Forged in Flames (Mason & Sterling Thriller #0.5), by David Beckler

Eight stars

David Beckler introduces readers to the world of fire fighting in this prequel story in the Mason & Sterling Thriller series, though much of the focus is on the latter character. Adam Sterling works hard as a firefighter and when he is called out to a blaze, he and his team discover not only is there a woman trapped inside, but someone is trying to sabotage the rescue. Sterling sees a young man in a distinctive piece of clothing and presumes that he may be involved, but cannot catch up to him. When he is not facing infernos, Sterling is trying to come to terms with the fact that his ex is pushing her way back into his life. A call to his friend and former Royal Marine, Byron Mason, yields much support, however, Adam is in need of more than that, especially when he learns what’s going on. As he tries to locate the presumed arsonist, more fires occur, placing the same victim into harm’s way. Even when Adam turns to DS Eddy Arkwright, there is a degree of stonewalling. With many things squeezing him from all sides, Adam Sterling must do what he feels is right, even if it could cost him everything he’s worked so hard to earn over the years. An interesting introductory novella to a series that has potential. I’ll keep an eye on these characters, as there is definitely something alluring about them. Recommended for those who like a little police procedural, even when it’s a firefighter at the helm!

David Beckler offers readers a wonderful story in this one, which mixes the skills of the job with a sleuthing curiosity as well. As a protagonist, Adam Sterling does really well to lay his own groundwork and keeps things exciting for the reader. With a mix of backstory and character development, the reader can feast on all things Sterling, who is not yet forced to share much page time with Byron Mason. There is certainly enough with Sterling alone to keep a series interesting, so I am eager to watch Beckler weave both men together into a powerful situation. That is surely to come (and yes, I have read the full-length novel, which was my introduction to the series). The story was strong and offered something multi-layered that entertains as well as in intrigues the curious reader. A wonderful piece by David Beckler, who is able to juggle all aspects of this story and never leaves the reader on the wayside.

Kudos, Mr. Beckler, for an entertaining first 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: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Brotherhood (Mason & Sterling Thrillers #1), by David Beckler

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to David Beckler and Sapere Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

David Beckler takes the reader on a harrowing journey as two men try to save the life of a boy who finds himself in a world of trouble, some of his own making. When called to a local fire, Adam Sterling and his crew work diligently to put out the flames in quick order. During the process, they come across the scorched body of a teenage boy, though the scene plays out more as a body dump than a victim of the smoke and flames. Sterling’s friend and former Royal Marine, Byron Mason receives a panicked call from his nephew, begging for help. A gang of boys with whom he associates is looking for him after a punitive measure went terribly wrong. Byron drops everything to help, but soon discovers that things are even worse for Philip than first imagined. It would seem that the group accidentally killed young Liam McLaughlin, son to one of Manchester’s dirtiest gangsters. As the forensics confirm the horrible news that Liam was the one found in the fire, a search begins for answers, headed-up by DCI Siobhan Quinn. She takes her team around to interview those who may have answers, including the young boys, all of whom point to Philip. As they seek their own justice, McLaughlin has his own men looking to find Philip, hoping to exact their own form of justice. DCI Quinn tries to run things by the books, though is quick to discover that no one tends to wait for the law to solve crimes, particularly this lot. As Byron and Adam seek to save young man’s life, there is one whose life story emerges throughout the book, trained to hunt and kill. Called only ‘The Boy’, this machete-wielding fellow will ask questions later, donning steel to solve all his problems first. A wonderful piece that keeps the reader flipping through the pages to discover just how justice is doled out in Manchester, and whether those responsible will receive their needed punishments. Recommended to those who like a good thriller, peppered with police procedural aspects throughout.

David Beckler offers readers quite the ride in this piece, which seeks to mesh some police work with the politics of family honour. The protagonists throughout, Byron Mason and Adam Sterling, prove to be loyal to a fault, but take no guff from anyone. They are hard-core, attributed to their Royal Marine pasts, but full of compassion when the need arises. As Beckler offers a little backstory for them both, he also paves the way with some decent development and shows their determination, which may prove useful in any future story about the men. With a handful of interesting secondary characters, the reader is introduced to many people who colour the story in such a way that there is no choice but to follow their every move. Be it gangsters wanting retribution or detectives trying to piece a difficult case together, these folks have something to say and add depth to a fast narrative. The story was strong and the multi-layered cat and mouse game proved effective at keeping the reader’s attention. I know that there are two more pieces (novellas) to entertain the reader and can only hope they pack just as much punch. A wonderful piece by David Beckler, who is able to juggle all aspects of this story without losing any of the intensity.

