Heresy (Giordano Bruno #1), by S.J. Parris

Seven stars

Always a fan of historical fiction, I decided to come back to the S.J. Parris series that I tried a few years ago. Parachuting into the middle of the religious wars across Europe and using late 16th century England as a setting, Parris creates quite the story that has many facets, sure to entertain the reader. Giordano Bruno was never the most conforming monk when he took his orders in Naples. He sought to educate himself and challenge the beliefs of his monastic order quite regularly. When he was caught with a controversial (and illegal) book one day, Bruno chose to flee rather than face the severe punishment. After spending years on the run from the Inquisition, Bruno was excommunicated and left to educate himself in some of Europe’s best universities. When Bruno makes his way to England, he is welcomed as somewhat of an outcast and invited by one of the close advisors of Queen Elizabeth to make his way to Oxford. With little to lose, Bruno begins the journey in the royal party and prepares to explore the clash between the celestial and religious aspects of the universe with a well-established priest. During all this, Bruno comes upon an event that can only be murder, though the local authorities are baffled about it. A curious investigator with an interest in solving cases, Bruno begins to look into events, as more men soon find themselves dead. Bruno is eventually formally invited to help solve the cases, all of which eventually have a common theme. While trying to probe a little deeper, Bruno’s papist past could come back to haunt him in England, even as he tries to explain that he no longer has ties to the Roman Church. With a killer on the loose and Bruno’s own safety in question, no one can be sure what will happen or whose blood will be shed. An interesting tale that opens this series with a bang and keeps things moving effectively throughout. Recommended to those who love a good historical mystery, as well as the reader who enjoys exploration of the religious situation in 16th century England.

This is one of those books that will take some dedication and attention to detail in order to properly enjoy its premise. Parris writes clearly and very well, though there is so much going on and woven into the narrative that tuning out could mean disaster for the reader. Giordano Bruno proves to be a wonderful protagonist, with a great deal of backstory. His flight from his monastery offers an interesting story arc that can be followed, but it is his mysterious arrival in England and passion for challenging authority that will keep Bruno’s character one that the reader will enjoy. As Parris sets some of the needed groundwork for the series, she creates a wonderful character who is not afraid of rocking the proverbial boat. Other characters to just as well to keep the reader guessing, as they fill the narrative with their own points of view and keep the mystery strong. The story was quite well-paced, if perhaps a bit too detailed for my liking. I took the audiobook approach and was welcomed with the soothing voice of John Lee to guide me along. The story is rich with history and religious clashes, both of which creates something that is dense at times and overwhelming for some readers. With chapters of a decent length and a plot that evolves throughout, Parris does well with this piece and introduces some needed backstory that will surely play a role in coming novels. Bruno’s position will surely be questioned throughout by the English, but his attention to detail when it comes to mysteries is sure to be something the reader can enjoy. I am eager to see where things go from here, as the time period begs for more tales that mix religion and criminal activity.

Kudos, Madam Parris, for a great start to the series. I am eager to see where things are going and will try to keep focussed enough to enjoy the rest of these books.

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

Mike Harris Made Me Eat My Dog, by Linwood Barclay

Eight stars

Long have I been a fan of Linwood Barclay and his collection of psychological thrillers, particularly because he is Canadian. Before he got into the world of thrillers, Barclay worked and wrote for newspapers in Ontario, using his wit and dry humour to impress many a reader. Those who did not live in Ontario in the mid-1990s would likely not have been privy to the wonders of Mike Harris and the Common Sense Revolution, when the Progressive Conservatives returned to power and sought to tighten the provincial belt. These measures did not go over well with many, including the media, who mocked some of the lame-brain ideas that did not make sense to anyone. Barclay explores the Harris revolution and the silliness that the Government of Ontario’s ideas meant in the real world through a series of chapters that drip with sarcasm. From cutting money to education (scrapping textbooks too) and trying to say that teachers were refusing to be inventive; offering tax breaks to many across the province and then trying to tackle a deficit (hoping that it would all work somehow); and even trying to nip environmental costs to safe a buck and wondering why Ontarians could not pick up the slack. Barclay’s mockery is just that, poking fun, but he makes some great points and leaves the reader interested in what there is to say on the topic. While I did not live in the province during the height of these tumultuous times, I always enjoy a good piece of political mockery. It’s surely a dated piece and one whose audience may be solely those who lived through or remembered the Common Sense Revolution, but I needed something lighter and it did the trick. Linwood Barclay shows that underneath that eerie writer would can pull a reader in with a stellar psychological thriller looms a man who is destined to poke a little fun at poor decisions by the government.

Kudos, Mr. Barclay, for a lighter look at politics. This book, paired with your more recent piece on Rob Ford, were the ideal short political satire pieces that kept me smiling.

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

The Secret Dead (Giordano #0.5), by S.J. Parris

Eight stars

Looking to binge read S.J. Parris’ intense Giordano Bruno series, I thought it best to begin with this short story prequel, which appears to lay the groundwork for much of what is to come. It is Naples in 1566 and the city is in the middle of a stifling heat wave. Giordano Bruno is all of eighteen and has recently entered the monastery to devote himself to God. He is known not to be completely on the straight and narrow, having issues listening to those in authority. However, when Bruno is called away one night to help Fra Gennaro, he goes with all the curiosity that he can muster. Gennaro admits that he wishes to share something with Bruno that must be kept highly secret, taking him to the site of a body. This is a young whore who appears to have been strangled, though the reasons are as yet unknown. During the anatomising of the body (one might call it early autopsy work), Bruno and Gennaro discover that she was pregnant, which only adds to the drama. While Bruno vows to keep this to himself, he cannot help but try to piece it all together, trying to determine who would have done this to a young woman, even if she held an unwanted offspring. This is surely the spark that led to the great crime solving work of Giordano Bruno in the years to come, all while holding up his end of a monastic life. An interesting piece to launch the series and I am intrigued to see where things will go from here. Recommended to those who enjoy mysteries of another era, as well as the reader who has discovered the Giordano Bruno series or wants something along these lines.

I remember reading a few of the novels in this series by S.J,. Parris years ago and being quite interested, though I felt them a little heavy. This opening salvo, for lack of. better word, is still light enough that I was able to get it finished in a single sitting and not feel too overwhelmed. Bruno is still young here, trying to come into his own and I think some of the backstory offered up will help as the series progresses. Parris surely introduces that spark that will lead to many an adventure, layering it beneath the rules and regulations that come with living as a monk. The handful of characters who become a part of the story all have their place and Parris may lay some breadcrumbs to help the reader better understand relationships in the larger series, though I have to read those full novels to make the proper connections. The story moved along well and held my attention throughout. I am eager to see how Bruno and others will handle larger mysteries and whether events of the day (in history more than simply daily events) play into the stories to add another depth to them. With this ‘housekeeping’ done, it’s time to tackle the full novels, so let’s get to it!

Kudos, Madam Parris, for an interesting start to the series. I cannot wait to see what else you have in store for your readers and this series.

This book fulfils Topic #2: Brief in the Equinox #11 Reading Challenge.

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

The Room Where it Happened: A White House Memoir, by John R. Bolton

Eight stars

Perhaps one of the most anticipated political books of the summer, I chose to leap on the John Bolton memoir before reviews filled Goodreads and other platforms I frequent. Written based on his time working inside the White House, Bolton not only brings first-hand knowledge of events, but also offers insights into what he witnessed during his time as National Security Advisor. With a long history of work within various Republican administrations, John Bolton was not a man wet behind the ears when being considered for a position in the Trump Administration. His experience and hawkish approach to international politicking surely caught the attention of Trump and some of those within his inner circle. Bolton hit the ground running, explaining that every day in the Trump White House is fraught with chaos and ever-changing views on hot button issues. Bolton sought to steer the president in a few directions that would follow policy to support those views that arose in the campaign, at times doing anything to reverse the Obama trajectory. From America’s role in the Syrian civil war to Russian involvement on world events, Bolton showed how Trump’s opinions would change with the blowing of the wind, wanting America out of military involvement and yet not letting its greatest adversary to think it weak. This Russian sentiment baffled me throughout, as Trump would speak poorly about Putin and yet relied on him to win his seat in the Oval Office. Bolton also explores issues with China at length, clashing with one of the world’s economic superpowers at every turn, and yet Trump offered them the chance to keep him in power by ‘helping’ with the 2020 election (a la Putin 2016). Dismantling NATO and contemplating destabilising the leftist Venezuelan autocrat also played heavily on Trump’s agenda while Bolton was National Security Advisor, with many offhand and somewhat outlandish ideas coming up regularly before POTUS could be talked away from the ledge. Bolton spends much time throughout the book exploring the Trump view at finally getting some concrete progress with the North Koreans, with in-depth discussions of their two summits and the ‘love affair’ the media explored through the flowery diplomacy that took place, yet nothing substantial came to pass. Of equal interest and importance is the means by which Trump sought to dismantle the nuclear weapons treaty with Iran that had been negotiated during the Obama Administration. Trump seemed keen to change the rules and make sure America came out on top, while making sure that many new how horrible Obama was as POTUS (second only to Bush 43, whom Trump appeared to loathe even more). Bolton is happy to offer blunt views of Trump and those in the know, at times sharing views with other Cabinet officials as they watched the continued implosion of all things Trump. Bolton also sheds light on the constant sentiment that Trump is one who holds firm views of people, fleeting as the interactions change from day to day, including a strong dislike for some of America’s greatest allies, while praising those who are firmly in the column of ‘enemies of the state’. Bolton provides some insight into the Ukrainian interactions that fuelled the fire towards impeachment, offering his own ideas from the facts he knew. That Bolton and Trump eventually fell out is of no shock to anyone, as those who refuse to be sycophants are apt to become, but the recent vilification of anything Bolton might have to say only furthers my belief that there are hard truths in this book that many who nurse from the presidential teat would have us deny as a new round of false news. This book is full of detail and great narrative that will be ideal for those who want some additional insights into how the Trump White House ran things, both from an international and domestic perspective. I’d recommend this to those who enjoy all things political, as well as the reader who has no trouble hearing truths that may run counter to the POTUS circus.

I have never hidden my dislike of the current American administration, particularly the ringleader of the shenanigans. While I understand that media outlets will offer their own spin on events, I have come to appreciate those on the inside who offer up books about the events they witnessed. Some would call it smear campaigns or falsehoods to trip up POTUS, though I wonder how many people could have colluded with such a similar narrative, as well as what purpose it would serve to exert such energy to bring down a man who seems able to do it on his own. Bolton is by no means a Democrat seeking to dismantle the GOP machine, which only makes some of his views all the more insightful. He offers praise where it is needed and critiques things that seem to lack the insight to keep America from running amok (alas, we are well past that). Bolton does come across as a know-it-all at times, feeling that he is the smartest man in the room and all others should bow to his intellect, which is seen in many tongue-in-cheek sentiments expressed in most chapters, as well as in recollected conversations with others. While that may be the case, Bolton’s views are steeped in some well established views of international politics and diplomacy, something that adds to the flavouring of the book and leaves the reader to wonder why someone would purposely skew things that can be substantiated so effectively. With thorough chapters that explore many insightful areas that are sure to pique the interest of the politically minded individual. While some may call Bolton too close to Trump, it is this closeness that offers the reader some of the many views from behind the curtain. Why would someone like Bolton want to find himself on the outside with this book, upsetting POTUS, thereby making him an enemy of the administration? Knowing Trump’s penchant for such things, Bolton’s better off pissing from outside the tent inwards and letting the truth ‘hang out’.

