Rough Justice: Three Ben Kincaid Stories, by William Bernhardt

Eight stars

To end the year, I thought I would return to a short collection of short stories by William Bernhardt, in his powerful Ben Kincaid series. I have read them all on their own before, but with this collection, I chose to re-post the reviews together, for the curious reader.

Yuletide Justice (Ben Kincaid # 18.5)

A short story set on Christmas Eve seeks to invoke both the traditional Bernhardt mystery with some holiday cheer sure to warm the heart of any reader. When Ben Kincaid offers to help with the simple theft of $400 at the local pawn shop, what appears to be a case of sticky fingers by one of its employees turns out to have deeper rationale. Trying to piece the clues together, Ben discovers the truth and has a holiday season epiphany of his own, showing the softer side to his somewhat frigid character.

What We’re Here For (Ben Kincaid # 7.5)

In this short story, the reader revisits the powerful courtroom antics of Ben Kincaid,. In the midst of a personal injury trial, Kincaid fights for a client whose modelling career is over after a horrible car accident. Making his case against a wealthy doctor and his wife, the case gets away from Kincaid, forcing him to look to alternate avenues to bring justice to the forefront. Finding that tiny loophole, Kincaid seeks to bring a sliver of joy to someone whose life is otherwise ruined.

After Hours (A Novella in the Ben Kincaid series)

Bernhardt turns away from traditional main character, Ben Kincaid to allow his friend, Mike Morrelli, to take centre stage. When Morreilli begins a homicide investigation into a graphic murder, the baggage that follows is more than some can handle. Morrelli wrestles with all that he has placed before him and realises that his personal life has strong parallels to the situation that befell the victim. A great story sure to connect story lines ahead of Bernhardt’s newest novel that he admits is on its way in the autumn.

It is always a pleasure to return to Bernhardt’s first series and dabble amongst some of the great short pieces he penned. I always enjoyed Ben Kincaid, as I do Daniel Pike and the new characters that Bernhardt has created. I hope readers will, as I did, discover the wonders of Kincaid and the legal nuances he faced in a long and storied career. If this short pieces spark an interest, all the better!

Kudos, Mr. Bernhardt, for reminding me yet again why I enjoy your writing so much!

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

The Cross (Eddie Flynn #0.5), by Steve Cavanagh

Eight stars

As I enjoy Steve Cavanagh’s Eddie Flynn series, I thought that I would end the year with a novella that started it all, perfect for a single-day read. The book is a prequel to the series novels and sees Flynn ready to show his legal skills in quite the trying case. In civil court, Flynn has brought suit against Detective Fred Marzone and the NYPD for the death of admitted criminal, Chilli Hernandez, by strangulation. Marzone has hired a slick lawyer and someone has been targeting Flynn from within the NYPD. When Flynn is covertly approached by Internal Affairs, they promise to have something to bolster the case against Marzone, but everything must be done on the sly. It would seem that Marzone is part of the Morgue Squad, a group within the NYPD happy to act outside of the law and enforce contracts on active hits. As Flynn juggles this and tries to bring Hernandez’s widow some peace of mind, he knows that he might be placing a target on his back, one from which he will not recover. Wanting to do the right thing, Flynn must decide how he will handle this, knowing that one false move could bring horrible consequences in the form of a chalk cross and a visit by a man with a Zippo. A great novella that will surely pique the interest of any reader contemplating this series, as well as complementing the novels Steve Cavanagh has written in this evolving series to date. Recommended to those who like gritty legal thrillers, as well as the reader who needs a short piece to fill a little reading time.

I began the Eddie Flynn series a week ago and have already devoured two novels and this novella. There is never a lack of action or development with Flynn or those around him. Eddie Flynn, a former con man turned lawyer, has a gritty personality and wanted to do best for his clients. He has one major weakness, his family, who always seem to be targeted by those he wishes to see brought to justice. In this prequel, Flynn still has his wife and daughter as a part of his life, though his constant focus on work leaves him disappointing them both with regularity. He has some tricks up his sleeve, but must come to terms with the fact that NYC is a city filled with those who wish him harm, both inside the courtroom and on the streets. The reader gets a brief glimpse of Jack Halloran, Flynn’s legal partner and moral compass. This works well for those who have a few of the novels under their belt, provided backstory context to Flynn’s legal antics. With a handful of others making appearances as well, the reader can see many of the issues that Flynn faces while trying to distance himself from con work and the reputation that follows him. The novella was quite exciting and told in Cavanagh’s usually ‘flashback from the opening chapter’ format, perfect for those who love seeing a narrative grow. While I still have a few novels to read before I am caught up (and a new piece ready to launch in 2020), I am pleased I took this detour to learn more about the early Flynn.

