The Lost Boys (Esther and Jack Enright #8), by David Field

Nine stars

David Field offers up a final novel about the criminal element of Victorian England with Esther and Jack Enright front and centre. After both receiving promotions within Scotland Yard, Jack Enright and his uncle, Percy, are called upon to help with another significant case. Percy is told of two missing boys from a local boarding school, both of whom disappeared after catching coaches at the end of the day. These boys are related to two prominent British businessmen with ties to South Africa. At a time when the Boer War is still simmering, all eyes turn to the potential of German involvement. Approaching his nephew, Percy pleads for assistance, particularly since one of the boys had been booked on a ship sailing for the African continent. Jack agrees, but is busy with his own investigations, now working at one of the large English ports, where shipments have been going missing. When Percy seeks to press for more information at the school, he discovers that there is more to the coach story than meets the eye. Could the Matron be sitting on information key to the investigation that she’s refusing to share? Enter, Esther Enright, whose past undercover work helped solve a few important cases. Esther enters the fray and discovers a key piece of information, while Jack learns something from a sailor himself. Piecing it all together may help discover what’s happened to the boys, but who is behind it all? Therein lies the key in this final Enright mystery. Field puts together another great story, sure to keep the reader enthralled until the last page. Fans of the series will likely enjoy this last novel, as might those who love Victorian mysteries.

David Field has a writing style not only easy to comprehend, but provides the reader with historical context during the Victorian era. Settings and political events come to life throughout this well-paced series, which never falls flat. Field uses the story’s settings effectively, shifting from the port to school grounds, both key to the larger plot. Jack and Esther remain strong characters, though Field injects some new developments to create some disarray and leaves them to make some harrowing decisions about themselves and their future together. Their banter and ability to work together have been central to the entire series, something Field does not forget to include. Percy Enright plays another protagonist role, helping to push the story along, and has elevated himself from the other characters. All those who play a smaller role do well to fit into the narrative, helping to enrich the criminal investigation. Field keeps the story fairly straightforward, though does not dilute or oversimplify things for the reader. Rather, he effectively educates the reader while exploring some of the regional issues that plagued the country just before the turn of the century. These short reads can be digested in a single day without feeling cheated. One can only hope that Field’s collection of ideas does not dry up anytime soon, even if he is moving on to new and exciting ventures.

Kudos, Mr. Field, for a great end to this series. I cannot wait for your next series, which I have heard will take readers centuries into the past!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The Ring and the Crown: A History of Royal Weddings 1066-2011, by Alison Weir, Kate Williams, Sarah Gristwood, and Tracy Borman

Eight stars

The idea of a royal wedding still gets the general public twitterpated. Mass spectacles and media events surround the event, with hours of coverage before the event even takes place, particularly those in the House of Windsor. But these events have not always been such a grand affair, as the authors of this book explore in detail. British Royal Weddings have come a long way over the centuries and continue to evolve with the times. Alison Weir begins the discussion, tackling the largest time period from 1066-1714. In this time, Weir explores some of the early weddings, which were affairs that helped solidify more recent land holdings the British Crown defends as its own. In her unique writing style, Weir looks at many of the unions as being political or strongly related to territorial acquisitions. Throughout, there is a theme of the ‘hesitant bride’, forced into the union by her family to secure peace and normally a chaste virgin, who may have sometimes only met her husband the day before (or morning of) the wedding. Kate Williams tackles weddings from 1714 through to the end of the Great War, an equally interesting time. She builds on Weir’s view of unions as a means of land or political stability, as well as exploring hesitant players. In one example, she tells of George, Prince of Wales, who set eyes upon his future wife (Caroline of Brunswick), but felt she was too plain to marry. He was coaxed into the union and did bring about an heir, though wanted it known that he still preferred his mistress. This was also the era of Princess Victoria, whose wedding cake was massive, weighing in at over 300 lbs. Williams adds that it was Victoria’s choosing a white dress that began the trend that is still in use today. Sarah Gristwood handles nuptials from 1918 through to 1960, which launched a new era of weddings, where the public was not only aware of events, but played a more active role. With fewer unions for political necessity, Gristwood describes these marriages as being more love-related, allowing the public to see the royals as human beings. Still, the public was also able to participate by actively listening to the ceremony on BBC (and eventually viewing it). Gristwood recounts protest to the BBC airing the wedding of the future George VI to Lady Elizabeth Bowles-Lyon over the air, as any common person could be listening to it in a public house and still wearing their hat (!!). This was also the time of the future Queen Elizabeth II’s wedding, one of the early events in televised royal pomp and circumstance. Tracy Borman writes of the last era of royal wedding (1961-2011), in which scandal and curses overshadowed many of the unions. The Queen’s sister, Princess Margaret began the era, followed by some of the lesser royals, until the Queen’s own children (Anne, Charles, and Andrew) all wed in the 1970s and 80s. Their marriages drew pomp, but fizzled for reasons the Borman discusses in her narrative. It was not until the latter part of this era, that royal weddings seemed to recover and find a strong foundation of love and commitment, which is where they ended when the book was published, awaiting Prince William’s union to Kate’s Middleton. There is no doubt that weddings of all sorts draw the attention of people, but it would seem those of the royal persuasion seem to pull people in and beg them to make a little something of the affair (no curse intended). Wonderfully crafted by these four female historians! Anyone with an interest in all things royal will surely enjoy this piece, if only to lose themselves for a few hours, or to find something to place atop the coffee table.

This guide through the world of royal weddings came out at the time that Prince William and Kate Middleton were engaged and awaited their big day. A wonderful collection of stories and images that helped personify the royal nuptials, as well as giving some well-known historians the chance to recount tales of the different unions. Collected in this book that I might call ‘coffee table literature’, it should not be discounted as having superficial writing. It is full of wonderful descriptions of events, just enough for the reader to have a general understanding without bogging them down. Tied to the writing, the book is full of sketches, etchings, paintings, and eventually photographs that add excitement to the stories being told. The authors have been able to accentuate their work with these colourful depictions, including some photos that take the reader back in time. Wonderfully collected, the four parts of the book read easily and the reader gets a general idea of what happened and how things progressed nicely. I can only hope that many will take the time to read this, if only for their own interest, to explore how royal weddings have progressed and some of the little-known facts that emerge. A great read that needs the printed book to give it the full impact, especially with all those photos throughout.

Kudos, Madams Weir, Williams, Gristwood, and Borman. This was the perfect compendium of royal weddings and I applaud you all for your dedication to this massive project.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The Chateau of Briis: A Lesson in Love (Six Tudor Queens #2.6), by Alison Weir

Eight stars

Alison Weir’s ongoing writing venture about the six wives of Henry VIII seems to be progressing nicely. While she is writing full novels of historical fiction related to each queen, Weir has chosen to add further depth to the series by adding short stories that bridge them together, while also accentuating events and characters of subtle importance to the story arcs. This piece takes the reader to France in 1515, where a young Anne Boleyn is serving at the Royal Court. While at a celebratory evening, Anne is approached by Philippe du Moulin, who asks her to dance. From there, a connection blossoms and Anne is as smitten as they come. When they travel to the countryside, where Philippe’s aunt and uncle have property, Anne spends as much time with Philippe as possible. A somewhat timid and quite orderly Anne—yes, there was a time before she became the scandalous lady at Court—could not help but wonder what Philippe intended with her, as he would often push the boundaries of their encounters. It was only when Philippe spoke of marriage that Anne became a little more ‘open’ and free with him, which still holding only her ultimate virtue. Seeking that Philippe follow the accustomed rules before a formal betrothal, Anne soon discovers that the connection is a little strained, particularly when the talk of nuptials comes up again. A solemn admission one day sours Anne to this young man who taught her how to love, even if she can only weep over the fantasy life she had in mind, living at Chateau de Briis. However, four years later, while back in the French court, she has an inkling that her luck may soon change, as the King of England is on his way! Another wonderful short story by Alison Weir that depicts some of the lesser-known tales of a key Tudor Queen. Recommended for those who love all things Tudor, especially fans of Alison Weir’s detailed historical fiction work.

I have long enjoyed Alison Weir’s stories about the Tudors, which include so many details on which the reader can feast. Even the main characters, who receive much attention, have stories of their own that are not as well-known to the general public. Weir seeks to capitalise on this—as well as the hunger of the curious reader who wants to know more about the Tudors—to create these short stories, which tease as much as they entertain. Anne Boleyn is surely one of the more popular—some may say, infamous—wives of Henry VIII, but much of her time in print has been part of a duplicitous or scandalous nature. Here, Weir seeks to show the softer side of Anne, touched by a new and exciting love that seems to leave her pained. The reader can see the progress of this love, as well as how it became unrequited, thereby leaving Anne feeling abandoned. It is hard to tell if Weir is seeking to insinuate that this was the start of her materialistic and highly vapid side when it came to love, but Anne’s depiction as a sweet girl in the French Court is not lost on the attentive reader. The story is a little longer, but its narrative richness makes it one Tudor fans can thoroughly enjoy. Strong storytelling keeps the reader enthralled until the final page turn, which helps lay some of the groundwork for Anne’s quick rise and fall in the eyes of Henry VIII. This series remains intriguing and I cannot wait to see what else Weir has in mind to recount. Bring on the queens (and more of these short stories that link them)!

Kudos, Madam Weir, for yet another short publication that keeps the reader committed while educating them a great deal. I see you have more pieces in the works and I am ready to see what else you can show me in regards to the Tudors.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The Blackened Heart (Six Tudor Queens #1.5), by Alison Weir

Eight stars

Alison Weir has set about on a new venture, a series about the six wives of Henry VIII. Weir has chosen to add further depth to the series by intersperse the novels with short stories that bridge them better together. This piece introduces the reader to Margery Orwell, an energetic young girl who was sent to work for Sir John and Lady Peche. There, Margery learns how to serve and act as a lady while honing her skills about being around those of importance. While in the employ of the Peches, she finds herself interacting with young men: dancing, carrying on, and finally in a tryst that sees her with child. After Sir Peche helps her with the predicament, Margery is sent to court with a recommendation to serve Queen Katherine. There, Margery discovers that the Tudor Court is like nothing she has ever seen, especially with the philandering Henry VIII roaming around. When Katherine learns that the King wishes to annul their marriage, she refuses to accept it, which also goes for her retinue of ladies-in-waiting. Margery stands by her Queen, even as Katherine is banished to a rural dwelling. Staying with Katherine through it all, Margery makes a shocking discovery one day in the market. As she returns to spend time with Katherine, Margery is able to stand tall, knowing that she has made the right choice when it comes to the politics of Tudor marriages, even if many at Court refuse to admit the same. Another wonderful short story by Alison Weir that depicts some of the lesser-known characters in the larger Tudor saga. Recommended for those who love all things Tudor, especially fans of Alison Weir’s detailed historical fiction work.

I have long had a passion for the writing style Alison Weir uses, especially as she pens pieces about the Tudors. While many may know of these six wives Henry VIII took, there are those characters who stood in the shadows, while still being highly important. Margery Otwell was one, with a passion to learn balanced with the inevitable curiosity of teenage womanhood. Even as Margery finds herself in a bind, she refuses to give up and is able to ascend to the Tudor Court and in a position to serve Queen Katherine. Many of the others who find themselves on the pages of this short story influence the narrative and add flavour to an already strong piece. The curious reader will find much of interest within this story, weaving together interesting bits of Tudor history, though Weir remains coy about just how much is fact over fiction. With an easy to comprehend storytelling ability, Alison Weir is a delightful author for those seeking to wade into all things Tudor. This series has begun with a strong foundation and is sure to remain riveting, based on the many other books I have read that bear the author’s name. Bring on the queens (and more of these short stories that link them)!

Kudos, Madam Weir, for another wonderful story that connects two of the strongest wives of Henry VIII. I can only imagine there is a great deal more to come with future publications.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Arthur: Prince of the Roses (Six Tudor Queens #0.5), by Alison Weir

Eight stars

As Alison Weir tackles her latest book series about the six wives of Henry VIII, she has chosen to intersperse them with some short stories that bridge these books with some of the lesser-known characters whose actions played a role in the respective queen’s life. The first of these is a preface book to the series all about Prince Arthur, the heir to the English Throne who was betrothed to Katherine of Aragon. The birth of Arthur was highly symbolic, uniting the Houses of Lancaster and York, as well as their ‘roses’. Arthur came to represent this unity and was expected to be a strong start to a Tudor dynasty. As a young boy, he was quite precocious, asking questions and learning from those around him. When his father thought him old enough, Arthur was taken around the kingdom to learn of all its holdings, as well as being primed to hold the title of Prince of Wales. Arthur was always aware of his younger brother, Henry, who was just as curious but also mischievous. At a time when political unions were strengthened through marriage, Arthur was told of an arrangement with the Spanish, who would send Katherine, ‘the infanta’, to help in a tumultuous Europe. While he waited, Arthur fell ill, coughing and being forced to bed for a period of time. His parents worried that he might not be well enough to meet his betrothed, but Arthur was determined to do so. When the infanta was called upon, after arriving from Spain, Arthur and his father made their way to her chambers for that ever-important first meeting. What followed has long been documented in the history books and occurs as the story ends. A brilliant launch to the Six Queens series, this prequel short story whets the appetite of the curious reader. Recommended for those who love all things Tudor, especially fans of Alison Weir’s detailed historical fiction work.

I have long had a passion for Alison Weir’s writing, as well as all things Tudor. From non-fiction to fictional accounts of this English House through to television programmes that straddle both entertainment and documentary foci. Weir is able to develop a great story in short order with this piece, injecting a great focus on Prince Arthur and his early years. Arthur is shown to be a curious child who grown and becomes aware that he is truly the symbol of English calmness and perhaps the savour to all warring in the country. Paired off as a teenager, Arthur has little time to process the act before he is thrust to meet his bride, the infanta, later known in history as Katherine of Aragon. Weir keeps her narrative strong and brief, setting the scene effectively while adding some presumptive dialogue to keep the reader interested. The story paves the way for what is sure to be a wonderful opening novel in the Six Queens series which (spoiler) sees Arthur pass away and sets his younger brother Henry on a martial warpath to appease his every need. With an easy to comprehend storytelling ability, Alison Weir is a delightful author for those seeking to wade into all things Tudor. This series will surely develop into being a powerful collection of novels, based on the many other books I have read that bear the author’s name. Bring on the queens (and more of these short stories that link them)!

