The Curse of the Hungerfords (Six Tudor Queens #4.6), by Alison Weir

Eight stars

Alison Weir has created a number of the short stories that layer themselves between the Six Wives of Henry VIII series. All of these pieces pull together the biographies of the six queens, with some interesting minor (and perhaps previously unknown) characters that help enrich the reader. This piece is no exception, as it features Anne Bassett and Agnes Hungerford, both of whom ended up living in the family residence and discussed some scandalous activities. Anne Bassett served at court for a number of years, having been in the household of four queens during Henry VIII’s reign. While in that position, she had a chance to engage in a secret tryst with Henry and could have become one of his wives, thereby elevating her to the role of Queen of England. This was not to be and she was forced to marry another. Now, she is with child and has gone to the family chapel, at the Hungerford Estate. There, she prays and awaits another of the Lady Hungerfords, Agnes. It is said that Agnes had some not so pleasant happenings in recent years past. A second narrative throughout this piece discusses those goings-on, which led Agnes to great trouble and time in the Tower. Could Anne have the power to conjure up something bad for those who crossed her? What might she do and how will it affect those at court? Another great piece that keeps Weir fans sated as they await another major biography. Recommended to those who have read and followed the series to date, as well as Tudor fans of all types.

Weir’s mastery of all things Tudor leaves readers of her work regularly in awe. Creating a tale of minor characters does not lessen its impact on the larger series, acting as a useful bridge between major stories. Much of the research Weir has done in relation to all things Tudor comes together here and forces the reader to delve a little deeper to understand some of the invisible threads and tie the larger dynastic tale together with ease. Weir dazzles and entertains the reader regularly, keeping them wanting more, while also being thankful for the great new information to add to their understanding of this most complex time in English history. Weir never seems out of ideas to fill her publications and keep readers learning without feeling too burdened. A slightly longer piece, but one that was just as exciting, perfect for an afternoon lounging on the sofa or on a short trip. I am eager 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: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Peter the Great: His Life and World, by Robert K. Massie

Nine stars

When I want to learn a great deal in a single book, I turn to a biography. When I want to be completely inundated with information, I look to Robert K. Massie and his handful of well-crafted biographies of the Romanovs. Not for the weak of arm, Massie offers up this lengthy and detailed biography of Peter the Great, whose reign in the late 17th and into the 18th centuries left a significant mark on Russia and the world as a whole.

Peter Alekseyevich Romanov was born to Tsar Alexis and his second wife, Natalya Naryshkina, in 1682. Named for the apostle, Peter was a robust blessing to a royal family that was plagued with issues when it came to potential heirs. The tsar struggled to see how his bloodline would continue as rulers of the country, as his male heirs were either weak or died at an early age. Peter’s birth ushered in new hope for Russia and the Romanovs as a dynastic entity. Massie speaks of Peter’s upbringing in some detail, offering up random facts that the reader may find highly amusing. One such fact, that the royals used dwarves as servants and playmates to the young children to acclimate them to seeing ‘small people’. Peter’s health was accompanied by a great height, topping out at 6 foot seven inches in adulthood. While he towered over others, Peter was quite slim, which made him appear less than rugged, as one might expect a ruler to be. However, he was always quite keen to learn and showed much aptitude when given tasks. This curiosity and active nature would prove useful in the coming years.

When his father died at a young age, Peter was thrust into the position of tsar at ten. Massie talks about the political struggle for the next ruler and how many favoured the young Peter, while others wanted Ivan, one of the surviving sons from the first marriage. Both boys became co-tsars, with a regency put into place for a time. Peter revelled in this, as he was able to fine tune his skills and was quite hands-on. He was said to have taken to sailing and rubbed elbows with the sailors on many occasions, wanting to be ‘one of the boys’ and not treated as royalty. Ivan was sickly and chose to stay out of the limelight, passing his days and keeping the title only because it was pushed upon him.