Kudos, Mr. Cavanagh, for developing such a great series. I am hooked and hope others discover the spark I have with these pieces.

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

The Plea (Eddie Flynn #2), by Steve Cavanagh

Eight stars

Returning for another in Steve Cavanagh’s legal series, I was eager to see what would become of gritty lawyer, Eddie Flynn. After his harrowing experience with the Russian Mob, Flynn is seeking a quieter life and a low-key practice. When he is visited by the FBI and CIA about an upcoming murder trial, he wants nothing to do with it. However, Flynn is given an ultimatum, not only to sign-up to represent David Child and get him off for murder, but also to turn him to testify against the firm representing him. It is only when Flynn learns that his wife is tied into a major financial scheme that he gives the offer a second thought. Ensure Child is found innocent of the murder and his wife’s guilt will be expunged. Flynn agrees to do his best and rushes to begin his assignment, noticing that he will have to collide with the District Attorney who has higher ambitions. As Flynn gets a base understanding of what is going on, he works with Child to better understand what it is he did for the firm and how his wife might have been caught in the web. This helps Flynn to better understand where the enemies wait and how they are surely plotting to frame Child for the murder of his girlfriend. Flynn can work with some of the basics at the preliminary hearing, but it will take all his efforts to ensure Child does not find himself on the wrong end of a murder conviction. With the impetus to help his wife and their daughter, Eddie Flynn will have to rely on his street smarts as much as his legal prowess. Cavanagh does a wonderful job at pacing this story out and keeping the reader hooked. Recommended for those who love a good legal thriller and readers who like stories with twists throughout.

After being enthralled with the opening novel in the series, I could not help plunging into this one head on. Cavanagh continues to impress with his storytelling and makes the reader want to know a little more, all while weaving together a wonderful story. Eddie Flynn comes a long way in this piece, keeping his con artist days behind him and focusing on trying to do better with all things legal. He is thrust into the middle of a complex situation, still holding onto feelings for a woman who all but gave up on him after their daughter’s kidnapping in the opening novel of the series. Flynn is also a strong attorney and finds the loopholes to defend his clients as best he can. Faced with a powerful DA, Flynn will have to pull out all the stops and save a man whose innocence will ensure all the dominoes fall as they should. Others grace the pages of this book and keep the reader highly entertained throughout, from the legal community, intelligence officers, and even the courtroom actors whose roles will shape the larger trial. Cavanagh depicts them all so well and keeps the reader fully involved in the process. The story is well developed and set with an ingenious plot that will keep the reader following along with ease. I cannot wait to see what else Steve Cavanagh has in store for this series, especially with the revelations towards the end of the novel. Eddie Flynn is surely someone well worth my time and I am pleased this series crossed my reading radar. Here’s hoping for another explosive legal thriller.

Kudos, Mr. Cavanagh, for a great second novel. I cannot wait to see how you will bring things together in the next novel!

