The Victorian Internet, by Tom Standage

Nine stars

After reading a few books by Tom Standage, I was eager to get my hands on this piece. While many are familiar with the explosion of the Internet over the past few decades, Standage argues that there was a similar type of communication system that was just as complicated and readily accessible to the masses. The idea of a telegraph system came about centuries ago, when a Frenchman sought to relay messages between two points using the clanging of pots in a specific coded manner. While this seemed to work, it fell apart when the wind was too strong and the privacy of the message was completely lost. As advancements grew, telegraphy became a hot topic among physicists and investors of all kinds. Samuel Morse is seen as the father of modern telegraphy, using wires to transmit messages through a coded system he created. The emergence of Morse Code and the continued experimentation of communication through the wire began a primitive system whereby communities could pass along short messages up or down the line. However, vastly separated areas were still not able to communicate with one another, which posed an issue in making it a truly global attraction. Into the middle of Victorian Era, the idea of sending messages across the British Empire became all the rage, or at least across the Atlantic Ocean. Laying wires across open bodies of water by ship soon remedied this, though there were still errors during the early stages of its organisation. With determination, messages began to make their way through, though the ease with which messages could be sent soon created a massive backlog.

Standage addresses some of the larger follies of the telegraph system in the second part of the book. By using Morse Code, operators would sometimes bungle a single word and thereby completely change the message being sent or delivered. This proved to be quite costly in one instance, as a man lost thousands in stock purchases because he misunderstood the message sent by a colleague. There were also the issues of coding or shorthand message sending, where fabricated words made it even more difficult to convey the needed message from one person to the other. Eventually, rules were put in place to standardise, or at least limit the superfluous verbiage being placed across the lines. A more humourous downfall included the lack of complete understanding that people had about telegraphs. Standage discusses two examples whereby people came to the telegraph office to send physical items, from a plate of sauerkraut to a handful of money. The concept of immediate communication between people still needed to be honed, but things were surely moving in the right direction.

Standage does speak of some of the downfalls that came with telegraph use, specifically the inundating of offices with information. These countless messages would create major delivery delays and tie up the wires for weeks, thereby making the new technology less effective. Others argued that telegraph transmission provided the consumer with too much readily accessible information, lessening the ‘business edge’ when it came to the capitalist relationship. The rise of Western Union can be directly tied to the advancements in telegraphy, creating a monopoly for a period. However, as new technology emerged, in the form of the telephone, Western Union’s telegraph system began to wane, leaving it to fill the void with money transfers, but that is best discussed in another biography.

After reading to stellar books about world history seen through the eyes of various objects, I was pleased to see telegraphy receive such a thorough examination. Standage does a masterful job at laying the historical groundwork and developing great arguments throughout. He uses an array of concrete examples to substantiate his hypotheses in each chapter and provides the reader with a great story about the development of the telegraph machine. His parallels in the latter portion of the book as it relates to the modern internet is quite useful, as though there was a quasi-resurrection of ideas and sentiments about this new form of communication. The writing is not overly academic, though there is definitely a detailed primer feel to the writing, requiring more than a passing interest in the topic. I found myself affixed to the narrative and wanted to know more, hanging on while Standage discussed many of the topics at hand, which mixed a serious and somewhat humorous side to the topic. While the telegraph was eventually replaced with the telephone, there is sure to be a new form of technology that awaits the general public. What that is has yet to be discovered, but I hope Tom Standage is still around to explore it and pens a catchy tome to discuss its emergence.

Kudos, Mr. Standage, for another amazing reading experience. I have thoroughly enjoyed what I have read of yours to date and will scour the library for more!

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

An Edible History of Humanity, by Tom Standage

Nine stars

As an avid book reader, I always hunger for the next great story, be it based on real events or fantastical fiction. Tom Standage presents this book to explain how food has helped shape and influence major events in history, using a number of great examples while keeping the reader entertained. He begins by taking things as far back as possible, with a focus on man’s creation myths tied to corn or maize, which were essential parts of the early diet of those who roamed the earth. As Standage did in one of his other great books (A History of the World in 6 Glasses), he argues that the emergence of cereal grains helped to create a sedentary population and thereby developed a farming mentality. This permitted the emergence of cities and larger communities, which served to socialise people. Food has also helped create a sense of hierarchy in societies, which emerged early on in the hunter/gatherer collectives. Those in charge of finding food took on positions of power and control, which they exerted effectively. Leaders soon rose from the group, usually through natural character traits or physical stature. However, Standage argues that not all societies permitted this standout role, choosing modesty and a communal way of life. Food could also be seen as a currency, which exacerbated the view of power, as people traded and bartered with food, while taxes could also be placed on items that came from outside the local community.

