hoping to see the parallels and great differences. Having recently indulged in the cinematic production of this book, it is difficult for me to divorce the two, as they complement one another so well. I thoroughly enjoy watching this movie and have done so on multiple occasions. While it was produced in 1973 and some of the technology is understandably outdated, it packs a punch and was surely quite thrilling at the time. Damien Karras is a central character in the book and his presence is felt throughout, both through his personal struggles with his faith and the dedication he had when thrust into the middle of the demonic possession of a young girl. Karras begins as a distant figure, who struggles to come to terms with his mother’s illness and, upon her death, seeks to leave the umbrella of the Catholic Church. However, his character grows as he becomes a well-grounded scholar and seeks to understand what is going on with Regan MacNeil and her obvious struggles with mental stability. Chris MacNeil is also a key member of the story and her struggle to understand her daughter proves to be an ongoing theme the reader will discover. The angst and utter helplessness is something that any parent would struggle to accept, forcing Chris to turn to the experts, none of whom have the answers she wants. One cannot review this book effectively without mentioning Regan and the demon that appears to be embedded within her, as it is this that proves to offer the ultimate spine tingling. The struggles the young girl has and the demon displays push the book out of the realm of simple defiance and into an area not seen by many books of the time. The raw and unedited language proves useful—needed, even—to fulfil that complete sentiment of possession. Many readers may not like it, as I am sure scores found it problematic when the book was published, but it serves to take the book to a level that makes it all the more believed. A handful of other characters and a few interesting sub-plots keep the reader engaged and ready to see where Blatty is taking things. The story itself is quite well done and has been able to stand the test of time. While exorcisms are no longer commonplace, their allure has not diminished, be it in the published work or cinematic presentation. Blatty slowly develops the demonic aspect in such a way that the reader can see it creeping up and spiking at just the right moment. Layering the narrative with some key research, revealed by Father Karras, proves to substantiate the larger theme and keeps things from getting too fanciful. Those with a strong constitution and who can handle some strong language will surely find something in this book to keep them up late at night. I know I’ll likely put this on a list of books to read when I want a real chill, though will have to make sure the audio is not streaming when Neo’s around!

Kudos, Mr. Blatty, for keeping me enthralled throughout. I may have to check out some more of your work in the coming months, as you sure know how to tell a story!

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

Disaster Inc., by Caimh McDonnell

Six stars

My choice of Caimh McDonnell’s book was made in a somewhat blind manner. Choosing the book entirely based on its cover, I had no idea what to expect or how I would enjoy the piece. To say that the book was a surprise is an understatement, though it is perhaps this lack of knowledge that made the reading all the more adventurous. When Bunny McGarry walks into a rural diner, he has little idea what to expect. Besides being without tea—a shock that resonates throughout the piece—this small eatery is filled with an interesting cross-section of folks. The peaceful nature is shattered when two masked men enter and begin waving around their guns. While Bunny tries to diffuse the situation, these men are on a mission, which is derailed when Bunny takes things into his own hands. Fleeing before the cops can make their way to the scene, he is approached by one of the diners who is willing to aid in his escape. Amy Daniels admits that she was the one those men sought, having become tangled in their web not too long before. Amy holds a secret about them that could cause many issues and her life is likely in jeopardy in order to protect the men. While Bunny and Amy try to stay off the radar, there is fallout from the botched attack at the diner. The two men are part of an investment firm that has been helping a number of former government bureaucrats pad their retirement nest eggs in some less than savoury ways. Dubbing themselves Disaster Inc. they are being controlled by a woman who seeks to keep her secret from making it to the authorities, willing to expose and exterminate anyone in her way. In order to stay away from her potential captors, Amy agrees to help Bunny trace his whereabouts leading up to arriving at the diner, on one of his benders that saw his traipsing all across New York City. Amy’s eyes are opened to all the antics that Bunny McGarry can undertake in a single night, which serves only to distract her from her larger issues. An interesting story for some, but I could not find myself latching on, no matter what McDonnell had to offer. There are apparently other branch-off books in a parallel series, which may interest fans, but I think this is one surprise that is not sitting well with me.