Kudos, Madam Weir, for a stunning piece that packs a punch in a handful of pages. I am eager to see how you develop things in all your writings within this series.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Camelot’s End: Kennedy vs. Carter and the Fight that Broke the Democratic Party, by Jon Ward

Nine stars

Many have heard the Kennedy family referred to as living in a modern Camelot. Powerful patriarch, Joseph, and his sons strove to make a difference in the political realm. But when did it all come to an end for them and how did America turn away from this glorified view of the Kennedys? Perhaps they never have, though Jon Ward argues that the political Camelot came crashing down with the 1980 Democratic National Convention, dragging the Party along with it. All this primarily due to an embittered campaign for a presidential nominee. Incumbent President Jimmy Carter took the stage at Madison Square Gardens to seek the formal nod by delegates to take the Democrats into the campaign to face the electorate in November. Standing in his way was Edward ‘Teddy’ Kennedy, the last of the political brothers and a powerhouse all his own. Ward takes the reader on a journey to see how these men destroyed their political bases, the Party, and all but handed Ronald Reagan the presidency in 1980, leaving the country in awe during a time it needed solace the most. Opening with great biographical narratives told in parallel, Ward discusses the upbringing of both men—Kennedy with a silver spoon lodged in his mouth, while Carter sweated it out picking peanuts—and how different they were. Kennedy had politics in his blood, but the shadow of his two brothers seemed to stymie his ability to stay on the beaten path. Carter, a respected Navy veteran, sought to promote his progressive ways in the Deep South, where segregation and racism were the lifeblood of politics. Coming up through the ranks, both men had their foibles, which lingered with them, though Kennedy’s 1969 Chappaquiddick driving debacle that left a young woman dead would seem to have overshadowed much of Carter’s aligning himself with racists in order to secure both the Georgia governor’s mansion and a 1976 run for president. While both men knew the other only in passing, they remained on one another’s radar. Kennedy passed up the chance to run in ‘76, but many felt that he was gearing up for ‘80, though he remained uncommitted. Meanwhile, Carter sat in the Oval Office and faced economic disaster at a time when the American people could not accept anything less than the prosperity they felt the world’s superpower deserved. While Carter had some international successes, these were overshadowed by long gas lines and protests by the American people. Kennedy toiled in the US Senate to create needed legislation for healthcare reforms and tax breaks that would help the middle class. As they geared up for the 1980 campaign, Carter and Kennedy both sought to take the Democratic Party in their own direction, though it was the latter’s decision to challenge a sitting president that left Carter promising to ‘whip his ass’ even before the last Prince of Camelot had formally entered the race. Speaking of entering the race, Ward goes into detail about a CBS special on Teddy Kennedy before he announced, which depicted the man as one who could not dodge the Chappaquiddick disaster from a decade before and had no clear reason for entering the race, even though he was seen as an odds-in favourite and wanted to shape policy in new directions. From there, the primary season began, allowing both men to claw at one another and make gains in different ways. Kennedy stumbled out of the block and found financial limitations paralyse his progress, while Carter was trying to juggle the Iran hostage crisis, which was yet another black mark on his reputation. Even when Carter had the needed delegates to win, Kennedy would not concede, crafting an idea about releasing delegates from their primary commitments when they arrived in New York. Bloodied and bruised, they arrived for the convention to a raucous, yet highly divided Democratic base, all while GOP candidate Ronald Reagan sat back and basked in the knowledge that he would obliterate either man, come November. Ward offers a wonderfully detailed description of the goings-on at the Democratic Convention, including Kennedy’s last attempt to wrestle control away from the sitting president. However, nothing could outdo the events surrounding the last night, when Kennedy handed Carter the snub seen round the world. From there, it was a rocky push through the general election campaign, where Reagan all but handed victory to Carter, who fumbled many chances to bury the ‘television lightweight’. In the end, with Carter trounced and the Democrats in disarray, both men turned away from the presidential limelight. Carter was shunned by his party and turned to a life of humanitarian aid and writing, while Kennedy spent one final decade as a philanderer, while honing his skills as a senator and helped bring the institution together before his death. While it is impossible to know what might have happened in 1980, had things been a little different in the primaries or during the election, there is no doubt that the 1980 left a sour taste in the mouths of many watching the implosion of the Democratic Party by two men who refused to compromise. Camelot is gone, left crumbled by a bumbling third son and other relatives who have passed on. Gritty political battles are also a thing of the past, at least those played out on the convention floor during prime time. But, as we continue to see today, tearing a party apart remains a game that some play for the fun of it, leaving some to wonder if the GOP will resurrect the bloodbath this book depicted in 2020. A powerful narrative that engages the reader with anecdotes and historical accounts, sure to educate and entertain in equal measure. A must-read for political fanatics such as myself, especially those who love American politics.

While I am a fan of political history, particularly as it relates to presidential politics, this book stood out as something even more exceptional. Jon Ward delivers not only a description of the battle for the Democratic nomination in 1980, but serves to present a well-rounded biographical piece of the two main contenders. Mixing in many of the political flavours of the time, Ward supports his claims that this was to be the true litmus test of how the Democrats could meld two of their major factions ahead of another clash with the Republicans. Vowing not to be as criminal as Nixon or as blazé as Ford, the Party wanted to build on its successes, while also trying to ignore some of the domestic disasters that had befallen the Carter Administration since January 1977. In doing so, two men who refused to bow to one another began a battle that would ensure no stone was left unturned and allowed the world to watch as they destroyed one another. Unity was second to victory in August of 1980, with a sitting president being forced to fight for his own party’s stamp of approval, though it was from the last man in a family that had owned the Democrats for decades. Ward uses not only press coverage, but interviews, behind the scenes candid depictions, as well as poll sentiments at the time to develop a narrative that permits the reader to feel right in on the action. Vicious attacks were lodged and stubbornness helped disintegrate any form of coming together before the prime time disaster that encapsulated the Democratic Party coming apart. Who was to blame for all of this? Ward offers some suggestions in his powerful prose, though it is up to the reader to decide in the end. With powerful chapters full of research, Jon Ward offers readers that detailed look into the political goings-on leading up to the 1980 Convention and how it took years for the Democrats to recover and unite to defeat their GOP opponents, at least for the White House. I am so pleased this book found its way onto my radar and hope to find more in line with this style soon.

Kudos, Mr. Ward, for a great story of political undoing in the modern age. I will have to find more of your work, especially if it is as easy to comprehend.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The House Next Door: A BookShot Collection, by James Patterson, Susan DiLallo, Max DiLallo, and Tom Arnold

Eight stars

I have long enjoyed the venture James Patterson undertook, writing short stories with collaborators and calling them BookShots. While some are released as individual publications, Patterson will, at times, combine a few together, as he has done here. Working with Susan DiLallo, Max DiLallo, and Tom Arnold, Patterson has created three pieces that will force the reader to think as they discover the wonders of short pieces and how they can be just as effective as full-length novels. From a mysterious next-door neighbour to the distraught wife of a serial killer, and even communication with life outside of Earth’s atmosphere, Patterson and his collaborators provide much needed entertainment in this busy world of reading.

The House Next Door (with Susan DiLallo)

Laura Sherman lives a less than exciting life, though she has agreed to at least some of the sacrifices it takes to run a household. Her mundane housewife life is interrupted when a man and his son move into the house next door. Vince reaches out by asking that Laura help by driving young Vinny to his soccer practices on a weekly basis. From there, the connection between Laura and Vince grows at an alarming rate. Laura cannot believe that Vince is the man she has long wished her husband, Ned, could be. However, there is something off about Vince and Laura cannot seem to put a finger on it. When things begin going horribly wrong, Laura begins to wonder if she could be the root of all the problems.

The Killer’s Wife (with Max DiLallo)

Detective Andrew McGrath works in the small community of San Luis Obispo, normally quite the bucolic town. However, the disappearance of four teenage girls has rocked the community and left everyone feeling panicked. There is a suspect, local high school vice-principal Michael Pierson, though McGrath cannot act without some concrete evidence. When McGrath and his partner find Pierson luring another teenage girl into his car and catch him as the girl’s drugged body is being dumped, they are sure this is the break they need. Working some background, McGrath connects with Pierson’s wife, Ellen. She is adamant that her husband must be innocent, though McGrath is working the angle, hoping to uncover irrefutable evidence that will ensure this serial killer is put away. McGrath and Ellen soon develop a protective relationship, as she shields her from the press. It is only then that things take a turn and McGrath is able to understand a little more about what is going on, and how they will solve this case.

We. Are. Not. Alone. (with Tom Arnold)

Dr. Robert Barnett may be a washed-up astrophysicist, but he thinks that he’s stumbled onto something. Using some of his own personal technology, Barnett feels that he has recorded communications from out in space, thus proving not only that there is life amongst the stars, but that these beings wish to communicate with Earth. Little does he know, but Barnett may have stumbled upon something with National Security ramifications and he’s now being sought for questioning. Dodging officials at every turn, Barnett must ensure these recorded communications are made public, while government officials seek to detain him and obtain the recordings for themselves, citing a larger security situation. Meanwhile, someone is on a mission of their own, which could drastically change the dynamics of things in the blink of an eye.

As with many of Patterson’s short stories, they can be strong in their delivery or fall miserably flat. The collaborators in this case have helped buoy the stories and created strong pieces that will pull the readers in from the beginning. Both DiLallo pieces pose prologues that offer ‘flash forward’ reveals, though it is how the story arrives there that makes all the differences. Arnold’s piece fell flat for me, which can happen sometimes, even when riding a reading high. Call it a disinterest in space stories or the general lack of thrills, but I was left speeding my way through it, promising myself that I would read and review the collection. With characters who develop across the quick-paced narratives, these stories leave little time for character development, though there is a strong theme of connection between those who grace the pages. Patterson’s overarching theme in this collection would have to be deception, something that finds its way through each of the pieces and leaves the reader wondering what waits around each corner. Wonderfully crafted and delivered, James Patterson has chosen well with this stellar collection of three BookShots. One can hope there are more to come of this caliber.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson, DiLallo, and Arnold, as well as Madam DiLallo. What a great collection of stories to keep the reader occupied for a short time.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The Katharina Code (The Cold Case Quartet #1), by Jørn Lier Horst

Nine stars

I have always had great admiration for Jørn Lier Horst and his William Wisting series. A Norwegian homicide detective, Wisting seems able to pace himself through his investigations while always extracting just what is needed at the right time to solve a case and bring the perpetrator to justice. However, there are those cases that slip through the fingers, such as the one of Katharina Haugen. Wisting has never been able to solve it, but pulls out the case files each year on the anniversary of her disappearance. Now twenty-four years on, Wisting goes through the same routine: examining case notes, photos, and trying to crack a scribbled code that she left on her table before disappearing. Part of the annual process is to visit her husband, Martin, who remains lost without his wife. However, Martin is nowhere to be found when Wisting visits this year, adding curiosity to the number of other emotions rushing through him. When a detective from Kripos, the Norwegian national police service, pays Wisting a visit, there is something interesting to share. Another mysterious cold case, the disappearance of teenager Nadia Krogh many years ago, has new life. Re-evaluating the ransom note left by her apparent captors shows fingerprints belonging to Martin Haugen. Could there be a link here? Wisting’s daughter, Line, has been itching to get back to work as a journalist, unable to make her maternity leave pass fast enough. With the Krogh case returning to prominence, Line begins a podcast related to the crime, seeking to eke out new details that could open the case wide open. With Kripos wanting to observe Martin Haugen for the time being, Wisting helps extract information from the man he has come to know over the past two decades, in hopes of solving both cases. However, nothing is quite as easy as it seems and Wisting will have to find a way to lure the killer out. A masterful branch-off of Horst’s work, this ‘sub-series’ could get really interesting as series fans get to see William Wisting in a new light. A must-read for series fans and those who love a good Scandinavian police procedural as ‘noir’ as they come!

Jørn Lier Horst is one of the great Scandinavian police procedural writers I have had the pleasure to read over the years. His stories are well-paced and develop effectively for the reader, while also adding wonderfully colourful characters and strong plots. As a protagonist, William Wisting proves to be both entertaining and effective in his delivery as a superior sleuth. While not published in English (yet!), the first part of the series is said to develop in such a way that the reader can see a strong husband and equal partner in a great marriage, something that is hinted at in each book that has been translated and acts as a lingering backstory. His wife gone and children grown, Wisting works hard to put his work at the forefront of his life, compartmentalising the past that can no longer be changed. Wisting’s development comes in the form of chasing the killers that lurk in the shadows, as well as living life as a grandfather and effective parental helper to his daughter, Line. Others within the story find a way to make their mark, keeping the reader highly entertained. There is much to say about them, as they not only shape the entire series, but what is sure to be this collection of revisited cold cases. New ideas injected into old cases alongside Wisting’s strong and demanding approach can only help things move along effectively. I am looking forward to seeing what Horst has to offer and how these new faces will change the dynamic of a strong series. The story here is one that is by no means unique, but works so very well. Looking well into the past, Wisting is forced to come to terms with the limits on his detective abilities with a case that has stumped him. Even with fresh eyes, there are sometimes limits to what can be accomplished, until a spark ignites the entire investigation. With new pathways and potentially new approaches to old cases, Wisting and the rest of the group can retake control and put things to bed once and for all. I am eager to see how this quartet of cold case novels works and whether it will be the swan song for William Wisting, or breathe new life into this well-established detective. Hints of his retirement are embedded within this piece, so it will be interesting to see what comes of it after all four cold case novels have been completed. With a mix of shorter and elongated chapters, Horst pulls the reader into the story and then teases them as the pace quickens, heading towards a high-paced finale when all is revealed. I have said it before and will do so again, Horst’s work is not lessened by a translation. The fluidity of the work is still strong and seems almost to have been penned in English. There is no jolt or loss of intensity when moving from Norwegian to English, at least not that I can tell. Bring on more for the reader, as the teaser chapters at the end of the book hint at more cold cases that bring fresh sleuthing to long forgotten motives!

Kudos, Mr. Horst, for another winner. I am excited to see where you take your readers and hope you can lure new fans into this long developing series.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Chernobyl: The History of a Nuclear Catastrophe, by Serhii Plokhy

Nine stars

While many know that Chernobyl is synonymous with nuclear meltdowns and severe radiation poisoning, few laypeople are surely clear on all the lead-up and fallout (pardon the pun) related to this horrible event in a small community within Ukraine. Serhii Plokhy delves deeply into the events from April 1986, as well as how things developed from there, turning an accident on a night shift into an international disaster that helped pave the way towards the end of the Cold War. With the USA and USSR each drawing a line in the sand during their decades-long stand-off, nuclear weapons were always something both sides agreed should never get out of hand. The Americans flexed their muscles in Japan to end the Second World War, but also sought to utilise nuclear power effectively in domestic situations. Not to be left behind, Soviet governments rushed to utilise the same power source, aware that it held many dangerous possibilities. Plokhy discusses the Soviet desire to rush building and using nuclear power plants around the USSR, cutting corners when needed to meet deadlines. The Chernobyl plant was one such facility, whose turbines were built beginning in the late 1970s. Early in the hours of April 26, 1986, night shift workers began powering down Turbine #4—the most recent addition to the Chernobyl plant, opened in 1985—for a scheduled test. However, as protocols commenced, the turbine did not follow its expected process and pressures increased, as did the heat. This caused explosions and fires which spewed up a great deal of radiation, invisible to the eye. When workers and fire officials sought to put out the fires, they had no idea that the extensive burns they were suffering could not solely be attributed to the heat and steam, but deadly radiation which commenced causing great sickness. Local and Ukrainian officials began looking into this, communicating with their Moscow counterparts, who downplayed the radiation leaks and chose not to inform the public. Thus began the early stages of a cover-up, in which locals in the town of Prypiat and its surrounding area had no idea of the horrors that awaited them. It was only on April 29th, when a Swedish facility began noticing higher readings coming from particles in the wind, that people began wondering what was going on in the region. Soviet leaders, including Mikhail Gorbachev, were forced not only to tell the world what was going on, but deal with the massive scale of illness that began showing. Soviet citizens were seeing how their governing bodies had been hiding the news from them, thereby blocking them from fleeing the region or taking precautionary measures. Plokhy describes in detail the horrors that befell those who were close to the fallout, dying from radiation poisoning, which may have been treated had general news been shared, if not prevented entirely with proper warning. The world was able to peer behind the Iron Curtain with news about the Chernobyl accident and see just how ignorant Soviet officials sought to keep everyone, hiding the disaster as only a small glitch. Soon thereafter, birth defects or major deformities began showing up in humans and animals alike, images that are devastating in their depiction. These revelations, posits Plokhy, helped weaken the Soviet hold on their people and prevent any form of trust with the West. The international condemnation was only the beginning, as there was a need to clean-up and reinvent the nuclear wheel for the region, who were dependent on the energy and the work provided by the plants. In the day of 24-hour news cycles and social media, this form of cover-up would surely not happen any longer, but it is worth a thought by the reader. Serhii Plokhy does a masterful job with this piece, offering not only a historical account of events, but giving the reader some of the social and political fallout of events. Peeling back the mystery that had been sought, Plokhy’s book is one that anyone interested in the Chernobyl disaster ought to read.

