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

His Truth is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope, by Jon Meacham (afterward by John Lewis)

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 #1 in my 2020 US Election Preparation Challenge.

The name of John Robert Lewis is one that is fairly new to me, though I have come to realise that this man was more than a feisty congressman who sought to fight against the injustices he saw in America. Jon Meacham, one of the best political/presidential biographers I have had the pleasure of reading, chose Lewis in his latest book exploring how American history and politics go hand in hand. Born to a large family in Troy, Alabama, John Lewis developed a passion for the Lord, as well as for the spoken word. He took as his first congregation the flock of chickens on his family farm, though few would so much as listen to him, as Meacham extols in the early part of the book. From there, Lewis sought to educate himself on the ways of becoming closer to God, while also living under some oppressive laws governing the southern states at the time. In the late 1950s, as Lewis was finishing high school and fighting to uphold the Brown v. Board of Education decision by the US Supreme Court, he met a young Martin Luther King, Jr. and became mesmerised by all this boisterous preacher had to say. Lewis soon began a life that was not only dedicated to the teachings of Jesus, but for the non-violent means by which King sought to change the laws in the United States as it related to the treatment of Blacks. Meacham explores in-depth the violent ways that Lewis, King, and many others were treated during the bus boycotts, sit-ins, and marches, culminating in the (in)famous one in Selma, Alabama. Lewis suffered many injuries, including a fractured skull, during his years seeking justice and yet he would not back down, nor would he raise a fist to his White oppressors. Meacham tells the story in much detail, offering interesting perspectives from political and social leaders on both sides of the civil rights movement, all of whom knew John Lewis well. Even when Lewis took a step back from the movement, he was passionate about protecting Black rights in the United States. He mourned the loss of King in 1968 and sought to make changes when he moved to Atlanta. Finally successful in winning a seat in the US House of Representatives in 1986, Lewis used his voice to push for change, not only in Atlanta, but for people all across the country, never forgetting the need to put the rights of Blacks into all legislation. In the closing portion of the book, Meacham touches on Lewis’ sentiments during the recent political goings-on, including the Trump inauguration and impeachment proceedings, two events Lewis used to state his strong opinions in non-violent and anti-vitriolic means. Most telling of all, when Lewis passed away in July 2020, and many on both sides of the political spectrum flocked to pay their respects to a leader in America’s civil rights movement, President Trump refused to do so. While no surprise to many, one would have hoped that, like Lewis, Trump might have looked past politics and looked to the core of the man. A sensational piece that permits Jon Meacham to offer not only a mini-biography of John Lewis, but also provide a biographical outlook of the civil rights movement, the earlier push for the importance of Black lives in America. A must read for all those who love learning about American political history, and strongly recommended for anyone who looks out at America today and has yet to cast their ballot for president.

Even though I knew little about John Lewis, as soon as I discovered that this book would touch on American civil rights in the 1960s, I was firmly committed to tackling it. When I found out that Jon Meacham was at the helm, there was no doubt that I would take the time to read this book and discover all that I could. Meacham handles the story with aplomb, pulling out many of the well-known stories about abuse at lunch counters, riots outside bus stations, and the marches that turned bloody as soon as the police arrived on scene. Meacham adds the voices of those from both sides of the movement, not only the protestors, to give the reader a more complete view. The White House message, the gubernatorial declarations, the police views, and even the general public, as well as the prayers and proclamations of King, Lewis, and others who sought to rally Blacks to stand up for themselves, but turned the other cheek. There is wonderful contrast in the book as well with the violent movement of the Black Panthers and Malcolm X as they sought to strike and kill in retaliation to push for Black rights. Meacham never strays from his message, which seeks to explore the mindset of John Lewis, and divides the book into key chapters according to timelines, all of which help to better hash out America’ reaction to the non-violence in the 1960s. I kept thinking to myself, if Meacham could do so well with this, a snapshot of Lewis’ life, how wonderful it would be to see a complete exploration of the man into the 1970s and through to his death in 2020. One can only hope that someone will pick up from here and ensure young people know those pioneers that came before them to make America great, even if bigotry remains simmering on the back burner. Meacham almost begs the reader to draw parallels between the 1960s and today, as violence seeks to divide the country again. Perhaps, like Lewis and King, Americans can choose the non-violent means of pushing back, by casting an all-important ballot for president in 2020. Don’t let the blood be shed in vain!

Kudos, Mr. Meacham, for sparking my passion in US politics and social movements. I cannot wait to see what else you find to explore, as you educate readers so effectively.

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

The Palace (Simon Riske #3), by Christopher Reich

Nine stars

Ready for another harrowing adventure in the world of espionage, I turn to Christopher Reich and his newest series. The action does not stop and Reich weaves together an intricate tale in which his protagonist shows his true mettle. Simon Riske enjoys his life as a mechanic and restorer of expensive vehicles in London, though when MI5 call for him, he is usually quick to reply. However, after his partner is seriously injured at the end of his most recent mission, Riske tosses in the towel and refuses to work for the seedy underbelly of the British Government. Then, a man of some importance casts a shadow on his mechanic shop with a mission for him. Rafael de Bourbon, ‘Rafa’, is in trouble in Thailand and needs Riske’s help. Rafa once saved Riske’s life and cannot turn down the mission. It would seem Rafa is being detained by the National Police and has been rotting in a Bangkok jail. When Riske arrives, he tries to negotiate the release of his friend, learning that Rafa stole a large chunk of highly sensitive data from PetroSaud a powerful trading company with extremely deep pockets. During the transfer of documents for Rafa’s freedom, something goes horribly wrong and Riske is accused of murder. Now, on the run, Riske must not only try to stay one step ahead of the Thai officials, but determine what Rafa found and how his leaking of the files to a print journalist could be extremely dangerous for all involved. As the hunt intensifies, Riske finds himself travelling across Asia. PetroSaud has a ruthless mercenary with only one purpose, to neutralise Riske once and for all. If only that were the biggest issue he uncovers. These are no longer the rough streets of Marseilles, where Riske learned everything about unfair fights, but rather a period when the world may be rocked to its core. A stunning novel that will keep the reader hooked until the very end. Recommended to those who love tales of espionage, as well as the reader who considers themselves a great fan of Christopher Reich.

There is so much to enjoy in this piece, not the least of which that Christopher Reich is at the helm. His ability to craft a realistic story is paired with settings across the world. At times, the reader must grip something to stay upright throughout this piece. Simon Riske is back for another scintillating ride, pulling in some of his past friends alongside some new faces. While there is some mention of his backstory, much of the book focuses on his development and attempts to fight for what he feels is right. Riske shows moments of extreme compassion, particularly in the opening segment of the book, but his grit is not something to be discounted either, as he fights to the death to protect those close to him. Many of the secondary characters receive a wonderful depiction through the eyes of Reich, who differentiates them from one another and keeps the reader entertained throughout. The story was masterful and the action pushed the narrative along in ways I have not seen in books of late. Reich has shown that he is a master and seems skilled with most anything he pens. I can hope that this book (the entire series, actually) will garner a new wave of fans, who can then look back to find some of his older work as well. Now, to see what’s next on the agenda… though patience is key!

Kudos, Mr. Reich, for another winner. To say I was riveted would be an understatement.

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

Unmuted: Stories of Courage and Resilience from the GenPRIDE Community, by Various Contributors

Eight stars

I was recently asked if I might be interested in reading through this anthology of short pieces by middle-age people who define themselves as LGBTQIA. As I do not consider myself an expert or knowledgeable in the area, I entered this piece with a blank slate to see what I thought about the various samples. Some sought to discuss the issue of loneliness at the end of a relationship, while others highlighted the sense of awkwardness when they chose to publicly ‘come out’. While there are certainly some unique perspectives on offer, things to which I cannot relate, there are also some of the inherent truths—both emotional and social—that transcend gender or social orientation. I felt a connection to those who lamented the struggle of facing a medical trauma, the writers who lost someone close to them, or even the various writers who tried to make sense of themselves. While I know the collection was meant to highlight the equality of the LGBTQIA, it goes further to push the reality of how alike we all are, when it comes to being humans. Hashtags and protest movements appear to be the way to bring attention to a cause, but pieces of writing like those in this anthology are even more impactful to those who find solace in the written word. Recommended to those who enjoy using their open minds to learn more about others, as well as the reader who has an interest in LGBTQIA issues.

I did not hesitate to read this anthology when it was presented to me, though I was not sure I could do it justice. I found myself connecting to many of the writing samples and caught myself nodding on occasion. However, I chose to enter each piece seeing the author as a writer, not someone who had years of life experience or whose lifestyle differs greatly from me. While I find it important to acknowledge certain disparities in society, I prefer to read for the love of reading, not turn to an author because of the colour of their skin, their gender identity, or even their preference of a partner. The authors here did well to sell me on who they were, exemplifying a strong ability to craft words and communicate their personal stories. None of the stories found herein are divisive, seeking to light a powder keg and disparage suppression and poor treatment in the past. This helps downplay the divisive nature about which I was worried the pieces would focus. If I can offer one issue I found with the collection, it was that the editor did not choose pieces that discussed the LGBTQIA community solely. The struggles of identity or feeling a part of society, but rather chose medical ailments on occasion. I opened this book wanting to learn a perspective about which I knew little. That said, as I mentioned above, it is nice to read a book where the author finds parallels to which I can sometimes relate. Even if I was not entirely blown away, this anthology is still a decent way to raise some much needed money to promote the cause.

Kudos, anthology authors, for sharing of yourselves so honestly. I cannot help but thank you for that.

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

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America, by Erik Larson

Nine stars

Always one to enjoy a little true crime, I had this book highly recommended to me by a very close friend. Erik Larson explores not only the electric sentiment surrounding the World’s Fair in Chicago, but also a sinister character hiding in the shadows, piling up a number of bodies while no one took much notice. The year is 1890 and Chicago is vying to win the right to host the World’s Fair. Set to take place in 1893, the fair has been promised to the United States, allowing a proper quadricentennial celebration of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the New World. After a gruelling vote by Congress, Chicago won the bid and preparations began. Headed by Daniel H. Burnham, the ‘World’s Columbian Exposition’ started its planning stages, seeking the best land, the greatest buildings, and the most elaborate set-up possible to impress the world. With a limited timetable, everything had to move at lightning speed, something that Burnham would soon realise turned out to be a snail’s pace. In the background, one Herman W. Mudgett, who goes by H. H. Holmes, arrived in the area and settled in Chicago. Professing a medical background, Holmes sought to invest in local businesses and lay down some roots. His innovative ideas caught the attention of many, which was paired with his magnetic personality. However, deep within him lurked a man who was infused with the devil’s own magic, or so he believed. Larson discusses early in the book about how Holmes laid the groundwork for numerous cases of insurance fraud, having people obtain life insurance policies and name him (sometimes using more pseudonyms) as the sole beneficiary. Holmes was also known to use his eyes of the deepest blue to lock onto a woman and decide how he might have her as his own. Larson offers up a wonderful narrative as to how Holmes subtlety lured a certain young woman away from her husband, all while having the man invest deeper into a business venture. Once the woman had left her husband, he courted her and promised all the riches he could offer. He let nothing stand in his way, even a pregnancy that he sought to abort, removing all hurdles to his plans. Holmes brought the woman to his suite on Christmas Eve and killed her, though never allowed a single drop of blood to flow from her, thereby hiding much of the forensic evidence. A killer was born, at least in Chicago, though through some fast talking, Holmes convinced everyone that the victim had left to visit family, while selling her body to a local medical school once it had been disarticulated.

