Fascism: A Warning, by Madeleine Albright

Nine stars

I have decided to embark on a mission to read a number of books on subjects that will be of great importance to the upcoming 2020 US Presidential Election. Many of these will focus on actors intricately involved in the process, in hopes that I can understand them better and, perhaps, educate others with the power to cast a ballot. I am, as always, open to serious recommendations from anyone who has a book I might like to include in the process.

This is Book #4 in my 2020 US Election Preparation Challenge.

The term ‘fascism’ elicits numerous reactions when mentioned in everyday parlance. Some consider it a country whose people goose-step in line with the leader’s views, while others feel it is an overused epithet uttered by teenagers towards their parents. Still others find it to be a way of defining a country whose political ideology differs greatly from their own, thereby suppressing the masses to a belief that no one ought to support. Whatever the definition the reader holds, Madeleine Albright brings the discussion around to something seriously worth considering, especially with the goings-on in the world over the last century and specifically America’s dabbling with it since 2016. Sure to ruffle more than a few feathers, Albright brings her diplomatic past and ongoing role as an academic to this tome, in which she effectively argues that America need be leery of the path down which it is headed, under a leader who knowingly thumbs his nose at the democratic ideal.

After offering some personal sentiments about being a wartime refugee from Czechoslovakia, Albright lays the groundwork for the book by exploring the general tenets of fascism and citing two early (and best known) examples of the ideology. Coined and popularised by Benito Mussolini during Italy’s inter-war years, the leader sought to create a country centred strongly on nationalist sentiment and bundled up key voices to strengthen the whole of the Italian state. His German counterpart, Adolf Hitler, rose through the ranks in Germany and pushed the same sentiment, railing against the need to remain under the allied thumb and pay reparations. There was also the desire to create ‘pure’ states, which would only strengthen the base and make the country even more cohesive. Discounting anything but Italy (or Germany, depending on the dictator), fascism fed on this fiery rhetoric and the central theme echoed through the streets. Enemies were jailed, tortured, or disappeared, while the core supporters were brought together to create an even stronger collective. An interesting fact that Albright shares is that Mussolini appeared to feel that his German counterpart was taking things a little too far, clashing with him on a number of aspects of the Nazi state. While the general ideas of these two countries are likely known to many readers, the details Albright offers add a wonderful depth to the discussion and provide scintillating fact for a history buff like me.

Albright moves on from the far-right examples to explore whether fascism is merely cemented on one side of the ideological spectrum. She argues that it is not, as national pride and extreme exertion to hold onto the belief can be just as effectively found in communist regimes. Albright goes through a number of key leaders of countries that have used fascist tendencies to keep their people in line and other states out. While some of the early ones are more academic examples, Albright’s time as UN Ambassador and US Secretary of State provided her a chance to see many of these men in action for herself. Albright explores the plight of Venezuela under Chavez and how he sought to vilify anything that could have seemed to be Western flavouring of his country, while remaining staunchly nationalist and punishing his people with crippling economic harshness. Other examples like Putin in Russia, all three Kims in North Korea, and Erdogan of Turkey provide some interesting perspectives and are likely leaders more Americans would recognise. Her thorough exploration of these men and their leadership styles tie-in closely with some of the early definitions of fascism as an ideological way of life. While all the men bask in riches and power, their people suffer greatly. Albright argues that this lack of power by the masses feeds into this consolidation of control and the ability for nationalist rhetoric to continue. One cannot keep the people eating from one’s hand without there being disparity and the ‘fat’ West cannot be vilified if everything is going well!

With an exploration of some of the world’s leaders, Albright turns the tables around and explores some of the American examples since early 2017. There has surely been a strong push towards American nationalism, which is less a pride-based rallying call, but one that seeks to divide and isolate. American ‘greatness’ has always been present, though President Trump created a mantra that led many to believe that it was completely gone. Looking to bolster certain sectors by cutting off ties with other countries and imposing crippling tariffs to prove a point will only create economic hardships in the long run. Looking at America’s place on the world stage as being a business partner and not a whole-hearted international partner for democratic stability has also led to this ‘take my ball home’ approach, which feeds not only into an American nationalist sentiment, but also helps open cracks for international groups to crumble and like-minded fascists to topple them like a poorly designed Jenga tower. Pulling America into this way of thinking not only proves troubling on the world scene, but will leave the country in tatters for the next administration, as Trump has (yet) no ability to suspend constitutional limits and keep himself at the helm to bask in the power he is creating. Albright effectively argues that the American people, or at least portions of it, have been lapping up the rhetoric and not looking out for the bigger picture, where years down the road, it will not matter that American nuclear power is strong and the army is large. Without strong regional and international support, there will be a new and troublesome isolation that could take decade to rebuild. A powerful piece for those who have the inclination to hear some of the strong arguments made about the pending trouble that awaits America. Recommended to those whose political mind is piqued by these sorts of discussions, as well as the reader who seeks to take some reflective time determining which path they would like America to follow after January 20, 2021.