Kudos, Mr. Beckler, for an entertaining first novel in this series. 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: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Team of Vipers: My 500 Extraordinary Days in the Trump White House, by Cliff Sims

Eight stars

While there have been many tell-all books about the Trump White House, many seek only to create the largest bloodbath possible. Scorning President Trump and those around him proves to be a message that sells copies and helps to rile up the reading/general public. Enter Cliff Sims, whose work on the Trump Campaign and in the White House offers an insider’s view of the man and those who surrounded him. Providing more of a velvet glove approach, Sims recounts that he was lured away from his burgeoning radio and online presence in Alabama to work on the Campaign. He helped Trump craft effective communication strategies while guiding the candidate through the various hoops, made more difficult when dealing with a mix of Trump loyalists and RNC devotees. This example introduces the first theme of the book, the splintered core group. Sims argues throughout that the collection of staffers who surrounded Trump were rarely of the same mind. Sure, there will be differences within every group, but these vastly varied views did less to provide interesting political banter and more to erode the team’s foundation, thereby helping to weaken the Trump message. Sims exemplifies this on many occasions, as different characters sought to stab others in the back or toss them to the wolves, including the likes of former Chief of Staff John Kelly, who orchestrated Sims’ ouster. The book’s title seems quite apt, as there were vipers at every turn, ready to strike. Sims also tries to argue that any relationship with Trump was less about political acumen and more a personal connection. Sims explains that Trump cared less about a person’s politics than how they treated him in general, which can be supported repeated when speaking of the interactions with Trump and former House Speak Paul Ryan. On numerous occasions, because the Speaker had a chilly personal connection to Trump, there was little respect between them when discussing political and policy issues. Both Sims and many others in the mainstream media speak of the loyalty factor demanded by Trump, which helps colour many of his interactions and better explains why there are some with whom he will not negotiate, no matter the topic. A final theme seen throughout the book comes from a metaphor Sims uses during one of his numerous vignettes, in which he describes work in the White House as being ‘more wooden than golden’. While he has few regrets about his time there, Sims repeatedly speaks of the drama and daily chaos that wore much of the lustre off ‘assistant to the President’ and left many feeling as though the position was cumbersome. The allure of Washington may seem classy to many, but time within the Trump White House can quickly remove any glory and leave a person feeling the brunt of attacks. Without tossing any one person under the bus, Sims does recount that his time there lost its pizzazz when having to dodge bullets and defend news stories, while dancing on eggshells from morning until well past dusk. What could have been magical ended up being maniacal and kept Sims from being able to flourish to his full potential. A thoroughly intriguing look inside the Trump White House, without solely recounting backstabbing of staff and the president himself, Sims saves much of his grandstanding for media and those who had sour grapes of their own. Worth a look by those with an interest in the topic, though I’d steer clear if you want POTUS evisceration.

It is refreshing to get an insider’s look of any political situation without all the drama and bloodletting. Cliff Sims does an effective job at laying things out as he saw them, offering ups and downs alongside support and distancing, whenever he saw fit. He chose not to be a complete sycophant to Trump, but surely sided with him more than he disagreed, leading to his long stay on the White House team. Sims develops his book in a seemingly chronological fashion, bouncing around a little to fit the various themes. The narrative shows a progress that the reader can follow as well as key events used as marker to gauge how well or poorly those closest to Trump felt he was doing. While I enjoyed this slow development, there was also the ongoing need to poke holes into much of the media portrayal of things that happened in the White House, as well as a few of the other tell-all books that have hit the marketplace. While it is surely an attempt to climb over these other authors and sell his ‘definitive’ account, the conscious and attentive reader can take it all with a grain of sand and realize that Sims surely wants to stay on the good side of Hurricane Trump. Still, it was a decent effort to knock others down in the process. One must also scoff a little at the somewhat juvenile censoring of direct quotes found within the text. As I listened on audio, I was sure that the publisher might have been trying a little something to ‘protect the innocent ears of the listener’, but only later discovered when flipping through the book that Sims dashes out much of the raw language. While not a trucker or sailor by any account, one need not be so prudish as not play such games. I realise that Sims may want to use his Southern charm, but if you’re going to quote them, do so. Your pastor will not smite you down, of that I am sure. (Before anyone seeks to slander me for presuming there is anything religious about Sims, he repeats his church attendance and strong faith throughout the piece, that being to God and not Trump alone.) With detailed chapters and a great deal of direct discussion of topics widely covered, as well as new fodder to add to the mix, Sims effectively shows that life in the Trump White House is better than any circus that has come to town. I think I am Trumped out—no more tell-all books for me—until the gaggle of GOP folks decide to run against him in the primaries.

Kudos, Mr. Sims, on this well-crafted piece of writing. I did learn a great deal and am eager to see how things play out in the coming year. You do, however unintentionally, show me that Trump remains a real asp… to play along with your title theme.

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