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:

The Lost Tomb (Lost #1), by N.J. Croft

Eight stars

I leapt into the world of N.J. Croft on the recommendation of a friend, which appears to have paid off well. After devouring the opening novella, I turned to this book, which I was sure would offer more insight into the mysteries of Genghis Khan. Rather, it packs a thrilling punch and takes things in some other, but entertaining, directions. Noah Blakeley works in a highly trained group for the American Government, searching out and neutralising terrorist groups. Working inside Project Arachnid, he is alerted to the news that his ex-wife, Dr. Eve Blakeley, was killed in a plane crash in Russia. Not only that, but Blakeley must now relocate to the United Kingdom to take care of his three estranged children. As Blakeley gets his feet under him, he begins poking around into what Eve had been doing, learning a little about her Genghis Khan work and what she was trying to find. The more he uncovers, the stronger the sense is to Noah that Eve was killed by a group seeking to protect all things related to Khan’s resting place, as a strong legend surrounds what could happen when the secret location is revealed. Noah makes plans to travel to Russia and potential Mongolia to uncover what was known and get to the root of it all. Working alongside an apparent colleague of Eve’s, Noah realises that he may have taken on more than he should. A call from back in the UK reveals that someone’s kidnapped his daughter and wants the whereabouts of the secret tomb discovered. Fuelled by determination, Noah does all he can, knowing that one false move could see him dead and his daughter’s body sliced by a sick group calling themselves the Descendants of Genghis Khan. All this, while a major terrorism conference is set to open in Russia, where many world leaders will attend and could be killed. An exciting follow-up to the novella, Croft keeps the reader guessing as they travel down many a rabbit hole in order to discover the truth from centuries ago. Recommended to those who need a little adventure in their lives, as well as for readers who enjoyed the opening novella.

I am happy to have taken up the N.J. Croft challenge and will surely explore some of the other novels that have been published but are not part of this small collection. While I was expecting more Dr. Eve Blakeley, Croft chose to explore things from the other side of the coin, offering up Noah instead. A gritty man with a military background, Blakeley has the domestic life parachuted into his lap, as he makes the best of a horrible situation. However, given the right mix of situations, he shows his true colours and can battle with the best of them. His hard exterior is offset by a love for his pre-teen daughter, whose life is all but certain. Croft utilizes his protagonist well and presents a handful of other secondary characters whose presence keeps the story moving effectively. There is truly a mix of action with emotional connection in a story that seeks to build off the previous novella, while also standing on its own. The story works well and has a few twists that take the plot in unforeseen directions, while a mix of chapter lengths allow each to build on one another. Croft writes in such a fashion that the reader is left wanting to know more. I will gladly try another of the standalone novels, as this reader worked well and kept me intrigued until the final reveal.

Kudos, N.J. Croft, for a great (though brief) duology, which got me at least a little curious about Genghis Khan. I hope others discover all your work and your fan base increases.

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

The Lost Spear (Lost #0.5), by N.J. Croft

Eight stars

On the recommendation of a friend, I chose to look into the world of N.J. Croft’s work. I stumbled upon this free novella, which appears to introduce a new series and thought it the best place to begin. Dr. Eve Blakeley has had a life-long ambition to track down the whereabouts of the Spirit Banner of Genghis Khan, a spear wrapped in horse hair that is said to possess the soul of one of the world’s great terrorists. Stolen from its Mongolian home in the 1930s, Blakeley is given the opportunity to fulfil this goal while supervising an archeological dig. After some reticence, she agrees, but not before she is mysteriously visited by MI6 Agent Zachary Martin. Blakeley and Martin come to discover there may be more to the dig than meets the eye and proceed with caution. While in Mongolia, Blakeley finds herself living her dream, though it is much more dangerous than she might have expected. As Martin makes a covert appearance alongside those in the archeological group, both he and Blakeley come to terms with issues in their respective pasts that could trigger problems at any minute. Finding the Spirit Banner is anything but a simple task and things turn deadly as both sides—those who want the mystery revealed and those happy to bury it deeper—clash in the Mongolian desert. Blakeley is pushed to the brink, but also offered a second life-altering opportunity, if she can survive this one! An exciting piece by N.J. Croft that gets the blood pumping and hooks the reader to try the full-length novel next. Recommended to those who have a little time on their hands they need to fill, as well as the reader who likes an historical thriller with lots to tell!

I am happy I took the time to read this novella, as it proved to be well worth my time. With a captivating concept, N.J. Croft keeps the action going and the story moving at a clipped pace. Dr. Eve Blakeley is a decent character whose backstory is revealed a little with this piece. I was intrigued by her need to fulfil some long-awaited goal and yet finding that it is more than she expected, which may be why I chose her for my reading challenge (see below). A recent divorcée, Blakeley must put family before ambition, but the stakes are sometimes too high to ignore. I am eager to see what else the author has in store for Blakeley, as hints are made in the closing pages of the book about a new and even more dangerous adventure. Others in the piece work well to fuel both sides of the issue, offering the reader something exciting throughout without getting too silly. Croft mixes action with emotional connection to the topic at hand, which is expressed in keen dialogue between poignant characters. The story may not have been earth shattering, but this novella serves to pave the way for more, something the reader can discover in the full novel that follows this piece. With short chapters that build on one another, Croft keeps the reader wanting to know more. I am eager to sink my teeth into more work by the author, specifically the novel that follows this short piece.

Kudos, N.J. Croft, for a great introduction to your work. Your travels have surely helped hone your skills at storytelling, which are on offer here in spades.

This book fulfils Topic #2: Travel Buddy, of the Equinox #10 Reading Challenge.

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

A Tale of Magic… (A Tale of Magic #1), by Chris Colfer

Nine stars

Receiving a strong recommendation to try this book, I set about reading it with Neo during the early stages of our COVID-19 isolation (where I spun it to be part of his language arts curriculum as I called it ‘creating reading’). While were were both enthralled with it, I can only read so much at a time, so we were advancing at a pace more suited to the attention span and sit down abilities of an eight-year-old. With Neo’s permission, I took the leap to listen to the audiobook on my own, which has Chris Colfer narrating his own piece. What an adventure it has turned out to be! Brystal Evergreen is a precocious girl who does not like the severity of the laws in the Southern Kingdom. As a young woman, she is not allowed to do anything but learn how to be a good wife to her future husband, which includes no reading whatsoever. Pushing the limits, she acquires a job as an evening maid in the town library, where she can read to her heart’s content when no one is around. She discovers a secret collection of books and begins reading them, though they have all been banned. When she comes upon one all about magic, she is intrigued and begins reading aloud, only to discover that she triggers something upon uttering an incantation for testing faeries. Unsure what to do with this knowledge, Brystal tries it again one night, but is caught and hauled off to jail, where she is sent through the legal system in quick order. When someone shows her a crumb of mercy, she is shipped off to a work camp rather than be executed for her crimes. Misery has a new name and Brystal soon discovers it in the form of her new residence. She is sure to die in this place with nothing and no one around her, save one sweet young girl. One morning, Madame Celeste Weatherberry comes to the work camp with an order from King Champion XIV to have Brystal released into her care. Madame Weatherberry takes Brystal with her and explains that magic is by no means the evil thing that she has been told. Madame Weatherberry has plans to create an academy where young people can hone their skills. As Brystal helps Madame Weatherberry find other new recruits who will bring a number of unique skills to the academy, news of a problem comes from the north, forcing Brystal to hold down the fort. What evil awaits in the Northern Kingdom and how will Brystal and her new friends conquer it with their new-found powers? The reader is pushed into the middle of quite the adventure, with all the creatures that make fantasy worth the read (and this coming from a guy who steers clear of this genre most of the time). A great story for young adult fans who enjoy something with a bit more fantasy to it. Recommended to those readers, as well as the young at heart.

I was surprised when I made the connection that Chris Colfer was an actor whose work I used to enjoy. However, what astonished me even more was the quality of the book which is said to be for young adults, as well as its ‘fantasy’ genre. I could not get enough of the story, whose plots were so well developed with a narrative that made me want to know more. Neo was fully committed as well, asking me when we could “read more magic”, which goes to show that Colfer has a knack for writing. Brystal Evergreen is surely the central character in this piece, but there are many others who bring their own flavouring to the story and keep the reader hooked. Each character has their own backstory, which serves as a piece of the larger puzzle. Just scanning all that I learned here, there is lots to develop in the coming novels of this series. Colfer keeps things in the realm of fantasy, but does not push things into the silly. There will be ogres and trolls, dwarves, and faeries, but it does not get hokey, even to the adult population, which is something that usually keeps me away from these types of stories. Colfer fills his writing with themes the reader can enjoy and morals that prove useful and relatable by the modern teen reader. I look forward to seeing where things will go, especially with some of the revelations in the latter portion of the book. I purposely kept the above summary vague, so as not to spill too much and force the curious reader to dive in. Trust me, it is worth it and hints of the next book make me wish I had the magic to speed up time.

Kudos, Mr Colfer, for an intriguing piece that left me hungering for more. Perhaps I will dabble into some of your earlier work while I wait.

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

The Black Cabinet: The Untold Story of African Americans and Politics During the Age of Roosevelt, by Jill Watts

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Jill Watts, Grove Atlantic, and Grove Press for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

I stumbled upon this book by Jill Watts a while back and thought that it would make the perfect addition to my collection, as I seek to open my mind about all things related to politics and history, particularly those that were not as well-known. As race clashes rise to the surface once again on America, Watts takes the reader back in time to after the dust of the Civil War, and one president in particular who sought to begin offering a degree of racial equality. Watts explores how the freeing of the slaves and those who were oppressed came slowly to American society, so used to having the inequality in place. Watts hints that some of the post-War presidents flirted with the idea of advisors and those who could speak for the black population, though no one really gave much effort until Theodore Roosevelt during his time in the White House. Teddy opened some doors, but things within the Republican Party began to fray for the African American population, as it soon became apparent that Roosevelt was giving only lip service to the needs and desires of the black population. With the Great Depression and the ushering in of a new dawn with Franklin Roosevelt, there seemed to be hope, particularly when the new President Roosevelt wanted advisors within many of the government agencies who were African Americans, shaping the approach of service delivery as well as a different approach to how America might be run. While not a formal inner circle, there was a loose name given to this group, the Black Cabinet. This group would meet and their quasi-leader, Mary McLean Bethune, was a strong advocate, holding FDR and the larger government machine accountable. While the New Deal was being apportioned out, Bethune liaised regularly with FDR (and his wife) and kept up a rigorous speaking tour to rally citizens towards the rights of blacks in this new and adventurous country. This continued and Bethune stumped for FDR’s re-election happily, helping Democrats toss off the image of the party for slavery, as the roles were reversed. Bethune did all she could, using others within the Black Cabinet to help her, giving hope to a population who were so used to being oppressed. Watts shows how new issues were explored through the Black lens and FDR relied on Bethune and her advisors to offer solutions. However, as war rumbled in Europe, the New Deal began to show weakness, though FDR held firm to using Bethune’s power of drumming up support to ensure an unprecedented third term in the White House. With that, the neutrality that FDR pitched was in name only, as funds were shifted around to support a war effort. Bethune sought to capitalize on this, seeking black participation in all aspects of military life and integration as a key part of the entire process. Military officials balked and pushed back as much as they could, though FDR knew he would have to offer something or turn his back on Bethune and the Black Cabinet, sure to alienate the voting base they controlled. Into the 1940s, American sentiments shifted and there was no longer a New Deal sentiment. Watts closes her book out in the early days after FDR’s 1944 presidential victory. With the win, FDR sought to end the war, though his health ended him first. With his passing, so went the push for the Black Cabinet and strong advocacy for black rights. It did return in the form of other leaders, but Watts argues that none had the ear of or the inner connection to the African American population that FDR held. A powerful book and eye opening for those who enjoy this sort of piece. I’d recommended it to fans of US political history, as well as those who find race relations to their liking.

I won’t profess to being an expert at all on this subject and read it more out of interest. I enjoyed how Watts took the reader through the backstory of post-Civil War America and how it came together effectively to show the sentiments of the new ‘black’ population, those who mattered and were no longer simply chattel. The rise to importance of this race, seeking equality, can be seen in the early part of the book, though things were slow and somewhat stilted as the population (and politicians) sought to come to terms with this new attempted equality. Watts explores the interest FDR took in the movement and how he was kept in the loop repeatedly by those he felt could offer him a new ‘black’ perspective. Watts breaks things up along the FDR presidential elections, showing how important the black voice and vote became as time contained, with Mary McLean Bethune acting as a conduit throughout the process. With chapters that show the advancement (or reversion) of policies as they play into the hands of the black population, Watts shows how things wax and wane at different times. With decent chapter lengths and a great deal of information, the reader can digest the topics with ease, helped along by a chronological narrative that flows with ease. Watts develops her strong points throughout and shows that FDR was a harbinger for better race relations in the United States, though there was surely much that needed to be done. However, he took the black voice seriously, not pretending to speak for them, but using some of their own to speak to him. Brilliantly penned and something I will return to read again, of that I am sure.

Kudos, Madam Watts, for shedding such a needed light on the topic at hand. I learned so very much from this book and cannot wait to try more of your work.

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

The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History, by John M. Barry

Nine stars

As the world is wrapped up in the COVID-19 pandemic, I thought that I would try to educate myself a little more on the general topic while forced to isolate with books. I have often wanted to know a little more about the Spanish Influenza of 1918-19, which was said to be one of the worst pandemics in modern times. As we are in something similar at present, I turned to John M. Barry’s book to permit me to speak with ease as it relates to the spread of infection and the reactions by the public and politicians alike. Barry opens with a jaw-dropping tale of the emergence of medical schools and their lax entrance requirements, making the moniker ‘doctor’ seem less impressive. It was only students studying in Baltimore at Johns Hopkins who were put through the motions of a significant medical education and who earned the title with some confidence. From there, the narrative moves to offer some backstory on the emergence of the influenza, citing that its ‘Spanish’ name came not from the origins, but that Spanish newspapers offered frank discussion of events taking place, not censored during the Great War. Talk of an influenza with many deaths filled the headlines, which hit the newswires and the name stuck. Barry explores the origins, based on his own research, as well as how infection ran rampant throughout Europe and soldiers from all countries involved brought it back to their homelands during troop replenishments or retreats. With the only way to travel back to America being the ship, close-quartered troops passed the infection between one another with ease, beginning an explosion of cases once troops made their way across the country. Barry examines how health officials sought to contain things and pushed for hygiene campaigns, which were only somewhat effective. Public Health officials pushed isolation, cleanliness, and the need to take precautions, as the spread ran through the country and left medical officials scrambling to contain the spread. How things seem to parallel what is taking place now, to a differing degree.

Barry offers the scientific analysis of the topic as well, discussing frankly about how viruses develop and leap from animals to humans, including how immunity develops. The novice reader can learn much about this and how medicines can help occasionally, as well as what makes the virus able to overpower the human body. There is also a great discussion about how the virus attaches itself to the body through the lungs and other air passages. This discussion not only educates the reader into how infection takes place—perhaps justifying the precautions like washing, masks, and gloves—and the speed at which things can progress. Barry pulls no punches, using early 20th century medical technology to explain how things spread with ease and what could be done to eradicate any further spread. Fitting this medical and scientific knowledge with the narrative about the historical happenings, the reader has a better understanding of the situation. While this may not arm the reader to understand the intricacies of World Health Organisation documents or the high-level analysis done by leading politicians in their briefings, Barry gives the reader a better understanding of how things were during this world scare and what parallels can be drawn to the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Peppered amongst these two major narratives is the handful of scientists who studied the influenza and sought to find cures. The interested reader will discover a great deal about immunology and how scientists must use vigorous techniques, as well as exhausting their tests on animals and humans alike, in order to eradicate what was fast becoming a horrible disease that was growing exponentially. Barry follows the work of these essential scientists throughout, from their early focus on how the influenza infected humans through the various tests and microscopic analyses. Thereafter, it was infecting and watching the results in animals that permitted scientists to come up with something that could be used to stop the spread of the influenza. This is a solid teachable moment for the reader about immunisation and its importance to keep disease away from the population. Whatever the reader feels about needles and how their children react, Barry makes a blunt plea to eradicate new strains of long dormant diseases with some simple precautionary measures. Whether these cause autism is something to COVID-19 conspiracists can bring up when fashioning tin-foil hats at their upcoming social distancing picnics.

Whether the reader is a strong believer in the health crisis COVID-19 is unleashing on the world or feels that this is a political conspiracy drummed up to hide bigger issues (I have heard people on both sides share their sentiments with me), John M. Barry’s book is highly educational and fits perfectly into how things are playing out at present. Barry offers a great deal of background on so many interesting topics, all of which are interconnected to the issues at hand. The exploration of viruses and how their emergence in other mammals can ‘leap’ to humans with relative ease explains some of the new and odd influenzas and infections that are seen across the world today. Barry does not dilute the discussion, but his explanations are digestible by most readers with a general understanding of basic medical and scientific terminology. Paired with the thorough discussion of the historical goings-on in Europe and, eventually, America, the story is more complete and the policies enacted make a great deal of sense. The reader attuned with news reports may find parallels with what was done in 1918-19 to the present reaction in the United States, though it is sure that Woodrow Wilson allowed local governments and health officials to complete their work unimpeded with false hopes and unreasonable timelines. In a number of well-documented chapters, Barry illustrates just how vast the influenza infection and battle became in America, as well as how deeply felt the deaths were to many who had no idea what was going on. The empathetic reader will likely feel some heart pain for the orphans, the families who lost loved ones overnight, and the emotional battle of giving up the bodies of those they loved, sure that mass graves would leave them unidentifiable in the future. Barry’s book is surely a great one for those who are cooped up and want to get some context, as well as the curious reader, such as myself, who wonder how reactions to past calamities compare to today’s overly dramatic delivery in the 24-hour news cycle.

Kudos, Mr Barry, for this enlightening look at an event in world history that surely has some connections to the events in today’s COVID-19 world!

This book fulfils Topic #7: Catastrophe, of the Equinox #10 Reading Challenge.

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

Texas Outlaw (Rory Yates #2), by James Patterson and Aaron Bourelle

Eight stars

As James Patterson and Aaron Bourelle collaborate on another novel, the rural streets of Texas become their central focus. Texas Ranger Rory Yates has another adventure to face head-on, though he might have wished he just stayed at home. While in a bank over the lunch hour, Rory Yates comes upon a robbery. Quick to act, Yates fires to quell the storm, only to find himself in a great deal of trouble from his superiors. While the entire event was captured on film and is now making its way through social media, the Texas Rangers want to cool things off and send Yates to a small Texas town to help with a mysterious death. A local woman has died of an apparent anaphylactic attack, but the fact that she told a friend she had to speak with the police has begun to raise some flags. Tasked with working alongside one of the local detectives, Yates begins poking around, though he soon discovers that he is not welcome. Butting heads with one of the local oil barons, Yates must try to solve this case before things get out of hand. Once one of the local oil workers is shot, Yates realises that this is no longer just fun and games. Evidence of the shooting takes a turn that Yates could not have expected, leaving him to bend the rules in order to help someone escape the clutches of the law. This is frowned upon and Yates becomes an outlaw himself, as his superior makes his way to this small town to tie off the loose ends. Refusing the stand down and remaining one step ahead of those looking for him, Yates stumbles upon something that might blow the case wide open. Patterson and Bourelle work well together in this piece, taking twang out of the story and providing a palatable piece worth reading. Recommended to those who like their thrillers with a southern twist, as well as the reader who enjoys most of what James Patterson pens these days.

While I find that some Patterson writing is hit and miss, this one ended up being a decent read for me. Paired with Aaron Bourelle, Patterson returns to offer another instalment of the Texas Ranger series in which young Rory Yates is at the helm. Juggling some stardom while on the job with a girlfriend whose Nashville ambitions are more than her interest in sharing a life with someone, Yates must work through his latest assignment in rural Texas. He uses his crime fighting gumption to dig below the surface, while also having to handle the magnetism he has for those around him. This mix could prove deadly, if not handled properly. Other characters create a wonderful mix of personalities in this piece, allowing the story to push forward in many ways. The authors use a wonderful mix to create a multi-pronged story that is worth the reader’s time and effort. The story remains on point throughout and seems to be the perfect read for those who need a filler between deeper and more challenging reads. I enjoyed the piece, even if it was not one of Patterson’s strongest collaborative efforts. The short chapters helped propel things along and kept me wanting more, which I am sure is in the works.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Bourelle, for a decent piece. I am pleased to see how well you work together.

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

The Soul Killer (DI Barton #2), by Ross Greenwood

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Ross Greenwood, and Boldwood Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Returning for the second novel in this new series, I place my trust in Ross Greenwood to deliver something with as much punch as the debut book. Things are definitely different than the first time we encountered DI John Barton, but it is up to the reader to decide if they enjoy the ride. Years ago, a young boy lives under the watchful eye of his mother, a woman who has tried to put the fear of God into her son. She accepts no frills in life and is happy to punish him severely by tossing him into a cellar for long periods of time. This creates a young man who sees the world as one where sinners need to be punished, knowing that as long as he repents his sins, he will be able to rest peacefully in the afterlife. This still unnamed young man heads off to university, where he is put through trials and tribulations, only to see his anger rise slowly and his target become clearer. Moving to the present, DI John Barton and the rest of his Major Crime team attend the funeral of one of their own, lost in the field when another serial killer has exacted revenge. Barton hopes for a quiet Christmas, seeking to soak up all the time with his family that might be possible. When a member of the team is called to the scene of an apparent suicide, Barton later attends to substantiate the case; an old man who was dying chose to hang himself. In the background, the killer watches as his kills help him feel a sense of relief against those who would try to block him from feeling happiness. The dead man turns out to be the father of the killer’s girlfriend, and he hopes this will bring them closer, but she burrows away to be with her sister and brother-in-law. Wanting to push away any impediments to his happiness, the brother-in-law is next to go, but it is made to look like a drowning. From there, more killings, all apparently innocent accidents pile up, until Barton comes upon a skeleton hidden under a compost heap. The pieces begin to come together and murder becomes a word bandied about a little more freely. With the killer on the ropes, he begins what he feels is right, admitting that he might have been at the scene of a few of these accidents, but refuses to admit they were acts of aggression or murder. While repentance to a version of events might set him free, the fact that he is a cop within Major Crimes might turn his entire team against him, if they can find him. Greenwood does a masterful job at setting the scene in this piece, showing just how devious the game of cat and mouse can be. Recommended to those who enjoy a police procedural where both sides are constantly in search for one another, as well as the reader who enjoys getting inside the killer’s head.

I thoroughly enjoyed Greenwood’s debut and was pleased when I could get my hands on this one as well. He is able to tell a story effectively and with the added narrative touches that pull the reader in from the opening chapters. DI JOhn Barton is a great quasi-protagonist in this piece, offering leadership within Major Crimes while also balancing a busy home life. He is determined to get through the red tape and will not suffer fools. Forced to shepherd some of the newer recruits, Barton offers sage advice while not appearing to favour anyone. The cast of supporting characters does well to keep the reader entertain and enthralled, from cops to witnesses, and even the killer. The killer does comes across as being quite the odd character in the bigger scheme of things, acting in many ways one might not expect a person who has committed so many crimes. That said, there is a certain eeriness to him that makes the reader want to know more. Pacing out the crimes before squealing on himself at times seems an odd choice, but one that works well. Greenwood’s writing pushes the story forward and keeps the reader guessing, with two parallels narratives from Barton and the killer’s perspectives. They cross intermittently and the reveals throughout give the reader some sense of how things will come together, though there are enough twists to keep any spoilers at bay. After a slow start, the book picked up momentum and the short chapters push the story forward, as the reader wants to read ‘just a little more’. I am happy to see that Greenwood has more in store for his cast of characters, as I am eager to go on another adventure in the greater Peterborough area of England.

Kudos, Mr. Greenwood for another winner. I like the unique flavour you bring to your writing and this series looks to be getting better as things move forward.

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

Chocolate Wars: The 150-Year Rivalry Between the World’s Greatest Chocolate Makers, by Deborah Cadbury

Nine stars

With the coming of Easter in a few days, there is sure to be an abundance of chocolate around the house, at least for those who celebrate and have people with a sweet tooth. It got me to wondering about the world’s obsession with cocoa products and how it all came about. It would seem that no matter when someone goes, there are all forms of chocolate, placed in the most conspicuous of places. Deborah Cadbury—of the famed cocoa family—sets about not only to tell of the emergence of cocoa and chocolate, but how companies began to rival one another on both sides of the Atlantic, creating a war that massive food companies perpetuated with their gargantuan holdings. Interestingly enough, cocoa was a commodity that came to Europe mainly from the New World, something that raised many an eyebrow as to how it might be utilised. Even more interesting, many of the early companies dealing with this product, especially in the United Kingdom, were run entirely by Quakers (the Society of Friends), as they were limited with what they could do under the strict regulations of their religious ordinances. Cadbury’s family was one such group who got into the business and sought to begin their empire by marketing a ‘healthier and more wholesome drink than alcohol’. To hear of how various vendors across Europe sought to create cocoa beverages and what they put in them would turn the reader’s stomach, as it did many consumers (some of whom surely died from the non-alimentary additives). While the Cadburys almost went bankrupt, due somewhat to the supersaturation of cocoa producers and vendors—including Terry’s Chocolate and Frye’s Cocoa—they were able to find their niche and work it, moving into the 20th century with something that would help them standout. The move from chocolate beverages to hard bars may not have been the sole propriety of Cadbury, but they found ways of making it marketable and intriguing to the general public. Companies like Nestlé arrived from Switzerland to offer their own milk chocolate, just as Hershey was establishing itself in America, creating the early buzz of a battle for the consumer. Cadbury gives a historical narrative of each of these, including how the clashes in the marketplace began heating things up. It was not until the American behemoth Kraft arrived that things began getting very dicey for fair market competition. As Cadbury explains, the Krafts were not ones to sit idly by, wanting to devour their European competitors with multi-billion pound takeovers, as others sought to amalgamate to prevent hostile loss of their ownership in the board room and with shareholders. When the (cocoa) dust settled, the gloves came off and there was blood in the streets, leaving Kraft and Nestlé to lick their small wounds and declare themselves the true powerhouses in the world of chocolate. (And you thought Willy Wonka was cruel with how he treated the other children!) A wonderful and eye-opening biographical piece by one who has surely seen and heard much in stories passed down from generation to generation. Deborah Cadbury tells it and keeps things going throughout this wonderful piece. Recommended to those who enjoy biographies with a difference, as well as the reader who often wondered ‘how that product came about’.

This book was loosely recommended to me a while ago, though I kept it filed away until I felt I was ready to tackle the topic. My current reading challenge brought this book to light and made it an almost essential read. As I mentioned earlier, with the coming of Easter, when chocolate seems more plentiful than a trip through Roald Dahl’s amazing book about a factory full of sweets, I wanted to know a little more about where all these dazzling bars and confections came from, as well as how cocoa came to be the centre of a massive business war. Cadbury seeks to offer excellent backstories about how these various companies came into being, including their non-chocolate foibles, while also showing how chocolate making touched on some of the social issues of the day, not the least of which being ‘blood cocoa’, where slaves were cultivating the beans in the New World and it was being shipped back for processing. There are so many nuances buried into this wonderful book that I never stopped learning. History weaves its way into this book as empires rise and fall, while the consumer benefits greatly. That said, it is the shareholder and the greedy boards that benefited most throughout the empire building, tossing billions out there to control the market share and leave the little person to wait and see if their factory work is worth anything. The book is laid out in a series of well-documented chapters, seeking to follow chronology wherever possible. This paves the way to an interesting story that the reader can piece together as the war escalates and victims are subsumed. Sobering and insightful from a woman whose ancestors were inside the ring, Deborah Cadbury does a masterful job covering the ins and outs of the entire industry. A must-read for those with an interest in the topic.

Kudos, Madam Cadbury, for shedding some light on this most complex topic. I see chocolate everywhere I go, but never thought to peek behind the proverbial curtain to see what was going on and how we got to this point.

This book fulfils Topic #1: The Skirmish, of the Equinox #10 Reading Challenge.

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

Final Act (Final Notice #2), by Van Fleisher

Seven stars

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

After devouring the first book by Van Fleisher, which lays the groundwork for this novel, I knew that I needed to read more, if only to learn how things with the VT2 watch developed and what Dr. Vijay Patel had in store for the world. While the watch has been working effectively to offer its users a ‘final notice’ before their deaths, Patel and others have also come to see a rise in gun violence among those with nothing to lose—the premise of the series debut. After selling the company, Patel chooses to take a leadership role within the wing of the company that is working on these notices and some other software. Teamed up with a Special Agent within the FBI, Patel is trying to work out an added layer to the notice option, tracking levels of aggression and blood chemistry that might help trigger knowledge that could alert to the potential of a violent outburst during this final notice period. When Patel is forced from his job by a vindictive company CEO, he tries to keep the new level of tracking going, only to have all his pathways shut down. Knowing that this is a vital portal, Patel will bend the rules, if only to help stop the continuous spree of killing. However, someone is trying to play their own version of Big Brother, tapping into the Final Notice data to exact revenge on high-ranking officials and yet keeping the blood off their own hands. As high-profile murders begin to take place during an election year, Patel and his FBI counterpart must work from the outside to gain new and covert access to the VT2 data, saving lives and yet tracking those who are most likely to become violent. All of this has major implications, especially with the true puppet master still lurking in the shadows. A decent follow-up piece that seeks to delve a little deeper into the story and keep the reader questioning every plot twist. Van Fleisher does well here, but the story lacked the punch I would have hoped, coming off a successful debut novel.

While I know some panned Fleisher’s opening piece as being too silly or even a novel that seeks to ride on the coattails of current events, I quite enjoyed the banter between characters and how he developed his plot. There was a great deal of potential with this piece, as it sought to look a little deeper into the Final Notice aspect of the VT2 watch and look at those who use this as a means to tie up their personal loose ends and exact some revenge, knowing they will not face the consequences. However, the story got wonky part way in and never really was able to right itself effectively. The thriller aspect of Patel trying to work from the outside propelled the piece forward, but there were countless instances where interactions between characters seemed inserted to fill space rather than develop the story effectively. The premise of the book had much potential, though I think it got bogged down throughout the meandering narrative and over abundance of plot points. The mix of chapter lengths helped balance out some of the less than strong storytelling, as I could push through shorter portions and set the book down until I had a mental reset. Fleisher can tell a story, there is no doubt, and his choice to inject some social commentary throughout is never a bad thing. I do wonder, however, if a reworking to sharpen and strengthen this piece could help create a better duology on the topic. I think Fleisher might want to hire a new editorial team to help him define a stronger story that will sell and perhaps look back to his debut novel, finding its strengths and building on them, rather than trying to toss so much into the book and hope to please everyone with a little something here and there!

Kudos, Mr. Fleisher, for a decent second novel. There are a mix of good and bad things for me, but I hope those who read both novels get the larger themes and points you see to address.

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

A Reasonable Doubt (Robin Lockwood #3), by Phillip Margolin

Eight stars

Phillip Margolin returns with another great book in his new Robin Lockwood series, where sleight of hand is not the only trick on offer. With a wonderful story, set over many years, the plot thickens as the smoke gets in the reader’s eyes. Magic can be as deceptive as it is deceitful, which defence attorney Robin Lockwood learns when she is visited by a potential client one day. Robert Chesterfield enters the firm’s offices, looking for one of Lockwood’s fellow partners, who’s completed some legal work for him years before. As Chesterfield explains that he is a magician seeking to patent one of his dazzling tricks, Lockwood is sure that she cannot help, but wants to check a few things out before giving him a final response. She discovers that Chesterfield has a long history of butting heads with the law, having been a suspect in the murders of a number of people over the years. With this long list of people who had him in their sights, Chesterfield is by no means the most popular man around these parts of Oregon, or anywhere in the sensational magic community. When Chesterfield is performing one of his dazzling illusions in Las Vegas, before a large crowd of those who disliked him, something goes horribly wrong and he is discovered stabbed in the compartment. Lockwood is as baffled as anyone else, but is sure that the killer’s rage is fuelled by something that’s happened in the past. When a fellow magician is fingered for the crime, Lockwood agrees to defend him, using her time to piece together some of the past murders and skirmishes attributed to Robert Chesterfield, pulling back the curtain on some of the investigative reasoning. Might the killer have had a long-held grudge they wanted to exact, or is this all a bunch of smoke and mirrors, so a fellow magician could rise to prominence? Margolin weaves this tale to keep the reader enthralled as the story’s momentum picks up with each page turn. Recommended to those who have come to love Phillip Margolin’s legal thrillers, as well as the reader who enjoys the magic of a well-developed story.

I knew that I would be in for a treat when I got my hands on this book, though I was not sure how Margolin’s use of magic would be such a force throughout the plot. He paces the story over the present and not so distant past to weave a great backstory together, only to dismantle it in the latter portion of the book, as the killer of the famed Robert Chesterfield comes to light. Robin Lockwood takes centre stage in the story, though her protagonist role is more one of learner than active defence attorney through most of the story. Her backstory is kept on the shelf, but there are moments of development of her character, mostly in the form of personal connections than stunning reveals. The story centres around the eventual murder victim and how he created a persona of unliked and ungrateful, offering up a handful of solid suspects to his eventual murder. While the crime took place in the latter portion of the book, the build-up is thorough and leaves the reader wondering. Perhaps the only folly of this piece is that the criminal defence is quite compacted, as Robin Lockwood rushes to tie up loose ends throughout the latter chapters, rather than be forced to work herself out of a corner and pull her own rabbit out of a hat to save the client who’s hired her. All that being said, Phillip Margolin solidified her mastery of the art for me here with another wonderful book. I can only hope others will take the time to enjoy it as well.

Kudos, Mr. Margolin, for another legal winner. I am pleased to see all the tricks you used to pull the reader into the middle of this wonderful novel.

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

Prepper Jack (The Hunt for Reacher #12), by Diane Capri

Eight stars

Diane Capri is back with her latest novel in this series that has hints of the Lee Child popular collection. While Jack Reacher remains at large and one step ahead of the FBI, there are other issues that take precedence this time around. When Treasury Agent John Lawton is kidnapped as he leaves a lunch meeting with an accountant in New Mexico, worry races up the chain of command. FBI Special Agent Kim Otto is alerted to matters and sent down to investigate and assist, as there are some mean players in the vicinity. It’s suspected that drug cartel leader, Pinto Vigo, is behind the kidnapping, as Lawton is said to have been meeting with a mole within the cartel. Otto’s arrival in New Mexico is not entirely business related, as she and Lawton have a loose relationship that has been simmering for the past while. Is she being drawn to help because of the victim, or is this all business? Liaising with her former partner, Otto discovers that Lawton is likely being held amongst a commune of ‘preppers’, those who are ready for an end of days or the need to secede, should the situation arise. Learning a little more about the locals and Vigo’s way of life, Otto is joined by a few other federal agents, as they seek to rescue Lawton before capturing Pinto Vigo once and for all. Reacher is surely around, but Otto’s mission is focused elsewhere for the time being. A great addition to the series, which usually packs a punch. Recommended to those who like crime thrillers that keep on spinning, as well as the reader who has come to enjoy this series.

I eagerly await every time I see that Capri has been working to release a new Hunt for Reacher tale, as they tend to be well-crafted novels. This was no exception, though there was less of a Reacher feel and more one of action adventure in the plot. With Special Agent Kim Otto working alone, the tale took on more of a solitary spin, though the action did not dissipate throughout. Otto’s backstory is not covered herein, though the eleven previous novels should have done much of that. Rather, the reader is able to see what makes Otto leap up and take notice, both with her Lawton connection and ability to discover nuances in the larger mission. Never one to shy away from controversy, Otto pushes forward to help locate the federal agent, as well as bring down a drug cartel. Others appear throughout the book, complementing Otto or the larger plot effectively. Capri fashions these characters to keep the reader interested and pushes the narrative forward with their presence. The story itself was quite easy to digest, working in the Southwest part of the country. Offering up some insight into the world of ‘preppers’ and how they fit into the larger American fabric, Capri entertains and educates in equal measure. While not the sharpest of the series novels, this one fits nicely into the mix, leavin fans eager to see how and when Reacher might appear again. Some will bemoan that this is not ‘pure’ Reacher, though the series is done with the blessing (and encouragement) of Lee Child, who is in regular contact with Diane Capri. The two series complement one another nicely and I will keep reading as long as the stories remain crisp and worth my time.

Kudos, Madam Capri, for another great piece, even if dear old Jack was not a central topic.

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

Final Notice, by Van Fleisher

Eight stars

Having recently been introduced to the work of Van Fleisher, I thought that I would give this piece a go, which delves into the world of guns, politics, and the predictive nature of smart watches. After the NRA decides to create a system whereby seniors can get easier (and cheaper) access to guns, there is a moderate spike in gun violence across the country. Interestingly enough, a few of the headline grabbing stories involve seniors committing acts of gun violence before turning the bullets on themselves, or dying naturally days later. Vince and Trudi Fuller follow all this on the news and wonder if they, active seniors, ought to be jumping on the bandwagon. While they do extensive research on gun ownership in California, both want to make sure their choice is best for them and not simply part of a new trend. Meanwhile, in Massachusetts, Dr. Vijay Patel is working on his newest invention, the VT2 smart watch, a device that can also detect the most minute things in the wearer’s blood. The algorithms are so precise that it can predict ‘Final Notice’—how long the wearer has to live—within 10 days. While Patel his trying to get his VT2 in beta trials by a large cross-section of the older population, he worries when some of these recent shootings can be tied to people who received their notice. Wondering if the VT2 might be helping to push people to commit rash acts, Patel tries to hone the technology without stifling what is sure to be a great medical tool. As the story progresses, the Fullers and others begin to live their lives under the cloud of this new gun availability and the emergence of VT2, both of which play a key role in the larger story. How it will end is anyone’s guess, but the reader is in for quite a ride. An intriguing and thought provoking piece by Van Fleisher, that will keep the debate on gun control and medical technology raging. Recommended to those who love a good ‘thinking thriller’, as well as the reader who enjoys a piece with underlying political implications throughout.

I was asked to review the yet-to-be-released sequel to this piece, but wanted to begin at the start. Fleisher surely makes this a wonderful introduction to the topic with this piece that never stops evolving. There is so much on offer here that it is sometimes hard to see where one topic ends and the next begins. That being said, Vince Fuller appears to play a key role throughout and the reader is able to see much of his character development in this piece. A man who is quite set in his ways, Fuller has a events that force a re-evaluation of life choices. Alongside his wife, Fuller debates gun control and the politics of aging, both of which emerge throughout the piece. While Fuller has a horrible encounter that leaves him scarred in more ways than one, the reader can see how he chooses to handle it all, including the news of a potential medical red flag. Others appear throughout the story and offer their own influence to the larger narrative. Some engage regularly with the Fullers, while other characters have their own vignettes that push the story in different directions. I quite enjoyed the overall piece, which kept me thinking until the final page turn. There were moments when I was all but waving my hand in the air to get some added narrative momentum, but the overarching pace of the book was quite good. Politics weaves its way into this book, but does not seem to inculcate the reader too often. There is definitely the political left and right divide, which Fleisher mocks throughout, but it reads like your typical 21st century piece with themes pushed in both directions. I am eager to see how this sequel plays into this story and the overall intended message that Van Fleisher has to offer.

Kudos, Mr. Fleisher, for an entertaining debut. I can only hope that others will find this piece as exciting as I did.

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

I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson

Seven stars

Encouraged by my reading group to try this piece by Richard Matheson, I was soon pulled into the world of vampires and a massive plague (how fitting!) as this story unravelled. Robert Neville is in a battle against the world, or so it seems to him. His house surrounded by vampires, Neville must try to negotiate his way around in order to ensure he has the necessities to fend off the attack. Many of his friends and neighbours have succumbed to these blood sucking beasts, but there must be more to this existence. As time progresses, Neville turns scientific and discovers some of the microbiological aspects of the plague, as well as how it spreads from host to host. Neville uses this knowledge to work on some sort of defence, in hopes that it will allow him the chance to push back and take his life into his own hands. When another human crosses his path, he passes along all the information he has, hoping it is not a Trojan Horse sent to trick him. In his own mind, Robert Neville is a legend for cracking the code, though the reader may feel otherwise. A decent story, though by far nothing on the level of Stoker’s eerie storytelling.

When this book was assigned during the annual submission of tomes in early February 2020, I had never read Richard Matheson’s work. However, before trying this book, I did dabble into his world when I read a short piece by the author, which inspired Stephen King and one of his sons to use it as a launching pad for a more modern piece of horror. In this story, Matheson shows off some of his eerie side, though I did not get the scare factor I hoped to find. Robert Neville came across as quite level-headed, at least as much as he could be under the circumstances. His limited backstory came out through the pages of this book, though I was not connecting to him as much as I would have liked. Aspects of Neville’s personality shone through, particularly when he turned microbiologist and quasi-geneticist, but I was still slightly disinterested as the story progress. There are glimpses of other characters in this piece, which Matheson develops when the need arises. They help complement Neville, but do not leave a lasting impact for me. The premise of the piece was decent and I would have loved to feel more connected to the entire situation, but I found it was half horror and half cerebral, neither of which drew me in when I needed it most. I hope others find this was chilling and highly entertaining. I’ll just be sure to have some garlic on hand for Rounds 2 and 3 of COVID-19!

Kudos, Mr. Matheson, for this piece. Not something I’ll flock back to read again, but I could be in the minority.

This book fulfils the April 2020 requirement of the Mind the Bookshelf Gap Reading Challenge.

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

The Treadstone Resurrection (Treadstone #1), by Joshua Hood

Eight stars

In this series debut by Joshua Hood, the reader returns to the world of espionage and high-impact military tactics that Robert Ludlum perfected. Any who loved the Jason Bourne series (under Ludlum’s pen) will surely find something exciting, yet unique, in this piece. Adam Hayes is one man who’s seen his entire life slip between his fingers. Once a great operative within the CIA’s highly-secret Treadstone Group—Bourne’s former domain—he lost it all in the blink of an eye and chose to leave. Now enjoying the quiet life in the American northwest, Hayes is visited by a hit team, keen to scrub him out. However, he has no idea why or who is behind the hit. Sharpening his skills as quickly as he can, Hayes begins his own mission to avenge himself and find his own form of justice. It may mean he returns to the darker side, but he is willing to do so in order to get all the answers he needs. Reverberations will be felt at the highest levels of government, but Hayes will not stop until he has all the answers, no matter whose body he must step over to get there. Hood does well in bringing Robert Ludlum’s strong style back to life without trying to replicate or replace anything the master did while alive. Recommended to those who enjoyed Ludlum’s Bourne series and the cut-throat aspects therein, as well as the reader who wants a spy thriller that does not wane at any point.

Some will know that I am always leery to attach myself to a series where the original author’s work is continued by another. The flow and management usually fails to deliver the needed punch, which leaves everyone disappointed and feeling less than enthused with the final product. Joshua Hood has done something slightly different here, working with only the Treadstone Group loose outline and building a novel (series, it seems) around it. Adam Hayes is a wonderful central character, from his hidden and mysterious backstory to the bucolic life he sets out for himself. Hayes finds the solitude to work in his benefit and seeks to keep it that way, though it would seem others have decided how things will go. His grit is ever-present and he seems to be able to shake off the rust of past missions, fighting for his life and self-preservation. The countless other characters who appear throughout help to shape a highly intriguing story that gives Hayes even more backstory. Full of military and espionage speak, the reader is treated to a few wonderful sub-plots as the larger battle for Hayes to stay alive gains momentum. I was quite pleased to see how it all came together, with a few twists along the way. While military and espionage is not usually my go-to genre, I did enjoy this piece for the most part. I am a Ludlum purist, but Hood did not appear to try stepping over the great author’s reputation to sell his own. Rather, he built on what was great and added to it. With a mix of chapter lengths and wonderful detailed storytelling, Hood creates a novel that has wonderful series opportunities. Let’s see how he continues the journey before we give Hood too much back-slapping.

Kudos, Mr. Hood for a wonderfully entertaining piece. Ludlum fans will surely be wanting to keep an eye on you, as will many who enjoy something with a great deal of military momentum.

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

Smoke Over Baghdad (Dark Harvest #2), by David L. Thompson

Nine stars

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

In this sequel to his stunning debut political thriller, Dark Harvest, David L. Thompson mesmerizes the reader yet again with an intricate storyline whose twists never end and well-developed characters that come to life. Three years after the end of the previous novel, the world is vastly different. The Caliphate of Ard al-Salam has taken over much of the Muslim world, encompassing many of the regional countries, save Iran and Turkey. The Caliph is the all-powerful Mustafa Suleyman, who rules with an iron fist to keep order, but also has hopes of keeping his people protected. Rooting out some of the dissident imams who speak against him, Suleyman seeks to make a public spectacle of their beheadings, only to have one slip through his fingers. When an assassin’s bullet almost takes the Caliph out, he is left to recover while his people think him dead. In the US, a fire at a secret facility has dire consequences. When people begin getting sick, the fire is determined to have been at an Ard al-Salam facility with a deadly new virus. The Americans are baffled and unaware what is going on, none more than Bradley Parsons, who is seeking to dismantle the caliphate and capture his old nemesis. Back in the Middle East, a ruthless Turkish dictator seeks to destroy Ard al-Salam as best he can and exert some regional pressure by locking the country down from any NATO involvement. Backed by an odd ally, Turkey begins flexing its muscle and serving as a puppet for a larger geo-political situation. As the world balances precariously, the Americans seek to put out any flames, only aggravating an already delicate situation. New superpowers try to find a foothold as best they can, but are stymied by the American power. With hopes of bringing down Turkey, Bradley Parsons and his wife, Liz, will have to use all their diplomatic power and connections in the international spy scene to orchestrate an end to the madness, but doing so might force them to ally with Ard al-Salam, which is perhaps more problematic than it appears. Lives will be lost and bloodshed will be high, but Caliph Mustafa Suleyman will not lose his hold on the region without a fight and seeks to bring Turkey under the auspices of the new regional superpower. All the while, another country eyes the goings-on and wonders about their own play for power. A brilliant novel that tops the intensity of the series debut. Thompson is one author who ought to get much more recognition than he does for the work he’s done on these two novels. Highly recommended to those who enjoy geo-political thrillers that mirror modern day, as well as the reader who needs something that will keep them up late into the night, wondering and guessing.

I was intrigued when David L. Thompson approached me to read the opening novel and popped up to present me with this sequel. A fellow Canadian, I was pleased to get a different perspective on the game of political chess that occurs around the world. Layering more of his terrier-centric themes with the politics of international relations (and destruction), Thompson keeps the reader guessing throughout as to how things will be handled and who has the upper hand. While the story takes on many plot lines with a handful of key characters, Bradley Parsons proves to be one of the protagonists, forced to get answers from a number of sources and yet not always in line with what his boss (POTUS) might want to hear. Working alongside and independently of his wife, Parsons is able to serve as an interesting conduit with Caliph Suleyman when the stars align, but is also trying to juggle the erratic behaviour of a crazed dictator in Turkey. Parsons’ character again contrasts nicely with the likes of Mustafa Suleyman, though the latter is also now a world leader trying to keep his massive holdings in check. There are so many stories here that weave themselves together that Thompson has no choice but to use a number of key characters, many of whom will trigger some sentiment from the reader. Thompson chooses how to craft his characters carefully, allowing them to enrich his story. In a novel that stands out from the various pieces in an over-worked terrorism theme, Thompson finds new ways to keep the reader enthralled while pushing the limits of geo-political clashes that inch towards nuclear aggression. Adding his Canadian flavour to the story, Thompson is able to compete in the genre without using too many over-used themes that others have flogged to death. With six primary chapters that work as ‘parts’ of the novel, Thompson uses ‘sub-chapters’ hook the reader into the story’s numerous plots and develop his themes effectively. I am eager to tackle the final book, which Thompson hopes will tie things up effectively. I will have to exert my patience to see how it all comes together, but am excited to see how all the characters and this politically fragile world all come to a reasonable end.

Kudos, Mr. Thompson, for asking me to read another wonderful piece. I cannot wait to see what you have left to tell and how you will express it.

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