This leads to Standage’s third area in which food helped shape world history, trade and travel. As exotic items came from the Far East, the Greeks and Romans marvelled at the different spices that came to be used in various forms. With the need to seek elsewhere, spice routes emerged and Europeans traveled far to seek them out. This permitted the discovery of new lands and peoples, which influenced how the world would progress. Standage explains how new ideas about food production also arose, as the Chinese, Indian, and Native American communities were studied, which influenced European ideas for how they might improve their own crops and cooking techniques. Much as the British Empire was solidified with the sale and exporting of tea, the Dutch took a position of power when it came to spices, using their colonial interests to procure and distribute various spices. With the arrival of some products from the New World, came new and interesting foods to the Old World, many of which were exotic and never dreamed up by Europeans. The emergence of pineapple in England not only denoted a posh new fruit for the locals to try, but also showed how Charles II held sway over his colonial lands. Standage explores the importance of these new foodstuffs and how they became central to the advancement of world history. Much time is spent discussing the great potato, which was seen as both something for the upper classes (as the French used them in glorious ways) and of the abject poor, who would live on them when nothing else could be grown. However, with all these new items came new issues, including rot and famine, which cost many people their lives and livelihood.

Standage continues his detailed analysis by showing how food could also be used as a weapon, killing more than any traditional military tool. Napoleon’s miscalculations when invading Russia in 1812 cost him greatly because French troops ran out of food and could not continue, forcing the ‘little general’ to retreat after trying to take Moscow for his own. Power also came in the form of communist collectives, where Stalin and Mao tried to use agricultural plans to support their respective countries, but things became dire and massive famines ensued. Standage explores this at length and leaves the reader in little doubt that suffering through lack of food proved to be more punishing than any musket or bullet. The last portion of the book looks to the green movement of food, its growth with the assistance of some outside forces. Nitrogen has been proven to be a much needed substance to spur along the growth and healthy development of crops. The controversies around fertilizer and modification outside of the ‘normal’ means is surely one that continued into the 21st century, but there is no easy answer. Many have tried to create bumper crops, but at what cost? Food may be the sustaining force that keeps humans alive, but does there come a time when too much tinkering makes our food worse for us, rather than better? This is highly thought provoking piece that kept me completely hooked until the very last page. I love learning so much and Tom Standage delivers in this literary ten course feast. Recommended to those who enjoy learning about the nonfood uses of food, as well as the reader with a passion for history of a different variety.

I mentioned in a previous review of a Tom Standage piece how much looking at history and world events through unorthodox means makes me appreciate it even more. The author does a masterful job throughout, filling this book with information open to multiple interpretations on a subject few would likely have expected to be its foundation. While only offering a brief outline of his arguments above, I have tried to show how Standage uses an array of concrete examples to substantiate his hypotheses in each chapter. These twelve strong chapters explore the history of a food based theme and then discuss social, political, and economic impacts on world history. The writing is not overly academic, but there is also more than a superficial analysis of the topics at hand, requiring more than a passing interest in the topic to really extract all that Standage has to offer. I was pleased to have been so enthralled and to be able to push through as my mind tries to understand the topics Standage puts on offer. I will need a while to truly comprehend all that I read and how food has made such a difference.

Kudos, Mr. Standage, for an amazing reading experience. I hope others will find your books and discover the magic you weave into every page!

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

Still Life (DCI Karen Pirie #6), by Val McDermid

Nine stars

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

Happy to return to Scotland for another DCI Karen Pirie procedural, I look to Val McDermid, whose storytelling is second to none. In a jam-packed story with more twists that even I could have predicted, McDermid spins a tale that will keep readers guessing throughout. When a body is fished out of the water, a call to the local police brings DS Daisy Mortimer to the scene. After checking for identification, DS Mortimer learns that the victim appears to be a French citizen and begins her inquiries. The plot thickens when she learns that the man was not Paul Allard, as previously thought, but James Auld. Things take an even more interesting turn when Auld is known to be the prime suspect in his brother’s death, a high-ranking bureaucrat at the Scottish Office in London. All this sounds like a case for the Historic Cases Unit and DCI Karen Pirie. As she tries to sort out her complicated personal life, DCI Pirie is called to consult on another case, one where skeletal remains were found in the back of a camper van of a woman who died in an accident a few years before. While she seeks to put all the pieces together there, DCI Pirie is handed the Allard/Auld case and agrees to work alongside DS Mortimer. The case sees them head to Paris to get a little background on the victim, where they learn that Auld had been living off the radar after tiring of all the accusations back home. After discovering some photographs that do not make sense, Pirie and Mortimer return to Scotland and work the case from that angle, touching base with the victim’s former sister-in-law. While this is taking place, the bones in the other investigation are seemingly identified and the case takes a turn towards a commune where the victim and her girlfriend spent some time, though they are said to have left while they were both alive and well. Rumours swirl around that there could have been a case of presumed identity, but the facts are still too circumstantial at this point. While Pirie and Mortimer work the Auld case, DC Jason Murray handles the skeleton case and chases down a lead on his own. With both cases gaining momentum, a twist or two will leave all those involved wondering what they might have missed and how two killers could get away with murder. A formidable addition to the series that kept me wanting more with each chapter. Recommended to those who are fans of Val McDermid and this series, as well as those who love a good police procedural.

