Child’s Play, by Kia Abdullah

Nine stars

Returning to read a little more Kia Abdullah, I turned to one of her novels from a decade ago. This is one of Abdullah’s early novels and it pulls the reader in, while disturbing them to the core at the same time. Allegra Ashe enjoys her work with a graphic design firm, so much so that she is willing to meet clients outside the office. When she agrees to meet Michael Stallone, she thinks she might be able to land a new account. Little does she know, Stallone is head hunting her for a very specific job. When Allegra learns a little more, she cannot run away fast enough. Michael Stallone is a special agent for a top secret organisation that hunts down paedophiles. He’s come to recruit Allegra, not only for her intelligence, but because she could easily pass for a young teen, the target age of the girls these criminals find the most attractive. While Allegra rebuffs him on the spot, she soon becomes redundant at work, forcing the idea of working for Stallone to resurface. After agreeing to help, Allegra is thrust into gruelling training, both emotional and psychological, before she is able to make her first contact. The target Stallone chooses for her is Joseph Drake, a man who is suspected of sexually abusing and murdering a young girl. While she has everything to lose, Allegra causally weaves her way into Drake’s life, trying not to bait him, but hoping that she can catch him in the act and have him taken off the streets. While she panics in the midst of her mission, she knows that she can help many. However, even after Drake is off the street, it will only be the beginning of a tangled web that could strike at the core of what Allegra holds most dear. A stunning novel that is as captivating as it is sexually sadistic. Not for the weak of stomach or those who cannot divorce themselves from the fiction on the page. Highly recommended for those who can handle deeply disturbing themes in crime thrillers, as well as the reader who cares to explore the underbelly of society’s worst offenders, those who prey on children.

I was not ensure sure what to expect when I began this book. I was slightly underwhelmed with parts of Abdullah’s latest book and hoped that this one would redeem her in my eyes. From the outset, I must say that the content is raw and extremely graphic at times. I wanted to pace myself, so as not to get emotionally unregulated, but Abdullah’s writing is so good that the pages flew by as I read. Allegra Ashe is a wonderfully complex protagonist whose issues stem from many sources. The reader learns a great deal about her throughout this piece, though there are darker sides that many would perhaps wish remained untapped. The growth within the novel is apparent throughout, though it will take a dedicated reader to see how loose ends are eventually tied off and some resolution found. Of particularly interest is the chemistry she has with Michael Stallone, which is as complicated as the rest of her life. QThere are a handful of others whose expertise shines through and they complement the complicated aspects of the narrative. The reader will need a constant reminder that this is fiction, but that these sorts of people do exist in real life, both the good and the bad. The story is deep and will not digest with ease. The theme alone is horribly painful to read about, but I feel Abdullah wanted to shed some light on the subject matter to ‘de-ostrich’ the reader throughout the journey. Child abuse, particularly that of a sexual nature, occurs all the time and those who prey on them cannot always be easily identified. Abdullah tackles this throughout and leaves the reader highly cynical of stereotyping the most heinous of abusers. A story that needed to be told, particularly because it takes most everyone out of their comfort zone.

Kudos, Madam Abdullah, for this piece that needed to be written. I applaud you for the courage in writing it, though I cannot say I was ‘happy’ for most of it.

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

Syrian Brides, by Anna Halabi

Eight stars

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

Anna Halabi recently contacted me, asking if I would read and review her collection of short stories set in her homeland of Syria. Creating a collection on the theme of love and marriage, Halabi has pulled together fourteen tales that depict Syrian life and values. Some are amusing, like the young bride who tries to cash in on a rich, elderly husband, while others show a deeper sense of angst in the household, such as the woman who is forced to play mind games with a greedy and disrespectful husband. The reader travels through these pieces, each of which can stand on their own, while learning a little more about the regional culture and the nuances of love than transcend race, religion, or socio-economic situation. Halabi comes at the theme from a number of angles, each of which differs from the others, while weaving in a proverb that precedes each story. This approach is not only entertaining, but helps the reader to see the goal of the story and what message the author might be trying to portray. Marriage need not be perfect, but it also need not be entirely serious, as Halabi seeks to explain to the reader who makes their way through the entire collection. Recommended to those who love short stories to pass the time, as well as the reader whose interest in other cultures is piqued by reading.

