Camino Winds (Camino Island #2), by John Grisham

Eight stars

John Grisham returns with another adventure on Camino Island, a small community in Florida. It’s been three years since readers have poked their heads around and much is going on. Bookstore owner Bruce Cable is waiting for his next bestsellers to arrive, as his small shop seems to be one of the premier places for authors to come and ensure they are successful. However, Hurricane Leo is approaching the island, expected to make landfall in the next few days. While it shakes the community and causes some damage, those who stick around soon realise that they will be able to pick up and pieces and keep living. When Bruce and a friend go in search of fellow author, Nelson Kerr, they find him dead in his home, though it does not look as though Leo is the cause of death. Kerr’s head wounds, as well as the sighting of a mysterious woman leads Bruce to feel that his friend must have been murdered, but there’s no clear understanding as to why. While the local and state police take their time, Bruce seeks some outside assistance is determining what’s been going on, hiring a private firm in DC. When Kerr’s latest manuscript turns up, it hints at why someone may have wanted to keep him quiet, as the premise of this work of fiction surrounds a magical drug being administered to certain residents of care facilities. Meanwhile, someone has been approaching employees of these facilities and asking for the dirt around procedures and policies. Could there be a massive scam taking place, one that Nelson Kerr uncovered and was ready to reveal to the world in his writing? Grisham does well with this more mystery-based novel that allows the focus to turn away from legal tactics and lawyer fees. A refreshing book and even better than the series debut. Recommended to those who love a good mystery, as well as the reader who is a fan of Grisham and his various story types.

I remember not being overly impressed with the first novel in this series three years ago. Perhaps I was too stuck in my ways of Grisham being a legal thriller writer and struggled with this less than clearcut novel. However, it would seem that Grisham heard his fans and has honed his skills to focus more on the mystery and less the romantic side of the plot. Bruce Cable is again in a main role and does well throughout, keeping his witticisms strong and his search for the truth on point. Grisham does not lose any momentum with this character, as the man turns from bookseller and playboy to a serious crime fighter and one who will do anything for his friends. Other characters help push the story along, less in a smarmy and saccharine manner, adding elements to the mystery and the overall conspiracy that keeps the reader wanting to know a little more. The story is on point and while it is not as legal as one might expect with a Grisham piece, it has great development and kept me pushing forward. With ten chapters that are broken down into smaller parts, the reader is able to digest as much or as little as they want at any given time. I’d read a third in the series, since I feel Grisham has a better handle on things now. That said, I love a good legal thriller and do not want Grisham to leave that behind.

Kudos, Mr. Grisham, for a nice offshoot to your usual fare. I am happy to take this journey off the beaten path and hope others were as entertained.

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

The Morgan Files (Two Dan Morgan Short Stories), by Leo J. Maloney

Eight stars

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

A great fan of Leo J. Maloney, I was pleased to have received this collection of two previously published short pieces in the Dan Morgan series. Please find my previous reviews of these books, which remain strong writing and help to advance all things Morgan:

Twelve Hours (Dan Morgan #3.5)

Maloney brings Dan Morgan out for a wonderful short story to keep fans on the edge of their seats. With the President of Iran in New York City to make peace, security is heightened, but no one expects an inside job when Islamic terrorists begin a destructive set of events that has Morgan and his daughter, Alex, in the eye of the storm. While acts take place at various sites, Morgan and the FBI must fight to quell the action and keep the hostages safe. Working to free the hostages is one thing, but with a head of state held captive, there are no second chances, which Morgan knows all too well. Maloney takes the readers through the story in a mere twelve hours to save the city and pave the way towards peace on numerous fronts. A great novella with just enough action and new character introduction.

Maloney teases his fans effectively with this submission, though it could easily have been drawn out into a longer story. While the snippet-length chapters allow readers to forge ahead in an effective manner, the jilted style can be somewhat hard for the reader to gather the needed momentum in one scene. Still, it is a bridge to the next full-length book and likely there have been some characters and scenarios peppered within the pages to make a decent transition.