Kudos, Mr. Bolton, for such a refreshing book about the inner workings of Trump’s Administration. I could not ask for anything more!

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

Given in Evidence: A Collection of Crime & Thriller Short Stories, by Various Authors

Eight stars

Eager to sink my teeth into a collection of criminal tales, I turned to this book of short stories by a variety of authors, many of whom I have never read before. The collection is quite varied and provides the reader with unique stories about how random death can be and how murder lurks around every corner. Here are some brief sentiments on each of the stories in this collection:

Hard Time, by Roger A. Price

A short piece in which two prison officials attempt to tackle the issue of handling a tough prisoner. All those who have shared a cell with him ended up being roughed up and assaulted in short order. A plan is hatched that might help quell the attacks and provide the problem inmate with some issues of his own.

A Certain Man was Sick, by Charlie Cochrane

When a choral tenor falls dead in the middle of Evensong, all eyes look to the abby organist. The two men have had a feud for decades over a personal issue that seems quite trivial. Poisoned by a piece of fudge, the tenor seems to have accepted an odd early birthday gift. An inquest and trial are quick and to the point, but one other member of the choir chooses to investigate on his own years later. The truth will arise, like a well-prepared descant.

The Message, by D.J. Harrison

Securing a large loan for an upstart cheap flight airline, the protagonist soon finds herself on the wrong end of an attack in which she loses a thumb. With no known reason for the attack, she reaches out to her employer, who promises to gather all parties for a discussion. Once the reason for the attack is expressed and apologies made, it would seem all is better. However, one dastardly act deserves another…

The Encounter, by A.A. Chaudhuri

Megan Beaumont is an award-winning author, but has lost her way after she is attacked and raped in her home. The attack left her with complete amnesia and she is unable to continue writing, especially after learning that her attacker is likely responsible for her husband’s murder. Fleeing to a remote location, Megan meets Dan, who does not know her but is eager to help with writer’s block. He agrees to tell her a story that will likely unburden him as well as provide her with the fodder for a new crime bestseller. The plot thickens from there…

Land’s End, by J.M. Hewitt

Alex Harvey is a private detective and has recently returned from quite the mission. With a rescued client in tow, Alex takes her to his family home in hopes of getting some rest and relaxation. However, when they arrive, a former belle of Alex’s explains that her son has gone missing. Alex is willing to help her, as she is almost blood family, but something does not add up in her story.

Room 228, by Leo McNeir

Marnie Walker is known for her architectural work and jumped at the opportunity when asked to redesign a small hotel. When she and her partner arrive to see the finished product, they learn a little about the original hotel that stood in this place. There was an unsolved murder that took place in one of the guest rooms, which garnered some popularity soon thereafter. When Marnie arrives to be interviewed about the relaunch, she sees one guest having trouble trying to secure room 228, in which he has stayed many times over the years. A little sleuth work and Marnie may know what’s going on, but it is still somewhat mysterious.

Murder Hole, by Rob Parker

In this piece, Captain Benjamin Bracken is facing a hearing surrounding his discharge from the British Armed Forces. He appears ready to enter a plea of guilty to the charges being levied against him, but first the reader learns of the events that led up to this. After a chopper crash, Bracken and one other soldier are able to escape, slipping into a sewer system to protect themselves. While the other soldier sustains some injuries, Bracken does all he can with limited rations. He compares events to a murder hole, where one has limited insight into what is going on, but can make some minimal defensive maneuvers. While all those in the hearing listen to his story, the Judge Advocate General asks for his plea after hearing the evidence, leaving Captain Bracken to await his fate.

Halfway, by E.R. Fallon

Matty is a young man with a great deal of potential. His father skipped out years back, leaving his mother to raise him and instil some morals. After Matty heads out for the day, a gentleman shows up at the house, implying that Matty might be involved in something that needs fixing. There’s a solution, but it’s not a great one. Our protagonist does not take well to the options, forcing the man with the firm resolve to leave… for now.

Child of the Night, by Thomas Laird

Back in Victorian England, a man wandered the streets and killed prostitutes. He was wanted by Scotland Yard, who deemed him Jack and Ripper. But, he is no Jack at all, rather Francis S. Amjac. Fearing that things are too intense in London, Amjac sets sail for Chicago, where he feels able to blend in with the many other criminals. Fast forward to 2017 and Michael Parisi has just earned a detective’s shield with the Chicago Police Department. He’s called to the scene of a horrific crime, in which a young woman has been mutilated. He and his partner wonder who could be so sick as to leave a woman in this state. Parisi comes to the job with a passion for reading, particularly about the criminal element. Could one of those men from his book have influenced a new killer in Chicago?

Children’s Games, by Evan B. Pollock

When a young woman is found murdered in her bedroom, the obvious suspect soon comes to light. However, there is a great deal of confusion, as a ghost may have been involved in the homicide. The police and two legal representatives bandy this idea about, sure that it is just the fantasy-laden mind of some others in the family. However, with a body bludgeoned by a steel ball, someone is responsible, likely of the living variety. But who could have done it and why?

I always love to find new authors whose writing is worth further exploration. This collection of short stories has done just that, with a brief editorial note at the end of each to direct the reader towards some other publications that might be of interest. Some of the stories in this collection are quite short, while others provide more heft and therefore some thought must go into the plot development. I found myself leaning towards certain pieces over others, which is to be expected in a book full of different writing styles. Most of these pieces held my attention, though some were less than formidable. I am eager to see what others feel about this collection and if there are authors they would recommend. Being a fan of A.A. Chaudhuri (and hers being the only work I have read before this collection), I would certainly turn to her. Others, like Leo McNeir and Charlie Cochrane left me eager to try some of their other work. I hope to see some added banter from other readers/reviewers for more insight.

Kudos, all those authors who have contributed to this piece, for your hard work and crime stories. I certainly enjoyed this collection, which I devoured in a single day!

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

The Inner Darkness (Cold Case Quartet #3, William Wisting #14), by Jørn Lier Horst

Eight stars

With the release of the latest English translation in Jørn Lier Horst’s crime series, I leapt to get my hands on it, hoping for a mystery that would pull me in. I was not disappointed with this well-paced Scandinavian noir crime thriller. The day has come for convicted killer Tom Kerr to help the police. Kerr has agreed to lead the police to the scene of where he dumped one of his as yet undiscovered victims. On hand is William Wisting, head of the Norway’s National Criminal Investigation Service, Kripos, as well as many other officers. Wisting’s daughter, Line, is filming the event, a proud journalist looking for footage to use in a future documentary. While out in the rural forest, Kerr triggers a trip-wire and a number of police are injured, some seriously. Kerr is able to remove his shackles and flees deeper into the woods. It’s apparent that someone helped him orchestrate this escape, as all officers scour the area to locate and recapture Kerr. Some, like Wisting, cannot help but use this experience to substantiate their claims that Kerr always had help during his crimes, an unknown individual given the moniker, the Other One. Without knowing who this could be, everyone is left to wonder if the duo will reunite and continue their killing spree. When a young woman goes missing, there’s little doubt that the similarities from Kerr’s past victims are telling a story here. Wisting is pulled into an internal investigation for his mishandling of the entire Kerr event and his neck is surely on the line. Wisting refuses to give up, knowing that he will have to troll deeply to find out where Kerr may have gone and how the Other One might have helped develop a serial killer, as well as making sure the torch continues to burn brightly. Jørn Lier Horst has done a wonderful job with this latest novel, which will keep the reader hooked until the final pages. Recommended for those who love Scandinavian noir crime thrillers, as well as the reader with a penchant for the work of Jørn Lier Horst.

The complexities of a Scandinavian thriller make for some amazing reading, as I have said many times before. Those who love the crime genre, but are seeking something a little different than the superficial US or UK thrillers that are churned out regularly, ought to take a dive into those based in Scandinavia. I have found so many that give me chills and prove to be of a higher quality. William Wisting is such a wonderful character and I cannot get enough. While he has long since given up offering any backstory, his grit and determination makes him someone worth following as he seeks to get to the heart of the crime. Wisting uses his skills and knowledge of the criminal mind to inch closer and uncover clues that are lost to most everyone else. Those in supporting character roles also offer wonderful support in a series that is so full of twists. Horst offers a handful of returning folks whose presence helps accentuate the work that Wisting does, while also giving their own backstory a slight flavouring. The story itself was unique without being too out there. Horst works the angle from the side of the police and exemplifies the intricacies of Norwegian police procedure to pull the reader into the middle of the story without letting go. Short chapters help propel the story forward and the reader cannot help but read more in order to get to the end and final out how it all comes together. As with many Scandinavian thrillers, the translation into English does not disrupt the flow whatsoever. In fact, the English version is of a higher quality than many of the books I read where that is the language of original publication. As I have asked before (and surely other series fans will echo my query), when will the first five or so novels in this series see an English translation? If they are anything like the wonderful novels that I have been able to read, they need to be released. Those who are curious about trying something Scandinavian, I cannot recommend doing so enough. You won’t regret it, at least if you happen to choose some of the series I have found!

Kudos, Mr. Horst, for another winner. If memory serves, one more left in this cold case sub-series. William Wisting remains masterful and I cannot say enough about the books!

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

The House of Long Ago (Cassiopeia Vitt #4), by Steve Berry and M.J. Rose

Eight stars

Adding a new novella to their collaborative collection, Steve Berry and M.J. Rose present the fourth piece featuring Cassiopeia Vitt. This piece pulls together some interesting backstory in the life of Cassiopeia and some troubling revelations about her father. After holding onto her family villa in Spain for a number of years, Cassiopeia Vitt decides that it might be time to put it onto the market. Before doing so, she decides to have the fifteen pieces of art hanging throughout the villa appraised. While she grew up admiring the pieces, she never thought to ask their value. After an appraiser brings news that the paintings are fakes, Cassiopeia can only wonder what game her father might have been playing. Consulting with many close to her father, Cassiopeia learns that it is not uncommon for art to be copied and the fakes exhibited, but that there is a secluded location in Andorra that is sure to house the originals. When she visits, Cassiopeia discovers that the originals are no longer in the vault her father had sealed, only adding to the mystery. Cassiopeia begins to question the need to hide these pieces of art away and everything leads back to discussions about Nazi Germany. Might Cassiopeia Vitt’s entire image of her father be based on false memories? What troubles could he have found himself in and might Señor Vitt have been part of a sinister underground that confiscated pillaged artwork and kept it for themselves? Berry and Rose tell quite the tale while educating the reader throughout this piece. Recommended to those who love fiction embedded with historical revelations, as well as the reader who has enjoyed all that Cassiopeia Vitt has brought to the surface in her handful of novellas.