Many will know that I love a good political tome, especially when it forces me to think about the world. While I do not have any love loss for the current US president or his administration, I was eager to see if I could follow the arguments made in this book without considering it overly partisan. While Albright served in Democrat camps and rose to prominence under Bill Clinton (one of Trump’s enemies, as he has gladly admitted), she is also an academic whose arguments are strongly based on history, as well as personal experiences. Albright sells her case effectively without needing to dissect either the president or the Trump Administration as being clueless and completely horrid. Her views are substantiated and, as the title suggests, she wishes to warn the reader about what is to come if things continue on the same path. The book itself is thorough and offers the reader a great deal of information to synthesise as they consider what has been going on in the world over the past one hundred years. With well-balanced chapters that offer insight and frank commentary, Albright presents her case without getting overly partisan or muddy. Perhaps a tad academic at times, those readers who enjoy this type of book will surely want to delve deeper, exploring some of the source material offered in the latter pages of the tome. While there is the ongoing debate about whether democracy is the saviour of the world (think of Churchill’s famous comments about the ideology) or simply another option for countries to choose, the arguments made in this book are surely something sobering at a time when ideological fluidity appears to be on the rise. Whatever the answer, it is time for Americans to choose who and what they want, knowing that there is surely some outside (fascist?) base seeking to sway things to disrupt the democratic process. Then again, what do I know, being a Canadian looking in from the outside?

Kudos, Madam Albright, for an enriching experience that I will refer to any who want a great read. I am eager to explore some of your other work, which I can only hope will be as insightful as 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

Cut Short (Washington Poe #3.5), by M.W. Craven

Eight stars

Always one for more Washington Poe, I turned to this collection of three short stories. Poe and his friend, Tilly Bradshaw , find themselves in three short adventures, each with their own forensic element. Poe is keen to dole out what knowledge he has, though Tilly is no wilting violet. A perfect collection to be paired with a hot drink or to read while out in the sun. Recommended to those who have an affinity for this crime duo, who are always bantering in Cumbria.

The Killing Field

While Poe and Tilly prepare to spend the day at a local exhibition, they are called away from their time off to help inspect a local issue. When they arrive, it is not only two bodies that await them, but a large pit filled with animals from the 2001 foot-and-mouth outbreak. Someone’s sewn the victims up into two cow carcasses. After listening to what little information there is, Poe can tell who the two men are and what brought them them. Shocking, but he lays it all out for everyone without needing to get sullied at all.

Why Don’t Sheep Shrink?

It all started with a cough, leading to a scandalous means by which Poe has his temperature taken. As Poe needs to self-isolate for a week because of this pesky virus, he will need to find something to do. Tilly, too, is stuck with him, having been around when the symptoms emerged. Little to do other than go for walks—perhaps, a stroll?—and tidy up, Poe and Tilly find themselves searching for ways to pass the time. When Poe comes across an old case that stumped him, they take up the challenge.

A man was found drowned in his bathtub, apparently having suffered an epileptic seizure. While no one could find anything sinister, the victim’s sister was sure there was some foul play. All eyes turned to the man’s partner, though there was nothing tying her to the crime. Given an hour, Tilly uses her know-how and some keen observations and cracks the case wide open.

Dead Man’s Fingers

In line with the 2001 foot-and-mouth outbreak, and having just come off their isolation, Poe and Tilly are out in the fields. Poe remembers a case from back in 2001, where two star-crossed teenagers could not get enough of one another, one bringing infection back from the other’s farm. With all the livestock to be culled, the teens disappear. Could have left for the continent, or did someone have a more macabre idea? Poe and Tilly work together, with the help of a rabbit-chasing dog, to stumble upon a clue or two that solves the case.

I have enjoyed the Washington Poe series since first I discovered the work by M.W. Craven. The pieces are not only full of wonderful character development and dialogue, but the cases are quite detailed. These are much shorter stories, but they pull the reader in just as effectively. Poe and Tilly work to pool their talents to solve three cases quite effectively. The reader will notice how each differs from the other, though the writing could be part of an almost continuous string of days that the two spent together. There’s little time for development or secondary characters, but those who have come to enjoy this duo will find a great deal to make them smile. I’m glad to have found this collection, as I wait for the next full-length novel.

Kudos, Mr. Craven, for reminding me just how great a shorter piece can be.

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

Forever Terry: A Legacy in Letters, Edited by Darrell Fox

Ten stars

While Canadians tend to be labelled as soft and warm-hearted, we do have our moments of divisiveness. However, merely uttering the name ‘Terry Fox’ is enough to end all battles as we think of a young man who truly earned the label ‘Canadian Hero’. After losing his leg to cancer, Terry watched the numerous faces of children who were on the cancer ward and pledged that he would raise money to help end this horrible disease. He strapped on his prosthetic leg and began to train so that he could run and raise money for those who needed it most. After feeling that he was ready for the task, he made his way to the far eastern part of Canada, dipped his shoe in the Atlantic Ocean, and began a Marathon of Hope in April 1980. Terry ran the equivalent of a marathon every day, with hopes of making it across the country, raising money along the way. While he made it only 143 days before the cancer returned and it was too much, he vowed that he would continue as soon as he was able. Alas, the marathon was never continued and Terry died in 1981, but his legacy lives on.

This is a collection of letters and memories by Canadians—famous and common folk—sharing their recollections of the Marathon of Hope or the impact that Terry had on them. Some were not even born during any of Terry’s life, while others had personal moments with him along his 143 days on the road. Each is a touching tribute, remembering Terry’s perseverance and how he sought only to help others, pushing himself past his pain. On the fortieth anniversary of the events, this is a way to remember the man, his determination, and how a country (and eventually world) rallied behind him and the cause he held dear. Some messages are quite inspirational, others highly informative. What they all have in common is to profess that Terry Fox was a man who was as selfless as he was heroic. If anyone deserves the label, let it be Terry!

I lost my father 20 years ago, so I am well aware of the pain that cancer can cause a family. I was also too young to actively remember the Marathon of Hope, but have seen many videos and also visited the spot in Thunder Bay where Terry had to hang up his shoes and return to Vancouver for treatment. He has touched Canadians with his efforts to raise money so that cancer might be eradicated, though he was humble about it. Putting himself out there and letting the country cheer him on was one thing, but this was a personal pledge to himself, hoping that no one else would have to feel helpless, should he be able to raise enough. Each message in here touched my heart as I read them. They were kind and full of hope, making me realise that Terry Fox lives in us all. With annual walks around Canada (and now, parts of the world) to raise money for cancer research, I can see just how far a single man’s movement can go to make a difference. While Terry may have passed on in 1981, the Terry Fox Run has raised upwards of $800 million to date, with no signs of stopping. You will be missed, Terry, but never forgotten. Canada has your back and loves you so very much!

Kudos, Terry Fox and all the contributors to this book, for reminding me that a small act of selflessness can change the world, one step at a time.

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

Snowflakes (Hush Collection), by Ruth Ware

Eight stars

Be sure to check for my review, first posted on Mystery and Suspense, as well as a number of other insightful comments by other reviewers.

Review: Snowflakes

Having not yet read any of Ruth Ware’s work, I thought this short story, part of the HUSH Collection, might be the ideal launching point. Brief and to the point, Ware is able to weave in some powerful messages as the pieces soon fall into place. Leah Reynolds and her family are fighting to survive, living in a war zone and forced to protect themselves when no one else will. Tasked with building a stone wall around their isolated home, Leah and her siblings work their hands to the bone in order to appease a father who loves them very much. His constant counselling about safety does not go unnoticed as he shows the children proof of the bombed-out cities and schools on television. When the Reynolds home is rushed by the police, Leah and her family flee through the back door, worried what might happen to them. The confrontation is harrowing and a few are lost along the way, but Leah stands firm, hoping to help her father however he needs. When things take a significant turn for the worse, Leah makes the ultimate sacrifice, knowing that it will be the only way to save herself and honour the father who has placed his trust in her. A chilling story that forces the reader to second-guess much of what they know. Recommended to those who love a story with multiple plot lines not always seen throughout, as well as the reader who needs a little time filler between larger reading projects.

As this is my first experience with Ruth Ware, I hoped for a positive experience. I have heard of her and seen many of the books she’s published, but never got around to reading them. Ware sets this piece in a nondescript community, but layers on the dread of what is taking place. Leah Reynolds serves as the protagonist, ushering the reader through a panic-filled experience while the world seems to be crumbling around her. Seeking to stay safe, Leah accepts whatever is asked of her without questioning it. There is little time for backstory or growth, though one can only imagine how Ware might do it, given the time. The group of secondary characters serve as blips on the map in this piece. They are essential parts, but little impact is made with any of them, save Mr. Reynolds. The story reveals itself fully in the final pages, as the reader pops their head up from the narrative Leah has offered throughout. It’s then that Ware’s themes and underlying message come to light. How a belief in something with blind faith can not only be dangerous, but tell a completely different story from reality. Tossing around words like ‘fake news’ and ‘tunnel vision’ prove sobering, which forces the reader to reevaluate everything they hold dear. Released just in time (and with enough subtlety so as not to make it seem relevant) for people to consider their choice in America ahead of November 3, 2020. Brilliant, if I do say so myself.

Kudos, Madam Ware, for a great short piece. I will have to check out some of your longer work to see if it pulls me in with as much ease.

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

Speaking for Myself: Faith, Freedom, and the Fight of Our Lives Inside the Trump White House, by Sarah Huckabee Sanders

Eight stars

I have decided to embark on a mission to read a number of books on subjects that will be of great importance to the upcoming 2020 US Presidential Election. Many of these will focus on actors intricately involved in the process, in hopes that I can understand them better and, perhaps, educate others with the power to cast a ballot. I am, as always, open to serious recommendations from anyone who has a book I might like to include in the process.

This is Book #3 in my 2020 US Election Preparation Challenge.

While I have made my political views quite well known over the years, I felt it only fair to look at things from the other side of the coin, seeking to better understand those who worked within the Trump White House and had a positive take on the man and his Administration. While her comments did, at times, leave me rolling my eyes, I cannot help but wonder what someone like Sarah Huckabee Sanders has to say about a life surrounded by politics and serving on the front lines during some of the most tumultuous days of those first few years under Donald Trump. Born in the heart of Arkansas, Sarah Huckabee grew up with a strong connection to God and all the Lord had to offer. Her father was a local pastor who took a gamble at a time when Arkansas was in the midst of a Clinton Democratic wave to run for office as a Republican. While he did not succeed at first, he did eke out a victory soon thereafter and then was ushered into the position of governor during a scandal. Teenage Sarah may not have liked the need to move, but her eyes were surely opened when she ended up living in Little Rock. As Huckabee Sanders denotes, her time living under the shadow of the Clinton name started early and often, though she never let that define her. After successful public schooling and a passion for politics in college, Sarah moved to Washington to work within the massive bureaucracy, stopping only when it was time to support her father as he made a presidential bid in 2008. While Mike Huckabee was not successful, he instilled in his daughter the need to always work through any problems with aplomb, something that appears to have been a key theme for her professional life.

After marrying and starting a family of her own, Sarah returned to help her father on a second bid in 2016, a time when all attention was focussed on Donald Trump, leaving the elder Huckabee again on the wayside. However, both Mike and Sarah knew how to liaise with those in power and Trump offered Huckabee Sanders the chance to work on his campaign. The book explores some of the grittier sides of the campaign, with Huckabee Sanders pulling no punches about her dislike for the Clintons, rejoicing when the final results were in and Trump had emerged victorious. Throughout the book she reminds readers that there was no collusion and that it was all a Democrat smear campaign, early signs of true sycophancy. Hitting the ground running, Huckabee Sanders found herself in the Communications Office and spinning stories from Day One. From inaugural statistics to dismantling anything with an Obama scent, Huckabee Sanders did her part to communicate the message of the day, all while the inner workings of the West Wing shook. There is much talk about the push back from reporters (many of whom Huckabee Sanders felt were jaded against Trump), as well as the internal squabbles that saw key figures fall by the wayside during numerous moments of bloodletting. Interestingly enough, her support never erred for Trump, so anyone who spoke out was vilified early and often in the book’s narrative. Through a whirlwind of events and the eventual elevation of Huckabee Sanders to Press Secretary, the book does turn even more sycophantic, while also becoming highly detailed. The reader receives a great deal of behind the scenes sentiments, which can be refreshing once the political spin is parsed from the narrative. Throughout, it becomes clear that Huckabee Sanders was dedicated to family, be it her own or the one forged by supporting President Trump through it all.

There came a time when the work/home balance was completely out of whack. As Huckabee Sanders makes clear, while she was the first mother to serve as Press Secretary, she always valued her children above communicating the Administration’s message to the world. She had missed countless events and family moments, all in the name of work, and it was time to claim it back before her children began to resent her. As the narrative explains, it was a smooth and easy transition, one POTUS encouraged without issue, though I am a tad shocked that he would not have pushed back, as this was not a choice that benefitted him. Still, with her head held high and tears in her eyes, Sarah Huckabee Sanders led her family out of Washington and back to Arkansas for a quieter life more focussed on family. While she may still be a strong and vocal advocate of the Administration, she’s able to spend more time with her family, something that she cherishes more than all other gifts.

As I sit here, contemplating what I’ve just read, I cannot be sure it was entirely expected or whether I am surprised by the end result. Certainly, when before the press on a regular basis, one would expect a ‘party line’ approach to things, but I would hoped for some leeway and raw honesty in this book to offer insights that might supersede the need to be so sycophantic. I will be the first to admit, Huckabee Sanders had quite the life and has been able to balance her work and personal lives effectively. I actually had no idea she had a family during the time I watched her bat questions around from the podium, but can see just how important they are to her by the kind works and numerous stories that find their way into the narrative. While I admire people with a strong connection to their beliefs, be they religious or political, something just does not sit right when each chapter seeks to offer up another jug of the proverbial Kool-Aid and having it guzzled down. I loved the personal stories that came up throughout, both from Huckabee Sanders’ early years and even in her time within the White House, as it personalises the entire story, but it would seem that, like her daily briefings, everything is so carefully scripted so as not to rock the boat. Insert smear of anything anti-Trump here, praise the man there, spin it out to make him look positive when it is needed. I did find that the book leapt around quite a bit, focussing on some of the larger events, but also dodging ones that would not shine a great light on the Administration. I had hoped to get some insights into her take on things in Charlottesville, but she was silent. I wondered about talk about the public stances Trump took about building the Wall (ie having Mexico pay for it, the essential need for something immediately), but those discussions were replaced with tossing stones at the Democrats regarding the shut-down. True, this was not a tell-all book, nor was it meant to offer up all the dirty laundry, but each time things seemed to be getting on a roll, what was an important media event got sidelined to talk about kids or how lovely President Trump was with his praise for X or Y. Still, one must applaud her for gritting her teeth and keeping a smile on her face throughout. Those who are staunch Trumpers will love it, as their fearless leader comes out unscathed. Still, I cannot help but remember the closing lines of the book. ““we take a stand against evil. Now is our chance to choose the right side. Let us be the somebodies who do something.” Americans are trying to do that, but the ostrich mentality that the most sycophantic portray proves only to make things even more dangerous for America as a whole!

Kudos, Madam Huckabee Sanders, for an insightful piece. I do admire your courage to share those feelings and was quite enthralled with how you kept the story moving. Let’s see if it helps the cause come November.

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

Animal, by Munish K. Batra and Keith R. A. DeCandido

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to Reedsy Discovery, Munish K. Batra, and Keith R. A. DeCandido for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

In a collaborative effort, Munish Batra and Keith DeCandido deliver a high-impact thriller sure to pull the reader in from the opening pages. Detective Michelle Halls is trying to juggle her work with the Monrovia PD—a suburb of LA— and a personal life that has been falling apart. When an elderly woman comes in to speak with her about finding a finger in her ground beef, Halls is not sure what to do. After investigating the local meat plant, she discovers that two of their employees have gone missing. Security videos show something highly troubling, namely the aforementioned employees being slaughtered and ground up by a killer wearing a cow mask. News hits the wires and Interpol Detective An Chang flies from Beijing to look into the case. He’s certain that this is the work of a killer he’s been following for over two decades. After explaining some of the background, Halls and Chang work together on the case of a killer who appears to be trying to bring justice to animals who have been poorly treated by humans. Murders and grisly assaults all over the world can be tied to an assailant who wears a mask depicting the offended animal, with ruthless results. After another case pops up in San Diego, Halls and Chang make their way there, only to learn that the killer is getting bolder. As the pieces begin to fall into place, Chang not only realises that he has found a pattern, but thinks he may know the killer from his past as a local police officer. In a case that has all the action and a wonderfully twisted narrative, Batra and DeCandido offer the readers a heart-stopping piece that never stops developing. Recommended to those who love police procedurals, as well as the reader who enjoys a little social commentary with their mysteries.

Having never read anything by either author, I was not entirely sure what to expect. The premise seemed strong, though a little off the wall, but still I decided to give it a chance. It is clear that both authors pull on some of their expertise to craft a story that is both rich in medical jargon and offers a fast-paced narrative to push it along. The dual protagonist roles between Halls and Chang offer the reader something that is both straightforward and complex. Both characters come with their own personal baggage, which is presented in strong narrative fashion, as well as a dedication to the job at hand. Two members of completely different police forces thrust together makes for some very interesting banter, not to mention their cultural differences and a significant age gap. The authors weave their stories together nicely, never allowing them to get too comfortable with one another, while still focussing their attention on the case at hand. Grit and determination keep them an effective team, though the killer’s antics leave little time to rest on their laurels. The handful of strong secondary characters keeps the story moving in a number of directions, entertaining the reader as well as offering their own degree of education. As the reader will discover, parts of the story are flashbacks, all in order to fill in needed gaps in the overall plot, which forces a slew of characters to play a role in developing the plot. The story itself works well, quite unique in its approach and far from dull. The killer’s antics are quite graphic, though not to the point that many will walk away from the story in disgust. It has a certain creep factor, but it works well, especially when animal cruelty comes into the discussion. With a mix of chapter lengths that keep the reader wondering how things will progress, as well as information from a variety of locations and time periods, there is an added depth to an already strong piece. This is one novel that I will surely talk about for a significant amount of time.

Kudos, Dr. Batra and Mr. DeCandido, for this unique approach to a serial killer. I loved it and hope you two collaborate again soon!

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

Lethal Passage: The Story of a Gun, by Erik Larson

Nine stars

I have decided to embark on a mission to read a number of books on subjects that will be of great importance to the upcoming 2020 US Presidential Election. Many of these will focus on actors intricately involved in the process, in hopes that I can understand them better and, perhaps, educate others with the power to cast a ballot. I am, as always, open to serious recommendations from anyone who has a book I might like to include in the process.

This is Book #2 in my 2020 US Election Preparation Challenge.

While the gun debate in the United States Has long been making headlines, it takes on new dimensions when Erik Larson is at the helm. Larson uses his strengths in pulling history together and offering intense analysis to provide the reader with something about which to think before making a decision on a matter. Using a little known school shooting in December 1988 as a launching point, Larson looks at some of the factors Around how Nicolas Elliot could bring a gun to school and end up killing a teacher. However, it is so much more than this, as Larson explores the history of guns in America and how they became ‘the cool thing to have’ as well as being so readily accessible. Larson discusses how guns made their way into American Western literature and movies, as well as many television shows from as far back as the medium was an option. As Larson posits, guns have become something society is so accustomed with that it is hard to see a United States without them. Even toy commercials marking something as seemingly innocent as ‘the super soaker water gun’ as being a weapon to permit retribution for a committed wrong.

Larson also explores the politics of guns, which is itself a murky venture. From a discussion of the many pieces of legislation—both state and federal—to the emergence of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF), much has been done create an apparent government presence in the discussion of gun ownership. Larson effectively argues that laws about the sale of guns are still flimsy and ATF agents are not ‘gun police’ but rather enforcement after a violation has taken place. Issues around straw purchasers (people who purchase guns for others) prove the central issue and tie in directly with the aforementioned Elliot school shooting, where the boy’s cousin purchased the gun for him, in front of a dealer who feigned ignorance. All while the National Rifle Association (NRA) stood by and used their pithy catchphrases to point the blame elsewhere, a stance that came into effect when the group politicised themselves in the latter part of the 20th century. At present, politics is surely not on the side of protecting the citizenry, but rather keeping guns in the hands of those who want them (even if they are not entitled to them, under the law). Larson offers the reader some great ideas about how one might help create a buffer to ensure rules are tightened to protect the victim, while not impeding the rightful owner of guns from exercising their inherent ‘right to bear arms’. While Larson does not discuss this, it is clear that many who beat the drum on their 2nd Amendment right are as deluded as the politicians who cite their hands are tied while funnelling NRA monies into their own coffers. An eye-opening look into the world of guns for the curious reader and surely another winner by Erik Larson. Recommend to those who enjoy learning about some of the controversial topics floating around the American political world these days, as well as the reader who enjoys Larson’s in-depth exploration of history and tragic events.

I always come away with something stellar when I finish an Erik Larson tome, feeling myself better educated on the subject and ready to engage in a thorough discussion. This was a different type of Larson book for me, seeking not to retell the intricate details of a single historical event, but rather to offer a ‘soap box’ presentation of an issue as a whole. I applaud Larson for his detailed research on the matter and found that the presentation was done in such a way as to make it highly impactful. Layering facts about gun sales and violence between portions of the Nicholas Elliot story was masterful, permitting the reader to see the parallels where they do exist, as well as using a single event to tie the discussion together. This frank discussion of events offers a sobering look at the issue while also forcing the reader to take a side, or at least pushing them to feel something related to the matter at hand. The other books penned by Larson that I have enjoyed were more focussed on a single historical event, making this one quite unique. I learned as much, if not more, as I traversed the world of guns and their role in the American psyche. While the book may be somewhat dated, its information is still relevant and offers the needed ‘call to arms’ (if you pardon the poor pun) to make a difference. While perhaps not a key presidential issue in 2020, one ought to understand where the two candidates stand on gun control and how their leadership will shape the approach to control and violence over the next four years. Think about it and choose wisely!

Kudos, Mr. Larson, for another great piece of historical analysis. I can always count on something that gets to the heart of the matter.

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

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, by Erik Larson

Nine stars

Erik Larson offers up another of his dazzling pieces of nonfiction, taking the reader into the middle of an infamous event and hashing out some of the details that make it come alive. Larson’s attention to detail and desire to share the nuances of the events that led to the Lusitania’s sinking makes this a must-read book for all who have a passion for history of the time. The Lusitania was a well-known British passenger ship that had made the voyage across the Atlantic on numerous occasions. As Larson discusses in the early chapters, the Cunard Line held this ship in the highest esteem and advertised its prowess on the open waters. Countless people of importance had spent time in their berths and it was set to sail yet again, crossing from New York to Liverpool. After Europe went to war in the summer of 1914, questions arose as to what ought to be done about passenger ships traveling in the open waters, particularly when the German U-Boats emerged as a credible threat. Larson discusses the loose gentlemen’s agreement that any ship (passenger or freight) that identified itself as part of a neutral country should be safe from attack. Even still, the Imperial German Embassy put out advertisements about how they could not guarantee safe passage, trying to protect passengers from risking their lives. Larson points out that this warning was placed directly under an advertisement for the Lusitania’s return voyage from New York, which some felt was ominous. All the while, US President Woodrow Wilson was firmly keeping America out of the European war, in hopes that it would end quickly and he could get back to dealing with his allies on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

When the day came for the Lusitania to sail again, May 1, 1915, a large contingent had purchased tickets for the voyage. It would seem that the veiled threat brought about by the Germans could not deter the most dedicated travellers. Additionally, the haunting of the Titanic’s fate three years before did not stymie plans for many, though Larson does explain how these events did stir up some concern amongst the crew about this ship, including Captain William Thomas Turner. Larson not only lists some of the star-studded passengers, but also the lavish details of what they could expect onboard. Still, Cunard Line sought to impress their guests as much as possible with foods, accomodations, and a great deal of entertainment on board. While the Lusitania inched its way across the Atlantic, U-20, one of the deadly German submarines was trolling off the Irish Coast. Its commanding officer, Walther Schwieger was ruthless in his desire to cause as much havoc as possible. As Larson mentions, Schwieger took pleasure in sinking enemy vessels whenever and wherever possible. No ship was safe with the German U-boats out on the open waters, particularly when they could remain hidden within the fog and placid surface of the water. What was Wilson doing at this time, while war raged in Europe and the Germans were taking down ships? Why he was trying to get over the loss of his wife by wooing another woman, one Edith Bolling. Larson offers an interesting sub-plot of this most curious courting while danger slid through the waves and created an ominous veil.

By May 7th, the Lusitania had the Irish Coast in its sights, a happy event for the captain and many on board. The ship was almost done crossing and there had been nothing about which to worry. It was then that Schwieger prepared to strike. While the Lusitania had received numerous warnings across the wires about other ships being targeted, they forged onward, into U-20s sightlines. As Larson vividly describes, Schwieger took aim and shot a torpedo at the ship, striking it with enough force to cause immediate damage. From there, it was an immediate panic on board, as passengers and crew rushed to see what had happened and sought to commence evacuation. With life jackets dispensed and rafts used to ferry people to safety, the crew sized up what had happened, some choosing to downplay the damage. Reports on shore were somewhat misleading as many waited for additional information. People rushed to leave, though the damage was extensive, leaving the waters peppered with bodies, both the living and the dead. Larson offers intense details of matters at this point, putting the reader in the middle of events, as lives hung in the balance. At final count, 1198 lives were lost and the German U-20 slunk away, happy with its cataclysmic attack. Reactions on both sides of the Atlantic were slow, though news was sketchy for the first while. Wilson was furious, though this was not the event that pushed America into the war, though it surely played a contributing factor. The closing part of the book alone is riveting, as Larson describes the chaos and aftermath, enough to send chills down the spine of the bravest reader. Larson proves that he is masterful in his writing and depiction of the events of May 1915. Highly recommended to those who love vivid storytelling that brings history to life, as well as the reader who seeks to better understand how this tragedy came about.

There is no doubt that the events leading up to the sinking of the Lusitania are filled with foreshadowing. Hindsight is sure to bring the skeptics out, though one cannot fault those who were sure safe passage would be promised to a passenger ship. Larson delivers a masterful narrative that layers all sides of the story together, offering insights extracted from his deep research. There is no doubt that the reality of this event is shown a new level of intensity through Erik Larson’s words, leaving the reader to feel as though they, too, were aboard the ship. Larson’s style presents things almost as though it were a piece of fiction, the vividness exceeding expectation with each turn of the page. Divided into five key parts, Larson delineates how things progressed and at what point the Lusitania slid into the almost ‘on the fly’ plan of U-20 and Commanding Officer Walther Schwieger. While it may seem macabre to admit this, but the detail of death and destruction were perhaps the best portions of the book, bringing home the sizeable losses suffered on that day, which helped to vilify the act all the more. Perhaps one of the best-told pieces of historical storytelling I have read, right up there with the other Erik Larson book I completed recently. Stunning seems too bland a word for me to use in this case.

Kudos, Mr. Larson, for yet another winner. I cannot wait to get my hands on more of your work, as you breathe life into the past’s tales.

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

The Last Dragon Rider: An Adventure in Presadia, by Luke Aylen

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Luke Aylen, and Lion Hudson Ltd. for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Looking for something my son might enjoy when he finishes his current book series, I took a chance with this YA fantasy novel by Luke Aylen. With a story full of excitement and action, I hoped to find something intriguing, though perhaps my reader’s lens made for a difficulty in properly capturing the tale’s greatness. Anavah finds herself living in the cruel world of Presadia. There is little flexibility and she is forced to steal to survive. After receiving crystal goggles from a mysterious entity, Anavah uncovers a life-altering discovery veiled in magic. In a tale that takes Anavah through time and space, she becomes an active student in the history of dragon riders of all shapes and sizes, which will surely transform Presadia forever. Anavah has a decision to make as she accepts her new life, though no one said it would be easy! Delving into the world of elves, dwarves, and even a few dragons, Anavah leads the reader into the fantastical and proves that adventures need not have a clear path, while still being highly entertaining. An interesting piece that many middle-school children will enjoy. Luke Aylen is an author to watch, with a series that is sure to spark the interest of many. Recommended for that dragon-obsessed young reader who loves the challenge of a good chapter book.

I always feel that I do a disservice when I pick up a young adult book, particularly when I am not as enthralled as the author might like. However, such is the plight when I am trying to find some new things for Neo to read before he jumps in. I enjoyed the book for the most part, but my lack of a connection with fantasy writing may have jaded me a little. I enjoy dragons and beings of various forms as much as the next person, but the writing was likely geared for a group with whom I cannot properly connect as a reader. Luke Aylen does a great job at hashing out his characters and adds just enough detail to keep them from disappearing into the page, while spicing things up with just enough drama. The younger reader will surely lose themselves in the adventure and the layers of plot and character development. There is much left open to interpretation and intrigue, which allows the reader to wonder and seek more of this series to fill in some of the gaps. Short chapters encourage the reader to keep pushing through, which is important when there are so many other distractions taking place outside of a good book. I’ll have to hand this over to Neo to see if he likes it, though there’s nothing to make me think that he would not.

Kudos, Mr. Aylen, for a great piece of work. Just because it was not top of my list does not mean you won’t dazzle your intended audience.

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

Shadow Ridge: A Jo Wyatt Mystery, by M.E. Browning

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, M. E. Browning, and Crooked Lane Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

M. E. Browning is back with a new novel (and series?) that is sure to catch the interest of many readers. Full of all the essential ingredients for a great thriller, this book is well worth the invested time and effort. From the chilly parts of Echo Valley, Colorado, Detective Jo Wyatt is doing her best to stay level-headed. She’s just been passed over for promotion to sergeant. To add insult to injury, her soon-to-be former husband has won the honour. Chin up and ready to put the sad experience behind her, Wyatt is called to the scene of an apparent suicide. A young man was found by Quinn Kirkwood, a classmate who had come to do a welfare check on him. The rifle appears to have done a clean job, leaving Wyatt to surmise that there’s no question about what happened. But, when Quinn shares that she is being threatened by email, Wyatt agrees to poke around a little to see what she can make of it. Wyatt learns that the victim and Quinn were both in a class together where they were creating a new computer game as their final project. Wyatt wants to know a little more about whether the victim might have had any enemies, but it would seem that gaming was all the guy liked to do. When Wyatt pays a visit to the District Attorney, who had been renting the property where the suicide occurred  she learns that there’s more to the story than meets the eye. It would seem this D.A.’s teenage son knew the victim, also having died by suicide. This lights a beacon inside Wyatt’s head and she is not ready to let things go. After more conversations with Quinn, they agree to keep talking to see if they can get to the heart of the matter. When Quinn sees another of her classmates drive off a road and crash to his death, Wyatt begins to wonder if someone might be trying to send a message. She pushes forward as best she can, but ends up at countless dead ends. There must be something about this game that holds the key, though Wyatt knows little about the world. A brief tutorial from Quinn sheds some needed light, but there is still a massive question mark and only one person left with ties to the missing game, Quinn Kirkwood. It’s time to push forward and find the answers that have been eluding Jo Wyatt for the entire case. A gritty thriller that pulls M.E. Browning back into the limelight with new ideas and great characters. Recommended to those who enjoy a small-town police procedural, as well as the reader looking for something with a light peppering of tech talk!

It is always nice to see an author use some of their past experiences and infuse them into books. M. E. Browning’s past in law enforcement shines through in this piece, with the added bonus of bringing the role of a women in power to the table. Jo Wyatt has a long history with Echo Valley PD, made even longer because her father was once a member of the force. As the story progresses, the reader sees much of the strains within Wyatt’s backstory and how she has never been able to live up to the enormous expectations her father laid out. While she struggles personally, her work ethic is second to none and she shows just how determined she can be, seeking to work within the parameters of a small force with a major crime on their plate. The reader will see some grit balanced with the emotional side of Wyatt, as they vie to define her throughout the novel. A number of secondary characters not only add to the story, but pull the plot in a number of directions. Quinn Kirkwood alone has enough depth to almost act as a secondary protagonist, showing up throughout in a major role. The story may not have been entirely unique, but it is not that which differentiates novels in the genre. Rather, M. E. Browning’s handling of the scene and how she developed the plot is the means by which the reader can feel they are reading something superior. With a mix of perspectives, there is insight from all sides as the story leaves the door open about who could be behind these deaths and for what reason. With a few plot lines that provide suspects, it’s a matter of patience and intuitiveness on the part of the reader to crack the case wide open. Browning keeps things interesting throughout and does not rely on too many stereotypical police procedural elements that leave readers wondering why they spent their time on the same old thing. I can only hope that Browning has more in store for Jo Wyatt, as this was a great start of what could be an exciting series!

Kudos, Madam Browning, for a great series debut. I enjoyed your past work and will keep my ear to the ground for your next project.

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