I am always keen to read about events about which I have a passing knowledge, particularly if they are being handled by someone with knowledge of the subject matter. While I was a little too young to remember seeing Chernobyl news on the television, it was soon thereafter that the word and international event found its way onto my radar, particular in discussion of birth defects. Having read one of Plokhy’s previous tomes on Ukrainian history, I flocked towards this book, hoping that it would shed some light on the happenings in the area. Plokhy effectively sets the scene with some local history, giving the reader the needed context and how lax Soviet safety protocols appeared to be, even when dealing with nuclear energy. The description of events on the night/early morning hours of April 26, 1986 help the reader to better understand how the event came to pass. Layering descriptions with needed scientific terms and levels, Plokhy develops a strong narrative to lay the groundwork for just how troublesome things were and how quickly they turned disastrous. While sickness continued to mount, Plokhy’s discussion of the politics around the disaster was of great interest to me, showing how a cover-up was sought at the highest levels to quell international reactions to events. Even when Chernobyl was uncovered, Soviet propaganda continued, downplaying events and situations for as long as possible. Using a chronological depiction of events, Plokhy effectively argues how Soviet handling of events eroded trust by its people and with the outside (particularly Western) world, thereby hijacking any progress made to denuclearise and create a tepid environment in the waning years of the Cold War. While not the only reason, Chernobyl surely played a part of the fall of the USSR, as is argued persuasively throughout. With detailed chapters on a subject that cannot effectively be handled superficially, Serhii Plokhy presents the reader with a highly informative piece, without drowning them in information. Understandably, there is a great deal of technical information herein, which helps give the reader the needed context of events and how grave things became. Just what I needed to pique my interest in the topic without getting lost in academic minutiae.

Kudos, Mr. Plokhy, for another stellar book about an important time in Ukrainian history. I will have to keep reading what you have written, and hope others will discover your work in short order.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The Eighth Sister, 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.

While Robert Dugoni is the author of two successful series, his standalone novels grip the reader just as effectively. There is something refreshing about an author who has so many ideas and whose name is indicative of stellar writing and plausible storylines. Charles Jenkins has been out of the spy game for many years. After serving as a CIA field agent in Mexico City, he left abruptly and eventually began work on his own security company. Four decades on, Jenkins has found solace in his wife, Alex, as well as a son, with a second child on the way. When a former Agency colleague pays a visit, Jenkins knows that it is not a friendly check-in, especially after all this time. Jenkins soon learns that a number of Russian women are turning up dead in and around Moscow. While this is nothing concerning on the surface, they were all feeding secret intel to the Americans, part of a group called the ‘Seven Sisters’. While these women were excellent at their jobs, none knew they were anything but isolated individuals defying Mother Russia during her time as the USSR. With the rise of Putin and a new authoritarian regime, whispers of the Seven Sisters re-emerged, especially since Putin was once a KGB officer and keenly interested in the rumours. Now, it would seem that there is an eighth sister working for Putin and the FSB; one who is tasked with sniffing out these traitors. Enter, Charles Jenkins, who is being sent to Russia under cover of checking up on one of his client’s former offices, to seek to have the newest sister reveal herself and let the Americans take it from there. However, when Jenkins’ mission is compromised, he becomes the hunted inside Russia, while the CIA denies any knowledge and will offer no help. Back in America, Alex is given instructions by her husband to leave their home and seek out David Sloane, a friend and established Seattle attorney. While Sloane and Alex know nothing of what is going on, they can only hope that Jenkins still has the antics he possessed forty years ago to extricate himself from this mess. Little does he know, his fight to get away from the FSB is only the start to the headaches that await him. Another stunning novel by Dugoni that reignites old Cold War drama, alongside some stunning legal developments. Recommended for those who love stories of espionage, especially the reader who is a longtime fan of Robert Dugoni’s writing.

I always flock to a new Robert Dugoni novel, knowing that I will not be disappointed. Even his standalone pieces keep me intrigued, helping to fill the void that arises when I have to wait for the next instalment of his popular Tracy Crosswhite series. Dugoni enjoys filling his novels with details that are more poignant than fillers, keeping the reader educated as well as entertained from the opening paragraphs until the tumultuous final sentences. The development of his protagonist, Charles Jenkins was quite effective, hinting at a past within the Agency without offering up too many details. Pulling on this and linking it effectively to the Cold War-esque storyline helped the reader see the connection, as well as seek to know a little more. As the story progresses and Jenkins finds himself on the run, the reader learns a little more about Jenkins and his family, a core part of why he has stayed off the grid for so long. The story also tests Jenkins’ resolve to better understand just how far he can go as an agency plant to extract needed information with ease. Working with that is a handful of characters, both in Russia’s FSB and back in America, trying to help Jenkins flee the trouble in which he finds himself. Dugoni effectively juggles both sets of characters, developing a strong espionage theme throughout as the race to safety (or elimination) mounts with each passing page. Of particular note in the inclusion of David Sloane into the story. Longtime fans of Robert Dugoni will know that this was the author’s first series protagonist and an effective lawyer he was. I cut my teeth on that series and respected Dugoni the more I read of it. Sloane, still a Seattle attorney, plays an effective and essential role, giving fans a jolt of excitement to see him back on the page. The story was quite strong, particularly in an age when Russia is back to play a key role on the international political and spy scene. Dugoni keeps the chapters flowing and the action mounting as the struggle for freedom becomes more desperate. Dugoni is on the mark with this piece and it goes to show just how masterful an author he has become.

Kudos, Mr. Dugoni, on another splendid addition to your writing list. I am always eager to see what you have in store for fans and was not disappointed with this effort.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Rasputin: Faith, Power, and the Twilight of the Romanovs, by Douglas Smith

Nine stars

Douglas Smith seeks not only to pen a comprehensive biography of Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin, but also to dispel many of the myths associated with the man throughout his life. While history has developed many apocryphal tales, there were those at the time just as eager to spin stories to ruin the reputation of this gentleman. It would appear that Smith’s overarching thesis in this massive work is to separate the myths from the concrete facts, substantiated not simply by newspaper accounts or journal entries by a peppering of Russians, but to delve deeper to see what could be supported from a variety of viewpoints, always difficult due to the span of time and likely poor record keeping after an ideological purge in 1917.

Smith opens the tome with a significant admission; there was very little documented evidence of of Grigori Rasputin for the first thirty years of his life. Cobbling together what little was known, Smith shares that Rasputin grew up in a rural Siberian community to a peasant family. Rasputin’s father was well-known in his community, but not for the best reasons. It would seem that the elder Rasputin was quite a sexual deviant, spreading his form of ‘love’ with whomever he could get close to him. Smith posits that this may be where some of the fodder for future stories originated, as would become apparent later in the biography. The entire family was without formal education at a time when the Russian average was quite low as well, though it would seem Grigori was able to piece together his own form of Russian, enough that historians (and those who received his letters) could comprehend the gist of his writing. Rasputin married and bore three children, two daughters and a son, while still living as a Siberian peasant. This family unit, while they did not follow Rasputin to his life in the limelight, appeared to support him throughout, baffling to the reader who reflects on this later during the biography’s more sensational tales.

When he left home, Rasputin used what some called his ‘hypnotic eyes’ and persuasive nature to pull people into his inner circle, where he would sometimes heal by laying hands on them. It was only later that Rasputin added a degree of faith to his persona, utilising the power of the Orthodox Church to have people feel that his powers came from a connection to God. As Smith explores throughout, Rasputin was often able to convince people that the power of prayer flowed through him and that many of his divinations came from this connection to God. Rasputin caught the eye of Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra, both of whom were in need of help to cure their son of haemophilia. Rasputin convinced them that he could help by laying hands on the young Tsesarevich Alexei. Praying over the young boy, Rasputin appeared able to lessen the pains Alexei felt, thereby convincing the Romanov rulers that he was a good person. However, for reasons not entirely clear, Rasputin began having his name sullied in the Russian press, much as his father did back in Siberia. Newspapers would mock Rasputin’s prayers as part of a scam and highlight the man’s sexual appetite. Woven throughout the text are tales that Smith has been able to extract regarding Rasputin’s penchant for bedding numerous prostitutes a night or to find himself in sexually compromising situations with many of the Russian hierarchy. Still, as the press churned out these stories, the Tsar and Tsarina refused to believe them, going so far as to find scientific explanations for Rasputin’s sexual nature as being tied to strong religious devotion. While Rasputin remained on hand to offer his insights when they were sought, his outward appearance was anything but alluring. Smith cites numerous journals and memoirs that depict Rasputin as dirty and unkept in appearance, which only fuels some of the ongoing stories about his Siberian peasant background and how he ought not be mixing with the upper class.

While all this continued, Europe was soon pulled apart by war, with Russia in the middle of it. Rasputin begged Tsar Nicholas to stay out of the fray, but Russian troops prepared and departed to defend their allies, something Rasputin predicted might bring down the Romanovs and change Russia forever. Little did anyone know just how right he was. With the Tsar away on numerous political and business trips, Rasputin agreed to protect the Tsarina and her family for long periods of time. This also led to his advising how to handle military maneuvers and quell the ongoing distress amongst the common Russian. Smith does draw some interesting arguments around Rasputin’s leanings during the Great War, tying together the Tsarina’s closeness to the holy man and her Germanic ancestry. This was another issue the press used to pain Rasputin as a less than admirable fellow. During the part of the biography, Smith exemplifies how Russia was at Rasputin’s whim, with both the Tsar and Tsarina turning to him for advice and taking his opinions as gospel (if you will pardon the loose pun).

With all this hatred, both in print and by people in general, there were numerous plots to extinguish Rasputin’s life, including a stabbing by a woman eventually deemed not of sound mind. Smith offers some excellent details around the major plot to kill Grigori Rasputin once and for all, including an elaborate plan to poison him. When that failed to work—stunning everyone who witnessed the event—Rasputin was shot until he was assuredly dead, then tossed into the river. Smith offers up a few detailed accounts from memoirs, citing that there were certainly some extrapolations to better ‘sell’ it after the fact, including the Grigori Rasputin was “the reincarnation of Satan”. Additionally, while many may know nothing about the man, the sequence of Rasputin’s murder seems etched into the minds of many, as it has become part of global folklore over the past century. Interesting to some readers will be Smith’s exploration of some of the international flavouring of the murder of Rasputin, including the use of British agents or influence by some Europeans governments to use Russians to extinguish the proselytising of Rasputin, which stirred up the populace, at least those who were still willing to listen. Either way, a significant part of the population seemed exuberant when hearing of Rasputin’s death. This was soon followed by the exile of the Romanovs and their eventual execution when Lenin’s Bolsheviks took the reins of power, a narrative that Smith presents effectively to end the tome.

Can Rasputin be blamed for the fall of the Romanovs and the shape of the military campaign Russia undertook during the Great War? It would seem so, as Smith depicts a man who was never questioned and rarely contradicted by those in highest authority, even as many who surrounded the royals begged them to heed other advice. While it is not entirely clear just how close Rasputin was with Tsarina Alexandra, Smith makes it perfectly clear that she was entirely taken with his every word, dismissing anything others had to say. If Rasputin were not running the country, he certainly had a front row seat to whisper things into the ears of those in power, eventually dooming them for their fidelity.

Douglas Smith does a stellar job presenting an encompassing view of the life and times of Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin. The vast amount of information offered gives the reader much on which to feast as they come to a final conclusion about the man and the role he played in bringing down the Romanovs. While there are a number of myths propagated through history, stories, and a Euro-pop song by Boney M, Smith does not completely erase their possibility, but wants to substantiate them with research and reliable documentation. This is surely a great asset for Smith and adds validity to this biography. Pulling on as much information as possible, Smith seeks to offer a chronological view of Rasputin’s life, working with both the Julian and Gregorian calendars to offer important dates (see the introductory chapter for a full explanation) that give history some additional strength. Culling through scores of documents and synthesising them, as well as trying to get the proper translation to ensure the true flavour of the delivery, is surely of utmost importance when dealing with so many falsehoods and such a significant smear campaign. Page after page of the biography is full of information that supports the many theses that Smith puts forward. The only downside that I have come to discover is the supersaturation of information, which left me feeling overloaded. While I understand Smith wants to make the point clearly, it would seem that there was just too much to try to comprehend. Rasputin is so very misunderstood, if we are to believe Smith, as well as being extremely polarising. Truth be told, the lay reader may find the amount of supporting documentation exceeds what they can digest. Then again, others may bask in it (as I usually do), and seek more to fill in the minute gaps left out of Smith’s final publication. Overall, I was stunned with all the information I gleaned from this single volume biography and can only hope that I can find more of Smith’s writing to allow me to learn even more about the region and its complex history.

Kudos, Mr. Smith, as you have surely helped me to see just how much there is to know about Rasputin to better understand this most maligned man.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The Malta Exchange (Cotton Malone #14), by Steve Berry

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Steve Berry, and St. Martin’s Press for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Steve Berry returns with another Cotton Malone thriller, sure to impress series fans that those readers who love peeling back some of the mysteries history has left unsolved. Cotton Malone arrives on Malta with a mission to intercept a collection of letters that could ruin Britain if they see the light of day. These letters were written between Winston Churchill and Italian dictator Benito Mussolini during the Second World War, pertaining specifically to the possession of Malta. While this mission does not seem too difficult, there is more to the story than meets the eye, particularly as it relates to Malta. Long guarded by a security force, the Knights of Malta, the country has been the gem sought by many autocratic leaders, including both Mussolini and Napoleon Bonaparte. However, it is not simply the land they seek, but a secret that could change the face of world domination. This secret, Nostra Trifectà, holds information that many within the Vatican have long hoped would never be found, as its contents could change the Church forever. Vatican City is abuzz, with the death of the recent pope and a conclave about to begin. Over one hundred cardinals are making their way to cast ballots to elect a new leader for the world’s Catholics, but there is a twist. One contender seeks to use a great amount of information he has amassed to turn the tides in his favour, while using the secret enforcement arm of the Vatican to keep all hurdles out of his way. While Malone discovers what is going on, he is joined by others from his former employer, the Magellan Billet, to stop this and finally uncover the Nostra Trifectà. It will take more than brains and a little brawn to discover the secrets hidden in Malta and bring them to Vatican City before the doors of the Sistine Chapel are closed for the commencement of the Papal Conclave. Will this be one adventure through history’s lesser-known mysteries that even Cotton Malone will not solve? A highly captivating story that will hold the reader’s attention until the final pages, as they seek to decipher fact from fiction. Recommended for those who enjoy Steve Berry’s work, as well as the reader who finds solace in historical mysteries where much of the accepted truths are put to the test.