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

Trial by Blood (Daniel Pike #3), by William Bernhardt

Eight stars

In his latest novel in the Last Chance Lawyers series, William Bernhardt pulls the reader in with an interesting situation that has two legal trials taking place simultaneously. Fourteen years ago, young Ossie Coleman disappeared after his mother’s violent death. When an eighteen year-old stumbles into town, claiming to be Ossie, he has quite the story to tell. He speaks of being held at a cabin in the woods by a ruthless man and only barely escaped. This creates quite the controversy, as the Colemans will soon be splitting the sizeable wealth of the family’s patriarch. With Ossie’s return, he is to inherit 25% of it all. Family members begin doubting the claims that this man is Ossie and the case goes to civil court. Daniel Pike is assigned the case from his mysterious boss, Mr. K, and tries to build a case to support the claim. When St. Petersburg PD are called to a local theatre, they find Harrison Coleman—Ossie’s uncle—has been murdered in a most gruesome way. To add to it, it would appear the elder Coleman has written ‘Ossie’ on the mirror when covered in condensation. Pike’s legal expertise is now going to be stretched as he tries to fight two legal battles. With evidence and doubt piling up, many within Pike’s firm hope that he will see the light and abandon the case. However, Daniel Pike is not one to shy away from a challenge and is sure that his client is being set-up, whomever he might be. When someone tries to ‘persuade’ Pike outside his boathouse, he is left clinging to life, but undeterred. Someone is pulling strings behind the scenes and trying to ensure that Pike loses everything. Entering the criminal trial with nothing to lose, Pike seeks to persuade a jury that his client is innocent, still wondering if the young man next to him is Ossie Coleman and whether his story of being a prisoner holds up. Bernhardt does a masterful job weaving together this story that will have the reader guessing and wondering until the final chapter. Recommended for those who love a good legal thriller, as well as the reader who has a long affinity for the work of William Bernhardt.

I discovered WIlliam Bernhardt many years ago and have been obsessed with this writing ever since. He can not only tell a story, but pulls on the courtroom to push the drama even further, allowing the reader to feel fully involved. Daniel Pike continues to grow in this series and has shown that his less than stellar backstory has not created too many issues in his present. His affable nature is contrasted greatly by his determination to fight for his client, no matter the obstacle. As can be seen throughout the novel, even a beating that leaves him clinging to life will not stop Pike in finding the truth and keeping his enemies at bay. Other characters, both those returning and new faces, keep the story moving along well. While I was uncertain how well the Last Chance Lawyers would work, the different personalities have meshed well and keep me wanting to know more. The story was strong, focussing on the Ossie Coleman character, and leaving the reader to wonder what happened and how that fits in with the current goings-on. The courtroom battles and legal maneuvers are wonderfully paced and keep the reader wanting to know a little more. I cannot help but find myself fully ensconced in the series and am eager to see what happens next, particularly with that stunning cliffhanger at the end!

Kudos, Mr. Bernhardt, for a great novel and an up-beat series with legal themes throughout.

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

The Defense (Eddie Flynn #1), by Steve Cavanagh

Eight stars

Turing my attention to a new series, I wanted to try Steve Cavanagh’s legal thrillers, which have been recommended to be over the years. Eddie Flynn is a lawyer with a sordid past. Having hit the bottle when things were not going well and with a past as a con artist, Flynn has alienated his family and pushed himself close to being disbarred. After he takes over a murder trial for his former partner, Flynn has no idea what he’s agreed to do. Approached by the Russian mafia, Flynn is told that he will smuggle a bomb into the courthouse and plant it on the witness stand so that the prosecution’s witness meets an untimely demise. To help convince the lawyer, Flynn is told that his daughter is in the custody of the Russians, who are happy to kill her if the need arises. With all the pressure put upon him, Flynn tries to find legal loopholes that will allow him to win this case for his client without being implicated in any violent acts. Worried that Amy might still be harmed, Flynn seeks outside help, only to discover that there are moles on both sides at every turn. Walking on eggshells, Flynn advances the case to the point that ‘Witness X’ is set to testify, he who is supposed to be blown up. With Amy not yet safe and the threats mounting, Flynn must decide how to play it all and leave him able to live with himself. An intense legal thriller with twists that will keep the reader wanting to know more! Recommended to those who love legal thrillers, as well as the reader who enjoys seeing the ‘little guy’ fight for parity.

I always enjoy learning about new authors and the series they create that have earned much praise. The debut legal thriller has all the elements needed for a good series, with a lawyer whose luck seems to have run out and a client who refuses to accept anything but an acquittal. Eddie Flynn has a wonderful backstory, a lawyer whose skills are high but personal choices lead much to be desired. Allowing work to take over his life, Flynn alienates those who are most important. When placed in the unenviable position of having to break the law to secure his daughter’s release, there is no question about what he intends on doing. Using his legal skills and gritty personality, Flynn is able to bend the rules, though whether it is to his advantage remains in question. There are other characters who help to keep the story moving effectively. Cavanagh depicts them perfectly and keeps the reader on their toes as plot twists stack up throughout. With a strong story and some great action in the middle of a high-impact thriller, Cavanagh has set the ground for a great series here. I cannot wait to get to the next book, which is sure to add more to the Eddie Flynn backstory.

Kudos, Mr. Cavanagh, for a great start to the series. You have a great handle on the legal thriller genre and I will certainly continue with this series.

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

House on Fire (Nick Heller #4), by Joseph Finder

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Joseph Finder and Penguin Group Dutton for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

As Joseph Finder returns with a fourth Nick Heller novel, the reader is pulled into the centre of a wonderful story with action that does not dissipate. When Nick Heller learns that an Army buddy of his has died from an overdose, he is stunned and rushes to help however he can. Learning that Oxydone, a nasal inhaler, is likely to blame, Heller heads to the funeral slightly upset that it was a VA prescription that ended his friend’s life so early. After the service, Heller is flagged down by a mysterious woman, Susan ‘Sukie’ Kimball, daughter of billionaire Conrad Kimball. It would seem that Kimball’s pharmaceutical company, which manufactures Oxydone, might have buried studies that showed the addictive nature of the drug, releasing it to an unsuspecting public. When Susan brings Heller to her father’s birthday party, he hopes to find a hard copy of the report and blow Kimball Pharma out of the water. It would seem others are looking for dirt on Kimball, but everything remains smoke and mirrors. Another birthday guest turns up dead and Heller can only wonder if there is a killer trying to silence any information leaks. Determined to find the report, Heller embarks on a mission behind high-security, unsure what else he will uncover. Inching ever close, Heller will have to put himself in harm’s way to get to the truth, but can never be sure it will yield the ultimate prize. Prepared to bring down the House of Kimball, Heller must ensure he is not a casualty in the larger scheme. A nail-biting thriller that will keep the reader enthralled until the final reveal. Recommended to those who love a good thriller, as well as the reader who enjoys plots pulled from the headlines.

I have long enjoyed the work of Joseph Finder, as it pushes the boundaries of the genre in new and exciting ways. Finder has been able to keep his readers intrigued as he touches on social issues in a relatable way with an exciting narrative. Nick Heller remains a great protagonist with this piece, his substantial backstory finding new ways to make it into the narrative. Heller is passionate about protecting the reputation of those close to him, even if he finds himself helpless to their foibles. A trained PI, Heller has numerous ways to get to the bottom of a situation, sometimes sacrificing his own well-being to get the needed information. Gritty and never afraid to rock the boat, Heller finds himself in many situations that push him to the brink. There are others who find themselves influencing the narrative in a variety of ways, helping to push the story along which enriching the overall reading experience. In a piece whose primary focus is drug addiction and overdose, Finder turns to Big Pharma and points the finger there, as many have found themselves hopelessly addicted. Another poignant social issue receives its due here as the reader is pulled to the centre and forced to decide for themselves. Finder has a knack of delivering just what is needed at the perfect moment.

Kudos, Mr. Finder, for another winner. I hope others find this one to be just as exciting.

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

The Great Santa Search (The Christmas Chronicles #3), as told by Jeff Guinn

Eight stars

While others have filled their reading time this holiday season with some of the classics (I have as well), I stumbled upon this wonderful collection of Christmas pieces by non-fiction author Jeff Guinn and I cannot say enough about them. Working around the premise of telling the true story of Christmas from the perspective of Santa, Guinn has worked with the Big Man himself—and his wife, Layla—to shed light on how things came to be, as well as explaining some of the historical things that take place around this time of year. In this final piece, the story moves back to Nicholas and his perspective, filling in some of the final holes in the historical record, while also telling what some might call a slightly hokey piece of fiction as well. It was in the early 1840s that a storekeeper came up with the idea of bringing Santa to the children, allowing them to interact with him directly and tell some of what they might like. Nicholas was dead set against it, particularly when he saw the low caliber of ‘fake Santa’ the storekeeper intended to use. He vowed never to partake or condone it, though he understood some of the reasoning behind it all. When the emergence of malls appeared, ‘Mall Santas’ were all the rage, as the story shares some of their history. By the early 21st century, the story tells of a man who really wanted to capitalise on the Santa part of Christmas, creating a reality show to come up with the best one, who might act as spokesman for a high-end brand of toys. Nicholas, tired of seeing the subpar people chosen, is convinced to try out and show the world what Santa is really like. Trouble is, during auditions, he flubs it by trying to tell too much to a screening panel that only wants the basics, as known to every boy and girl. Santa will have to go another route, which includes qualifying through a Mall Santa candidacy, and thus begins the rigours of sitting and listening to what children would like. With the reality competition coming, Santa will have to train his mind and body, in hopes of not being eliminated before the final vote. Thankfully, he has a trusted group eager to assist. When the spotlight shines in New York on Christmas Eve, or dear Santa wants to be on stage, if only to show that the real thing wins the crown of BEST SANTA EVER! A slightly more comical take on all things Christmas, but a nice way to round things out in this series. Recommended to those who have enjoyed the other two books in the series, as well as the reading who likes some lighter fare at Christmas.

Jeff Guinn’s writing tells such a captivating tale, adding little-known facts to educate the reader throughout the experience. After devouring the first two books, I had to complete the series to see how everything comes together. Having penned a great deal about both Nicholas and Layla, it was time to fill in any gaps and provide more of a fictional account of how things could happen in this day and age. The references to many of the characters the series reader will already know enriches the experience, while complementing those who are newly added to the narrative. Guinn finds a way to mesh the mountain of information he has in an easy to digest read that will have readers flying through the pages with ease. With a mix of chapter lengths, Guinn and Nicholas take the reader through some of the more ‘reality-based’ aspects of current society, perhaps added their own social commentary. I felt that the piece had a slight ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ vibe to it on occasion, though it could be because I grew up on that film and love the nuances offered therein. While things did get a little hokey, I enjoyed the lighter reading and hope many will not become Scrooges to the entire series—as I noticed some did—if the caliber of this piece is not as high as the previous two, Not to be missed by those who love Christmas, or those who seek a spark during this holiday season.

Kudos, ‘Nicholas Holiday’ and Mr. Guinn for helping to remind me what Christmas is all about!

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

How Mrs. Claus Saved Christmas (The Christmas Chronicles #2), as told by Jeff Guinn

Nine stars

This holiday season, I discovered a gem in Jeff Guinn’s Autobiography of Santa Claus, which provided me with some wonderful context of all things related to St. Nicholas and Christmas. In this follow-up piece, Guinn tuns his sights on Layla, also known as Mrs. Claus, who played a central role in the aforementioned book, but also has her own story. In the opening section of this book, Guinn backs up much of what was outlined in the autobiography, as well as laying the backstory for Layla. After being left a great deal of money when her parents died in the late 4th century, Layla decided to take up offering gifts to the less fortunate children, where she encountered Nicholas and Felix—his sidekick—in a most interesting manner. After agreeing to work together, she and Nicholas grew closer before falling in love. Their efforts, soon supported by an ever-growing group of helpers, continued for many years, as Nicholas and Layla honed their skills and focused attention on certain nights around the world. While much of Europe had come to accept Christmas, there was a move away from its acceptance at the end of the Tudor dynasty in Britain, tied specifically to the squabbles between the Catholics and Protestants. As ships sailed to the New World, Puritans began setting up colonies in American, leaving Nicholas to decide there was a need for his presence there, ensuring the Christmas spirit made its mark. Layla stayed back in Britain, where Parliament and Charles I were at odds over governing, putting Christmas in jeopardy. Puritans in Parliament were led by Oliver Cromwell, who interacted regularly with Layla. While Layla sought to keep Christmas special in Britain, Cromwell sited that it was only a means of justifying drunkenness and debauchery, two things the Puritans could not abide. Meanwhile, some of the others in the group began creating a new-fangled sweet, a peppermint confection that left a buzz on the tongue. When news arrived that Layla was atop the list of Puritan traitors, she was ushered off to Canterbury for safe keeping. Still, the English Civil War raged on and Christmas was soon banned by legislation. Layla sought to promote Christmas from within, remaining off the radar while building up a small contingent of supporters in an effort to protest the ban. Creating a secret symbol to denote those who wanted to see Christmas protected for the masses—using those peppermint sweets shaped in a shepherd’s crook—Layla tried organising an effort to bring holiday magic back to Britain. When Puritans caught Layla and her group, they were punished for their actions and sent to face the consequences. However, Layla refused to believe that Christmas would be muted and pushed to have others see the benefits of celebration, even among the most straight laced of Christians. With Nicholas so far away at the time, it was up to Layla to defeat Cromwell and his soldiers, bringing joy back to Britain at a time when politics left things balancing precariously. A great complement to Guinn’s first book in the series, sure to be appreciated by those who have read it. Recommended to those who love Christmas, as well as the reader who enjoys obscure historical facts.

I have always been in awe by Jeff Guinn’s writing, as it tells such an interesting story and adds little known facts to enrich the reading experience. After devouring the first book in this series, I had to get my hands on this book to see how they would mesh together. Guinn does well to construct Layla her own backstory and melds it with the story from the aforementioned autobiography before tackling the central issue of the book, Christmas suppression in Britain. Those who have read the first book will see that this tome differs greatly in that there is an elongated focus—almost a fictional tale—on this issue, turning Layla into the obvious protagonist. Guinn develops some interesting Christmas tradition as he weaves together the puritanical suppression of Christmas during the English Civil War. Peppering the piece with some interesting characters and many aspects of English history, the reader ends up well-versed in all things Puritan and Oliver Cromwell. The twists and turns throughout leave the reader wanting to know more and wondering where the blurs between fact and fiction may lie. With a mix of chapter lengths, Guinn and Layla take the reader on countless adventures as they seek to shed light on the dark days of Christmas in 17th century England. Not to be missed by those who love Christmas, or those who seek a spark during this holiday season.

Kudos, Layla Nicholas and Mr. Guinn for helping to bring a smile to my face as I tackle this stunning Christmas read.

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

In the Dark, by Loreth Anne White

Nine stars

Loreth Anne White pens this chilling standalone novel with a mystery that gets better the more layers are revealed. In the rural British Columbia community of Kluhane Bay, hunters find the remains of a prop plane, though no one has reported any missing aircraft. Local RCMP investigate, only to find the pilot murdered within, identity unknown. As the investigation progresses, Search and Rescue are called in to help, though progress is slow going and the story behind the plane is bafflingly vague. Meanwhile, in a parallel narrative set a week before, a collection of eight individuals are mysteriously invited to a not-yet-opened luxury spa and resort, asked to come and place tenders on various services that will be needed. The RAKAM Group is paying for everything and the group must travel by prop plane to this highly secretive location. With the group gathered, things begin to happen that leave those present wondering if they are part of some larger scheme. Additionally, various members of the group are sure they know one another, but no one is saying much of anything. Arriving at an abandoned lodge, a typed poem explains how the group will be whittled down in various fatal events leaves everyone on edge. When the bodies begin piling up, this CLUE-esque story begins to gain momentum. Split between the events with the core group and the aforementioned investigation a week later, the reader is pulled into the middle of this mystery, which has so many twists and slow reveals that there will be few who opt for sleep before finishing this piece. White has laid the groundwork for a stunning read and needs only for readers to commit themselves to go into the dark, unsure if they will ever emerge. Highly recommended to those who love a mystery that requires complete concentration to crack, as well as the reader who enjoys a whodunit where the target continues to shift.

I have read a few White novels before and found myself spellbound, but nothing like I was here. With a brilliant double narrative, the reader learns things on both ends—the event and the investigation— seeking to find the truth somewhere in the middle. With a strong plot and a sub-plot involving all the characters on the trip, the story allows the reader to juggle numerous motives and ideas as they seek to get to the bottom of what is going on in this bucolic BC community. With each character possessing their own intense backstory, it is impossible to choose a single protagonist, though the reader is free to latch onto someone and follow their progress throughout. Blatantly inspired by an Agatha Christie novel—White makes mention of it throughout the narrative—the reader is able to follow the story but can never be entirely sure of what awaits them. With clues embedded within the story and a killer lurking in the shadows (or maybe plain sight), it will take simple time and determination to push through this novel to see how it all plays out. With a mix of short and longer chapters, White taunts the reader and forced them to decide if they can handle ‘just a little more’ before putting it down for the night. Told of the variety of perspectives, the reader gets first-hand information that will help meld the pieces of the story into a cohesive whole. I’d venture to say this is one of those books where a single sitting or late night reading is sure to be common. I cannot say enough about this book, which came out of nowhere and left me seeking more, like a true mystery addict.

Kudos, Madam White, for a stunning piece. This is what real mysteries are all about, where the reader cannot catch their breath at the end of the experience.