The trouble with walking into a story blindly is that you never know what you’ll get. I have found some winners and a couple of real hot messes in my reading gambles. This one veers closer to the latter category for me, though I am sure others will lap it up and laud McDonnell’s work. I found that the Bunny McGarry character had some interesting Irish tendencies and his humour was top-notch, but I could not see myself overly drawn to what he did while meandering from A to B within the chapters of this book. His full backstory and development is likely better understood by latching onto the series McDonnell has written, but in this case, a drunk Irishman who has muscles and a decent brain did little for me. Amy Daniels was also one of those characters you either loved or hated. I suppose I can sit on the fence and feel tepid about her, though she’s one that made little impact on me. The others found their way into the story and served a purpose, but did little for me, as I begged for a strong narrative to capture my attention. I was not driven to utter literary frustration with the book, but just could not find anything exciting or stimulating to keep me attracted. I skimmed at times, seeking something, but found little that kept me wanting to thoroughly examine the plot as it developed. McDonnell can surely write and keep the story moving, but I found little of interest. Aptly titled, it was a disaster and one that I’ll remember. Blind reading can be troublesome, especially for someone who has such strong sentiments about the books I place before me. Still, it was an excellent way to push me out of my rigid reading rules. I’d do it again, though I am not sure I want to spend more time with Bunny McGarry and his band of merry drinkers.

Kudos, Mr. McDonnell, for what is surely a wonderful addition to your writing repertoire. I just could not find my niche in it.

This book fulfills Topic #2: Reading Blind in the Equinox #5 Reading Challenge. Thank you, Adrea Pierce, for the topic choice.

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

Solomon’s Song (Australia Trilogy #3), by Bryce Courtenay

Nine stars

Bryce Courtenay concludes his epic trilogy on the early times of Australia, using his powerful way with words and a multi-generational exploration of the Solomons. Filled with themes and key characters in early Australian history, the story finally pushes past the date of federation, when Australia stood on its own, while still under the auspices of the British Commonwealth. Picking up soon after the last novel ended, news comes that a body has been discovered in the harbour and the identification makes it seem to be Tommo Solomon. Mary and Hawk make their way to the coroner’s to identify the body and make the needed arrangements. As she is getting on in age, Mary requests—demands—that Tommo’s daughter be sent for, having moved to New Zealand to become a nurse. Hawk agrees to go find her, following the rumours that Hinetitama has fallen onto hard times. A ‘half-caste’, Hinetitama has her Maori roots, but is scorned in a country that still wishes to subjugate those they have colonised. When Hawk brings her back, he is able to convince Hinetitama to live and spend time with her grandmother, who wants nothing else than great-grandchildren before she dies. In an effort to ensure this happens, Mary works her wiles on the one man who has held Hinetitama’s heart, the Dutchman Slabbert Teekleman, though he is anything but an upstanding gentleman. Bearing two children, Ben and Victoria, Hinetitama soon falls into the bottle once more and disappears, leaving Hawk to act as surrogate parent. Mary’s death also shakes the family to the core, but her choices ensure that the brewery is left in good hands. It is around this time that the other branch of the Solomon clan reemerge, headed by David, who kept a life-long hatred of Mary for what she did in ruining his mother’s marriage to Ikey Solomon, head of this entire family. A business conglomeration does little to settle the score, though the Solomons are joined together in business, alternating power of the massive Solomon-Teekleman company, depending who is in possession of a majority of the shares. Fast-forwarding out of the nineteenth century, Australia has been able to stand on its own and emerges ready to play a significant role on the world stage. When the winds of war begin to blow, and with David Solomon ready to die, his grandson, Joshua, emerges on the scene to serve in the military. Alongside him, his cousin, Ben, is also ready for the military commitment, sent to battle under the auspices of fighting for King and country. Courtenay uses this decision—Australia’s Commonwealth commitment to the War—to serve as the major theme of the book. Ben leads a company of soldiers into training and eventually onto the European front, where they meet many an adventure and brutal bloodshed. So many young men, the premier stock of future Australians, leave to fight for Britain’s interests and end up strewn across the battlefield. Ben served his country well and the story turns into a war novel, exploring the key battles of the Great War. Bitter that he is watching those around him die, Ben is vilified by senior military officials, while Joshua is kept safe in England. All this comes to a head when they meet on the battlefield; two men serving the same country, but whose lives could not have been more different. It is here that Courtenay injects his most powerful storyline, as the Solomons must either bury their past, or use the animosity to fuel yet another skirmish, while Europe is torn apart. A brilliant end to the trilogy, Courtenay does things in this novel that I cannot begin to elucidate clearly. A master storyteller with a passion for his adopted Australia, it is a novel—and series—that should not be missed by any with a passion for inter-generational tomes.