While I have long been a fan of Steve Berry and his Cotton Malone novels, I knew little about Cassiopeia Vitt, save for what was revealed in the stories. When M.J. Rose teamed up with Berry to offer more insight into Cassiopeia’s life and adventures, I flocked to read them. These pieces not only shift the focus on Vitt, but also add new and exciting layers of history from which the reader can learn a great deal. Cassiopeia Vitt is a wonderfully independent woman, whose ambitions shine though. However, she is also one to rely heavily on those who helped shape her, not least of which her father. In this piece, the reader learns more about the connection that Vitt had with her father and the love of art that he fostered. That it could have been built on lies and deceit is surely possible, something that leaves Cassiopeia troubled. The cast of secondary characters is well developed to offer the reader interesting insight into Cassiopeia’s issue and how it might be handled. While the story is brief, the authors use these characters effectively to flavour the narrative and keep the action moving forward. The piece flows well and the reader’s attention is easily kept, mixing history and current events together with ease while trying to piece together the fragments of Cassiopeia’s life together. With a short cameo appearance by Cotton Malone himself, there is surely room for some tie-ins with Berry’s mainstream work. As with the others novellas, this one reads easily with short and crisp chapters that are sure to pull the reader into the action quickly. I can only hope this collaborative effort continues, as it is highly entertaining and yields wonderful stories.

Kudos, Mr. Berry and Madam Rose, for your great work together. Cassiopeia Vitt has a wonderful platform for growth with these stories and I am happy to read more when you have penned them.

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

All Fall Down (DI Helen Grace #9), by M.J. Arlidge

Eight stars

When I noticed a new novel by M.J. Arlidge, I could not wait to see what DI Helen Grace was doing and how she might tackle yet another ruthless killer. In a story that keeps the reader guessing throughout, Arlidge does not disappoint. When Justin Lanning receives an anonymous call stating that he has only one hour to live, he is understandably upset. His panic is only increased when his hired driver takes him on a route with which he is not familiar. After Lanning’s body is found the following day, DI Helen Grace and her team arrive at the scene. Lanning’s notoriety is not overlooked, as he was one of a number of teenage schoolchildren who escaped the clutches of Daniel King eight years earlier. King abducted them and was prepared to kill them all, when all but one was able to escape and make it to the authorities. King torched his rural farm and fled, leaving one of the children inside to die. Grace must now fight against the publicity, as well as a recently released memoir by one of the others, Maxine Pryce. As Grace tries to piece it all together, she cannot help but wonder if there is a connection between Lanning’s murder and Pryce’s new book, which is exacerbated by an outspoken journalist looking for her next scoop. After a second of the schoolchildren is murdered, Grace cannot help but see the pattern clearly. All hands on deck to sift through any possible clues as to where Daniel King might have gone. While all this is taking place, some with Grace’s team take risks to follow leads and track down people of interest, so much so that the police brass must wonder whether DI Helen Grace is in over her head. A decent copper, but her leadership skills are surely in question. After a twist in the case takes the team down a different rabbit hole, Grace cannot help but wonder if their tunnel vision all along might have derailed the investigation at the worst possible time. M.J. Arlidge does a masterful job of spinning a complex web of events and takes the reader along. Recommended to those who love British police procedurals, as well as those who have come to love Helen Grace and all her antics.

When I discovered this series, I could not get enough. M.J. Arlidge writes in such a way that there is no shaking the lure of the stories or the banter between the characters. Throughout the nine novels in the collection, DI Helen Grace has shown her grit and determination, never one to shy away from things that many would deep out of their comfort zone. While her choices have sometimes been dicey, she is always focussed on her job and helping those in need. The rest of the group have all evolved in their own way over the years, some coming and going, but always developing throughout the experience. Arlidge does well in not creating a stagnant collection of characters whose sole goal is to support Helen Grace, as she pushes the envelope and tries to do what she feels is best. The story was well crafted and pulls the reader in from the opening pages. With great plot development that builds with each chapter, the reader wants to know a little more. Short chapters that clip along, as well as segments of Maxine Pryce’s memoir interspersed throughout, help give the reader the impetus to forge ahead and devour the book in short order, which I have done. A perfect addition to the series that will keep readers begging for more soon.

Kudos, Mr. Arlidge, for another winner. I cannot say enough about your writing or this series. Please keep them coming!

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

Ripcord (Billy Beckett #3), by Kelly Hodge (and Scott Pratt)

Eight stars

Continuing the series he and Scott Pratt seemingly began together, Kelly Hodge adds a new instalment to the Billy Beckett collection with another winner. Working a crime thriller angle I have not seen before, Hodge keeps the story moving along while entertaining the reader throughout. Billy Beckett is quite the sports agent, trying to get his business to gain momentum with relative success. Having found and signed Russell Mann when he was an undrafted free agent, Beckett and his client are set to negotiate a juicy new contract. Mann has taken the basketball world by storm and he is ready to ink a multi-million dollar deal. Off the court, Mann seems to still be holding onto his Bronx roots, interacting with men from the old neighbourhood. After a number of incidents on Orlando’s streets turn deadly, there is talk that Mann could have been present, though no concrete proof is ever found. This worries Beckett, but his client reassures him that he was nowhere near the scene of any crimes. Inching closer to contract negotiations, Beckett tries to see the best in his client while he worries about the other items on his plate. A former lover of his has up and disappeared, but has been sighted around the country. Her parents ask Beckett to help, but he is not entirely sure he wants to stir anything up. Beckett’s partner is looking to diversify outside the sports industry, tapping into the music scene in Nashville. Beckett remains tepid about the idea, but perhaps a rebranding is just what he needs. If that were not enough, issues in Beckett’s personal life have his focus unclear. When Beckett receives a call from a woman demanding money to stay quiet after she saw Russell Mann at the scene of a crime, he must decide if he is willing to stay quiet and guarantee himself a massive new paycheque after a contract signing, or if Mann should be outed and potentially sent away. All this weighs heavily on Beckett’s mind as he tries to do what’s best. A great new novel that keeps the high quality that Scott Pratt made popular alive, Kelly Hodge offers readers something worthwhile. Recommended to those who love a great crime thriller that is fairly light, as well as readers who have come to love Scott Pratt’s Nashville based novels over the years.

I took to this new series with ease, sensing a similar style to many of the Scott Pratt novels I enjoyed over the years. The story flows well and the characters have something captivating about them. Billy Beckett may be a sports agent, but he is also quite relatable as a protagonist. While he has an obvious focus on his work, Beckett has a softer and more pleasant side and his personality shines through. Hodge offers an emotional angle as well, with Beckett trying to come to terms with the news he is offered, seeking to balance work and personal. Others offer their own angles in this piece, flavouring the story effectively and keeping the reader wanting to know more about what is going on. The story clips along well and the reader will soon be subsumed in all that is going on, reading and enjoying the narrative as it flows. There is little doubt the short chapters help push the story forward and the reader will likely mutter ‘just a little more’ if only to themselves. Hodge has done well to keep things light, without getting silly, as he tackles some substantial issues throughout the book, which can be tackled in short order for those who have a few hours to kill. I look forward to move from Billy Beckett, through the writing of Kelly Hodge, in the near future.

Kudos, Mr. Hodge, for another greater piece. Scott Pratt would be proud at how you are keeping his legacy alive!

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

Twisted, by Steve Cavanagh

Eight stars

Wanting a little more of a Steve Cavanagh fix, I turned to this standalone novel that proves to be just as exciting as his Eddie Flynn series. Built on an interesting premise, the story takes the reader through a number of exciting twists, while watching the characters piece together what has been revealed through a tantalising narrative. During one of their afternoon trysts, Maria Cooper and her current beau discover a secret. Maria’s husband, Paul, is sitting on a massive fortune in an off-short bank account. However, there’s more that leave Maria and Daryl gobsmacked. Based on what they discover, it would appear that Paul Cooper is actually the famous (and highly secretive) bestselling author, J.T. LeBeau. Maria cannot believe that her husband, who keeps her on an allowance, has been writing some of the most talked about books and no one has yet identified him. Worried that they will be found out, Maria and Daryl concoct a fake robbery so that Paul is none the wiser to their breaking into his office. When the police become involved, the pressure’s on and Paul panics, fleeing the house before Maria learns the truth, something she has yet to reveal. At the same time, Maria and Daryl devise a plan to ensure that the end of the Cooper marriage does not leave them without a nest egg. Maria’s soon attacked and left for dead. The authorities are called to handle the attack and Paul Cooper is the prime suspect in his wife’s attempted murder. While Maria’s in a coma, Paul has fled out to sea and is rescued from near death by a mysterious fisherman, who helps him recover back on shore. It is only then that Paul discovers the truth about the man who saved him and some of the more sinister things that he’s done. It would seem that the truth about J.T. LeBeau is more complicated than first presumed, something the local police discover as they search for Paul Cooper. His secret is out and he’s wanted for a number of murders and disappearances over the past few years, but Paul remains on the lam. As the race for the truth takes many a turn, the reader learns just how twisted things can be when Cavanagh is at the helm. A wonderful mystery that permits the reader to play an omnipotent role, where truth is an ever-changing commodity. Recommended to those who love a great mystery filled with twists, as well as the reader who is a fan of Steve Cavanagh.

I stumbled upon the work of Steve Cavanagh early this year and have not been able to get enough. While Eddie Flynn is a wonderful protagonist, I enjoyed this standalone that permitted me to see a new and exciting side to this thrill writer. Cavanagh creates a wonderful story with a handful of basic characters, turning a simple reveal into a masterful game of cat and mouse. With a story in which the reader knows all and watches things play out, Cavanagh develops his narrative and takes it in many needed tangents before returning things for the final reveal. Cavanagh uses his strong characters and dialogue to pull the reader in, mixing short and longer chapters to create sustained interest. Once caught in the trap, all the reader can do is ‘read a little more’ to get their fix. I’m now a firm believer that Steve Cavanagh is one of those versatile authors who can turn any plot into a masterful novel. If only I did not have to wait so long for more!

Kudos, Mr. Cavanagh, for another winning book. I hope to gather some more interest in your work, for other readers to discover and add them to their respective tottering To Be Read piles.

