Grand Inquests: The Historic Impeachments of Justice Samuel Chase and President Andrew Johnson, by William H. Rehnquist

Nine stars

At a time when ‘impeachment’ is as much a buzzword as ‘the wall’, I have taken time to explore the former topic through a detailed, academic lens. The idea of a constitutionally-entrenched means of removing certain figures in the American political system is not new by any means. There have been many impeachment trials—and even some successes—though they receive little fanfare in the history textbooks. Former (and late) Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court (USSC), William Rehnquist, offers up a historic look at two significant impeachment trials of the 19th century, those of USSC Justice Samuel Chase and President of the United States Andrew Johnson. Rehnquist seeks not to offer a legal analysis of the rights and wrongs done in these trials, but to provide a thorough context that led up to events, the House debates over Articles of Impeachment, and the Senate trial.

In exploring the Chase impeachment, Rehnquist offers the reader a thorough backstory about the legal decisions that led House members to consider him unfit to serve on the High Court. These included refusal to hear witnesses in certain cases or lack of proper instruction to a grand jury in another case. Interestingly enough, Rehnquist points out that none of these actions took place when Chase was on the USSC, but rather in the years when he served in lower courts. The Articles were presented by a vindictive House and taken to the Senate, in hopes of a quick conviction. Many of the Articles were highly legalistic, perhaps losing their impact on the non-legal minded senators who sat as the congressional jury. Rehnquist shows in detail how the evidence was presented and what arguments were used to sway senators, before the voting began. With the severity of the act, a super-majority of two-thirds would be needed to convict, something that did not occur. There were, however, significant divisions within the American political system in the lead-up to the trial, which only deepened in its aftermath.

Shaken, but not toppled, the American state moved forward from the Chase Impeachment and into the ravages of slavery and how that tore apart the fabric of the country. Rehnquist offers a brilliant exploration of how the country used its constitutional foundation to either justify or deny the right of slavery in the country, which fuelled divisiveness in a country that was just shedding the mantle of infancy. With drums of conflict beating in the background—and soon in the foreground—the country elected Abraham Lincoln to guide them, though the selection was highly divisive across the regions. By the end of the US Civil War, the country was strongly divided and literally bloodied, only made worse when its so-called unifier was assassinated shortly after the formal truce had been signed. With Lincoln gone, it was Andrew Johnson who took over the reins of power, which led to years of conflict as the US Congress tried to right itself with legislation seeking to reconstruct the country under this new acceptance of all being equal and slavery being abolished. As Rehnquist explores through historical documentation, Johnson did little to assuage the climate of hostility, fanning flames and trying to assert his right to rule in his own way. Firing Cabinet officials and replacing them without seeking Senate consent—something enshrined in the Tenure of Office Act—while also developing his own form of reconstruction that contradicted much of the legislative plans enacted by Congress. Rehnquist explores how these clashes led House Republicans to begin drafting Articles of Impeachment, eleven in all. When they were approved, the case went to the Senate to be adjudicated. The impeachment trial proved a political spectacle that saw many of the divisions within the newly reassembled United States exacerbated. When the voting began, Johnson was saved from impeachment by a single vote, though only a few of the Articles were ever voted upon, leaving many others to wither away before the trial was closed.

I had heard much about Rehnquist’s book when reading the more recent academic discussions surrounding impeachment, but had never taken the time to read it. As I mentioned before, the book seeks not to analyse impeachment from a legal standpoint—though, who greater to offer a detailed analysis than the more senior juror in the United States at the time?—but rather a historic snapshot of events that actually took place. Rehnquist spends much time offering actual excerpts from newspaper headlines, articles, debates on the floor of the House of Representatives, as well as transcripts from the formal impeachment trials of both men. The reader is permitted to view some of the strongly worded arguments surrounding the Articles of Impeachment, as well as a little more of the context that would offer a well-grounded understanding of events and circumstances. Of note, Rehnquist does mention that both impeachments of which he writes were brought about my legislatures with a majority of members from the opposing party. This is not to say that impeachment is solely a political weapon, but the impetus to bring it about sometimes requires partisanship. Even in modern American politics, while many can see that the current president is paving the way to his ouster, a Republican House of Representatives did not act and the current (at time of this review) GOP majority in the Senate would not take the bold move and remove their renegade party leader. Penned and published seven years before Rehnquist would have to sit as figurehead arbiter of a presidential impeachment, many have said that this book helped substantiate the author’s knowledge of the nuances of impeachment proceedings. What I find most refreshing is that the text is written in such a way that the layperson can grasp and synthesise the concepts and that it is not a tome dripping with academic analysis that only the scholarly might enjoy. Impeachment has long been discussed and does occur more regularly than a few sitting presidents over the years, something that Rehnquist does hint at throughout. But it is nice to see factual presentation rather than overly partisan and esoteric verbiage to explore one of the more exciting parts of the American constitutional rule book. We shall see if impeachment remains a buzzword for the American public over the next little while. One thing’s for sure… doing so would not cost the American public upwards of $6 billion and likely lead to a shutdown. But… I digress!

Kudos, Chief Justice Rehnquist, for this masterful piece of work. While I admit to not agreeing with much of your sentiments during your time on the bench, I could not be happier with this piece of historical analysis.

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

The Wall, by Joseph Hayes

Seven stars

In his recent publication, Joseph Hayes touches on some current hot-button topics, sure to stir the pot. The wall erected along the southern border of the United States is supposed to quell illegal immigration, but has served more as a means of challenging those who seek a better life in America. Sal Rios and his father learned that as they trekked from Mexico over the border one night, as the novel opens. With dangers all around them on both sides, the Rios family snuck through and set-up in a Texas town, hoping for the best. While Sal is trying to acclimate, he meets Bobby Rivera and Miguel Sanchez, two other boys his age. Bobby is the brains of the operation, able to score high marks in school and the son to two visa-carrying parents in the medical field. Miguel has been forced to scrounge just to make ends meet, seen more as a independent teen, with a single mom trying to juggle all the responsibilities. These three boys soon prove to be inseparable, making a name for themselves around school and getting into trouble. Sal’s father may not be the naive illegal immigrant that he wants people to believe, as the boys find out one night when they notice him ‘conducting business’. However, it is an accident that sees Miguel die and Sal take over his life, all planned through some of the businessmen that control the immigrant population in this rural Texas community. Move ahead twenty years, where the new “Michael ‘Miguel’ Sanchez” has become a prominent lawyer fighting for the rights of immigrants. After a headline-grabbing decision at the US Supreme Court, Sanchez is riding the wave of popularity. With it, comes the politicos, wondering if he might put his name forward for office. While bandying around the idea of a Senate run, someone insists that his independent candidacy for President of the United States might be just what the country needs to focus on immigration issues, particularly those of the illegal variety around the Mexican border. While Sanchez is weighing his options, Bobby Rivera has been living a simple life, though is impressed to see that someone is making noise about immigration issues. With a good job and ties to the community, Rivera watches as this new face on the political scene seems to be rising in popularity at just the right time. However, Bobby knows the dark secret that could bring the Sanchez Campaign down. With a plan to see Sanchez align himself with one of the mainstream campaigns as a VP candidate, his political future seems firmly controlled by others, forcing him to remain quiet. As Bobby tries to help his friend dodge those mean him harm, he becomes entangled in a situation that could have dire consequences ahead of this important presidential election. A well-crafted piece whose political intrigue held strong for most of the novel, but waned in the last handful of chapters.

I noticed this book on the Kindle Unlimited website and knew that I would have to give it my best effort. While I have never read anything by Joseph Hayes, there was a certain poignancy to this novel that I could not resist. In the early part of the story, Hayes depicts some of the stories that many Americans have likely heard about the porous nature of the US-Mexico border, though there is a great deal of danger, not a ‘welcome to America, come on in’ as certain blowhards would have us believe. While illegal immigration does occur, using steel and adding more bullets to guns will do little to solve the larger issue of illegal immigration, save for a silly stop-gap measure that ignores the root causes and only costs the taxpayer billions after being lied to throughout a political campaign. Hayes focuses his attention on the issue and uses some key characters to depict this story, through both a struggle and success. Bobby Rivera is the American-born first generation character, whose parents arrived legally and who sought a better life for their son. He has the brains to succeed and, given the chance, makes the most of his opportunities. A great contrast occurs between his youth and adulthood, where Rivera is standing on the sidelines and watching change occur. His backstory and character development are well documented throughout Hayes’ narrative, though he seems to be the unexpected spectator, with brains and persuasive capabilities one might expect of a political figure. Miguel Sanchez/Sal Rios is the wonderful rags to riches character who was forgotten in his youth and cut his teeth on getting into trouble without being caught. He appears to have risen above and earned his law degree, only to effect change in a country that needs it more than ever. Hughes shows his maturity through the twenty year flash forward in the early part of the book, allowing the reader to see a man ready to take on the political elites to advocate for much-needed policy change, though it will not be easy. However, the secret that hangs over him could bring him down at any moment. The story was developed well, keeping the reader enthralled throughout. With a little talk of immigration policy and the thrill of an election campaign, the reader should expect something exciting. However, the political campaign becomes secondary as Hayes flirts with having the narrative reveal the deep secret Miguel Sanchez has been keeping. I had hoped for something highly political with a cut-throat campaign, but perhaps Hayes will do so in another of his novels. Strong characters and a decent plot keep Joseph Hayes showing that he is an author to watch, even if the story took a turn I did not expect to become primary.

Kudos, Mr. Hayes, for a great story that has strong themes that are quite relevant. I look forward to reading more of your work in the coming months.

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

Petals on the Wind (Dollanganger #2), by V.C. Andrews

Eight stars

After a memorable first novel in the series, I found myself wanting to know more about these Dollangangers, particularly after they escaped their prison-like situation in the attic. Fuelled with anger, determination, and hopes of rectifying all the wrongs done to them by a sadistic grandmother and a greedy mother, the children flee for safer environs as they plot their revenge. After escaping from the attic, Chris, Cathy, and Carrie find themselves heading South, in hopes of making it to Florida. However, a medical emergency stops their progress, as Carrie is showing signs of something. Locating Dr. Paul Sheffield, they soon learn the extent to the remaining twin’s illness, which can be directly traced back to their captors. With nowhere to go, the children tell their story to Paul, who takes them in and shares his own truths. He is a widower and lost a son years ago, but would gladly help support and protect these three. As the story progresses, all three have their lives changed with proper education and strive for their dreams. Chris speeds through school and attends college before entering medical school, Cathy is able to study ballet at one of the great schools in the region before moving to New York to pursue her passion full-time, while Carrie stays close to home and develops a strong connection with her new father. However, the problems that wove their way into the children’s lives during their imprisonment cannot be completely forgotten or rectified. Chris and Cathy still have that connection to one another, seeing themselves not only as the two older siblings, but passionately involved as they came to understand love on a deeper level, which led to exploring it with each other. Cathy now finds herself also drawn to Paul, who offers her the world and himself, if only she will submit to his sexual advances. Cathy’s love life is also hampered when her dance partner—Julian, a regular Casanova—explains that they ought to be together to enable the best chemistry possible. In a fit of confusion, Cathy chooses Julian and enters into a dictatorial relationship, all while still trying to be a dancer. Carrie, on the other hand, is trying to fit in, having been incapacitated by a small stature and poor development. She is mocked at school, finding solace only in the loving arms of Paul, who again blurs some of the parent/adult lines. While Carrie is determined that she will love only him forever more, their relationship does not enter the sexual realm. As Chris continues his studies, he is determined that he and his closest sister belong together, particularly when he can protect her from the evils of the world. Even as Cathy admits that she is pregnant, Chris seeks to forget the abusive husband she left in her past and will make the most of ensuring this baby has all it needs to survive. With revenge still on their minds, Chris, Cathy, and Carrie plot to find their beloved mother and grandmother, vowing to bring them what they have coming, no matter what it takes. As V.C. Andrews pushes the envelope even further, it becomes clear that scandal and non-traditional love will be a major theme as the series continues. While I am not sure I can recommend the series to any particular group, those readers with an open mind may find something interesting in the layers of scandal that occur throughout.

While the opening novel in the series, Flowers in the Attic, was one I recently read for a reading challenge (see below), I found myself curious to see how the story would continue. Able to justify my curiosity by also being able to use this book for another topic in the same challenge, I thought I might as well dip my toe into the water just a little more to see what those Dollangangers were doing and how revenge might be accomplished. I will admit that with Cathy in the spot of narrator, she presents as the primary protagonist in this piece. Her character development is ongoing and quite thorough, particularly as the reader receives insights into her thoughts and feelings. I will be the first to admit that even with an open mind, it is hard to sit idly by while reading and learn of her lust for a brother (Chris), a surrogate father (Paul), and a lover/eventual husband (Julian) without cringing. Andrews weaves many of these sexual relationships together and Cathy justifies them all as having been emotionally and physically starved while locked in the attic. What might shock readers most is that there is but minuscule hesitation when entering these sexual encounters, as if life in the attic allows one to ignore the red flags. A deny this, as it has become clear that Cathy uses sex and allure as a weapon, even if she seeks it as a crutch. Chris and Carrie receive decent storylines as well, as they age throughout the book, though they seem more focussed on personal and professional progress throughout (save Chris’ ongoing flirtation and physical encounters with his sister). Andrews will surely have to toss some more controversy around amongst these other children, as well as with the new children who emerge in the latter portion of the story, to ‘spread the soil’, if I may borrow a loose metaphor from the first two books. The plot is surely not stellar, but one cannot expect miracles in something labelled ‘young adult horror’. Still, like a car wreck, it is sometimes hard to turn away as I wonder what the hell V.C. Andrews will do next. I am no Freud, so I choose not to analyse her writing for signs of anything buried in her psyche, but this is surely not a normal series, which has caused a great deal of controversy over the years. Thankfully, the sex is not too gratuitous and the narrative seems to flow well, though I won’t be putting it forward for any literary awards, even all these years later. Books like this show how far authors can go while still garnering the interest of the reader. I will admit to being curious about where things will go, like a bad guilty pleasure. I will be the first to admit that I am not sticking around simply to read about salacious sibling sexual seduction! How’s that for alliteration?

Kudos, Madam Andrews, for an ever-intriguing story that has me scratching my head. I can see where the buzz came from and can only imagine what teenagers would say nowadays if they got their hands on this series.

This book fulfils Topic #4:Made You Blush in the Equinox #6 Reading Challenge.

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

Lamb to the Slaughter: A Short Story, by Roald Dahl

Eight stars

In a short story that was at first rejected by his publishers, Roald Dahl mixes dark humour with some irony to create a masterful tale. Mary Maloney is a dutiful wife, always happy to see her husband, Patrick, when he gets home from work. When he arrives one Thursday he seems out of sorts. When, after much prodding, he reveals that he wants to end their marriage, Mary appears outwardly calm, but is boiling inside. Not only does this news shock her, but it also means that they won’t be going out for their weekly meal. While Patrick stares out the window, Mary slams a frozen leg of lamb against the back of his head. After putting the lamb on to cook and making her way to the grocery store, Mary returns and alerts the authorities of finding her husband’s body. With police detectives rushing over, they begin to look for clues that might help them solve this crime. All the while, Mary stays quiet, watching the chaos and minding the oven. A wonderful piece of writing that can be read in a few minutes, Dahl shows why he is top of his genre. Recommended to all those who love a little murder and irony over a cuppa!

I have long enjoyed the work of Roald Dahl, no matter what the topic. His ability to entertain the reader knows no boundaries and the ideas that appear in his stories seem endless. While a short piece, Dahl is able to capture the reader’s attention in the opening sentences, focussing attention on Mary Maloney and her duties as a wife (of the time). As she waits for her husband, she can see that there is something wrong, though has yet to put her finger on the source. While there is no time for backstory or real character development, Dahl does give the reader some insight with her actions as they relate to the murder of her husband. While others grace the pages of this story, there is little the reader gleans from them, keeping all the attention on the protagonist. Dahl weaves this short story together effectively, including the police procedural aspect to this brief piece of writing. Irony flows through the dialogue and the brief narrative, keeping the reader wondering where things will go and how Dahl will tie them off. Brilliantly executed, to say the least!

Kudos, Mr. Dahl, for a sensational piece. I am so very glad to have been steered in the direction of a free publication. My Dahl reading continues!

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

Gone by Midnight (Crimson Lake #3), by Candice Fox

Eight stars

Candice Fox takes readers back to the Crimson Lake region of Australia for a new and exciting adventure. When Richie Farrow disappears from his hotel room, his mother is frantic and cannot handle the pressure and grief that are flooding over her. Reaching out to Ted Conkaffey, through the police, she seeks his assistance as a private investigator to help determine what’s happened. Ted, still leery of showing his face in general public, tries to set aside the false accusation of child abduction and molestation recently vacated against him and turns to helping find this eight year-old boy. With the help of his partner, unpredictable Amanda Pharrell, they start poking around the hotel and environs for clues. Once Ted learns a deep secret that Sara Farrow has kept from others—which also happens to shed light on why she chose him—he is able to take a new approach to the disappearance and seeks to have Amanda use her off-the-wall antics to look under every rock. However, Amanda has her own battles to fight with those in blue. Not only is she burdened with a murder in her past, but she was tangentially involved in a local cop’s death not too long before. Fighting to clear her name and move the case forward, Amanda soon discovers that she is in for the battle of her life. If things were not busy enough, Ted is finally being given some time with his daughter, Lillian, a ball of energy at three. As he balances being a father and investigator, Ted must locate Richie and determine what’s happened, with little evidence with which to work. Could there be an abductor lurking in the shadows or even in plain sight? Fox does a masterful job yet again to lure the reader into this story before loading them up with plot twists and character development. Recommended for series fans, as well as those who love a good Aussie crime thriller.

I have long admired the work that Candice Fox puts into her writing, as it is high-calibre story development worthy of a second look. This series is one that caught my eye as soon as it began, with two outcasts finding one another in rural Australia and trying to clear their names by helping with local situations. There is no shortage of backstory or development that Fox offers when it comes to her two protagonists, both of whom are admirable and angering in equal measure. Series fans will know that Ted Conkaffey was forced out of his job by a false accusation of child abduction, something that has lingered for years and kept him from being able to keep his foundation level. He fled the reporters and the glamour of the 24-hour news cycle to small-town Australia and still remains off the beaten path with his animals. Fox helps show his paternal side when Lillian comes to visit, though there is much juggling and trying to re-learn the art of being a father. With a sharp mind and acute sense of danger, Conkaffey seeks to focus much of his attention on the crime at hand, which leads to mixed results for him throughout this piece. Amanda Pharrell has no issue being herself, though she remains burdened with the yoke of her past, as well as a set of false accusations tied to a police officer’s death. She wants to succeed, but refuses to let anyone inside her bubble, including the adorable Lillian. Struggling and trying to fight for justice, Amanda will do all she can to help find Richie, but won’t stick her neck out too far for anyone else. Others who populate the pages of this story offer enriching angles to propel the narrative forward, while keeping the protagonists from getting too comfortable in their own skins. The story was well-developed and is able to keep the reader’s attention, something that Fox has never had an issue doing. She has developed an interesting trademark in this series, creating nameless and numberless chapters, forcing the reader to forge onwards without any strict guidelines as to how far they have traveled on the journey. It works well, as it fuels the ‘just a little more’ syndrome with readers who are enjoying what is before them, turning a quite coffee break into an afternoon of reading. Fox provides realistic settings and local dialogue to keep the reader enthralled as they feel a part of the Australian community, tagging along with the likes of Pharrell and Conkaffey. Definitely a series that readers curious about police procedurals should note, as Fox seems well-grounded in her writing and story development no matter what series she is writing.

Kudos, Madam Fox, for another success. I am eager to see what is to come with this and other series in which you have a key role.

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

Flowers in the Attic (Dollanganger #1), by V.C. Andrews

Eight stars

With the novel that put V.C. Andrews on the map—and set the book-reading world aflutter—this piece seeks to explore the darkest and most seedy side of familial interactions and the extend to which blood can blind when placed in front of an extreme moral code. The Dollanganger family are living a wonderful life, two loving parents and four well-behaved children—Chris, Cathy, Cory, and Carrie. When news comes that the patriarch has died in a fiery crash, changes must be made. A slew of letters go out, seeking assistance, though the replies are slow. When Mother receives word from her own parents that she and the children may come to Virginia, the entire Dollanganger brood are overjoyed. However, there are certain stipulations. As Mother was tossed out of her childhood home and disinherited, she must hide the children away until she can convince her father to write her back into the will. And, he knows nothing of the children and can never be made aware. With all four children baffled about these strict rules, they are forced to accept that their mother knows best. Upon arriving at this old mansion, the children are introduced to their grandmother, who is as steely as she was made out to be. The children are locked in a room on the upper floor, forced to remain quiet, so as not to make their presence known to anyone. Receiving food once a day, these children must follow a regimen that includes highly moralistic rules and strong biblical teachings. The one night they are to be stashed away becomes a week, a month, and then more than a year. Chris and Cathy mature into young adulthood and become the surrogate parents to their younger twins. Trying to find a way out, they discover that this prison is one worse than they could have imagined. With the wickedness only increasing and their mother beginning to plot out her own life, winning her parents over after a scandalous union that saw her banished fifteen years ago, these children learn that they will have to fend for themselves. Hormones coursing through them and blood boiling at the deception they faced, it is time to take action, or remain wilting flowers in this gloomy attic forever. Chilling and graphic at times, Andrews has me hooked and wanting to know more. Recommended to the reader who has heard all about these pieces or remembers them from when they were released, but likely not a good book for readers who cannot stomach some odd inter-familial behaviours.

I knew little of the book before I began reading it, save that V.C. Andrews presented a high-impact incestuous storyline throughout. However, as scandalous as it sounds, the reader may better understand this underlying thread once they are able to explore the novel and series a little deeper. The characters come to life on the page, particularly the narration through the eyes of Cathy. As the surrogate mother, the reader is able to see her enter a forced maturity, from the apple of her father’s eye to fending for herself while protecting her younger siblings. Chris has the same maturation, though he presents as a little more standoffish before an intoxication with power, which some readers may justify while others condemn strongly. Other strong and supporting characters help fuel the cruel undertone of the piece, including The Grandmother and the children’s mother herself, giving the reader a sobering look at the extent to which some will exact their own moralistic code in order to keep some in line. Other readers may see an ongoing vapidity in these two, out of touch with what children need to foster strong and healthy characters. The story was surely disturbing on many levels, though I cannot see the extreme scandal in today’s more open-mined society as would have been present in the late 1970s and early 80s. Surely, as the book is deemed “Young Adult Horror”, those who read the book at the time have grown, as I have, to better understand some of the literary and societal nuances not grasped at the time. Not to say that this is condoned behaviour, taken out of context. I would like to read the rest of the series to see what is to come… but must wrestle with my TBR pile in order to give it the time it deserves.

Kudos, Madam Andrews, for a fabulous and surely memorable opening novel in this series. I will return to see how these flowers grow and what blossoms emerge.

This book fulfils Topic #2:Remember… in the Equinox #6 Reading Challenge.

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

The Last Woman in the Forest, by Diane Les Becquets

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Diane Les Becquets, and Berkley Publishing Group for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Diane Les Becquets presents readers with an interesting thriller that straddles two timelines to potentially track a serial killer’s path. Marian Engström loves working with tracking dogs and has been employed on a number of sites to locate movement patters of a number of animals. While on a site in Northern Alberta, Marian meets Tate, one of the coordinators. Their connection is strong and they grow closer at a rapid pace. During one of their post-coital chats, Tate reveals that he’s seen a dead body while on the job, one of the victims of the Stillwater Killer, a serial murderer who has been targeting women across the western United States. In a flash forward segment, Marian approaches one of the long-time investigators of the Stillwater Killer, Nick Shepard, to reveal this information. In a constant flip-flop between the present day and months ago, the reader discovers the ongoing closeness that Marian and Tate find, as well as the current investigations that Nick uncovers as he pokes around this Tate revelation. What follows is a series of coincidences that neither Marian and Nick can ignore, especially as they relate to Tate’s whereabouts during four concentrated killings over the past few years. When Nick delivers some of his chilling news, Marian can only wonder if she really knew the man she came to love and what her role might have been in the larger web Tate wove for himself. A chilling tale that keeps the reader wondering until the pieces all begin to fit together. A decent read, recommended to those who like criminal thrillers with a nature flavouring.

Having never read Diane Les Becquets before, I was not sure what I might expect, though the dustcover blurb did pull me in quickly. The premise of the story worked for me and I felt a strong connection to the characters throughout. Marian proves to be an interesting protagonist, whose passion for dogs and nature seeps from her in many ways. The reader is able to learn much about her through the actions she takes in camp and the conversations she has with others. That she has struggled of late is not lost on the attentive reader, though there is much to be said for her passion to do right by those around her, human and canine alike. Others within the story offer interesting flavours, particularly Tate and Nick, pushing the story in interesting directions to keep the reader wondering what is going on. I can only surmise that Les Becquets was trying to offer up an eerie sentiment with her writing, which succeeded as she spun a wonderful tale for all to discover. While the story was strong, it seemed somewhat disordered. I understand the concept of flashbacks and revelations, but there seemed a jilted ‘ping-pong’ effect, bouncing the reader through trying to keep information straight. I found it somewhat confusing to continue the flip-flop, especially as the revelations could have been revealed in ‘real time’ and then a few small remembrances used to refresh the reader’s memory. Les Becquets does offer something interesting when speaking of the stories related to the murder victims, drawn loosely on some of her own experiences. While the preface was the tale of one such young woman, there are summary chapters to give the reader a better understanding of how the other women met their demise and what choices they might have made. Quite effective on the writer’s part and it keeps the reader connected throughout. A decent piece whose only downfall is what I felt to be a lack of smoothness in its narrative delivery based on chronology.

Kudos, Madam Les Becquets, for your great piece that really gets to the core of a chilling tale. I would like to try some more of your work to see if it is as intriguing.

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

The Woman in the Window, by A. J. Finn

Eight stars

A.J. Finn’s debut novel has all the ingredients of an excellent thriller that will keep the reader thinking well into the night, as well as pulling the blinds closed when neighbours are around. Dr. Anna Fox was a well-established child psychologist in New York City before an accident drastically changed her life. Now, Anna suffers from agoraphobia and will not leave her home. Surrounded by her countless bottles of wine and old movies, Anna communicates mostly by phone or through her computer. Even her husband and daughter have left her, forcing Anna to rely on the few people who come to visit. When not busy with her online interactions, Anna peers out her window to people watch, enjoying all that she can notice discretely. This is made especially interesting when new neighbours, the Russells, move in across the park. When gazing through her camera one day, Anna is sure she sees her neighbour, Jane, murdered. Frantic to stop the act, Anna exits her home and is found later by police, passed out in the park. When Anna comes to, she recounts what she’s seen, but is baffled when she learns that ‘Jane Russell’ is a completely different woman and that she is still very much alive. As the cops dig deeper, they discover more about Anna’s life and things do not add up. Who did Anna see through the blinds and what is going on? Trapped inside her own home, Anna is forced to reflect on what she saw and how to convince those who have written her off as delusional. With time running out, Anna must make her move, while still faced with being petrified to leave her home. Finn has concocted a wonderful story and thrilling narrative. Recommended for those who like a great psychological thriller.

A friend recommended that I read this book, feeling that I might enjoy all the twists and turns. Finn surely does embed them into his story with ease, while developing his characters effectively. Anna Fox serves as a strong protagonist, one who is not only trapped in her own home, but also her mind. As Anna sifts through all that has happened to her, there is no doubt that there is a degree of imagination, fuelled by a lack of social interaction, but how much? Away from her family and self-medicating quite effectively—with both alcohol and pills—there is sure to be an ever-changing line about what is going on. It is the attentive reader who will discover some of the truths and fallacies in the narrative. Other characters complement the story effectively, allowing the reader to bask in their intricacies and envelop themselves in a great mystery. As the story progresses, the reader is left to parse through what is real and how much is a figment of an overactive imagination. The story flows well and keeps the reader transfixed for much of the novel’s progress. That this is Finn’s debut publication makes it all the most refreshing to read, knowing that the writing and plot developments will only get better over time. With rumours of a film to come, I will be interested to see how the book translates onto the big screen.

Kudos, Mr. Finn, for a fabulous debut novel. I can only hope that there will be future novels to come at this high caliber.

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

The Money Trap (Mason & Sterling Thrillers #1.5), by David Beckler

Eight stars

David Beckler develops the first of his two protagonist in this prequel novella of the Mason & Sterling Thriller series. Byron Mason has been trying to get his security company up and running, though has run into a few snags. These including significant financial issues, forcing Mason to turn to one of his lenders. He learns that the man likes to play hardball and holds some of the iffy press that has been coming in as indicative of larger issues. As Mason tries to handle those he employs, he learns that one in particular might be more a liability than he can accept, firing him after an altercation. Refusing to leap through too many hoops, Mason angers many around him, though he knows that he will not be able to ignore those with the funds he needs to stay afloat. When Mason is involved in a few sketchy situations, he wonders if he is being targeted by those who want to enact some form of vendetta. With his friend and former Royal Marine colleague, Adam Sterling, in town, Mason tries to chase down those who have him in their crosshairs. However, after Mason’s wife becomes a target, all sense of niceties fall by the wayside. An interesting piece that keeps the reader enthralled throughout and helps to develop the Byron Mason character for those who are interested. Recommended for those who like a quick-paced thriller and who may want to test the waters before delving into a full-on novel.

David Beckler offers readers a wonderful story in this one, which mixes the grit of a man trying to put his business on the map with the heroics of someone who is willing to defend himself and his family to the end. Byron Mason proves himself to be a wonderful character and whose passion for work and family come through at every turn. Beckler develops his former protagonist well in this piece, as he did with his latter character in the first novella. There is a grittiness that’s Mason shows and one can only hope that it will stick as the series develops. The story was strong and offered something for the reader to properly judge what is to come when the full-length novel is released. I admit that I am slightly baffled how this, the second novella and labelled as “#1.5” should come out before the first novel “#1”, but I leave that to Beckler and his publishers to tackle the brain cramp that is that rationality. Those who have not tried this series ought to give at least the novellas a try and they will likely soon realise that Beckler has crafted something worth time and invested effort. A wonderful piece by David Beckler, who is able to juggle all aspects of this story.

Kudos, Mr. Beckler, for another entertaining novella. I can only hope that there is more to come, dazzling readers at every turn.

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

The Gown: A Novel of the Royal Wedding, Jennifer Robson

Eight stars

Jennifer Robson appeals to those who love all things ‘British Royals’ as well as fans of historical fiction with her latest piece. How something like the wedding gown worn by Princess Elizabeth could garner so much attention may confound some, but it all becomes clear by the end of this novel. Ann Hughes is employed by Norman Hartnell , a high-end couturier that has recently been asked to make some dresses for the Royal Family. So busy is the shop that when Miriam Dassin arrives from France, her skills make her a wonderful addition to the group of embroiderers. While the group gets to know a little more about Miriam, they learn that she is quite tight-lipped about her life before coming to England, as though it is all a major secret. Soon thereafter, Hartnell is told that his shop will be making Princess Elizabeth’s wedding gown, creating a buzz amongst the embroiderers. As Ann and Miriam work, they grow closer to one another, slowly divulging secrets about their respective pasts. When not working on the gown—a top-secret project—they find themselves discovering the allure of the opposite sex. As both Miriam and Ann are young and unmarried, it only makes sense that they turn a few heads. The story tells how both women discover love amidst the backdrop of the most sought after social event of 1947. Speed ahead to Toronto in 2016, Ann’s granddaughter, Heather, makes a discover she will not soon forget. Learning that her grandmother worked on the current Queen’s wedding gown, Heather rushes to England to discover a little more, knowing little about her grandmother’s past before arriving in Canada. It is there that she learns that the famous designer, Miriam Dassin, not only knew her grandmother, but worked alongside her. As Heather makes meaningful connections in England to better understand the life her grandmother left behind, she is touched beyond belief to better understand the life Miriam lived before making it to England to work on the project of a lifetime. Uplifting and heartwarming, as well as full of historical anecdotes, Robson dazzles readers with this piece that is sure to create quite the fanfare! Recommended for those who enjoy historical fiction, as well as the reader whose interest is piqued by talk of royal events.

While I tend not to read stories with strong romantic undertones, I could not help but want to read this piece. I noticed its premise—the wedding gown to the current Queen of Canada—and could not help but wonder if the threads of historical fiction would counterbalance the amorous themes. Robson not only details the characters, but creates a persona of the gown as it is being created. Ann Hughes is a young woman whose life has centred around her sketches and ability to embroider Given this chance to work on the gown, she puts her all into it, perhaps blinded by the world around her and those seeking an early peek at this most talked about piece of fabric. Miriam Dassin has been through so much even before she graces the pages of this book, showing how her backstory helps push her into a world of excitement and secrets, all of which are slowly revealed. Heather’s revelations about her grandmother exemplify for the reader just how little was know about Ann before she arrived in Canada, leaving her family in the dark. As these three women grow in their respective storylines, the one thing tying them all together is the wedding gown, whose importance pales in comparison to the life lessons discovered, but seems to be something about which all three women can use to grow in their own way. The story proves strong and lasts, keeping the reader hooked through the various shifts in time. While there is a regal theme throughout, this does not drown out some of the other narratives that blossom as the story gets more intense. Robson has a way of keeping the narrative flowing without the need to spin the reader in circles. While this is the first piece of Jennifer Robson’s that I have read, I hope it will not be the last.

Kudos, Madam Robson, for a piece that entertained me throughout, while keeping me wondering what awaited around the next corner. You deserve all the praise you receive and I am eager to explore what else you’ve written in your career.

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