When it comes to reading novels by Val McDermid, the reader must make a pledge to stick it out until the end. This is not only because her books are long, but there is so much going on that it is not until the last chapter that all finally comes together. DCI Karen Pirie returns for her sixth case and she has not lost any of her lustre since the series started. Still trying to find the balance between work and personal life, Pirie struggles to make the pieces come together. Her personal life is strained throughout the book, which is revealed in moments when the action is less intense. However, she doesn’t let this deter her from cracking on and getting to the heart of the cases before her. Pirie may be work focussed, but she is not one to miss the small things, which help solve crimes and keep the Historic Cases Unit on the map. The addition of DS Daisy Mortimer was key to this novel’s success. A great cop in her own right, Mortimer is learning from the best when she is paired with Pirie. The reader sees a great deal of her work ethic in the novel, with glimpses of personal backstory. One can only wonder if Mortimer will make her way over to Historic Cases, as she seems keen to be where the ‘real action’ tends to find itself. The handful of other characters add a wonderful depth to the story and kept me reading, if only to see how some of them would develop throughout the tale. McDermid mixes the Scottish flavouring of this novel with a few other locales and creates the perfect mix, with characters to match. The story itself was captivating and held my attention throughout. McDermid is able to write in such a way that both cases receive much attention and neither pushes the other out of the way. With a number of key twists, the story moves in directions one might not have first presumed, which only adds to the mystery and wonderment as the reader delves deeper. A sprinkling of politics, the art world, and even some international travel all keep the story full of action until the final reveal. I can only hope there is more DCI Pirie to come, as this was surely one of the best police procedurals I have read in a long while.

Kudos, Madam McDermid, for a stellar piece of writing. I am happy to see you still have it and keep your fans buzzing with excitement.

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

The Last Agent (Charles Jenkins #2), by Robert Dugoni

Nine stars

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

Showcasing his abilities outside of police procedurals, Robert Dugoni returns to add another layer to one of his wonderful standalone novels. Thrilling readers throughout this piece of espionage, Dugoni shows that he can craft sensational characters and keep the plot moving along, even behind enemy lines. After his gruelling experience in Russia, Charles Jenkins has no interest in returning. His family is priority #1 and, with a new baby, he does not want to risk upsetting his wife. So, when a CIA operative approaches him, Jenkins is not interested in the message. The Agency is still wondering about their Seven Sisters project, more specifically the Russian CIA operative who helped Jenkins while he was there. Paulina Ponomayova sacrificed her safety to ensure that Jenkins made it out and, if she is still alive, the Agency wants to know about it. Jenkins gives this some thought, wondering if he might be able to extract Paulina and save her as she did for him. A long chat with his wife leads them to understand the need for one final sacrifice. As Jenkins is placed in the region, he will have to make his way on Russian soil and work his magic. Keen to show off his skills, Jenkins boldly enters the country and drops numerous breadcrumbs regarding his presence, which raises many red flags with the FSB, Russia’s Security Agency. As Jenkins seeks to lure them to what he is doing, he touches base with Viktor Federov, the FSB agent whose failure to apprehend Jenkins the first time left him in major trouble. While Federov is leery at first, he soon realises that Jenkins is seeking to redeem them both for troubles their respective countries placed at their feet. They devise a plan to locate Paulina and try to get her out of the country as quickly as possible. After making contact and playing a little sleight of hand, the mission to leave the country begins. This is surely more difficult, as the FSB are everywhere and Jenkins has made himself persona non grata already, particularly to Adam Efimov, who is tasked with locating Jenkins and bringing him in. As Jenkins, Federov, and Ponomavova try to flee Moscow, it will be a fight to the end to get to safety. With the Russian winter upon them, any misstep could cost them their lives in the cold, even before Efimov puts bullet lodges into their skulls. A chilling spy thriller that I had not expected from Robert Dugoni. This is one novel sure to receive much attention for the foreseeable future. Recommended to those who enjoy Dugoni’s work, as well as the reader who finds modern espionage to their liking.