There’s nothing like a Steve Berry novel to get the brain working. He is able to pull on the lesser-known parts of major historical events, pulling the reader into the middle of an adventure, where there is much to learn. Berry’s protagonist, Cotton Malone, has been a wonderful staple throughout the series, moving from an active role as a Magellan Billet agent to a quiet bookseller with a passion for rare documents. While Berry does not offer a great deal of back story or development, Malone is effective in this book by showing his attention to detail when it comes to ciphers and hidden codes. Malone is able to lead his group through mysteries while always flexing his muscles when needed. Berry’s use of a number of secondary characters, both returning from the series and unique to this book, to help move things along, particular as it relates to those who serve as antagonists throughout. The story is interesting on multiple levels, as it tackles some of the events surrounding Mussolini’s fall from grace, the history of the island of Malta, as well as papal conclaves and the role the Catholic Church has long played in the world. Juggling these plots, Berry is able to advance many interesting historical possibilities, as well as injecting some history that may not be readily known to the reader. As with all of his novels, Berry embeds both fact and fiction within the narrative, leaving the reader to decide what to believe, at least until Berry sets the record straight at the end of the story. Tackling the power of the Catholic Church and how a collection of documents, Nostra Trifectà, could derail much of what is known or expected, as well as the power that the pope and his entourage. Set against the mysterious island of Malta, I was able to enjoy the second book in as many months on this island that lays between Italy and the African continent. I am eager to see what else Berry has in store for Malone and the other members of the Magellan Billet in the coming months. It’s always nice to see something that bears Steve Berry’s name, as the reader is guaranteed a jam-packed read.

Kudos, Mr. Berry, for another winner. I learn so much with you at the helm and your ability to tell stories is second to none.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Leadership: In Turbulent Times

Nine stars

Doris Kearns Goodwin pairs her superior research skills with an ability to recount history in a comprehensive manner to bring readers this wonderful book on political power in the most difficult situations. Patching together some of her past work on four American presidents, Goodwin examines the rise to power of each man, as well as how they were able to overcome significant adversity to right the proverbial apple cart. Goodwin chooses to explore the life and times of four men synonymous with great achievements throughout their lives: Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt (Teddy), Franklin Roosevelt (FDR), and Lyndon Johnson (LBJ). Told using three themes, Goodwin explores a rise to prominence, sustaining of power (including ascending to the presidency), and utilisation of that power when times were tough. In Goodwin’s examination of Lincoln, she tells of a gangly man who was always driven to better himself, even when others could not see his end goal. Lincoln loved to learn and questioned the status quo at every turn. When he chose to run for office, he was quite verbose in his explanation, but was able to win others over with his oratory skills, rather than simply following the pre-ordained path of the party under whose banner he sought to run. Winning a place, first in the Illinois Senate and eventually as a congressman, Lincoln sought to expand what was taking place by asking the questions about what else could be done. When he won the presidential election of 1860, Lincoln entered the White House in turbulent times. Goodwin examines many of the struggles he had, as the country tore itself apart, forcing him to take action. This included writing and delivering the Emancipation Proclamation, one of the greatest speeches that Lincoln ever gave. Goodwin seeks to argue that the speech itself was not the only struggle, but also Lincoln’s trying to pass it and keep his Cabinet together. Teddy Roosevelt was always a man who sought to do his own thing. His father was a daunting character in his life, but this did not stop Teddy from striving to excel. He was a man of many words, but also one who knew how to relate to everyone. Goodwin examines how Teddy could rise to any occasion and win over those who might otherwise not give him a second look. Playing politics in New York, Roosevelt was able to work within the GOP ranks and earn himself a senior bureaucratic position where he could exemplify his ‘man of the people’ persona. He shied away from little and, given the chance, changed in head first to meet adversity. A police commissioner helped him win the favour of New Yorkers, but he was not done there. After the assassination of President William McKinley, Roosevelt—who had been destined for the doldrums of obscurity when he was the vice-president—ascended into the White House. Unsure what to expect, he was saddled with a coal strike that almost paralyzed the country. While others would have let business and labour work out their differences, Teddy waded into those waters and diligently acted to solve the problem for the American people. Teddy’s fifth cousin, FDR, chose another path for his success. Born into significant wealth, Franklin Roosevelt was handed a congressional seat and told to run with it. FDR chose to represent the party well, using new and innovative techniques to get his name out to the masses in New York. He was a keen worker and would not let anything get in his way. When he was struck with polio, he faced what was surely his greatest obstacle, but FDR would not stand down. Forced to reinvent himself, with the help of his wife, FDR toppled the hurdles and ascended to the governor’s mansion in New York before riding the wave of success during America’s darkest days. Goodwin examines America’s reaction to the Great Depression before introducing FDR’s solution in a series of economic and social changes during those first one hundred days in office. Now a yardstick by which many presidents are measured, those first few months proved to be FDR’s way of staring down the despair and breathing new life into a shaky America. The final man under exploration is the irascible Lyndon Johnson, whose rise within Texas politics seemed almost pre-ordained. However, LBJ came from modest means and had to claw his way up the ladder, serving first as a teacher and principal in a small school. From there, he found new and exciting ways to work any crowd around him, earning him points wherever he went. As Goodwin explains, LBJ did politics the Texas away, not always by the book, but certainly represented those around him effectively. When he won national office, LBJ had to learn the ropes again, but his gumption helped him rise to power, where he served in both congressional houses with distinction, rubbing elbows with some of the big names in politics at the time. It was another assassination that saw LBJ assume the presidency, but he wasted no time in getting his agenda in order. As Goodwin shows, LBJ’s desire to ensure his predecessor’s desire to offer tax cuts and deliver civil rights to a significant portion of the underprivileged population. LBJ fought tooth and nail, using his experience in Congress, as well as numerous personal relationships to further this causes and ensure that America remained on the course towards success in the latter decades of the 20th century. Goodwin shows how the president refused to let congressional or regional walls stymie his ideals to bring equality to a country that was still feeling the effects of its Civil War a century before. Goodwin draws obvious parallels between the first and fourth of her study subjects to show how the argument of equality for all had come firm circle, subtly showing that all the bloodshed was, realistically, for naught. Still, LBJ would not give up on these domestic issues, even as his international realm fell apart the more intense the Vietnam War became. In her conclusion, Goodwin takes a final look at these men and how their deaths impacted America. Did the population learn from these men and were their legacies impactful? Goodwin sums everything up with some of her trademark blunt analysis, while offering the reader some hope as America returns to tumultuous times, even if the man at the helm could never hope to lead effectively. A sensational book that gets to the core of power in four men so very different but also so much alike. Adversity need not cripple anyone, as long as determination is your guide. Highly recommended to those who love political biographies and would love to see great men in action, as America suffers through new turbulent times.

I thoroughly enjoy political biographies, particularly when they are well researched and written in such a way that anyone can enjoy them. Doris Kearns Goodwin has earn this reputation in her half-century of writing and exploring the world of politics through the eyes of a historian. While I have read comprehensive biographies of all four men, I left this piece with more knowledge and a better understanding of what it takes to steer the massive political ship that is the United States of America away from turbulence and hidden icebergs. Goodwin develops this piece, based on some of her past work writing about these men, creating threads that connect them, even as they differed so much. Taken a look at their rises to power, Goodwin compares them all in four introductory chapters, before forging ahead to discuss their ascents. This political build-up, while different in its path, can again be tied together by other threads, which makes up the four middle chapters. Then, when each man had been chosen to lead America (or moved into the position by assassination), they excelled greatly and used their own political acumen to pave the way to a better and more sustainable America. Goodwin argues that America was better for the leadership these four men exemplified, even if the history books offers varied judgment. The curious reader will take much away from this book, seeing themes between the four presidents that many might have missed before. Goodwin’s writing is easy to digest and her arguments are sound. She is a passionate and powerful storyteller who will not shy away from any challenge. As America is back in a time of tumult, with its people divided and politicians fighting more than in recent decades, this book is a refreshing look at how to REALLY make America great again!

Kudos, Madam Goodwin, for dazzling us with your abilities. I hope many take the time to see your central arguments and discover how American political history comes to life under your pen.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Vermin, by William A. Graham

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, William A. Graham, and Black & White Publishing for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

William A. Graham seeks to impress with his debut novel, set in the heart of Scotland, with an interesting investigative twist. Allan Linton is a private investigator with a great deal of sleuthing experience. Before grabbing his magnifying glass and tweed coat, he worked as an investigative reporter for one of the dailies in Dundee. Now, he’ll take on most any case that crosses his desk. When a gentleman darkens his door, Linton is not sure what to expect. Handed a school photo of a young woman, Linton is asked to locate her as soon as possible. The gentleman before him is acting as a go-between, so Linton cannot even tell who is client might actually be. While he and his ‘associate’ begin looking into the case, other locals reach out for assistance on a variety of matters, including Linton’s own daughter, Ailsa. As Linton scours through records and pulls on all his contacts to locate this woman, the reader discovers much about the story that brought Allan Linton into his current employ and how he almost lost it all to Ailsa’s mother. When Linton thinks that he may have a lead in the case, things take a turn for the worse and it’s a mad scramble to ensure that he, and Ailsa, remain safe from some of Dundee’s criminal element. Graham does well to keep the reader intrigued with this debut novel. Recommended for those who like a quick investigative thriller (does such a genre exist?) that can be read in a few hours!

I will admit, it was the dust jacket blurb that caught my attention with this one. I knew nothing of Graham and shelved this piece closer to its publication date. However, as soon as I started, I will pulled into the middle of the story and learning about Allan Linton. A fairly down to earth guy, Linton proves to be the perfect protagonist for this short piece. He offers much back story in a few long and meandering chapters, giving the reader some context throughout the novel. With his own development, both on cases and in his personal life, Linton easily becomes someone the reader can enjoy throughout this piece. Those around him prove also to do well at entertaining and offering some of their own flavouring. Should Graham allow this to launch a series, I can see some definite character development happening in upcoming novels. The story was simple and somewhat hokey, but in a good way. Simply put, it went from A to Z with a few offshoots, but keeps the reader’s attention throughout. Complex plots and numerous twists are kept from the pages of this book, but its entertainment value cannot be matched. I can only hope William A. Graham returns soon with more to offer the reader, for I will certainly queue up to see what else he plans on publishing.

Kudos, Mr. Graham, for a great debut. I can see much potential and I hope others will jump on the bandwagon as well.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Open Carry, by Marc Cameron

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Marc Cameron, and Kensington Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Established author Marc Cameron has branched out to create a new series, full of all the excitement his fans have come to expect, but with a few new twists to lure in more followers. Arliss Cutter is proud to work for the US Marshals, though being assigned to Alaska has come to be less exciting than he’d hoped. Spending days with his team hunting down fugitives makes for interesting, though not always enthralling, work. When Cutter is contacted to help a small local police detachment on a rural island in the state, he jumps at the opportunity. A teenage girl has gone missing and the list of suspects is quite long, owning to the fact that a reality television program is in the middle of production. When two members of the crew also go missing, Cutter must try to determine if this is all connected or just a matter of overly curious folks in a rural setting. As Cutter connects with some of the locals, he learns a little more about the indigenous population and their deep roots in the area. Meanwhile, someone has arrived with a vendetta to settle, one that Cutter had better diffuse before things get out of hand. In a story that takes readers on many twists and turns, Marc Cameron shows why he is top of his genre with this fast-paced novel. Recommended to those who have enjoyed Cameron’s work in the past, as well as the reader who enjoys a thriller set outside the major metropolitan areas.

When I heard that Cameron was beginning a new series, I had mixed sentiments. I have read authors who seek to expand their writing base, but their core series tends to fade and fans lose out on strong writing. However, it would seem that Cameron has a wonderful collection of ideas in this novel, which could be a standalone or the start to a new and successful series. Arliss Cutter is a great character whose grit and ‘bad cop’ mentality is balanced with his love of his extended family and roots in the state. Cutter shows his affinity for those in his inner circle, even as he chases the scum of the earth around on a daily basis. His tunnel vision works well in this story, as he gets to the heart of the matter in short order. Others around him add interesting flavouring to the narrative and could, given the chance, show more depth in future pieces. The story may not be completely unique, but Cameron’s use of the Alaska setting and some of the locals adds a certain individuality that will keep the reader wanting to know more. Short chapters and an ever moving narrative keeps things clipping along and allows the reader to discover just how talented Marc Cameron is at the art of writing. I would hope to see more Arliss Cutter in the future, but am not worried if Cameron returns to his core series for a time. Either way, the reader is in for a treat!

Kudos, Mr. Cameron, for a wonderful piece. I am eager to see where you take us next.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Stalin: New Biography of a Dictator, by Oleg V. Khlevniuk

Nine stars

Oleg V. Khlevniuk presents a new biography on one of history’s most ruthless dictators, Joseph Stalin. Taking the reader well behind the (iron) curtain, Khlevniuk explores some of the many topics only briefly mentioned in passing before, if not entirely erased from outsider discussion. Joseph Stalin, born Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili, came from a frugal household. A Georgian by birth, Jughashvili did not let his family’s plight shape his academic successes, earning top honours throughout his educational endeavours, before joining the seminary. As a young man, Jughashvili rebranded himself as Joseph Stalin, a name that rolled off the tongue with greater ease, while also finding solace in the Bolshevik Party, speaking out for a Marxist way of life. Stalin’s close ties to Lenin saw him rise in the Party and help develop the plans for the eventual uprising that history has called the Russian Revolution. Stalin could not stomach much of the class divisions that he saw developing in his homeland, but also did not stay quiet about these issues, finding himself shipped off to Siberia on a few occasions. Khlevniuk offers up a few interesting vignettes about Stalin’s time there, including letters pleading for assistance as he starved and froze. Under Lenin’s leadership, the Bolsheviks stormed to power after raising a Red Army that crippled the already weakened Russian troops under the current government, with Stalin close to the top of the power structure. Lenin could see that his protégé was less about the Marxist ideology in practice than the complete concentration of power and its delivery with an iron fist—a theme that would recur throughout the biography. As history has recounted, Lenin feared his eventual death, as it would surely see Stalin take the reins and steer the USSR in another direction. Khlevniuk illustrates Stalin’s impatience as he waited for control over the Communist Secretariat, biding his time as Lenin sought a firm, but not harsh, approach to the new ideological delivery. When Stalin did succeed Lenin, things took a significant change in the USSR, as the new leader sought to focus his attention on bringing to pass some of his collectivisation tactics, textbook communism wherein the country would share all. Khlevniuk explores Stalin’s first ‘five year plan’ in which commodities were taken from the various communities and amassed centrally. Brutal hoarding of products brought about by Party rules saw people literally starving, with no remorse by Stalin whatsoever. Khlevniuk depicts brutal murder for those who would not abide by the rules and how some mothers, mad with starvation, turned to murdering their children to eat their flesh. This brutality continued as Stalin killed or brought about the deaths of millions under the USSR’s control, all in an effort to concentrate power. [As an aside, it is fascinating as well as horrifying to see the narrative go in depth about all these atrocities, substantiated by much of Khlevniuk’s research. While the world remained clueless about these acts, focus and shock appeared turned towards Hitler’s decision to exterminate people over the next 10-15 years!] Stalin continued his brutal governing, instilling fear and repression into his people with some of these foundational Marxist values that were taken out of context. Khlevniuk offers countless examples to show just how authoritarian things became in the USSR in the lead-up to the Second World War. Without any firm alliances on the international scene, Stalin inched towards the Nazis, who were solidifying their own power structure in Western Europe. As Khlevniuk explores, Stalin soon realised that he may have made a pact with the devil, noticing Hitler’s plans to overtake Europe with no thought to anyone else. Not wanting to show any sign of weakness, Stalin held onto his loose non-aggression pact with Hitler, only to have the German dictator plot an invasion of Russia in secret. The narrative of the war years is both bold in its assertions of how Stalin kept the Red Army in line and brutal in discussions about the clashes with the Nazis and punitive measures doled out for not ‘serving Russia adequately’. By the end of fighting, Khlevniuk cites that over six million Russians had died, a figure that becomes even more astonishing when added to the millions who perished during the famines and collectivisations mentioned before. With the war over, Stalin turned to his own territorial expansions across Eastern Europe, amassing countries under his Communist umbrella. While he did that, he watched with fascination as China turned red, though its leader, Mao, would not be suppressed or bullied. Stalin may have had the role of brutal communist dictator sewed up, but Mao was surely ready to learn and did enact some of his own horrible treatment of the Chinese. Stalin’s health had always been an issue, but it became even more apparent the final years of his life, as his outward appearance showed significant signs of wear. Khlevniuk examines this, both through the narrative and with extracted comments by others, as Stalin suffered a debilitating stroke while those in his inner circle could do nothing. By the end, it was a waiting game, as Russia’s powerful leader and generalissimo soon drifted off and never woke. Sentiment in the streets was mixed, though the Secret Police and communist officials sough to quell much of the critical talk. The end of an era and a loosening of the reins of power would follow for Russia, as one of the world’s most ruthless dictators was no more, his indelible mark not one the world will soon be able to ignore. A brilliant biographical piece that will entertain and educate many who take the time to read it. Highly recommended for those who love political biographies, particularly of those leaders who have received such a whitewashed tale in history books.