For Duty and Honor (Dan Morgan #4.5)

While readers await the next full-length Dan Morgan novel, Maloney keeps his fans sated with this entertaining short story. After being captured while on a mission in Russia, Dan Morgan is sent to a Siberian prison camp. Refusing to acknowledge his existence, let alone his his mission, Zeta Division will be of no assistance whatsoever. While Morgan toils within the horrible conditions of this prison that houses those who are meant to be forgotten, Alex Morgan refuses to wait idly by for her father’s rescue. A recent Zeta recruit, Alex demands answers of her own and heads to Russia with one name, someone who owes her father a favour. While trying to learn of his whereabouts, the younger Morgan must use her skills to bring her father home safely. However, some things do not work out as smoothly as can be hoped. Back in his prison camp, Morgan befriends another prisoner, a young Arab named Basri. After devising a plan to break-out, Morgan and Basri find themselves on the lam as they flee their captors. It is only then that Morgan realises that Basri has bigger plans, ones that could jeopardise America and his own sense of justice. Maloney crafts this high-impact thriller that keeps readers wondering until the final pages.

The Dan Morgan series is one that can be easily enjoyed by those who like something with a little edge, but who are also fond of the espionage thrillers on the market today. Maloney’s writing and chracterisations pulls on his past experiences, but also remains fresh and allows the reader to connect well with all involved. The narrative is crisp and in this short story the chapters are quick, allowing the reader to forge onwards with ‘just a little more’. Utilising the Dan AND Alex Morgan approach allows readers to connect with both independently, as well as see their joint struggles, which can only be useful for upcoming novels. Maloney should also be complimented for using not one, but two (three if we count Alex’s) scenarios to keep the story moving forward, paralleling two of America’ greatest enemies in the 21st century, the Russians and religious terrorists. While not unique, Maloney offers a spin that sets his work apart from others in the genre. This was a great teaser for readers before the next novel comes out, something that is surely highly anticipated by those who follow Dan Morgan and his adventures.

Kudos, Mr. Maloney for two great short stories, developed with all the necessary ingredients. Well written and fast-paced, which will definitely earn the praise of series fans and new readers alike.

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

Lazarus (Joona Linna #7), by Lars Kepler

Nine stars

I find myself excited whenever a new novel by Lars Kepler makes its way to print in English, as I can be assured of a strong story that is not lost when translated. This novel was not a disappointment, as Joona Linna is back to fight another serial killer, but this time there’s a twist. Superintendent Joona Linna continues to hold his coveted position within Sweden’s National Crime Division, though he is rocked when he discovers that his former wife’s head has been discovered in a freezer. The presumed killer is also found dead in Finland, bringing a momentary amount of solace. When the murder of two other criminals have loose connections to Linna, the local police begin asking questions. Linna is baffled and tries to tie it all together, but comes up blank. Meanwhile, the finger of a dead serial killer turns up, leading many to wonder if he might have been alive this whole time. Jurek Walter was a killer known less for his brutal slayings than the psychological damage he did to his victim’s families, as he buried those he captured alive and waited for them to perish. Might Walter be using a proxy to enact some new killings, ‘cleaning up’ some of the criminal detritus that lingers throughout Europe? Saga Bauer, a colleague of Linna’s, remembers fatally shooting Jurek Walter, or so she thought, leaving her as spooked as the others. While Linna and Bauer try to piece together who’s been killing these criminals, it becomes apparent that neither are entirely safe. Linna flees Sweden to find his adult daughter and take her into hiding again, while Bauer leads the hunt to find Walter. When Bauer’s father and kid sister go missing, she knows that she’s in the middle of a cat and mouse game that could end horribly. Fuelled by the love she has for her family, Bauer will stop at nothing to find the man that she thought she’d killed, knowing he thrives on toying with her. Once Linna makes the effort to come out of hiding, he’s ready to hunt Jurek Walter down once and for all, even if it costs him his life. Working in the wooded areas around the country, Bauer and Linna must set a trap before they become the hunted. A brilliant and dark piece by Lars Kepler that only substantiates that this is a much more complex novel than it appears to be on the surface. Recommended to those who love Scandinavian crime thrillers, as well as the reader who is familiar with Kepler’s way of writing and pulling the storyline out for all to savour.

I was introduced to Kepler a number of years ago and found myself enthralled from the get-go. In fact, Kepler is one of many Scandinavian authors whose crime thrillers I thoroughly enjoy. Joona Linna is a wonderful protagonist, as he rarely sees light and glee in his life, forced to cobble together something worthwhile so as not to fall into an emotional abyss. His reunification with a daughter who barely remembered him is nice, though he thrusts her right back into the middle of the drama and must protect her without knowing which way to turn. Others find their way into the story with ease, particularly Saga Bauer, fighting their own demons and trying to push the story forward. Kepler has a wonderful way of painting the characters in so many different lights that there is something for everyone in this piece. The story was strong, though slow to get moving. The subplots work and, by the end, some of the dangling threads seem to find resolution, if not new cliffhangers. As I have said before, the fact that this book is translated from the original Swedish is not apparent at first glance, as the story and narrative are quite smooth. I am eager to see what else Joona Linna might have fall into his lap as he faces new and dastardly criminals in the upcoming novels.

Kudos, Lars Kepler, for your wonderful collaborative effort. I have loved every one of your books and this was no exception. While you may be an acquired taste, I encourage everyone to give your writing a try!

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

Jim Henson: The Biography, by Brian Jay Jones

Nine stars

Embarking on my third biography penned by Brian Jay Jones, I had high hopes as I sought to learn much about Jim Henson. A man who was as complex as he was innovative, Jones depicts Henson as a man worth the attention of the curious reader. Born in Mississippi, James ‘Jim’ Henson and his family were not long dwellers of the South. Moving to the Washington, D.C. area not long after Jim’s birth in 1936, this allowed Jim’s father to work in government. While young Jim was always able to use his imagination, he had a passion for entertaining and engaging with others. When it came time to make his way to post-secondary, Henson was sure that he wanted to get into the new medium of televising, eager to use some of his artistic flair to create sets that could dazzle the home viewer. However, somewhere along the way, puppeteering caught his attention and he became enthralled with the art. The entire realm came naturally to Henson, as Jones describes throughout the early chapters of the book, and characters appeared to come together at the oddest times. At a period when much of the television was local, Henson was out to score a spot on DC networks to show off his trade. He was successful in landing a spot with a children’s television show in the last 1950s, bringing education and enjoyment to youngsters, while making a name for himself. His colourful characters caught the attention of many, so much so that some of these puppets soon won spots as guests on highly popular programs, offering a national spotlight to the young Henson and whetting his appetite for more. Henson was happy, but his ambitions could not be ignored.

As Jones discusses at some length, while Henson was happy with his work, he fought a constant uphill battle about his place in television. Having dubbed his own type of puppets as ‘Muppets’, Henson sought to ensure that they were not labelled as “children’s entertainment”, but rather something that everyone could enjoy. Muppets may be highly entertaining to those who could suspend reality to a degree, but this did not mean that they were only for children. Henson sought to hone his skills and show the world that Muppets could be highly useful in entertaining the adult mind, with humour and banter that would appeal to the older audience. Henson continued to create new and exciting Muppet characters, names that would one day become synonymous with the Jim Henson name. While networks were slow to jump onto the bandwagon, Henson never stopped expanding his ideas or connections in the world of puppetry. When the Children’s Television Workshop approached him in the late 1960s about a new and innovative children’s program, Henson was highly interested, as this might be an ideal platform to help bring some of his Muppets to life, even though it was back in the realm of children’s entertainment. What came of these discussions soon developed into the juggernaut Sesame Street, allowing Henson to always look ahead to new and exciting projects. Jones depicts not only the development of Sesame Street in this biography, but some of the early successes and struggles that Henson and his fellow members faced. Very interesting to the curious reader, particularly if this was one of their staple shows as a child.

Jim Henson was nothing if not a workaholic. His ideas were almost infinite and he was happy to pursue every lead to see if it led to a pot of gold. This would put a definite strain on Henson and his young family, but Jim could not let that deter him. Seeking a prime time platform for his Muppets, Henson began trying to come up wth a variety show of sorts that would feature a great deal of Muppet-based skits aimed at a larger family audience. He stumbled, as executives were not yet sold on the idea, eventually turning to some funding in the United Kingdom to get things off the ground. When The Muppet Show debuted in the mid-1970s, it soon had a massive following and Henson knew he had a winner. He continued to produce and write for the series, wooing big name stars to come for their respective guest appearances. This spawned new Muppets and greater interest in all things that Henson had to offer. The show’s success eventually turned into a major market, with movies, animated shows, and merchandise that would keep Henson financially stable for years to come. Jones illustrates some of the major projects that Henson tried to fit between taping his television shows, always looking past what had been done and where he could go next. His success was balanced out with tight deadlines and, at times, some highly difficult negotiations. Into the 1980s, Henson’s ideas continued, though so did the interest for outside groups to make a bid to own his legacy. Jones explores some of the decisions that Henson had to make as he grew older, wanting to ensure his Muppets were not lost in an era of network restructuring, turning to Disney to protect all that he held dear. The negotiations were tough, but Henson held firm and negotiated with Disney to ensure a safe place. In the last portion of the book, Jones explores a rapid illness that took hold of Henson, which led to a spiral in his health and dead in May 1990. As septic shock was attributed as the cause, the world mourned the loss of this man. Jones spends the last chapter exploring the outpouring of grief and joy in equal measure for a man who touched the lives of so many, myself included.

I have always found it refreshing to explore people and events that shaped my life, even if I do not know much about them. In each of the biographies I have read by Brian Jay Jones, I took much away fro the experience, particularly when I could ‘peek behind the curtain’ to see the inner workings of things. This Jim Henson biography was the first written of the three I have read, which offered me a unique perspective into the writing style Jones has. While it is hard to compare the three, as they all offer insightful explorations into their subjects, Jones definitely offered a massive exploration into the life and times of Jim Henson. There was so much detail on which the reader can feast, as well as a strong narrative that ties things together wonderfully. The story flowed so well and the pace between chapters kept the reader wanting to know a little more. Jim Henson was surely a man of many pursuits, forcing Jones to look under many a (Fraggle) rock to get the true story of this man, but it was done with such ease. I learned so much and just wish I had to time to check out each of the areas covered in this book to learn more. The balance of personal and professional life is masterful, tying things together nicely while always making Henson out to look like a reasonable man.. Jones does so well that the reader will surely be shunned at some parts and enthralled by others, but never lose their intrigue into what drove the man throughout. Anyone who has even a passing interest in all things Sesame Street, Muppet Show, or even Jim Henson will take something away from this book. It surely helped me relive my oft-forgotten childhood years and the warmth that I can now pass along to Neo, who missed out on some wonderful and truly intriguing television.

Kudos, Mr. Jones, for helping me bring my childhood back to life, as well as shedding much light on the life of Jim Henson. He will be missed and television is nowhere nearly as exciting without him. The Henson footprint lives on and you do well to help in that regard.

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

Lethal Politics, by Bob Blink

Out of fairness, I will not offer a star rating, as I did not complete reading this book!

I gravitated towards Bob Blink’s book when I read the dust jacket blurb. I had hoped that this, a political thriller, would interest me, especially since it surrounded a fictitious presidential election. POTUS is seeking re-election, after steering his policies away from the GOP core’s central beliefs. This alienation causes him to lose his base of support, though this is the least of his worries. A strong and progressive Democrat is burning up the campaign trail and should be a sure opponent in November. But, how to derail such a strong contender? That’s the premise of this book though I did not made it far enough to truly delve into the gist of it.

While many bemoan the issues of COVID-19 being staying safe and healthy, my plight lies with trying to stay entertained with books. I have found that this isolation has me reading more (and for longer periods at a time), whereby I find more duds and books that do not capture my attention. While I suspect it is neither all me or the authors, it is a tad disconcerting. Blink’s book is not poorly staged or written, but I just could not find myself hooked enough to want to push onwards. I am not sure what it is, but I was happy to set it aside after an hour of reading. Perhaps I will return to it another day or month, but for now… I have some solid reads that need my attention.

Kudos, Mr. Blink for trying… and for changing the path in the 2020 presidential election. Alas, we are not so lucky with reality, though it is not yet June (see book for reference).

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

Walk the Wire (Amos Decker #6), by David Baldacci

Eight stars

David Baldacci is back with another of his powerhouse Amos Decker novels, which never ceases to impress. Decker and his team are sent to the small community of London, North Dakota to investigate the murder of a woman. Her skull has been hacked open and her brain removed, as well as the evisceration of her stomach. Decker cannot make much sense of it, but soon learns that the victim was the teacher on a religious colony just outside of town. When not teaching the minds of tomorrow, she was entertaining the men of the community with her sexual prowess, which is another angle that Decker feels might play a part in her death. London is not the bucolic town it might seem, as a military installation appears to be quite busy on the outskirts, something that Decker learns is related to satellite monitoring. However, something seems off and so the investigation turns in that direction, as odd vehicles appear and planes are in the vicinity at odd hours. While Decker pushes forward, there are some who seem to take offence to this and he lands in a spot of trouble. Just when things get at their most tense, a mysterious figure shows up to cast some light on the situation and save Decker’s hide. More bodies turn up, some mysterious suicides and others outright murders. It would seem there is more to this small town than meets the eye, something some within the US Army want to keep secret. While Decker wants to find the killer, there are bigger fish to fry. Why, then, would someone like Will Robie be here and how will that impact the case? A great piece with some strong cross-over elements to one of Baldacci’s other series. Recommended to fans of his work, as well as the reader who needs a little thrill put back into their day!

I love a story that pulls me in from the opening pages and does not let up. Baldacci does that here from the outset, with his strong mix of characters. That the story was set in North Dakota only added to things for me, as I grew up a few hours away, over the Canadian border. As always, Amos Decker is a wonderful protagonist and his way of thinking keeps me on my toes throughout. His thought process and somewhat rational way of coming to some conclusions makes the story all the better, keeping the reader wanting more. There was definitely a softer side that emerged in this piece, as Decker connects with siblings from his past. Might there be a turn towards the more amenable side of this rock-hard man? The others who emerge in this piece help to complement Decker’s work, as well as keep the action moving. Will Robie’s cross-over appearance here left me wondering if Baldacci wanted to bring one of his past protagonists back, seeing as there have been some new projects taking precedence. Decker and Robie work well together and the race to the answer is found with their teaming up. The story was strong, as usual, and the plot kept evolving throughout, with twists that Baldacci explains to those who pay attention. I am happy to see some cross-over work and would be keen to see if Baldacci tries it again, as it seemed seamless to me. Now to wait for the next book, which is always the hardest part.

Kudos, Mr. Baldacci, for another great Amos Decker instalment. I love how creative you can be, given the opportunity.

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

The Weight of a Moment, by Michael Bowe

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

Thankfully, for all involved, I will not rate this book, as I could not stomach its completion!

I was contacted not too long ago by Michael Bowe to read and review this book. Interestingly enough, my GR feed and daily emails had been flooded with excellent reviews of this book, so it seemed almost as though fate were shining down upon me. When the book arrived, I tucked in, thinking that I could magically devour this book, as I do with many well-structured pieces that I enjoy. I faltered soon after beginning and thought to put it aside. When the arrival of COVID-19 gave me more time to read, I thought about this book and chose to pick it up again. Again, I faltered and had to put it down. At a time when we are to distance ourselves from things that could make us ill or cause distress, I felt I had no choice but to stop while I was still feeling well. Isolation should not be about reading pieces that do not interest the reader.

So, here is where we stand. A book that was promised to be “the best you will ever read, or I will return your money” by the author. Alas, mine cost me nothing, so I cannot even be recompensed for the time utilised trying to make sense out of the opening pages. While I know I am in the minority here, I must say to anyone who is offered this book, do not let the money back guarantee hook you. Run away, for the weight of the moment you will enjoy this book is counteracted by the colossal pain of trying to spin something positive in your review, knowing the minions and trolls will attack you.

Kudos, Mr. Bowe, for the lovely cover jacket drawings. Perhaps, as well, for fooling many others into finding praiseworthy comments to cobble together!

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

Undercard, by David Albertyn

No rating, as I did not finish this book!

This book was strongly recommended to me by someone on Goodreads. They went so far as to send me a copy for my reading ease. After pushing through the opening part, twice, I have come to see that this novel by David Albertyn was not for me. A boxer who is climbing the ranks and seeking a title shot, but whose past is never too far away. Friends of Antoine are coming out of the woodwork, though is it his fame or something else they find appealing? I suppose Albertyn will draw some readers in, but I just could not find myself want to learn more or even explore how the characters develop.

At a time when I am forced to be at home, with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, I seek books that will pull me in. This is not the first that failed to do so, and will likely not be the last. However, much like the friend who comes over when you want to be doing something else, I could not go 12 rounds with this story and not seek my own TKO!

Kudos, Mr. Albertyn. I hope others are ready for the battle, but this was just not my thing!