I have been a fan of Robert Dugoni’s work for a while, which usually focuses on legal or police matters. However, this novel has all the elements of a new genre for the author, something he seems to have mastered as well. The attention to detail is evident throughout and the reader is sure to feel as though they are right there, with the ever-developing plot. Charles Jenkins takes centre stage again, though he is slightly more reticent to toss himself into the middle of a dangerous situation. Burnt by his own government, Jenkins wants nothing to do with helping the Agency, but as soon as Paulina Ponomayova‘s name comes up, he knows that he must help. The reader can see some of the emotional connections Jenkins has made in this second novel, though he remains highly work-focussed for much of the book. There is some character development, surely, but the intricate details of his plan hatching steal much of the limelight in this piece. Jenkins does a formidable job, even when faced with adversity, keeping the story moving throughout. A handful of great secondary characters help depict the clash, particularly within Russia. Dugoni’s detail when forming these characters works so well and the reality of the situation becomes apparent throughout, which serves to permit the reader to feel a part of the action. One cannot read this book and not feel that Adam Efimov played a key antagonist role, depicting both the traditional Russian and one whose new connections with the current regime have helped him climb the proverbial ladder. The story began strong and kept getting better. I cannot say enough about Dugoni’s ability to cobble together something so air-tight and yet not forget to inject some needed humour throughout. A modern Cold War thriller for sure, which had the elements of reality sewn into its plot. Using great dialogue and multiple languages kept the reader feeling as though they were standing beside the characters and living each moment. True, I must rely on Dugoni to have used proper lingo and phraseology, but I will leave linguistic nitpicking to others, as I surely felt this added a wonderful flavour to the overall piece. While I do love the Tracy Crosswhite series, this was a wonderful break and shows me that Robert Dugoni’s versatility is surely something to earn him an even larger fan base. Plus, the cliffhanger ending leaves things open for a trilogy, should everyone want to play along.

Kudos, Mr. Dugoni, for another wonderful book. You never cease to impress and I cannot wait to see what else you have up your sleeve.

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

The Coast-to-Coast Murders, by James Patterson and J.D. Barker

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley; James Patterson; J.D Barker; and Little Brown and Company for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

This first-time collaborative effort shows that some authors have amazing chemistry with James Patterson, adding depth and intrigue to a novel that keeps the reader enthralled until the very end. With great psychological build-up and stunning development throughout, James Patterson and J.D. Barker take the reader on the most intense journey as a serial killer is revealed. When Michael Kepler (Fitzgerald) is called back to his apartment by a nosy neighbour, he suspects it’s a burst water pipe that has flooded his place. When he discovers the body of a woman in his tub, he is not only disturbed, but highly agitated. After calling the authorities, it is soon discovered that this cross-country truck driver may not be telling the truth, as the victim seems to know him quite well. Her apartment is full of photos of Michael and they seem to have shared quite the intense relationship. However, Michael is sure he has never met her, even if a great deal of evidence says otherwise. When he is taken into custody and questioned, the attorney provided for him violently helps Michael flee LAPD custody and off they go. Michael’s sister, Megan, receives many calls from her brother and is trying to piece this all together. Both are unsure what’s going on, but they fear telling their mother, a renowned psychologist, who is sure to judge them both harshly. When FBI Special Agent Jessica Gimble is alerted to the crimes, she reaches out to let the LAPD know that Michael Fitzgerald is a wanted serial killer for many murders across the country, the manhunt is on to find him. As the story progresses, Michael tries to assert his innocence, though there is something about his past that leads him to second guess himself. Adopted at four by a wily psychiatrist, Michael becomes a test subject in a number of highly intense studies based on his horrible early childhood. As the chase continues, Megan tries her best to help a brother she thought she knew well, but has come to believe that he might be the monster everyone seems certain he has become. It will take a great deal of effort to keep Michael out of the hands of authorities, though the bodies are piling up and there does not seem to be any way to explain it all away…. or is there? A chilling story that will take the reader on one of the most far-flung rides of their reading career, as the pieces slowly fall into place. Stunning in its delivery, this is sure to show that James Patterson does still have some magic left in him, depending on who is collaborating with him. Recommended to those who love the work of J.D. Barker, as well the reader whose enjoyment of intense psychological thrillers is second to none.