When Peter became the sole Tsar of Russia on Ivan’s death, he began to shape the country in his own image. He chose to leave the confines of the country to explore Europe and help connect Russia with the outside world. No tsar had ever left the country in peacetime, though Peter was happy to break that tradition. With no diplomatic footprint anywhere, Peter assembled a group of men to travel with him and called it the Embassy Tour, in which he went to see how some of the European powers were engaging in technology, politics, and diplomacy. Peter knew that there was an instability across the continent and wanted to forge some allies ahead of any outbreak of war. Massie offers some interesting mini-biographies as Peter travelled, including Louis XIV (the Sun King) of France and William of Orange of the Netherlands and England. The trip, which took eighteen months, offered Peter a view of the area and helped him better understand how backward Russia was in comparison to their neighbours. Much would have to change if the country were called upon share its insights, on and off the battlefield, in the coming years.

With this new insight into how he might make Russia a great power in the world, Peter sought to bring about a number of changes. He modernised things by pushing back against the strong hold the church had over citizens as it related to their dress, pulled the country out of an arcane calendar system (choosing to tie it to one used around the world), and took a look at having Russia make a political imprint on Europe. Massie turns his focus on King Charles XII of Sweden, another European leader who is soon to have interactions with Peter. The two leaders would clash over territory between their two countries repeatedly, fighting completely different styles. Massie goes into great detail with this interaction, as well as clashes with the Ottoman Empire, which the curious war history buff can soak up at their leisure.

Massie peppers the biography with mention of Peter’s progeny and wives. Beginning with Eudoxia Feodorovna Lopukhina, she and Peter married young and had a son, Alexei Petrovich. Alexei would become the tsarevich, a title and standing that would become important in the years to come. However, Peter and Eudoxia had a falling out and he sent her to a nunnery for the latter part of her life, which led to a great distancing between the tsar and tsarevich. Years later, while fighting the Swedes for the first time, Peter encountered the young Lithuanian Marta Samuilovna Skavronskaya, who would one day become Empress Catherine. Massie again mentions this second wife in passing, though letters between the two show the passion they had for one another. When Tsarevich Alexei grew to adulthood, he sought to reconnect with his father, if only to scold him for his long-standing estrangement. Peter and Alexei did enjoy some time together as the tsar continued to expand Russia’s power across Europe. However, there was an ongoing concern about Alexei’s fidelity towards his father, which proves to be a theme in the latter portion of the biography, to the point that Peter debated sending his progeny to a monastery, where he could do no harm. Things took a turn for the worse and Massie details what is sure to be one of the most surprising aspects of Peter’s life, showing how ruthless he could be to protect his position of tsar.

As the biography begins is climactic end, Massie illustrates the impact of Peter’s various decisions and how it helped to shape Russia throughout the rest of the Romanov Dynasty. As any ruler with a dash of narcissism, Peter began the creation of a new and vibrant city to depict the birth of a new Russia. While Moscow remained a key city, the building of St. Petersburg showed some of the grand fortifications that Peter felt would exemplify some of the strength Russia had shown in battle. There was also a new political system put in place, which included a Senate and colleges, that Massie aptly called a Council of Ministers, to assist Peter in running the massive country. While ultimate power rested with the tsar, the depth of experience in the political system helped Russia compete with its European brothers. One final decision made by Peter that shocked the country was to amend the act of succession, removing the idea of primogeniture, allowing the tsar to choose his successor. Peter turned to his long-time wife, who was crowned in an elaborate ceremony. Massie discusses this, as well as the decision’s fallout, in the final pages of the biography. Not long after Catherine’s coronation, Peter fell ill and died, leaving Russia with its first female ruler.

While I am no expert when it comes to Russian history, I feel as though I have a better understanding of the country and its modern place in the European power structure. This came from understanding Peter Alekseyevich Romanov and his choices to remove many of the impediments that kept Russia from being able to grow. Massie takes a great deal of time (over one thousand printed pages) to make his point and offers the reader many wonderful examples throughout the piece. Any reader with the patience to explore this biography is in for a treat, not least because Massie was required to write in direct opposition to many of the Soviet historians of the day. While Peter may not have been ideal from a Marxist perspective, as Massie argues throughout, his life was anything but dull. The amount of research that went into creating this book is astounding and there is no doubt that the thorough chapters used to depict much of his life add another layer to Massie’s already stellar work. I am not surprised that he won the 1981 Pulitzer Prize for this piece and am sure that many other accolades were bestowed upon him in the years that followed. While the tome is massive and the amount of information is overwhelming, anyone seeking to understand how Russia entered the modern era need look no further than Peter the Great and thank Robert K. Massie for paving the way!

