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