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

The Pretender’s Gold (Ben Hope #21), by Scott Mariani

Eight stars

A longtime fan of Scott Mariani’s work, I turned to this latest novel in the Ben Hope series, which has never let me down when it comes to excitement. With some new twists and great characters, the story gained momentum throughout and kept me hooked until the final pages. Ross Campbell came across quite the discovery one day in the Scottish Highlands, locating a large cache of gold coins dated back to the middle of the 18th century. He’s smart enough to hide them away, but not to keep his mouth shut about their existence, as he brags around town. Campbell is found days later, floating in a body of water, possibly a freak accident that did him in. His business partner, Ewan McCulloch, is left to handle everything and receives an odd call late into the night about having seen a band of men drowning Campbell. The mystery caller refuses to identify himself, though tips his hand that he is a local poacher. Ewan reaches out to his uncle, Boonzie McCulloch for some help, as he is not sure how to handle things. The elder McCulloch has some time on his hands and travels from his home in Italy to offer some assistance. Ewan stumbles upon some of the coins before his uncle arrives and tries to forewarn him with an email and an attached photo. Ewan’s attacked and put in hospital before Boonzie arrives, which only makes things all the more mysterious. When Boonzie himself fails to alert his wife, the plot thickens even more. Enter Ben Hope, who receives a frantic call from Boonzie’s wife and agrees to make a trip up to the Highlands to sort it all out. When Hope arrives, he thinks this might be a simple case of peeling a Scot away from his single malt bottle, but soon learns that there is more to the story. Working with a local police constable off the books, Hope learns that Boonzie’s disappearance and the beating that Ewan took might be tied to one another. When he sees a photo of the coin, he’s sure that it is all part of a larger and more sinister scheme. As the hunt progresses, Hope learns of a man who claims he is part of the bloodline of a Scottish monarch and wants the gold for himself, thinking that it might have been hidden away to keep it safe. In a game of cat and mouse, Hope must battle his henchmen and try to find Boonzie alive, all while trying to make sure the coins don’t fall into the wrong hands and leave him with nothing. There will be danger and Hope has everything to lose, including a dear friend and a young woman who’s come to mean a little something to him. A great addition to the Ben Hope series that proves Scott Mariani still has it. Recommended to those who like a good thriller set away from the big city, as well as those who have followed and enjoyed Ben Hope from the beginning.

I cannot remember who pointed me in the direction of these books by Scott Mariani, but once I started, I could not get enough. The stories are quite good and the series builds effectively, with strong characters and an equally captivating set of plots that are different enough so as not to appear cookie cutter. Ben Hope has long outlasted a backstory, but he continues to forge ahead and uses the past to his advantage as he finds himself in hew and exciting adventures. His determination to help others remains strong, even though it has cost him a great deal in the past. He is gritty, hard working, and never one to shy away from a fight. Mariani uses a strong cast of secondary characters in this piece, as usual, all of whom help build a stronger plot and provide the reader with something on which they can be well pleased. Offering a number of perspectives, the story is flavoured with the banter and interaction of all those who grace the pages of the book. A strong story that, admittedly, opens with a few tangential aspects, gets stronger as it finds its legs, permitting the reader to find their pace and enjoy it from there. Mariani jam-packs a great deal of history and information into his piece, but the reader is never left scrambling, as it almost seems natural in how it is delivered. With a mix of chapter lengths, the reader is lulled into a sense of comfort, then dropped a cliffhanger and they push onwards in hopes of learning more, only to find themselves lost in the strong narrative and superior storytelling. That this is the 21st novel in the series does not faze me, as I have come to enjoy them all!

Kudos, Mr. Mariani, for another winner. I am eager to see where you will take the series next, as it seems you are never out of ideas.

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

Fifty-Fifty (Eddie Flynn #5), by Steve Cavanagh

Eight stars

Continuing with Steve Cavanagh’s great legal thriller series, I was pulled into this one from the opening pages. I tried to crack the case quickly, but only found myself more confused (in a good way) as things progressed. When two calls come in to 911 dispatch, they tell of a horrible attack on Frank Avellino, former mayor of New York City. The calls are placed by his daughters, Alexandra and Sofia, each pointing the finger at the other for the attack and sure that their sister is out of control. When police arrive, they take both girls into custody and arrest them for what turns out to be a murder. In a lottery system of sorts, lawyers flock to sign up the Avellino sisters, including Eddie Flynn. He’s able to sign Sofia Avellino, the quieter and more troubled sister, whose self-harm may be an impediment to her mental stability. With a DA salivating to nail at least one of the sisters, an offer is made to both in hopes that one will flip. The law firm representing Alexandra tries to rush the offer, which does not sit well with junior associate Kate Brooks, who also cannot stand the sexual harassment that she’s suffered by one of the named partners. In a bold move, Kate goes out on her own and convinces Alexandra to sign with her, sure that they can win the case by targeting Sofia as the weak link. While Flynn wants to destroy the DA’s case, he must keep the Alexandra attack at bay, worried that his own client will crumple under pressure. With a biased judge trying to work against him, Flynn will have to pull out all the stops to keep Sofia from facing the ultimate punishment, while trying to get to the bottom of what really happened that night at the Avellino mansion. With great plots and a handful of exciting characters, Cavanagh has penned what may be his best novel in the series to date. Recommended to those who love a good legal thriller, as well as the reader who has come to enjoy Eddie Flynn in all his glory.

Having binge reading the previous novels in this series a while back, I was forced to wait for the release of this novel. The wait was definitely worth it, as Steve Cavanagh does not hold back with the intensity and the legal maneuvering throughout. His focus on Eddie Flynn again is ideal, though there is little time or effort put into the backstory, but rather the ever-evolving legal career of a man who was once a great con artist with ties to organised crime. Flynn uses his strong legal mind the move through the minefield that is this case, where two sisters are pointing the finger at one another, with his own client the weaker of the two. Flynn’s gut says that she is telling the truth, though there is always the veil of mystery that keeps things from being too clear-cut. With a handful of strong supporting characters, Flynn pushes through to seek justice and the truth, not always the same thing. Cavanagh injects a number of strong characters on all sides of the story to keep things interesting and leaves the reader wondering what to expect. Included in this is a ‘she’ character, presumably one of the sisters and the actual murderer, as a perspective and storyline all her own evolves throughout the book, leaving the reader to wonder if it could be Alexandra or Sofia. In a story built on the she said/she said narrative, Cavanagh keeps the reader wondering throughout as to which sister is telling the truth and who might be lying. There are clues on both sides, but only one can be guilty, or so it would seem. With great build-up and a stellar court proceeding, the narrative catapults the reader into the middle of the action and will not let go. Chapters of varying lengths keep the reader hooked, particularly when ‘She’ is interspersed throughout, and the culmination will be a reveal the reader has sought from the opening pages. Likely the best of the series I have read, I can only hope that there are more to come soon, as Cavanagh has the gift for writing in this genre.

Kudos, Mr. Cavanagh, for another winner. I will have to read your standalone piece to keep myself busy as i wait for another Eddie Flynn novel.

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

The Summer House, by James Patterson and Brendan DuBois

Eight stars

Renewing their collaborative efforts, James Patterson and Brendan DuBois present readers with an intense and thrilling read in this new standalone novel. Working a military investigation angle, the authors do more than pump up the US Military, able to spin a mystery like few others I have read of late. In a small Georgia community lies a large house, referred to by locals as the Summer House. However, after seven civilians, including one child, are slain there, the moniker Murder House seems a better fit. Under 48 hours after the bodies are discovered, four Army Rangers are arrested and taken into custody. Enter the Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID) and Major Jeremiah Cook. When Cook’s team is summoned from Virginia, they are tasked with going down to ensure that the Rangers receive the justice they deserve, as well as discover the culpability that may be involved. When Cook and his team arrive, they receive cold shoulders from the local sheriff and police force, as well as the local military personnel. It would seem that the case is fairly straightforward and any more people snooping around is an insult to all involved. However, Cook has his Army psychiatrist attempt to interview the Rangers to get a better idea of what happened, coming up short as they shut down. Soon, one of the Rangers takes drastic measures so as not to share anything. The local D.A. is happy to move forward, hoping for some capital crimes to boost his notoriety. While Cook feels that things are moving along, he cannot help but wonder if he is missing something, as though there is more to the story that no one wants to share. When his commanding officer is temporarily replaced, Cook is told the team is being sent home and their report will be buried. Could there be a cover-up involved to ensure no truths see the light of day? Working on a hunch and without permission of his superiors, Cook sneaks off to the other side of the world to get some answers, hoping his hunch is more than a gut feeling. As the list of witnesses diminish and increased violence leads some of posit that someone’s trying to erase the truth, the CID team must act fast to get some answers for themselves and the locals. A thrilling ride that leaves the reader in the middle of an intense read throughout. Patterson and DuBois have outdone themselves with this piece. Recommended to those who love investigative novels with a military twist, as well as the reader who enjoys some of Patterson’s better collaborative efforts.

I know I tend to whinge when it comes to James Patterson and his numerous publications, but I have a standard that I prefer not be violated in order to sell fluff novels. Patterson has been able to find some quality collaborators over the years and this is one instance in which the novel lived up to the hype. Brendan DuBois injects a great sense of plot and development here and I applaud him for that. The entire CID team can be considered the protagonists of the piece, offering their unique characteristics and perspectives to solving the case at hand. All of them chip in to bring their expertise to the table and much is revealed throughout. Backstories and some evolution in the characters occur throughout, allowing the reader a sense of connection to each of them in their own way. Some of the secondary characters do the same, spinning subplots that keep the story moving ahead and flavouring the narrative so as not to lose any of the momentum. The story itself was unique in a way, as it sought not only to solve a basic crime, but to dig a little deeper and force the reader to think. With a strong narrative that takes on a variety of perspectives, the reader can feel entirely surrounded by the action and in the middle of the developments. Able to effectively break Patterson’s trademark short chapter style without sacrificing fast-pace action, the story clips along and the reader begs to know more before the end. I was pleasantly surprised by this book and the collaborative effort that went into its creation. While I suspect it will be a standalone, I would not mind more in a series, as long as Patterson does not sacrifice quality for quantity, as seems to be his downfall of late.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and DuBois, for a great novel that came out of nowhere. I am hope others who are on the fence about Patterson give this one a try and see what a good collaborator can do for a novel.

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

House Privilege (Joe DeMarco #14), by Mike Lawson

Eight stars

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

A great fan of Mike Lawson’s work, I could not wait to get into this book, which features the great protagonist, Joe DeMarco. After slipping out of some troubling legal issues, Joe DeMarco is ready to work again. That being said, he’s not sure if he still has a job, as Speaker of the US House of Representatives, John Mahoney, has asked that he keep his distance during the congressional elections. After Mahoney wins his Boston seat again, DeMarco is brought back into the fold, the fact that he was revealed as a ‘bagman’ of no interest to Mahoney. DeMarco is given a very delicate task by his boss, serve as a proxy guardian to Cassie Russell, the goddaughter to Mahoney, at least until Mrs. Mahoney can return from a trip. Cassie’s parents were killed in a plane crash and the teenage girl is now the recipient to a sizeable, multi-billion dollar trust. Mahoney wants DeMarco to keep an eye on her and ensure everything is running smoothly with the trust for a couple of days. DeMarco begins his inquiries, only to get an odd feeling about the Russell lawyer and trust overseer, Erin Kelly. It would seem that Kelly feels she has control of it all and needs no assistance from DeMarco. After speaking to Cassie and the hired help, DeMarco is pushed in the direction that Kelly may not be all that she seems, which is only further solidified when an accountant who was performing an audit turns up dead in a convenience store shooting. Kelly is the niece of Boston mob boss, Mike Kelly, a man with few scruples when it comes to how he runs his business. When DeMarco feels that Erin may have been responsible for the plane crash, he takes his investigation into high gear and pushes some buttons to get a reaction. Meanwhile, Erin Kelly has turned to her uncle to kill Cassie and DeMarco, as they seem to be onto something they should not know. What follows is a game of cat and mouse that will see DeMarco up against ruthless killers and a woman whose greed for money trumps any sensible bone in her body. Lawson does well painting a vivid picture with this novel, sure to impress series fans. Recommended to those who love a good crime thriller, as well as the reader who has followed the progress of Joe DeMarco and Mike Lawson from the early days.