Kudos, Mr. Massie, for this wonderful piece. I knew nothing of the man or how Russia evolved, but can speak with a little more authority now. I cannot wait to find and read more of your amazing work.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

The Grandmother’s Tale (Six Tudor Queens #3.5), by Alison Weir

Eight stars

In another of the short stories that layer themselves between her series of the Six Wives of Henry VIII, Alison Weir presents a short piece about the grandmother of Anne Boleyn. Margaret Boleyn has suffered much in the years after Anne’s execution, spending a great deal of time thinking about the treachery her own son brought upon the family and how Anne was forced to pay the ultimate price. Still living in Hever Castle, Margaret is visited by Archbishop Cranmer, who tells her one set of events, including that she will likely be able to stay. However, Margaret’s memories of her many years in the castle are interrupted when she receives word that Lord Cromwell has dispatched a number of the King’s men to attend her and prepare for her departure, as the Crown is taking the land for its own. With these mixed emotions, Margaret turns to her only remaining granddaughter, Mary. Returning from a visit to see the new queen, Mary shares that there is a great difference and that Anne will be greatly missed, even these five years on. Margaret is full of emotion and must decide what to do next, if she has any choice in the matter. An interesting piece that fills the gaps Weir purposely left for fans of her series. Recommended to those who have read and followed the series to date, as well as Tudor fans of all types.

Weir is a master of her art and there is little to say that is not covered therein. Her ability to weave a tale almost out of thin air is magical and she never is at a loss to share her ideas with readers. Pulling on much of the research she has done in relation to all things Tudor, Weir is able to come up with short stories like this—as well as full-length novels—that dazzle and keep the reader wanting more. Thankfully, Weir is never out of ideas and the array of publications would keep any Tudor fan busy for long stretches. This was a great piece, just the right length to read over a cuppa, but offers a great deal of information that keeps the reader thinking. I cannot wait 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: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Archduke Franz Ferdinand Lives!:A World Without World War I, by Richard Ned Lebow

Nine stars

The Butterfly Effect posits that an event on one side of the world could be responsible for something on the far side of the globe, or so I am led to believe. Richard Ned Lebow offers a similar, yet much more complex, argument in this book, which delves not only into alternate history, but also counterfactual developments in the 20th century. Lebow creates an argument about what might have happened if Archduke Franz Ferdinand had not been assassinated in June, 1914. His argument is that there would have been no Great War, which would have negated the rise of the Nazis, no Holocaust, and therefore no Israel. On its surface, this is enough of a brain cramp, but Lebow goes further. This academic geared book goes deeper to look at what the world might have been like in politics, science, social movements, and even the arts. Examining the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ worlds that could have come to pass, Lebow lays out some fairly convincing arguments that there would never have been a successful Russian revolution, therefore no communists that made a claim for government control. That would have negated a Cold War (as we know it). However, without the rush to find some technological solutions to adapt to wartime issues, things like blood coagulants and jet engines would have been shelved, crippling the world for a lot longer when it comes to some key breakthroughs. Lebow offers the reader some interesting counterfactual arguments about how the world might have been vastly different, but not entirely ‘better’ in the long run. Quite eye opening and well researched, this piece left me wondering and wanting to know more. Recommended to those who love alternate history pieces, as well as the reader who has a penchant for academic ‘what if’ theories.

Being a great fan of history, particularly areas that relate to politics, I was immediately drawn to this book. I have a great interest in the Great War, particularly because of all its political machinery and what brought it about. Lebow does a masterful job of recounting the events that led up to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and how things spiralled out of control from there. His ability to step back and posit a new narrative, doing so not out of thin air but with research and well-placed arguments, makes this book a must read for those who love pulling on the strings of ‘what if’ and ‘could it be’. Lebow offers both sides of the coin, arguing effectively that there would be good from a lack of the Great War, but also some truly negative developments. His arguments are not only sound, but they leave the reader to really think and wonder about an alternate reality that could have drastically changed where we are today. Using some of the necessary lingo to best tackle such academic discussions, Lebow presents his arguments in an easy to decipher way and does not pull any punches. While some may call it fantasising and silliness, if one gives some serious thought to what is being presented, it makes a great deal of sense. Full of concrete examples over seven long and detailed chapters, Lebow makes his case quite effectively. His work may not be for those who read for pure enjoyment, as there are some in-depth discussions that only history buffs will likely enjoy, but those who can stomach the read, it is well worth the time and effort.