I always enjoy a great psychological thriller, particularly when it is penned by one of the greats in the genre. This unique collaboration has proven to be one of the great surprises of my reading adventure this year and it works so very well, as the story flows smoothly without being too quick to end. Michael Kepler/Fitzgerald is quite a complex character, though all becomes a little more understandable as the story progresses. Taken from a horrific situation, Michael was placed in an institution and then adopted by a family who saw him more as a lab rat than anything else. He is intensely scarred by the experience, which is revealed throughout the piece, especially as he remembers bits of his past. There is some obvious development to his character throughout, though it remains somewhat questionable as more is revealed about his life and the murders he is said to have committed. The banter between Michael and Megan is also key to this story, as she takes on a secondary protagonist role in this piece, helping to fill in many of the gaps the reader might not understand otherwise. This pair help lead the story in many curious directions, though the full cast of characters do a wonderful job of keeping the reader entertained throughout this long and meandering piece. There are so many angles and such flavouring of the narrative that the characters all play an integral role in the story’s overall success. This is definitely one of the most thrilling rides I have taken in a novel in a long time, as the story gains momentum, so did my interest. While the size of the book may seem daunting, the action and constant story development help to propel things forward. Using the usual Patterson quick chapter recipe, the reader can tackle large chunks without feeling the onerous task of wading through this piece, finding a rhythm and working with it until all is revealed. There are also numerous perspectives told in the story, offering the reader an even more intense look at the overall development of the piece as it progresses. Patterson and Barker have so many interesting ideas and some strong subplots in this piece, there is no doubt that this is sure to be one of those novels people talk about for months to come, while many hope to see another piece by these two heavyweights before too long. I am still trying to wrap my head around what I read and hope others feel as strongly as I do about this novel.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Barker, for this sensational piece. While there is always a gamble when collaborating, you two have hit the nail on the head and I cannot wait to see what’s next!

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

Total Power (Mitch Rapp #17), by Kyle Mills

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Kyle Mills, and Simon & Schuster Canada for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Kyle Mills continues to impress as he extends the series first created by Vince Flynn. Taking the terror threat to American soil, Mitch Rapp is forced to work against the clock with a weapon few would likely have considered, against a terrorist who holds all the cards. When whispers of a new ISIS threat reaches Mitch Rapp, he and his team slink off to Spain to intercept those who are said to be responsible. Back in Washington, a congressional committee receives a detailed report from the Department of Energy, outlining the ramifications of a complete takeover of the power grid system and a request for additional money to prevent this. While many scoff at the possibility, someone in the shadows has been orchestrating just such an act and is prepared to flip the proverbial switch. When Rapp and his team complete what they hope will be a strong delay tactic for any local strike, they soon learn the sleight of hand has failed. A secondary cell is at work to begin knocking the power grid offline, which could take years to fix and leave the country completely without power. This would not only mean use of candles and generators, but also the need to scour for food, petrol, and even basic plumbing. Americans would surely not survive long after losing this essential part of their lives. As the power goes out on Christmas Day, panic ensues and Rapp is sent in to find the culprit and determine how to fix this. As a Russian operative seeks answers as well, she knows that she will be hunted down, knowing the person behind the entire operation. Things take a nasty turn as the temperature drops and Rapp must race to procure a set of codes to bring things back on-line, or wait like the rest of the country to die a horrible death. Thought-provoking and chilling in equal measure, Mills has certainly outdone himself with this piece. Recommended to those who have long enjoyed the Mitch Rapp series, as well as readers who like terror thrillers with a unique perspective.

Having long enjoyed Mitch Rapp’s adventures, I had hoped that there would be another waiting for me in this book. Kyle Mills did not disappoint at all, choosing something that resonates closer to home and proves to be even more destructive. Mitch Rapp is back in the driver’s seat, serving as a protagonist without humour or patience. He has lived a long life of protecting his country and it is time to do it again. Seeking a quieter life, the reader sees some of his personal life coming together, though there is always the rough exterior that serves as a protective shell. Rapp is here to do a job and that’s what he will do, leaving much character development and backstory to others. The handful of secondary characters serve the story well, offering insights not only into plot development, but also the intricacies of such a unique (and horrific) terror plot. The reader can see how all the perspectives come together, creating a strong story that still has a sense of realistic portrayal. The story itself was quite strong and held my attention throughout. I enjoyed the descriptions of the fallout from power loss and how America (and parts of Canada, connected to the grid) would be completely devastated. Mills has surely done his research and keeps the story on point, sending chills up the spines of those readers who choose to personalise what they read. As the Rapp series continues to inch along and there is surely some discussion about how to tie things off, Mills offers new life to a character who has seen and done most everything. I’m eager to see what transpires in the next few years and how this series will evolve or come to a solid conclusion.

Kudos, Mr Mills, for a winner in the midst of a busy series. I hope you have a few more ideas, as I am always eager to see what Mitch Rapp will discover next.

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

All the Devils Are Here (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #16), by Louise Penny

Nine stars

This was my first NetGalley audiobook and I hope it is not the last. I loved it!

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Louise Penny, and Macmillan Audio for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Louise Penny returns with the sixteenth novel in this gripping series, which takes the reader out of the comforts of Three Pines. There is, however, no lack of action or intrigue in this book, as Armand Gamache is as sharp as ever. Having traveled to Paris to witness the birth of his granddaughter, Armand and Reine-Marie Gamache have organized a family dinner. Alongside the Gamaches and their respective spouses, is Stephen Horowitz, Armand’s godfather and a billionaire financier. When Stephen is run over as they leave the meal, he is rushed to the hospital, though Armand Gamache feels this is anything but a random accident After Armand and Reine-Marie make their way to Stephen’s apartment, they discover the body of a recently murdered man, with the killer’s lingering cologne still in the air. Armand brings his former second-in-command and current son-in-law, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, into his inner circle and wonders if he might be able to help. Burdened with his own job, Beauvoir will do his best to assist in the informal investigation, though he is already juggling his job with an engineering firm, still baffled as to how he landed the position. While the authorities take charge, the investigation spans most of Paris, as Gamache soon discovers that nothing is quite as it seems and that no one can be trusted. In a case that has many twists that reveal countless layers, Armand Gamache will end up neck-deep in the investigation, though he is supposed to be on holiday. The deeper he trolls, the more he learns, though some of it will surely be secrets he wishes he had never unearthed. As Stephen Horowitz clings to life, someone lurks in the shadows with a motive to snuff out the life of this elderly man. Who that is will come out in the most telling of ways. Penny outdoes herself again with this piece, which will keep the reader riveted until the final reveal. Recommended to those who love this series, as well as readers who cannot pass up a superbly crafted mystery.

I got hooked on these books when someone recommended I try the first one and have not been able to stop. While they are surely binge-worthy, Louise Penny writes in such a way that reading one and spacing them out works just as well. Even though the bucolic setting for the story has drastically shifted, there is no lack to the action of key characters. Armand Gamache is back in his role of protagonist, as sharp as he’s ever been. There is a great deal of backstory and personal growth that the reader will witness throughout this piece, beginning with some key flashbacks to set the scene between himself and Stephen Horowitz. There are also some key points throughout where Gamache spends some face to face time with his eldest child, Daniel, as they discuss the deterioration of the relationship and how it might be mended. Penny keeps the Chief Inspector in his role effectively, even though he is out of his jurisdiction, and the reader can revel in the magic of the detective work. There are others who play a key role in the story and their presence flavours the tale. The reader is sure to enjoy the many names and characters used to add depth to the plot’s development. I was a tad concerned when I realised that the story would not be in Quebec, but the busy streets of Paris. This was soon allayed as Louise Penny was able to craft something that pulls the reader into the middle and develops a mystery that would not fall flat. There are so many layers to this piece and the reader will have to sift through a great deal, but the final prize is worth the effort. With a mix of chapter lengths, there is no telling how the twists will emerge or what awaits within the pages, but Penny does not skimp at any point, offering series fans with something they have waited to see for many novels. Crisp, poignant, and without fillers, Penny delivers and provides fans proof that she has much more to say with this series. Here’s hoping she sticks with it, as I know she has many who adore her work! Robert Barthhurst remains a stunning narrator and I cannot say enough about his clear and crisp delivery of the story.

Kudos, Madam Penny, for another stellar piece. Please keep the ideas coming and know you have many who hang on your every word.

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

A History of the World in 6 Glasses, by Tom Standage

Eight stars

A well-written book is sure to quench the thirst of a curious reader, full of facts or action that keeps them coming back for more. But, how did people throughout history quench their literal thirst and how do the beverage choices made throughout history help define the advancements the world has seen since its inception? Tom Standage seeks to answer these and many other questions as he examines how six beverages (beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and Coca-Cola) help to explain global advancements since humans first inhabited the earth. Standage takes readers as far back as possible to explore how beer could have influenced history so completely. A combination of water and cereal grains, beer was an accidental discovery that exemplifies the sedentary nature of humans. Crops took time to grow and required people to stay in one place for a period of time. The fermentation process also took a period to develop, which required people not to roam freely across the land. Beer could be made and consumed by anyone, which differed greatly from wine. More of a high-class beverage, wine was much more complex to make and costly to consume. As Standage explains, it was developed by the Romans and Athenians, who modified it and created lavish drinking parties around its consumption. Standage also argues that wine helped propel Christianity around the world, as the beverage is at the heart of the religion’s central symbolic theme of the Blood of Christ. Moving from simple fermentation to a more complex system called distillation, spirits came onto the scene and served to propel the world ahead even more. With use of scientific brewing and the addition of sugar to help the naturally impeded yeasts found in fruits or grains, spirits were a more complex and fiery beverage. The need for sugars helped to foster its cultivation, which was back-breaking work. What better way to have sugar harvested than through the use of slaves, which Standage explains helped bring spirits to the New World. Caribbean sugar cane was cultivated by African slaves, creating a tumultuous time in history to facilitate the creation of many new and interesting beverages. An equally popular drink in the form of coffee emerged, which created an enlightenment of sorts. Coffee became the drink of academics and the intellectual, as they would gather to discuss their ideas at coffee houses well in the night. The fostering of discussions, much as wine had done for the Romans and Athenians, came from coffee and, to this day, the correlation between the beverage and higher understanding is accepted. Tea, on the other hand, proved not only to be a drink that brought about medicinal properties, but helped Britain cement its power in the world. While the British Empire gained in importance, the British East India Company developed a worldwide supply of tea and marketed it as best as possible. This power remained strong for centuries, as the British remained at its centre. However, all good things must be replaced with something else, leaving Coca-Cola to move from a pharmaceutical remedy to the drink of America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Its production skyrocketed and was soon symbolic of America, which developed into freedom before long. American troops all over the world sought the beverage and wherever the US military found itself, freedom was said to be as well. Standage talks at length about the Soviet push-back against Coca-Cola, though the Iron Curtain was no match for the power of the mighty soda pop. In a book that leaves the reader’s head spinning as they reach for their beverage of choice, one can only wonder what the next big drink will be, and how its impact will shape the future. Standage posits his guess in the epilogue, but you’ll have to read to find out. Recommended to those who love history told through a unique lens, as well as the reader who loves to learn as they are entertained.

I quite enjoy looking at history and world events through unorthodox means, particularly when I had not thought to do so myself. Tom Standage does a masterful job at creating this perspective and fills this book with a great deal of information that can be interpreted in many ways. While I only skimmed the surface of his discussions in the paragraph above, the fact that six mere beverages can truly tell so much about how humans have evolved over time is amazing. Standage uses concrete examples to substantiate his arguments and keeps the discussion interesting at all turns. He has little concern about offending, as he speaks openly and frankly at every turn. His attention to detail is like few other books I have read in the past and the fact that topics flow so easily makes the book even more interesting. With twelve strong chapters (two on each beverage), Standage explores the history of the beverage and then discusses its social, political, and economic impact on the world. This permits the reader to better understand his arguments and almost demands taking a step back to see how the pieces all come together. I am pleasantly surprised about how ensconced I was with the arguments presented and can only hope that his other works on the subject of world history are just as captivating. Now then, I need a Guinness to synthesise some of what I read… or maybe a dark roast coffee…. no, a strong tea! Well, while I decide, go find this book and see what you think for yourself.

Kudos, Mr. Standage, for an amazing read. I can only hope other adventurous readers take the time and enjoy this as much as I have.

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

Death Comes But Twice (Carlyle and West Victorian Mysteries #2), 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.

When I was given the chance to read an early copy of David Field’s newest novel, I knew it was not something I wanted to ignore. This second book in his new Victorian crime series is packed with action and a great deal of information from the time period. Field keeps the reader’s attention while spinning an duplicitous tale at a time when forensic advancements were afoot in the field of police work. When Dr. James Carlyle, a surgeon at the local London Hospital, receives a new body for autopsy, something familiar has him second guessing himself. The man before him is already dead, or was before his poisoning with digitalis. Carlyle reaches out to his sometimes colleague, Matthew West, who is a local Wesleyan street preacher. West’s interest is piqued, as he witnessed the man’s execution not long ago. Wondering if the hanging was a ruse, West returns to investigate a little more. While this is taking place, Dr. Carlyle’s daughter, Adelaide, is mounting her campaign to run for the London County Council, the first female candidate ever to do so. Without universal suffrage, she will have to appeal to the men of the district, many of whom do not take her seriously. With West agreeing to nominate her, Adelaide has high hopes of making a difference and cleaning up London as best she can. When news emerges that a second person with ties to the hanging turns up dead, Carlyle and West begin to wonder if a cover-up is taking place, though they cannot be sure who might be orchestrating it. West receives an interesting proposition by a wealthy London businesswoman, one Mary Miller, who wishes him to work with her to abolish capital punishment. While he is intrigued, there is something not entirely right about her. As West and Carlyle dig a little deeper, they discover that Mary Miller has quite the past, including an indirect tie to West himself. When more men turn up dead, the rush is on to discover who is killing them and what faking an execution might have done to advance someone’s cause. Miller seems innocent, but there is too much in her past to simply dismiss her as a suspect With all this going on, West is also trying to secure himself permanent employment and something even more important. There is little time to wait and much to do before a killer slips away, with additional targets sure to follow. A stunning addition to this new series, Field exemplifies that he is not an author to be taken lightly. Recommended to those who love a quick-paced mystery, as well as the reader who loves Victorian crime thrillers.

Having first come to know about David Field when I read some of his earlier Victorian novels in another series, I was pleasantly surprised at how entertaining and educational his pieces can be. I was pleased to see Field return with a new series set in this same era, permitting him to expand on the mysteries of the time, but from a unique perspective. Field uses two strong protagonists, with hints that a third might be in the making. Matthew West continues to grow as a preacher to the poor and out of luck, though he seeks more. His amateur sleuthing ways work well for him as he tries to get to the bottom of the case at hand, though the pressure to find something permanent serves as an underlying bit of character development as the move gains momentum. West has some ideas, but is still too timid to take life by the horns and steer it in the direction he wants most. Dr. James Carlyle is both his colleague and polar opposite, with medical knowledge and life experience that makes him the more grounded of the two. Carlyle educates West (and the reader) to some of the new forensics being used, something called ‘fingerprints’, as well as the details of pharmaceutical poisonings. Carlyle reveals some interesting facts about the case, where possible, while also trying to parent Adelaide, who continues to stir up the pot with her women’s rights movement and attempts to win a seat on the London County Council. Adelaide becomes a third protagonist throughout this piece, pushing her ideas and keeping a constant eye on Matthew West, as their romantic chemistry seems to be building, though neither is ready to admit it to the other. Field uses other characters to enrich the reading experience, offering a great deal of flavouring to an exciting story. With an interesting premise, Field pulls on some of the sentiments surrounding capital punishment, women’s rights, and the dawn of forensic advancements to create this story that is as easy to read as it is captivating. With a mixture of chapter lengths, Field keeps the reader guessing what is to come with each plot reveal. The narrative flows really well and is peppered with great cockney slang to add a layer of realism to the banter between characters. I am eager to see what else the West-Carlyle duo (trio) undertake in upcoming pieces, especially with some of the revelations in the final chapter of this novel.

Kudos, Mr. Field, for keeping me entertained from cover to cover. I just saw the announcement of the series’ third novel and cannot wait to get my hands on it soon!

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

The Princess of Scotland (Six Tudor Queens #5.5), by Alison Weir

Eight stars

Alison Weir’s collection of short stories that layer themselves between the Six Wives of Henry VIII series have proven to be quite entertaining and highly educational. The short pieces bind together the biographies of the six queens, with some great focus on minor characters whose lives are most likely forgotten in the larger narrative. This piece features Henry VIII’s niece, Margaret Douglas, and some of her passionate encounters when she lived at court. Having had quite the interesting upbringing, Margaret has seen life on both the English and Scottish sides of the border. Her mother, married off at a young age, has kept her ties with the English, but still has a passion for the Scottish way of life, where her son sits upon the Scottish throne. When Margaret meets Lord Thomas Howard, she is smitten and cannot hide her feelings. However, with Thomas’ connection to Anne Boleyn, he is sent away to the Tower. Margaret’s connection to him sees her sent there as well, possibly not protected from the ultimate punishment. However, in a moment of kindness, Henry VIII excuses her from her ‘crimes’ and she is free to live in an abbey. However, Thomas does not have the same luck and dies of an illness, which leaves Margaret heartbroken. After a few queens spend a short time on the throne next to Henry VIII, Margaret is back at court and serving Katheryn Howard. She catches the eye of a gentleman in the King’s household and cannot help herself. Even though she has been scolded and told that she could face quite the punishment, Margaret Douglas cannot deny her base emotions. Weir fans are in for another treat with this piece, which mixes some essential backstory with the wonder of a young woman in love! Recommended to series fans who need something to tide them over, as well as Tudor fans of all types.

Weir’s mastery of all things Tudor continues to impress me as I read anything she writes. No matter who serves as the protagonist, Weir is able to spin a tale that is both addictive and a must-read. Much of the background for her work reveals a substantial collection of lesser-known characters whose lives make for some great fiction writing. Weir’s writing can best be called dazzling and entertaining, as the reader regularly seems satisfied while wanting more with each story. Weir seems full of ideas to add to her growing list of publications and keeps the reader wanting to learn. A great piece to pass the time over a lingering cup of something, or on a rainy afternoon. I am excited to get my hands on more of these short stories, which will help pass the time until I can read the rest of the Six Wives series.

Kudos, Madam Weir, for another winner. You never seem to run out of things to say and I cannot thank you enough for sharing them so readily!

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