I have long been a fan of Bryce Courtenay and have a great love of novels that explore inter-generational development within a family. The writing throughout the series is outstanding and places the characters in key situations against the backdrop of history to shape the narrative in many ways. There are a handful of key characters that shape the story at different points, perhaps none more so than Hawk and Hinetitama in the early portions and Ben in the latter segment of this massive tome. The struggle to shape the Solomon name is a task that neither Hawk nor Hinetitama could have expected would rest on their shoulders, but they do it so well. No one is perfect and no family is free from fault, but these two exemplify the pains of being minorities in a land that is still trying to find its feet, using horrible racism to fuel their individuality. As I have said in the reviews of the other pieces, racism is rampant, though I think it serves to explore the pig-headedness of a new country and these two characters have faced a significant amount of the physical and verbal abuse. Ben Teekleman is a Solomon like no other, who chooses to rise above it all and serve his country without reservation. Courtenay depicts him as a strong young man who does not get involved in the politics—familial, national, or racial—of those around him, but prefers to make a difference in the lives of those in his sphere. What Ben sees, especially when he is shipped to Europe, cannot be described with ease in this review, but readers who enjoy war history or depictions of the daily situations of soldiers will lap up much of the narrative. There are a handful of other key characters throughout, fuelling key aspects of the Solomon family feuds and the struggles to shape Australia in their own image. Courtenay is known for his powerful themes and this book does not differentiate from that, though anyone looking for a novel about the niceties of people or their interactions with others should look elsewhere. There is little that leaves the reader feeling warm and fuzzy, but the narrative is so full of passionate storytelling that it should not be dismissed. All three novels have been stellar in their delivery and Courtenay’s best works that I have ever read. While I deplore racist language or actions, one cannot divorce the way characters speak or how society treated certain groups from the time in which they lived, even as this novel pushes through to 1916. It is a part of Australia’s history and any reader that is not scared off by the size of all three books may want to think twice if they are unable to digest the rawness presented here. Those who can, revel in the themes and the stellar feeling of getting lost in the writing! The world lost one of its best storytellers when Bryce Courtenay died, but his novels live on and I would easily call them classics that generations will enjoy.

Kudos, Mr. Courtenay, for a powerful novel and dominant trilogy as you explore the rougher side of life in and around Australia.

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

Evidence of the Affair: A Short Story, by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Nine stars

I stumbled upon this piece by Taylor Jenkins Reid completely by accident—thank you Goodreads and the daily digest—as I noticed a number of my fellow readers were offering their praise. A fan of short stories and having come off a horrid few days of bad reading, I thought I would take a look, and am pleased I did. In a story that took under an hour to read, I was pulled into a collection of letters between Carrie Allsop and David Mayer. Carrie and David appear to be the unwilling victims of an affair their spouses are having, which has been discovered in a series of written letters. This being the 1970s, these letters are the primary evidence of the affair, though there are some hushed phone calls at times as well. The reader is pulled into the communication Carrie and David have about the actions of of their spouses and the friendship that develops between them, as though they create their own spurned spouses club. There are also occasions when text of the ‘love letters’ are revealed to the reader, which only goes to fuel the narrative and provides some of the fodder to see how the amorous encounters are progressing over time. What started as an ‘FYI’ letter soon has David and Carrie agreeing to meet in person to discuss matters and share a meal as friends, but there is more to talk about that whispered telephone calls and mysteries found stuck in recipe books. Reid does a masterful job in this piece, comprised entirely of letters, conveying just how powerful the written word can be. Recommended for those who need a quick read over coffee, particularly those who have access to Amazon’s thorough digital library.

I choose not to spend a great deal of time writing about the structure of the story or the characters, as I tend to do with most of my reviews. Doing so will, unfortunately, tip my hand too much and spill too much of what Reid seeks to have the reader discover. What I can say is that Reid allows the reader to see just how troubling things can be in marital strain, even through the seemingly innocent collection of letters. In an era of digital communication, trysts take on a new level of secrecy—though I would say the text message is just as problematic as a written letter—while still stinging both the offender and victim in different ways. Small holes in a relationship can soon be massive craters and those who seek consolation in being the harmed party can be known to shed their victimhood unknowingly. Let Reid take you on this adventure, though worry not about being pulled into a massive undertaking. As I said, a quick coffee break read!

Kudos, Madam Reid, for a sensational piece that will surely have many flocking to Amazon to find it.

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

The Vatican Children (World of Shadows #2), by Lincoln Cole

Five stars

The premise of this series by Lincoln Cole left me quite curious, as I enjoy all things related to exorcisms. Those who read my review of the opening book will know that things started off quite well, then took a turn for the worse. With an interesting cliffhanger, I vowed to give the series a little more rope, in hopes that it would tie me in and not hang itself. With the revelation that Bishop Glasser has been summoning demons to inhabit innocent folk, Father Niccolo Paladina is back with sufficient supplies to go to battle, though has not yet received formal direction from the Vatican. Working alongside him is Arthur Vangeest, a Hunter for the Council of Chaldea, a group charged with investigating all things supernatural. After forcefully securing one of the bishop’s followers, Arthur and Paladina try to ascertain where he might have gone and what plans he has. It is soon thereafter that Paladina reveals his knowledge of the Vatican Children, a group of youths who showed much power when it came to sensing the demon life forms and even a degree of mind control. With a list having been taken from the Vatican, it is only a matter of time before Bishop Glasser gets his hands on it, which would allow him to convert them for his own good. While Arthur is forced to come clean with other members of the Council that he has gone rogue, he is determined to capture this evil doer, whom he is sure helped have his family murdered. When Father Paladina and Arthur come face to face with Glasser and his minions, they are forced to use the only weapons at their disposal to protect the Vatican Children. Only one side can survive this spiritual apocalypse, but there is much to do thereafter. Holy water and a few rosaries will not be enough, though the climax of the story only creates a new cliffhanger for readers to ponder before locating the final novel in the trilogy. A unique middle piece that helped to build on much of the information provided in the series debut. I promised myself a second try, but am not feeling enamoured enough to want to tie off all the loose ends! Take it or leave it, I won’t lead you down any proverbial garden path. [There you go, Pat. A book that you can leave off your tipping TBR list!]

I was hoping that things would resurrect themselves in this second book, as the chase towards catching Bishop Glasser was on. However, things ended up just being a hot mess of writing and odd plot twists. Sure, the reader learns a little more about the Vatican Children and their importance in the plot, but I could not find myself connected to the chase or the stand-off that appears to be the climax of this middle book. Father Paladina and Arthur are just as they were in the previous piece, which does not say much for the curious reader. There are many names dropped and batted around throughout this short piece, but none of whom really caught my attention. I felt as though Cole could have done so much more to better develop this story, which left me feeling cheated and unimpressed. There was such potential here, even in the short amount of time on offer with this book, but much was wasted with trivial discussion and cheesy factoids. I did give the series two books and wished I had the inclination to finish things off, but I cannot see why I would invest even the single day it will take to speed read through it. There are so many books out there I need to tackle, I’ll let others go to Amazon and locate this one for themselves.

Sorry, Mr. Cole, but you don’t have a committed fan in me. Ratings seem to show me others are hooked and I wish them well!

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