Kudos, Mr. Lebow, for a truly eye and mind opening experience. I will have to read some more of you counterfactual pieces, as this was quite interesting for me to ponder.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Not in My Name, by Michael Coolwood

Seven stars

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

Always up for a political thriller, I turned to Michael Coolwood’s book, which mixes the fallout from a UK referendum on entering a war with Iraq with the murder of a few outspoken people. There are some great elements here, coaxed out as the story gains momentum, but it was missing the cutting edge I like in my thrillers. In the period immediately following a referendum on whether the United Kingdom should engage in a war against Iraq, both sides are still feeling the intensity of the results. With the YES side having squeaked out a victory with 52%, it would seem the next step is the send in the soldiers. However, Phoebe Green feels otherwise and has a handful of friends who wish to voice their concerns as well. As protests emerge on both sides of the issue, the intensity mounts and heated exchanges become common. Phoebe soon learns that one of her friends, Cassie, has been caught up in one of these clashes and was murdered. The police seem aware and have done some preliminary interviews, but are not working the case, choosing instead to let it go cold. Shocked by this, Phoebe and her friends seek to obtain answers before they make too many accusations. When their communal home in attacked and another friend is killed before them, the masked assailant flees before they can be caught. There is still no movement by the police, which irks Phoebe more than she can express. When she looks a little deeper, Phoebe discovers that there might be some anger within her own group and that one person might have gone rogue, bringing down the very people who seem to share their beliefs. Is there a killer amongst the sheep? What do the police know that they are not acting upon? All this and more remains at the heart of this thriller that cobbles together the ‘what-if’ scenario of a divisive vote sure to tear a country apart. Recommended to those who enjoy thrillers with many layers to their plots, as well as the reader who has a penchant for protest movements.

Many who have read a number of my past reviews will know that I love the political world, including books that weave a thriller angle into a well-delivered piece of writing. Michael Coolwood delivers what might be a loose interpretation to the BREXIT fiasco, but does get his point across about the divisive nature of referenda (and politics in general). Phoebe Green proves to be an interesting protagonist, though is not entirely captivating in her presentation. A strong-willed protestor against the recent fallout of a nationwide vote, she is thrust from a world of preaching about the wrongs of the government decision to become an amateur sleuth in solving the death of her friends. She seems to be a decent character, but I could not find myself connecting as much as I would have liked, which might also explain why I was not as engulfed in the story either. A number of other characters that fill the pages proved to be just as beige for me, though they are able to communicate their points effectively. Coolwood does a decent job in discussing politics and the intricacies of the protest movement. The curious reader will find some of his stances quite intriguing and he does create a moment of pause. A mix of chapter lengths help pull the reader along and then coaxes them to read a little more to see what transpires. While the book itself was not poorly penned, I simply could not find myself as hooked to the plot or much of the development throughout. It could be me, but I will leave it up to others to read and offer their own sentiments on this piece.

Kudos, Mr. Coolwood, for a thinking novel. I certainly can see things from a new perspective and may even come back to check out more of your work.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

She’s Missing, by K.E. Heaton

Seven stars

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

There is nothing like the rivalry of two siblings, particularly sisters who are always trying to outdo one another. In this quasi-thriller by K.E. Heaton, the sibling rivalry is like no other, with a decades-long mystery to add a little intrigue to the tale. Susie and Sally Fraser never much liked one another, spurned on by always trying to succeed and leave the other to fail. As the older sister, Susie carved out her niche and laid the groundwork for being the ‘good daughter’, while Sally was hopelessly left to fill shoes she could never fit. Sally became a tad more devious and, even at sixteen, was well on her way to wreaking havoc for her sister. After a night with the town’s rich boy, Susie has a blackout experience and is left unsure what might have happened. Keen to capitalise on this, Sally holds it over her sister and takes every opportunity to cause a stir. Sally seeks nothing if not to ruin her sister’s life and takes things to a whole new level. Seducing Susie’s husband and agreeing to a night of her own with playboy Tom Smith, Sally creates quite the reputation for herself. Sally disappears after her night with Tom, leaving no trace of where she might have gone. The police are called in to help with the missing person report and, using their 1976 technology, work the scene as best they can. Oddly enough, another young woman goes missing that same night, leaving some to wonder if a spree killer or kidnapper might have targeted this bucolic English town. As time passes, three suspects remains on the list for the police: an abusive father, Susie’s easily seduced husband, and the aforementioned Tom Smith. Months turn to years and the case goes from tepid to cold. However, Susie is forever curious and when an ex-cop knocks on her door four decades later, he has quite the story to tell. Whatever happened to Sally Fraser is sure to cause a stir, though the truth might be more than anyone expected. A great piece by Heaton that kept me turning pages and devouring it well into the night. Recommended to those who need a quick read with plenty of twists, as well as the reader looking for a mystery full of suspects with plenty of motive.