With the fair set to open before too long, Burnham had yet to find his piece de resistance; something that would rival the Eiffel Tower in Paris from the fair not five years before. After a number of options proved too underwhelming and M. Eiffel’s attempt to create something new seemed to be a slap in the face, Burnham accepted an idea by a Mr. Ferris to create a massive wheel that would allow fair-goers to see the grounds and much of Chicago from a contained pod. With all the other preparations, Burnham left Ferris to create his masterpiece, hoping that it would be ready for the May 1,1893 opening. He set about making sure everything was running smoothly, while also being feted in the most extravagant ways (Larson includes the menus, which had my mouth watering). By the time the World’s Columbian Exposition opened, the Ferris Wheel was well behind schedule and fair-goers could only gawk at it, hoping that it might be up and running before too long. Burnham seethed in the background, as gate admissions proved to be troubling and the bankers were ready to call in their debts. Meanwhile, Holmes found a new woman to woo, choosing to present himself with a pseudonym so that no one would get suspicious. His plans grew as he had her help him prepare his hotel for the fair-goers, but would wait for things to really kick off before disappearing with more bodies attributable to his sinister work. Holmes surely had a taste for death, though his was far less gruesome than Jack the Ripper, the latest serial killer whose name had been splashed all across the tabloids only a few years before.

In the culminating section of the book, Erik Larson offers the reader a glimpse not only into the wonders that the fair brought, but the intensity of Holmes and his killing spree. While the world was introduced to Juicy Fruit chewing gum, they were oblivious to the missing women who fell at the hands of a folded cloth of chloroform. Aunt Jemima instant pancake mix might have wooed households (more so than the new cereal, Shredded Wheat), Cracker Jacks offered up a new and sweet popcorn-based snack, and new technologies for communication and inter-personal socialisation. All the while, H. H. Holmes plotted horrible ways by which he could kill and feed his ever-growing need for power. In an interesting parallel, while the end of the exposition came, Holmes was also seeking to pack up and depart Chicago. Larson discusses some of the macabre events that saw the end of the exposition look blacker than Chicago had hoped. Holmes’ departure brought him to the attention of the authorities and a massive insurance fraud opened the door to some questions about the whereabouts of some who had gone missing. Larson shows how quickly things went from calm to chaotic and what led authorities to capture a serial killer no one even knew existed. A piece that will surely stay with me for years to come, as I make sure to find more books by Erik Larson to feed my appetite for this sort of writing. Recommended to those who love a chilling piece of true crime, as well as the reader whose love of history and late 19th century America remains high.

Erik Larson offers readers a sensational piece of true crime, though it is so much more. His subtle telling of the murders committed by H. H. Holmes proves to add to the eerie nature of the entire experience, as he layers the narrative with the development and launching of the World’s Columbian Exposition. Featuring so much detail in the slow and methodical planning of the event, Larson pulls the reader into the middle of it all, as though they were there with Daniel H. Burnham through trial and tribulation. Equally as stunning is the means by which Larson told of the plotting Holmes undertook for each of his victims, making sure to fit himself into the community and win over the hearts of neighbours before causing the odd (and intricate) disappearance. Larson could not have added more detail, as it truly feels to the reader as though they are right there, down to the ‘large ice fangs that covered the trains one January night as the engines travelled along the tracks’. It is this depiction that turns this from a book of true crime to one in which the reader can almost sense what is lurking in the shadows. Some may wish to bolt their doors, others might not want to go out after dark, and still others may be left wondering about their neighbours and acquaintances, such is the depth to which Larson makes the reader feel a part of the action. The book is broken into four parts, with vignettes that serve as chapters. Larson balances the narrative between the exposition and Holmes’ activities advancing both as the timeline requires. This is surely one of those books that will keep the reader wondering what to expect, especially those who are not familiar with the murders. With so much to see and do throughout the book, the reader is sure to get lost amongst all the action and the numerous characters. Erik Larson does his best to keep it straight and provides the reader with the ride of their life… and I am not even referring to the Ferris Wheel.

Kudos, Mr. Larson, for a sensational depiction of a period of time meant to be celebratory, with a definite pall of darkness clouding over it. I will be checking out more of your work to see what else I might learn.

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

War: How Conflict Shaped Us, by Margaret MacMillan

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Margaret MacMillan, and Random House for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

War gets a bad rap, according to historian Margaret MacMillan. In this piece, she effectively argues that war is about more than bloodshed and body counts, but serves as a significant influence on society. This quasi-academic piece presents arguments in a clear and somewhat concise manner, permitting the reader to see substantiation of her thesis before coming to a conclusion for themselves. Perusing many blatant, but oft forgotten, aspects of war, MacMillan is able to tie things all together in a riveting conclusion at a time when the next great battle seems only a tweet away!

While MacMillan does concede that wars can be horrific events where large losses of life negatively impact families, she offers the flip side and explores how this spurs the economic engine to begin production. With war comes the need for more supplies and additional armaments, production ramps up, and money flows freely. This includes the development of new weapons and technologies, which may not have been available during past battles. MacMillan explores this at length and shares how some technology is better suited to certain regions than others. Tied to the economy is the addition to the labour market, which means more work for citizens. Unemployment numbers fall and people find themselves more productive, which can also lead to a stronger citizen core. With higher employment comes less gender disparity in the workforce, at least when MacMillan looks to past conflicts. The Great War (and Second World War) opened the workforce up to women, permitting them to play a significant role in adding to the burgeoning economy.

Financial benefits are but one richness that people feel when it comes to war. There is a stronger sense of nationalism during wartime, no matter which country a person calls home. MacMillan explores the strong sense of connection that war brought to people around the world. While not entirely positive, German sentiment during the Second World War was high as the Nazis espoused their form of nationalism. Many of the Western countries went into the Great War with a strong sense of nationalism and sought to strengthen that as they fought to bring about the glory from past victories. MacMillan presents countless examples of this, both on the battlefield and at home. Newspapers sought to drum up support for ‘the boys’ as families waited at home. There is no doubt that nationalism comes into play when war rages on. This may be a temporary bump, but it serves as something to unite people around a common cause. Tied to nationalism is the boost that artistic expression gets with war. MacMillan dedicates an entire chapter on this, but it is worth noting not only that a country’s victories can be exemplified through the arts, but that there is open interpretation when it comes to war, as with many pieces of art in any medium.

MacMillan offers an interesting perspective about how wars are seen through the eyes of the soldier—on the battlefield with bullets sailing all around them—and the individual at home. While there are countless examples, one might best focus on the Vietnam War for this topic, where MacMillan hints that the sentiment of soldiers who were fighting for freedom felt strongly in the jungles of Asia, while general sentiment at home was completely opposite. The distance from the frontline and the synthesising of truths through media representation changes things quite substantially. MacMillan offers this up in two contrasting chapters, almost begging the reader to draw their own conclusions.

Perhaps one of the most interesting chapters in the book is the discussion surrounding rules of war. MacMillan looks at how there have long been ‘agreed sentiments’ when in battle, but these gentleman’s agreements began not to be enough. Around the early part of the American Civil War, documented rules for how prisoners ought to be treated and negotiated ceasefires came into place. This led to a number of key agreements into the 20th century, which were finalised in the Geneva Convention after the Second World War. While these agreements hold no real punitive countermeasure in the moment, there are strong and strict parameters that most nation-states will follow. Into the 21st century, the world has seen that grey area when enemy combatants are not aligned with a recognised nation, though MacMillan and the courts have begun addressing these at some length.

While this is only a small segment of MacMillan’s entire argument, the book is full of so many perspectives sure to pique the interest of the curious reader. MacMillan has used much of her academic life exploring war and the history surrounding regions in conflict, with a number of well-documented books. Her arguments are made in a clear and effective manner, providing proof to support what she presents to the reader. While war is generally seen as a battle of blood and gore, MacMillan tries to show the other perspectives that may be evident, but receive little mention during the most heated moments. In a book broken down into nine chapters, MacMillan is able to effectively prove her thesis and educate the reader at the same time, providing the reader with the most information possible, without inundating them at any point. The book is fairly digestible, though there is no doubt that it has an academic flavour to it. This provides much needed mental stimulation for those who are tired of reading newspaper articles or pieces aimed at the general public. I found this more than refreshing and cannot wait to see what else Margaret MacMillan has to say in the years to come!

Kudos, Madam MacMillan, for another stunning tome. You make Canada proud and are surely one of the best when it comes to war history.

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

Private Moscow (Private #15), by James Patterson and Adam Hamdy

Eight stars

Turning to one of James Patterson’s central series, I encountered a new collaborator for the experience. Adam Hamdy brings some of his own perspective in a series that takes the reader all over the world. Jack Morgan, head of Private, has been invited to New York to discuss an issue with a friend. When Karl Parker is gunned down as soon as the bell goes at the New York Stock Exchange, Morgan goes into work mode and tries to capture the killer, but the wily individual gets away. Morgan works with his New York counterpart to begin investigating, learning that there is a target list, one which includes a newspaper mogul next. Morgan tries to stay one step ahead, but a second body emerges and a local protest group claims responsibility. When Morgan pieces together an international angle to the crimes, he decides to fly to Moscow, where the answers may await him. At Private Moscow, Dinara Orlova has been trying to keep things afloat, though business is quite slow. The surprise arrival of Jack Morgan has her rushing to make sure things are at least in some semblance of order. As she takes Morgan around Moscow, Orlova is targeted by some Russian operatives of her own, adding a little danger to an interesting life. When Morgan and Orlova discover that the crimes are not as they seem, tied to something called Bright Star, they realise that their safety is no longer guaranteed. Morgan is accused of being a Russian spy, sought by the State Department, but must get back stateside to warn others of what is going on. His only hope lies across the Atlantic, but it will take more than some Private maneuvering and help from Orlova to upend this plot. A well-paced addition to the series that showcases another locale and adds a decent case for readers. Recommended to those who have enjoyed the Private series to date, as well as the reader who needs a little espionage in their lighter fare.

I have a love/hate relationship with James Patterson’s writing, though the last few have been quite well done, impressing me with three different collaborators. Adam Hamdy brings some interesting flavouring to the story and helps push the piece into something that I feel will impress those who have followed the long and convoluted route that is Private. Dinara Orlova receives some of the spotlight here, as a dedicated worker in the Private company. Her backstory is presented, though it is her character development that proves to be the most alluring part of her. Gritty, but still pliable, Dinara loves her country, while also seeing that there are some significant issues. She works well with Jack Morgan, but can lead when the time comes. She is strong-willed and does not keep her thoughts to herself, which appears to be a Russian trait. The handful of secondary characters keep the story moving and somewhat interesting. While many authors have used Russia as the new backdrop for novels, Patterson and Hamdy are able to provide enough uniqueness through their characters to keep the reader sated. The story was well constructed and held my attention. While there is always an international flavour to the novels, the authors did not go overboard, inundating the reader with an overload of place names and general references. If I could have asked for something, perhaps some actual Russian phrasing to add another layer of ‘authenticity’ to the story. I find that some authors are able to paint a better picture of the goings-on with phrases, which are then translated for the reader’s sake. Overall, a good read and I am happy to have found a positive Patterson novel worth the sales it will garner.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Hamdy, for a great addition to the series. I hope to see your collaborate work 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

Team of Five: The Presidents Club in the Age of Trump, by Kate Anderson Brower

Nine stars

Always one to flock towards something political, especially as I prepare for my ‘election-related book reading’ binge, I turned my attention to this piece by Kate Anderson Brower. The premise of the book is quite intriguing, an analysis of that elusive club of past US presidents in the Age of the current POTUS. Brower uses the early part of the book to lay out some of the unwritten ground rules the club has, things that each member ought to do (or not do) to keep themselves in good standing. This includes not being overly critical of the sitting president in a public forum, respecting the role of the office, and engaging in at least cordial behaviour when gathering for public events, whatever those might be. While the book uses the most recent group of five living presidents at the time of the 2016 election—Carter, Bush 41, Clinton, Bush 43, and Obama—there is a great deal of discussion about other groups over the years and how they interacted with one another. This contrast becomes important throughout the book, but also adds some additional flavour to an already interesting topic. Brower highlights that there have been a number of unexpected friendships that grew out of being a part of this club, even men who were sworn enemies at one time (when they clashed in elections) but have come to grow close, such as the Carter-Ford, Bush 41-Clinton, and Bush 43-Obama connections. While the relationships may have been unexpected, there was always the thread of statesmanship and respect that helped to foster these ties. Brower extrapolates her exploration to include First Ladies as well, some of whom have been as warm to one another as their husbands. All of the players herein receive their own peppered biographies and the connections enrich the larger narrative as the reader can see just how integral the cohesiveness of the club mentality is to success. Surprisingly, there is one standout member of the club, one who seems to be less within the fold than simply accepted because his credentials match the threshold for entry. Jimmy Carter has been quite outspoken about all the others who followed him and made no qualms about voicing his concerns and criticisms. This is surprising for the man I always thought of as the affable farmer, but it seems he really does rub people the wrong way. The reader need look no further than the cover photo for the book to see how he is outside the visual collective of the others. While the Carter distancing finds itself a part of the book throughout, it is an interesting foreboding to the second underlying theme of the book, what the next club member (current POTUS) has been doing in relation to those who await his arrival. It is there that things get even more interesting.

There is no doubt that President Trump has made it his mission to speak his mind, no matter then consequences. His Tweets, public comments, and rousing conspiracies have been a part of his persona for many years. Brower depicts this and doesn’t pull any punches as she analyses how this plays into the foundational rules of the Presidents’ Club. Trump has targeted all of his predecessors as being wrong, poor leaders, or completely unfit at one point or another. His slanderous comments far surpass anything even the outsider Jimmy Carter may have said over the past four decades. That Trump is tearing down those who have come before him, serving the American public, is quite telling and Brower makes the argument that it could topple the strength of the club as soon as January 20, 2021 when there could be a new POTUS sworn-in. That he has no shame in attacking others does not surprise any of the other men who are part of the club, though Brower highlights just how they feel about the current US Administration. There is no love loss between club members and their next inductee, though I am not sure Trump cares all that much. His scorched earth policy of ruining anything that does not make him look amazing has surely been effective in keeping America from being great, as Brower effectively argues, though what it will do for the club remains a mystery. Never has a sitting president offered up so much negativity towards those who served before him and rarely have members of the club been so vocal in their critiques. Whatever does happen, it will surely be worth watching, as the country teeters. A great piece that mixes presidential biographies with a biography of the presidency. Kate Anderson Brower offers a refreshing look at one of the most exclusive groups in the world. Recommended to those who love presidential biographies, as well as the reader interested in some investigative journalism and analysis.

I am always interested in seeing some of the sentiments that emerge from these Wizards of American Oz, particularly when one can peek behind the curtain and get the honest truth. Brower uses a great writing style to present a thorough backstory of the five men being discussed at length herein, as well as some added anecdotes about other past members of the club who have died. She offers what seems like a well-rounded approach, with strong comparisons to other times the club has been this large, though there were also times when only one or two past presidents lived, their sage advice much harder to garner. Brower offers up much in the way of background research within this piece, using past aides, White House employees, and even the actual actors (presidents and First Ladies themselves) to guide the narrative offer something more impactful than even I could have expected. Things flowed really well and Brower organizes herself in such a way that the reader cannot help but want to know more. There are some truly touching moments that show the compassion of these men towards one another—particularly when speaking of attending funerals for past presidents—as well as a true frigidity between them during major policy clashes, even if a buttoned lip remained the order of the day. The attention to detail is fabulous and Brower begs the reader to pay attention so that she can present some raw truths and scandalous sentiments about how these former presidents feel the Republic is faring. The thoroughly documented chapters offer the reader a great deal of information, though could be a great launching point for more research, should the keen reader wish to do so. If there is one thing that I took away from this book, it is that since January 20, 2017, America has lost its lustre and there is a need to look to its past to truly find its displaced greatness. Whether it will find its way is one thing, but one can be sure that the Presidents’ Club is surely never to live up to its past greatness for a number of years. That is perhaps the most disheartening thing of all!

Kudos, Madam Brower, for educating and entertaining me so much as I made my way through your book. I cannot wait to see what else you’ve penned, as I am sure to take something away from it 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

Hunting Justice (Will Carson #1.1), by Lara Coates

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to Lara Coates for providing me with a copy of this novella, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Having discovered the wonderful writing of Lara Coates earlier this year, I was pulled into more of her work when she offered up this novella the other day (available to all those who seek to join her mailing list). While I adored I Am Justice, her debut novel, which serves as a police procedural and psychological thriller, there was something about the killer that left me wanting to know more. Coates filled this in, with a novella and gives the reader some context as to how the killer got to the point of turning serial in the aforementioned novel. Ethan Cooper only had his mother, after an alcoholic father forced them out of their home. While they did not have much, Ethan and his mother could rely on one another and the small amount of money they saved. One night, while out driving, they were hit by an out of control vehicle in a roundabout. The crash left the car mangled and Ethan’s mother ended up in a medically induced coma. The other driver got off with a slap on the wrist and Ethan watched his mother in the Intensive Care Unit for months, losing an eye and a leg in the process. When they left the hospital, Ethan refused to let anyone else help with his mother’s care. After finishing his schooling, he was forced to find work to support them. Ethan follows up on a lead and gets work inside the local court building. He sees the legal process as being anything but fair or swift. When the man who left his mother so injured is back in court, years later, Ethan watched the legal system offer a tap on the wrist yet again. It was time for some justice, that which only Ethan could dole out properly. A great novella that keeps the curious reader eager to devour this piece. Recommended to those who loved the first novel in the series, as well as those who love getting into the head of a killer!

I cannot say enough about Lara Coates and her work, which now includes a short piece that I can use between larger reading projects. As I have with her other pieces, I devoured this novella, eager to get inside the head of all its characters. While this is an interesting prequel to I Am Justice, so as not to ruin the intensity of the hunt for a killer by DS Will Carson, it would only make sense to read it after the fact. Ethan Cooper is given a great deal of attention here, with a strong backstory and some development throughout his life. Fuelled by wanting to protect his mother, Ethan’s action always have her best interests in mind. As the reader discovers, it is only when Ethan gets into a position of power than he can truly exact the revenge—the justice—that he feels has not been properly doled out through the courts. The other characters in this piece offer some great insight in to the protagonist’s life. Shaping and flavouring how Ethan will develop the interactions secondary characters have shine through effectively. I loved the idea of this novella, shedding light on one person whose core values may have been missed in the opening novel. Coates does this effectively and weaves a degree of compassion into his character, helping readers to care more than they might normally for a killer. As I have enjoyed everything that Lara Coates has penned to date, I am eager to see what she has next for series fans and those who are looking for a new thriller/police procedural series to enjoy!

Kudos, Madam Coates, for a great novella. You have a gift and I am constantly finding new things I enjoy about how you spin a tale.

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

Written in Blood (Robert Hunter #11), by Chris Carter

Nine stars

After devouring a sensational psychological thriller by an up and coming great author of the genre, she reminded me of her passion for Chris Carter and spoke highly of his work. With Carter’s latest on my teetering TBR pile, I knew it was time to pull it to the top and return to the dark world of serial killers, who are safe to roam the streets of LA until Detective Robert Hunter locks onto their scent. Carter offers yet another stunning novel that reminds me just how passionate I get about great writing and a disturbing plot line. With only a few weeks until Christmas, Angela Wood is doing her best to reap the rewards of being a pickpocket, that is, until she targets the wrong man. Her stash for the night may include a sizeable amount of money, but there’s also a satchel with a mysterious journal inside. After gazing at it for only a moment, Angela realises that she is in too deep and turns the journal over to the authorities in a way only she could devise. When the journal is revealed to Detective Robert Hunter of the Ultra Violent Crimes Unit of the LAPD, he and his partner, Carlos Garcia, begin at the start, only to realise what they have before them is a murder journal. The pages include a narrative about what ‘the voices’ are telling this person to do, which includes photos of the sixteen various victims. The names all match missing persons reports, but the deaths have never been reported and the bodies never found. Hunter and Garcia follow the precise coordinates offered for the first victim, which leads them to a coffin in the ground, one in which the victim was mishandled before and after death, as well as viewed as she suffocated, by web cam. As Hunter and Garcia delve deeper, they learn about Angela and her role in all of this. What begins as an interrogation soon turns into something much more dangerous, as the killer locks onto the lowly pickpocket and wants his journal back. When Hunter and Garcia learn more about the voices and the killer’s likely schizophrenia, they know that what they thought was real has taken a significant turn for the worse. After Angela is plucked from protective custody, the race is on, with a killer who only wants a journal and is prepared to kill anyone in his path for get it, turning Hunter into hunted! Stunning in its presentation, Chris Carter has done it again. Binge worthy writing if ever there was some in the genre! Recommended to those who need something dark and sadistic to keep their reading life spiced up, as well as the reader who cannot get enough of the genre.

I have never gone wrong since I picked up the first of the Robert Hunter novels. Chris Carter is a master craftsman and knows just how to lead the reader down a path before trapping them inside the prison that is his narrative. Robert Hunter is back for an eleventh (!) novel and could not be more in tune with his job. With no real backstory to add to his complex past, the book focuses on his present and some development, though things tend to be fairly case-centred for him. Hunter uses his intuitiveness and keen skills to hone in on the minutiae that help blow the case wide open, though he is not one to wait patiently when the clock is ticking. Series fans will likely enjoy his grit and determination, though he can sometimes lack the sense of humour needed to offset the work he does. The handful of secondary characters keep this story on point, while serving to help push the story in a forward direction. Carter knows which tools to use and when in order to make it an adventure the reader will not soon forget, flavouring the narrative with dialogue, development, and even some twists that no one saw coming. Offering clues like breadcrumbs, Carter begs the reader to follow, but warns that there may be no way out, save to finish this sadistic piece of writing, when the killer’s true intentions are revealed. The story is nothing less than I would expect from Carter and the rawness is something that some readers will likely find over the top. His mix of chapter lengths reel the reader in and force them to negotiate a web of intense emotions and a case that gets more complex the deeper Hunter delves. With that warning though, anyone prepared to allow themselves into a world where no depravity towards victims seems too much, Chris Carter is one of the only guides you’ll ever need!

Kudos, Mr. Carter, for another stellar piece of writing. I cannot wait to see what else you have to offer.

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

Prinz David’s Castle, by Daniel Richard Smith

Ten stars (trust me here)!!

First and foremost, a large thank you to Daniel Richard Smith for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

When Daniel Richard Smith approached me to read his debut novel, I was perhaps more nervous than he—as an independent author seeking an audience—as I have had mixed experiences in that regard. Smith hoped that I would enjoy its story and perhaps the message on offer. I read the dust jacket blurb and was enthralled, hoping the journey would be as exciting as it was educational. The book consists of three time periods, all integral to one another. The centre of the three is the journey of Robert Schmidt (Smith) as he pieces together his uncle’s childhood disappearance during the height of Nazi rule in Germany. Smith’s research and interviews in the late 1970s seek to answer some of the key questions of Nazi decisions to sanitise the country in the lead-up to what would be the Second World War (more on that in a moment). While working to fit everything together, Smith comes to terms with the choices his father (Lukas) made over the years, embittered by having to flee from Germany to Canada in the late 1930s. Smith also learns of his own brother, a man who was erased from the Smith family and given up as a ward of the the province. The primary narrative of the story is told in the late1930s, when the Nazi’s hold over the country continued to get stronger. The Nuremberg Race Laws were coming into effect, which ushered in a program, Aktion T4, to ‘disinfect’ the country, read euthanise those who were mentally and physically impure. This included children and the elderly, who were the most vulnerable. The Nazis created killing centres throughout their territory and installed fake showers to offer false hope to those who were led there, killing them en masse and burning the bodies before anyone on the outside might know. Felix Schmidt was once a prominent doctor in Germany, stripped of his role because he is a Jew. Felix and his wife try to raise their boys—Lukas and David—with limited resources. David suffers from cerebral palsy and is sure to be sent to a killing centre, should he be found. In need of medical attention, the Schmidts must make a decision, save themselves or help David escape the reach of the Nazis. In a harrowing tale, Lukas and his mother flee for Canada, while Felix remains behind to ensure David’s safety. However, the story shows that nothing goes quite as planned and David is shuffled around in an effort to protect him. Enter the aforementioned Robert Schmidt narrative. This creates a third narrative, which includes the culmination of Robert’s work, sent to his own nephew, Duncan, in 2015. Duncan Smith now lives in Edmonton and has no idea of his family’s harrowing stories, which are sure to rock him to the core. Stunning in its delivery and rawness, Daniel Richard Smith tells a story that must be presented, as painful as it is to read. A must read (and I stress this more than I would normally) for anyone who has an interest in how the Nazis treated their citizens, as well as the reader who finds solace in a story where a pinprick of light fosters a determination for the truth to shine through.

When reading and reviewing a book last week about Operation: Paperclip (search my reviews for more info), I mentioned that I have tired of reading about the Nazis and their role in the Second World War. It seems a topic that has been flogged to death. However, Daniel Richard Smith offers not only a unique perspective, but also one that is a mix of fact and fiction, presenting something that is equal parts horrible and life-affirming. I knew that there were Nazi atrocities before the infamous concentration camps and that German citizens were killed for being Jews, homosexuals, and even having mental illnesses, but this was one of the first times that I could read all the specifics of Nazi early euthanasia while the world was distracted with other matters. Smith tells in the narrative of how Hitler used the bombing of Pearl Harbor as a distraction to open his own killing centres and terminate the lives of thousands of Germans, leaving only a smoking mess behind. I will not choose a single protagonist in this piece, as it is the collective who make the story worth reading. Smith’s detailed accounts of his characters and their actions makes the story come alive on yet another level, one that cannot easily be put into words in a single review. The reader must be ready for one of the most harrowing experiences of their lives, as Smith pulls no punches in a narrative that builds on itself, weaving the horrors of human nature with the determination to live. His writing is so realistic, it is almost as though the reader is right there: dodging guards on the streets of Nuremberg, in the mountains of Austria, or even aboard a boat making its way into Montreal. There is so much rawness that the reader will likely have to take a moment to compose themselves, though the story is so captivating that it invites a binge reading. Daniel Richard Smith uses some of his own experiences, based on the author biography I read, and infuses them into this story, which adds a new dimension to its greatness. Those who love historical fiction need look no further than this book for a moving and sometimes awkward look back, with just enough shame embedded in the narrative to wonder what the world was thinking as appeasement was the policy of the day. This is one of those books that will stay with me forever and I am happy to have both an author signed copy of the book and the audio, both of which are stunning representations. I encourage you to find a copy of this book or have your local library purchase it, not only because it supports an independent author, but also because it should be shared as widely as possible. And those who know me through my reviews will understand that I don’t say this lightly.

Kudos, Mr. Smith for such a stunning book. I am sorry I did not begin it as soon as it arrived in the post, but you can be sure that if/when I get my hands on your current project (one you shared with me by email), it will move to the top of my list, post haste.

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

The Club (Will Carson #2), by Lara Coates

First and foremost, a large thank you to Lara Coates for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Lara Coates is back with another Australian police procedural that doubles as a psychological thriller. It’s sure to keep the reader up well into the night discovering every detail that makes this new series one to watch. The Cash Life Club is the most elite collective in all of Melbourne, quite possibly the world. The Club’s motto, “pay with cash…or your life” is as literal as it comes, where members front a massive fee to bid on human ‘items’ and then orchestrate a torture session of their dreams. As long as fees are paid, there are no problems… for now. Detective Sergeant Will Carson is enjoying a rare day off when he gets a cold call from a woman who wishes to report her husband missing. While Carson works strictly homicide, he placates the woman and agrees to make a few calls before booting things off to Missing Persons. As the case of Andrew West turns up some oddities, Carson thinks little of it and remains focussed on some work of his own. His interest is piqued when one of his fellow detectives fails to show up for work and has a highly encrypted phone at his home, much like Mr. West. DS Carson cannot put his finger on it, but there’s something out of sorts and he’s not able to shake it. Trying to clear his head, DS Carson takes a trip out of town and meets a lovely young woman, developing an instant spark and budding romance, though it appears they cannot agree on its depth. Work always seems to get in the way and the discussion gets derailed at the worst possible moment. A gentleman arrives at the precinct demanding to speak to DS Carson, promising that he has essential information. Carson soon learns of the Cash Life Club and how this man is both a member and their next target, all because he has not been able to settle his debts. After giving DS Carson the full story on the Club and its sadistic goings-on, all efforts are made to locate its whereabouts and stop things before they get even more out of hand. As the story comes to its climactic moment, much is revealed about Will Carson and the lengths he will go to protect those he loves. A stunning follow-up to her debut thriller, Coates educates and entertains in equal measure, while leaving the reader felling disgusted in the best possible way. Recommended to those who love their psych thrillers as raw as possible, as well as the reader who enjoys a quick and gritty procedural.

I stumbled upon Lara Coates early in 2020 and devoured her debut novel in a single day, much as I did with this piece. The story here is paced so well that the reader will likely not want to stop once they get into the groove, particularly with the first and final ten chapters that take things to the next level. With DS Will Carson back in the protagonist’s seat, there is much to enjoy about his character. Touching on a backstory buried in Los Angeles with the FBI, Carson has fled twelve thousand kilometres to start a new life and hit the reset button. Heading up the Homicide Squad, he uses his superior policing skills to locate any killer that crosses his professional path without becoming too high and mighty. Always up for a little ribbing, Carson is affable and eager to engage with others on a social level. As Coates shows, he’s also willing to let down his wall enough to show a little romantic side, but don’t expect too much all at once. Some of the other characters within this piece as just as alluring, though not for the same reasons. Coates creates them to fuel the various plot lines she has germinating and keeps the reader guessing how they might fit into the larger storylines that gain momentum throughout. The story is like few others I have read in a long while, compacting a great deal in short order. Coates is able to push some of the most graphic and depraved incidents between chapters of wonderful police work, keeping the reader guessing where things will go and how DS Carson will find an opening through which he can crack the case. Use of the quick chapter helps to propel the story forward and leaves the reader demanding more, devouring pages until there is some resolution. Lara Coates leaves it all on the page with the last ten chapters, which opens the reader’s eyes and creates a cliffhanger that will need at least one more novel to resolve. I cannot wait for more by Lara Coates as she makes her impression on the genre, both within her native Australia and around the world!

Kudos, Madam Coates, for another sensational book. Will Carter is a fabulous character and you have crafted him so well that I cannot wait for what else you have in store for him.

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

Last Known Contact, by Phillipa Nefri Clark

Eight stars

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

Always up for a strong police procedural, this book by Phillipa Nefri Clark offers a great Aussie flavouring, as a missing persons case brings out a whole bunch of professional and personal skeletons from a closet already full of secrets. When Ellie Connor arrives back in Melbourne from a business trip, she is met with the headline that her father has gone missing. Jack Bannerman, CEO of Bannerman Wealth Group, was last seen headed to his yacht. Since then, his family and colleagues have been trying to find out where he might have gone. Ellie panics and scours the area, finding nothing but a voicemail asking her to go to their ‘secret spot’ where Jack’s left her a letter. There is nothing there, but Ellie’s estranged husband, Dennis, seems ready to dismiss any concerns Jack’s disappearance may bring. When police detective Ben Rossi arrives on scene, Ellie cannot help but remember the connection they once shared, making things a tad more awkward than she might have hoped. At the office, Bannerman Wealth Group’s Head of Security, Paul Dekeles tries to help and console Ellie, while also appearing to inch closer to her in a less than professional manner. When a local fisherman goes missing, everyone begins to wonder if a serial murderer might be on the loose, which is further exacerbated by the fact that a body is seen floating in the harbour. If this were not enough, Ellie soon learns of a major business decision of which she was not aware, something that could change the tenor of the investigation and open new possible leads to an already complicated case. A fast-paced story that keeps the reader guessing until all the pieces fall into place. Recommended for those who love a good mystery where family ties are severed, as well as the reader who enjoys a police procedural with some dramatic flair.

While I have never read Phillipa Nefri Clark, the dust jacket blurb alone made me want to dive right in. The story begins swiftly and never loses its momentum, as much is revealed about Jack Bannerman and the web many of the core characters have spun for themselves. At the centre of it all is Ellie Conner, whose return to Australia seems to have led to a massive investigation about her father’s disappearance. The reader learns much about Ellie’s backstory, including her closeness to a brother who was once quite a role model for her. After fleeing the confines of the family bubble, Ellie returns to make her mark on one part of the Bannerman empire, though some of her rash choices have not worked out as she had hoped. Struggling with some emotions for the man in charge of locating her father, Ellie must remain professional and try to determine where her future will take her. Discovering some less than savoury things that are going on within the family, Ellie tries to process it all without falling apart. Her connection to Jack Bannerman is obvious, but there is surely a strain between them that has yet to heal. Clark utilises a few other core characters who serve various roles, if not suspects in the disappearance. They each bring a little something to the table and provide the reader with the needed backstories to make their guilt quite plausible. Working in tandem, they help create added depth to an already great narrative and keep things on the mark throughout. The story was strong and the plot development had me quite impressed. With a mix of chapter lengths, Clark keeps the reader wondering where the next twist will come and how it plays into the larger theme of the book. Part mystery, part emotional discovery, this is one book that is sure to make waves and earn Phillipa Nefri Clark a slew of new fans, myself included.

Kudos, Madam Clark, for a highly entertaining piece. I cannot wait to see what else you’ve written and see how it compares to 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

The Grownup, by Gillian Flynn

Seven stars

In this short story by Gillian Flynn, the reader meets the unnamed narrator, whose life working as a quasi-sex worker pays the bills, but really doesn’t bring too much glory. Working as a ‘psychic’ on the side, she encounters Susan Burke, who has quite the story of familial worry and concern. After visiting the old, Victorian home, the ‘psychic’ is not longer sure that this con will work, as some of the things that take place are quite disturbing. With a sociopathic step-son, Susan passes along a haunting story of previous inhabitants of the house, where a bloody break with reality led to some horrible press. As the step-son begins spouting off some violent ideas, our protagonist is all but sure she will be one of the next victims and has little to show for her life. A great filler between larger reading commitments, Flynn keeps the reader hooked throughout. Recommended to those who need a twist or two as they read, as well as the reader who does not want a linear experience.

Having never read any Gillian Flynn before this, I was surely quite curious to see what all the hype might be about. Flynn pens quite the piece, opening with some narration that had me do a double take. From there, things progressed away from the bawdy and into something a little paranormal, though nothing too off the wall. Those characters who were presented served their purpose, though none leapt off the page for me. The story held my attention throughout, something that needed to happen early on, as there was little time to develop an affinity for all the essential elements. I enjoyed the hour or so I invested, but I was not gobsmacked. Still, I’ll try something else and plunge into the mix of reviews again to see where I find myself.

Kudos, Madam Flynn, for entertaining me. I like your writing and can only hope your other work is just as intriguing.

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

Anne of Green Gables (Anne of Green Gables #1), by Lucy Maud Montgomery

Eight stars

I have to admit that I hang my head in shame that, as a proud Canadian, I have never attempted to read any of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s collection of novels surrounding a precocious red-headed little girl. Asked to do so as part of a buddy read, I dove in to see what all the hoopla might be about and to finally partake in a part of true Canadiana, albeit a novel aimed at youths. Prince Edward Island is abuzz when Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert expect the arrival of a young boy from an orphanage. When Matthew arrives at the train station, there is no boy, but an eleven year-old girl. After an awkward exchange, Matthew and the young red-headed Anne Shirley begin the ride back to their residence. Anne is full of pep and vinegar, chatting the entire way and offering her own editorial comments about anything she can see. Marilla’s surprise when Anne arrives is one that cannot be masked, leaving the young girl to burst into tears. With the late hour, the issue is shelved until the morning and Anne settles into her room at Green Gables. Anne’s next few days are met with many troubling encounters with those close to the Cuthberts, many of which cause Anne distress and significant anger. When the Cuthberts agree to keep her on a trial basis, Anne finds herself putting down some roots and meets a young Diana Barry, another girl her own age. Anne and Diana create a wonderful world fuelled by their imaginations, which helps fill their time when not attending school. Anne meets her match, academically, in the form of Gilbert Blythe. An infuriatingly sharp Gilbert matches Anne’s skills and makes his intelligence known in various forms. Settling in at Green Gables, Anne and her friends find themselves in much mischief, to the point that the days turn to months and no one can remember what life was like before Anne arrived. Certainly a wonderful match, even if there are some bumps along the way. When a significant decisions awaits Anne, she must choose between her education and a family that has come to love her. The choice is one many readers will find quite amusing, amongst a great deal of emotional outpouring. A delightfully entertaining first book in a long series about Anne and her formative years along Canada’s East Coast. Recommended to those who love novels depicting early 20th century settings, as well as readers who enjoy something with a Canadian flavour to it.

As the father of a lively red-headed child, I know all too well the personality that Lucy Maud Montgomery infused into her protagonist. While Neo is an active eight year-old, his feistiness and need to talk incessantly reminded me so much of Anne’s depiction in this story, as well as their mutual need to get into mischief. Anne does come across as a tad precocious in the early portion of the novel, making her less than likeable to some readers, but her inherent desire to fit in is understandable. With a strong backstory in one of the early chapters, Montgomery weaves quite the tale for Anne as she seeks to finally be accepted and have a family of her own. As she gets more comfortable with the Cuthberts, Anne becomes one of the family, though her curiosity is sure to drive her parents wild. As the story progresses, the reader can see Anne’s character growth as she gets older, set against the backdrop of a Canada that still places women in subservient roles. Others in the story serve as plot advancers for the larger Anne narrative. Montgomery uses her characters so effectively and brings them back as needed, without carrying a large list of names for the reader to recollect throughout the entire reading journey. I am eager to see how some of these names will return throughout the series, though I am sure some flavour just the book in which they first emerge. The story itself is as Canadian as ever, though the early 20th century setting will differentiate it a great deal from today. A quasi-rural settling on Prince Edward Island, Canada’s smallest province, creates a more wholesome aspect to the story, though it also helps to keep the focus on the plot, rather than having to worry about too many distractions in the forms of busy streets and large populations. I went into this book agreeing to fulfil a buddy read, but think that I might continue with the series, a book a month to keep the pleasantness of the series lingering into 2021. There’s something about a young ginger’s adventures that I like a great deal and it will allow me to add more editorialising about Neo’s life as well!

Kudos, Madam Montgomery, for a great beginning to the series. This is a Canadian classic that I hope many young readers will discover when time permits.

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

Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History, by Bill Schutt

Nine stars

When the mention of cannibalism enters a discussion, many think of human skulls being used as soup bowls or how a liver might be nicely accompanied by some fava beans. However, Bill Schutt argues that these have been overly dramatised views and were likely drummed up from a horror movie or documents in history meant to demean a specific group. His exploration of cannibalism throughout the various species does include humans, though there are but one minute example of the overall study found herein. Schutt argues that the idea of eating one’s own species—how we would define the idea of cannibalism—is not strictly for reasons of starvation, but also for social order, ritual, and to cull the population. He speaks about some birds, specifically those in the ‘raptor’ classification, whose young target the slow to hatch siblings. These younger and less vigorous hatchlings will be bullied by siblings and either eaten when times are tough, or tossed out of the nest to ensure the plentiful food does not need to be shared too many ways. There are also some of the interesting species who use cannibalism as a form of sexual activity, whereby the female will obtain the needed fertilisation and then dispose of her mate in short order. While the praying mantis and black-widow spider come to mind, there are also varieties of snails who follow this same practice, leaving the reader to wonder if their next posh appetiser might once have been a killer mother!

Schutt not only looks at the animal kingdom, but turns his attention to humans and cannibalism. Once used as a societal weapon, cannibalism labels were discussed and documented by Christopher Columbus during his trips to the New World. He discussed how tribes would eat their enemies by hacking them to bits and then cooking them up for a meal. Columbus also depicts this as more of a celebratory way to exact victory, than the need to sustain one’s self with food. Thus began the branding of peoples who were not as refined as cannibalism or savages, though Schutt argues that some of these reports were likely exaggerated tales, drummed up to earn the respect an awe of those back in Spain. Interestingly enough, humans have used a form of ritual cannibalism in one of their major monotheistic religions since the Common Era. Christianity’s central theme of the body and blood of Jesus with bread and wine has long been glossed over. Schutt discusses the Vatican’s argument of transubstantiation and how Catholics are to feel they are sharing the actual body and blood in that symbolic changeover has rarely caused anyone to bat an eye. However, it is right there in the Eucharist and Schutt can find no one within the Church who calls this an abomination or ‘sick’ act. Continuing the human cannibalism discussion, Schutt uses his longest chapter to tackle one of the most infamous events of the act in American history. The Donner party sought to travel from Missouri through to California in the 1840s. When they took what some felt was a shortcut, they were trapped in a massive snowstorm and left without food. Early accounts depict members of the 87 adults and children turning to killing and eating one another for sustenance, though Schutt argues that some of this was pure fallacy, where modern examination of the remains clearly showed mules and other livestock to be the primary victims. Still, it makes for some great reading and explains some of the modern jokes and barbs that are tossed around.

In a final section of the book, Schutt explores not only the ritual cannibalism of some cultures far off the beaten path, but also the anthropological documentation (or lack thereof) surrounding the activity. While it is likely taking place, when asked directly, elders would discount that there was anything of that nature within their village. However, it was more because of the stigma outsiders offered about the practice than complete embarrassment surrounding it that led the the lie. Schutt further examines the fact that many groups consider the cannibalistic rituals to be so sacred that they are not flouted to the general public, much as sexual activity and defecation would not be a public display. Schutt’s research and interviews sheds some light on the issue and proves enlightening to the curious reader. He further explores how the secretive nature of the rituals also led to an inadvertent cover-up surrounding a serious brain disease, akin to what many know in the vernacular as Mad Cow Disease. Women and children were contracting the disease from infected victims of sacrifice and thereby spreading it through ingestion of diseased flesh and organs. A fascinating look and analysis, though surely not for the weak of constitution. A great book to open the eyes of the curious reader, while they remain baffled at how the world around them seems to work in such unique ways. Recommended to those who love to learn as they read, as well as the reader who is always seeking to think outside the box.

I stumbled upon this book by Bill Schutt and thought that it might be a wonderful reading experience, enlightening as much as it was entertaining. Schutt, a trained invertebrate zoologist, offers a wonderful glimpse into the world of the animal and insect kingdoms without shying away from much. He explores not only cannibalism, but also the natural birthing and mating techniques of many animals, as well as how vastly different they are from humans. This sheds light on just how unique the world around us tends to be, which ushers in a great discussion about the larger issue of cannibalistic behaviours. I do not think that Schutt seeks to erase that eating one’s own species should be seen as something worth noting, but more to demystify the idea and show that it happens with some degree of regularity and should be accepted. The numerous examples of cannibalism in other species is not only fascinating, but to learn that it happens for a variety of reasons is also worth noting. Sibling rivalry, pre-natal survival, and even controlling the population, all seem to make sense, when argued from an academic perspective. With great detail, Schutt seeks to educate his reader about the ins and outs of it all, though he seems not to inundate the reader with too much. Schutt uses the expertise of many zoologists, like himself, and other specialists to shed light on the rituals of many species, mixing his own research with well-documented interviews. Schutt divides his discussion into well-balanced chapters and offers just the right about of witty repartee to keep the reader from taking things too seriously. An eyebrow-raising book that keeps the reader on their toes throughout, I can only hope that others will take the chance to read this piece. Plus, after a period when parents were schooling their children at home (and may be again, this scholastic year) due to COVID-19, it helps to justify why some adults wanted to toss their offspring into the oven and crank up the heat!

Kudos, Mr. Schutt, for this enlightening view of the world through the eyes of cannibals. I loved it and will be reading more of your work soon!

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

The Midwife Murders, by James Patterson and Richard DiLallo

Seven stars

With another collaborative effort, James Patterson and Richard DiLallo present a thriller that will touch on some of the most panicked possibilities that many parents could imagine. This book will help pass the time, though should not be considered one of their stronger efforts. Working in the heart of New York City, Lucy Ryuan is a senior midwife. She helps women all throughout their pregnancy journey, culminating in live births and the joy of parenthood. When two babies are kidnapped from the hospital while she is on shift, Lucy is highly concerned and can only imagine the horror that follows for two mothers. When a woman is found cut open, clinging to life as her newborn is nowhere to be found, Lucy knows that she will have to help the authorities take action. She learns of a case where someone has been trying to purchase babies from mothers, wondering if there may be a connection. While Lucy is eager to follow a few leads, the detective on the case wants her out of his hair and sends her on a temporary vacation. Lucy and her son make their way to West Virginia, where Lucy’s family resides. While her mind is off the kidnapped babies, Lucy is forced to face some skeletons in her familial closet and come to terms with a past she hoped to put on the back burner. When the authorities learn of a potential new baby sale, Lucy’s called back to New York, where she can help with a sting operation. However, this is no regular couple looking for a baby and Lucy may find herself in a great deal of trouble. A decent book to add to the massive Patterson collection. Recommended to those who like the quick Patterson style, as well as readers who like a unique-style mystery.

While I know that this book has received mixed reviews, I tried to go into the experience with an open mind. I did not feel the book was as horrid as some panned it in their reviews, but I was also not left in a state of awe at the superior writing style. Patterson and DiLallo offer up an interesting mystery, told from a unique angle. Lucy Ryuan proves to be a decent protagonist, bringing a unique profession into the spotlight. Serving as a midwife, she educates the reader throughout the novel about her profession, while showing a great deal of compassion for the mothers and babies with whom she deals on a regular basis. The authors paint a well-rounded picture of Lucy’s life as a single mother, though some of the more rom-com moments proved to be a little over the top. She is gritty and shows where her priorities lie as she fights for the newly-born in a world where the lives of babies are sold for a price. Others who grace the pages of the book offer their own perspectives, flavouring things and keeping the story going. I cannot say that there were any that stuck out tremendously, but most could stand on their own. The story was decent enough, trying to find out who was kidnapping babies and then selling them, though there were some overly stereotypical discussions and antagonist labelling throughout. I was pleased to see Patterson and DiLallo tacking the ongoing issue with opioid overdose in a tangential plot line while Lucy was in West Virginia. This is an issue that has received much attention in the news, though it was also handled with grace here, neither diluting it nor making it into some sensational revelation. Overall, it was an enjoyable reading experience, though I am not sure it will resonate for months to come with it. Still, Patterson books tend to be good fillers between larger reading experiences.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and DiLallo, for this interesting piece of writing. Your parental sides are surely shining here, though I suspect you needed help with some of the more technical birthing terms.

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

The Tech, by Mark Ravine

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to Mark Ravine and Dawn Hill Publications for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

While author-peddled novels can be hit and miss for me, this debut thriller by Mark Ravine has all the ingredients for a stunning novel. Full of intrigue, mystery, and well-developed characters, this is one book that readers should give a second look, particularly those looking for a strong police procedural. Alexandra Cassidy has spent a number of years with the FBI, but does not seem able to curb her acerbic wit. When she is sent to Arizona to head-up a field office, Supervisory Special Agent (SSA) Cassidy is unsure what to expect. Her team is composed of the riffraff within the Bureau, agents from all over the country in a similar position to her own. Not long after she arrives in the office, SSA Cassidy is sent to join her team at the scene of a bank robbery. While things went down quickly, a clue leads the team to the assailants with ease. This is soon followed by a tip regarding a missing group of teenage girls, who are being shuttled out of the US and into a life as sex slaves. While SSA Cassidy loves the rush of solving cases, she cannot help but stumble when it comes to getting to know her team. They are leery around her, having recently lost their last supervisor without even a goodbye. In addition to the field agents is the IT tech, Michael Patterson, who seems eager to help however he can. Little does anyone know, but Michael has a secret weapon buried inside his office. He works with ‘Aisha’, an interactive computer program able to synthesise massive amounts of data and inch those on the team in the right direction. As additional cases make their way in front of SSA Cassidy, her superiors are pushing for more successful outcomes. There is a niggling feeling within the entire team that these cases, while seemingly independent, seem to be loosely tied together. Someone is pulling the strings and there is surely something lurking under the surface, a hidden crime that will surely blow everything out of the water. When SSA Cassidy begins to feel that someone within the Bureau is leaking information, thereby showing their hand to the criminal element, she moves quickly. Suspecting that Michael may be playing a role, Cassidy tries to slyly approach him. It is only then that the truth comes to light and Aisha’s services may be even more valuable. A stunning novel that will keep the reader flipping pages well into the night. Ravine captivates and shows that some authors have the gift from their earliest work. Recommended to those who love detailed thrillers that do not stop developing, as well as the reader whose interest in procedurals is well-established.

When I was contacted by the publisher to review this book, I was hopeful that it would be more than a tech-thriller, as I usually have many issues with the computer-filled lingo of such novels. I was pleasantly surprised and proved that I cannot judge a book by its title (or cover). Mark Ravine has put together a great, if long, thriller that will keep the reader hooked while they try to cobble together how a collection of cases can be tied to a single, faceless cabal. Alexandra Cassidy is a wonderful protagonist, whose backstory leaves her seeking stability. Having played musical chairs when it comes to FBI field offices, Cassidy wants to settle down and find her niche. This not only includes a happy workplace, but perhaps something more personal. She comes off as hesitant to open up, but wants desperately to do so. Ravine works this into the narrative, but also provides some wonderful character development. The reader will see how dedicated Cassidy is to the job and where she needs to work on her subtlety. With a number of strong characters, the story builds from the opening pages, offering complex subplots and interesting tangents, all of which work well as the momentum builds. There are so many names to remember that some readers might get lost, but they are essential to build the strong foundation of this novel. The story itself is quite straightforward, but will require some attention in order to see how the web of crimes all tie together. With a cabal working in the background, there is a larger mission here, one that SSA Cassidy must discover. With deception within the Bureau a possibility, the story takes some turns that might not have been initially expected, but this only adds to the intrigue and provides the reader with some added ‘what if’ moments. I was a little put off at the long chapters when first I opened the book, but came to realise that each encapsulates a case or a major concept that is needed to better understand the overall delivery. With ‘section breaks’ for various perspectives within each chapter, the reader has many spots for a break, though there will come a time when the story is clipping along so well that breaks will be unnecessary. Ravine has crafted a wonderful story here and I can only wonder if he will add to the series or perhaps some standalone of equal caliber. I cannot wait to see what’s next, hoping that readers will flock to this one for the time being.

Kudos, Mr. Ravine, for a powerful debut. You have a great writing future ahead if you can keep novels of this quality as part of your repertoire.

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

The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett

Seven stars

In my ever-growing attempt to expand my reading parameters, I turned to my latest reading challenge book. A great fan of detective novels, I was eager to try Dashiell Hammett’s famous novel that depicts sleuthing at its finest. Full of dated references, this is a story that fans of the genre will love, while those who are easily offended will surely be pulling out their hair as they cite sexism on every page. Sam Spade is a decent investigator, who does not take himself too seriously. Miss Wonderly—a damsel in distress who is easy on the eyes—walks into Spade’s office and tosses money around to hire him. Her sister’s disappeared with a crook by the name of Thursby and Wondely wants answers. Spade is not sure he believes the tall tale, but if someone’s willing to pay him, he and his partner will take the case. Spade’s partner is killed, alongside the aforementioned Thursby, and our protagonist PI is a little concerned. With a penchant for his partner’s wife, it might appear that Spade knocked him off to have the woman all for himself. Spade brings Miss Wonderly back in and learns that she’s been lying to him all along. Her real name is Brigid O’Shaughnessy and Thursby was her partner in crime. Turns out Spade is actually needed to sell a priceless statuette from O’Shaughnessy to her former gang members, and promised a large commission. He’s leery, especially when he meets the beefy men who are involved. After being beaten, drugged, and harassed, Spade can count on no one, save his faithful secretary to keep him safe. Spade will have to stay one step ahead of all these goons and keep himself from succumbing to the wiles of Brigit O’Shaughnessy while making sure the Maltese Falcon does not end up in the wrong hands. A classic piece of sleuthing that is just as entertaining ninety-some years after its original publication. Recommended to those who love a good mystery, as well as the reader who enjoys taking a journey back to a time when gin joints and smoky rooms were all the rage!

While I have heard all about this book, I never took the time to sit down and enjoy it (the joys of reading challenges)! Penned and published in 1929, the book is understandably dated, but that only adds to its superiority over many of the books within the detective genre today. Sam Spade is the ideal detective of the era, winking at women and piecing things together while not hiding his rough edges. Spade may not share his emotions with ease—how many men did at the time?—but he certainly connects with the reader. Spade’s inquisitive mind may not be Sherlockian, but he certainly is able to take things one step at a time and finds himself forging ahead in the case, no matter what obstacles are put before him. Hammett does a great job at adding those obstacles, in the form of both people and actions against his protagonist. The story is full of these dicey moments, where the reader is to wonder how Spade will survive. Hammett creates a wonderful cast of secondary characters, all of whom help in their own way to better the story. There are some stereotypical roles here, certainly some that will anger those espousing liberation, as well as some wonderfully nuanced individuals that only the attentive reader will discover. The story itself is quite good, with some interesting plot twists. I felt that Hammett had some wonderful sparks in this piece, though there was no raging fire as some would have me believe. Sure, this is a ninety-one year old story and things were done differently then, but I found that I could not completely connect to the story of the characters as I might have liked. Perhaps I am too inundated with ‘popcorn fiction mysteries’ in my reading adventures, but something about this ‘classic’ did not resonate with me. That being said, I am but a single voice, so choose to take my opinion with a grain of salt.

Kudos, Mr. Hammett, for this great piece of detective work. I liked the banter and even those ‘faux pas’ comments that are peppered throughout. I will have to check into more of your work in the coming months.

This book fulfills the September 2020 requirement of the Mind the Bookshelf Gap reading challenge.

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

Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson

Nine stars

Needing a short book before beginning another major reading challenge, I turned to this piece by Katherine Paterson. It’s one I enjoyed in upper elementary, though many of the details have slipped my mind, which makes a re-read all the more justifiable. Jess Aarons is eager to begin the fifth grade. He hopes to finally be able to call himself the fastest boy in school, having risen early to practice all summer long. When a new family moves in next door, Jess is curious to see what to make of them. Having moved from Arlington, Virginia, they are sure to have money and likely the attitude to go with it. When Jess meets Leslie Burke, she is nothing like he expected. A tomboy if ever there was one, Leslie befriends Jess and they are soon inseparable. While Jess must cede his chance to be the fastest in school, he and Leslie soon find new and exciting ways to spend their time. Realising that they enjoy one another’s company and could care less what others feel, they create a world all their own, where they can rule and lock the rest of humanity out. Terabithia is hereby created and the only means by which to access it is a rope tied to a tree. Jess and Leslie spend all their time there, hiding Terabithia from family and friends alike. When Jess is invited to go into Washington one day, he forgets to invite Leslie. Upon his return, he discovers what a truly horrible thing it was not to have reached out. A stunning piece that resonates with the reader and leaves them thinking, while also searching for a ray of hope. Recommended to those who need a little heartfelt emotion in a quick read, as well as those who enjoy young adult fiction with a deeper meaning.

There are times when you need to turn off your brain and choose something a little lighter to pass the time. I usually turn to young adult fiction for that, though I suppose some of the full-length fiction I read could be said to do that as well. This piece may be the former, but light it is not! Katherine Paterson develops an exceptional protagonist in Jess Aarons, who is loosely modelled after her own son. Jess comes from a poor family and has high hopes for his upcoming school year. The reader learns much about his backstory—the only boy, sandwiched between four sisters—and how he longs to have a companion all his own. Throughout the piece, Paterson offers up some wonderful character development as Jess befriends Leslie and things move forward. Emotions develop and turn to a sobering coming of age by the end of this tale. The number of secondary characters in this piece all serve to keep the story on its toes, while not becoming too burdensome. Paterson does a masterful job with Leslie Burke as well, as the young girl complements the protagonist while also shining in her own right. This is a story that is a mix of happiness, sadness, and revelation, allowing the reader of any age to take something away that they will not soon forget. Told in a mere fourteen chapters, Paterson compacts so much into a short book that the reader will surely extrapolate to carve out additional chapters for themselves. What might have continued happening on Terabithia? How could Jess and Leslie have continued to grow closer? What of the constant pains the Aarons family proved to be for Jess when he wanted solitude? Paterson uses a masterful narrative and dialogue to tell this story that will leave the reader wondering why things had to end as they did, but understanding the deeper message as they cross the bridge into Terabithia.

Kudos, Madam Paterson, for such a wonderful book. I think, given a year or so, my son will be ready for this adventure. I will make sure to introduce him to many of your other works 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

Operation Paperclip: The Secret Intelligence Program that Brought Nazi Scientists to America, by Annie Jacobsen

Nine stars

I have read a significant amount about the Second World War, to the point that I have almost completely tired of the topic. However, Annie Jacobsen breathes new life and excitement into the subject and the years that followed with this book that discusses a complex program the United States’ government worked to cobble together as the Nazi regime fell apart. Jacobsen’s painstakingly detailed discussions of Operation: Paperclip not only reveal some of the controversial decisions about science and the Third Reich, but also present the reader with both sides of the argument surrounding procuring scientists and their research from the decimated fascist regime. Jacobsen opens the book discussing some of the scientific and military feats that the Nazis had in the works at the height of the war. Hitler was working with many of his inner circle to defeat the Allies by any means possible. Throughout the narrative, Jacobsen eludes to Hitler’s determination not to bow down or permit surrender, finding suicide and keeping one’s pride as the highest honour of the Third Reich. Amidst the soldiers and German citizens who devoted themselves to the Nazis, there were many scientists whose work was highly advanced. Jacobsen argues that much of the rocket technology was at least 20 years ahead of American military prowess, which might have been one of the reasons for the coming decisions, a choice that would surely open more than one can of worms.

As the Allies crushed the Nazis and forced a German surrender in May, 1945, there was talk about what to do with many of those minds who had been fuelling Nazi successes. With the V-rocket program up and running, the Americans felt the need to capture this technology in order to turn it to the Pacific, where the Japanese were still waging a bloody battle. There were also a number of scientific experiments that were being discussed in code, things that the Americans could use if they had the know how. Jacobsen uses these arguments to posit that the idea behind getting the technology would surely be an asset worth procuring. Within the highest levels of the US bureaucracy, and among those who were developing the CIA, came the idea of bringing Nazi scientists and their research to America, where it could be utilised, as well as ensuing that it would be kept out of the hands of the Soviets. The underlying concern was that knowledge of the Nazi atrocities was widespread and trying to ‘sell’ this to the American public would be tough. At the earliest points in the discussion, even President Harry Truman was not privy to Operation: Paperclip, the name given to the mission that would see German scientists placed within American companies or working inside the military establishment. All this being said, Paperclip sought to shield these scientists from their past actions, relocating them with new names or at least keeping them away from the public eye as best as possible.

As Jacobsen continues her detailed narrative, she effectively argues that there was a need to choose wisely, as the Soviets were surely trying to do the same thing for themselves. Selecting the best and brightest, especially those whose work on pharmaceuticals and biological warfare could be invaluable, needed to be done swiftly. Amongst all this was the after effects of the war, which included the Nuremberg Trials, where some of the most heinous men were put on trial for their Nazi atrocities, which included concentration camps, experiments on humans, and gross neglect of the German people (and the prisoners captured from other countries). Jacobsen illustrates this throughout, giving the reader pause as to how well the legal matters were handled and who was chosen to stand trial, likely to face a public hanging. Deceptive in their choices, CIA and US officials chose as well as they could, granting visas to many Nazi scientists and placing them inside companies that could profit from their knowledge, at times turning a blind eye or burying any documentation that could implicate anyone involved. There were, however, some issues when certain scientists and medical professionals were discovered to have been part of the atrocities, all of which comes out in Jacobsen’s masterful narrative, particularly the chapter on the fallout of Paperclip, decades after the fact.

The blowback by the American public, when it hit the presses, was mixed, though there was certainly a strong push against Operation: Paperclip. Trying to justify offering protection to some of those who had such a disregard for human life cannot be discounted. The CIA sought to downplay this furor, citing the need to stay ahead of the Soviet threats. American bureaucrats and government officials dodged the backlash as best they could, sure that there would surely be a change of heart once the evils of communism and the Soviet shadow became clear. While there were ethical, moral, and social arguments against the entire operation, Jacobsen tries to give both perspectives in her numerous interviews and by revealing a great deal of declassified memoranda that outlined American sentiments.

As the book comes to its climactic end, Jacobsen leaves the reader to ponder what came of Operation: Paperclip and how many of the high-ranking officials felt years after actions had been taken. Some stood firm that this was the right thing to have done, while others had many concerns about opening Pandora’s Box. This provides the reader with their own chance to decide how they personally feel about the actions undertaken in this covert mission. Should America have fanned the capitalist flames by using fodder from a fascist and heinous regime that saw certain groups of people as lower than scum? Without the science, would America be as well off today as it was in those post-war years? There’s much to consider and Annie Jacobsen only adds to the discussion by presenting this sensational tome. One can hope that many will read it and join the conversation!

As I sit here, trying to cobble together a review that might get people interested, I cannot help but think back to what I just read. Annie Jacobsen’s work not only sheds some needed light onto a program that implicates the Americans as duplicitous and trying to capitalise on the backs of those they fought to save, but it also illustrates the lengths to which scientific discovery trumps ethical behaviour. In reading this tome, I am not jaded about the American military or those who chose to push Operation: Paperclip forward, but I am shocked to see that it was taking place right under the noses of those who supported the freedom for all. Jacobsen uses the pages of this book to prove a point, but does so with a massive amount of information, not simply her own gut feelings. The depth of research that went into creating this book is apparent to the attentive reader and one can only guess what did not make the final editorial cut. With thoroughly documented chapters that tell the minute details of this time in American history, readers will take much away from the story, yet most will likely want more. While there is no doubt that the Nazis committed many atrocities, their scientific explorations served America well, while also showing a complete disregard for human life. I cannot say enough about Annie Jacobsen or this book, though I should probably stop and let those curious enough to pick up this book try it for themselves. It’s not one easily or soon forgotten!

Kudos, Madam Jacobsen, for a stellar piece of work. I will be looking to some of your other work soon, trust me there.

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

The Writing On the Wall: Social Media—The First 2,000 Years, by Tom Standage

Eight stars

At a time when one is almost ostracised for not being on at least one social media platform, Tom Standage has penned this most interesting of books. Many feel that social media is something that emerged over the last twenty years, gaining momentum with the ever-complex nature of Tweets, Likes, and even the odd Snap. However, if one looks through the annals of history, it is easy to find that social media in various forms has been around since humans sought to communicate in their basest forms. This is the premise of Standage’s book, which is sure to open the eyes of many readers and leave those who are not too addicted to their smartphones to take a look up from their screens. As Standage opens his tome, he explores why humans socialise and what it is about us that makes it essential. While his analysis of brain size and group activities is easy to comprehend, Standage extrapolates the argument and looks at the larger primate population. Social grooming is but one interesting example of how primates have long interacted with one another, though it is quite telling. It is a way to engage and help one another out. One might even say we share a particular ability by doing so.

From there, the book gets into its central arguments, looking as far back as the Romans. Standage explains that social media type interacting can be traced back effectively through the letter sharing done at the time, when writers who responded to missives would sometimes copy out the letter they sought to answer and share it amongst others. This was an early form of social interaction and sharing of sentiments, almost a ‘response to a post’ idea. This gradually continued in various forms, including in early Christianity, where this idea blossomed into creating a widespread religion by spreading ‘The Word’ along, through letters and, some of which were copied and left for others to read on their own. This early communication form helped pave the way to many other exciting means of communication and sharing of key ideas, while also embracing those who felt similarly.

One would be remiss not to look at the Gutenberg printing press as a major form of social communication. This allowed mass copying and distribution of ideas, rather than having to copy them out over and over. Gutenberg’s press went hand in hand with the rise of Martin Luther, who communicated his ideas against the Church effectively, beginning a (necessary?) conversation about the control and edicts that were being depicted at the time. Standage argues quite effectively that Luther was one of the early users of social media to drum up revolutionary fervour when it comes to ideas, though he was surely not the only one. Hand in hand with this is another topic, that being the censorship of ideas, which followed after people began expressing themselves in writing. England had a history in the 17th century of requiring a stamp of approval to publish anything, thereby having it checked before it could be released to the public. While this lack of press freedom may have created a stir, it does allow Standage to delve into the topic of how social interactions are not always factual, leaving some to wonder if this matters, in the larger scheme of things.

The evolution of the coffeehouse added much when it comes to social networking. Standage discusses at some length about how coffee and discussions seemed a natural pairing. In another of his books (and made reference to here), Standage argues that the arrival of coffee to Europe helped foster the academic spirit. Many key tenets of science and literature came out of coffeehouse encounters, including some of Newton’s most lasting scientific sentiments that still hold true today. People will gather over coffee to hash out ideas and come to some semblance of agreement (or even differ greatly), which helps promote the idea that coffee fosters social interactions and thereby is surely part of the larger social media progression.

I look to the news and see how things like #BlackLivesMatter are emerging with more intensity each and every day. Use of social media platforms help propel the movement forward , permitting people to share their sentiments and join the cause. Standage shows repeatedly that this push to revolution is not new, through pamphlets, tracts, and political books that played a role for centuries. To get people involved, things sometimes needed to be written down. To raise the ire of the masses, people needed to see things in front of them. While there were no cellular phones back in the 18th century, there were persuasive writers who could make their points and sway people to their side. Equally, there were those who denounced what was being done and wrote to critique the revolutionary movement. This banter, as well as being healthy, also fed the fires of debate and helped push the world towards new and exciting norms. Without them, Americans may still be sipping tea and searching for the best crumpets on the market. Seriously though, the back and forth of past writing helped shape the countries in which we live today and pushed for change when it was needed. While it may have been slower than many hoped, there was progress made… though some may wonder if we have regressed with the current criticisms being bandied about on current social media platforms!

The latter portion of the book handles the explosion of mass media and how this helped create a social collective or isolationist mentality. The birth of communication through broadly distributed newspapers, international correspondence by telegraph, and instant communication by radio (and eventually television) helped to develop new platforms for social interaction, or at least a connectivity that cannot be ignored. Standage takes things one step further with a thoroughly interesting chapter on the emergence of ‘online social media’ with the start of computer to computer conversations. This led to webpages, the internet, and soon the start of the international sandbox of communication. While the ‘info at a click’ movement has surely become the norm, Standage argues that it has helped the world see things in real time and pushed social movements into instant reactions, rather than needing to stir up the people with a fiery speech on the printed page.

While this is the fourth book of Tom Standage’s that I have read in just over a week (obsessed, perhaps?), I have taken away just as much with this piece as I did when he tackled issues in the other three. Building on some of the arguments made previously by scanning world history, Standage shows how humans can connect on many levels at different times in history. He effectively posits that human are social beings and that we are able to come together to share, even if we do not always agree. It is this ability to communicate that has helped create advancements and kept the history books interesting. Controversy has woven itself into the lives of all those who made a mark on the world, down to the lowliest 3am Tweet. While many people feel that social media is surely a new thing that they will never fully comprehend, Tom Standage steps in to remind us that it is only a new permutation of a long-understood concept. However and whenever you choose to put yourself out there to the world, you are making a difference. All this and so much more is found within the pages of this easy to digest tome, which offers as much information as you’d find in an academic textbook. Standage compresses things into a mere eleven chapters and makes great references to well-known historical events, as well as more modern happenings that shaped the world. A must-read for those who want to take a step back and learn a little something as they try to synthesise where things have come in the past decade or so. It’s not about making the world great again… it’s about rediscovering how great it has always been!

Kudos, Mr. Standage, for another amazing reading experience. I learn so much and find myself having fun as I do it, which is the best education of all!

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

Dragonfire (Alexander Hawke #11), by Ted Bell

Eight stars

Settling in for another great Ted Bell thriller, the reader can expect much from Lord Alex Hawke and those around him. Bell creates a strong story and stellar characters that push this exciting adventure to new heights well into this series. When Lord Alex Hawke is called away from a dinner party to attend an issue back at his manor in Bermuda, he encounters a sword-wielding man who has been sent to kill him. While refusing his ultimate mission, the killer does leave Alex with a serious injury, forcing the gentleman spy tp convalesce in hospital. While he is in a coma, news comes that the Queen’s grandson has gone missing and Her Majesty refuses to allow anyone to investigate, save Lord Hawke. After he is healthy enough to leave the hospital, Hawke is told of the mission and agrees to scope things out at a resort in the Bahamas, the last place the scandalous prince was seen. In a parallel narrative, it is 1941 and the Japanese have just struck at Pearl Harbor. Tiger Tang arrives in Washington as the new Chinese Ambassador, ready to work with FDR on a joint effort to focus wartime attention on their mutual enemy. Tang may be a young playboy, but he has been called the ‘good egg’ of his well-known Chinese crime family. While Tang seeks to solidify the Chinese presence in Washington, he receives a disturbing message from home about a mission he should complete to ‘right the political discrepancy’. A somewhat interesting tertiary narrative sees Horatio Black ‘Blackie’ Hawke—grandfather to the present-day Lord Hawke—spend some time in Washington, where he rubs elbows with Ambassador Tang, before being called to London to help the British with the Nazis. Blackie works alongside Ian Fleming to sneak into Germany and try to derail the Nazi’s efforts as they build their strength. Returning to the modern Bahamas, Hawke and his compatriots arrive at the Dragonfire nightclub, the last known location of the prince. It also happens to be owned by the Tang Brothers, ruthless criminals in their own rights and grandsons of the aforementioned ambassador. While Hawke begins his search, he stumbles upon something even more troubling, something that will make a royal kidnapping seem like child’s play and will surely cause massive ripples on the international front. While Hawke knows that he must blow the lid off what he’s discovered, he must be careful or he may find himself in the middle of World War Three, with no way to save himself. A gripping tale that takes series fans deeper into the backstory of the Hawke family and shows that Lord Hawke is nothing if not resourceful. Recommended to series fans who need more Hawke, as well as those who enjoy a thorough and complex spy thriller.

I’ve spent years following and reading the entire Alex Hawke collection of novels, which seem to get better the more Ted Bell invests in their development. They may have a degree of fancifullness, but they are gripping and quite well constructed if one peels back the frills that Bell uses as a humorous offshoot of the central plot. Lord Alex Hawke remains the central character and appears to be embodying the modern James Bond. He has a man’s man mentality, able to slay any foe with little concern, while wooing the ladies with those deep, blue eyes. Hawke does have an emotional side, which is revealed at various points throughout the book and some quasi-backstory comes to the surface, if not a general familial one with the introduction of Blackey Hawke and the sub-plot that weaves its way throughout the novel. There are a number of returning characters, as well as some new faces, to entertain the reader. This mix of perspectives offers an interesting flavouring to the narrative and adds depth where Bell needs it to accentuate piece. The reader will have to pay close attention, as the names are numerous and how they fit into the larger story may become confusing to the uninitiated. The story itself was quite busy, with a number of storylines building off one another (and sometimes standing alone). While Bell has a great deal going on, much of it is necessary to understand the central story, though it takes a while to get there. Bell has a wonderful way of telling his stories and keeps the reader in the middle of the action, stopping only to offer some humour to cut the tension. There does not seem to be any clean ending to the series, though Bell seems always able to surprise me with new and time-relatable plots. I cannot wait to see what else Alex Hawke will do and how he continue to juggle his ever-growing list of female admirers.

If I may add something as an aside. As I listened to the audiobooks for this series, the switch from John Shea to Simon Vance threw me for a loop in this piece. Shea is THE voice of Bell’s books for me and has developed a great set of personalities that I have come to expect. Vance did well with this piece, but there were some things that I missed. Perhaps the swap out was for complex accents or availability, but audiobook series fans will have to take this into account when they delve into this eleventh novel.

Kudos, Mr. Bell, for another great book. I love my regular Hawke stories and hope you will keep them coming for years to come.

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