While the world has been hearing so much about Syria, little can be called uplifting or highly promising. That being said, Halabi, who left the country for Europe two decades ago, brings a lighter spin on the region with this collection. While I am no expert, I felt a better understanding of Syrian culture and views on marriage, love, and the connection to Allah when reading these fourteen stories. Halabi chooses a vast array of characters to tell the story of Syria and its views, some of whom are less than grounded in stern values, while others hold what the Western World might call ‘traditional views’. The stories are well-written and keep the reader guessing as to how they will tie-in to the proverbs offered before each. There is also a highly entertaining factor in that some have twists I did not see coming, while others delivered the precise punch to the gut one might expect. Halabi fills each story with regional slang and items—worry not, there are endnotes to explain them—which adds another layer of authenticity to the pieces. I almost felt as though I were a fly on the wall at times, as the banter and dialogue was seamless and appeared to come from actual events. While some may feel the stories offer too much in regards to strict Islamic adherence, I feel this added to the experience, by contrasting with much of what I am used to in my own personal and romantic relationships. Halabi has created an easy to comprehend and quick to devour collection, perfect for an afternoon in the sun, or around a crackling fire… or anywhere else the reader chooses to relax. A must-read for those who want a break from the everyday fluff that fills bookshelves.

Kudos, Madam Halabi, for delivering a winner with these pieces. I hope you have more to offer, as I was delighted with reading these short stories.

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

The King’s Evil (Marwood and Lovett #3), by Andrew Taylor

Eight stars

The third of Andrew Taylor’s novels in this seres takes the reader on yet another adventure into the streets of London and around the English countryside. James Marwood is still serving his two masters and making a decent name for himself in 1667. However, when summoned to see King Charles II, Marwood is sent on an unenviable task to investigate a murder. When he arrives, Marwood learns the victim is Edward Alderley, an evil man in his own right and one known to Marwood, at least tangentially. His acquaintance, Cat Lovett, had spoken of her cousin and despises him for reasons revealed in the text. While Marwood begins working through the case, he must face the rumours that Cat may be responsible, though his gut tells him otherwise. King Charles II has been undertaking ceremonial laying on of hands for some of the locals afflicted with scrofula (tuberculosis), which is all the talk around London, though Marwood tries not to get caught up in the fervour while seeking to find a killer. It would seem one is not enough, as a second man is found dead, drowned in a mill pond. With the pressure on and Cat Lovett still in hiding, Marwood has to clear her name while keeping her location under wraps. This will again put many in peril and stir up an ever-boiling pot once again. Well paced and a strong continuation of the series by Andrew Taylor, who shows he has a handle on the series. Recommended to those who enjoy English period pieces, particularly the reader who finds historical mysteries of interest.

Andrew Taylor dazzles as he continues to delve into the world of 17th Century London. Mixing a strong story with historical goings-on, Taylor weaves together a narrative that will keep the reader enticed throughout. Taylor brings back the dual protagonists, but the focus certainly focuses on James Marwood. In a story that involves many subplots, there are hints at character development for Marwood. The reader discovers some of his personal feelings for others in the tale, including a love interest that has him wrapped around her finger. Marwood remains determined to take his job seriously and forges ahead, seeking out a murderer with a motive, while trying to protect his acquaintance in hiding, Cat Lovett. Looking at Lovett, the other protagonist, the reader discovers some troubling events in her past that explain much of the animosity towards Edward Alderley. This, and the ongoing hunt for her as daughter of a key plotter during the Civil War gives a better picture of who she is and how her life has been shaped by distrust. Taylor peppers the narrative with many other characters, all who provide the reader with historical education about life in these times, as well as some lighter banter. These wonderful storylines involve a number of the characters and permit ongoing complementing of the larger story. The story remained sound and the history seems realistic enough to leave me wondering how close it parallels fact. I am eager to see where Taylor seeks to go with the series, whose fourth book is due out in Spring 2020.