There’s nothing like a little Boston politicking mixed with the flavour of some mob justice to turn a book into something the reader is not able to put down. Lawson has done well with this, his fourteenth novel in the series. Joe DeMarco is still the gritty character he’s always been, with some wonderful pizzazz and a down to earth nature. He cannot hide from the past his father brought to Boston, but DeMarco is not one to sit idly by and let that shape him. Working with John Mahoney is never dull and this case is another example of that. The reader is able to see a softer and more parental side to Joe DeMarco, though no one can expect things to fall into place immediately. Others within the book find a way to make a mark and resonate throughout the narrative. This may not have all the grit one expects in a Lawson thriller, but there are certainly some brilliant parts and the characters surely shape that throughout. The story was strong and worked well throughout the different settings and situations that occur. The story never loses the momentum it has, while the criminal element keeps the reader guessing what will come next. Likely one of the best DeMarco thrillers I have read to date, the novel kept me intrigued until the final page turn.

Kudos, Mr. Lawson, for a great addition to the series I cannot wait to see what else you have in store for DeMarco.

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

The Curator (Washington Poe #3), by M.W. Craven

Eight stars

After a decent wait, M.W. Craven is back with his sensational Washington Poe series and a mystery that will leave chills up the reader’s spine. It’s Christmas and everyone seems to be in a giving mood, though some are doing more than others. At three separate gatherings over the holidays, severed fingers are found with no trace of their owners. Enter DS Washington Poe of the National Crime Agency and his expertise in serial crimes. Alongside his civilian partner, Matilda ‘Tilly’ Bradshaw, they liaise with the Cumbrian authorities to determine what’s been going on. After a slow process, the fingers are identified, though the people to whom they belong are found murdered. Poe and Bradshaw work to find ties between the victims, but come up short. However, one of the clues leads to a man who breaks down soon after being taken in for questioning. He has been participating in a Black Swan Challenge, an activity run on the dark web by a secret administrator, where challengers are given daily tasks with increased risk to themselves and others. These victims could be tools of a larger and more ominous game, with an administrator who remains highly elusive. When Poe receives a call from an ostracised federal agent in the United States, he learns of The Curator, a mysterious entity who is able to convince victims to rise up and take back control by exacting murderous revenge on those who wronged them. Scoffed at even by those in Cumbria, Poe cannot take The Curator seriously. It is at this point that a similarity between the three victims falls into place and Poe must wonder if he should have accepted the aid given to him with open arms. Might The Curator be running a puppet show of sorts, using a scorned individual to exact a violent act to balance the scales? Poe and Bradshaw work with the locals to hone in on any other victims, as well as who could be a killer in waiting. It will take patience and perseverance, something that Poe usually has in spades. A wonderful instalment in the Washington Poe series that will keep readers devouring this book in short order. Recommended for those who enjoy a chilling thriller, as well as the reader who has come to love all things Washington Poe.

I arrived a little late for the Washington Poe game, but caught up quickly and found that M.W. Craven writes just the sort of book I love when I want some dark thriller writing. Mixing some psychological mind games with a dash of humour, Craven knows how to pen a sensational novel that will keep people talking. Washington Poe is back, fresh from two of his most exhilarating cases, and ready to tackle another. His work is paced and his attention to detail makes sure he rarely misses anything. Balancing his police work with the ever-looming news about his past, Poe is able to keep himself busy, even when he is not actively processing case details. Poe’s characteristics are balanced by Tilly Bradshaw, whose personality is textbook literal, which makes their interactions all the most interesting. Bradshaw is work and only work, though her inability to understand nuance and sarcasm makes for some wonderfully lighter moments in the middle of the case. Tech savvy and always ready with a theory, Bradshaw is the perfect yin to Poe’s yang. A handful of others keep the reader on their toes as they meander through the case, adding flavour to an already rich narrative. The story, like the previous two novels, is top notch and keeps the reader wanting to know more. Mixing great banter with a narrative that pushes along, Craven has created a story that readers will want to keep reading. This is aided by short chapters that lure the reader to ‘read just a few more’ until the experience is one that cannot be stopped until all is known. Craven’s passion for writing appears on every page and this is another one of those crime thrillers that many will be talking about well after they finish the novel, as they pine for the next book and what Poe will discover then!

Kudos, Mr. Craven, for a great addition to the series. You won me over and I hope others will find their way to your Washington Poe (and other) series in the months to come!

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

Relative Silence, by Carrie Stuart Parks

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Carrie Stuart Parks, and Thomas Nelson for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Always a fan of Carrie Stuart Parks, I was eager to get my hands on this novel. Drawing on some of her past life experiences (no pun intended), Parks brings the story to life in this mystery that evolves throughout the reading experience. Piper Boone has suffered a number of traumatising experiences in her life, including the loss of her daughter fifteen years ago. However, on her more recent radar is being involved in a shooting rampage with the gunman seems to have been approaching her. It was only the quick actions of a mystery man—eventually identified as Tucker Landry—that saved Piper from likely death. While she works with the locals on Curlew Island in South Carolina, Piper tries to track her protector down and offer some thanks. She also finds herself wrapped up in a mystery when her island neighbour appears to have gone missing without a trace. The Boone family have all come to the island for the annual shareholders meeting, which brings up some old wounds or at least ones that Piper has not addressed for some time. After meeting and befriending Tucker, Piper works with him to create a composite sketch of the shooter, which helps the police hone in on the man responsible. With secrets coming to light, Piper and Tucker begin to wonder if the whispers of a family curse could be somewhat valid and work to discover if there is anything to substantiate. While she has been sitting on much for a while, Piper finds the courage to address the loss of her daughter and seeks answers that have, until now, been dismissed as part of a horrible afternoon fifteen years ago. Slowly, things come together and Piper realises that the Boone family has more in their closets than well-pressed clothes. Someone has been trying to divert attention away from the truth and it might be Tucker’s insistence to turn over every rock that finally brings some answers, as painful as they could be. A strong piece that reminds me of some earlier work of Parks’ I read, this is one that will have readers talking for a while. Recommended to those who love a good family mystery, as well as the reader who enjoys novels where secrets prove to reveal much about the foundation of truth.

I remember stumbling upon the work of Carrie Stuart Parks because of her unique use of a forensic artist as protagonist, which opened things up and created a story I could not resist. While she has strayed from that—sometimes more effectively than others—this novel breathes new life into her work and left me quite pleased. Piper Boone may be meandering through life after the loss of her daughter, but she is by no means giving up. Her determination has left her eager to seek answers, even if it means stepping away from the protective canopy that her well-to-do Southern family has erected. She feels many emotions and puts herself out there, seeking basic answers and refuses to cower away as life passes her by. Parks uses her effectively to convey this and many other emotions throughout the piece. Resurrecting her forensic artist character in Tucker Landry, Parks brings back some new and exciting life to the story, as he, too, has a past that is not entirely filled with sunshine and lollipops. Tucker works through his own past and seeks to help others, including crack the mysteries surrounding the Boone family wide open, even when others would prefer they stay buried. The use of a handful of secondary characters permits Parks to develop a strong story with a few key plot lines that keep things exciting for the reader. The story flows well and keeps its momentum throughout, adding plot twists throughout to keep things from being too predictable. With a mix of chapter lengths, the reader finds themselves pulled into the middle of this South Carolina mystery and wanting more throughout. While this may be a standalone novel, I can see the potential for Tucker and Piper to return again, in some form or the other. Either way, this is one of the stronger novels that Parks has written and I hope others find things within that help them to see the same!

Kudos, Madam Parks, for a great piece that kept me guessing throughout. Your fans will surely appreciate this piece, as we wait to see what else you have in store in the next year or two!

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

Power Play (Killer Intent #3), by Tony Kent

Eight stars

Keeping the fast pace of his previous two novels, Tony Kent delivers this explosive thriller that straddles both sides of the Atlantic. When Pan-Atlantic Flight 16 explodes on its way from London to New York, all passengers and crew are killed, including a charismatic candidate for President of the United States. Soon thereafter, Nizar Mansour turns himself in, admitting that he planted the bomb in his role as a luggage handler. With a suspect in custody, the British prepare to get the entire story and share it with their American counterparts. In New York, Joe Dempsey has accepted a new investigative role with the International Security Bureau, overseen by the UN Security Council. When Dempsey is asked to discreetly investigate the terror plot, he is pointed in the direction of the White House, where some believe President John Knowles might have had a hand in ensuring his opponent could never challenge him at the polls. When Dempsey begins to poke around, he learns that his questions are not only met with a stone wall, but that he has made no friends. Back in London, Michael Devlin has been asked to serve on the defence team for Nizar Mansour, where they uncover that there was a quick confession as soon as the US Secret Service showed up, only adding to the theory that the highest levels of the US Government might be involved. With his tenacity, Devlin pushes and soon finds himself in the crosshairs alongside Dempsey, where their silence is the only thing sure to keep the plot under wraps. When Dempsey and a Secret Service agent begin working together to peel back the layers on the plot, they discover that things run deep and could be tied to a time when John Knowles was a Marine, working on a mission in Afghanistan. Trying to stay one step ahead of those sent to kill them, they travel to the desert land and seek answers that could be at the root of the plot to see a presidential candidate killed and a country held hostage by its own leader. A brilliant book that touches on the politics and legal aspects of terror and the battle to combat it. Kent has outdone himself with this piece and is sure to impress his followers. Recommended to those who enjoy something with a little grit, as well as the reader who has come to enjoy Tony Kent’s style and delivery.

It is hard to believe that it was only a week ago that I began this series, which has pulled me in from the outset. Working on a simple premise and delving deeper with each novel, Tony Kent has done well to develop his characters and plots with some fabulous writing, as well as powerful themes based on politics and the British legal system. Joe Dempsey is back in the protagonist’s chair, working his magic at cracking a terror plot wide open, not caring where it takes him or who falls to the wayside during the investigation. Kent has honed his skills since his appearance in the debut novel, adding new and exciting aspects to the man’s personality and character, which helps him become even more exciting for the reader. Michael Devlin is still a strong player in this piece, though his star shines with a little less lustre, which does not indicate that he is without any development. He and Sarah Truman are still a force in this book and show it both in their professional lives as well as some of the personal news that comes to pass for them. Many of the other characters do well to keep the story sharp and keenly interesting to the curious reader, who has little about which to worry when it comes to entertainment value. Kent shapes his story with strong characters whose uniqueness flavour the narrative at every turn. The plot of this piece may not be entirely unique, but Kent presents it in such a way that the reader cannot help but connect with the story and want to know every detail. I was fascinated to see how things would progress and what twists would arise as the plot thickens. I am a fan and have made sure to keep Tony Kent on my radar, hoping others will read this series and do the same.

Kudos, Mr. Kent, for a great addition to the series, which never left me waning for a moment.

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

Interviewing the Dead (Carlyle and West #1), by David Field

Eight stars

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

Never one to pass up the opportunity to read anything by David Field, I rushed to get hold of the debut novel in this new Victorian crime series. With a wonderful premise and keen attention to detail, Field keeps the reader’s attention throughout this fast-paced novel. It’s the late Victorian Era and Jack the Ripper is simply a passing memory for the people of London’s East Side. However, after some bones are unearthed during the construction of an underground station, problems arise. A woman arrives on a country-wide junket to tell fortunes and send messages from the dead to the local population, including that two centuries before this very ground was the dumpling place during a plague outbreak, including those that were unearthed. This means that there are many unsettled souls angered at being disturbed and they have turned their ire on the locals. Soon thereafter, people begin to die unexpectedly and some are seen to act in very suspicious ways,. The people turn to their local Wesleyan street preacher, Matthew West, but he has no idea what’s going on. He, in turn, seeks the medical advice of Dr. James Carlyle, a surgeon at the local London Hospital. While both men come from completely different perspectives on the subject of spirits, they are united in wanting to find out what’s causing all these deaths. Investigating as best they can, West and Carlyle must seek the assistance of a detective, who serves to fill in some of the gaps. When West finds himself on the wrong side of a murder charge after being attacked outside, Carlyle makes a discovery that could help to explain what’s going on. Someone’s been spiking the beer with a potent drug, one not usually found in the region. It’s up to West and Carlyle to find out who and why before the death toll mounts and talk of the dead haunting the streets of London gets any more out of hand. Well-paced and the perfect book to pull the reader in for a day of reading, David Field shows that he is not one to run out of ideas. Recommended for those who love a good Victorian mystery, as well as the reader who has come to enjoy the work of David Field.

Having cut my teeth on Field’s first Victorian mystery series, I was pleased to see him come back to this era, which gives him the chance to delve deeper into the history, medical advancements, and sociology-economic situation of the time. He paves the way for what is sure to be an exciting series with two strong protagonists. Matthew West is a young man who serves no specific flock as he counsels the homeless and those he encounters on his walks through London’s East Side. Still new to the profession, the reader can see the cracks in his character as he tries to be upstanding without yet being able to ignore some of the baser urges that are tossed before him. He seeks to help, but is still largely naive when it comes to matters of deeper thinking. This contrasts nicely with Dr. James Carlyle, whose medical knowledge and life experience make him the more grounded of the two. Carlyle educates West (and the reader) to some of the medical and psychological know-how as it relates to neuroses and poisoning. He reveals some interesting facts about the case, while also trying to parent his daughter, who seeks to stir up the pot with her women’s rights movement, a great sub-plot. Other characters work well within the confines of the piece, offering a great deal of flavouring to an exciting story. Built on a wonderful premise, Field pulls on some of the sentiments around spirits from the day, as well as the rise in mediums who seek to communicate between the two worlds. With a mixture of chapter lengths, Field pulls the reader in before offering them longer explanations to give the book some depth. The narrative flows really well and is peppered with great cockney slang to add a layer of realism to the banter between characters. I cannot wait to see what else the West-Carlyle duo undertake in upcoming pieces, hoping that Field has many ideas to share with his fan base.

Kudos, Mr. Field, for another winner. I am pleased to see us back in Victorian times, where my appreciation for your writing began. Perhaps the attentive reader may see some crossover mentions from the other series?

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

Marked for Death (Killer Intent #2), by Tony Kent

Eight stars

After thoroughly enjoying the first novel in this series by Tony Kent, I turned to the second, which did not disappoint. Kent pulls some of his key players back into the mix, spinning a new and complex story that will keep readers wondering as they make their way through the journey. The body of Phillip Longman is gruesomely discovered in his home, crucified against a wall. The former Lord Chief Justice has surely crossed paths with many a criminal element during his time on the bench, but it is up to DCI Joelle Levy and her team within the London Met to sift through all the possibilities. Levy has quite the past, having served within Israel’s security services. Her grit and determination will make the work pay off, though some leads tend to lead down rabbit holes, baffling many along the way. Recently appointed QC barrister Michael Devlin is still trying to understand why this honour has been bestowed upon him, fighting with his confidence. Devlin works as defence counsel and has made it his goal to help defend his client, even if the man refuses to cooperate in his own defence. Devlin begins to see that there may be some other factors at play, ones that will disrupt the flow of justice and send an innocent man to jail. While Devlin shares this with his fiancée, Sarah Truman, she is trying to report on the ongoing Longman investigation. Devlin and Truman discuss some of the cases that the Lord Chief Justice must have seen during his rise to power, but also some demons that might be lurking in a key case Devlin remembers from years ago. When a key suspect is found, all the pieces begin to fall into place, though it will take more than a few coppers and Levy’s determination to capture the man who seeks retribution for what was done to him. Chilling in its delivery and yet so well paced that the reader will feel fully ensconced in the action, Tony Kent has done a brilliant job here with this piece. Recommended to those who love slowly evolving police procedurals, as well as the reader who has a penchant for British legal dramas.

I believe that it was a recommendation of a friend that I try this series that brought me to discover Tony Kent. While his writing can be a tad intense and heavy, the stories prove to be some of the best that I have read in a long time. Kent uses a mix of characters and great plots to keep the reader wondering through the maze that this novel offers. Michael Devlin and Sarah Truman return for another exciting adventure, though they are now firmly affixed together, romantically and somewhat on a professional level. The reader who has read the opening novel will see some great progress in their relationship as well as the depth that the characters offer. Adding the likes of Joelle Levy to the mix creates a new character on which the reader can hone their interest. Levy’s backstory is interesting and adds some great flavour to this novel, which is already brimming with exciting twists. The handful of secondary characters proves useful to push the plot forward and flavour the narrative effectively, keeping the reader focussed on everything that is going on. The story was quite strong and kept my attention throughout. Twists and turns left me wondering where Kent was seeking to direct the reader, though the depth of writing made the novel’s length quite justified. There is a mix of long and shorter chapters, keeping the reader on their toes throughout the experience. The writing is such that the book does not take as long as it would seem, showing that Kent can push the narrative forward without issue and has left me wanting more, as I read for the third novel in this series. I cannot wait to see what’s to come, as Kent has yet to disappoint.

Kudos, Mr. Kent, for a great continuation to the series. I am eager to see what’s next, as I pull the next book out to devour soon.

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

The Dime Box, by Karen Grose

Eight stars

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

Interested in some Canadian crime fiction, I thought that I would tackle Karen Grose’s book to see if it held up to all the hype. Greta Giffen is all of nineteen years of age and already an orphan. When she is seen rushing out of her father’s palliative care room, the nurses know something is up. Ian Giffen is dead in his bed and the authorities can only wonder if and how Greta might be responsible. While being interviewed, Greta takes the detective (and reader) back through her life, one in which she was forced to live under the controlling thumb of Ian Giffen. She reveals much about her home life, something she tried to get away from at every turn. As the story progresses, the reader learns more about the hardships that befell a young Greta and how she coped, with a small dime box as her most trusted companion. When the investigation heats up and Greta seems certain to be guilty, she adds new layers to her story in order to explain things away. However, there is no disputing that Ian Giffen is dead and that she was the last person to see him alive. Where the investigation will end up is anyone’s guess, though the reader will have to travel this long and twisted route to get to the truth. A well-paced debut novel by Karen Grose, sure to pique the interest of the curious reader. Recommended to those who enjoy novels with flashback/forward narratives, as well as the reader who likes to read books set in rural Canada.

I love books set in Canada, particularly when I can somewhat relate to their setting. There is so much to take away from them, rather than flipping through yet another book situated on the gritty streets of America or even into Europe. Grose does well in her development of the setting, but it is the evolution of Greta Giffen that steals the show. Nineteen going on fifty, or so it seems, Greta has much to tell the reader in this ever-revealing story that tells a story in quite the jagged fashion. The reader learns much about the life of this young woman, from foibles to heroic struggles to define herself and find out the truth that might set her free. Other characters throughout offer a wonderful dose of grit and determination, leaving the reader wondering what awaits them in the next chapter or two. The story was decent and told in a unique way. While I love the flashback/forward used in the book, at times I thought it got to be too much; the lines of the narrative too fluid for me to truly grasp where things were headed. Grose has developed this thriller effectively, but I had wished for a little more grounding. The short chapters and numerous cliffhangers kept me wanting to read on (which I did) to learn just what Greta had been doing and how things fell into place. Well-written and easy to read, I will keep my eyes open for more by Karen Grose in the coming years!

Kudos, Madam Grose, for a nice debut that kept me thinking. I hope others trip upon this piece and offer similar praise.

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

Killer Intent (Killer Intent #1), by Tony Kent

Eight stars

Seeking something with a great deal of pep, I turned to this first novel in the series by Tony Kent, which did not disappoint. Filled with thrilling themes and political discussions that resonate throughout the British and Irish arenas, this is a book not to be missed by those who need something a little deeper and more hands-on. When a gathering sees both the sitting UK Prime Minister and US President in attendance, security is sure to be high, shared by both countries. Add a former president to the mix and things are at an even higher level. When an assassin’s bullet almost kills the former US president, panic ensues and London is in a state of chaos. That the act was committed by a British citizen in a sniper’s nest makes it all the worse, which means that Joe Dempsey will be hard at work to crack the plot of this act of domestic terrorism. Gritty and determined, Dempsey is a member of the DDS—Department of Domestic Security—seeking to keep Britain safe. However, there is a plot afoot and Dempsey will have to crack it wide open or the country could remain in a state of fear. When a suspect is detained by police, everyone breathes a sigh of relief, but that is soon shattered when the man turns up dead in his cell, an apparent act of suicide. Having not formally spoken to legal representation of the police, no one is entirely clear what happened and who is pulling the strings, which angers Dempsey to no end. However, one Sarah Truman might have tripped onto something that the government is trying to hide. This young CNN reporter may hold the key to uncovering the plot, even if she is not entirely aware. Hunted by those who wish to keep the plot from seeing the light of day, Truman finds herself meeting with defence barrister Michael Devlin, whose past in Northern Ireland is only one of the many secrets that he has. When Truman and Devlin discover that they are not safe in London, they flee together back to Belfast, hoping to learn more about what’s happened and who is pulling the strings. As bullets fly, they cannot take one moment for granted, all while Joe Dempsey inches closer to learning what’s happened and how the UK political system could be at the heart of the entire mess. A chilling thriller that has political intrigue, great twists, and a story that cannot be beat, Tony Kent is sure to pull many readers into the heart of this piece, if only to make them want more. Recommended to those who enjoy a deeper conspiratorial thriller that is multi-layered, as well as the reader who needs something intense to wake them from their reading slumber.

I will admit that the first portion of the book did not work well for me. I found things a little too scattered for my taste, even though I had heard so many good things about the book. Once the first few chapters are presented and the plot gains some momentum, the reader will surely be hooked on this adventure that keeps the action moving in all directions. The three points of view on offer here are wonderful in their uniqueness and strength, offering the reader three needed views to piece the entire experience together. Sarah Truman stands out to some degree, as she tosses away any need for a damsel in distress and offers up something with a little more grit. Her partnering with Michael Devlin allows the reader to see a strong duo that does not need to be defined by an amorous connection. Devlin has his own demons that he must face throughout, all of which become an integral part of the plot for the patient reader. The strong Joe Dempsey leaves the reader feeling as though this terror plot is in good hands, even if things are leading up to a standoff with someone Dempsey will not be able to dismiss. With an eerie fourth, masked character, the plot advances well in directions that might not be entirely clear until the exact moment. The handful of secondary characters work well within this piece, which seeks to tell a few stories at the same time, impacting the reader in various ways. The story was strong and tells of both the modern terror attacks and The Troubles, those skirmishes between the British and Irish over the fate of Northern Ireland. Irish independence becomes a theme the reader cannot shake, nor should they, though Kent layers the story so well that there is much to learn on all sides. Gritty and without a slowing of momentum, this series has begun with a (literal) bang and I cannot wait to see what comes next, or who will return for another instalment. Kent is a master, of that I am sure. Now to read more and prove my hypothesis.

Kudos, Mr. Kent, for a great start to this series. Not sure where you will take it, but I am eager to come for the ride.

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

Bound in Shallows, by S.L.C., Jr.

Seven stars

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

It was the premise of this book that pulled me in, with the cover art being a close second. Unique on both fronts, I chose to tackle this book by the mysterious author, S.L.C., Jr. Clifford Swank is a pornographer and not afraid to hide it. His medium is photographs and he is able to cobble together a basic magazine on a monthly basis, with the talent that enters his Tampa establishment. When the body of a young woman turns up in the water, the police are baffled about the identity, helped only by a small tattoo on her backside. Swank reads of this and wonders if he might know her as a past model who came to see him. Not long thereafter, Swank is visited by a local street preacher, who wishes to hire him to locate the girl. Swank balks, admitting to no one but himself that he used his now deceased father’s PI business as an advertisement filler in his magazine. After seeing that money will not be an issue, Swank agrees to the investigative task and takes the case, where he finds that his sly demeanour can help. He focuses his attention on a local televangelist who speaks of the evils of pornography and prostitution, but may himself be dabbling in the field. When Swank and an undercover copy end up working together, they discover new and angering angles in the case, ones that include a local crime family and some dirty cops. Trying to stay one step ahead of the heavy hitters, Swank and his new ‘partner’ work their leads as they seek to bring justice to a young woman whose life was cut short for reasons as yet unknown. An interesting tale told from the most unique perspective I have seen in a crime thriller. Definitely not your run of the mill read, though those can be the best at times.

I like unique in my reading experiences, which this book offered in spades. While Cliff Swank is involved in one of those professions that many a reader usually finds on the darker side of a story, he does well as a protagonist and his line of work does not enter the story too much, saving some of the more prude and expectation seeking readers from being too disturbed. Swank parachutes into the role of PI well and seems in touch with the community, even as he turns over rocks he never expected he would have to. Others in the piece worked well and kept the pace moving well, as the story took some interesting twists throughout. I was eager to see how the author would tackle the pornographer as PI situation and was pleasantly surprised. While the story was unique to the max and had some interesting early chapters, the momentum soon faded and I was left with a touch of disappointment. I cannot place my finger on what might have been better or how things could have been improved, but if this is the debut novel, there is some great potential. A mix of short and longer chapters keeps the story moving and the writing is quite clear, making the read a quick and somewhat enjoyable one for me.

Kudos, S.L.C., Jr. for your mysterious ways. I may return to read another of you pieces, having some honing and polish work on your writing.

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

To Wake the Giant: A Novel of Pearl Harbor, by Jeff Shaara

Nine stars

A long-time fan of Jeff Shaara and his work, I was ecstatic when I received his latest novel. These pieces of historical fiction are firmly in the military realm, bringing voices and strong narratives to famous battles fought throughout the American experience. This latest piece is all about the attack on Pearl Harbor, when the Japanese brought the Americans out of their isolationism and into the forefront of the Second World War. As with all of Shaara’s pieces, the narrative is split into numerous perspective, in this case: a lowly Navy recruit with a love of baseball (Tommy Biggs), the US Secretary of State who has been juggling increasing reports about Japanese plans for aggression (Cordell Hull), and the man who planned the Pearl Harbor attack (Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto). Biggs comes from a small town in Florida and decides to visit a Navy recruiter on a whim, only to discover that life on the seas may be the fresh approach that he seeks. After Basic Training, Biggs is assigned to the USS Arizona, where his eyes are opened to life in the Navy. While it can be tough, there is also the down time during which he can play baseball and discover what cheap beer and mouthy Marines can add to his life experiences. In Washington, Secretary Hull has been trying to balance an isolationist America against a president who is itching to getting the fight, worried that Britain and France will soon be subsumed by the tyrant, Hitler. All the while, Hull begins to hear grumblings that the Japanese have been discussing goading the Americans into the Pacific fight, hoping to scare them into a quick submission. As tensions mount, Hull gets no clear message from the Japanese ambassador, making things all the more suspect in this geo-political game of chess. Finally, in Tokyo, Admiral Yamamoto is a powerful man within the Japanese Navy and has been concocting an idea that might pull the Americans out of their isolation, only to feel the wrath of the Japanese, who have been spreading their tentacles all throughout the Asian theatre and flexing their muscle. When Yamamoto decides to strike off the Hawaiian coast, he hopes to take out large numbers of the Navy’s fleet and create such chaos so as to scare the political giant. In the latter portion of the book, as the plan to attack inches forward, all three protagonists react in their own ways, including just after the bombs fall. That this event will impact history is without doubt, though the way in which it does so, in the immediate aftermath, is something that Shaara explores with the reader in great detail. Full of all emotions there are, Shaara pulls the reader into this over that takes place over a single 12 month period. Chilling and yet unputdownable at the same time, Jeff Shaara proves why he is the master of this genre and a man that all those with a love of history (particularly military) need to find this book for their reading pleasure.

I am the first to admit that Shaara and his father helped introduce me to military history told with a fictional flavouring, thereby making it a tad more palatable to someone who is not keen on guns and troop movements. Shaara takes the events in history and breathes life into them, while telling some of the better known aspects and adding some gems from his research. The greatest part of the novel is the introduction of characters and dialogue, which adds a dimension and allows the layperson to love the story just as much as those who know the intricacies of the history and military movements. Choosing a simple American boy to offer the reader that ‘wet behind the ears’ perspective is masterful, injecting a naive approach to war and the evils of it all. Then layering two strong men whose accomplishments brought about the power that both America and Japan showed helps to give depth to the seriousness of these events, and the diplomatic to and fro that took place. Shaara wastes little time in the book, offering a rotating narrative and filling the reader with needed information as the story progresses, pushing some of his theories and perspectives he discovered throughout his research. With a mix of short and longer chapters, the reader is able to see how these twelve months were so important in bringing the US into the Second World War, as well as how quickly things changed. I would venture to say that much of the ‘fiction’ offered to this book comes from the dialogue, which must have been at least partially invested. Otherwise, this is a history heavy book that is easily read and loved by all. There is even the usual afterward, which pulls some of the characters out of the book and provides true biographies of what happened to them, if only to whet the appetite of the curious reader. While Shaara had originally promised readers a book on the Cuban Missile Crisis (unless I misread some of the publicity than emerged a few months after Shaara’s last publication), that may have been placed on the back burner to offer this sensational novel, making the longer wait worth it. Brilliant and captivating seem too little to describe this piece, but I will use them for now. Makes me debate if I want to spend a month and binge all of Shaara’s work to feel this energy again.

Kudos, Mr. Shaara, for your brilliance and passion with storytelling. I hope others find the love for your writing that I, a mere Canadian, have found.

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

Burning Down the House: Newt Gingrich, the Fall of a Speaker, and the Rise of the New Republican Party, by Julian E. Zelizer

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Julian E. Zelizer, and Penguin Press for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Seeking a hit of good American politics, I turned to this piece by Julian E. Zelizer, which recounts the rise and power change brought on by Newt Gingrich’s time in the US House of Representatives, which culminated in a position as Speaker of the House. Zelizer opens the book with some biographical commentary about Newton ‘Newt’ Gingrich, whose conservative views seemed almost inherent in a household where rules were strict. His formative years saw him push the boundaries and rebel in his own way in rural Georgia, though he was always one to seek out the political side of any argument or group, hoping to imbue his strong opinions. His political leanings were always towards the Republican right, even in the heart of Georgia, which was undergoing a political transformation. With the fallout from Watergate, Gingrich sought to re-invent the GOP and make a difference not only in the grassroots of the party, but from within the walls of power, which for him meant the US House of Representatives. Gritty and determined, Gingrich campaigned to win a seat, which he did in 1978’s mid-term elections, beginning a rabble-rousing career as soon as he was elected. Zelizer shows that Gingrich, even as a new congressman, did not sit quietly and sought attention wherever he could get it. The House was strongly in the Democrats’ hands, but Gingrich knew that his tenacity and cutthroat tactics could turn the tables, even if it took a while. Not always the friend of the Administration—though he strongly supported Reagan in 1980 —Gingrich continued his push to rebrand the House in a more conservative manner, mainly by targeting Democrats who violated some of the more basic rules. As the narrative progresses through some of the more controversial statements and sentiments by Gingrich, he seemed always to know when to speak and how to get the word out, even in times of Republican gaffes, particularly Reagan’s Iran Contra Affair. While the Democrats held onto power through the end of the Reagan Administration, a new Speaker of the House was chosen, one Jim Wright, who became the focus of Gingrich’s attention as he sought to pull apart the Democrats’ control of the House, brick by brick. Through a series of scandals, Gingrich laid the groundwork for the dismantling of Wright—a longtime and well-regarded political figure—in a highly embarrassing way. Gingrich may have set things in motion, but he need not get his hands dirty. Fighting to define himself within the House Republicans, Gingrich secured a key position of power in 1989 when he won the role of Minority Whip, with hopes of ascending from there. He would have to bide his time, but had finally tasted victory and continued to push things to the right, as the House teetered under Democratic leadership into the 1990s. In a flash final chapter, Zelizer describes Gingrich’s rise to power by toppling the Democrats’ control of the House, but also brought down the centre-right George H.W. Bush from winning re-election. His rise to the speakership was a flash in the book, as Gingrich found himself in a scandal all his own. However, his imprint lasted on the Republican Party in the House and helped create the Tea Party movement that emerged in the 2010 mid-term elections. Even though he fared poorly in his 2012 run for president and was not chosen as Trump’s running mate in 2016, Newt Gingrich is not a man soon to be forgotten. Recommended to those who love the inner workings of congressional politics, as well as the reader who loves to see how power and patience can topple any political Goliath.