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

The Perfection of the Paper Clip: Curious Tales of Invention, Accidental Genius, and Stationery Obsession, by James Ward

Nine stars

Have you ever opened your junk drawer and wondered where some of those random items came from? Pencils, highlighters, paper clips… these sorts of things appear as if out of nowhere. James Ward goes one step further in this book, asking where these items originated and the history behind them. A self-professed stationery geek, Ward opens his piece telling of how he found a small desk organiser, before beginning to explore what he keeps in the various compartments. The curious reader who has always wondered about the history and varieties of paperclips, pens, and even pencils will find this book enlightening and entertaining. Ward also explores the impetus behind the creation of the highlighter, the glue stick, and even the common stapler (which can be used in a few configurations). Ward dazzles with his enthusiasm on the various topics within the book, which is sure to be something about which few people give a second thought. That said, it’s fun to explore things we use regularly and yet know so little about, at least for me. The concluding chapter sums it up so well: the history of stationery is the history of human civilisation, plain and simple. I admit, I am much like James Ward, as I got my ‘geek’ on while learning so much about the world of stationery. Recommended to those who like a lighter read that is packed with information, as well as the reader who truly does want to know the controversies that occurred in the world of stationery advancements.

I’ll be the first to admit that this book almost fell into my lap when I was at the library a while back. I held onto it, wondering how I could incorporate it into my reading schedule. When it came time to create topics for my A Book for All Seasons reading challenge (we are up to Round 10), I knew I would have to find a zany way to weave this into my reading list. Ward does so well laying the groundwork for this interesting collection of short biographies. While many would rather stab themselves in the eye with a paper clip, Ward delves into the histories and controversies about patenting this piece of stationery equipment that makes life so much easier. Ward pulls on the various storylines and histories without boring the reader with too much information. Travelling across the various pieces of stationery, Ward traces the history of items to a time before the Common Era while debunking some of the rumours and urban legends that have been tied to these small things. Who knew that an out of work secretary (who was a horrible typist) could create a fluid to cover her regular mistakes on the typewriter? Might you have guessed that there was a huge controversy in the making of ballpoint pens, both their ink viscosity and writing fluidity? Ward tackles these and many other topics that are perfect for your next (post-COVID 19) dinner party. While I am sure many would let a copy of this book collect dust in their junk drawer, should they be gifted one, I would find a place on my coffee table and riddle my guests with this knowledge. Perhaps that’s why no one comes to see me for a social visit.

Kudos, Mr. Ward, for this great piece of writing that pushes the boundaries of the random facts and fictions. I learned so very much and would love to see what else you might ‘pen’ in future for my reading perusal.

This book fulfils the Topic #3: Junk Drawer requirement of the Equinox #10 reading challenge.

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

George Lucas: A Life

Nine stars

After reading one of the other biographies he penned, I knew it was only a matter of time before I returned to tackle another piece by Brian Jay Jones. In this thoroughly explored piece, Jones tackles the life and times of George Lucas, who was the man behind the lens of many iconic films, most notably six of the Star Wars saga and Indiana Jones, that iconic hero. Jones offers a comprehensive look into the man’s life and a great deal of behind the scenes to exemplify why the reader ought to take note of what Lucas did and the impact he had on others. Born a scrawny kid in California, George Lucas just wanted to have fun, though he seemed to be out of his element. The brunt of many attacks by bullies, young George sought to carve out his own niche and lost himself in the world of comics whenever possible. The new medium of television astonished him, as he could see the stories from his books and comics come to life on the screen, something he imagined that he could do. When he failed at an early newspaper career as a teen, Lucas needed something to occupy his time and school did not seem to be the answer, though his need for fast cars was a means by which to feed his adrenaline rush as well. His grades were poor and his attention wavered at every turn. When George refused to enter the family stationary business, his father refused to bankroll anything in the arts at college, leaving the younger Lucas to turn to something that interested him and yet could still pass muster with his father. George chose film school, not realizing how ‘artistic’ it could be, and thrived from the get-go. Jones explores how Lucas came into his own when taught some of the basics of film, turning a young man with little ambition into a powerhouse. Lucas sought to push the boundaries and challenge everything, all to make a point. His medium was the screen, where he could bring any idea to life and captivate the world, or at least anyone with enough patience to sit through what was playing before them.

It was while in film school at the University of Southern California that Lucas rubbed elbows with a few other up and comers, namely Francis Ford Coppola and a wiry young student, Steven Spielberg. Lucas admired the former and was taken under his wing for a time, while the latter was seen idolising Lucas (which would lead to a life-long friendship, competitive streak, and some collaborative efforts). All three would work together alongside one another throughout Lucas’ career in film, as Jones shows repeatedly. With the education behind him, Lucas made his way out into the world to make movies and influence others. His ideas were bountiful and he sought to create something meaningful from the outset, but financial limitations were always going to be an issue. Jones explores the struggles to get backing as a new kid on the block, though Lucas was never short of ideas. He penned many a proposal and turned out a blockbuster hit in American Graffiti, though it was anything but guaranteed. Lucas continues to search for something better and turned to some of his ideas of a superhero series set in space, which gave birth to perhaps some of the most iconic movie making in the latter part of the 1970s and spawned an ‘empire’ that has become a cult classic. Jones thoroughly discusses and explores the time and effort Lucas spent in writing, directing, and producing the first Star Wars trilogy, which was highly stressful and would cost Lucas a marriage. Jones argues throughout that Lucas had a passion for film that surpassed anything else, leaving others to either join him or wait for it to be convenient for the icon. With an unknown cast and vastly expensive ideas for the time, Lucas sought to bring his dreams to life. Money was the central object and yet things seemed to come together, as the doubters were forced to eat crow and Lucas made a name for himself, while padding his bank account at the same time. Interspersing his work on all things Jedi, Lucas also created another of his life-long ambitions, a more down to earth adventure series with one Indiana Jones in the title role, headed by his Star Wars leading man, Harrison Ford.

By the time the first Star Wars trilogy was done in 1983, Lucas was exhausted and yet still making a name for himself. His work was far from over and with a production company bearing his name, George Lucas was not about to rest on his own laurels. He had been working on Indiana Jones films and set about to keep doing so, trying to keep the series running and the public hungering for his work. As Jones intimates throughout this portion of the biography, Lucas faced many questions about the future of Star Wars, as well as whether he had any ideas. While Lucas would rebuff much of this, he had a few things simmering and chose to tackle the prequel trilogy, helping to explain how things evolved. Jones describes the struggles and the new technology that Lucas had at his fingertips to reinvigorate the original trilogy and how to make this new one even better. Juggling that and some other projects, Lucas also had family obligations and ended up dating to keep himself happy. Jones mentions that he may have finally come out of his shell enough to allow a second person to share his passion, while not choosing moviemaking as his sole mistress. With the success of his movies, Lucas chose to step away from the limelight, though did not want his legacy buried. His sale of Lucasfilms to Disney turned him a massive profit, but also ensured that the <i>Star Wars</i> films would receive their stardom in perpetuity. Finally happy, Lucas could let others worry about the nitty-gritty, as the Force left him to enjoy some form of retirement.

I was so intrigued with how Brian Jay Jones handled another biography I read recently that I knew I would be coming back for this one. While I was just a wee lad when Star Wars was popular, I have seen some of the Lucas-made films and wanted to know more about the man behind them. Jones takes the reader on an amazing journey through the life of George Lucas, showing not only his dazzling moments, but also the pitfalls that he was forced to overcome. From his wimpy childhood days to his battling with others to fund his massive film projects, Lucas was never one to back away from adversity, seeing himself as having reason for his actions. Jones depicts this well throughout, choosing not to deify the man, but also not making him out to be completely out of touch with those around him. While many have said that George Lucas could not relate to his actors, the biography shows a man keenly interested in connecting to those who breathed life into his ideas, though the director/producer always had a vision and god help anyone who stood in his way. There is also a wonderful theme running throughout of the friendships that Lucas made early in his career (Coppola, Spielberg, etc) and how they could come together at times, complementing their respective rise to stardom. Jones uses the three parts of the book to effectively divide Lucas’ life, showing how he rose to notoriety, lived the intense life that was Star Wars and then settled into a career that continued to earn him much fame. I did take a great deal away from this book and hope to learn more about the man, as Jones has paved the way and offered a few interesting pathways worth following. Anyone eager to know the man behind the George Lucas persona need look no further than this book, as Brian Jay Jones has penned yet another powerful biography of someone who was able to wiggle his way into the daily lexicon of those who understand the basics of pop culture. I was so thoroughly impressed and cannot wait to see what else Jones has uncovered on other iconic figures.

Kudos, Mr. Jones, for shining a much-needed light on another wonderful figure. You handle these subjects so well, no wonder people turn to you to tell their lives in print.

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