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

The Autobiography of Santa Claus (The Christmas Chronicles #1), as told by Jeff Guinn

Nine stars

During the holiday season, I turned to the gifted biography writer, Jeff Guinn, to open my mind to what must have been one of his most entertaining projects. Christmas tends to be a time of giving and there are many who find Santa Claus, Father Christmas, or St. Nicholas to be a key player in promoting this amongst the youngest part of the population. As Guinn reveals in the introduction, he was tasked with writing the autobiography of the man in red and provides a stunning piece for fans of all ages to enjoy. Born in what is now a region of Turkey in 280, Nicholas was always a very loving child. His parents doted on him before their death, when Nicholas was sent to live with the monks. While there, Nicholas discovered the art of secretly gifting to others who were less fortunate, a theme in his life for centuries to come. While things did not always go his way, Nicholas soon grew to become a priest and bishop, never forgetting those in need. It was at this time, when Nicholas attained the age of 60 or so, that he discovered his power to never age. He did, however, disappear from public sight and those within the community eventually were said to have found him dead in his bed, thereafter burying him and paying homage. Still, Nicholas lived and provided wonderful gifts to those who least expected it. Nicholas soon met a few important members of his team that would help him deliver gifts: Felix (a man who was a slave, but shared Nicholas’ passion for giving) and Layla (another secret gifter, who became a romantic interest). They would soon gain the same magical ability to live forever and work with Nicholas as he travelled around and provided gifts for children in need. Nicholas was eventually sainted, though he never let this get to his head, worrying more about how his power to help was stymied whenever they entered a war-torn area. Coming across many people to help as the world evolved and population growth continued, Nicholas soon honed his gift giving to a time between his name day (December 6th) and the Feast of Epiphany (January 6th). As time progressed, St. Nicholas became better known in Europe and served to bring joy to the lives of little ones, but with the discovery of the New World came Puritans who sought to rid the region of any celebratory connection to Christmas and Nicholas himself. It was at this time that Britain faced their own internal struggles and Christmas was all but wiped off the map. Diligently, St. Nicholas worked with his team to inject a new love of the holiday season. In what seems like a rush through the ages, the newly nicknamed Santa Claus tells how he acquired the name and what new people he met along the way that helped to shape the modern idea that many have about him, from his use of chimneys to flying reindeer and even tie-ins to many songs depicting his jolly nature. The latter portion of the book finds Santa settling in the North Pole to work and live permanently, an interesting tale all its own. How a man could have left an impact on children for close to 1800 years astounds me, but it is all here in this sensational autobiography that Jeff Guinn helped pen. Masterful in its detail and ties to historical events, this is sure to become a book readers return to regularly to spark a new light in their holiday traditions. Recommended for the lover of history, as well as those who enjoy learning a little more about the Christmas that one cannot find on the store shelves.

I have always been in awe when reading anything Jeff Guinn writes and this piece was no exception. While I have been aware of some facts about Nicholas throughout his life, I had no idea about the majority of the information depicted here, nor how it all tied together. Guinn’s extensive research and, perhaps (?), some writing freedoms allows the reader to get lost in the story of how this man went from orphan at nine to being a central part of the Christmas tradition, accepted by those who may not be heavy into the religious symbols of the season. The nuances and side stories are so plentiful and fit like a jigsaw puzzle, connecting seamlessly into the larger narrative and make for a sensational piece of biographic work. Like belief in St. Nicholas requires one to suspend reality at times, this book has moments where rational thought must be set aside and the magic of the season put front and centre. The attentive reader will be dazzled by what Guinn has done and will want to know more, which is thankfully available in two more volumes in the collection. With a mix of chapter lengths, Guinn and St. Nicholas take the reader on detailed or superficial journeys throughout the centuries, never skipping key aspects. There are countless moments for the reader to learn the history of the time and how Christmas was once so controversial, as well as how Church and secular decisions created many precedents still used today (but whose origins many did not know). This has secured a spot on my annual Christmas reading list for sure and I will recommend this easy to comprehend piece to anyone who wishes a warm holiday read that brings out the child in us all.

Kudos, St. Nicholas and Mr. Guinn for reminding us what the holiday season is all about and ensuring no one ever forgets.

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