While I am no expert on Stalin, communist, or even Marxist theory, I can see that Khlevniuk’s efforts with this piece are not only stellar, but comprehensive. Choosing to focus on the man and add the lenses of his leadership and the ideology he espouses, the reader sees a new and definitely more brutal Stalin than has been previously substantiated. Those readers who love biographies and how they are cobbled together will find significant interest in the introduction, where Khlevniuk explains not only why this piece is ‘new’, but how he was able to take past biographies (both of Stalin and those closest to him) and weave new narratives to tell the story from inside the Kremlin walls. Actions are no longer part of a sterlised account and the reader is not fed tasteless narrative pablum, but able to see more of the actions and the blood flowing in the proverbial streets. I was shocked on more than one occasion with the attention to detail provided within the piece and how these accounts received substantiation from those in the room, as though they could now speak out without worry of being persecuted. Khlevniuk is able to convey a great deal of information in his narrative, taking the reader deep into the history, but knows what will appeal to the general reader and what might be too mundane. His dividing the book into six parts (chapters) allows the reader to see the various parts of Stalin’s life. Interestingly enough, Khlevniuk tells the reader in his introduction that each part can be read in whatever order they choose, though anyone seeking a chronological depiction of Stalin should (and would) read from beginning to end in that order. Full of detail and substantiated comments, this biography of Joseph Stalin is not only new, but well worth the reader’s time and should not be missed solely because of its length. There is much to learn about the man and his impact on world history, as we enter an era of new authoritarian leaders who seek to control large portions of the population.

Kudos, Mr. Khlevniuk, for an outstanding piece of writing. I learned a great deal and hope that others will be able to take as much away from reading this book as well.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The Current, by Tim Johnston

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Tim Johnston, and Algonquin Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

In my first exploration of Tim Johnston’s work, the novel took a journey that may literally chill the reader to the bone. On their way back from college, two young women stop for gas in the middle of winter. A simple fill-up soon turns sour when one is assaulted by two men who prey on her solitude. After fending them off, the women rush to their vehicle and continue on their way, hoping the worst is behind them. Bright headlights soon creep up in the rearview mirror and the vehicle is bumped off the road, teetering on the edge of a body of water. In the moments before they lose consciousness, both women vow to get through this together. When Audrey Sutter wakes, she is in the hospital with significant injuries. Her friend was not so lucky, having perished before a passer-by called the authorities. Now, with her fractured memories (and bones), Audrey must relay what she knows to the sheriff, who tries to formulate a suspect list. Audrey’s father, Tom, is a former sheriff himself and will not stand idly by as he seeks to locate the perpetrators. However, this proves harder than it seems and leads go colder faster than the ice water in which his daughter was once submerged. With a cold case coming to the surface and the local sheriff choosing to run things at his own pace, those who sought to kill Audrey remain at large, but are they watching so that they can finish the job? Johnston weaves an interesting tale that seeks to control the reader’s experience like a strong-willed river current. With all the elements for a successful novel, I am not sure why this one missed the mark for me.

Having sampled no past work by the author, I am required to let my gut and first impressions steer me. Johnston utilised many of the needed elements to craft a decent novel, including a crime and assault to open the story. However, it would seem that there was a supersaturation of information that diluted much of the delivery. Audrey Sutter, who plays at least a partial protagonist character, proves to be somewhat likeable, though I did not feel a strong connection to her. She’s young and is forced to come to terms with much loss in short order. Still, I would have liked to feel as though her fate (and finding the person/people who tried to kill her) meant more to me. The same goes for many of the other characters who crossed the pages of the book, including the retired cop Tom Sutter. Instead, many of the names and their backstories blended together to form a giant wad of narrative goop. Johnston had some great ideas amidst the various tangential storylines, something that I think might better have been developed in a series. While the central crime does recur, there are so many people with insights on different plots that the reader is forced to parse through all the discussions and keep things straight. Johnston has a strong writing style and I applaud this, but I could not find a level of comfort to pull me through this piece. Best of luck for those seeking a story with lots to offer, but too much to digest.

Kudos, Mr. Johnston, for your efforts. Not my cup of tea, though the premise drew me in from the outset.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine, by Serhii Plokhy

Eight stars

While I have long heard that the maternal side of my family came from Ukraine in the 1930s, I was not old enough to ask the poignant questions to those who made the journey while they were still alive. While it is not entirely necessary to understand the political and social rationale, my curiosity has always been quite high to better understand what led these people to flee and settle throughout Saskatchewan, in Canada’s Prairie West. A recent topic in my reading challenge pushed me to explore some of my ancestral roots, which paved the way to better understand Ukraine as a country, a political entity, and a society. While I may not discover all the answers I seek, Serhii Plokhy wrote a fairly comprehensive history of the region, giving me a greater understanding of my ancestral homeland, leaving me many new questions that will have to be answered through further research. Plokhy begins his exploration by discussing the territory that would eventually become Ukraine as being vast and open, unbordered in the modern sense. Various groups settled in the region, leaving their marks, including: Neanderthal mammoth hunters, the Norsemen (Vikings), Cossacks, and various others. These groups sought not necessarily to overtake the territory, but to offer influential marks in defence, arms, and primitive political assembly. Plokhy pushes through the centuries quite effectively, with the Ottomans entering the fray, as well as an early Russian Empire, both squeezing the land that would be called Ukraine in a time. Interestingly enough, the influence of these outsider empires helped formulate a cultural mix and a people who referred to themselves as the Rus’, though a number of other names have been given to these people, as Plokhy discusses for the interested reader. Plokhy goes into much greater detail in the early part of the book about many of the cultural and social entities that wove the early fabric of the Rus’ people, should the reader wish to indulge in this discussion. With politics and geography always evolving, the Rus’ found themselves influenced by these two strong-willed groups as the Hapsburgs came along and laid claim to other European neighbours, adding new and flavourful influences to the region. A seminal event in Ukrainian—and world—history would have to be the Great War, where empires fell and territory was handed out like sweets at a party. The Rus’ people, now seeing themselves as Ukrainians, saw the potential to seek independence during a movement of removing past shackles. Interestingly enough, as the Russian Revolution came to pass, Ukraine sought to declare itself autonomous as well, but did not have the military or political might to stand entirely alone, as they soon discovered. Rather, they had the ever-powerful Bolshevik Russia breathing down their neck and quashing any hopes of independence. Plokhy explores an interesting perspective at this point, with army general Stalin wanting Ukraine to fall under the Russian umbrella in this new collective, but Lenin felt it better to make them a Ukrainian people, developing the (other) USSR, Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. As part of this vast republic, Ukraine became the second largest of all the republics, even as other countries began eating away at their borders—namely: Poland, Russia, and Czechoslovakia—in the inter-war years. Stalin’s rise to power saw him flex his muscle and turn to the Ukrainians, punishing them by taking all their agricultural offerings and starving them out. A pogrom if ever there was one, this Great Famine was Stalin’s way of turning Ukraine into a great republic, though one can only imagine how beating them down would help them. Plokhy notes that the Ukrainian lands were also quite sought after when the Nazis arrived in the early 1940s to invade Russia. Hitler spent significant time in Ukraine, laying the groundwork for a key cog in the Nazi wheel, with its plentiful fields and the like, though many readers will know what happened to the Nazis. They did, however, leave their mark, alongside Stalin, in ridding the region of Jews, carting them off to camps and luring robust Ukrainian men away from the country to work in Germany. By the Cold War years, Ukraine was a staple part of the Soviet republics, but after Stalin’s death, the bloodletting seemed to taper off, as numerous other leaders utilised Ukraine as one of the key pillars in keeping the region afloat. Soviet Party influence waned for the latter years of the USSR and was completely obliterated with the disintegration of the Soviet Empire in 1991. On wobbly legs, Ukraine emerged as independent for a time, supported by democratic elections and recognition around the world. Plokhy offers an interesting narrative about some of the revolutionary elections that led Ukrainian politicians to push back. However, with Putin sitting in the Kremlin, Ukraine was soon being meddled with once again. Putin pushed for Russian-backed parties to win elections and went so far as to overturn elections in the Crimean Region, installing a party that had not garnered much support by the people—surely more blatant and doable, as social media and collusion tactics were not needed, as in North America. Plokhy leaves open the possibility that Russia and Ukraine with lock horns again over a variety of issues, including the latter’s ability to remain independent. He asks the curious reader to keep an open mind as things progress politically, hoping that the world will not let a Russian fist erase democracy. However, if they can put a Russian agent into the White House, one can only imagine they can do so anywhere. A brilliant piece of writing that gives the reader a great overall view of the region’s development and casts light on some of the current skirmishes with Russia over the Crimea, sure to be a highly controversial battle for years to come. Recommended to those who wish to learn more about Ukraine without getting bogged down in the minute history of the region.

As I mentioned before, I wanted a little something that would open my eyes to some of my ancestral roots, as well as offer me the history and politics of a region about which I know so little. Plokhy does this in an even-handed manner, mixing social, cultural, and political history together in an easy to digest format. The book tries not to skim, but it is almost impossible to delve in too deeply and still offer up a book that can be carried from one place to another. Plokhy’s arc of Ukrainian history opens the discussion, but never does he profess to having all the answers or to be the final word on the matter. While I refuse to call it a primer, this book does lay some basic foundations for those who want to learn more. Plokhy’s writing style is also easy to comprehend, offering readers lots of information in a relevant format. Depending on the topic at hand, chapters can be short or more detailed, permitting to reader to extract what they want before moving along. Written in English, there was little I felt I might be missing at the hands of a translator, which helped me feel confident in my reading, though I am sure Plokhy has been able to thoroughly research the topics in their original languages, as well as relying on other historians who have taken the leap before him. While the region may not be of interest to all, I can see many readers learning a great deal, even if they chose only to read key chapters in the book: lead-up to the Great War through the the Cold War fallout. While I never promote ‘parachuting’ into a book, I admit this was the section that interested me most and allowed me to extract a great deal of information to whet my appetite and cultivate a stronger understanding of familial roots. I suppose I will have to see if I cannot better comprehend what led my family to leave Ukraine and settle in Saskatchewan. The Prairie West does have a strong Ukrainian population and Plokhy has given me some good ideas why this might be the case.

Kudos, Mr. Plokhy, for enlightening me on this subject. I feel better versed and am eager to tackle some of your other work, which I see deals with other regional interest of mine!

This book fulfils Topic#3: Show Your Roots in the Equinox #6 Reading Challenge.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers, by Maxwell King

Ten stars

Hello Neighbour! Many of children and adults alike have come to know the wonders of Fred Rogers during a long career in children’s education television. Maxwell King seeks to revive an interest in Mr. Rogers and his extensive impact that touched the lives of thousands over a career that spanned six decades. The young Fred Rogers was quite introverted and bullied, choosing to hide away in his family’s third floor home, where he had his own puppet theatre. King writes of how Rogers would use his time with puppets to work out many of his emotions, away from those who may judge or mock him. Rogers was an attentive student and did well in school, but had trouble finding his niche in college. It was only when he travelled to Florida that Rogers was able to complete a degree in music that he felt himself completely satisfied, especially since it was there that he met his wife. Returning to Pittsburgh, Rogers discovered the new medium of television and noticed just how horrible it was, lacking anything substantial for children. Thus began Rogers’ lifelong mission, to create children’s programming that would educate and entertain in equal measure. Rogers moved to New York with his new wife to hone his skills as he worked for NBC. He learned some of the tricks of the trade while also discovering many of the pitfalls of trying to develop programming. King explores how Rogers discovered the importance of speaking directly to the child through the television, creating a one-on-one relationship to better connect and deliver his message. When WQED came calling, Rogers returned to Pittsburgh to help the start-up network with some of its early programming. Rogers began honing his need to speak to children at their level, linguistically and emotionally, even when his ideas clashed with those of his collaborators and bosses. Rogers used puppets and wrote many of the songs used on screen to communicate with children and foster a passion. King explores a brief sojourn to Canada for the Rogers family, where Fred worked with the CBC to develop Mr. Rogers, the precursor to his highly successful program. While Rogers did enjoy some aspects of his time in Canada, there were also a number of issues with his young boys that helps push Rogers to return to Pittsburgh, though he had no job prospects. It was only through hard work and dedication that Fred Rogers could sell his Mr. Rogers idea to WQED in an expanded format. Rogers was able to do so, particularly with the backing of eminent child developmental psychologist Dr. Margaret McFarland, as well as Dr. Benjamin Spock and Erik Erikson. Pittsburgh was rife with talent and academic genius in the mid-1960s from which Rogers could easily pluck new and exciting ideas. As King reiterates throughout, Rogers sought their advice when he launched Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood and throughout much of his time on the air. The show sought to captivate children from 2-5 years of age with simple to digest themes, but never shied away from reality, choosing not to shield children from topics that would affect them, as long as they were presented appropriately. This overarching theme endeared Rogers to many children (and their families) as he pushed to let the child learn in concepts they could understand at a slower pace. King spends chapters exploring the progress that Rogers made with his staple programming, including when he hung up his sneakers and cardigan for a time in the mid-70s. While Rogers took up seminary studies and was an ordained Presbyterian minister, he chose never to instil his Christian views or many of his social sentiments in shows, hosting Christmas specials but adding that there are many ways that people celebrate. From life on the house set to the World of Make-Believe, Fred Rogers was constantly trying to help children through themes—both subtle and blatant—that would help them grow. From death to divorce, machines to music, Fred Rogers brought the word to children, one 28 minute episode at a time, loving each viewer just the way they were. Brilliantly written in ways that touched my heart and brought back so many memories. Maxwell King ignites memories of childhood that bring a warm and fuzzy feeling. Highly recommended for anyone who wants a stroll down memory lane, as well as the reader who wishes to hear all about the inner workings of a great children’s educator.

I could not wait to get my hands on this book. As soon as I started, I knew I would be pulled into my early childhood years, taking back to time sitting around the television. Maxwell King effectively tells the story of Fred Rogers and how he changed the lives of so many children by passionately listening to them and not being afraid to ask others for help. He chose not to take a condescending approach, but advocated for the child from their perspective, rather than using his name recognition to force change upon society. Fred Rogers grew up in wealth, but did not use this to his advantage, choosing instead to amass riches in the joy he brought to others. King writes in such a fluid manner that the reader is soon lost in the narrative and is learning at every flip of the page. King spares no detail in recounting the life events that made Fred Rogers a success, but also chose key events in his life to better understand the arc Rogers made in public broadcasting and the rights of the child to learn without distraction of advertisement, violence, or flashy gimmicks. As King reiterates throughout, Rogers required a slower pace and smooth delivery to show children that their pace was the right pace to learn, but also chose to include follies into his program, underlining the fact that perfection is not part of the learning experience. Maxwell King has done much research, pulling out countless interviews, archived clips of shows, and pieces written about Fred Rogers throughout his life, all to develop this well-rounded biography of a man who quietly took hold on the North American television market from the late 1950s through to 2003. As King writes, wherever Fred Rogers went, he was swarmed by happy toddlers and young children. He was happy to stop and talk to these children, be it in his own voice or that of one of the many puppets he brought to life on the show. Do stop in the next time you are in the Neighborhood or take Trolley if you feel you need a little extra direction. I know I will!

Kudos, Mr. King, for this sensational piece. I found myself tearing up numerous times as I remembered moments from my childhood that were shaped by Fred Rogers. He will be missed, but your book breathed new and exhilarating life into him.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The First Lady, by James Patterson and Brendan DuBois

Eight stars

James Patterson and Brendan DuBois renew their collaborative efforts with a new book full of thrills and political intrigue. As US President Harrison Tucker makes his final push for re-election, he finds himself in an awkward position. Caught leaving an Atlanta hotel with his mistress, Tucker scrambles to save his reputation, but is unable to keep media reports from reaching First Lady Grace Tucker. Understandably upset, the First Lady excuses herself and leaves the White House. While the news is troubling, it’s just another hurdle that Secret Service Agent Sally Grissom has to face. Heading up the Presidential Protective Detail, Grissom will have to keep POTUS safe as he tries to patch his reputation. She’s tossed a curveball soon thereafter, when a senior member of the First Lady’s detail calls to say that she’s gone off the grid, having slipped past those charged with protecting her. Grissom rushes to the scene of where she was last seen, hoping that this is just the First Lady trying to exert some freedom. However, things take a turn for the worse when a note appears in the First Lady’s handwriting. Has her disappearance been orchestrated and is she being held against her will? Meanwhile the president’s Chief of Staff is making calculated moves of his own to ensure the disappearance news does not derail an already fragile situation. He cannot have anything go against his plans or it could spell electoral disaster. With a mercenary slinking around in the background, Grissom’s actions begin to have dire consequences and new evidence push the Secret Service to the brink as they seek to do what’s needed before media outlets use the disappearance as new fodder for the next news cycle. Patterson and DuBois do a great job with this standalone novel, which keeps the reader’s attention until the story’s climactic ending. Recommended for those who can appreciate Patterson’s stronger collaborative efforts.

James Patterson collaborations can be hit and miss, which is additionally troublesome as the market is supersaturated with the author’s name on bookstands at any given moment. However, Brendan DuBois can usually be counted upon to help shape novels in a productive manner and keep Patterson on task. This novel mixes the fast pace of political thrills with the mystery of a missing central actor. Sally Grissom proves to be a decent protagonist, mixing her grit on the job with having to balance being a single mother at home. Still in the midst of marital disintegration, Grissom must try to keep her daughter’s respect while not letting her personal life distract her from the job at hand. As this is a standalone, the authors must ‘sell’ Grissom in short order so that the reader does not lose interest in her, which appears to be done effectively throughout. Many of the secondary characters prove useful storylines to keep the novel moving forward. From the search for the First Lady to those who want Grissom and her team away from the action, the authors can easily use a number of characters to add flavour to a rich narrative. The story is strong and well-paced, with Patterson’s trademark quick chapters that keep the plot from losing momentum. Patterson and DuBois have a great way of mixing first- and third-person narratives to show an entire story from all perspectives. While I do bemoan the excessive number of books Patterson churns out, this is one with a silver lining that I feel would be perfect for those who need a few hours to escape their busy lives.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and DuBois, for a successful novel. I am happy I took the time to enjoy this piece and look forward to another collaborative effort.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The Great Dissent: How Oliver Wendell Holmes Changed His Mind—and Changed the History of Free Speech in America, by Thomas Healy

Nine Stars

The premise of free speech is one that remains central to many of the constitutional documents in democratic societies. That being said, the current form that many cite when wishing to express themselves was not generally held until the past century, at least in the United States. As Thomas Healy recounts in this comprehensive book, free speech in America drastically changed at the hands of one man in particular, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. Healy effectively argues that Holmes—long given the moniker as the ‘Great Dissenter’—radically changed his views on speech and the First Amendment of the US Constitution over a nineteen month period, forever altering how America (and the world) saw free speech. Early in his legal career, Holmes held what legal scholars call the Blackstone approach to free speech, one in which citizens had only limited rights to expression of their beliefs, protected in verbal expression. When these views were published and distributed or expressed in large settings, free speech was nullified and government laws could hold citizens accountable. Many Americans found that they walked a thin line and cowered when the courts became involved in adjudicating expressions of free speech. However, with the Great War in full swing and the Americans on the battlefield, something drastically changed. Healy discusses a number of legal friends that Holmes encountered throughout his life, a handful of men whose views helped expand those of the great Justice. These men pushed some of the beliefs that Holmes held about speech, forcing him to express himself and explain how he could hold so narrow a set of views. It was only when the US Supreme Court heard a number of cases related to the Sedition and Espionage Acts that Holmes began to see new ways of understanding free speech. The two acts in question sought to punish those who would dare speak out against America, particularly if they criticised government decisions or sided with America’s enemies. This, in conjunction with the rise of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, saw the rise of groups with a socialist leaning becoming increasingly critical of America’s capitalist views, including their fuelling the ongoing war in Europe. Holmes and his colleagues heard arguments about those who would express themselves, speaking against the state or simply stating views that may not align with American core values. In drafting decisions surrounding these cases, Holmes did craft a few tests by which free speech could be judged. His ‘clear and present danger’ test would require the courts to weigh expressions of speech against whether those sentiments posed and clear danger to the general public, one that was immediate and detrimental. Out of this test came the sentiments around ‘a man yelling “fire” in a crowded theatre’, now part of the everyday discussion around free speech. Holmes felt that these limited on speech were both sound and provided justifiable leeway. These series of cases, many of which riled up the public, helped Holmes see that free speech was not meant to be a leash on what people could say, but should permit maximum expression, save when doing so would harm the core of national security. To oppose the majority opinion should not be punished, but rather added to the larger discussion, whereby truth would prevail, however, flavoured it might become by a number of perspectives. By the time Holmes was ready to extol his greatest views, he found himself as the only Justice willing to speak out against the common beliefs. His colleagues went so far as to beg that he fall into line, for the good of the country, freshly healed from the horrors of the Great War. However, Holmes could not silence himself, even if his views would be a cry in the wilderness. His published dissent caused major waves in the legal communities, which saw him mocked by many, alongside some of those closest to him. Holmes, an old man by then, would not stand down and, as Healy presses in the closing chapter of the book. Free speech would forever be changed by his sentiments in dissent and a new view of the First Amendment soon came to be accepted, as expression became more accepted in a world that had fought for democratic freedoms. That being said, reasonable limits on free speech are still a matter of much debate, as society grapples with what is acceptable and what crosses the line. Surely not entirely in line with what the Founding Fathers had in mind at the time the Amendment was included in the constitutional document, Healy effectively expresses that Holmes sought to pull constitutional interpretation into a ‘current day’ understanding, which is how it continues to evolve today. Highly recommended for those who love constitutional books seeking to explore the nuances of societal rules that hold a country together.

While some of the discussion above may seem a little dense, I applaud Healy for presenting his arguments and substantiating many of the cases effectively. One of the underlying themes of the book remains that free speech, while simple on the surface, is highly complicated in its interpretation. Healy takes the concentrated period of 1918-19 and weaves an effective legal narrative to show how Oliver Wendell Holmes was faced with several important cases that sought to expand the basic understanding of the First Amendment, particular when faced with strong anti-socialist (read: Bolshevik) sentiments. Healy not only lists the cases under consideration, but offers an excellent backstory to give context to the reader before trying to sift through the US Supreme Court sentiments around the case and the current laws of the land. Healy also utilises parts of the book to explore those who influenced Holmes and his views, including Judge Learned Hand (you cannot make up a name like that!). By offering some mini-biographies of these men, as well as the history of their interactions, Healy shows how thoughts on free speech evolved for the Justice, leading to his great dissent in November 1919. Healy builds his case for free speech and shapes how Holmes came to understand the First Amendment in such a way that modern American jurisprudence takes these views for granted. In an easy to understand narrative that builds chronologically, Healy captures the reader’s attention from the outset and continue to pull them in with sound legal arguments and detailed analyses, permitting an overall understanding of the issues up for discussion. While I will admit that parts can be somewhat complex, most readers can grasp the legal arguments that serve to enshrine the core values of free speech in use today.

Kudos, Mr. Healy, for this thoroughly entertaining piece that pushed me outside my comfort zone as we explored the birth of modern free speech. A must-read for those who like to hide behind the First Amendment without understanding its core principles.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Mackenzie King and the Prairie West, by Robert A. Wardhaugh

Nine stars

Those with a passion for Canadian politics will know that the federal Liberals have long had an issue with securing the Prairie West. Many point to the re-emergence of the Progressive Conservatives under John Diefenbaker in 1957 as being the beginning of Liberal woes, something from they would never truly recover. However, Robert Wardhaugh turns this theory on its head and effectively argues that it was Mackenzie King’s mistreatment of the Prairie West that paved the way for long-standing disaster for the ‘Government Party’ as they were called for much of the 20th century. Wardhaugh takes the reader through the chronological period that King served as Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, including his time as Canada’s longest-serving prime minister (and still holds the record for Commonwealth leader). While still a member of Wilfrid Laurier’s Government, King could see the emergence of a new and fairly feisty Prairie West. While Manitoba had been a province since 1870, both Alberta and Saskatchewan only earned their ‘legs’ in 1905. Hoping to foster good relations, King spent some of his time while working as a senior bureaucrat and sitting Member of Parliament in the region, learning the issues and trying to better understand their needs. When, after Laurier’s retirement in 1919, King ascended to the leadership of the Liberals, he discovered the issue his predecessor had—trying to hold onto the business East and working West—and sought to find a middle ground. Working with the three provinces and their respective Liberal party wings, King sought to curry favour by utilising their strong minds to help shape government policy. However, King soon discovered that it was not only Liberal members who mattered, but elected representatives in the three governments. As Wardhaugh effectively argues, the governments in Alberta and Manitoba were not as willing to toe the line and made strong demands in order to fall into line, including inclusion not only at the Cabinet table, but in positions of power. Saskatchewan had a strong provincial wing of the party, which helped generate support for their national cousin. While King refused to cede power to the West—still shaky in their support at the ballot box—he also knew that he could not turn his back on the East and all that stood for in Canadian politics. The 1920s became a see-saw battle over agriculture and financial tax breaks for the working man, but try as he might, King could not penetrate the strong-willed ideas of the breakaway parties, including the United Farmers and the Progressives. The battle for control left King making demands and the Prairie West refusing to comply. A stalemate ensued, one in which the East consolidated its power and the Prairie West lost out entirely. Even a move to a western seat in Prince Alberta (Saskatchewan) could not turn the tides enough and the Liberals faced defeat at the polls in 1930. King thought that he would be able to cobble together the needed foundation, since the power was out of his hands and he was not a supplanted Westerner. However, with the Depression paralysing the West and new Prime Minister Bennett all but tossing the reins of power aside, King felt that the Prairie West owed him. When they continued to refuse to bow down, he took victory in 1935 and all but ignored them. Wardhaugh shows this multiple times throughout, by implying that King refused to heed to anything that was going on, even as new and powerful movements were emerging. He demanded complete loyalty in order to receive anything. This continued political ignorance left King to suffer through his twilight years, going so far as to refuse to spend any time in his riding in the 1945 election, one that saw him defeated and left to run back to Ontario for the final few years of his time in office. A man seen as one of Canada’s greatest prime ministers could do nothing for the Prairie West, leaving him in the proverbial dust and decimating the Liberals from doing much in the region for the foreseeable future. Recommended for political keeners such as myself, who like looking through the lens of political history when it speaks against what scores of textbooks present as gospel truth.

I know this book will certainly not appeal to many, but it was one that has been sitting on my shelf for a long time. I studied under Robert Wardhaugh during my undergraduate degree and found many of his ideas and insights fascinating when he taught political history at the University of Winnipeg. While we did not always agree, I felt the passion he brought to lectures and discussions, which is also seen in this book. Wardhaugh chooses not to swallow the commonly held belief, but rather cobbles together a powerful argument that he can substantiate with strong facts from the historical record. The Prairie West can be a fickle thing—trust me, I lived there throughout some of the interesting political years of my youth—and has often been hardest for federal political parties to capture. Why is that? Likely because it sees itself as strong-willed and deserving of a listening ear, though is commonly drowned out by the East. Its population may be smaller and its incomes less impactful, but its punch rivals anyone. This might be the crux of Wardhaugh argument and King’s foible; the Prairie West cannot simply be appeased with a smile and a wink. They want power, they deserve a voice, something that Wardhaugh illustrates effectively. Those who have not lived here or been a part of the deep-rooted struggle can simply nod and hope to understand. Wardhaugh gets it and uses he strong academic prose to sell the point. Whether it is heard outside the region is really a matter of semantics. We hear it, we know it, and the Liberals have to acknowledge it to penetrate through and make a lasting difference. As of this review writing, we are in an election year and the Prairie West is up for grabs. Snatch it or snub it, Liberals… it’s your choice!

Kudos, Dr. Wardhaugh, for reminding me what passion comes from politics and history when they mix themselves effectively. I look forward to finding more of your work and indulging!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Minds of Winter, by Ed O’Loughlin

Eight stars

In a novel that mixes a historical mystery with the geographic challenges of Canada’s far north, Ed O’Loughlin delivers an interesting story that takes readers on a great adventure. After a marine chronometer from a 1840s expedition finds its way back to England, many are quite confused. Not only was the chronometer from Sir John Franklin’s expedition to find the North West Passage in the Canadian Arctic—a journey that ended in tragedy when both ships sunk and all aboard perished—but the item was repurposed and arrived as a Victorian carriage clock. Thus begins the mystery that takes the story back to the early 1840s, where Franklin has been sent to oversee an Australian colony, punishment for a previous mission. However, when the British are eager to explore the Arctic region, Franklin is chosen to head the mission, amassing a crew of his own. In flash-forward chapters, the story moves to the present in Canada’s Northwest Territories, where Nelson Nilsson and Fay Morgan meet by chance outside the community of Tuktoyaktuk, in the middle of winter. Morgan is somewhat vague about what brings her here from the United Kingdom, but soon discovers that Nelson is just as vague. He explains that he has been looking for his brother, who used to work in the region but has since disappeared. Their odd alliance sees them spending some time together and discovering a little more about the Franklin Expedition and some lost items, as they sift through many of the historical documents amassed by Nelson’s brother. As the story progresses, the reader is privy to these documents and some larger narrative putting them into perspective. It would seem that a few attempts were made to locate Franklin’s lost fleet or anything that may have been found in the wreckage. However, the deeper they look, the more the mystery rises to new levels. Could the Nilsson brothers have an ancestor all their own who spent time in the region, one who has a jaded past and was sought by the Royal Canadian Mounter Police? With no means of leaving, as the snow is too heavy to travel, Nelson and Fay are pushed to piece together this narrative through documents and letters, which might shed light one a few mysteries that could significantly shape their respective futures. Recommended for those who like novels that span decent periods of history, told through documents and historical happenings.

I chose this book for two key reasons. First, I admit that the title and topic both looked as though they could help fulfil my reading challenge responsibility. Secondly, the Franklin Expedition has been making the news of late, particularly since the Government of Canada has been trying to bring it up and solve the long-lost mystery of what happened. With a story set in Canada, I thought that I’d be pulled in from the early chapters. O’Loughlin did so and I was pleased to find myself captivated by the story and its setting. Nelson and Fay were two interesting characters who worked at odds with one another for the most part, but seemed able to peel back the layers on this mystery in order to help bring to light some of the long-hidden goings-on in Canada’s Arctic region. With a handful of other characters who played roles during their respective points of history, the story moved along at a decent pace. O’Loughlin’s story was well founded and did, at times, move well. That being said, there were times when I felt as though the narrative could have picked up the pace, though this could have been my desire for something a little faster in its pace. O’Loughlin effectively portrayed the historical documents in the story, making them seem realistic and penned in such a way that the reader could feel they were actual letters and conversations, based on style and linguistic delivery. While the story did drag, I was able to speed through it, skimming where I felt it necessary in order to complete my reading journey.

Kudos, Mr. O’Loughlin, for an interesting piece. I think I may have to look to see what else you’ve written, as I would love to discover some of your other passions.

This book fulfils Topic #6: Equinox Read of the Equinox #6 Book Challenge.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President, by Candice Millard

Nine stars

In an interesting, quasi-biographical piece, Candice Millard explores the brief presidency of James A. Garfield and the assassination attempt that would eventually take his life. While it would seem a clear-cut task, Millard broadens the story to include a few additional individuals, whose actions play a key role in better understanding events surrounding the president’s lingering before finally succumbing in September 1881. Millard opens the narrative at the Centennial Exposition, where celebrations surrounding one hundred years of American nationhood were taking place There, as Congressman James A. Garfield wandered around the grounds, two men were also present, prepared to discuss some of their scientific findings. The first, British surgeon Dr. Joseph Lister, who sought to explain to his American colleagues the importance of antisepsis. Struggling as he was, Lister could not sway those present of the importance of a sterile field while working or of the need for utmost cleanliness when handling open wounds. His words, which were impacting the way European doctors were handling patients, would prove to be foreboding in the years to come. The other man, shuffled away at the Exposition, was Alexander Graham Bell, a Scot who was trying to show off his telephone, which was still in its infancy. Bell did receive some takers, though the process of being able to hear someone’s voice when they are a distance away was still baffling. Millard peppers the narrative with backstories and mini-biographies as she advances the successes of Garfield, particularly when he went to Chicago in the summer of 1880, host of the Republican National Convention, to put forth a nominee for president. By the end of the gruelling voting process, Garfield was handed the nomination, which he reluctantly accepted. A powerful speaker, Garfield was respected by his peers and was seen to be a sure winner when he faced his Democratic opponent in November. In a parallel narrative, the reader learns all about Charles Guiteau, a failed lawyer and evangelical preacher, who soon became fixated on all things related to Garfield. When the ballots were cast and Garfield won the presidency—something that Millard describes as being a prize Garfield accepted without much fanfare—Guiteau began an eerie communication with the president-elect, first congratulating him and then stalking him for a posting in the new government. As Millard illustrates, Guiteau was known around town as a swindler who would not pay his bills, though he was adamant that he should have a prominent role in the Garfield Administration, more because he was first to ask than meriting anything in particular. When nothing came from the president, Guiteau continued and appeared around the White House, partaking in an awkward discussion with the First Lady, who remembered his presence in her diary. Eventually, Guiteau realised that Divine Intervention, which had already guided Garfield to become president, was now calling for the president’s death. Guiteau plotted and planned, eventually choosing a train station, where he fired multiple times into Garfield. The shots were not immediately fatal, though a doctor who quickly attended the president sought to probe the wound—on the dirty floor of the station—with his bare finger. Lodging it into the wound, the doctor surely introduced much grime and bacteria, thereby pushing it deep into the president’s body. After the panic of securing the president and arresting Guiteau, who voluntarily handed himself over, medical staff attempted to help Garfield and save his life. Enter, Alexander Graham Bell, who had been thinking about how to use some of the technology surrounding his telephone to locate the bullet, which might aid in saving the life of President Garfield. Before the invention of the x-ray, Graham’s use of sound through current induction and blockages would likely be able to help locate the lead bullet, preventing sepsis and other potentially fatal issues. As the days moved along, Garfield’s health ebbed and flowed, even as Bell attempted to use his makeshift invention. While Bell was able to see the president and introduce some of this early medical technology, the bullet was not located or extracted. Days turned to weeks and Garfield became weaker, with abscesses appearing all over his body, pus seeping out when they were punctured. All the while, Guiteau remained in custody, writing and pondering what might happen next. After a hot summer and doctors trying to alleviate stagnant air, which might be the cause of much distress for Garfield, September came and the president’s health took a significant drop. Each passing day saw his condition worsen until he finally succumbed to the gunshot wounds. The 20th President of the United States was dead, his assassin in custody, and the vice-president, Chester A. Arthur, equally disinterested in the role of president, assumed the role of America’s leader. Alexander Graham Bell was beside himself with grief, but knew he had done all that he could. In an interesting closing segment of the book, Millard documents the autopsy of President Garfield, which revealed abscesses and a body riddled with infection, particularly along the pathway the bullet took and a finger probed. Had Dr. Lister’s warnings been heeded those years ago, it is quite possible that President James A. Garfield could have lived and served a full term in office. Then again, history is filled with ‘what if’ moments, some of which would surely have changed things in a significant manner. A brilliant look at Garfield, Guiteau, and a few others whose decisions impacted the short Garfield presidency in a significant manner. Recommended for presidential history buffs, as well as those who enjoy seeing some of the lesser known aspects to the Garfield presidency and assassination attempt.

I recently finished a biography on Chester A. Arthur and was able to learn a little about Garfield during that time. I found what scraps were presented to me to be not only captivating, but also needing more detail. Millard’s book came highly recommended to be and I devoured it, thinking that it would be the biography of James A. Garfield that I sought. Rather than being a traditional biography, Millard offers a few mini-biographies while threading together the events that led up to Charles Guiteau shooting the president in the summer of 1881. I took away much from the book and its parallel narratives, all of which mesh at the appropriate times. I was astounded to learn about the Bell connection to the entire process, thinking him as a man whose attention was primarily on honing his telephone. The portions relating to Charles Guiteau not only strengthen my belief that he was somewhat detached with the rest of the world, but also that his fanciful ideas may have fuelled a vendetta against Garfield. Small snippets that discuss Chester Arthur and the role that many felt he had in his boss’ death cannot be discounted, but, like Garfield, I cannot find reason to believe that there was a substantial plot. I leave it to the reader to discover some aspects to the story I have chosen to hold back, permitting others to discover the wonders of Millard’s efforts. The writing is clear and tells an interesting aspect of American history that has been glossed over in many history books. Each chapter opens with a poignant quote by James A. Garfield, introducing the reader to even more bits of facts gleaned from the historical record, followed by a smooth narrative that transitions seamlessly from one topic to another. Any reader who enjoys history, particularly that which is not common knowledge, should locate and devour this book in short order.

Kudos, Madam Millard, for a stunning piece of writing. I took so much away from it and hope to look into some of your other work in short order.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Night of Camp David, by Fletcher Knebel

Eight stars

What would happen if the President of the United States (POTUS) showed signs of mental instability? Such is the question in Fletcher Knebel’s 1965 political novel that reverberates in current literature. When James MacVeagh is summoned to meet with President Mark Hollenbach at Camp David, he is unsure what to expect, especially this late at night. The junior senator from Iowa agrees, hoping that he will be privy to some interesting information. Their meeting is quite odd, one in which Hollenbach expounds on how his beleaguered VP is likely to be replaced ahead of the Democratic National Convention later that year. POTUS also vents that there is a conspiracy building against him, leading him to want to enact all-encompassing phone tapping measures to keep the country safe. As MacVeagh leaves the meeting, he cannot help but wonder what he’s just witnessed, but remains tight-lipped for the time being. When, during a second late meeting with Hollenbach at Camp David, MacVeagh is told that he will be chosen for the VP position, he listens to a long-winded discussion of a new ‘super-state’ to rival the USSR and Red China. Convinced that there is something truly amiss, MacVeagh begins asking around about what others might have heard. While few have anything concrete to offer, some who hold MacVeagh’s confidence begin to wonder if the junior senator might be feeling the stress of the job. Meanwhile, a few Americans receive personalised letters from their Commander-in-Chief, missives that seem completely out of sorts for their curt and conspiratorial nature. As MacVeagh begins to approach congressional leaders, he realises that he has to act quickly, as there is only a loosely formal means of removing POTUS. When MacVeagh tries to act, those around him begin to wonder if he has his own political ambitions and must be stopped before he brings down a popular president. The race is on to find substantial answers before the country is in real danger. The question remains, who poses the greatest threat, Hollenbach or MacVeagh? A brilliant piece whose themes echo in today’s political climate, Knebel has penned a winner that many of those with a love of political thrillers should not pass up.

It was only by fluke that I stumbled upon this piece, written over half a century ago. It would seem, however, that a publisher has sought to shed some light on it, as it was recently re-released for the general public to appreciate again. Knebel was known for his political thrillers in the 1960s and 70s, which appear to pass the test of time. The reader will find much interest in both the MacVeagh and Hollenbach characters, both of whom are believable and relatable to current politicians. As MacVeagh has only recently found himself in federal politics, he is by no means out of touch with the American voter. Hollenbach, on the other hand, is well-versed in politics and the game being played. Both dance around the central issue of mental instability as it relates to POTUS, dodging and diving at just the right moment. The handful of other actors involved play key and interesting roles that both advance the narrative and keep the reader guessing. The story is strong and, as I mentioned before, can be read today with few bumps. Surely, there will be geographic and technological differences, but the story flows so well that the attentive reader can supplant talk of the USSR with Russia and albums with other forms of music devices. Of greatest interest to the fan of the political thriller will be that there is much discussion of the role of the 25th Amendment to the US Constitution before it was enacted. While Congress passed the amendment—which deals with presidential incapacity—in the summer of 1965, it was not formally enacted until 1967. I am not entirely sure when in ‘65 Knebel released this book but he has a great deal of insight and, for the purposes of the book, relies on a presidential agreement with his vice-president about succession. One can only imagine what a modern novel might include by tackling the plot of this novel. I can only surmise that it might be explosive and well-worth my reading.

Kudos, Mr. Knebel, for a sensational story that has remained poignant all these years later. I will definitely be exploring some of your other work to see if they are just as exciting.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The Unexpected President: The Life and Times of Chester A. Arthur, by Scott S. Greenberger

Nine stars

Scott S. Greenberger seeks to enlighten the reader with this piece on Chester A. Arthur. Who’s that, you ask? Exactly the point Greenberger seeks to rectify with this book, by providing a comprehensive biographical piece that will leave reader with something other than a knowledge of the man’s impressive facial hair. Arthur was born in rural Vermont to a fiery immigrant preacher and docile mother. His early education saw him earn good grades, though opportunities at the time were limited. With a passion for learning, Arthur was able to earn a law degree and practiced in New York City for a time, meeting and marrying the quiet Ellen Herndon. Their time together was quite peaceful until Arthur was called into service during the American Civil War. This required a significant commitment by Arthur, something his ‘Nell’ came to understand. Rather than fighting, Arthur worked in the New York Militia as Quartermaster General, where he first tasted power and did not want to look back. While the war effort did end well for Arthur, the death of his infant son from am unknown disease all but paralysed the family. Arthur soon found himself immersed in the New York Republican Party, committed to the party machine, he climbed the ranks and was offered the lucrative position of Collector of the Port of New York by President Ulysses S. Grant. Arthur was able to amass great wealth from fees gathered and Greenberger only recounts a few of the more questionable actions that occurred. However, with power comes the risk that it can be rescinded, as was the case after the 1876 Presidential Election that saw the Democrats take back the White House with Rutherford B. Hayes at the helm. Arthur was fired when he would not voluntarily give up the position and forced back into a law practice. This smarted for a time, but Arthur was determined to see the Democrats spend only a short time in office. When the 1880 campaign began, Arthur worked ardently to see the GOP return to power, especially since Hayes had vowed not to serve more than a single term. With the country in disarray, many Republicans saw the only answer be to turn back to Grant. Greenberger illustrates the interesting goings-on in Chicago that summer of 1880, which saw lengthy debates and voting before black horse candidate James A. Garfield rose to accept the nomination—just barely—and Chester A. Arthur was plucked from the convention floor to serve as vice-president. Angering some of his fellow New York delegates, Arthur accepted the nomination and proceeded to campaign for a GOP victory that November. After victory at the polls, Arthur and Garfield made their way to Pennsylvania Avenue and began to govern. A few short months into the term, Garfield was on his way to vacation with his family, when Charles Guiteau, a deranged preacher, shot the president in the back. As he left, Guiteau uttered that he had done it to ensure ‘Arthur is president’. As the country waited that entire summer, Greenberger illustrates how newspaper editorials pointed the finger at Arthur and speculated that he might be an accomplice to the assassination attempt, all to ascend to the presidency. Plagued with guilt, Arthur waited and hoped that the president would recover, but it was a lost cause. By mid-September, Garfield was dead and Arthur was now the President of the United States. Greenberger illustrates that Arthur never wanted the post of POTUS and was extremely reticent of the role thrust upon him. However, Arthur was able to push for some key changes while in office, including his long-desired change to civil service hiring. He sought for meritocracy over party placements—interesting, since he scored his key civil service post as a GOP member—and pushed to have Congress enact it. Arthur also continued a series of letters with a woman who sought to challenge his views and tried to steer him in a certain direction, for the honour of the country. Greenberger includes some of their letter bantering throughout the latter portion of the book, which enriches not only the biography, but also shapes how Arthur thought during his brief time in office. However, it would seem that this merit over party mentality served only to ruin Arthur’s chances as formal election in 1884, when the GOP looked elsewhere for their candidate. When, at the General Eleciton, Grover Cleveland led the Democrats back to power, Arthur knew that he had done all he could for the New York GOP machine and began to remove himself from private life. Struck with an illness during the latter part of his presidency, Arthur soon succumbed and was mourned by some, while others noted his place in history with a simple asterisk. A man who was thrust into the limelight has found himself forgotten and remembered by few. Scott S. Greenberger seeks to remedy this and those who take the time to read this piece will discover a great deal about the man and his impact on New York and national politics. Recommended for those who enjoy presidential biographies as well as the reader seeking to open their minds to a great deal of little discussed facts.