Kudos, Mr. Taylor, for keeping me in a growing state of education while entertaining me at each turn.

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

A People’s History of the Supreme Court: The Men and Women Whose Cases and Decisions Have Shaped our Constitution, by Peter Irons

Nine stars

Long a fan of learning more about constitutional law, I discovered this major work by Peter Irons. In it, Irons seeks not only to take the reader through some of the key historical aspects of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS), but also shed light on some of those who shaped the Court or were named in key cases throughout the storied history of the institution. Admitting in his introduction that he comes about this project with an inherent bias, Irons cautions the reader beforehand about what he will present, trying to be thorough but also realising there is limited space.

In the early part of the tome, Irons lays the groundwork for the Court by focussing his attention on the Republic and how it chose to craft its political foundation. In discussing the roles of various Founding Fathers, Irons details the fights to bring forth a strong constitutional document, as well as key set of amendments to the initial work product, in the form of a Bill of Rights. From there, it was the creation of a Supreme Court, which would sit and adjudicate the laws of the land, based on this core constitutional framework. While the early years proved slow and free from too many cases, key decisions came down from the Court that would forever shape the future of the country and its relationship with the other cogs in the political machine. With strong members of the Court, Irons argues that much could be done, though it was by no means a rubber stamping of decisions.

Moving into the era of slavery, where newer states in the Union sought to be ‘free’, the Court was forced to decide on key aspects of the practice, as well as how to define men of colour, particularly as citizens of the United States. Irons takes time here to discuss the fallibility of the Court, especially when handling such cases as Dred Scott. This mark on the Court will forever be seen, though the progress of thoughts and sentiments around racial equality did not come overnight.

Irons progresses through many cases of this kind through to the end of the 19th century and into the early 20th before turning to the theme of free speech, which emerged in the lead-up to the Great War. As Irons discusses, those speaking out against the War, particularly conscription, found their niche in challenging laws that violated the First Amendment. Phrases such as “announcing fire in a crowded theatre” became popular during Court decisions of this time. Irons continues delving into Court-based themes by exploring economic decisions surrounding the New Deal, FDR’s multi-pillared way of getting out from under the Depression in the early 1930s. Irons finds numerous cases that push the limits of this and FDR’s response to SCOTUS politicking from the bench.

This was by no means the end to all the legal and constitutional controversies seen in the United States. Flares ups related to Japanese internment, racial segregation, and abortion proved to be key cases that pushed the Court to its limits, pressuring the ideological sentiments of those who heard cases. Irons addresses this over the three decades in the book’s narrative that covers this time. The Court’s ever-evolving views can be significantly contributed to the changes of Justices on the Court. Irons shows how, during the Nixon and Reagan Administrations, faces less liberal in their views emerged, pushing some major issues into the unknown. Thus began some of the most troubling times for those who held onto the liberal judgments made by the Court in years past. Pushing through to the appointment of Samuel Alito, Irons exemplifies how the Court changed a few more times, under both Bushes and Clinton in the Oval Office. A truly remarkable piece that is a must-read for those with a passion for American constitutional law and politics. Recommended for the dedicated and determined reader who feels they can tackle this massive tome, as well as anyone wanting to see American history through new and liberal eyes.

While I have read many books on SCOTUS and its countless decisions, this book by Peter Irons is definitely unique. Shaped around his academic mentor, Howard Zinn, Irons seeks to replicate A People’s History of the United States—next on my reading list—which takes snapshots in time and expounds on some of the lesser known facts and players in the larger picture. Irons does well to give the reader more background and a thorough understanding of the machinery running around the case, rather than the large generalizations that history texts usual offer. Irons has done much research to give the reader a closer look into the lives of the Court’s many Justices, as well as biographical notes that help place their ascension to the Court in context. While this is greatly helpful, it pales in comparisons to the background offered about some of the key players in the cases, those whose actions or challenges to laws brought about the key cases that shaped American understanding of its constitutional document through the eyes of SCOTUS. This brings the vignettes to life and offers a new perspective for the curious reader, who can then read even more, should they desire. Anyone with an interest in constitutional law and history will marvel at the detail and how these pieces fit together nicely to tell the larger and more comprehensive story of the cases that shaped the nation. Irons mixes things up with longer chapters to tell of key aspects of Court decisions, alongside shorter ones that may lead the reader down a certain path. The overall effect is not lost on the attentive reader, as the narrative seeks to forge ahead through American political and legal history, following the breadcrumbs SCOTUS finds in the US Constitution. While the reading can sometimes be dense, the meatier parts are surely needed to lay the groundwork for later chapters and extrapolation by the keen reader who seek to apply things after the 2006 publication of this tome. In today’s America, one can only hope that precedent is not tossed by the wayside to bring about an ideological reset for those on the far Right. One can only wonder what Irons would have to say about some of the quagmires taking place in 21st century American legal realms. Then again, perhaps something is in the works to trump the #fakeTweet rhetoric raining down on smartphones across the land.

Kudos, Mr. Irons, for opening my eyes to much about the American political and constitutional history that has been delivered in my expansive education and personal reading. I will be returning to read more of your work, but first think it is time for Howard Zinn’s tome, which helped germinate the idea for this book.

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

The Fire Court (Marwood and Lovett #2), by Andrew Taylor

Eight stars

Returning for the second in this 17th century series, Andrew Taylor takes readers back to the streets of London, with another historical mystery. With strong characters and a plot that will keep readers guessing, the book proves as entertaining as the series debut. As the ashes continue to cool after London’s Great Fire, it is time to consider rebuilding and getting back in order. The King has decided that this cannot be done entirely without direction and he creates a Fire Court to handle disputes emanating from the fire and the vast destruction it caused. James Marwood is also trying to keep things in order as a clerk, while tending to his sick father, Nathaniel, who is still bitter about his time in prison for Regicide. When the elder Marwood wanders off, he is said to have come across the body of a woman in the building used by the Fire Court. His religious sentiments has him brand her a whore, which he recounts to his son, while also saying that he saw his long-dead wife, Rachel. However, Nathaniel’s mind is clouding and he dies in a freak accident days later. Marwood first dismissed his father’s ravings as dementia, but now cannot help but wonder if there is a grain of truth, and begins looking into the claims. It would seem that there are a few who wish to bend the ear of the Court to begin a lucrative building project called Dragon’s Yard. Marwood comes face to face with these men, both of whom are eager to push through their plans, letting no one stand in the way. Cat Lovett has been living under the radar as a house maid. She is pulled into the investigation when Marwood comes to find her and they discover that there are some definitive links between the Fire Court’s decision on Dragon’s Yard and the murdered woman. Marwood and Lovett are in great danger, but must risk it all to bring a murderer from out of the shadows. Taylor uses the time period and a slow, drawn-out mystery to his advantage in this piece. Recommended to those who love time period pieces, especially the reader who finds mysteries to their liking.

Andrew Taylor does well in this follow-up novel that delves deeper into the world of 17th Century London. There is little time for the reader to get their bearings, as the history emerges on the opening page. It would seem that Andrew Taylor feels there is no better way to get involved than to toss the reader off the literary deep end. Taylor brings back a few strong characters to shape this novel, including the dual protagonists. James Marwood grows in this story, showing more of his personality through the actions he undertakes. Taylor portrays Marwood as a dedicated worker, but also a son who has been saddled with dealing with a father whose mental capacity is quickly slipping away. Marwood will not let justice go unheeded, as he pushes through this tale, chasing down a killer who appears to be disposing of anyone standing in the way of a conniving plot. The reader will see a little backstory and some character development in this piece, adding a stronger foundation that can be useful in the upcoming novels in this series. Cat Lovett is again seeking to stay off the radar, partially because of her connection to a known plotter of Regicide. Cat tries her hand at blending in, but is soon summoned to help out. She finds herself helping her fellow protagonist, shedding a little more light onto her character and true colours. There are many who appear throughout the narrative and provide the reader with both entertainment and historical education about life in these times. Taylor has created wonderful storylines that include these various characters, all of whom complement the larger story and the protagonists’ progress. The story remained sound, leaving the reader to enjoy some of the historical references and banter. There are countless political and regal influences within the narrative, as in the first novel, which were also of great interest to me. I am eager to see where Taylor takes us in the third novel, which awaits me as soon as I post this review.

Kudos, Mr. Taylor, for another entertaining read. I am learning so very much with this series and cannot wait to discover more.

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

The Ashes of London (Marwood and Lovett #1), by Andrew Taylor [re-read]

Eight stars

I chose to return to this book again, having had a mediocre audiobook experience last summer. Andrew Taylor’s series of historical fiction was sure to be exciting, based on the little I know before starting. The cover and title drew me in while I was walking through the library on one occasion and I could not wait to see if it lived up to my expectations. It’s September of 1666 and London is burning! The Great Fire began sweeping through the city and people are dying en masse as buildings fall. Smoke and ash pepper various streets, including the massive structure of St. Paul’s Cathedral, thought to be impregnable. Amongst the debris found within this great church is a body, badly charred and with its hands pushed behind the back, thumbs tied. James Marwood serves as a government informer and reluctantly agrees to begin searching for what might have happened so that the killer can be apprehended. Marwood struggles, as he seeks to shed himself of his father’s shadow, a former printer and admitted plotter in the death of the former king. England is still shaking off the shackles of their Civil War and Cromwell’s time as head of the government, though sentiments are still divided. As Marwood investigates, more bodies with similar thumb bindings are found, forcing him to explore numerous motives. With calls to bring those guilty of Regicide to justice, there is a theme of the End of Days as well, pointing to the ‘666’ in the current year. All the while, one of on the Regicide list includes the father of one Catherine ‘Cat’ Lovett. Marwood seeks to locate her. While some seem to know of her, it would seem that she and Marwood have an inadvertent past when Lovett lifted one of his cloaks during an earlier skirmish. Might England be preparing for an ecclesiastical event, begun with a raging fire? Marwood explores all his options while others are wrestling with issues of their own and London comes to terms with the devastation, seeking to rise from the ashes and rebuild in short order. Marwood and Lovett soon join forces to find answers before the murderer stricken again, or so they hope. Taylor propels readers into this interesting piece, full of drama, mystery, and history. Recommended to those who enjoy English history and murder, blended into a strong piece of fiction.

As this was my first novel by Andrew Taylor, I was unsure what I ought to expect. He gives the reader little time to acclimate, as the history comes flooding in on the opening page. While some may be put off by the immediate slide into the past, there is no better way to get involved than to toss the reader off the literary deep end. Taylor uses a handful of strong characters to lay the groundwork for this novel, now known to be the first in a series. James Marwood is an interesting protagonist, taking the reader along on this complex journey through both formal duties and personal struggles. Taylor portrays Marwood as a man who seek to balance his life, though there are stains upon his character that he cannot remove, carrying the Marwood name. Cat Lovett is an equally interesting character, coming from the opposite side of the coin. She serves as a lowly savant, but has a history she wishes no one to discover. She seeks to dodge those who might finger her as the daughter of one of England’s most sought-after criminals. Still, some underlying themes in character development showed me that others had interesting instances of personal growth. The story was sound and I enjoyed some of the historical references and banter, as well as appearances by those who played a key role in shaping London after the fire. The political and regal influences within the narrative were also of great interest to me, as was the religious undertones hinted at throughout. I knew of the Great Fire, but had not given it much thought, at least until reading Taylor’s piece. I will read the second in the series, as reading a digital copy proves more feasible than the audio version. I hope the potential reader will choose what works best for them.

Kudos, Mr. Taylor for an entertaining read. I found myself much more entertained this time around.

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

“When Will it Stop Hurting?”: One Man’s Journey Through Grief, by Glenn Cameron

Eight stars

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

Glenn Cameron recently reached out to me, asking if I would read and review his heartfelt book about a personal journey through grief. Having made my own trek numerous times, including a long stroll as a young adult close to two decades ago, I was ready to tackle this book to see what parallels and divergences I could find between our stories. Cameron, who lost his wife of closer to forty years to cancer, tells a story of trying to come to terms with that death. Crystle was his everything and he was not sure how he would be able to function after losing her. Cameron tackles grief head-on, discussing how simple motivation to shower and eat could sometimes be a challenge, something to which I can relate. He also talks about the ongoing struggle to find himself and solace, be it through literature—epic fail—a reconnection to God, or even through the spirit world. Glenn Cameron’s journey through grief was one he compares to a forest, where each step leads the individual in a direction that is uncertain. While it is sometimes an event that must be done alone, being isolated is the worst part of the experience. No two grief experiences are the same, as Cameron mentions in his introduction, but to understand grief is to be able to properly help someone. Vapid cards and mind numbing self-help manuals are of little help to the grieving individual, who only seeks support and a way out. Cameron found his way, though to answer his question from the title, the pain will always remain. A strong piece of writing that will be beneficial to many, though likely only understood on all levels by the reader who has faced grief and significant loss.

I do not shy away from talking about my father’s death when I was twenty-one, but I am also not one to bring it up in general conversation. I know the pain and sorrow that Glenn Cameron mentions in this short work, which is why I knew he was on the right path as I read it. Cameron seeks not to they’ll the reader how to work through grief, but offers his own views and situations that helped him. The reader can collect these insights as useful, or decline anything to do with them. Cameron’s honest writing reminds me of the pieces my father wrote in his book, the grief and coming to terms with being a cancer patient, as well as the outlook of surviving and never giving up. Bare honesty goes a long way and Cameron cannot be faulted for expressing his own opinions. He is not preachy, but rather helpful as he shows just how down to earth he can be. A quick read with ten insightful chapters, Glenn Cameron will touch the soul of the reader who comes from a position of understand of the requisite pain and foggy mindedness that grief saddles upon many. Well worth a read and thoughtful contemplation.

Kudos, Mr. Cameron, for a piece that had me thinking and feeling relief at the same time. Your raw honesty does more than any book seeking to provide answers could ever do.

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

The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation, by Brenda Wineapple

Nine stars

With all the talk of impeachment coming out of Washington, I thought it a convenient time to read Brenda Wineapple’s comprehensive book about the trial Andrew Johnson faced in the US Senate in 1868. Full of great detail and a narrative that takes the reader through the process, Wineapple provides the reader with a great primer for what may be a prickly endeavour if used again in the near future. The American state was extremely divided in the mid-19th century, a period of civil and social unrest where the Southern states declared their desire to leave the Union. What followed is likely well-known to many with a basic understanding of the American Civil War, culminating in the South losing and Lincoln’s assassination. Thereafter, an odd collection of events befell the newly exhausted (loosely) United States, with the recently elevated Vice-President Andrew Johnson taking over as the Commander-in-Chief. Johnson, hailing from Tennessee, was thought to be a great choice by Lincoln for the 1864 election, but when he assumed the role of president, many saw him show some of his true colours. With little interest in binding the country back together, Johnson sought to push a renewed segregationist agenda while trying to stymie the attempts at Reconstruction Congress was pushing through in the form of legislation. While many disliked these antics, the push for impeachment had yet to reach the force needed to be effective. It took Johnson violating the Tenure of Office Act, a key piece of legislation, thumbing his nose at the Senate all the while. This proved to be the final straw for many in the House of Representatives. With the Articles of Impeachment secured and supported by a majority in the House, the machine of an impeachment trial began to rumble, with the pre-trial antics in the Senate. As Wineapple discusses, this was the first presidential impeachment, forcing interpretation of the US Constitution and the balance between legal and legislative roles for those involved. What follows is an intriguing trial held in the Senate chamber with a number of important actors, each playing their role. Wineapple takes the reader through each step and shows where the Managers (House of Representative members chosen to present the articles to the Senate as a whole) fell short and how general sentiment might have steered the votes away from impeaching Johnson, if only by a single vote. There are some wonderful subplots that emerge in the narrative and will likely help the reader better understand the nuances of this 19th century political stage-play. Captivating in its delivery and full of a great deal of information I had never heard previously, Brenda Wineapple takes the reader on an adventure through some of American’s most divisive legislative days. Highly recommended to those who have a passion for all things political, as well as the reader who enjoys learning a great deal about events relatable to today’s political situation.

I saw a friend read and review this book on Goodreads a while back, but held off reading it until I could make the loose parallel between Johnson and Trump. While I am not prepared to draw the political and social parallels between the two men at this point, this book that details the trial from back in 1868 with some similarities to events taking place now. Brenda Wineapple is able to convey much of the well-known lead-up to the impeachment talk, tackling these topics with ease, while providing sufficient details to ensure the reader is clear on how things progressed. As the political infighting continued, Wineapple depicted all the essential actors—from a hard-hearted member of the House whose sole goal was to see Johnson fall, through to the Chief Justice who presided over the trial and sought the White House for himself—and provide sufficient backstory to explain the intricate details of events and political moves that shaped the push for impeachment. Of particular interest, Wineapple addresses this being the first presidential impeachment, forcing those involved to guess at what the Founding Fathers might have wanted. Going through the trial, step-by-step, Wineapple provides a clear narrative of the political process and how Johnson was able to skirt sure removal from office. With chapters that focus on all aspects of this historical period, Wineapple delivers where others have only glossed over in past tomes. Of note, this was an impeachment held in a presidential election year, just so no one can toss out that it is “infeasible and unconstitutional to do this to a president with the public set to vote”. Not to be missed for lovers of American political history.

Kudos, Madam Wineapple, for this captivating piece. I cannot wait to see what else you have written, on this and other topics.

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

Pain (Alex Madison #2), by Adam Southward

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Adam Southward, and Amazon Publishing UK for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

When provided this advanced copy of the book, I wanted to get the full reading experience, so I turned to the series debut for some context. Devouring and thoroughly enjoying that piece, I knew that Adam Southward would be an author I would be adding to my ongoing reading list, with his captivating plot and well-paced narrative. It has been a year since Dr. Alex Madison handled a major case from the Met. While that one did not turn out as well as he expected, he has returned to consult once again. This case is a little different, but just as baffling. CCTV footage shows someone sneaking into the A&E of a London hospital and inflicting a great deal of pain to a waiting patient, so much so that it leads to an excruciating death. It would seem that this is not the first case of such an attach around London hospitals, but no one is entirely clear who this person is or what their motive could be. On the flip side, the reader is introduced to Mia Anastos, a young woman who can feel no pain, but revels in seeing it inflicted on others. She hides in the shadows and professes that she is on a mission to seek revenge for her pain. Mia’s targeted victims are only the first step in this complex web, as Madison finds her name on a list that matches her description. While Mia evades capture, she is being controlled by a larger group with hopes of neutralsing Dr. Madison themselves. As the psychology of pain comes to the forefront, Madison has a personal life in tatters that requires his additional attention. A great second novel in the series that keeps the reader hooked until the final reveal, leaving them begging for more. Adam Southward has great control over the series and its characters, tapping into the psychological and opening new areas of interest to the reader. Recommended to those who love quick thrillers, particularly the reader who finds matters of the mind of interest.

I powered through the first novel, in hopes that it would hold my attention enough to want to get to this ARC in quick order. Mission accomplished, as Adam Southward is able to mix a well-crafted thriller with strong psychological themes to keep the reader curious throughout. Alex Madison remains an intriguing character, easily liked by the reader. He is on point when it comes to his private practice and work with the police, though some find his insights too hard to comprehend or off the wall, thereby dismissing him. In a personal life that is anything but in order, Madison is forced to wrestle with a dark secret of his own, while trying to track down where to turn next in this highly unusual case. His relationship with his daughter is addressed yet again, as is the strained connection to his ex-wife. Madison has a great deal of growth to go and one can hope Southward will keep readers informed as the series grows. Other characters help to augment the excitement in this book, both with the case and through subplots that Southward uses to cut the tension. One can hope there will be some repeat appearances, as Alex Madison seems to have clicked its some and clashed with others. Southward uses a quick narrative, permitting the reader to learn a great deal in short order. The pain them resonates throughout and kept me wondering as the narrative built-up to a big reveal. Southward has proven he can handle psychological thrillers and police procedurals that mesh together effectively. I cannot wait to see what else is to come for Southward and Dr. Alex Madison.

Kudos, Mr. Southward, for another great ‘single day’ read. I am eagerly awaiting your next literary idea, but will be as patient as I must.

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

Trance (Alex Madison #1), by Adam Southward

Eight stars

After having the author Adam Southward recommended to me, I could not wait to get started on the debut book in his Dr. Alex Madison series. Quick paced and entertaining, Southward does well to win the reader over in the early chapters. Dr. Alex Madison has been seconded to work within one of Britain’s prisons, helping with an odd case involving one of the inmates. After viewing the video footage, Madison is baffled as to what might be going on with Victor Lazar. After whispering something into the ear of a fellow inmate, the unsuspecting victim enters a trance and soon commits suicide by bashing their head into a wall. Lazar was originally incarcerated when he was found at the scene of three bodies, a pool of blood growing by the minute. While Madison wants to help, he has no idea what might be causing Lazar to telepathically suggest others to self-harm. Working with some of the other psychologists at the facility, Madison soon learns that there is more to the Victor Lazar story, which traces back to an orphanage in Romania. Discovering that Victor was part of a series of mind experiments in his youth, Madison must learn as much as he can and how to override the trance abilities. When Lazar escapes onto the streets of London, it’s a race against time to stop this killer and discover what’s fuelling his spree. A great first novel that will impress many readers with its unique perspective. Recommended for those who enjoy a quick-read thriller, as well as the reader with an interest in all this psychological.

While I was offered an ARC of the second book in the series, I thought it best to begin at the start. Powering through this novel, I am now eager to see what else Adam Southward has in store. Dr. Alex Madison proves to be an interesting character that many readers will likely enjoy. With a strong backstory, the reader can learn a little about the man’s past, living in the shadow of his academically-inclined father and the struggles in his personal relationships, including a failed marriage. Throughout the story, the reader can see some of the progress Madison makes, both in the case at hand as well as with his personal exploits. There is much to learn from the protagonist, which will hopefully be resolved in the coming novels. Other characters prove helpful in pushing the narrative along. Both the British and Romanian casts serve to shape the overall story, which is entertaining while also teaching the reader a great deal. In a quick narrative, the reader is able to learn a great deal and the themes presented will likely leave the reader wanting a great deal more. Psychological thrillers are good reads, particularly when handled effectively. Southward has a handle on them and I am eager to see what else Alex Madison will discover in the novels to come.

Kudos, Mr. Southward, for a great series debut. I am eager to get started on the second novel to see what else you have for your readers to enjoy.

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