When the author reached out to me, I was not sure what to expect. I have had some success with peddled books, though there have also been some real doozies. Thankfully, K.E. Heaton’s piece was well-crafted and kept me wanting to learn more. The presumptive protagonist, Susie Fraser, is one whose character development begins from the opening pages. With a peppering of backstory, the reader learns about the struggles this elder sister had with Sally. Trying to forge a reputation all her own, Susie is stuck trying to cover-up the foibles Sally places before her, true for any rebellious younger sibling. Weaving quite the web for herself, Susie proves to be less than innocent, but steers clear of anything too outrageous. As the years pass, her curiosity surrounding Sally’s disappearance dissipates, but when the knock comes with news, she is is keen to find a final resolution to the entire drama. A number of other characters prove to be well placed throughout the story and offer their own influence on their quick paced quasi-thriller. The three aforementioned men who become suspects have ample reason to want Sally out of the way, though it will be up to the reader to determine which of them has the deadliest motive. I told a friend of mine about this book and could only call it a ‘tarty soap opera’, as Heaton creates something of this nature in the first half of the book. Between the competitive sexual escapades between the Fraser girls and others who dabble simply to get their own thrills, I was not sure how things would progress. In hindsight, I could see that Heaton was paving the way for the disappearance and motives to best explain why Sally Fraser might need to be made to disappear. The story was strong and flowed well, with chapters that left me wanting to read a little more. While things were going so well, I will admit that the book was a minefield of grammatical and typographical errors that, as a self-appointed Sheriff of the Grammar Police, left me wincing and has cost this review one full star. I cannot stomach poorly edited work, as it shows a great disrespect for the reader. While I would read more of K.E. Heaton’s work, I will need a formal disclaimer that his editor has been sacked and a new one found, properly vetted.

Kudos, Mr. Heaton, for a successful journey into the world of crime thrillers. Now then, use the profits you make and find an editor who will give your work the attention it deserves.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

The Darwin Affair, by Tim Mason

Eight stars

Tim Mason’s debut novel has all the ingredients for a success. The piece of historical fiction mixes the Victorian Era with the battle over creation versus evolution, peppering in a spree of heinous crimes that shock the general public. Wonderfully executed, Mason is sure to make waves should he have more ideas to share in the coming years. The year is 1860 and Detective Inspector Charles Field has a plum job with the Metropolitan Police, protecting Her Majesty Queen Victoria at a time when many have tried to take her life. When Field sees a local pickpocket along the route, he stops to arrest him, only to be waylaid from the real threat down the road. After shots are fired, the royal couple are safe and the attempted assassin is apprehended, but Prince Albert has nothing but harsh words for Field. Returning to deal with his original arrestee, Field sees that the boy has been killed and mutilated, which indicates a cover-up and likely conspiracy in the plot to kill the queen. In Oxford, an important intellectual debate will soon take place on the subject of Charles Darwin’s recent publication, On the Origin of Species. Church-folk are armed and ready to defend the miracle of God’s work, while the scientific community is coming around to accept and understand the basic argument of evolution. In the shadows, a killer lurks and has begun targeting people by brutally attacking them and remove an odd appendage. They will not be able to do this alone and so a young butcher’s apprentice is brought along to learn a new trade. While DI Field tries to get to the heart of the royal assassination attempt, he runs afoul of the highest-up within the Met and finds himself relieved of his duties. However, that does not dampen his desire to get to the core of what is going on, both with the royal couple and these horrific murders. Tracing a plot to strike again while Victoria and Albert are on the continent, Field will have to work quickly and locate the killer who appears to be hiding in plain sight. What reason would anyone have to want the royal couple dead and how can it be stopped before it’s too late? An exciting debut thriller that kept me reading well into the night to piece it all together. Recommended to those who love historical mysteries, as well as the reader who finds the mix of crime and science to be entertaining.

It was a random scanning of my Libby app that brought this book to my attention (proof positive that technology and the traditional library can be useful) and I am pleased that they did just that. Tim Mason’s book has everything a reader could need to become fully ensconced with a story until the final pages. Detective Inspector Charles Field proves to be a wonderful protagonist in this piece, able to cobble together the conspiracy while ruffling many feathers within the Met. He is said to be the real-life inspiration for Charles Dickens’ Detective Bucket, something that many people comment upon throughout the novel. At a time when police work is all about locating clues and using one’s intuition, Field does just that, skating a thin line when it comes to insubordination at times. Field is a loving husband, but also shows himself to be married to his work, even when it takes him into the most dangerous situations. There is a little backstory offered here, as well as a decent amount of character development, whetting the appetite of the reader in case there are more novels to come. Mason adds a number of key supporting characters, both those plucked from the history books of the time and others who are completely fictitious. All of those who grace the pages of this novel bring interesting perspectives to the larger narrative, be it on the subject of murder, royalty, or even the Darwinian commentary that serves as an underlying thread throughout. Mason effectively balances all his plots into the larger story and keeps the reader curious as the narrative gains momentum. The story was sound and handles a few subjects quite effectively. Mid-century England is full of change and inquisitive minds, all of which helps support a mystery that is not entirely straightforward. Mason uses his skill to weave a tale and yet forces the reader to wonder until the culminating reveal, where the pieces finally fall into place. This was surely one of those surprise novels that worked so well for me. I will be on the lookout for more by Tim Mason, as well as others who write within this genre.

Kudos, Mr. Mason, for a book I am sure to talk about for weeks to come. You have great talent and I hope others discover this book to share the excitement in brought me.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Campaigning Can Be Deadly (Cameron Chandler #2), by Charlotte Stuart

Eight stars

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

When I was recently looking for a lighthearted mystery, I came upon two novels by Charlotte Stuart, this latter one being the ARC I am about to review. Able to spin a unique mystery with a cast of ‘off the wall’ characters, Stuart again successfully delivers a solid story with decent plot twists. Cameron Chandler was an out of work widow, going stir-crazy with two children and an overbearing mother. After answering a Help Wanted sign at Penny-wise Investigations, Cameron found herself embarking on a new career as an investigator. Now, a year in, she and her colleague, Yuri Webster, have been hired by Nathan Knight’s Campaign for a House seat to look into who might be stealing lawn signs. When Cameron and Yuri follow a few teenagers back to the opposition campaign office, they think things are solved. However, wanting to bite off a bit more than they can chew, the investigators enter Bobby Mann’s headquarters and find a dead body. After the police arrive and exclude them from the list of suspects, Cameron and Yuri are told in no uncertain terms not to try solving the crime. Soon thereafter, they are hired by the Mann campaign to keep an eye on things and see what the police and media investigations uncover. While a little unorthodox, Cameron and Yuri are up for a challenge. As they look a little deeper, they learn that the victim was working for the Mann Campaign to bring it down rather than support the East Coaster’s chance at winning in Seattle. The victim had a great deal of research that he’d done into Mann and hoped to release it, but died before it came to light. As Cameron and Yuri seek to follow the trail a little more, they discover additional bodies tied to the research and are left to wonder who is trying to silence people against Bobby Mann. Politics may be a cutthroat game, but that’s suppose to be a metaphor. Are Cameron and Yuri next on the list to be threatened by some mysterious killer? Stuart does it again with a great mystery that keeps the reader turning pages without getting too bogged down. Recommended for those who need some lighter fare during the upcoming election cycle, as well as the reader who enjoys a fast-paced mystery.

While I was not too sure what to expect from Charlotte Stuart, I tossed myself into this piece and hoped for the best. This novel did its job and then some, building nicely on key aspects of the series debut, but could also be read as a standalone. Cameron Chandler is a wonderful character who keeps growing on the curious reader. She’s a single parent who is forced to juggle the moods of her children while also needing to put some bread on the table. Now a full-fledged investigator, Cameron is tossed into an intense case without expecting it. The reader learns less about her backstory in this go round, but is privy to a decent amount of character development. Gritty, but not to the point of being cocky, Cameron steals the show and grows as a person, especially when staring danger in the face. The handful of supporting characters are wonderful and fit in to create a relatable cross-section of personalities. Complementing one another and the protagonist, there is always something going on that will entertain the reader. The story keeps the reader’s attention throughout, and Stuart is able to craft a wonderful tale that is both educational and entertaining, particularly as US elections are just around the corner. Her vast array of characters bring much to the experience while also providing the reader with something light that they can enjoy with ease. A mix of chapter lengths propel the story forward while also getting deep enough into things that no one is left feeling shortchanged. If I had one minor critique, it would be that many of the Penny-wise characters are semi-wallflowers. When I read the debut, I saw this handful of great potential interactions and thought Stuart would highlight different ones to pair with Cameron throughout the series. While I enjoy the Cameron-Yuri banter, with so many quirky people on offer, why not use them and show how investigations can take many turns, depending who is doing the sleuthing? That being said, I am all in and will keep my eyes open for anything else Charlotte Stuart writes, as these are just the kind of mysteries I need.

Kudos, Madam Stuart, for another great mystery that I can devour in short order. Keep the ideas coming and I hope others trip upon these books as well.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Make Russia Great Again, by Christopher Buckley

Eight stars

Never one to shy away from a little satirical fiction, I turned to Christopher Buckley’s latest novel, full of poignant storytelling to get me ready for the upcoming election cycle. Ready to rake many over the coals and do so in the most tongue-in-cheek fashion, Buckley provides the reader with a hilarious outpouring of scandalous goings-on in the heart of Washington. Herbert K. Nutterman is enjoying his retirement years, but when the phone rings all that comes crashing to a halt. Having spent close to thirty years with Donald J. Trump in his various hospitality ventures, he knows the man all too well, enough that when POTUS calls to speak to ‘my favourite Jew’, Nutterman can only wince. Nutterman is invited to become the next White House Chief of Staff. While his wife cannot stomach the idea, Nutterman knows that he cannot say no to the Leader of the Free World. Not long after taking the job, Nutterman is shocked alongside the rest of the world when news from Moscow comes that President Vladimir Putin has lost the presidential election to a communist. The margin of victory is small enough that there will need to be a run-off, but still, this is bad news. POTUS is beside himself, worried that his international buddy is potentially set to be knocked off his pedestal and vows to do whatever he can to help. During a confidential meeting, Nutterman learns that one of the US Intelligence computers may have played a part in rigging the results. Nutterman refuses to share this with his boss, but is sure that the run-off will set things straight and Putin will remain in power. Meanwhile, POTUS has been asked to reverse a law that has frozen the assets of a Russian oligarch and is happy to pass this along. Devising a plan to pass a law that will permit more molybdenum (a strong metal that may be useful for American military weapons), POTUS hopes to rush this through and leave the public none the wiser. However, re-election is inching closer and POTUS has no time for any delays. Nutterman must work his magic to ensure nothing topples the apple cart and that America has at least four more years to continue its greatness (and maybe more if POTUS needs them and wants to negate the 22nd Amendment). This great piece leaves no stone unturned and keeps the reader snickering throughout, permitted they have an open mind and do not mind a little political ribbing. Recommended to those who can handle a little mockery of the American political situation, as well as the reader who needs a little humour to lighten their pre-election cycle mood.

I have always enjoyed the work of Christopher Buckley, as it is both on point and quite humorous in its portrayal of the new reality in which the world finds itself. Buckley veils many of his commentaries in serious goings-on but cannot promise that he will not eviscerate all those he finds troublesome and worth a bit of mockery. Herbert Nutterman is the perfect protagonist for this piece, tied to a man he has known for many years but aware of the numerous train-wrecks that are sure to come. Nutterman seeks to succeed when many others have failed while keeping the wheels on the American state and the presidency at the same time. With a wife who refuses to accept his circus of a job and a number of people, both within and outside the Administration, testing his patience, Nutterman can only hope to find some solace that he is doing the best he can. However, as the reader will discover, something surely goes very wrong, particularly from the repeated clues that Nutterman offers about where and how he is writing this piece in the future. Other characters provide added fodder to the mockery that is the situation of the current US Administration, including numerous Russians who seek to sweeten the pot for themselves. Collusion is only one of the issues that underlie the ongoing interactions throughout this book, exacerbating the already strong whisper campaign that America has become a Russian puppet. Buckley uses a strong story that has some degree of possibility to weave quite the tale and keeps the reader on their toes as they try not to tear up with laughter as it relates to the countless moments of mockery that emerge throughout. With strong chapters that keep the story moving and a cast of characters, many of whom depict real personas in the Washington sphere, Buckley entertains like few others can while also proposing the seriousness of the path America is taking away from anything resembling greatness. One can only wonder what November 3, 2020 will bring, but whatever it is, the history books will surely be full of footnotes about the craziness these past four years have been.

Kudos, Mr. Buckley, for keeping me laughing throughout. While things are surely a nightmare at present, you show the silver lining and leave me hoping that the electorate will wake up and see how they can fix things before they are too far gone.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Survival Can Be Deadly (Discount Detective Mystery #1), by Charlotte Stuart

Eight stars

Looking for a lighthearted mystery, I came upon this novel by Charlotte Stuart and thought that I would give it a try. Spinning a unique mystery with a cast of characters best labelled ‘off the wall’, Stuart is able to deliver a solid mystery without getting too bogged down in complex plot twists. Cameron Chandler is a recent widow who has been out of work. This is enough to make anyone go stir-crazy, but her two children and insistent mom make the need to get out of the house all the more important. When Cameron stumbles upon a Help Wanted sign in the local mall, she is intrigued. This is not some normal shop seeking assistance, but the Penny-Wise Investigation Firm, where sleuthing can be done for a discount and there’s no coupon needed. On a whim, Cameron enters and is pulled in. She’s given the chance to prove herself as an investigator, something her family certainly feels she is not qualified to do. After meeting many of her colleagues and going through some rigorous training, Cameron is licensed and ready to be a full-fledged member of the team. Her first solo case is to locate Melissa Rogers, a teen who’s run away from home. Cameron follows a few leads within Seattle and soon finds herself at what might be a dead end. She enlists the help of her colleague, Yuri Webster, who is as carefree as they come. They work together and surmise that Melissa may have left to attend a survivalists’ camp on the San Juan Islands, just off the coast of Washington State. Posing as tourists, Cameron and Yuri learn a little more about what’s going on without locating Melissa. They will have to take the next step and attend one of the weekend seminars, which will provide Cameron with all that she needs to know about survivalist techniques and perhaps lead her to Melissa. Things do not go as smoothly as Cameron would like and she soon discovers there is more to this group than meets the eye. Melissa is somewhere, but it will surely take more than a tap on the shoulder and a friendly smile to lure her back to Seattle. A great story that kept me turning pages as I made my way through with ease. Recommended to those who need some lighter fare on their reading calendar, as well as the reader who enjoys mysteries told from a unique angle.

When I stumbled upon this piece by Charlotte Stuart, I was not entirely sure what to expect. I had been handed an ARC for Stuart’s latest book, but wanted to start at the beginning. I tossed myself into this piece in hopes of learning a little more about Penny-Wise and the entire backstory of the characters. This novel did its job and then some, opening my mind and eyes to a great deal of interesting interactions. Cameron Chandler is a wonderful character with little to lose. A single parent, something her mother reminds her will not change if she does not find someone, Cameron is forced to juggle the moods of her children while also needing to put some bread on the table. Her gamble with this investigator job seems to be on a whim, but she fits in perfectly and is soon excelling like no other. The reader learns a little about her backstory, but also a great deal of development. Gritty, but not to the point of being cocky, Cameron steals the show in this piece. The handful of supporting characters are wonderful and fit in wonderfully. Complementing one another and the protagonist in particular, there is always something going on that will entertain the reader. In a story that keeps the reader’s attention throughout, Stuart is able to craft a wonderful tale that is both educational and entertaining. Her vast array of characters bring much to the experience while also providing the reader with something light that they can enjoy with ease. A mix of chapter lengths propel the story forward while also getting deep enough into things that no one is left feeling shortchanged. I feel that I have a great handle on things and am ready to tackle the follow-up book (that aforementioned ARC) to see what other trouble Cameron Chandler can find.

Kudos, Madam Stuart, for a great introduction to your work. I hope others stumble upon it and find some of the same conclusions that I did with this piece.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons