Children of the Corn, by Stephen King

Eight stars

I chose to end the month with a final Stephen King short story, picking one that mixes a bucolic setting with a spine-tingling plot. When Burt and Vicky run over a boy in rural Nebraska, they are panicked. However, once they examine the boy, they discover that the car accident was not the primary cause of the boy’s injuries and death, as his neck has been slit. Driving into Gatlin, they try to alert someone as to what has happened, only finding remnants of a corn-based religious group, strong on biblical retribution with a ‘husk’ spin. Burt and Vicky discover that they have drifted into a place that no tourist brochures were likely to document and for good reason. Fire and brimstone await them, but they will have to handle things on their own. Returning to the fields, they try to poke around, only to have handful of children emerge and pass judgment upon them. Vicky’s taken into their custody and Burt flees to save his life, but soon comes to his senses. When he pushes through the stalks and finds these children again, it is far worse than he imagined, as they take no prisoners in the name of God. Chilling in its depiction and yet short enough to be read in a single sitting, King shows that he is the master of the genre and full of ideas. Recommended to those who love Stephen King and all his varied ideas, as well as the reader who likes a little horror as they much on a snack, perhaps popcorn?

I love finding myself in the middle of a Stephen King piece, be it a short story, novella, or one of his major works. King is able to pull ideas from all over and works them out in one of a few ways. This piece pushes towards a horror genre (and yes, I have to see the movie soon) and kept me on the edge of my seat throughout, especially the unique corn-based religion approach that weaves its way into the narrative. King works through a number of issues, including social commentaries of the day, reaching out to the reader and forcing them to think as they flip pages. The attentive reader will find hints to other King works, even in passing, which adds a new level of entertainment. While this was only a short piece, I found myself able to connect with the characters and follow the narrative, which never let-up until the final sentence. Chilling to the core, I won’t be stopping among the stalks of corn anytime soon.

Kudos, Mr. King, for another winner. I do need to see the movie, as my imagination is going wild!

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

A Bolshevik Christmas, by Yoel Bereket

Eight stars

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

While the season may not be entirely in keeping with the book’s subject, I was happy to take on this challenge by Yoel Bereket. The reader is taken into the middle of the political insurrection as far north as one can go, with ideological sentiments strong on both sides. While Santa Claus has been working in the North Pole for some time, he is not entirely up on all the work his elves have been doing. Poor conditions and long hours seem to be draining these vertically challenged workers and breeding a degree of discontent. When a ‘foreigner’ appears amongst the elves, he riles them up to strike and demand new standards. Named Red Elf, he leads a group of the elves to see Santa Claus with a set off demands, though they are rebuffed as soon as the ideas are placed before him. Refusing to take no for an answer, Red Elf leads an insurrection and topples Santa, forcing him into exile and creating the People’s Republic of the North Pole, now led by the Soviet puppet Nikolas Sokolov. As news spreads, US President Kennedy is irate that the Soviets have made this incursion and taken over the seemingly neutral North Pole. It’s the height of the Cold War and America cannot be seen as lax. When a elf-based attack to take back the North Pole fails miserably, Kennedy wonders if he should be sending in troops, but remains leery of anything that might cause a nuclear confrontation with Moscow. Meanwhile, Sokolov pushes his elves to the brink, as December 25th is fast approaching and the new communist spin on the Christmas holiday must be shared with the world. When children wake, there are no dolls and toys, but rather live ammunition and guns to arm the citizens of the world in the fight for the communist collective. Media outlets scream and President Kennedy vows that this has gone on long enough. Working with some of his senior officials, a plan is put in place to strike hard and fast. Meanwhile, the lustre of the communist collective may be fading among the working elves, especially with a divine entity makes a surprise appearance and speaks of a new future. An interesting piece of humorous writing, Yoel Bereket will have readers smiling as they read this political piece. Recommended to those who love some lighter reads during the holidays, as well as the reader who enjoys some Cold War tongue-in-cheek political drama.

I tried to keep an open mind when Yoel Bereket approached me with this piece. A communist takeover of Christmas sounded a little far-fetched, but when I took it as a humorous political novel, I was fully committed. The story was quite cute in that gritty way that something poking fun at Christmas and the Cold War clashes had to be. Bereket works the political and humour angles well, keeping the reader involved in the struggles on both sides of the ideological aisle. Placing things at the height of superpower tensions in the early 1960s adds a faux drama that makes the clash a little more interesting. With a handful of key characters on both sides of the fight, Bereket leaves the reader to wonder how much of this is ‘what if’ and where possible truths might have stemmed, had this been sixty years ago. With short chapters that keep the story moving forward, Bereket never loses the reader, even when talk of ideology takes centre stage. Political drama meets humorous depiction keeps Bereket’s work entertaining and on point, making it an easy read for anyone who wants to take the plunge. I thoroughly enjoyed this one and will likely add it to my annual holiday reads, as that time of year needs a little humour amidst all the chaos of shopping an spiking the eggnog!

Kudos, Mr. Bereket, for this great piece of humorous holiday fiction. I’ll have to check to see what else you have written and try it out for size.

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

Katheryn Howard: The Scandalous Queen (Six Tudor Queens #5), by Alison Weir

Nine stars

In what has become an annual adventure for me, I turned to the latest novel by Alison Weir depicting the six wives of Henry VIII. The fifth wife, Katheryn Howard, is the central focus of this piece, though Weir uses her extensive research and narrative abilities to paint a complete picture of the Tudor Court throughout the woman’s (albeit short) life. Katheryn Howard was a sweet child who lost her mother around six years of age. With a father unable to care care of her, Katheryn was shipped off to live with an aunt, who raised her as her own. Katheryn remained with this relative, even as her father married a few more times and presented new step-mothers. Into her teens, Katheryn was a curious but somewhat shy girl, who did not fall for all the wiles of those who would court her, though she seemed to fall under the spell of her music tutor, who did all he could to rid her of the virginity she held dear. Realising her status (as well as her connection to a former queen, Anne Boleyn, a first cousin), Katheryn was primed for a position at court with the soon to be fourth wife of Henry VIII, Anne of Cleves. Katheryn served the queen as well as she could, but also found herself falling for Francis Dereham, to whom she eventually gave her virginity. The secret relationship between Katheryn and Francis serves as an underlying foreboding that returns throughout the story. While Francis did play an important role in Katheryn’s life, it was Thomas Culpepper, a gentleman in Henry VIII’s court and a close friend to Richard Cromwell, who won her heart most. The connection between Katheryn and Culpepper grew as the king’s fancy turned to replacing his fourth wife with a new one. Katheryn seemed the obvious choice, as the king did extend much of his time with her and (as series fans and those with a penchant for Tudor history will know) once the monarchical radar locks in, there is no getting away. Katheryn did seek to rebuff him and remain true to Culpepper, but eventually acquiesced and agreed to become the fifth wife of Henry VIII, around the age of seventeen. Weir describes the time and court between the two, including Katheryn’s ‘faking’ her loss of virginity so as not to raise issue with Henry VIII. Though she tried, Katheryn was unable to bring forth a child for her husband, citing the advanced age and corpulence of the king. While advocating for some within her family, Katheryn reunited with Thomas Culpepper repeatedly in secret, eventually falling into a sexual relationship. When wind of the encounters emerged, Katheryn found herself in much trouble with her husband (much like Cousin Anne did), which was further exacerbated by the revelations of her sexual relationship with Francis Dereham. Thus began the quick downfall of Katheryn Howard and the end of the fifth queen in Henry VIII’s group of six. Weir depicts this quick fall and the eventual acceptance of errors by Katheryn, even though her final change of heart is in line with that of a young woman who realises how truth cannot always set her free. With a new moniker for Katheryn Howard written in blood, she truly became the scandalous queen. A brilliant piece by Alison Weir that will likely keep all her fans excited. Recommended to all those Tudor fans who enjoy a little fiction, as well as readers who love history coming to life on the page.

I never tire of learning about all things Tudor, especially when Alison Weir is guiding the experience. I have tried to read many of the books, both fiction and non-, and take something away from them all. Weir does a masterful job as usual, while injecting some degree of fiction to the life and times of Katheryn Howard. From her early life as a motherless girl, Katheryn rose through the ranks and offered a degree of modesty, while still likely being the typical teenage girl of the times, with curiosities and pressures from young men around her. Weir seemed to depict her as being less the flirty and sexually free-spirited young girl that I always thought her to be (thank you Tamzin Merchant for your depiction of her on Showtime’s The Tudors), but rather a young girl caught up in the pressures before being snagged by the King of England to be his latest conquest. The lies she told to protect her honour caught up with her and she was forced to face the consequences, though I am not here to dissect or pass judgment on whether it was right or wrong to see her imprisoned and executed. Weir offers a wonderful depiction of this rise and fall, as she has done many times before, while adding a great deal of insight through the various characters that she places throughout the narrative. Both those of historical significance and the characters who serve as vessels to move the story along help to enrich the reading experience for the interested reader. The story is one that Weir surely knows well, including how some of the events repeated themselves between Anne Boleyn and Katheryn Howard. Weir does a masterful job in her telling of it, with the imagined dialogues being one of the likely sole reasons this is a piece of fiction. Grabbing hold of the reader from the early pages, Weir paints a formidable picture throughout and keeps the reader focussed. With a mix of shorter and long chapters, Weir paces her story well, which is further helped by dividing the book into parts of Katheryn Howard’s life. As with the four previous books, there are some crossover moments and some early ‘cameos’ by those who appeared in the past or will again later, which links the series together nicely. I cannot wait to finish off the series with the final queen and see just how much drama came to pass, as well as how Weir will handle the eventual death of Henry VIII and all the shenanigans that came with it. Alas, I must wait a year, though Weir has more to keep me sated until then!

Kudos, Madam Weir, for a stunning depiction of the young 5th queen. My perspective has surely changed, though I can see see why ‘scandalous’ fits nicely in this novel’s sub-title

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

Degrees of Guilt, by H.S. Chandler

Eight stars

Seeking another thrilling read, I turned to this piece of courtroom drama, where the case may not be what it seems, though neither are those who are adjudicating it. Maria Bloxham stands over her husband, whose skull has just been bashed in. As blood and brain matter flow onto the floor, she casually calls the police to report the incident. When they arrive, she does not deny what’s happened and makes no attempt to conceal her actions. When she learns that her husband is clinging to life, she loses her calm demeanour and pleads not guilty to the crime of attempted murder. With a trial set to begin, twelve jurors must be chosen to decide her fate, including Lottie, who has been told by her husband to find a way out of serving. Lottie is unable to do so and finds herself impaneled on the jury, ready to hear that case of the Crown vs. Bloxham. While the case progresses and the court hears of the emotional and psychological abuse Maria suffered at the hands of her husband, Lottie finds herself getting closer to one of her fellow jurors, Cameron. What begins as a simple chinwag over coffee one morning soon moves into a full-on affair, as sexual tensions mount. Lottie knows that her husband is distant and she relishes the time away from her son, but has she completely lost her morals? With some on the jury already deciding how they will vote, the mood in the jury room mounts as Lottie and Cameron continue hearing the evidence and hide their indiscretions. When the case moves into jury deliberations, something changes and Cameron makes a demand of Lottie that even she could not have foreseen. The freedom of Maria Bloxham hangs in the balance, but Lottie must also think of her own family, as well as a man she thought she knew and might even love. Chandler tells a riveting tale where guilt is present throughout, though its justification will depend on how the beholder chooses to synthesise it. A legal thriller that will leave the reader in the judgment seat. Recommended to those who love a courtroom drama that extends outside of where testimony is heard, as well as those readers who enjoy being judge and jury (though not executioner) in a modern story.

I learned of this novel by reading some of the author’s other work. HS Chandler is a popular author whose police procedurals keep my mind racing on a regular basis. In this piece, Chandler tells two parallel stories of women who seem out of their element and whose lives are controlled by men. Maria Bloxham’s life has been controlled by a man who used psychological and emotional abuse without laying a hand on her. However, has it been enough to convince the jury that her actions were those of self-defence? Meanwhile, Lottie sits on the jury to decide the fate of this woman, while finding herself in a marriage she finds less than exciting and in an sordid affair with another man who seems to be stealing all her self-control slowly, but surely. As the reader learns about both women, they can judge how justified both Lottie and Maria were in their respective situations. Other characters serve to complement these two in a courtroom thriller that moves through the various settings needed to tell the entire tale. Chandler works the angles well and keeps the reader wanting to know a little more throughout the entire two weeks the case is active. The story is strong and pulls the reader in from the outset, forcing them to pay attention so as not to miss any of the evidence that is presented. Lottie and Maria may differ greatly, but their similarities will emerge as the twists mount in this must-read novel. Proof that HS Chandler, no matter what name under which she writes, is a force to be reckoned with in the genre.

Kudos, Madam Chandler, for another stunning piece. Keep them coming and you will have a fan in me!

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

Riding the Bullet, by Stephen King

Eight stars

A short story by Stephen King is a treat like no other, particularly one that pulls the reader into the middle of an exciting tale. As I needed to fill some time before my next major reading adventure, I turned to one of these short pieces. Alan Parker is a student at the University of Maine. He receives a troubling call that his mother is in the hospital after having a stroke. Without a vehicle of his own and worried about his only living parent, Alan makes the decision to hitchhike down to see her. His first driver is an older man with some obvious health issues, so much so that Alan begs off early into their journey. As he awaits the next vehicle to pass by, Alan comes across a small graveyard with markers. When headlights illuminate the road, Alan gets in and strikes up a conversation with the young man behind the wheel, which veers towards a death-defying rollercoaster called The Bullet. Alan has eerie memories about it, but listens as his driver tells of riding it multiple times. What follows is a scary tale about riding the Bullet and a bargain made on the way to central Maine. Another interesting piece with twists that only King can create effectively. Perfect for a short trip or to pass the time.

I have long been a fan of Stephen King’s work, both the longer stories and shorter pieces like this. He has a wonderful ability to create characters and offer them much backstory in short order. His ideas seem plentiful and he uses the simplest event as a major plot twist. With themes woven into the fabric of his pieces, the reader learn a great deal about themselves as they read. The tangential nature of a well-crafted King piece is sometimes lost in the shorter works, but there is no lack of depth or intrigue. No matter what choice Alan Parker makes in this story, the possibilities are endless and King always lays them out for the reader to ponder, even late into the night.

Kudos, Mr. King, for another winner. I love how my mind races whenever you are writing and cannot wait to see what you have in store for your fans next!

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

The Road Virus Heads North, by Stephen King

Eight stars

Always a fan of the odd short story, I have been filling some time with a few by Stephen King, who always seems to have something to say that holds my attention. In this short piece, an inanimate object seems to have a mind of its own, wreaking havoc in a small New England community. Richard Kinnell had a feeling he should not have stopped at the yard sale on his way back from a book forum, but he did. The regional author allowed a painting to catch his eye before he decided to buy it, thinking of the perfect spot it could hang. Not deterred when he learned that the artist committed suicide soon after painting it, Kinnell loads up his new artwork and heads home. However, he stops in to see his aunt on the trip back. When he pulls it out, the painting, titled ‘The Road Virus Heads North’, appears to have changed slightly, but Kinnell wonders if it might be that he is so tired. After his short visit, Kinnell finish’s the drive to Derry, where he plans to relax. However, the painting again seems to have shifted, leaving Kinnell with a very off-putting feeling. Soon, thoughts of the author’s suicide enter Kinnell’s mind, leaving him sure that the ‘road virus’ must surely be heading north and he wants nothing to do with it! An eerie story that only King could pull off, this short piece is a perfect filler for those who need to bridge between fun-length reading commitments.

I have long been a fan of Stephen King and his work, both the longer pieces and short ones like this. King is able to turn almost anything into something gripping, if not spine-tingling, using his vast array of ideas. The reader can never quite tell what awaits them as they read, but can be guaranteed that it will leave an impact, at least for a while. These short pieces are wonderful teasers for the reader who awaits a major novel by the author, though I miss the tangential writing that King has made his own over the years. Still, I won’t be buying any yard sale art anytime soon, that’s for sure!

Kudos, Mr. King, for a great piece to fill the time while I had a refreshment. Always keeping me on my toes as I wait for a book I want to arrive on my iPod.

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

Apt Pupil, by Stephen King

Eight stars

Turning to another of my Stephen King novellas, I wanted to see about the hype this story has received over the years, as I fit it into my reading experience. Todd Bowden is a great student, who has mastered many of his classes at school. He is also quite intuitive, something he likes to show those who pay him some mind. While delivering a newspaper to one of his customers, Todd confronts the elderly Mr. Kurt Dussander. Todd explains that he knows Dussander is not who he purports to be, but rather a Nazi war criminal hiding in plain sight. After some deflection, Dussander admits to it, allowing himself to be extorted as Todd asks many questions about the time running one of the concentration camps. Dussander thinks that he might be beholden to the boy, until Todd begins having horrible nightmares about what he is being told and his grades take a nose dive. Todd and Dussander enter into an agreement with one another to keep both their secrets safe, growing closer as they do. From there, the story moves into a set of odd occurrences, whereby both Todd and Dussander target those who are less fortunate for their own sick joys, still extorting one another in a way. Dussander’s ultimate secret remains under wraps, though time might push the truth along faster than anyone could have expected it. A chilling tale that King tells so well. Recommended to those who love a good dose of Stephen King, as well as those who enjoy novellas filled with masterful narratives.

The versatility of Stephen King’s work is on display here with something that is less horrific in its true sense, yet still spine tingling. King portrays the interaction between two characters with little in common yet almost a match made in heaven, where they must rely on one another. Todd Bowden is a sharp student who has everything going for him. His curiosity gets the best of him and he soon finds himself caught up in a web of lies and horrible tales that he could not likely fathom on his own. This spiral out of control leads to many an issue and Todd is soon trapped inside a game of blackmail tug-of-war with an old war criminal. On the flip side, Kurt Dussander finds that the life he has tried to keep hidden from everyone is one telephone call from being revealed. Though elderly, Dussander knows that he would not be handled gently and wishes to take his horrible past to the grave. Both characters engage in some highly suspicious behaviour, as though feeding their secrets with the pain of others. The handful of secondary characters work well in this piece to serve as backdrops to keep the story moving, though none make too much of a lasting impact. The story works well and King is able to develop it in such a way that the reader cannot know what to expect, while knowing the end result at the same time. These secrets have a way of getting out, even if Dussander and Todd try to keep them hidden. Even an apt pupil will sometimes speak of the lessons his instructor inculcates through daily interactions!

Kudos, Mr. King, for another winning novella. I cannot get enough of your work and will keep devouring the stories whenever I can.

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

These Lost & Broken Things, by Helen Fields

Eight stars

Stepping away from her highly popular police procedural series, Helen Fields offers readers a piece set over a century ago, with a woman who will do anything to keep her family together. Sofia grew up in a family of Romani, luring unsuspecting people and taking their money through various sleights of hand. Amongst them was Sofia’s keen abilities at poker, which has her winning large sums from the dark and dirty men who frequent the gaming houses in the late 19th century. Moving head to 1905, Sofia has married and has two children, a definitely improvement in her life. When her husband, Tom, dies before a doctor can be summoned, Sofia has no choice but to seek employment to ensure there is food on the table. While she finds it hard to do so, Sofia is approached by Tom’s employers, one Emmett Vinsant, who has many businesses he owns. While Sofia is leery, she agrees to work in a gaming house, watching other men lose their money with ease. She is unable to keep her poker addiction under wraps and ends up almost losing everything one night. She’s warned by Vinsant to be more careful and given a final chance, serving as an assassin of sorts. Given instructions by Vinsant or his underling, Sofia Logan is now a cold-blooded killer, but can finally ensure her family’s safety. Between assignments, she is forced to remember some of the horrors of her youth, when she first got a taste for murder to protect herself. As Sofia continues her work, she finds herself gravitating to a new man, one who could topple everything if he were to find out Sofia’s true work. An interesting change for Helen Fields, though the writing is still top notch. Those who enjoy historical fiction may want to get their hands on this piece, as well as long-time fans of the authors other work!

I admit that my fascination with Helen Fields’ novels had me wanting to try this piece, at least for something different. I sought to determine just how versatile Fields could be and this novel helped prove that she has what it takes to write outside of the crime thriller box. Sofia Logan proves to be a wonderful protagonist, though quite unassuming as she keeps her nose down in early 20th century England. Suffering alongside many others, Sofia has the love of her family first, though she cannot forget some of the skills she learned as a child to protect her from the wiles of evil men. As the story progresses, the reader can see some of the epiphanies that Sofia has, both about herself and the lifestyle she is living. Others within the piece complement her and keep the plot moving in a forward direction. The story is quite well-paced with a few plot lines to keep the reader intrigued. The intermixing of flashback chapters helps sketch a more complete story about Sofia Logan and lays the groundwork for the impetus of her need to survive. Those readers who enjoy some of the more modern work might like this extrapolation, if only to remind them why Helen Fields is such a great author. I cannot wait to see what’s to come!

Kudos, Madam Fields, for a great move away from your traditional fare. I think you have the knack for historical fiction and yet am also quite happy with your modern Scottish tales.

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

Fair Warning (Jack McEvoy #3), by Michael Connelly

Eight stars

Dusting off one of his older protagonists, Michael Connelly presents a new piece about gritty journalist Jack McEvoy. Now working for a consumer protection news site, Fair Warning, McEvoy is visited by the LAPD about the recent murder of woman he knew in passing. The manner of death, an internal decapitation, piques McEvoy’s interest, but there is also a stalking angle that leads the reporter to think he can tie things to the site. While poking around, McEvoy learns that there have been other cases in which young women have died in a similar manner, leading him to wonder if there is a killer on the loose. Another commonality happens to be that all these women used an inexpensive DNA testing company, one with less than rigorous standards in the field of information sharing. Working alongside a former FBI agent and another investigative reporter, McEvoy begins to see a troubling pattern, as a killer deemed The Shrike is targeting these women for some supposed marker in their DNA. With no clear pattern, McEvoy must be careful, so as not to scare the killer off, but also work with the authorities to ensure his ultimate capture. Connelly develops the essence of a great thriller from the angle of an investigative reporter, a refreshing perspective indeed. Recommended to those who love thrillers in all forms, as well as the reader who is a fan of Michael Connelly’s work.

I recently read a piece of non-fiction penned by the author about his time as an investigative reporter, finding it quite imaginative and full of wonderful cases. I know Michael Connelly has used many of the stories he covered on the crime beat when writing his countless novels, but this is only the third piece in which his protagonist plays the role of journalist. Connelly brings Jack McEvoy back with much to prove, having risen to fame through his past two major cases that spawned blockbuster books. McEvoy has moved to the less exciting work of protecting consumers through his work on Fair Warning, but still takes it quite seriously. He has all the tools to be a stellar journalist and uses his sources effectively, though nothing can prepare him for some of the people that will emerge in this story. Other characters provide wonderful depth to the story, both in the world of investigations and that of DNA technology. Connelly uses them effectively to push the plot along and keep the narrative moving in various directions. The story worked well, honing in on McEvoy’s work as he tries to uncover something while staying in his lane, with some offshoot chapters that provide the reader with needed perspectives to offer a complete story. The plot builds throughout, coming to a head as this killer, The Shrike, is developed and the rationale becomes clear to all. While I do love some of the central Connelly series, this one still has life in it, something that I hope the author does not forget when writing projects cross his desk.

Kudos, Mr. Connelly, for another winner in your intertwined series. I cannot wait to see what else is coming, as I know some of your other long-forgotten characters are back in print soon!

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

Hillary (Senator Bobby Hart #3), by D.W. Buffa

Eight stars

Always one for a great novel of political thrills and criminal intrigue, I turned again to the work of D.W. Buffa and his short Senator Bobby Hart series. While I loved the first book, I was not able to get hold of the second, forcing me to fill in some blanks as I pushed through into this, what appears to be the last for the time being. President of the United States (POTUS) Robert Constable has quite the way with women, so it is not entirely shocking that he would die of a heart attack when in bed with a prostitute. The Secret Service agent on the scene quickly whisked the hysterical woman out of the hotel room and secured the scene. The world mourns and an elaborate funeral takes place, though the First Lady, Hillary Constable, appears detached and dry-eyed. When Senator Booby Hart is summoned to speak with her at the reception, he is told that this was no heart attack and that Constable was murdered. The First Lady delivers the news stoically, but also wants to know who might have targeted her husband. While Hart begins to make some inquiries, he also learns that a New York Times reporter was set to meet POTUS the following day and had hoped to discuss The Four Sisters. As Hart soon learns, The Four Sisters is a highly complex financial company based out of France, with a reach far larger than it appears, through a series of shell companies. Hart and the reporter, working separately, learn just how high things go and that POTUS might be guilty of some foreign influence at the core of the Administration’s contract allocations. When numerous men with information on The Four Sisters turn up dead, Hart can only wonder what sort of cover-up is taking place. Travelling to the core of the matter might be his only hope, but he, too, could be a target to keep him quiet and smear his career, all while the country prepares to look towards the next election, with Hillary Constable poised to make her own run for the Oval Office. A sharp thriller that keeps the story moving swiftly throughout. Recommended to those who love a mix of politics with their crime thrillers, as well as the reader who has a passion for the work of D.W. Buffa.

I always find such pleasure when I am able to get my hands on another Buffa novel, though some around me cannot help but roll their eyes as I slide into my faux-Southern accent and express happiness. Senator Bobby Hart is back, ready to help where he can, even if it means putting himself into danger. Hart seems to be drawn into the major goings-on within the US political system that could get him killed, though his dedication to the country he loves rises above all else. While there are some far-fetched aspects to the character’s involvement in the plot, Buffa does keep the action high as he seeks to entertain his readers throughout. Other characters not only complement one another, but appear to push an interesting underlying narrative that might better explain the plot of the book and the larger political machinery at work. Buffa weaves these into a strong narrative and uses his characters to push the story along effectively from start to finish. In a book that does not stop with its twists, Buffa keeps the reader wondering as they see the layers of this strong plot reveal themselves the further along things get. Using a mix of short and longer chapters, Buffa hooks his reader and does not stop until the final reveal, even then offering some hanging threads to keep the story open for more down the road. A great piece that will have me coming back for more soon, as I see another Buffa (sadly, not from this series) set to be released in the coming weeks!

Kudos, Mr. Buffa, for another wonderful novel that mixes the zaniness of politics with the gritty side of crime. I hope others discover the wonders of your writing soon!

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

Transparent Things, by Vladimir Nabokov

Six stars

After reading Vladimir Nabokov’s (in)famous. Lolita, I chose to find another piece of the author’s writing to see if I could find a balance to offer a better, well-rounded sentiment. I turned to this novella—Nabokov’s shortest piece—in hopes that it would provide me with something to get to the core of the Nabokov writing style without needing to splice out some of the more controversial aspects of the story. This story pertains to the life of Hugh Person, a young publisher who is sent to Switzerland to interview a prominent figure. Clumsy beyond belief, Hugh does his best to complete the work assigned, but ends up falling in love with a local woman, Armande, along the way. Their love sees them return to New York, though Hugh is not one to lay down too many roots and ends up in a heap of trouble, which only leads to more headache and a final return to Europe. Back in Switzerland, Hugh must come to terms with the entirety of his life. With a deceptive title, this was anything but clear, even though the book is barely one hundred pages. Not the comparative piece I had hoped to use to flesh out my sentiments about Vladimir Nabokov.

I had high hopes that I would come out of this short piece with a stronger connection to the Nabokovian writing style and one in which the reader is not subjected to illegal thoughts and action on each page. However, rather than see paedophilia, I was subjected to random thoughts strung together in ways that made little sense to me. To call it confusing would be an understatement, though perhaps it is my problem for trying to make sense of Russian literature. Nabokov creates a dense and opaque narrative at best, using characters who seem not to go much of anywhere. At least in Lolita I could see the path and the troubles that lay ahead. Here, I am left to ponder what I, the reader, am doing on this journey. I am still hoping to find that balance (now between two pieces by the author) to see if it is me, or whether Vladimir Nabokov is an author whose writing and style is best left out of my reading bubble.

Kudos, Mr. Nabokov, for confusing me from the outset and throughout. I am thoroughly flustered now, more than I was with the incestuous book that piqued my curiosity in your work to begin this journey.

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

The Mist, by Stephen King

Eight stars

I have always found that Stephen King can pull a reader in with his writing, no matter the length. I needed something to fill my time and turned to this novella, which showcases some of the greatness I have come to expect from the author. David Drayton and his family live in rural Maine, watching as a storm rolls across the sky, closer to them. The fork lightning excites young Billy, who wants to stay up as things seem to be falling apart around him. In the morning, the storm’s destruction is apparent, with felled power lines and trees having smashed into houses and vehicles alike. David is tasked with getting some things at the store, an activity that he and Billy will do together. However, before they depart, both notice an odd mist hovering over the water, something David can only surmise must be an odd meteorological aberration. As they make their way to town, Billy and David review the list given to them, noticing that the mist seems to be here as well. Once inside, it would seem others had the same idea about grabbing a few things, as David and Billy queue up with other townsfolk. The mist thickens, almost enveloping the store, as many ask about it and what it could mean. Some venture outside, not seen again, but their piercing screams fill the air. Worried now, David and some others try to determine what this mist could be, witnessing a grotesque tentacle emerge and pull someone into its centre. This is no longer a low cloud, but something with a mind of its own. How anyone will get out is left to be seen in this King classic novella. Sharp, with a mix of spine-chilling actions, Stephen King keeps the reader on edge throughout. Recommended to those who enjoy the work of Stephen King, as well as those readers who find pleasure in stories about the weather.

I find that Stephen King is able to come up with some many varied ideas in his writing, pulling from his vast experiences. This piece, which begins as a simple nighttime storm, soon becomes a horrifying story about a seemingly innocuous weather system. David Drayton plays the wonderful protagonist in this piece, mixing a laidback nature with a passion to get to the root of the issue. He leads his family in being as safe as possible, but tries to downplay some of the worries his wife exhibits throughout the story. When it comes down to it, David exerts a leadership role that the reader will discover throughout, particularly when things get especially problematic within the store. Other characters offer interesting flavouring to an already hyped-up story, giving King much to work with as he spins this tale effectively. The piece itself is full of wonderful imagery, from the powerful storm to this sinister ‘thing’ floating over the water, which will eventually eject its slimy arms to pull unsuspecting people inside it, as though feeding off the fear that the townspeople have of what’s going on. King never shies away from this detail, which is balanced out by some of the climactic writing that divides the chapters. Anyone looking for some suspenseful work with not too much in the way of gory description need look no further. At a time when some feel they are ‘living in a Stephen King’ novel, I am left to wonder if I would prefer isolation from COVID-19, or from this mist!

Kudos, Mr. King, for a wonderful short piece that kept my heart pumping throughout. I will keep finding and devouring these great stories of yours.

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

Crime Beat: A Decade of Covering Cops and Killers, by Michael Connelly

Eight stars

I know that I am one of many who thoroughly enjoys the work of Michael Connelly, with his gritty stories of Harry Bosch and others working on solving (or defending, sometimes even reporting) crimes that occur throughout the greater Los Angeles area. Some may know that Connelly began his career as a crime beat reporter, amassing much of the story ideas he would later make popular through the cases on which he reported. This book is a collection of reports, both backgrounds and follow-ups, that Connelly penned during his reporting career. With an introduction that gives the reader the insight into how Connelly witnessed his first criminal at the age of sixteen and the subsequent investigation made him want to report on crimes, the author paints a picture of how this type of writing soon got into his blood and helped him to craft the descriptions that pull readers into the stories. With the collection divided into three parts, the reader can see reports that feature the police, the criminals, and the unknown victims. Seeing the cases develop and those who worked hard to catch the perpetrators, Connelly shines a light on those with the badges and guns, though he does not only present the positive side of those in blue. The reader can see Connelly’s depiction of the criminals as well, with backstories on their lives and what might have led them to the life of crime before they were caught, or eluded capture and disappeared. The final section seeks to focus the attention the victim who was left without a clear identity, be it because they fell through the cracks of the system or the brutality they faced left them unrecognisable at the time of initial reporting. With some wonderful tie-ins to cases that Harry Bosch would eventually face (note, the book came long before anyone ever heard of Renee Ballard), Connelly shows his tireless fans that fact and fiction do something intertwine and make for entertaining reading. Recommended to those who love true crime seen through the eyes of the roving reporter, as well as the reader who has come to love the writing of Michael Connelly over the years.

While I am not an avid reader of true crime novels, I like to see where authors get their ideas. Many pull on experiences from their past (or current) professions and blur the lines effectively to keep things working well for their reading public while offering a degree of anonymity and keeping lawsuits at bay. While I have been a longtime fan of Connelly’s work (all series), it is interesting to see where some of the ideas emerged. I have watched a few seasons of the Amazon Prime show, Bosch, which pulls its ideas from the books, but this was even more interesting, as I could see from where the initial germination of writing ideas eventually blossomed. The cases are all over the place, from robberies to murder, kidnapping to assaults. All included both sides of the law, as well as a victim, pulling the reader into the middle, much like Connelly must have been as he used his access to case files and the like. The curious reader will see just how detailed things can get when a reporter has earned the trust of the police, though also kept his independence and is able to point out foibles in the system. Connelly writes in such a way that the reader cannot help but want to know more, seeking to eke out as many details as possible. While some attentive readers will see the parallels between the cases and the eventual books, anyone can enjoy this, with Connelly’s easy to digest prose and attention to detail. Well worth my time as I await another Michael Connelly publication, which just so happens to have a reporter as the protagonist!

Kudos, Mr. Connelly, for all your hard work on the beat, which you have been able to turn into a stellar collection of novels that have stood the test of time.

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

The Arbella Stuart Conspiracy (The Marquess House Trilogy #3), by Alexandra Walsh

Eight stars

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

A longtime fan of all things Tudor, I turned to this final book in Alexandra Walsh’s trilogy that seeks to explore new and exciting historical twists in this dynastic time. Dr. Perdita Rvers is now working full-time within the manor house left to her by her grandmother. Full of research and unpublished manuscripts about the Tudors, Perdita seeks to unravel what seems to have been a long forgotten or altered version of events from the 16th and 17th centuries. She has been targeted by MI1 Elite, a part of the British Government that seeks not to have truths or alternate theories about the country’s history reach the light of day, but appears to be safe for the time being. While her past revelations have been eye opening, she is seeking to find the final piece of an even larger puzzle that might shed some light onto the transition from Tudor to Stuart control of the English Throne. As she digs into a new trove of research, Perdita learns more about Arbella Stuart, who finds herself on the Tudor family tree amongst some of the gnarled branches. However, Arbella’s historical claim was that she felt her heir had claim to the throne that was eventually taken by James I. As the story alternates between 2019 and the time of Arbella’s pleas, the reader learns that there was much squabbling going on as Elizabeth I was in her final moments on the throne and would have to name a successor. With powerful forces seeking to smooth the accession to the English Throne, some believe that there might have been a rewrite of the history we know today. Perdita uncovers a piece of jewelry that might prove yet another misstep that history saw nullified to create a new and false storyline about how the Stuarts took hold of England and began their reign. With Arbella imprisoned for her speaking out and Perdita learning a revelation that could change how the Tudor Dynasty came to an end, the reader must wonder how much is Alexandra Walsh’s imagination and what might be worth reexamining with supporting documents. A fascinating read, especially for those who love all things Tudor, this final piece of a fictional Tudor trilogy will keep many a reader wondering. Recommended to those who enjoy looking at history from all sides, as well as the reader who loved the previous two books in this series.

I will not purport to knowing all the answers when it comes to the Tudors or even how to decipher their more than complex family tree. Still Alexandra Walsh brings it all together and does her best (as any Tudor writer might) to keep things straight for the lay reader. Dr. Perdita Rivers resumes her role as protagonist in this piece, pushing forward to learn a little more about the Tudors, though the research and unearthed documents her grandmother left her. The series reader will have seen much progress in Perdita’s character, from her discover of the truth related to her family through to the massive amount of information left for her in an odd bequest. Much has been accomplished with those around her, both researchers and love interests, as Walsh ties things up effectively. While there is little time for much depth in a trilogy, Walsh does well to keep her central character exciting and on point. Other characters, both returning and those new to this book, help to push the story along and keep the reader eager to discover how they fit into the larger narrative. Walsh has mixed historical characters with those who are likely fabricated by her own imagination. The story worked well to tie up many of the loose ends left dangling from the past two novels, while also leaving much for the reader to ponder. Walsh has done well in her writing, as I compare her to a few other Tudor writers (both those of historical fiction and fact-based tomes). The narrative moved forward well and the plot seemed to fit nicely in the two time periods used to shape the overall story. Walsh moves between the two with little issue, dividing the book into nine parts as she shifts back and forth with well-developed chapters. Walsh has done extremely well with this series and I would hope that anyone seeking some Tudor background that delves into some alternate history possibilities would grab them up. Easy reads packed with information and entertainment!

Kudos, Madam Walsh, for another great book. Now that this series is done, I will have to keep my eyes open for whatever else you have coming out.

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

Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov

Eight stars

Long being a fan of pushing the envelope when it comes to reading, I took up a dare that a friend of mine posed. She asked that I try reading Vladimir Nabokov’s highly controversial novel to see if I could stay the course. This is the review for that book and my announcement that I did finish the book and have some sentiments to share for my troubles. Humbert Humbert is a European man who opens this first-person narrative by describing a life that saw him feel highly unfulfilled. He went through the motions and seemed to live a somewhat beige childhood and early adolescence, but soon escaped that when he made it to America. Humbert’s arrival permitted him to sit in parks, where he could admire many nymphets (girls aged 7-13 or so) as they frolicked in the various places he would frequent. Careful not to tip his hand, Humbert inwardly enjoyed this, but never engaged in even the slightest conversation with them, raising no red flags. After moving into a house, Humbert took a stronger liking to his landlady’s daughter, young Dolores Haze who is all of twelve. As the narrative progresses, the reader learns that Humbert not only enjoys being around Dolores, but he takes to calling her his Lolita, if only to himself. Smelling towels she may have used and playing games with her—at times letting his hand inch along her thigh—Humbert seems to be grooming her while staying just on the right side of the law. He openly admits in the early stages of the book that he knows how society will see him and chooses not to cross any clear lines that could pose issues. After taking some certain steps to get even closer to Lolita, Humbert enacts a plan and takes her on a trip. He detects a strong mutual connection between them, which he presents in flirtatious comments and acts by Lolita. This carnal watching of his nymphet soon leads Humbert to drug her and pursue something more physical. While things got a tad blurry for me, it appears the narrative moves from this into a wholehearted physical—read, sexual—relationship between the two, consensual in the loosest of terms (not covered by the law), as Humbert and Lolita travel through various communities. The rest of the story pertains not only to the ongoing journeys of these two, but the change in dynamic from simple lovers to a parent-child interaction, which only adds fuel to the fire of something paedophilic and incestuous at the same time. Will Lolita mature out of this magnetic connection with Humbert? Might others clue in and alert the authorities, Humbert’s greatest worry? A shocking piece, as I was led to expect, which will surely open eyes and turn heads. And yet, for reasons I cannot comprehend, it is considered classic literature.

I know nothing of Vladimir Nabokov or his other writing, which might handicap my ability to properly analyze the story here. However, I know the basic laws of the land (in this case, America in the late 1940s), which do not permit this sort of action between a child of twelve and an adult. It is quite possible that Nabokov sought to push the limits of what is acceptable and display the lengths to which some people will justify their choices and actions. Humbert Humbert is a man who appears to be on the straight and narrow from the outside, but this novel is his first-hand account of sentiments and thoughts that push him into a realm that society does not readily accept. His sentiments, while made in literary ways, will leave some readers with chills up their spines. The subtlety of his assertions and constant reminders to the reader that he knows the line of permissibility leaves many to wonder if he cares. Lolita is presented as the typical tween/teenage girl, seeking to find herself and perhaps experimenting with things along the way. Nabokov does not delve too deeply into her actual sentiments on what is going on, as the entire novel is through the eyes of Humbert, but one can only wonder if the grooming that occurs and the lack of any other parent figure left her thinking that this was ‘right’ or at least part of the adolescent experience. The story flowed extremely smoothly and the chapters blended well into on another. Nabokov may drop bombshells throughout, but the subtlety of the language and the insinuations keeps the reader from feeling the spikes in action, but rather a smooth ride as Humbert denotes happenings and struggles along the way. This was, for me, one of those books where the reader is watching a car accident in progress and cannot turn away, even as things get more gruesome. Attentive reading is required to pick up much of the highly controversial acts, but even then, most readers are likely hoping for a stop or something to rescue Lolita before things get too far. Let me be clear about this here and now (though I am sure comments will try to skewer me all the same), the high rating I gave to this book is for the writing style and delivery by Vladimir Nabokov and NOT the subject matter. I do not condone statutory rape, grooming, or any form of abuse on children. That Nabokov can write this book and leave the reader feeling so out of sorts without creating a smutty delivery of subject matter is to be applauded, but I can see why many readers might want to steer clear of this, holding young ones they healthily love close to them.

Kudos, Mr. Nabokov, for this eye opening piece. I may have to read more of your work (please, fellow reviewers, recommendations welcome) to remove this film from my brain, so as not to associate you solely with this type of writing.

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

To Kill a Man (Maggie Costello #5), by Sam Bourne

Eight stars

A long-time fan of Sam Bourne, I was pleased to get my hands on this piece, which kept me devouring page after page throughout the reading experience. Natasha Winthrop is a powerful lawyer in DC, having worked within the congressional committee system, as well as the New York DA’s office. After a man broke into her home and raped her, Natasha fought back and ended up killing her assailant. As the news broke, many took to social media to offer their support through various messages and hashtags, particularly after it’s discovered that the assailant is a wanted killer and serial rapist. However, when someone leaked some of the more salacious browser history that Natasha Winthrop had on her computer, some of the sentiments changed, leaving some to wonder if she brought this on herself. Added to the mix is the fact that Winthrop is rumoured to be a likely candidate in the upcoming presidential race. While her reputation remains wobbly, Winthrop reaches out to DC situation manager, Maggie Costello, who has made quite the reputation for herself. While Costello is racing against the clock to help her client, she uncovers some interesting pieces to the puzzle that could change things significantly. The police want to take the high ground and not pre-judge anyone, but it could be difficult, as Winthrop has made no qualms about burying the cops through the legal system. Struggling as she is, Costello will stop at nothing until she has the entire story, which pits the acts of an assaulted woman against her past history and if she might have invited the attack. When all the stone are turned, Costello comes to some major revelations that will rock the case to its core. A must-read for series fans and those who want a mix of procedural and ‘torn from the headlines’ writing. Recommended to those who have one to enjoy Sam Bourne’s writing, as well as the reader who loves those ‘aha’ stories with twists they did not see coming.

I love a good story that resonates deeper than the simple good versus evil. Sam Bourne delivers that here, forcing the reader to think about what they are reading, rather than remain entirely passive. Maggie Costello may be the presumptive protagonist, but it is not her life that is on offer here, or added backstory and development. Instead, Natasha Winthrop receives a great deal of attention, from her privileged background to her powerful positions on things on and off Capitol Hill. The reader learns much about her, allowing them to serve as an omnipotent juror of sorts with all the facts on hand. Others complement the story well, in this piece that takes only a week to develop. Bourne tells the story from many angles, but does so in such a way that the reader cannot help but want to know more from all those involved. The story is both well-written and poignant during this #MeToo movement, pushing the envelop and touching on some controversies that have arises. Can a woman’s (or man’s) past be used against them when trying to determine the validity of victimhood? Bourne does not shy away from this, as the narrative pushes forward in this thickening plot, with chapters broken into parts than span a single week. Sure to leave the reader wondering where they ought to go with things, this is one book I hope creates some real chatter, as Bourne speaks of mixing fact and fiction herein.

Kudos, Mr. Bourne, for an entertaining read, as well as one that is full of needed information. I cannot wait to see what else you have in store for your fans.

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

If It Bleeds, by Stephen King

Eight stars

Any reader familiar with Stephen King will understand how versatile he can be. King’s ideas seem endless and he is able to spin them into pieces of varying lengths. In this collection of four short stories (I’d almost call them novellas), King shows not only how he can chill the reader to the core, but that his ideas are vast and yet usually tied to current social trends.

Mr. Harrigan’s Phone (four stars)

Craig has been working for his elderly neighbour for a few years, reading to Mr. Harrigan and learning a little more about life. When Craig comes into some money, he decides to take a leap and purchases Mr. Harrigan an iPhone, as they are the new ‘thing’ on the market. While Mr. Harrigan is not sure he’d use it, Craig converts the Luddite and soon the elderly man is hooked. After the old man’s passing, Craig honours his friend with a final act. What follows leaves Craig wondering just how strong the tie was that connected him to Mr. Harrigan, as well as what role smart phones have in our ever-changing and impacted world!

The Life of Chuck (three ‘weak’ stars)

The piece is told in three parts, though this is perhaps the most straightforward aspect of the entire reading experience. Each part is in reverse chronological order, beginning with an apocalyptic event where many of the people lose everything, but billboards and online advertisements hail Charles ‘Chuck’ Krantz as having served well over the last 39 years. As the story progresses (regresses?), the reader learns a little more about the earlier Chuck and the life he lived, but adds an ending that will likely leave the reader scratching their heads. Not the stellar King of which I am used to praising!

If It Bleeds (four and a half ‘strong’ stars)

The story that holds the collection’s name is also, in my mind, the best of them all. Tied into King’s recent full-length novel, the reader revisits Holly Gibney and the Finders Keepers Investigation Agency, both of which are doing quite well. When Holly sees a news report about a bombing at a middle school, she becomes fixated, not only with the story, but those who are recounting it. Might there be another Outsider who is responsible for the carnage? Holly goes to look into things, soon pulled into a long-developing theory by an elderly gentleman who has much to share. Where this story will go might baffle the reader!

Rat (four stars)

In King’s final tale, the reader meets Drew Larson, a college English teacher who is hoping to write his ‘great novel’ during a sabbatical. Unable to do so at home, Larson decides to travel up to the family cabin, much to his wife’s chagrin. When Larson arrives, hoping to get the writing bug, he discovers that he’s just beaten a major storm. While the winds gust, Larson tries to put something onto paper. Still struggling and finding himself falling ill, Larson finds himself visited by a rat who seems to be trying to escape the weather. They come to an agreement about how to ensure this new book will prove to be successful, though the sacrifice might be more than Drew Larson can handle to find fame.

Anytime a reader chooses something by Stephen King, they can expect something exciting and unique. King did not disappoint in that regard, though some of his ideas could leave the reader less than impressed. The fact that King leaves that unsettled feeling proves his abilities, as his ideas appear all over the spectrum. These four stories could not be more different from one another, which gives more readers a chance to find something they will enjoy. While King always makes some social commentary, it is up the the reader to decide what they wish to take from the pieces. With his usual random references to past novels and locales, King keeps his fans on their toes as they push through these pieces, forcing those who are keen on details to see how the pieces all fit together. Not to be missed for those who love a little chill alongside their reading experience. I cannot wait to see what else the King of Horror has in store in the years to come!

Kudos, Mr. King, for another wonderful collection. I’ll not soon tire of your variety of writing ideas and the means by which you deliver them.

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

Thicker Than Blood (Zoe Bentley #3), by Mike Omer

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Mike Omer, and Thomas & Mercer for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Returning for the third in the Zoe Bentley series, the reader is able to get a real grasp for how Mike Omer seeks to shape the book and his protagonist. While still in Chicago, FBI forensic psychologist Zoe Bentley and Special Agent Tatum Gray are hot on the heels of Rod Glover, a serial killer who has been terrorising people across America. When Bentley learns of the murder of a young woman, she noses her way into the crime scene, thinking that it might be Glover’s work. CPD officials are less than happy to have her poking around, but Bentley and Gray refuse to back down. It soon becomes apparent that the case is not Glover’s work, as there is an odd angle, where the killer appears to have a form of vampirism. The woman who was slain is the daughter of a pastor, giving Bentley and Gray a lead to follow. No one has seen or heard of Glover, but the loose description sounds a little like Daniel Moore, a congregant who has admitted to having issues in his past. While Bentley and Gray try to track down the killer, they begin to wonder if this is a partnered job, with Glover as the alpha male, but the unsub (unknown subject) as the one choosing the victims. While learning a little more about the Chicago vampire community, Bentley and Gray must also keep their eyes open for more crimes. Another woman is found dead, her body with telltale marks of a blood letting, which only increases the pressure. Working all the angles, Bentley and Gray must find the killer, as well as their specific prize in Rod Glover, before more women lose their lives. An interesting addition to the series, though Omer’s chill and sharpness seem to have been muted somewhat in this piece. Recommended to those who enjoy the series, as well as the reader who wants something a little unique in the killer on the loose.

If memory serves, I picked up the first book in this collection on the recommendation of a friend. I could not get enough and loved how the story moved well, showing the progress Zoe Bentley could make in her search for a killer. By this, the third book, I had high hopes for Omer to keep things moving, but they got a little clunky. More on that in a moment. Zoe Bentley remains the star of the book, though she is not as pristine and on point as I would have liked. She remains focussed on finding the man she once called her neighbour and friend as a child, knowing his days are numbered. While Rod Glover may have brain cancer, Zoe is sure not to let up on her hunt. That said, she seems to have a harder time using that psychology degree that got her the prime position in the FBI. Other characters help to advance the story well, but many did not shine as I would have liked. The story’s premise was strong and well worth my time, but I felt things either did not move with the rapidity that I would have expected, or the interactions were less sharp and spine-tingling, which is something that Omer has done so well in the past. The hunt for the killers was constant, but it appeared as though Bentley and Gray were spinning their wheels. Even the aspects with the killer in the narrative driver’s seat were sometimes lacking the flair they needed to push things forward. With Omer using the short chapter technique to keep the reader hooked, there were moments when the narrative and excitement dwindled, leaving the reader to continue in hopes of finding the spark. While I did not dislike the book, this was surely my least favourite of the collection to date.

Kudos, Mr. Omer, for more Zoe Bentley reading. I suppose this might have been an aberration in your usually stellar style, at least in my eyes.

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

The Girl Beneath the Sea (Underwater Investigation Unit #1), by Andrew Mayne

Eight stars

After seeing this recent publication by Andrew Mayne make such a splash across the reviewing platforms, I wanted to have a look for myself. Sloan McPherson has underwater diving in her blood, having grown up with it as her father taught her all there was to know. When she is not contracted out to dive for one of the local police services in Florida, Sloan is scouring the depths on her own. One day while pleasure diving—alone, a major faux pas—Sloan has a body dumped in the water in front of her. Panicked, she resurfaces to see what’s going on, but cannot make out who did the deed. After alerting her colleagues, Sloan realises that she is in deeper trouble than she first thought, as someone has stolen her identification, notifying them where to find her. While Sloan does her best to let the case work itself out, she cannot stand idly by and wait for the answers to surface. Paired with a man who is anything but a family friend, Sloan begins to explore the possibilities that this may not have been a random body dump. Furthermore, it would seem that the likely retribution by a drug cartel might have ties to the locals and feds. Sloan discovers the murky waters that see the Drug Enforcement Agency pairing with the local drug runners and the riches that can be had by turning the other way. Deputised and given a gubernatorial nod towards an underwater investigative service, Sloan learns that there’s a massive payload offshore and she can only hope to blow the whistle, confiscating it before someone makes a pile of money and keeps on killing to keep the secret. With the help of her father, Sloan is going to have to get the answers and make the dive of her life, or fear that she’s the next body to sink to the bottom, food for the fishes. An intriguing novel that pushes the reader to new depths when it comes to police investigating. Recommended to those who love police procedurals that work from unique angles, as well as those who enjoy all things related to the world of diving.

I’ll admit, I knew nothing of Andrew Mayne when I started this book, which might be why I come at it from a different angle than others. While many a review gave some lukewarm sentiments towards this piece, I was quite interested in the angle and delivery by Mayne. Sloan McPherson provides a refreshing look at the protagonist’s role, given a lead in a field that does not usually ‘rise to the top’ of a police procedural. Her love of the water is countered only with that for her young daughter, a product of a relationship that was doomed before it began. Sloan also carries the weight of her family’s reputation with local law enforcement, including an uncle who was charged with drug offences. Sloan battles this and a determination to do all she can, while unable to let those around her grab all the glory while she is exploring the depths of the water. Others complement Sloan’s tenacity throughout this piece, offering her some depth while keeping the story moving along. Mayne does well to introduce the reader to the world of diving and the politics of the Florida Coast with this book, providing a story that moves well and keeps the action going. The terminology seems on point and educates the reader throughout, while this series debut has me wanting a little more to see if an underwater diver within the police force can make for an effective angle of crime fighting. While many have tossed up their hands with this piece, I’m curious and not afraid to say that I seek more from Andrew Mayne in the coming years!

Kudos, Mr. Mayne, for the great lure to a new series. I’ll keep my eyes peeled to see what else you have to offer with Sloan McPherson, as well as checking out some of your other work!

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

Working: Researching, Interviewing, Writing, by Robert A. Caro

Nine stars

Having discovered the wonders of Robert A. Caro a number of years ago, I vowed that I would read all that he had written. Beginning with his work on Robert Moses, I was pulled into the intricate world of a biography that sought not only to explore the world of this powerful urban planner within New York State’s political realm, but also the personal aspects that drove the man to shape such change. While the book was massive, Caro’s writing made it come to life for me. Thereafter, I began the colossal task of reading and synthesising the multi-volume biography of Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ)—with the fifth and final volume yet to come—in which Caro made the rise from rags to the White House appear monumental for a man who turned politicking into a new art form. Stunned at the superior nature of the writing, I wait impatiently for the aforementioned final volume of the LBJ biography. I saw this book floating around and gritted my teeth at the time, a tad disgruntled that Caro had penned a book on another topic rather than focussing his attention on the biography. However, I caved and chose to read this piece recently, missing Caro and his writing. I now slap myself upside the head for waiting so long, as Caro offers a behind the scenes look at how he got into writing—a journalist with Newsweek—and what led him to choose these two giants in their respective political fields. Between talking about his fact finding and early drafts of both the Moses and LBJ biographies, Caro shares how difficult it was for him to get people to speak with him until he showed that he was not just another journalist looking for a new angle to smear the man, but rather to get to the core of the truths that had long been rumours. Caro actually moved throughout Texas while researching the early years of LBJ, living in the same regions and speaking to some who remembered the 36th President of the United States when he was just a boy or a school teacher. Caro also discusses the reason his books take so long to put together, not least because he writes his first few drafts by hand (ugh!), but also due to the fact that he wants his research to be as thorough as possible. Caro does all his own work, using his wife to assist at times as well, but hires no outside help. While this is to be applauded, it makes his fans surely want to tear out their hair as they wait for the next publication—in my case, I have none to grab hold of. This short piece complements all the work that Caro has done and provides a tiny hint at what is to be expected in the final LBJ volume. At 85 years of age this October, there are concerns (both by the author and his fans) that Caro will complete the book, but I have as much faith as I can that he’ll come through with something. Ok, so maybe this is my way of pleading. Robert A. Caro… please finish the series!!! Recommended for those who have loved any (or all) of Robert A. Caro’s work, as well as the fan who loves to know some of the insider secrets to writing stellar biographical pieces.

While I have read many biographies in my life, Caro’s work is surely some of the best. I tell anyone who has an iota of interest in political biographies that they must look into Caro’s work, as both Robert Moses and LBJ have been treated so thoroughly under Caro’s analytical writing. The central character must be properly analyzed to get the full depth of their impact on the world in a biography, but Caro goes one step further; he seeks to understand some of the minute aspects that shaped the men about whom he based his research. Caro lays it all out here for the curious reader, pulling no punches as he admits the lengths to which he went to get answers. A piece like this is seemingly rare for an author to produce, allowing the reader inside their writing process and behind the secretive curtain of their interview process. Caro dazzles while being frank and uses the chapters to speak clearly about his process. While I mentioned above that I bemoaned his delaying getting Volume 5 completed on the LBJ biography, I am now in the process of eating crow and baking a humble pie. I needed this book to better understand one of the best biographers I have ever discovered. I sit here, unable to put all my words together properly, more because I am in awe of the man than that the book was too hard to review. Anyone who has picked up and positively reviewed a Caro piece will likely want to get this book for themselves. Then again, sometimes not knowing the backstory is best, though this piece is surely no sausage-making endeavour.

Kudos, Mr. Caro, for dazzling me with everything you do. I cannot wait, but will, for your next major publication!

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

The Shroud Solution (Shroud Series #1), by K. Bruce Mackenzie

Eight stars

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

Always a fan of novels with Catholic and/or historical twists, this book by K. Bruce Mackenzie caught my eye as soon as I found it. When two cardinals arrive in Scotland on a mission, their presence is noticed by a few. The Vatican has sent Cardinals Ratzinger and Jaropelk, two of its highest ranking officials, to discuss a matter of great importance with members of a highly specialised institute working on matters of cloning. Among them are Dr. Ian McKinney, as well as Head of Security, Angus MacGregor, whose work denotes the need for the highest protection. The cardinals are highly interested in the work done cloning sheep, something that the Institute is proud to have accomplished. Even now, in 1997, the story continues to bring them much notoriety. When the cardinals bring up the possibility of examining the Shroud of Turin—the cloth said to have been wrapped around the crucified Jesus Christ—some shy away for religious reasons. However, Dr. Ian McKinney, an espoused atheist, is interested in the challenge and meets with the cardinals in secret, accompanied by MacGregor who has security in mind. They discuss the option and the only obstacle will be if Pope John Paul II blocks any biological analysis of the Shroud. The cardinals return and promise to be in touch soon, if McKinney is given the chance to proceed. After some arm twisting, the cardinals get a preliminary go-ahead, paving the way for McKinney to begin his examination. Throughout the process, he discovers something interesting, which the cardinals cannot deny is on the verge of changing the world forever. However, even more remarkable is the sudden faith-based change that Ian McKinney undergoes, finding solace in learning about the Shroud and the details of Christianity. When his scientific results yield some interesting findings, the cardinals work with McKinney to convince the pontiff to explore some further tests. Hesitant because he is only mortal, John Paul II agrees, but has some strict guidelines moving forward. McKinney is overjoyed, but this is not the only progress he has made in life, finding solace in the arms of a woman who’s been right next to him for so very long. As the plan proceeds, there are those who lurk in the shadows, curious about what the Vatican is doing. Two hired killers inch closer, tasked with neutralising not only the Shroud plan, but those who would overstep the limits of man playing deity. What comes next turns the story into the explosive novel Mackenzie has been building up to this point. Filled with religious, political, and thrilling twists, the reader will learn a great deal while wondering how much is fiction and where some well-kept factual secrets might mingle into this story. Recommended for those who love religious thrillers with a historical element, as well as the reader who find ‘what if’ stories to their liking.

While I am not a Catholic in my upbringing, there is something about Vatican politics that has always piqued my interest. This book, which mixes that with some Christian history and the modern blurring of scientific lines, proved to be a recipe for success for Mackenzie in his debut thriller. While the story opened with an odd twist—no spoilers here!—things soon fell into sync as the story moved between Scotland and the Vatican with ease. Ian McKinney soon finds himself in the protagonist’s role, though it is his character transformation that steals the show over some of the plot twists. The reader sees many of McKinney’s epiphanies in this story, some of which prove more saccharine than others, which helps the plot push forward and adds depth to the overall narrative. With some fictional and actual characters throughout, the story gains some interesting twists throughout. All those who grace the pages of this piece find themselves adding to the already intriguing plot with each page turn. Mackenzie wastes no time in positing some interesting hypotheses about genetics, cloning, and the plausibility of the Shroud of Turin holding the key to the potential Second Coming, albeit with more than the Hand of God playing a role. The story was strong and only got a tad far-fetched on a few occasions, more in the dialogue and character interactions than anything else. I found myself unable to put the book down at times, as the chapters were such teasers, some lasting pages while others summarily ended in a paragraph. Those with open minds and an interest in the topic will likely find themselves as hooked as I was, asking what they might have been missing not reading this book sooner. The numerous twists, down to the final reveal left me wanting more and pleased that Mackenzie speaks of a trilogy on the subject. Surely stirring up some controversy inside the Holy See with some of the sentiments expressed herein.

Kudos, Mr. Mackenzie, for a great novel. I hope others find this one as intriguing, as I know I was committed as soon as the story began.

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

The Lincoln Conspiracy: The Secret Plot to Kill America’s 16th President—and Why It Failed, by Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch

Nine stars

In their second collaborative piece about a little-known assassination plot on a president, Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch turn to one of the most beloved—or hated, depending on your outlook—men ever to ascend to the presidency, Abraham Lincoln. Little known by many at the time of his election, Lincoln was not one to shy away from controversy for his strong anti-slavery views. He toppled favourites to win the Republican nomination and then entered a presidential fight that was drawn along more than state or party lines, woven into the fabric of a still adolescent America. As Meltzer and Mensch illustrate, there was trouble brewing before the ballots were cast, but once Lincoln won, those who did not support him came out in droves. Of those who sought to keep slavery intact and reacted with the most vigour was a group called the Knights of the Golden Circle. This covert group had plans to remove the man and rebalance the American political situation before Lincoln could official spend a day in office, during a stop in Baltimore. While there have been numerous presidential assassination attempts and successes—Lincoln included—none had been successfully plotted or executed by a group on a president-elect. As news of the Knights plan leaked, a little known detective agency was brought in to help foil the plot and keep the president from being pushed into the crosshairs. This is the story of the Knights, their plot, and how it was stymied by some quick thinking. With wonderful detail and quotes from all parties involved, Meltzer and Mensch keep the reader feeling right in the thick of things of this situation that has barely—if ever—made mention in any history books. Recommended to those who love a good political drama that’s steeped in history and intrigue, as well as the reader who loves learning about some of the parts of American history that are not readily seen in every school primer text.

I have long loved the work of Brad Meltzer and am thoroughly impressed with the work that he does alongside Josh Mensch. Some bemoan that the book is too outlandish, though I think the fact that this was a real event and not something pulled from the fictional archives of a stellar writer—of which Meltzer surely is—makes it all the more exciting. Laying the groundwork, the authors provide the reader with some backstories on all the key characters involved in the situation, including a few about whom I knew nothing before reading this book. With this and a healthy dose of the political situation at the time, the reader can see the developing plot to kill Lincoln during his ride towards Washington for the inauguration in early March 1861. The details of the story are clear and flow so well, keeping the reader on the edge of their seat, as one would expect in a piece of well-crafted fiction, though this is surely steeped in reality. The authors use a great narrative style that removes much of the stuffy nature that can be found in recounting historical happenings without losing the importance of the events being shared. With a mix of short and longer chapters, the reader can learn what they need to without getting bogged down in too much minutiae, though the information was plentiful on each page. The eventual assassination plot and its execution by the likes of John Wilkes Booth dominate the history texts, but Meltzer and Mensch bring to life this earlier attempt to shed some light on just how hated Lincoln and his beliefs were to many within the country, as well as to the extent to which parts of the American public were happy to see their as-yet official president killed and left as an asterisk in the history texts. No president will match the character and actions of Abraham Lincoln, though some will try to spin it to make their megalomaniacal ego glow even more!

Kudos, Messers. Meltzer and Mensch, for this refreshing look at America on the brink and one of its leaders who dodged a literal bullet to effect change.

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

The Eyes of Darkness, by Dean Koontz (writing as Leigh Nichols)

Eight stars

After the media caught hold of the presumed origins of the COVID-19 virus, out came the conspiracy theorists with their tinfoil hats. One rumour that began circulating was that Dean Koontz (writing as Leigh Nichols) penned a 1981 book that predicted the virus decades before. While Koontz denies that Wuhan-400 was a prophetic notion in his piece of fiction, those with too much isolation time seem to be holding firm. Always liking to dive into a controversy, I decided to read this book to decide for myself. Tina Evans has been struggling for a year since her son, Danny’s, death. Having perished in a bus accident while on a Scouts trip, Tina allowed her marriage to fall apart and has barely been able to function. She thinks that she can see him passing on the street and went so far as to almost break into a vehicle when she saw a boy who bore a striking resemblance. While working on a Las Vegas production, Tina uses her down time to finally box up Danny’s things. She has an eerie feeling and notices odd things happening, occurrences that lead her to wonder if Danny might not be dead after all. In a panic, Tina begins to wonder if her son is communicating to her in some telekinetic manner and she engages the services of a local lawyer, Elliot Stryker, to help her get to the bottom of it. They devise a plan to exhume Danny’s coffin to get some answers, hoping that this will put everything to rest. However, once Elliot seeks to have the order signed by a judge, both he and Tina find themselves visited by men who threaten them. Elliot is forced to kill a man to save his own life and barely helps Tina escape her house before it explodes. Surely, someone is trying to block any discoveries about the accident or Danny’s body, but why. Following what little they can, Elliot and Tina make their way out of Las Vegas, hoping to get to the root of the issue and determine if Danny is still alive, as well as what might have happened to him. Could the accident and the death of all these Scouts be a cover-up for something bigger? Meanwhile, a covert agency is working off the grid to keep Tina from learning the truth about Danny. Away in a mountain laboratory, answers await, as well as work surrounding a horrible virus, Wuhan-400. A well-developed piece but surely not as scandalous as some in the social media world tried to make it seem. Recommended to those who love a good thriller, as well as the writer who enjoys some government intrigue alongside their medical thrills.

I’ve never read Dean Koontz to the best of my knowledge, though this was an interesting way to introduce myself to the bestselling author. His work is both well-written and held my attention throughout. It’s sometimes hard to read books where the female lead is less than cutthroat, seeking a man to help her, as this was surely the case with Tina Evans. Her trying to come to terms with the loss of a child goes through some of the same sad events as occur in other novels I have encountered, with the same reliance on a man to help love her and pick up the pieces. The reader learns much about Tina throughout this piece, as she shares the details of her divorce and the love she has for Danny, even if she cannot let go of him. Other characters fill the book and help complement the plot, adding interesting flavours where they are needed. The story was decent, if a little supernatural at times. Nichols/Koontz is able to keep the reader interested and connected to the plot without too much trouble, though there is something a tad ‘light’ that does not challenge the brain as much as one might hope. The narrative keeps the story moving along and most of the plot points are quite strong. The Wuhan-400 angle was a decent addition to the story, though the COVID-19 conspiracists are surely grasping at straws here. I will allow anyone wishing to read the book to draw their own parallels, but for me, Nichols/Koontz does not appear to be any prophet here, as the differences between COVID-19 and Wuhan-400 are vast. Then again, some people are happy to call a red ball turquoise in order to keep their lives interesting. To those people, I offer a pat on the head a slice of pity pie!

Kudos, Mr. Koontz (Nichols), for delivering a decent novel as my first foray into your work. I will likely come back for more, one day.

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

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, by Timothy Snyder

Eight stars

“History does not repeat, but it does instruct,” is the opening line of Timothy Snyder’s short work on tyranny. How apt this is and the examples throughout the piece of writing goes on to further explain what the author wishes to convey. Pulling from examples throughout the 20th century, Snyder effectively argues that the situation in America has some loose—perhaps still germinating foreboding—concerns from the rise of authoritarian regimes in history that sat on both sides of the political spectrum in decades past. Snyder warns the reader not to ignore these, as there are times when waiting makes change too late. He also effectively draws parallels between the lulling into complacency that leaders mastered—using false rhetoric and duplicitous nationalism to appear patriotic—and the goings-on at apparent ego rallies when not on Twitter. Snyder has strong examples that fit, things that the layperson will like have heard about in their general knowledge of world history. Can it be stopped? Snyder feels there is the potential, but only by heeding the warning signs now. While the 2020 presidential election is around the corner, the electorate cannot be duped into thinking that this is a nightmare the US Constitution or the other branches of government will rein in. Alas, that only works when the actors in the system agree to the rules and do not supersede them to fit their needs. Thought provoking and a wonderful fill between books, Timothy Snyder’s piece did just what it sought to do; leave me wondering about how the past should be a yardstick for success, not just a bunch of words in a tome that could never happen again. Recommended for those with strong political interests who wish to explore some of the pressing issues of 21st century, as well as the reader with a keen interest in history’s repetitive nature.

This book was slyly passed along to me by a good friend, wanting to see how my politically minded brain might process it. It’s short (even by academic publication standards) and yet packs a major punch. Snyder uses concrete examples, specifically from the national socialism (fascism) found in Nazi Germany and the communist countries of Soviet Russia and Eastern Europe. At first, the parallels with the US Administration were simply presumed, but Snyder blunts his comments when he eventually uses POTUS and America by name, perhaps his way of ensuring the point is not missed. The chapters (points) can be as quick as a few lines, or as length as a couple of pages, but all twenty resonate to the attentive reader who will likely see things as soon as they are pointed out. I know there will be trolls and those who disagree, which is their right, though I would really enjoy someone trying to talk their way out of the case Snyder makes. Then again, what do I know, a mere Canadian?

Kudos, Mr. Snyder, for a sobering look at tyrannical reign in the American republic. Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln (all men POTUS thinks he is like) would roll over in their graves if they saw the republic today!

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

Disease X, by N.J. Croft

Eight stars

At a time when it seems the world has been turned on its head, it is sometimes fun to read a book that encapsulates a similar pandemic feel. N.J. Croft released this book just before widespread public knowledge came out about COVID-19, with some eerie, loose parallels—though nothing like those in Dean Koontz’s The Eyes of Darkness. Dr. Elijah ‘Eli’ Vance is a virologist working at Johns Hopkins, happy to be in a lab and trying to work through many a challenging study. When he is called upon by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to fly down and investigate an issue in Mexico, Vance is forced out of his comfort zone. Vance and a team of highly trained scientists across numerous fields make their way to the zone, accompanied by US Army Captain Riley Hawkins. While Vance gets acclimated to the region, he discovers an odd, flu-like illness has taken hold in a small village. The symptoms may be mild, but someone with some clout obviously thought it was something. Unable to pinpoint what it could be, Vance and the team begin taking tests to determine the voracity of this illness. What begins as a mild irritant soon turns deadly, as people showing symptoms are dead within two days. Putting fluid samples under the microscope, Vance discovers that this is not bacterial, but also no virus he’s encountered before. All this pushes him into a spiral of flashbacks to his childhood, when a strain of Ebola wiped out his family while on a mission in Africa. Vance tries to pull it together, acting as a teacher for the curious Captain Hawkins, as they become closer on many levels. With a mortality rate of 100 percent, Vance is able to determine that the virus has been contained within the hot-zone, though there may be ties to a bat bite, leaving him to wonder about a rabies strain. He’s ready to return to Washington and try to work out the specifics of what’s been going on, hoping to work on stronger ties with Hawkins, who seems to have taken quite the liking to him. Unbeknownst to everyone, a handful of tourists, who were in the hot-zone for a day or two, have made their way to Mexico City and are returning home around the world. With this comes the spread of this mystery, as other health officials sound the alarm. As Vance collects data from Japan and within the continental United States, he’s alerted to a high-level secret. What does the US Military know that they are not sharing and how does this mystery disease tie-in to a plane crash in Alaska a decade before? All this comes to the surface, as Dr. Eli Vance is juggling unknowns in this high-impact thriller. Another winner by N.J. Croft, who seems almost prophetic in their writing of a pandemics in the 21st century. Recommended to those who like medical thrillers of a sort, as well as the reader who enjoys something with a chill factor during their isolation reading time.

I stumbled upon N.J. Croft a while back when a fellow reviewer on Goodreads was writing about two other books the author has recently released. While those were steeped in history, this book slid its way onto the Amazon site as well, not yet revealed as being the ‘perfect book to scare the crap out of people already worried with COVID-19 news’. Croft develops this story with ease, unknowingly helping the curious reader to better understand some of the more scientific side to virus testing and its spread. Dr. Eli Vance serves as the protagonist in this piece and is ready to represent. He is the scientific eye of the piece, serving to educate the reader through his discussions and actions, while also baffled by what he’s seeing in this evolving pandemic. His harsh exterior is a shell for the vulnerability that he has seen and the reader can surely understand what brought him to work so hard to find answers when no one else is able to do so. There is a handful of other characters who complement Vance throughout, bringing their expertise—or naïveté, in the case of Captain Riley Hawkins—to the story and help educate the reader as well. The dialogue and interactions serve as a more energetic means of passing along needed information to the reader, where the subject matter is something dense but surely important for the layperson to follow the thread of the narrative. With strong writing and a keen eye for the hook to keep the reader pushing forward, N.J. Croft does well to mix action and education throughout, as things get intense with the development of this pandemic. The reader is treated to some medical thrills, as well as a conspiracy that could only come with a country keen to play god, which adds depth and intrigue to what is already a very exciting read. A mix of chapter lengths, alongside relatable characters, leaves the reader wanting to know more and able to get lost in the story without things getting too clunky. Croft has done their research, providing the reader with the needed scientific elements to understand what is going on, without getting too ‘academic journal’-ish in doing so, all while making things seem highly plausible (more so now, as many people are in COVID quarantine or were not too long ago). A great find that helped me better understand what’s going on (as well as the conspiracies that no one is talking about).

Kudos, N.J. Croft, for this stunning read. I hope others take the time to check this one out, without getting too conspiratorial about its plot as they compare it to the news about COVID-19. Leave that to the aforementioned Nostradamus Dean Koontz and his novel!

This book adds to the Topic #7: Catastrophe selections of the Equinox #10 reading challenge.

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

Outlaw Marriages: The Hidden Histories of Fifteen Extraordinary Same-Sex Couples, by Rodger Streitmatter

Eight stars

There is no doubt that society has changed—some might say, evolved—over the last while, where things that were once taboo and illegal are now quite mainstream. In a leap towards equality and other inherent rights due to the larger citizen base, same-sex marriages have become something that no longer makes its way onto the front page of every newspaper. However, as Rodger Streitmatter discusses in this book, there was a time when such marriages were outlawed and those choosing to live in them either did so in secret, or chose not to care what others might whisper. Streitmatter amasses fifteen concrete examples of individuals who have made a significant difference in the America social fabric and yet were forced to have ‘outlaw marriages’ or at least long-lasting relationships. Streitmatter pulls together a number of interesting examples, from well-known poets to academic groundbreakers, through to artists of the canvas and stage. In all of the cases, at least one of the pair is quite a common name in their field, forced either to deny their sexual leanings or find ways to be happy and toss caution to the wind. Streitmatter’s focus is a brief biographical exploration of the key player, the relationship, and how things progressed (sometimes until death and at others, until the parties drifted apart). There is little talk of the vilification of the union, in either press or societal norms, which creates a more positive spin on the book’s narrative. Where there is love, let it be, no matter the notoriety or anonymity of those involved! Recommended to those who enjoy a little societal history across the late 19th and into the 20th century in America, as well as the reader looking for one of those unique books that pop up on occasion.

My eye caught this book a while ago, when a friend asked that I send it along to her. It gathered digital dust on one of my shelves until now, where it was resurrected for this reading challenge (see below). Why I waited so long, I will never know, for Rodger Streitmatter does such a wonderful job guiding the reader through the twists and turns of same-sex unions and relationships that some of the more prominent Americans had. While I will admit that only a few of the names were ones that I could pick out of a crowd, it was highly interesting to see how these individuals lived, at times shielding the outside world from their personal choices, while the relationship itself could be a rollercoaster of emotions. Streitmatter explores this with wonderful biographical blurbs and little editorialising. His stories and the events that led their way through the relationship are quite exciting and by no means clunky. I learned so very much as I made my way through this, with a narrative that flowed with ease. A mix of chapter lengths gives the reader some inclination that certain topics take longer to evolve than others, but there is no lack of curious anecdotes to fill the pages, as well as some wonderful photographs, about which Streitmatter lays the groundwork in the introduction. No longer taboo, these marriages are not outlaw unions and I am pleased to see that Rodger Streitmatter shed light on this most unique topic!

Kudos, Mr. Streitmatter, for such a refreshing book that held my attention throughout. I would be eager to explore some of your other work in the not too distant future.

This book fulfils the Topic #5: A Numbers Game (#290 on my TBR shelf) requirement of the Equinox #10 reading challenge.

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

The Case Against Socialism, by Rand Paul

Eight stars

In an attempt to keep my brain sharp, I turned to this tome by current US Senator Rand Paul, which seeks to dispel any notion that socialism ought to creep onto American shores. The title alone depicts the negativity that is to be found in the book and Paul did not disappoint, tossing in anecdotes and stories that would support his views, but failing to balance the discussion, though this is to be expected. From the outset, the reader is in for quite a ride, as the opening pages explore the Venezuelan socialist president’s close assassination and what Paul feels has been done to the country under the leftist ideology. Paul’s vilification does not stop there, though for the first part of the book, this exploration of South and Latin American countries and their dictators leaves the reader wondering if Paul spun the globe and let the text bemoan the area on which his pointer finger landed. Looking at the economic downside of socialism, Paul rambles on about how this ideology will only lead to those on the left getting the ‘economic disparity’ loop closed, which would be tragic for Americans. Paul touts that rather than attacking the rich for more of their money, society should allow everyone to prosper. He cites how much better off Americans are on the lower part of the economic spectrum than even a century ago and calls any notion of bridging the gap as simply a tool to punish the (‘meritocratic’?) rich, rather than allowing the system to add more to the coffers of the middle-class. Paul chooses to toss the likes of Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez under the proverbial bus for being democratic socialists, as though he wants to vilify them to the reader early and often.

Moving on to explore some of the social aspects of socialism, Paul debunks the common held belief that Scandinavian countries are socialist, citing right of centre leaders who beg for this label to be removed, post haste. Stop for a moment and re-read that last sentence… yes, Paul bases his stance on a party leader who does not hold the view to speak about the history of the political leanings of the country. To ensure the reader remains soured on social democracy, Paul explains that universal medical coverage is clouded over by a system where the citizen is only able to get the types of medication available to all and how horrible it would be to have to be on par with others. Additionally, he cites the atrocity of entrance examinations to post-secondary, where all fees are covered by the government, as being a horrible offence to the public. All this while continuing to explain that ‘Denmark is not socialist and this guy will tell you so’. Something’s rotten here, Senator, and it’s not just your posteriorly-shoved head when it comes to reality.

Perhaps the greatest issue woven into the text of this tome is Paul’s repeated interchanging of ‘socialist’ and ‘communist’, even muddying the waters further by calling national socialism (fascism) the same as Marxist views. Paul pulls names like Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Castro, and Mao out to show how horrible the ideal of socialism (both traditional and national) might be. I am not going to sit here and deny that all these men were horrible to their people and used their own bastardised version of socialism to suit them, but there is no balance whatsoever. It is talk of blood, murder, beatings, and thought suppression in the name of the state, missing some of the social balancing that did occur. If we are to use this logic, perhaps we ought to call democracy horrible because of the way President Trump is acting under that ideology. It makes little sense and serves only to add fuel to the fire, but to follow your lead, it seems only fair. As a former student of political science, I can attest that textbook ideologies rarely play out in the real world, but to sit here and harp about the extremism seems to make little sense and serves only as a scare tactic. What about speaking to the governments of Sweden, Canada, Norway, the United Kingdom, and even (gasp) Denmark, all of whom have degrees of socialism that Paul despises? What of their bloodthirsty leaders who killed so many? I suppose it only serves a purpose to speak of the scary monsters and not those who pulled on the reins of power to limit themselves. In a mix of scare tactics and attempts to inculcate the reader with troubles from history, Rand Paul does little but offer up a 21st century Chicken Little story and hopes everyone will hide out long enough for America to remain horrible until 2024.

In the latter portion of the book, Paul injects new rounds of confusion and philosophical arguments to muddy things even further. His citing of Plato, More, and (more recently) the writings of Francis Fukuyama, seek to expose the ridiculous views of socialism and the utopia it claims is within reach. While I applaud the senator for pulling these names out and expounding on their mind numbing orations, it is more distraction than anything, surely the point when grasping at straws. Tossing philosophical mud is all that comes of this, particularly when citing Fukuyama, whose writings about the end of (ideological) history came as the Berlin Wall’s dust was still in the air. Of course the rhetoric and stigma of anti-socialist and communist sentiments seemed strongest at a time when one world superpower was collapsing, though Paul seems to make Fukuyama’s pronouncements to be some heralded foreboding of evils, perhaps centuries before. From there, the narrative moves to the scare tactics that the left and socialists seem to be injecting into the debate, trying to frighten people from the right and centre. While this is all fine and good, Paul shoots himself in the foot as he pushes his conservatism to the extreme and sounds like the child who will not share their ball if the game is not one he chooses. He happily pulls his fearless leader into the mix and tries to show that POTUS and the current Administration is to be lauded for not showing leadership, but rather storming off when things do not go their own way. Whingeing is pathetic to see, but when one reads the excuses that pile up, it is more embarrassing than anything else. Funny, we are to applaud the GOP for being there to watch over all ills for America, but never there when it comes to being a shining example for the world to admire. Then again, what can we expect of a collective more eager to tear things down and destroy anything with a whiff of general wellness for the entire population? I’m no hard-core socialist, but I can see how there are benefits to a mix of the ideological approaches, something that many readers might share, rather than Paul’s incessant fire and brimstone sentiments that seem to emerge when trying to coddle those with the coffers to see him re-elected. Recommended for the open minded and politically savvy reader who is interested in a good laugh, as well as those seeking to see how not to write a persuasive and balanced piece of non-fiction.

I came into this book knowing that I would end up banging my head on the table many times. While I know little about Rand Paul as a person, I could see his Trump sycophancy from a mile away in the early pages of the book. He seeks to tear down anything he can that might offer a left of centre approach any chance of decrying the problems with the current American system and how to fix it. Rather than address disparities, Paul tells the reader to ‘worry about you and not the American whole’, fearing that if anyone were to look past their own nose they could be called a socialist sympathiser. The repetitive attacks on the extremes fills many pages, though I will admit that Paul has paid his researchers well to come up with long-winded and scary tales of the evils found within the most vilified countries who have held the socialist banner high. The book is at least laid out well and the chapters are full of information, even if some barely get started before their conclude, which goes to show that Paul sought content rather than empty rhetoric. I was pleased to have learned so much throughout the book, though the uneven balance and Paul’s clear thesis to vilify leaves me wondering if there were stretches of the truth in order to fit his needs (knowing that no sane reader would check all his sources). While I did find that I gritted my teeth at times and “what the hell”ed out loud as well, I was able to make my way through this book with relative ease. Paul sure can write when he wants to distract the reader from the shiny bauble in their periphery, in hopes of insulting those who are speaking out against a system they find repressive and which exacerbates socio-economic disparity. If he read, I am sure POTUS would be proud and might even offer up a 240 character pat on the back.

Kudos, Senator Paul, for an entertaining and educational look into how some within the GOP will go to extremes to smear and toss mud.

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

You Can’t Catch Me, by Catherine McKenzie

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Catherine McKenzie, and Lake Union Publishing for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

When it comes to books with twists aplenty and well-developed characters, readers need not look further than Catherine McKenzie and her latest novel. Well-paced and full of ‘aha’ moments, McKenzie shows why she is one of the great authors of her genre. After being outed at work and having her name splashed all across social media, Jessica Williams needs some time away. While waiting in an airport bar, she comes across a woman around her age. Funny enough, they share a name. Two Jessica Williamses? After a drink and some interesting conversation, our protagonist heads off onto her flight, distancing herself from the world and her online presence. It’s only when she lands back in the US that she discovers someone has drained her bank account. On the hunt for who might have done this, bank officials are flummoxed, as it was ‘Jessica Williams’. The security footage is grainy, but Jessica is sure she knows who did it. Confiding in her closest friend, Jessica begins a search to see if others have been taken by this Jessica Williams. The search takes her around the country, as she discovers others with her name and birthdate who have been scammed for much of their money. Determined to drive this grifter out of hiding, Jessica and her gang of others (aptly given numbers to differentiate them) set traps, only to be told in sly text messages that they will never catch her. As Jessica interspersed her battle with living in and bring extricated from a cult, the story takes many directions for a woman who had no identity and will not surrender the loose self she has discovered over the past 12 years. Grit and determination drive this woman, no matter where things take her. A wonderful story that leaves the reader panting from this hectic journey. Recommended to those who love a good thriller to pass the time, as well as the reader familiar with Catherine McKenzie and her work.

I am happy when I see a new book by Catherine McKenzie, as I can always be assured of a wonderful story. She is able to capture all the essentials in a thriller and still leave the reader gasping aloud with some of the plot twists she introduces. Jessica Williams (the original and protagonist) is a wonderful character onto whom the reader can latch themselves throughout. Willing to share a lot of her experiences in the cult, as well as a determination to keep hold of her identity, she finds herself in many interesting situations, always eager to push forward and get some answers. This might be part of her journalism background, but it also gives the reader the needed momentum to push through this book. With an underlying romantic interest in her life, Jessica battles to define herself while also not letting this guy slip through her fingers, all a part of the larger storyline. Other characters help push the story along, not the least of which the other Jessica Williamses, all of whom bring their own qualities to the narrative. McKenzie makes sure to differentiate them from one another, but connects these women with the needed aspects to keep the story flowing. The story itself was well written and developed throughout, keeping the reader on the edge of their seats as they see where the twists occur and how they will help strengthen to overall narrative. McKenzie is creative in her plots and ideas, utilising this to keep the reader wondering. With two strong narratives—cult and present—interwoven, the reader is always trying to determine what is to come, as well as how Jessica Williams came into herself. All culminating in a twist that ties it together. A wonderful book and I am eager to see what else is to come.

Kudos, Madam McKenzie, for another winner. I hope others see the strengths that I do and latch themselves onto this book in short order.

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

The Houe of Kennedy, by James Patterson and Cynthia Fagen

Eight stars

There has been so much written about the Kennedys in the last half century that when I noticed James Patterson and Cynthia Fagen had collaborated on a piece about the family, I was not sure what they could bring to the table. After trying to keep an open mind, I was pleasantly surprised by the contents of this book, which acts as a basic primer, offering some biographical backgrounds with a peppering of the scandals that have plagued the family for close to a century. Patterson and Fagen look to the roots of the Kennedy family, where Joseph Sr. and Rose were both highly active in their respective households. Catholic to the core, the Kennedys began having children and watching them grow. There are brief snippets about Joseph Jr. and Rosemary, before the book delves into the meatier aspects of John, Robert, and Edward ‘Teddy’ Kennedy. These three men, the core political wing of the family, all suffered through their own scandals and tragedies, but also are shown to have brought about change in their own ways. From there, the book looks at some of the offshoot cousins, who were not removed from scandalous behaviours, such as murder and rape, before setting the path for the final Kennedy, John F. Kennedy, Jr. In a book full of vignettes, the authors do well to provide the reader with some superficial information to whet their appetites. Recommended to Kennedy fans who may want to know a little more (such as myself), as well as the reader who enjoys some biographical non-fiction about one of America’s well-known dynasties.

I label myself as a Kennedy fan of high order, though I have often looked within the political realm, rather than many of the scalacious and dramatic histories that many writers have uncovered. When I saw this collaborative effort, I could not help but wonder if this would be a slapped-together piece, full of basic information an elementary history tome could offer. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see the detail and attention to flow that occurs within the book. While the authors do gloss over a great deal, the amount that is covered—not to mention some of the little known facts about which I had no idea—is staggering and offered a well-rounded picture of America’s best known dynasty. The authors seem not to push their opinions too strongly, choosing instead to present the reader with something full of information and cited to boot. While I am still stymied as to why James Patterson’s name would appear on the book, as he is surely a thriller writer above all else, its presence will certainly help Cynthia Fagen gain needed recognition. I suspect this is a case of ‘JP on the cover, the book automatically sells’. Fagen’s work here does much to buoy my impression of the contents and the style of writing was so easily synthesised that I may have to see what else she’s penned on the subject. With short chapters (perhaps the Patterson influence) and a story that pushes forward throughout, this is not a book to dismiss at first sight. I may just have to find some of the areas about which I want to know more and proceed from there.

Kudos, Mr. Patterson and Madam Fagen, for a refreshing look at a family who has spent decades under the microscope. You breathe new life into this stuff and I am happy to have taken the time to read it.

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

Gathering Dark (Jessica Sanchez #1), by Candice Fox

Eight stars

I find myself excited whenever I come into possession of a new Candice Fox novel, sure that it will both pack a punch and prove to be highly entertaining. This piece was no exception, though it pushes the reader familiar with Fox’s work outside of their comfort zone, at least a little. Blair Harbour had it all as a surgeon in Los Angeles. Then, after a confrontation gone awry, she found herself imprisoned for murder. Having tried to make something of herself, Blair is stuck working a dead-end job. When she’s approached by her friend from prison, Sneak Lawlor, Blair has nothing to lose, except her freedom on a parole violation. Sneak’s daughter, Dayly, has gone missing without a trace. Working with limited information, Blair and Sneak begin their investigation, but get a bad vibe when they try to file a mission person’s report. Meanwhile, LAPD detective Jessica Sanchez has her own issues. Gifted a home by the father of a murder victim whose killer she caught, Sanchez is put in the awkward position of being vilified by her squad, especially a partner who slacked off during the case but feels he is entitled to some of the prize. As she dodged insults and attacks, Sanchez is put on leave when she is part of an officer-involved shooting. As she ponders what to do next, she discovers that one of her former cases, that of Blair Harbour, has resurfaced, with potential new information. As she tracks this down, Sanchez is visited by none other than Blair Harbour herself, all in an effort to track down Dayly Lawlor. As news of Dayly’s last weeks before the disappearance begin to come together, no one could have predicted the turn in the case, or who has a viable reason to want Dayly dead. Rich with plot twists and interesting characters, Fox does well with this novel, leaving the reader to enjoy this new series in the making. Recommended to those who like police procedurals told from a different perspective, as well as the reader who is a diehard fan of Candice Fox.

I rushed to make time in my reading schedule for this book, eager to see what might arise when Candice Fox is working alone. Familiar with a lot of her Australia-based writing, this was a refreshing story, set on the dark streets of L.A. The reader is introduced to a number of strong characters throughout, incline Blair Harbour and Jessica Sanchez. Both women have their backstories told here in some detail, as well as showing some great character development throughout the novel. I choose not to hone in on one as the true protagonist, as their stories are equally important and find a place in the novel. Fox uses her creative mind to concoct a few more wonderful secondary characters that complement these two women, on all sides of the law. This provides a highly entertaining and intriguing development of the story throughout. The premise was quite strong, as is usually the case with Candice Fox, where all central characters are tinged with some criminal backstory or troubles within the police that cannot be ignored. The plot moved along well and the narrative gained momentum throughout. Fox steps away from her usual short chapter teaser style, in which one chapter leaves the reader needing more, and uses a longer and more developed storytelling style. The reader hunkers down to get fully involved. In a novel whose chapters alternate between the Jessica and Blair viewpoints, Fox does well to offer a well-rounded story. If I had a critique, and it is minor, it is that Fox appears not to focus her attention on the setting of the story as it relates to word usage. Spelling and terminology were of an Australian origin (‘s’ instead of ‘z’ for realize, ‘bonnet’ instead of ‘trunk’ of the car). I find this at times when writers are composing pieces outside of their home country, as I wonder why an American ex-con would admit to “not being fussed”. As I said, minor, but there. I cannot wait to see what else Fox has in store for the reader and whether her collaborative efforts will bring us more Harry Blue soon.

Kudos, Madam Fox, for another wonderful piece. Love your writing, your ideas, and how entertained I tend to be when I read your novels!

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

George, Nicholas and Wilhelm: Three Royal Cousins and the Road to World War I, by Miranda Carter

Nine stars

I have always been fascinated with royalty, particularly how they fit into a larger world history. I have an equal interest in monarchical lineage and was enthralled to learn about how Queen Victoria left her impact with so many of her offspring playing key roles in the later 19th and early 20th centuries. Miranda Carter taps into both of these aforementioned interests with this book, which seeks to highlight the lives and choices of three grandsons of the former queen: Nicholas of Russia (eventual Tsar Nicholas II), Wilhelm of Germany (Kaiser Wilhelm II), and George of the United Kingdom (George V). These three men proved to be completely different in their leadership style, but also held strong affinities for one another during the lives. Offering biographical pieces of each throughout the tome, Carter starts by exploring the early years of these boys, noting that they all lived in their respective countries and did not see one another with any regularity. When they could, it was surely great fun and the three countries were amicable throughout. On one end of the spectrum was Wilhelm, the oldest, who soon became enthralled with the politics of Germany, a powerful military country in Europe. He was shaped by this strong sentiment towards defence and did, on occasion, puff out his chest and use the iron fist he was given to keep other countries in line. Carter depicts him as the most ‘international’ of the three, with his focus almost exclusively outside the borders of his own country, permitting the government to handle domestic issues. The second grandson (and the youngest of the three), Nicholas, also lived in a country of much military might and political maneuvering. Russia sought to exert its place on the world scene, becoming a powerful force in the European and Asian theatres, exacting its own control with a strong military, though always leery of other countries trying to flex their muscle too ostentatiously. Unlike Wilhelm, Nicholas had also to deal with domestic issues and a rise in socialism within the country, which directly challenged his role as monarch. Such a vast territory would need constant attention and the tsar handled things as best he could on the domestic front to quell internal squabbles whenever possible. George, by contrast, was so separated from the goings-on in the international political arena, that he took more interest in steering clear of any major decisions or even the attempted lessons his father tried to instil for his eventual ascension to the British Throne. Carter argues that George V spent much of his time as a true constitutional monarch and overseeing the domestic situation of Great Britain, with Ireland pushing for its own independence and India beginning to ask for its own voice, as well as other local matters in which the British governments were always embroiled. Truly a contrast between these three men from their respective powerful countries.

As Carter explores in the latter portion of the book, the start of the 20th century was one in which these three men were forced to come into their own and show much of their aforementioned leadership. Wilhelm sought to confirm alliances with others, including his Russian cousin, sure that they would be needed if ever Britain or France sought to push their might. It is highly interesting to see some of the thoughts of these leaders during this time, particularly knowing their a common bloodline existed. By the time George became king in 1910, his cousins had a firm grip on power in their respective countries and Germany was solidifying alliances that would prove interesting when all the political dominoes came tumbling down in 1914. Carter explores the give and take between the three, with amicable telegrams, positioned themselves for an inevitable war without turning on one another personally. Three men, all tied together by a common grandmother, had such diverse and politically different lives, which is truly fascinating to the attentive reader. That they remained cordial and respectful of one another throughout was even more intriguing. Carter lays down some strong arguments about how these three men acted in their own ways and the decisions attributed to them paved the way to World War I. Great reading for those passionate about somewhat modern European political history, as well as those who love to trace royal lineage throughout the numerous countries with monarchs.

I am not sure why I chose to let this book collect virtual dust for so long, as I was captivated by the premise and became even more enthralled when I started it. Miranda Carter collects information on these three figures and presents it with ease. She is keen to draw some parallels between the men, while also contrasting their choices under similar historical goings-on. The reader familiar with these men will surely find new and exciting narratives on which they can learn more, while the layperson with a keen interest will be flooded with wonderful information to begin their own personal exploration of the time period. The book is effectively divided into four parts, denoting time periods, with chapters that focuses the attention on each of the men as they handled their respective domestic and international issues. Carter fills each chapter with needed information but does not appear to inundate the reader, scaling back where it suits the tome. Extensive research has surely gone into this piece, depicting the multi-perspective surrounding Europe as a powder keg in the years leading to the Great War. Fabulous in its presentation and content, I can only hope to find more by Miranda Carter to explore additional topics that intrigued her.

Kudos, Madam Carter, for this formidable piece. I love history and this was right up my alley. I hope others will find it as helpful or interesting.

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

The House Guest, by Mark Edwards

Eight stars

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

A long-time fan of Mark Edwards and his writing, I turned to this book to see if it would bring the same psychological thrill. Edwards succeeds in delivering and spins a story with layers that the reader will discover as the plot progresses. Adam and Ruth are housesitting for some friends when there’s a knock at the door one rainy evening. A woman stands on the stoop of this New York home, seeking the owners. After introducing herself, Eden explains that she has an open invitation to visit at any time, but can find someplace else to go. Ruth is happy to let her come in and Adam soon falls into line. A single night under the same roof soon stretches to a week and Eden becomes a third house sitter. While Ruth is out earning a living, Adam and Eden spend more time together. After a hard night of partying at the house one Friday, Adam wakes up to find the place empty. Ruth is not answering her phone and Eden’s presence is all but impossible to detect. When the proprietors return home, they deny knowing any Eden, which only worries Adam more, as Ruth still has not responded. Fighting against time and an NYPD that won’t help at all, Adam turns to an unlikely source. He soon learns of a secret group that may be the key to the entire ordeal, but they are also close to impossible to trace. In order to find Ruth, Adam will have to risk it all. Meanwhile, Ruth is on the other side of this group and the choice to abduct her becomes clear, but there’s a catch and a time limit. With a wonderful twist at the end, Edwards does well to sow some great drama and a few thrills in this piece. The reader with surely be left wanting more, with each page turn. Recommended to those who are fans of Edwards’ work, as well as the reader who knows the fun of unexpected company on the doorstep.

Mark Edwards writes in such a way that I am always looking for exciting twists, yet am usually still surprised by some of the directions in which the plot develops. He has a knack for taking a simple situation and turning it on its head with strong characters and the odd spine tingling. There are a host of characters that could serve as protagonist here, though the reader can enjoy anyone they see fit for the role. From Adam’s panic as he tries to piece things together, to Ruth’s being stuck in the middle of a scenario as a ‘chosen one’, and even the mysterious Eden who turns up on the doorstep one rainy evening. All three propel the story forward in their own way, keeping the reader guessing as the narrative finds itself twisting alongside the thickening plot. With a story that never stops, the reader is treated to another stellar Edwards novel, on par with many of his other pieces of fiction. Not to be missed, this is one novel that will keep the reader from answering the door on a rainy night, especially when not in their own abode.

Kudos, Mr. Edwards, for another winner. I hope many others discover the wonders of your writing and how the mind will race after completing one of your stories.

This book fulfils Topic #4: Building Blocks in the Equinox #10 reading challenge.

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

The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead

Eight stars

Asked to try this book for one of my monthly reading challenges, I turned to Colton Whitehead’s novel. The book, which explores both the world of slaves and the network by which they sought to escape, tells a raw tale and is not driven by a lighthearted voyage to freedom. Young Cora lives as a slave on a Georgia plantation, where her mother and grandmother also worked. Cora lives with perpetual trouble from both the slaveholder and her fellow slaves, due to her mother’s bold act to escape and seek freedom through the Underground Railroad back channels. When Caesar arrives at the plantation as a new slave, Cora enters into a new and blossoming friendship with him, leading to a daring escape on the Railroad. However, the skirmish to flee leaves a young white boy dead and Cora in even more trouble than simply having escaped the clutches of her master. The world is anything but silver-lined in pre-Civil War America, as Cora discovers with every step she takes away from the plantation. Even as they make it further north, the Underground Railway is full of pits and issues. Cora and Caesar will have to dodge being reported, as well as a slave catcher, Ridegeway, who is hot on their trail. Freedom is elusive, even in the parts of America where slavery is hated all the more, making the journey more volatile. What awaits Cora is not entirely clear, but she cannot rest too long on her laurels if she wants to have ongoing freedom. Whitehead does well with this book, illustrating the life of a slave from many perspectives and how the route to freedom is anything but smooth. Recommended to those who seek a detailed (and painful) look into slavery through the eyes of the struggler, as well as the reader who wants something a little meatier as they stroll through historical fiction.

I will not admit to knowing a great del about the Underground Railroad or slavery in America, save for the books I have read and some minimal history that I have come across. While Colson Whitehead writes a detailed and sometimes violent version of events, I cannot dismiss it as over the top or too soft, as I am well into the world of the layperson on the topic. Whitehead does a masterful job of showing the struggles within the slave system, as well as the determination to find freedom and better one’s self throughout the novel. Cora proves to be a wonderful central character, as she depicts a sense of dedication to finding freedom, without being too pie-eyed. Cora feels the wrath of her fellow slave and, as others have mentioned, there is no great ‘unity among the chattel’, as is sometimes depicted, with songs and happy harmony amongst the rows of cotton. Cora’s plight is illustrated throughout as she seeks to find freedom, but there are also moments of pure dejection that pushes a sense of reality into the reader’s periphery. Others throughout the book illustrate the multiple perspectives that come through in this book, including the jolting Ridegeway, whose ‘it’ pronoun for those he hunts lets the reader know the level of hatred and disassociation that took place. The story was strong and while it was surely a mix of fact and fiction, Whitehead does not try to sweeten any part of this tale. With chapters told from different perspectives, the reader is able to see the story evolve through the eyes of many, as well as determine for themselves how useful the railway system was to usher slaves to freedom. With use of literal and figurative depictions of the Underground Railroad, Whitehead exemplifies the treacherous journey from one station to the next, all in hopes of finding a life of freedom. Prize-heavy or not, this book does stir up some conversation that I hope people will tackle as we come to terms in the 21st century about how racial disparities continue to dominate the conversation. I took much away from the book and hope others will take the time to read this for its content and not the praise of awards or book club recommendations.

Kudos, Mr. Whitehead, for a well-paced novel that will get people talking, if they have not already. I appreciate some of the controversy, as this is what spurns change and gets emotions running high.

This book fulfils the May 2020 requirement of the Mind the Bookshelf Gap reading challenge.

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