I was pleasantly surprised with this book and the approach that Julian E. Zelizer took. While one might have expected a piece that pushed Newt Gingrich into the centre of the narrative and used the US political situation as a backdrop, Zelizer did the opposite. Gingrich is present throughout the narrative, but it is more his wheeling and dealing that proves to be a thread and the fallout from it. The narrative is rich with political goings-on in Congress throughout the 1980s and into the 90s, where Gingrich was present, but it was more about how the man could turn the story on its ear and the political machine worked itself out, inevitably to Gingrich’s desired outcomes. Zelizer does a masterful job in exploring the inner workings of the congressional struggles and how both major parties handled things, enriching his narrative with much detail and strong quotes. For the politically curious reader, this gave an almost behind-the-scenes look into how things transpired, as well as the fighting to hold onto power. I was too young to fully appreciate politics of any country in the 1980s and early 90s, but do remember Gingrich when he made it to the Speaker’s chair, so this was all new and highly educational as I learned of things that took place when I was only a lad. This book is not the Newt Gingrich dog and pony show, but highlights the man’s rise to power in reaction to much of what was going on within the House of Representatives and how Gingrich used this to redefine the narrative. With thorough chapters that cover many of the incidents and a keen bird’s eye view of how things progressed in the media and within congressional meeting rooms, the reader can see how power seemed almost to come to Gingrich, who used patience and perseverance to get what he wanted. I loved this approach and thoroughly enjoyed the historical narrative that kept Gingrich as part but not the central character throughout. This subtle approach made the book much more palatable, especially since I am by no means a fan of the right-wing of the GOP. Even mention and discussion about how the eventual Tea Party emerged had me interested and wanting to know more. If I had to offer a criticism, it would be that the final chapter sought to explore too much in too short a time. I am not sure if Zelizer ran out of steam, had an editor who offered a page limitation, or did not want to undertake the research, but Gingrich and his rise to the speakership through to his departure is all packed into a few pages. This does the book and the reader a disservice. Perhaps Zelizer is offering this as a teaser for a follow-up book, but this anti-climactic occurrence makes the premise (Gingrinch’s hunger for power) seem like a discussion that should be shelved. Why climb a mountain and not talk of the view? A man that Zelizer discussed as a potential running mate for Trump in 2016, Newt Gingrich certainly had a strong influence on the move to the right by Congress, though did so in such a way that it seemed almost necessary to rid the country of the nightmares the Democrats left during their long House control.

Kudos, Mr. Zelizer, for this fabulous book that taught me so very much. I loved it and hope to find more of your work in this vein, to educate me even more about the intricacies of the US political system.

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

Savage Son (James Reece #3), by Jack Carr

Eight stars

Jack Carr returns with his third instalment in the James Reece series, which has just as much action as the previous novels. While he coalesces after brain surgery, James Reece has plans to rest up in a Montana cabin. On the other side of the world, Oliver Gray, who was responsible for killing Reece’s father, has his targets set on finishing the job, knowing that it will be a case of strike before being targeted by Reece himself. Gray works with members of the Russian Bratva to secure the attack, one that will require stealth, as Reece was once a SEAL and now has been working for the CIA. When Reece and his new belle settle in the cabin, a strike team inches forward. No one could have predicted that Reece’s long-time friend and fellow SEAL, Rafe Hastings, will also be in the area. After the strike goes awry, Reece knows that he is in big trouble and will not be able to hide for much longer. Even worse, the Russians are able to nab Hastings’ little sister in Europe, only adding pressure to an already jarring situation. It will not be enough that Reece knows the Russians are after him. He must annihilate them and find Gray for a final standoff, while a man who hunts humans for fun arrives to play a little game. A well-paced novel that is full of plot twists and wonderful storytelling. Recommended to those who love a good thriller, as well as the reader who finds an interest in military-type novels, full of gun technology and scouting tactics.

I stumbled upon the first book in this series after a friend recommended it to me. While I am not as keen on military thrillers, I do love the espionage stories that Carr has been able to create. James Reece is an interesting character who continues to grow before the reader’s eyes. Now on the defensive, after a few novels where he was hunting his enemies, Reece must show how sharp he can be without being prepared with everything he might need. He appears to have moved on from the murder of his wife and unborn child, letting the walls down so that he can be happy. There is no lack of action when it comes to Reece or those around him. Other characters do a wonderful job of complementing the protagonist and adding their own added flavour to an action-filled read. The numerous plot lines kept the story interesting and the perspectives of all the characters did well to keep the story on point. The novel itself was quite well paced, even as the reader must leap over some of the redaction pits placed throughout by the US Department of Defence. Carr knows his stuff and does not write in too inflated a manner, but is able to get to the root of the plot without issue and keeps the reader right there with them. Full of military and gun talk, this helps to add depth to the plot rather than lose the reader from the get-go. Carr brings his experiences to the entire novel and the read can bask in the attention to detail. The mix of chapter lengths pull the reader in and sustain their interest in equal measure. There’s little time to catch one’s breath, as the story is so full of action and locales that it will be a fast ride throughout. I hope to see more from Carr, as there always seems to be a thread that is left hanging for Reece to tug upon.

Kudos, Mr. Carr, for another winner. I hope others find your series and enjoy it as much as I have been to this point.

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

Moby Dick, or the Whale, by Herman Melville

Eight stars

When my reading group chose this book to serve as one of our monthly requirements, I cringed. After learning it was being allocated two months (giving people longer to read and analyse it), I shivered even more. Classics are not usually my thing and this book has been one I have heard much about, told of its tangential nature and dense nature, leaving me a tad ill at ease. However, like a good reading soldier, I prepared myself and forged into it, nose plugged and hoping for the best from Herman Melville’s classic. Ismael, for that is what he chooses to call himself, begins by telling the reader about the fact that he has some experience at sea, but never captaining a ship. He then explains that he seeks to be a sailor aboard a whaling ship and settles into a harbour town in hopes of being taken on. After an interesting encounter in a boarding house with a harpooner, Ismael heads to the docks to try his luck at being permitted to sail. His ‘interview’ goes well and Ismael is soon chosen to work aboard a ship led by one Captain Ahab. Missing a leg, Ahab speaks of a trip around the world to hunt whales, though he is eager to find his sea-bound nemesis, Moby Dick. The journey is long and there is much to do, so Ismael fills his time telling the reader all about life on the boat, the history of whaling, and whales in general. His attention to detail leaves the reader feeling as though they were right there, even though much of the action occurs in small snippets and the narrative is far more detailed. As Captain Ahab forges ahead, he encounters many a whale and the crew does what they can to do what is asked of them, while Moby Dick eludes them. The whale, nicknamed Leviathan, is out there, and Ismael hopes to come face to face with this beast, if only to help bring some form of retribution to the pains that Captain Ahab suffered those years ago. By the final chapters, there is much to say, giving the reader a treat they have waited so long to discover. A dastardly tale that is by no means free of action or information, Herman Melville does well to pull the reader in from the get-go. I’ll keep this recommendation free, as classics are a beast of their own, but will admit that I was pleasantly surprised with the experience and, like Ahab, am happy to have faced the beast that spooked me!

I am glad that I undertook this reading challenge, as it forced me to stare down this book. However, I chose the audio version to allow me to clip along at a slightly faster pace, which helped me a great deal. Melville has a great deal to say and I am not sure I would have stayed the course if I had only a book to guide me. While Ismael was the central character throughout, it is less his development that pushed the story forward. The reader can follow his sentiments aboard his first whaling ship and see what he thought of the experience, but it is more the asides, tangential comments, and brief narratives of that which is developing around him that connects the reader with the protagonist. I found him easy to like, more because he made me want to know more about the experience and the background of whaling. The other characters who grace the pages of the book helped to strengthen the story, bringing their own flavour to an already intense tale. As a story, Melville does a decent job in getting from A to B, but this was almost secondary in the literary experience. The reader is immersed in background, history, philosophy, and descriptions of all things whales, enough that they, too, can feel they know enough to track Moby Dick. Melville goes on and on so many times, stringing together metaphors and similes like no one I have ever read before…but it works. It gives the reader something on which to build their learning when it comes to a subject that is likely so out of their realm of understanding and not written about a great deal in the fiction I have read. Melville shows his past experience aboard a ship and those experiences bleed through on each page, but it is so full of information that the reader cannot catch their breath long enough to cite any degree of boredom. Ok, while I am not a fan of classics (and am not sure how this one is considered one), I would listen to it again. Read it? Hell no, but I would venture into the depths and let a skilled narrator guide me through it all.

Kudos, Mr. Melville for pushing me out of my comfort zone with a whale of a tail, er… tale!

This book fulfils the June/July 2020 monthly challenge of the Mind the Bookshelf Gap reading challenge.

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

The Magdalene Deception, by Gary McAvoy

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to Reedsy Discovery and Gary McAvoy 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 Gary McAvoy caught my eye as soon as I found it. Michael Dominic grew up in United States, without a father but under the watchful eye of one of the most powerful men in the Catholic Church. Having finished his seminary studies and been ordained, Dominic accepted a position within the Vatican as a researcher, where he was able to hone some of his other interests in medieval history. When he trips upon a cache of old documents, he hides them away from prying eyes in hopes of exploring them a little more, only to discover that they are written in quatrain form and speak of some fairly significant things. After speaking to a superior, Dominic meets a Swiss reporter, Hana Sinclair, who has travelled to the Holy See in order to follow a story from a Nazi-era interaction with the Vatican Bank. While their work is not necessarily complementary, Dominic and Sinclair find themselves in the middle of a third mystery, one centred in rural France where a priest was blackmailing the Vatican with a set of documents in his possession, back before the turn of the 20th century. Travelling there, Dominic is being tailed by a powerful enforcer who seeks to obtain the documents to uncover what is going on while trying to strengthen a Croatian political and religious order. When Dominic receives the document, he is able to translate them and discovers a secret from two thousand years ago, one that would truly rock the Church to its core. With a killer on his trail and needing to ensure the document is preserved, Dominic returns to the Vatican, only to find that he and Hana may have caused a major panic. A great thriller that weaves numerous storylines together effectively. Recommended to those who love a good thriller worth historical implications, as well as the reader who enjoys Vatican and Catholic politics.

There’s something about biblical revelations set against a fictional thriller that pulls me in every time. Be it the history or the politics of what entered the narrative of the biblical teachings, there is something there and loads of mystery behind what did not make it. McAvoy creates a wonderful story that never stops building throughout. His protagonist, Michael Dominic, comes from humble beginnings, but is never one to let that get him down. He finds ways to work within his limits and find true passion for all he enjoys doing, without needing to focus on the solitary of life as a priest. His grit and determination is on show here and keeps the reader connected to him throughout. Other characters offer some wonderful flavour to the overall narrative and keep things exciting, amongst all the twists and revelations. McAvoy captures the secrecy and deep-rooted history of the Vatican and its politics throughout this piece, with a strong story and plot that moves in many directions. While there is the inherent biblical document that is revealed, there is not too much of a focus on its gnostic or apocryphal nature, but more that it adds new depths to the narrative of the Church’s past decisions on how to portray the Christian story. With a mix of longer and short chapters, McAvoy pulls the reader in and keeps them guessing, while also refusing to place a damper on the action. Juggling modern and ancient Church issues, McAvoy does not lose his reader at any point, as his writing is so clear that the attentive reader will likely want more. I look forward to more by the author, with Michael Dominic or others in the protagonist’s seat.

Kudos, Mr. McAvoy, for this wonderful book. This may have been the first of your books that I have read, but it will not be the last.

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