It is so very difficult to adequately comment on an author’s final product when it comes to biographies, as the reader is not subjected to the piles of information available, only what makes it onto the page. Scott S. Greenberger has taken one of America’s least-known presidents and shaped his life into this piece, which is understandably short. In doing so, he has been able to create a strong piece that depicts the man in such a way that many will have taken at least something away. Greenberger does his best to offer a complete package of Chester A. Arthur, from birth to death, giving credence (and ink) to some of the more essential points. Did I come away with more than the man’s interest in facial hair? Certainly! Did I learn something politically about him that helps me see him in a new light? Most definitely! Arthur was not a man who magically appeared on the scene to become a vice-president and then an accidental president in the latter part of the 19th century. He was well-known, both in New York and in the ranks of the Republican Party. However, it is perhaps that he was a black horse AND fell into the role of POTUS that has many forget his rise to power and claims to fame. As I think back on the piece, I will admit that Greenberger could have gone into more depth with the piece—and yes, I look at some of the presidential biographies to which I have listened in the past that span 40+ hours—but this shorter piece does perhaps prove a point. The man was little known and so readers/listeners may not care or need to know about the minutiae. However, if I might offer some constructive criticism of this piece, the brevity of the biography is compounded by Greenberger’s branching out to offer mini-biographies of a few more popular men Arthur encountered. A few come to mind immediately, Grant and Guiteau, and there was lengthy mention of Garfield as well. These men, while essential to the larger story, need not have their own pocketed story. At times I wondered if Greenberger were trying to meet a page quota and padded his piece, but then I think back to how briefly he covered the Civil War era. Either way, the story reads well and is packed with information, perfect for the curious reader who wants to learn something without drowning in facts. Greenberger gives a well-rounded view of the man and his claims to fame, even if he will likely remain one of the most obscure presidents ever to occupy the White House.

Kudos, Mr. Greenberger, for this compacted piece. I did take much away from it and cannnot wait to see if you have published anything else on subjects of interest to me.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Vulgar Favors: Andrew Cunanan, Gianni Versace, and the Largest Failed Manhunt in U.S. History, by Maureen Orth

Nine stars

Seeking to begin the year with some learning opportunities tied into my reading, I turned to my iPod to find a decent audiobook. Maureen Orth’s book about the manhunt to find the killer of Gianni Versace caught my attention, as I do remember when everything appeared in the press over two decades ago. Orth opens her piece giving the reader a long and drawn-out depicting of the life Andrew Cunanan lived, including parents who could not process the uniqueness their son possessed. Born into a mixed-race family, Cunanan’s Filipino father was as straight laced as they came, while his Italian mother professed a strong connection to the Church, but found ways to accept her son’s obvious flair for the dramatic. Andrew grew up with little, though always wanted to up his social status, forcing him to create falsehoods on which others would be expected to build their image of the lanky Cunanan. Concocting quite the story, Cunanan convinced his friends that his father had money and power, which led him to gain entry into some preparatory schools well above his family’s financial abilities. Not scoring high enough to earn him top honours, Cunanan relied on his wit and ability to spin tales in order to create a strong social circle. He sought to define himself, feeling a turn towards homosexuality, something neither parent would have condoned or permitted at the time. When Cunanan left home, he established himself in the San Diego scene, finding solace in a gay community that chose to live under the radar. There, Cunanan’s tales took on a new level of intensity, as he not only dropped names, but also constructed a lavish lifestyle full of celebrity encounters and connections. Cunanan not only embraced life in gay bars and attending swanky weekends, he wanted to find a ‘sugar daddy’ to fuel his ever-growing expensive way of life. Cunanan turned to hard drugs, including crystal meth, which he would sell with abandon while climbing his social ladder. Little did he know—or perhaps care—but those around him found his antics odd and very off-putting. While he could party well into the night and fuel his life with hard drugs, he would also made comments and inject himself into situations where his ideas gave everyone chills. Pushing for more drug-filled parties and harsher sexual experimentation, Cunanan was no longer the happy-go-lucky person he had once been. Now, people on all sides steered clear of him and tried to find reasons not to hang around. As things intensified, Cunanan appeared to snap and ended up murdering Jeff Trail, after a trip to Minnesota, during a heated argument. While he used the home of his former lover, things appeared to spiral out of control. Cunanan realised his error and began a set of spree killings as he evaded authorities for months. Each step saw him take another victim of chance, all in an effort to evade arrest. Orth depicts a bumbling FBI and state officials as they fought over jurisdiction and how they could corner Cunanan, who continued to dodge the authorities, leaving more bodies in his wake. Towards the latter chapters, Cunanan was living right under the noses of the FBI, his face plastered across their Ten Most Wanted, but was not fingered or captured for months. Things culminated for Andrew Cunanan when he murdered Gianni Versace, famous fashion designer, by shooting him in the head. Orth remembers reporting on their first meeting back in 1990, though the authorities could not find any long-term connection the two men shared. It would appear that Cunanan knew his days were up and the bumbling manhunt might eventually catch him, so he turned a gun on himself, committing suicide after a bloody trail of victims lay at the feet of authorities. Without a strong motive, other than to stay one step ahead of the law, Andrew Cunanan etched his way into the history books as a horrific spree killer whose final victim likely catapulted him to infamy. An interesting read that helped lay the groundwork for a detailed analysis of the Versace murder, Orth uses her great investigative techniques to portray a man who wanted it all but ended up with nothing. Recommenced to those who like true crime, particularly when it has been turned into a television sensation.

Maureen Orth was a senior writer for Vanity Fair and has a long history of investigative journalism, which she ensures is known early in the story she presents. The detail she injects into this piece is truly fascinating and disturbing, most of all because the reader is left to feel they are living the life and can almost sense Andrew Cunanan’s presence. Orth offers up long narratives about the life and times of Cunanan, from an early age until he became the obsessed young man who wanted nothing more than to be seen as a celebrity. However, as Orth persuasively argues, his ability to alienate those around him is a major red flag in a short life of racing to be at the top of society’s ever-changing mountaintop. Orth goes into great detail about Cunanan’s immersion in the homosexual lifestyle, particularly in San Diego and Minnesota, while also exploring how drug use fuelled the life. There will be some readers who may shy away from this, as it can get quite intense, but Orth’s detail drives home the argument that Cunanan was deeply involved and would not be able to extricate himself with any ease. Orth also uses many interviews to develop her fine-tuned narrative, following the discussion where things took her and leaves the reader wanting to know more about this man who never seemed to fit into where he found himself. The spree killings are handled with as much depth as possible, though I was left wondering if Orth was as baffled as the authrorities, trying to piece together the details as Cunanan bounced across the country, fleeing those who sought to lock him into their crosshairs. As the title suggests, it was a bungled affair and one that Orth could not have crafted in her mind. How the chase to locate and arrest Cunanan could have gone so wrong will baffle the reader though, in an odd twist, Andrew Cunanan got the notoriety he sought when media caught up to the story and Versace was eventually found dead. What a mess in this intense story of life, sex, drugs, and the search for stardom.

Kudos, Madam Orth, for such an intense read. I knew little about anything you had to tell, so I was fully enthralled and will likely check out the television interpretation of this book in short order.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

House Arrest (Joe DeMarco #13), by Mike Lawson

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Mike Lawson, and Grove Atlantic for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

In a well-paced political thriller series, Mike Lawson has been able to develop his Joe DeMarco character quite effectively. This latest instalment of the series takes readers on a journey in which DeMarco may be in the middle of the excitement, but plays little role in its overall resolution. When a Republican congressman is gunned down in his office, the FBI swoops in to take control of the situation in short order. During routine preliminary interviews, Joe DeMarco offers up an alibi that appears solid, but has been completely fabricated for no known reason. An anonymous tip sends the Feds to DeMarco’s office, where they find a great deal of forensic evidence that points to DeMarco. He is detained and it would seem as though this is an open and shut case. However, DeMarco’s boss, current House Minority Leader John Maloney, is sure that someone is framing DeMarco to cover their tracks and pushes to have some of his contacts work diligently to uncover the truth. While DeMarco is in prison awaiting trial, he is targeted by a hardcore Mexican gang who seek to eliminate him. With no rational reason for this, it may be part of a larger scheme. Meanwhile, a powerful businessman stands in the shadows, saying little, but pulling strings in such a way that no one can tie anything to him. With the mid-term elections on the horizon, DeMarco’s fate hangs in the balance, if he can live long enough to see it through, forcing Maloney to pull out all the stops at arm’s length to get his fixer from being eliminated. Another great novel by Lawson that entertains series fans as much as those just discovering the author. Recommended to those who have journeyed along with Joe DeMarco from the start, though this novel could attract many one-off fans, as it works as a standalone.

I always await the latest releases by Lawson, as they fit nicely into my reading schedule and can usually be devoured in short order. The mix of politics and a mystery with limited time for resolution always has me enjoying the story and much of the development throughout. Joe DeMarco has evolved a great deal through the process, though the series fan will see that he is coming to the end of his illustrious career, not entirely because of his lack of usefulness. Working on vague and undisclosed projects for his boss, DeMarco has been able to keep a low profile and work effectively. His development throughout the series is shown in this novel with crumbs of backstory tossed around, as well as some personal angst as he awaits someone else to save him, a concept unknown to the ‘fixer’. The other key characters help propel the story forward, making their regular appearances within the narrative. The shift away from being helpers in the cause to the solution to DeMarco’s woes is an interesting twist and adds new layers to the story. The overall presentation is fast-paced and keeps the reader wondering how the cat and mouse game will work, with the killer’s identity fairly certain from the get-go. However, it is the pulling together of pieces and the results of the election that could truly shape the book progress and impact any further novels in the series. Lawson has delivered a dandy here, not to be missed by those who have followed DeMarco from the beginning all those years ago!

Kudos, Mr. Lawson, for another great story. I am eager to see how you will take that ending and make it work moving forward.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Mind Games, by William Deverell

Seven stars

Returning to another William Deverell novel early in my 2019 Reading Challenge, I turned to one that has been collecting virtual dust for a while. Deverell’s novels can be hit or miss, depending on the reader’s engagement with the characters and story. In this piece, Dr. Timothy Dare finds himself visiting fellow psychiatrist Dr. Allison Epstein, filled with a number of issues that could use the detached analysis of an established therapist. Dare brings these issues to the therapeutic couch, including an impending hearing on professional conduct, a patient who is likely a serial killer, and Dare’s own relationship struggles. Throughout the novel, Epstein opens each chapter with some session notes and excerpts from the conversation before the narrative switches to Dare recounting, in detail, the happenings that fuel the discussion. The reader can see the ongoing struggles that Dare has with his fiancée and how an attractive patient plays on this, soon pushing him to the brink and turning a spurned seduction of her therapist into Dare having used his power to persuade her into a tryst. At the same time, Dare and Epstein appear to be forging a platonic bond, one that could have troubling fallout the further things spin out of control for the beleaguered Dr. Dare. As the intensity ramps up, the reader is subjected to many troubling revelations in a story whose ending builds in intensity. Deverell does well with this piece, whose mind games are plentiful, for reader and character alike!

I have come to realise that when I begin something by William Deverell, I am never sure where it will take me, or if I will find myself committed to the cause. This novel steers away from legal matters, for the most part, keeping those readers who revel in Deverell’s masterful presentation of Canadian law from becoming too excited. Rather, focus remains with Drs. Dare and Epstein, both sifting through the detritus of the former’s life choices. Dare bears all and shows the writer that his life is anything but smooth sailing, learning much in therapy as he tries to glue the pieces back together. Epstein appears to be the bystander, forced to sit through her patient’s narcissism as he deflects many of his poor life choices. Some of the other characters who grace the pages serve as narrative vessels to push the story along, much needed in this psychological piece that has some coming of age alongside self-discovery. Deverell does well trying to weave a patchwork of ideas and vignettes together to create a cohesive novel, though I do wish it had been one where the courtroom was the primary setting, not a therapist’s office. Still, as with all Deverell books, the name of the game is thinking and piecing it all nicely together.

Kudos, Mr. Deverell, for your hard work and dedication to the cause. I do enjoy novels that force me to think a little, though the mind games here may have been a bit much so early in the reading year.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The Secret History of Soldiers: How Canadians Survived the Great War, by Tim Cook

Eight stars

Beginning a new year of reading, I wanted to launch into some non-fiction that had a certain Canadian flavour. Turning to Tim Cook, I suspected that his book about Canadian soldiers in the Great War might be a great place to get started. Rather than discuss those topics about Canadians in Europe that fill the history books, Cook looks to explore some of the lesser known—or written about—aspects of Canadians fighting abroad. It goes without saying that Cook had to address to role Canadians played in the Great War, including trying to individualise themselves from the larger British contingent. Canadians were fighting for the King as well, though Cook explores in early parts of the book that this group sought not only to distinguish themselves from the British and other Commonwealth countries, but that the different groups within the Canadian contingent had their own autonomy. In a country as varied as Canada, this created quite a cross-section of those armed and sent overseas. From there, Cook looks to some of the poems and songs that kept Canadians busy. Both those penned by Canadians and found referred to in letters back home, Cook discovers the bawdy nature of both forms of art that kept Canadian soldiers sane, while they missed their loved ones. Cook also looks at some of the interesting art that Canadian soldiers sent home, formed from shells and casings they discovered, as well as pictures painted on the fronts across Europe. Cook makes much of the time and effort spent perfecting these pieces, which served as a reminder of the war for those who made it back to Canada, and a somber recollection for families of those who were slain. While Canadians may be known for their friendly nature, Cook takes it to a new level when discussing the propensity for Canadians to seek sexual relief from the French and Belgian women who took it upon themselves to offer places to stay when on leave. If that did not work, prostitutes were plentiful. Cook explores some of the lovely diseases that scattered camps, as well as the unique ways soldiers were forced to explain docked pay to family back home. While the Great War was certainly horrid in some aspects, comedy troupes sought to make it a little more bearable, which Cook discusses towards the end of the book. Comedy and its levity helped soldiers forget the pains of injury, death, and the devastation of sanctioned killing. Cook provides the reader with some great insight into how Canadian soldiers bided their time as they waited to attack Germans again, when pushed back to the front. He closes with a poignant section discussing how society—both in Canada and around the world—has come to see the Great War as futile, particularly in the shadow of the Second World War. However, those Canadians who fought tried their best not to be swept under the rug and to hold firm that their participation did mean something and those who lost their lives did not do so in vain. A stellar piece of writing for the curious reader, Tim Cook shows readers some of the lighter and lesser known aspects of the Canadian soldier, as discovered by stories and letters sent back to Canada. Recommended for those who like war history, though are not overly focussed on the politics and gore of it all.

I discovered Tim Cook when watching Remembrance Day ceremonies from Ottawa last November, which marked a century since the end of the Great War. Cook spoke of his past work and recently released book on Canadians in the Great War, which left me wondering if I could get my hands on the piece for my own reading pleasure. The book, whose narrative is a patchwork of tales extracted from letters and journals Canadian soldiers wrote, offers the reader a wonderful history that is not documented as readily in books about World War I. The reader is taken down many interesting foxholes and able to see the Canadian perspective of the war, particularly the soldiers’ mindsets when they are not in the middle of the fight. This less gruesome approach helps offer some insights into the moral and intellectual mindset of Canadian soldiers, with less of the gore present throughout the descriptions. Filled with wonderful vignettes and comedic accounts of how soldiers spent their time, Cook provides the reader with an easily digestible piece that does not go into the minutiae that can easily alienate the curious reader who is but an amateur history buff. I’d highly recommend the piece to anyone who wants to learn, but not be subjected to a great deal of discussion on the gore that the Great War is known to have brought to young and inexperienced soldiers. A century after the battles ended in the war that was supposed to end all future battles, Cook is able to bring it all to life with his stories and humourous asides.

Kudos, Mr. Cook, for a great piece. I see you have a number of other war-time pieces that I will have to explore in the months to come.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: