A Time for Mercy (Jake Brigance #3), by John Grisham

Nine stars

For those who read and enjoyed Grisham’s A Time to Kill, this will be a wonderful legal thriller that returns to that small Mississippi community that still talks about the lawyer who was able to orchestrate the biggest surprise ever. Grisham presents a fairly cut and dry case, but one that is full of twists, as a teenage boy is put on trial for murder, with capital punishment awaiting him. Intriguing and entertaining throughout, Grisham shows that he still has a penchant for wonderful legal thrillers when he puts his mind to it. Recommended to those who love this sort of small-town legal style.

Drew Gamble could not handle the constant feeling of fear that pervaded his house. His mother had decided to live with a well-respected sheriff’s deputy in town, but that man turned sour and highly abusive when he returned home. Fists would fly, fuelled by alcohol, and bodies would be strewn around the house, begging for mercy. During one particular beating, Drew’s mother was left in a pile, presumably dead. Drew had reached his limit and decided to end the terror, knowing that he had no one left. Taking a gun, Drew shot his mother’s boyfriend, killing him. What he did not know was that his mother did not die, thereby negating his pleas of murder in self-defence.

Jake Brigance is still working in Clayton, Mississippi, 5 years after the town’s most sensational murder case that saw a Black man acquitted of murder. After he is cajoled to help with the Gamble case, Brigance agrees to help things through the early stages only. This case does not centre on race, which is known to divide the county quite significantly. Drew Gamble is sixteen, but his physical and mental capacity of a much younger child. His murder of an esteemed police officer will surely cause grief, which is only exacerbated when the prosecution pushes for the death penalty in a bold act on their part.

Jake begins building a defence, even as Drew has admitted to the crime. He tries to find enough loopholes to show the jury that this was not a boy acting in malice, but out of fear for his life. However, Brigance must also fight the urge to send this boy to death for his actions, but that will require experts and a passion that exceeds the usual courtroom antics for which he has become known. Brigance is not rich by any means, with a practice hanging by a string. However, he has a family to support him and those in the office with their own gems to offer. Determined to find a way to free Drew Gamble of this nightmare, Brigance might have a trump card to spook the prosecution and turn the case on its head. However, he will have to pace himself and keep his surprise witness far from the eyes of the people of Clanton.

I loved returning to Clanton, Mississippi and to the streets where Jake Brigance has made a name for himself. I found myself able to picture it as I read, wondering how it would be presented on the silver screen. The case gets to the core of something controversial and forces the reader to take sides, where the evidence is stacked all to one side, but compassion stands resolutely on the other side.

Jake Brigance is a masterful protagonist in this novel, choosing to reach out and stirring up emotion throughout the novel. The reader can see that he is passionate about his work, but is solely outmatched when it come to the law. With an office of blooming and well-past faced legal minds, Brigance will have to rely on their intuition to help him. There is some wonderful character development in this piece, showing the rawness and weaknesses of his personality, which only adds to the depth he shows. With strong ties to his family, Brigance is also loving and shows this throughout, wanting to make sure his family is not put in danger once again.

The strong collection of secondary characters surely help shape the novel. It is they who inject the needed emotion into the piece, pushing the reader to draw on a variety of insights to formulate their opinions about the case. From the shy and naive Drew to the passionate prosecutor who is out for blood to serve his own needs, the story see-saws between these character types to present a story that will have the reader wondering which side they might choose.

While A Time for Mercy kept me riveted because of the focus on race, this was an equally powerful piece, though it looks to self-defence and execution of a minor as its threads of legal disputes. Grisham has been able to craft a powerful story that reads like no legal thriller I have found for a long time. With the story is strong and the characters add a flavour to the piece that only Grisham could bring. I found the issues, both legal and personal, to be on point and just to my liking. Grisham pulls no punches in this page-turner, exciting the reader with a mix of chapter lengths as the story gains momentum throughout. A strong story and well-paced plot kept me reading in hopes of finishing with a sense of vindication. What Grisham offered did that, while offering some twists and turns throughout, all of which left me wanting more. I can only hope there is another Jake Brigance book on Grisham’s radar, as there’s nothing like small town Mississippi to bring out the legal dualities America (and the world) faces.

Kudos, Mr. Grisham, for another legal winner. I cannot say enough about this piece, full of grit and David vs. Goliath moments. This is the John Grisham I grew up reading!

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

A Canopy of Stars, by Stephen Taylor

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to Stephen Taylor and Sapere Publishing for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Stephen Taylor presents this wonderful Georgian courtroom drama that is sure to stir the emotions of readers throughout. A Canopy of Stars tackles issues of the law, anti-semitism, and gender roles throughout, forcing the reader to accept that history does repeat itself and one man’s plight can make a difference. Intriguing throughout, with a peppering or romance, Taylor does well to keep the reader guessing as the law takes hold in this piece. Recommended to those who love legal dramas wrapped in history.

The London Julia Carmichael knows in 1823 is not one she likes. An intelligent woman, she has been studying law under her father but is not allowed to practice, or even sit in the courtroom proper. Rather, she is left to the gallery, where she takes copious notes of all the cases that come before the Old Bailey. When David Neander, a young Jew who fled Germany, appears before the Court, the case captures Julia’s attention. Neander is on trial for stealing a sheep carcass and his life literally hangs in the balance.

Julia takes a passionate interest in Neander’s case, watching a man whose English is spotty being railroaded by the system and ushering him off to die. When Julia approaches Neander, she learns that his story is much more complicated and begins back in Germany, where anti-semitism was stronger than in England.

Frankfurt in 1819 emerges as a hateful place that shaped Neander’s actions when he arrived in England. The narrative offers the reader a detailed exploration of this time, touching on both the history and the social treatment of those deemed ‘problematic’. While Neander does not wish to shed too much light on it, these tidbits will be essential for Julia and her father to put up a proper defence and save a man from the gallows. It will be up to Julia to convince her client that his past could be the only things that provides him with a future.

Stephen Taylor does well to paint a picture of a time in English history well in the past, when roles were much different and yet racism was as prevalent as it is in parts of the world today. Capturing the essence of injustice with a strong undertone of defending one’s own beliefs, the story offers readers something on which to ponder well after finishing the final chapter.

While they are vastly different, I find that both Julia Carmichael and David Neander prove to be the essential protagonists of this piece, each offering their own personal growth. Some backstory provides readers with a great sense of context for Neander and might help describe the crimes for which he has been accused. It also gives the reader some historical context for how Neander expects to be treated by others. Carmichael struggles with the role of women in the law, something that Taylor hammers home throughout the narrative. Both are seeking to change their position in life, knowing it verges on the impossible.

Taylor pens a collection of strong secondary characters throughout this piece, which offers up some interesting flavouring to the story. Of particular interest in the backstory Neander has back in Germany and how Jews were treated. The eerie foreboding to another era of Jewish maltreatment drips from the descriptions of the supporting characters, which only adds to the story’s impact. While Carmichael does not like that she is relegated to the gallery, she fights tooth and nail to have time with her ‘client’ and works her skills as best she can to ensure that justice is served. The cast of the courtroom offers up some excellent challenges for her, something that cannot be discounted as the reader forges ahead.

While the story was strong and its theme shines through, there were moments of disbelief, even for the time, that I could not ignore. As others have said, Julia’s role seems a tad over enthusiastic, even as a legal assistant in 1823. Taylor may have been using some of his abilities as a fiction writer to give her a few additional powers that women of the time would never have dreamed of, which can be explained away. The narrative being split between England and Germany worked well, as did the great backstory of David Neander’s life. The reader cannot discount the importance of this throughout. With a strong narrative, supported by chapters of varying lengths, the reader is left wondering where things will progress in this most complex legal case. Taylor does well to paint the picture and provides the readers with something highly entertaining to read throughout.

Kudos, Mr. Taylor, for an insightful read. I will surely keep an eye out for other books you’ve written to learn more about you and the history that intrigues you.

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

Spencer’s Mountain, by Earl Hamner Jr. (a re-read)

Eight stars

It is the time of year to return to this story, which relates to a Christmas classic I love to read. This is a re-read of a classic novel, whose 1963 film adaptation also works well for the curious reader. This piece preceded the famous television show The Waltons. Please enjoy the review I originally posted during my first read-through of this book:

Earl Hamner Jr. invites readers to take a trip back to the 1930s and explore the Blue Ridge Mountains in rural Virginia, where the Spencers have lived for generations. Clay and Olivia are trying to raise a family the best they can, helped by the eldest, Clay-Boy, and the strong-willed community. As the story progresses, the narrative takes the reader through some of the adventures undertaken by members of the family, but there are two story arcs that weave their way throughout: Clay’s trying to build a house for his family with his own two hands, and Clay-Boy’s attempt to get accepted to college. While one dream hinges on the demise of the other, the Spencers come together through thick and thin, putting the larger family before their own interests. A great story for those who loved the Waltons, or anyone who seeks to see the power of working together, treating family as a team and not a collection of rivals.

I am familiar with Hamner Jr.’s other Walton-based story, The Homecoming, and when given the chance to read this book, I did not hesitate. Those familiar with The Homecoming, in its book or television movie form, will see many of the stories that arise from that tale are told in greater detail herein. Hamner Jr. seeks not only to tell the story of the Spencers, but also to show how poverty need not impede a family’s ability to live a happy life, even in the Depression. Readers who can divorce themselves from the rigours of fast-paced thrillers or superficial pieces of fiction will enjoy this tale that warms the heart and brings a tear to the eye at the same time.

Kudos, Mr. Hamner Jr. for your wonderful tale. It warms my heart to read this each Christmas season!

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

Last Call: A True Story of Love, Lust, and Murder in Queer New York, by Elon Green

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Elon Green , and Celadon Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

There’s nothing better than a riveting piece of true crime, especially when it’s written by someone who can artfully present the story. Elon Green does well with Last Call, where he explores the murder of a handful of men whose connection to a gay bar in New York City eventually led to locating a killer no one suspected. Full of great descriptions, both of the victims and the LGBTQ+ scene in New York in the 1980s/90s, Green keeps the reader wanting to know more until the final reveal. Likely a piece true crime fans will want to add to their collection.

It all began with the discovery of a dismembered body along a Pennsylvania highway. When the authorities discovered the body, cut into pieces and bagged multiple times, they knew this was something that needed their undivided attention. With the help of some identification, found in a trash can up the road, the search began to better understand the victim and why he might have been targeted.

Green explores the victim and his ties to the LGBTQ+ community, which he colloquially calls the ‘queer scene’, and some of the local establishments in the early 1990s. This was at a time when gay rights were still not prominent and the police had less respect for an overall protection of citizens, no matter their orientation. There was also a comprehensive discussion to the ‘secret life’ lived by the victim, likely part of the veiled persona gay men presented at the time, while also holding down a job in a profession where homosexuality was not as accepted.

When a man is found killed and dismembered in New Jersey, officials are equally as baffled, but also quite intrigued at the attention paid to dispose of the body. This was not a simple slash and dump, but a detailed understanding of the body and how it is ‘assembled’, thereby providing key steps to cut and properly package a body before leaving it to be collected. The authorities noted this attention to detail could only have come from someone in the medical profession, or with access to the various tools.

Green circles back to explore gay rights and the LGBTQ+ scene in the early 1980s, particularly in the early years of HIV/AIDS. The detail offered about how medical professionals were downplaying it and then labelling it as a disease of homosexuals offers the reader some insight into how the community was treated and branded by the larger American society. Green depicts this so well and keeps the reader wondering as he slowly discusses progress and the emergence of gay rights amongst local and state politicians.

Green comes around to explore how one man’s long history of luring and attacking gay men as far back as the 1970s played a role in the identification of a person of interest. The meticulous planning and playacting to lure victims to his home helped to create a sense of calm, only to be destroyed after drugging and attacking these men. While the ending came together quickly in the final few chapters, the reader can see how a single lead, in the form of an expunged record of forensics, brought the case together, providing a termportary sense of relief to those who felt themselves constant targets.

While I am not a regular reader of true crime, I can respect those who enjoy the genre. Elon Green does a decentr job of piecing together the story and filling in many of the gaps he discovered in news coverage. Many of these cases are from close to three decades ago, when reporting was less thorough and not as easily accessed. As Green stresses throughout, it was also a time when ‘gay crimes’ were seen as more ‘unfortunate events’ than being on par with those of the heterosexual community.

While discussion of the crime scenes was great (who does not like to hear how the body was discovered in eight layers of bags?), it was the social commentary on gay rights and the HIV/AIDS situation in New York that had me quite intrigued. I wanted to see how things would progress and how little was done at a time when America (and much of the world) was still trying to come to terms with violence against some, while the authorities did nothing. Green effectively presents the struggles and issues with class, educating the reader throughout the book.

Green writes very effectively and efficiently, providing the reader what they need to understand how things fit together. There is some great social commentary on the legal acceptance of gay rights and how hate crimes were slow to catch up, all while HIV/AIDS became the face of the LGBTQ+ community. With chapters that vary from overviews of the situation to highly detailed, Green offers the reader what they need, told with a strong narrative that pushes the story along.

If I had to find a downside to the book, it would have to be the abrupt end to things. The last few chapters became more of a halting train than the smooth ride that the book presented beforehand. Once the killer’s identity became known, it was a rush through the legal process and the reader was left to sigh that this was not added to a pile of cold cases. Green’s great build up seemed almost trumped by that anti-climactic end.

Kudos, Mr. Green, for an interesting look into this series of crimes. I will have to see what else you’ve penned that may be of interest.

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.


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

Letters from Father Christmas, by J.R.R. Tolkien

Nine stars

Another wonderful annual re-read!!

A masterful piece of writing by J.R.R. Tolkien, which is a collection of the letters he penned as ‘Father Christmas’ over the years of his children’s upbringing. The letters are in response to those sent by the Tolkien children over the years, in which Father Christmas explores some of the drama he had up at the North Pole. With a handful of splendid characters who add even more excitement in a way only Tolkien can do, this is the perfect collection to read each and every year. I highly recommend the audio version, as it increases the excitement even more!

Kudos, Mr. Tolkien, for another great piece. I may not be a fantasy nut, but this book was right up my alley!

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

Confronting the Invisible (West and Carlyle Victorian Mysteries #3), by David Field

Eight stars

It is always a pleasure to take some time when David Field releases a new novel. His latest series, set on the streets of Victorian London, never fails to stir up some thought-provoking moments, with a stellar mystery woven into the narrative. In this novel, a group of children go missing, with ties to Matthew West’s children’s Bible Group. Could he hold the key to their disappearance, or the fact that they are beginning to appear as ghosts?

It all started with the circus coming to town. Matthew West accompanies his fiancée, Adelaide Carlyle, and her father, Dr. James Carlyle, to the event. West was sure that this night out with Adelaide and her father would calm his nerves ahead of the upcoming wedding. However, during one of the trapeze acts, something goes horribly wrong and Dr. Carlyle can determine that there was some foul play.

The authorities want to hear nothing about it and permit the circus to leave town, which baffles both Carlyle and West to no end. However, life must go on. West is working as a local priest and has organised a Bible Group for some of the parish children. Adelaide comes along one week to show off her nursing skills, which includes a chance to check and treat the numerous cases of head lice. The children love it, particularly when they can show off their iodine-coloured scalps to handfuls of worried parents.

Amidst preparing for and getting married, Matthew and Adelaide discover something troubling has taken place. A number of the parish children have gone missing, most from the Bible group. What’s worse, parents are not only fraught with worry over that, but that some have been seen outside their homes, almost floating at the window. Might there be something sinister taking place in the form of a demonic possession? Matthew West is not about to wait for the authorities to connect the dots.

While West and Adelaide begin poking around, they come across the body of one missing child, her legs badly broken. Dr. Carlyle deduces that it was from a long fall, perhaps the height of a rooftop. This gets the wheels turning and West seeks to explore a little more. What he discovers not only shocks him, but sends him into a panic. Turning to the only people he can trust, Matthew West and his new wife will have to uncover who has taken the children and left them in such squalor, without alerting anyone except a handful of the authorities.

When it comes to David Field, mysteries set in Victorian England come to life. I have read a number of his series, all of which are full of historical goings-on, as well as some wonderful storytelling. This series is no exception, as each page is full of something for the reader to enjoy, while seeking to solve a well-paced mystery.

Matthew and Adelaide West appear to take centre stage in this piece, which boasts some great character development for them both. Their courtship comes to an end as they are able to finally tie the knot, though this does not dilute their passion to discover the truth of what has been going on around them. The reader will see that West is still trying to get his legs under him as a parish priest and Adelaide seeks to make her mark as a nurse, following her father in the medical profession. While their lives advance independently, they surely need each other to make a significant difference. Personal growth can be found throughout this piece, as well as some needed joint advancements that help round out the story by the end.

Field uses a handful of strong characters to support the two protagonists. The story lends itself to a great cross-section of individuals, all of whom work well together. From the stiff investigator who does not want wool pulled over his eyes, to the young children whose curiosity is second to none, Field provides the reader with education and entertainment at every turn. The Wests are surely supported well with these supporting characters and the story flows even better with their subtle steering of the narrative. Field is able to use one-off characters effectively, while also providing a handful of recurring folks that creates a connection between the novels.

Overall, the story worked really well, shining light not only on the life of the traveling circus, but the lack of structure the left many families hopeless. Young children roamed the streets and it would not be uncommon for many of them the disappear without notice. Sickness was also quite prevalent, as Field explores in the middle and latter portions of the book, sending large portions of the population into an abyss that may lead to horrible death.

With a strong narrative to keep the story moving, David Field offers readers something both entertaining and educational in equal measure. Life in Victorian England surely contrasts greatly with things today, but Field can breathe some life into it with his well-formed Cockney slang and plot lines that provide some needed context into how things were done at the time. Readers will enjoy the longer chapters, which are used to fully explore the issues of the day, though the writing is never burdensome, allowing for a quick read over a day or two. I cannot wait to see what else David Field has in store for his fans, new and established alike.

Kudos, Mr. Field, for another winner. I know I am in for a treat when I choose one of your books and you have not let me down yet.

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

The Homecoming, by Earl Hamner Jr. (a re-read)

Nine stars

An annual reading tradition for me that I am happy to share again with readers.

No holiday season is complete in my household without remembering the story of The Homecoming. When, on Christmas Eve, Clay Spencer has not returned home from his forty mile trek for the holidays, the entire Spencer household is on edge. Olivia pines for her husband’s safe return, but cannot put life on hold as she waits. With a brood of eight, she turns to Clay-Boy, her eldest, to take up the role of ‘man of the house’ at the tender age of fifteen.

As the story progresses, Clay-Boy is not only playing the role of man, but also must engage in a trek to locate his father and bring him home for the holidays. As Christmas Eve turns to night, the Spencers engage in their own family traditions, meagre as they may be in the midst of the Depression. It is not Santa for whom they wait this Christmas of 1933, but Clay and his safe homecoming to spend time with those he cherishes most. Sure to become an annual tradition for holiday reading lists, Hamner Jr. entertains and depicts the era so effectively.

I grew up watching The Homecoming as part of the annual Christmas preparation. The book was on hand, but I never took the time to read it until a few years ago. Doing so, I came to realise how special this story is and the tradition is one I will continue. I wish not to stand on a soapbox, but the holidays are about love and support, not the material things. Hamner Jr. makes that known throughout this novel, as well as in Spencer’s Mountain. Do take some time to read them and enjoy all they have to offer.

Kudos, Mr. Hamner Jr., for instilling in me the annual reminder that love trumps all. Merriest of Christmases to all!

How Mrs. Claus Saved Christmas (Christmas Chronicles #2), by Jeff Guinn

Nine stars

Part of my annual re-rereads!

This holiday season, I discovered a gem in Jeff Guinn’s Autobiography of Santa Claus, which provided me with some wonderful context of all things related to St. Nicholas and Christmas. In this follow-up piece, Guinn tuns his sights on Layla, also known as Mrs. Claus, who played a central role in the aforementioned book, but also has her own story.

In the opening section of this book, Guinn backs up much of what was outlined in the autobiography, as well as laying the backstory for Layla. After being left a great deal of money when her parents died in the late 4th century, Layla decided to take up offering gifts to the less fortunate children, where she encountered Nicholas and Felix—his sidekick—in a most interesting manner. After agreeing to work together, she and Nicholas grew closer before falling in love. Their efforts, soon supported by an ever-growing group of helpers, continued for many years, as Nicholas and Layla honed their skills and focused attention on certain nights around the world.

While much of Europe had come to accept Christmas, there was a move away from its acceptance at the end of the Tudor dynasty in Britain, tied specifically to the squabbles between the Catholics and Protestants. As ships sailed to the New World, Puritans began setting up colonies in American, leaving Nicholas to decide there was a need for his presence there, ensuring the Christmas spirit made its mark.

Layla stayed back in Britain, where Parliament and Charles I were at odds over governing, putting Christmas in jeopardy. Puritans in Parliament were led by Oliver Cromwell, who interacted regularly with Layla. While Layla sought to keep Christmas special in Britain, Cromwell sited that it was only a means of justifying drunkenness and debauchery, two things the Puritans could not abide.

Meanwhile, some of the others in the group began creating a new-fangled sweet, a peppermint confection that left a buzz on the tongue. When news arrived that Layla was atop the list of Puritan traitors, she was ushered off to Canterbury for safe keeping. Still, the English Civil War raged on and Christmas was soon banned by legislation. Layla sought to promote Christmas from within, remaining off the radar while building up a small contingent of supporters in an effort to protest the ban. Creating a secret symbol to denote those who wanted to see Christmas protected for the masses—using those peppermint sweets shaped in a shepherd’s crook—Layla tried organising an effort to bring holiday magic back to Britain.

When Puritans caught Layla and her group, they were punished for their actions and sent to face the consequences. However, Layla refused to believe that Christmas would be muted and pushed to have others see the benefits of celebration, even among the most straight laced of Christians. With Nicholas so far away at the time, it was up to Layla to defeat Cromwell and his soldiers, bringing joy back to Britain at a time when politics left things balancing precariously. A great complement to Guinn’s first book in the series, sure to be appreciated by those who have read it. Recommended to those who love Christmas, as well as the reader who enjoys obscure historical facts.

I have always been in awe by Jeff Guinn’s writing, as it tells such an interesting story and adds little known facts to enrich the reading experience. After devouring the first book in this series, I had to get my hands on this book to see how they would mesh together. Guinn does well to construct Layla her own backstory and melds it with the story from the aforementioned autobiography before tackling the central issue of the book, Christmas suppression in Britain. Those who have read the first book will see that this tome differs greatly in that there is an elongated focus—almost a fictional tale—on this issue, turning Layla into the obvious protagonist.

Guinn develops some interesting Christmas tradition as he weaves together the puritanical suppression of Christmas during the English Civil War. Peppering the piece with some interesting characters and many aspects of English history, the reader ends up well-versed in all things Puritan and Oliver Cromwell. The twists and turns throughout leave the reader wanting to know more and wondering where the blurs between fact and fiction may lie. With a mix of chapter lengths, Guinn and Layla take the reader on countless adventures as they seek to shed light on the dark days of Christmas in 17th century England. Not to be missed by those who love Christmas, or those who seek a spark during this holiday season.

Kudos, Layla Nicholas and Mr. Guinn for helping to bring a smile to my face as I tackle this stunning Christmas read.

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

A Tudor Christmas, by Alison Weir and Siobhan Clarke (a re-read)

Nine stars

A great holiday re-read!

At this time of year, it is always nice to learn a little something about the holiday season and the traditions that we—specifically in North America and perhaps some of the other Commonwealth countries—undertake on an annual basis. Alison Weir and Siobhan Clarke join forces to explain how many of the traditions we undertake are not Victorian, but rather from the era of the Tudors.

Choosing to address the origins of this winter festival, Weir and Clarke help inform the reader that Christmas-like festivals preceded the celebration known to many Christians these days. Thereafter, the authors divide the learning amongst twelve chapters—one for each day of Christmas—and provide poignant information that pertains to the specific day, as well as key events that readers might recognise in their current celebrations. Use of the fir tree dates back to Tudor times, though decorating it was not common, save for the odd candle. However, holly and ivy boughs could be found on a regular basis and were used to create a festive home.

Fowl was not roasted and served, but rather boar’s head served to feed guests and help spurn excitement at court. There was much dancing and frivolity, though fasting on certain days helped keep people mindful of events and saint days that fell between December 25th and January 6th each year.

Besides feasting, such lesser known facts as the delay of present giving until New Year’s Day was popular in Tudor times, something Henry VIII took much pleasure in doing, as is explored in the narrative. One extremely interesting fact was the puritanical negation of Christmas in England for so long after the Tudor era, something that bled into America until after the Civil War.

How mindsets can significantly alter such a glorious celebration, I will never know. A wonderful book, brief but thorough, for those who want to know a little more about Christmas from another era. Recommended to those who love all things Tudor, as well as the reader who finds a passion in the history of Christmas celebrations.

What a great little book that I stumbled upon and which I hope to make part of my annual reading. Weir and Clarke do so well to educate the reader while keeping things highly entertaining throughout. Weir’s vast knowledge of the Tudors and Henry VIII specifically, helps to flavour the stories and she pulls him into the narrative throughout. Not only will the reader learn of the traditions started or continued in Tudor times, but also songs from the era and how their wording helped to describe the atmosphere, some of which are still used today.

Clarke can seemingly complement this with some of her own knowledge and historical research. The season comes alive with this book and I am better educated about many of the little celebrations and traditions, both those still actively done as well as things that seem to have been lost in a bygone era. With short chapters and wonderful sketches, Weir and Clarke do a masterful job here of bringing the Christmas season to life.

Kudos, Madams Weir and Clarke, for this wonderful book. I loved it and I cannot wait to share it with others who also have such a love of Christmas traditions.

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

Angle of Attack (Alex Morgan #1), by Leo J. Maloney

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Leo J. Maloney, and Kensington Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

After a harrowing run with Dan Morgan, Leo J. Maloney turns to the next generation of gritty agents tasked with helping keep the world safe. Alex Morgan is set to step out of her father’s shadow in Angle of Attack, her first full-length novel. While she knows the ins and outs of Zeta Group, Alex could not have prepared for this mission or those lurking in the background that will stop at nothing to bring her down. A great piece for fans of the Dan Morgan series, as well as readers who love a female protagonist who can hold her own with aplomb.

While Alex Morgan prepares for her first full mission within Zeta Group, she is shocked to see her father finally taking some time off. It’s been years since Dan Morgan could play the role of public citizen and enjoy things without a pretence of being on guard. Alex is being sent to Monaco to look into whispers of something monumental taking place during the Grand Prix event there.

Things begin with an explosive start as the private jet on which she is travelling watches its hanger explode moments after taxiing. Zeta Group is put on the defensive, but Alex refuses to back down, citing the need to move ahead with the mission.

Meanwhile, two other agents answer a call to a potential situation in Malaysia, only to discover that someone’s neutralised the terror group and left the bodies for Zeta Group to find. Could there be a turf war taking place, one in which a new group is seeking to distract Zeta before handling the situation, wasting valuable time?

After intel sends Alex Morgan to the vaults of the grand casino in Monaco, she discovers the bomb has been diffused, but its radioactive material is missing. This could be Ares Group at work again, luring Alex into the trap and then showing that her time and efforts are wasted, keeping her from the real target.

When news that there is something planned at the next Grand Prix event in Montreal, Alex is there, again acting in a quasi-undercover capacity. She’s ready to strike, though it does not help that she has no idea who or what she’s trying to neutralise. This could be a type of danger no amount of stories heard on Dan’s knee could help prevent. With so many people at risk, there is no time to play a game of cat and mouse with Ares, or is there?

I have always enjoyed the work of Leo J. Maloney, as it not only offers up something full of action, but also keeps the characters working in a somewhat relatable environs. Having spent time in both Monaco and Montreal, I could see things as they progressed, while also being completely drawn in by everything that’s taking place.

Alex Morgan does a wonderful job as protagonist in this piece, easily filling the shoes her father left out. She’s gritty and determined, without being reckless. Alex knows what is expected of her and yet she is one who will bend things a little if it helps her make needed progress. Fans of the Dan Morgan series will have seen some of her backstory emerge, though it is not discussed in any detail here, forcing new readers to piece things together on the fly. Alex keeps herself busy and develops effectively throughout the story, but has left much of herself open for further growth, so long as Maloney keeps the series going for a time.

The use of strong supporting characters is key to the success of a novel. While there are a number of names and faces from the elder Morgan adventures, those who make their first appearance here work well to create a foundation that allows Alex Morgan to shine. The antagonism is prevalent throughout, though it is not as blatant, forcing the reader to sense that evil though a number of characters in passing. This is a great technique that keeps things from diverting from Alex Morgan’s growth.

The story was quite straightforward and kept the reader engaged. Maloney uses some unique perspectives and situations to help differentiate from some of the earlier novels, while never lessening the sense of action. There’s a mix of chapter lengths to set the scene and develop the narrative, as needed in this fast-paced book. Never a lull in the action, which permits the story to propel itself forward until the very end, but even at that point, there are some unresolved moments. I am eager to see how Alex Morgan grows in a lead character role, having sat in the shadows throughout her formative years.

Kudos, Mr. Maloney, for another winning story. I am eager to see what you have in store for your next Morgan protagonist.

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

The Christmas Train, by David Baldacci (a re-read)

Eight stars

I love this holiday classic, even if it is totally cheesy. It is one of my annual reads at this time of year and I hope it can be added to a holiday TBR list for others as well.

Baldacci brings his readers a holiday classic sure to stoke the fires of the heart and keep the holiday season on track. Tom Langdon is on a mission, to get from New York to LA in time for Christmas. After a slightly intrusive and highly problematic search by airport security, Langdon finds himself on a red-flag list, still needing to get to the City of Angels. As a seasoned journalist, he tries to make the most of his issue and decides to take to the rails aboard Amtrak’s best and brightest, writing all about his adventures. His multi-day journey puts many interesting and unique characters in his path, as well as some highly humourous adventures and even a mystery or two. As the miles fly by, Langdon discovers that there is more to the train than a slower means of getting from A to B. When someone from his past appears on the journey alongside him, Langdon discovers true meaning of the holidays and how the heart is the best guide on any of life’s trips. A nice break for Baldacci thriller readers, the book is a wonderful addition to the annual holiday traditions.

I would be remiss if I did not agree with many that this book is not cut from the usual cloth Baldacci presents. That said, its hokey nature is offset by the wonderful story Baldacci tells and the humour he is able to weave into the larger narrative. I have read this book many time before and love it each time, finding some new aspect to cherish. Baldacci is a master at storytelling and this book is proof positive that his flexible ideas can stand the test of time and genre diversification.

Kudos, Mr. Baldacci, for this holiday treat that ranks right up there with shortbread and eggnog.

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

The Autobiography of Santa Claus, as told by Jeff Guinn (a re-read)

Nine stars

Another sensational holiday re-read!

During the holiday season, I turned to the gifted biography writer, Jeff Guinn, to open my mind to what must have been one of his most entertaining projects. Christmas tends to be a time of giving and there are many who find Santa Claus, Father Christmas, or St. Nicholas to be a key player in promoting this amongst the youngest part of the population.

As Guinn reveals in the introduction, he was tasked with writing the autobiography of the man in red and provides a stunning piece for fans of all ages to enjoy. Born in what is now a region of Turkey in 280, Nicholas was always a very loving child. His parents doted on him before their death, when Nicholas was sent to live with the monks. While there, Nicholas discovered the art of secretly gifting to others who were less fortunate, a theme in his life for centuries to come. While things did not always go his way, Nicholas soon grew to become a priest and bishop, never forgetting those in need.

It was at this time, when Nicholas attained the age of 60 or so, that he discovered his power to never age. He did, however, disappear from public sight and those within the community eventually were said to have found him dead in his bed, thereafter burying him and paying homage. Still, Nicholas lived and provided wonderful gifts to those who least expected it. Nicholas soon met a few important members of his team that would help him deliver gifts: Felix (a man who was a slave, but shared Nicholas’ passion for giving) and Layla (another secret gifter, who became a romantic interest). They would soon gain the same magical ability to live forever and work with Nicholas as he travelled around and provided gifts for children in need.

Nicholas was eventually sainted, though he never let this get to his head, worrying more about how his power to help was stymied whenever they entered a war-torn area. Coming across many people to help as the world evolved and population growth continued, Nicholas soon honed his gift giving to a time between his name day (December 6th) and the Feast of Epiphany (January 6th).

As time progressed, St. Nicholas became better known in Europe and served to bring joy to the lives of little ones, but with the discovery of the New World came Puritans who sought to rid the region of any celebratory connection to Christmas and Nicholas himself. It was at this time that Britain faced their own internal struggles and Christmas was all but wiped off the map. Diligently, St. Nicholas worked with his team to inject a new love of the holiday season.

In what seems like a rush through the ages, the newly nicknamed Santa Claus tells how he acquired the name and what new people he met along the way that helped to shape the modern idea that many have about him, from his use of chimneys to flying reindeer and even tie-ins to many songs depicting his jolly nature.

The latter portion of the book finds Santa settling in the North Pole to work and live permanently, an interesting tale all its own. How a man could have left an impact on children for close to 1800 years astounds me, but it is all here in this sensational autobiography that Jeff Guinn helped pen. Masterful in its detail and ties to historical events, this is sure to become a book readers return to regularly to spark a new light in their holiday traditions. Recommended for the lover of history, as well as those who enjoy learning a little more about the Christmas that one cannot find on the store shelves.

I have always been in awe when reading anything Jeff Guinn writes and this piece was no exception. While I have been aware of some facts about Nicholas throughout his life, I had no idea about the majority of the information depicted here, nor how it all tied together. Guinn’s extensive research and, perhaps (?), some writing freedoms allows the reader to get lost in the story of how this man went from orphan at nine to being a central part of the Christmas tradition, accepted by those who may not be heavy into the religious symbols of the season. The nuances and side stories are so plentiful and fit like a jigsaw puzzle, connecting seamlessly into the larger narrative and make for a sensational piece of biographic work.

Like belief in St. Nicholas requires one to suspend reality at times, this book has moments where rational thought must be set aside and the magic of the season put front and centre. The attentive reader will be dazzled by what Guinn has done and will want to know more, which is thankfully available in two more volumes in the collection. With a mix of chapter lengths, Guinn and St. Nicholas take the reader on detailed or superficial journeys throughout the centuries, never skipping key aspects.

There are countless moments for the reader to learn the history of the time and how Christmas was once so controversial, as well as how Church and secular decisions created many precedents still used today (but whose origins many did not know). This has secured a spot on my annual Christmas reading list for sure and I will recommend this easy to comprehend piece to anyone who wishes a warm holiday read that brings out the child in us all.

Kudos, St. Nicholas and Mr. Guinn for reminding us what the holiday season is all about and ensuring no one ever forgets.

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

The Dead of Winter: Three Giordano Bruno Novellas, by S.J. Parris

Eight stars

With this release of three novellas in the Giordano Bruno series, fans can enjoy two previously published pieces and a new story, just in time for Christmas. While I binged the entire series earlier this year, I was eager to return for a little more Bruno and his cunning ways. The reader learns a little more about the early days of Bruno’s time as a monk, including the struggles that face him. There is the curious Bruno who finds the confines of priory rules slightly troublesome, causing him to write his own. The final story has Bruno being called to Rome to answer for some of the antics he’s undertaken, though the young monk does not feel that he has offended anyone, at least those with an open mind. S. J. Parris does a masterful job, particularly for series fans, as she explores those early days, when Bruno was still captivated with serving God above all others!

The Secret Dead

It is Naples in 1566 and the city is in the middle of a stifling heat wave. Giordano Bruno is all of eighteen and has recently entered the monastery to devote himself to God. He is known not to be completely on the straight and narrow, having issues listening to those in authority. However, when Bruno is called away one night to help Fra Gennaro, he goes with all the curiosity that he can muster. Gennaro admits that he wishes to share something with Bruno that must be kept highly secret, taking him to the site of a body. This is a young whore who appears to have been strangled, though the reasons are as yet unknown.

During the anatomising of the body (one might call it early autopsy work), Bruno and Gennaro discover that she was pregnant, which only adds to the drama. While Bruno vows to keep this to himself, he cannot help but try to piece it all together, trying to determine who would have done this to a young woman, even if she held an unwanted offspring. This is surely the spark that led to the great crime solving work of Giordano Bruno in the years to come, all while holding up his end of a monastic life.

The Academy of Secrets

It is Naples in 1568 and a young Giordano Bruno is the rising star at the priory, though his penchant for seeking knowledge outside of the strict role of a monk has become apparent to many. Fra Gennaro, another monk and the local medical professional, takes him under his wing and introduces Bruno to a group of philosophically-minded men, headed by Don Giambattista. These men call themselves the Academy of Secrets, meeting to discuss mental and physical experiments that they have been undertaking, as well as recommending reading—a great deal of which lies outside that permitted by the Church. Bruno takes an especially great interest and Giambattista agrees to grant the young monk access to his libraries.

Juggling his time at the priory, and with the help of Fra Gennaro to cover for his absence, Bruno makes his way there to expand his knowledge. His arrival is met with another surprise, the young and attractive niece to Don Giambattista. Bruno’s work is shelved as he and Fiammetta engage in something a tad more carnal. Bruno slips away and heads back to the priory, keeping his secret to himself, but another of the young monks seems to have discovered that there is something amiss. While Bruno continues to make daily trips to the library and to see Fiammetta, the Academy of Secrets is in jeopardy. When Bruno is kept from his daily journey on one occasion, things turn deadly and questions arise. With his weakened connection of the priory already clear, some must wonder if Bruno took matters into his own hands.

A Christmas Requiem

It is Naples in the late autumn of 1569. A young monk of 21, Giordano Bruno, is continuing his studies and showing just how sharp his mind can be. Honing a parlour trick of sorts, Bruno can recite any of the psalms, forwards or backwards, in a number of different languages. This has caught the eye of some of the senior officials, but it is another missive from Rome that really causes a stir. Bruno’s presence is requested at the Vatican to see His Holiness, Pope Pius V. This must be a joke, right?

When Bruno makes it to Rome, just in time for the Christmas season, he is unsure what awaits him. However, being a young and still somewhat lustful man, Bruno finds himself caught in the web of desire with a woman. This woman, while also highly beautiful, has ecclesiastical connections that could ruin Bruno if he’s not careful. Still, lust is one temptation not easily dissipated by prayer.

When the Holy Father meets with Bruno, the topic at hand is heresy. It is not only the goings on in England under Queen Elizabeth that is causing ire, but Bruno’s repeated conflicts over banned publications by Protestants that has the Pope up in arms. When it’s discovered that Bruno can recite the psalms, much consternation is levelled against the young monk and he’s lucky to escape with his life. Might the pious life not be the best thing for Giordano Bruno after all, if he cannot express himself and expand his mind?

I have come to love the books in this series, not only for the mysteries they present, but also because there is so much history for the reader to enjoy. Parris does well developing her stories effectively and peppers them with fact and massaged fiction to tell a great tale. As with her novels, these novellas proved highly entertaining and are written so as to make the reader feel they have gone back in time. The novellas can, if one chooses, be read as standalone, though I am not sure why anyone would want to deprive themselves of such a wonderful series in its entirety. S. J,. Parris has much to offer and one can only hope that there are more books to come to keep series fans excited.

Kudos, Madam Parris, for an exciting collection of stories that remind me how much I enjoy Giordano Bruno. I cannot wait to see what else you have to offer 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 Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits, by Les Standiford

Eight stars

Charles Dickens’ classic Christmas tale is surely synonymous with the holiday season, from its spooky mention of ghosts to its endearing message of love and understanding. However, the story behind this shorter novel is almost as intriguing as the prose itself. After reading a fictitious version of events, I looked to Les Standiford, whose non-fiction account, The Man Who Invented Christmas, offers curious readers something on which they can chew to better understand the background. Highly educational and enlightening, this is a great piece to accompany the Dickens classic. Recommended to those with a love of the holiday season, as well as the reader who may want to chase the Scrooge out of their heart after a horrid 2020.

Charles Dickens may have been a popular author throughout his life, but that does not mean that he enjoyed a positive upbringing. Having come from a childhood of poverty, Charles Dickens was forced to pull himself up by his bootstraps. These early years of scrounging and being forced to rub two pennies together proved helpful when he penned some of his earliest novels, including Oliver Twist. As Standiford mentions throughout, it was his astuteness to his surroundings that gave Dickens ideas for his plots and characters.

Of interest to some readers, Standiford explores how Dickens used to write his novels piecemeal, submitting them for serial publication. While they could appear long as a final product, the short pieces that found their way into weekly or monthly collections made the stories seem a little more palatable. Standiford uses this contrast when discussing the creation of A Christmas Carol, which would not be as long as these other pieces, but had to be completed over a shorter time period.

Dickens had come off a less than stellar publication of a novel that was not getting the excitement his publishers had hoped. With the holiday season creeping up, Dickens was tasked with writing a Christmas story in a short period of time. Pulling on examples from all aspects of his life, Dickens wrote about a man—Ebenezer Scrooge—who hated the joyousness that Christmas brought, but who underwent a significant epiphany after being visited by four beings. The end result proved to be eye-opening for all involved and created a new buzz around the Christmas season.

Strandiford explores the Christmas celebration throughout the book, from its traditions to how it was only minimally celebrated through the centuries. It was the Victorian Era that pushed England to shed its neutrality to the celebrations and breathe new life into this most powerful of feast times. From the Germanic influence of trees at Christmas to the buzz of gift giving and the appearance of Father Christmas, England grew more accepting of the holiday, something that appears in Dickens’ story. While I think it would be a tad hyperbolic to say that Dickens alone breathed life into the holiday season, his story certainly explored some of the less commercial aspects of the season.

I only read read A Christmas Carol for the first time last Christmas season. While you try to catch your breathe and step back in shock, I will let you know that I have seen the movie and know the premise, but the story itself takes on new meaning when using the author’s actual prose. Pairing the actual story with Standiford’s book (as well as a piece by Samantha Silva, do check it out), offers a great understand of Victorian times and how the holiday evolved. There is a great deal for the reader to understand that will permit a thorough and comprehensive exploration of the themes and ideas. Standiford does a masterful job at shining some light on this for those readers who wish the context.

While there are portions of the book that are quasi-textbook, the information garnered from the pages of Standiford’s book is second to none. Understanding how Christmas was once passed off as just another day and what the Church did to counter the rise of pagan rituals is quite ingenious. Using that backstory and some of the Victorian traditions, the reader can see how it all comes together as Scrooge makes his way through his one sobering night. These nuggets proved useful and provided some additional takeaway, something I always enjoy when it comes to reading. With short chapters, full of great information, the reader is surely to find something that interests them, as it relates to the story. If only this were not such an isolating holiday season. I would love to regale people with ‘did you know?’ moments. Oh well, it just means I have another year to practice and study!

Kudos, Mr. Standiford, for a wonderful piece that entertained and educated in equal measure.

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

Mr. Dickens and His Carol, by Samantha Silva

Eight stars

At this time of year, many will partake in some form of Charles Dickens’ classic Christmas tale. However, the story behind its creation is equally as intriguing, as I came to learn through Samantha Silva and her story, Mr. Dickens and His Carol. While fictitious, Silva recounts a vivid story that offers up a number of wonderful treats about how a popular author rose to a publisher’s challenge and penned a story that has touched the lives of millions every Christmas. Recommended to those with a love of the holiday season, as well as the reader who may want to chase the Scrooge out of their heart after a horrid 2020.

Charles Dickens had proven himself countless times in the literary world. Many of his books were household names, with characters people could recognise in their own lives. However, every author has their bumps in the road and Dickens was not immune. A poorly received novel had many wondering if he might be on his way out.

Reluctantly, Dickens accepts a challenge to write a Christmas story in a short time period, as his publisher wants something to sell to the masses at the height of the holiday season. It would have to be unique and yet something relatable, leaving Dickens to wonder how he could come up with something so swiftly. If that were not enough to weigh on his mind, Dickens had six children of his own and a father who always seems to have his hand out for money.

Choosing to go incognito, Dickens checks himself into a boarding house and begins writing, infusing ideas from his own life and peppering the story with talk of ghosts. Things seem to flow and he receives a little outside influence, but Dickens cannot be sure if this is a winner. When he finishes the last of it, Dickens lays himself down for a rest, with hopes that it will meet the expectations of those who will read it.

When he wakes, Dickens is shocked to see the manuscript is missing. After pleas for assistance, Dickens is forced to realise that his story is gone and he will have to begin again. This time, however, things flow with ease and the story builds through each stave. Characters come to life and the theme resonates with each page of the manuscript. He finishes it quickly and is ready to deliver it for publication, but first would like a special boy to hear it, if only to give his nod of approval.

It was only last Christmas season that I finally sat to read A Christmas Carol for the first time. I have seen the movie and know the premise, but the story itself takes on new meaning when one is able to hear the prose Dickens used. Samantha Silva connects with those sentiments as she pens this wonderful book that is the perfect accompaniment of a classic story.

Charles Dickens is surely the protagonist of the piece, but it is more the outside influences that he encounters that make the story. Silva creates a masterful character in Dickens and provides stellar development throughout the piece, while also effectively showing where the ideas arose for his holiday story. While Dickens does have some Scrooge in him at times, it is his own epiphany in the story that is sure to enamour readers to him.

Samantha Silva shows that she is not only able to write, but capture the time period effectively. Reading this immediately after the Dickens story, I was able to contrast the sentiments and felt as though I was actually in Victorian England, from the lilt of the character interactions to the language used and even the description of the surroundings. This adds depth and excitement to an already energetic piece. The reader is transported to the cobbled streets through short and succinct chapters that are full of narrative gems. The story came to life and never faded for me, keeping me wondering how things would progress. Silva’s research is apparent throughout this piece and I cannot wait to see what else she’s explored in her writing.

Kudos, Madam Silva, for a story almost as exciting as Dickens’ own work. I think I may have found another book to add to my annual Christmas list.

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

A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens (Re-Read)

Eight stars

What a way to begin my annual Christmas reading…

If there is one story that is synonymous with Christmas, it would be Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. How I have gone so long in my life never having read this story, I do not know. I quite liked the movie from the early 1950s and always used that as my benchmark for what the story is all about, but chose to take the plunge and read Dickens’ actual words, yet another tradition that comes from the Victorian era. 

As miserly Ebenezer Scrooge heads home late one Christmas Eve night, he is visited by the apparition of his former business partner, Jacob Marley, dead seven years. Marley’s apparition tells that Scrooge will be visited by three ghosts who will show him essential things that he needs to know. 

While Scrooge scoffs at the entire process, he is startled when the first ghost appears to take him into the past. This experience shows Scrooge some of the events from his past and how he became the man he is today. A second ghost explores current decisions Scrooge has been making, including some of the most miserly choices he could have made. Quite startled by this point, Scrooge does not want the third visit, but must see life as it would be after his passing and how others will speak of him. This is enough to help bring about an epiphany for the elderly Ebenezer, who sees the world for what it could be. A Christmas classic that I will definitely add to my annual read list, this one is recommended for anyone eager to explore Christmas and its true meaning.

Many of my friends on Goodreads have read this book and are as astounded as me that I had never done so myself. I found myself enthralled from the opening sentences and remained captivated throughout. I will admit that I chose to let the stellar voice of Tim Curry guide me through the Audible version of this tale, which brought the experience to life for me and will be used each December, of that I can be sure. Dickens is a master storyteller and many renditions of this story have emerged over the years, all of which have their own spin on the story. The themes that come up as Scrooge explores his life are sensational and there is little about which any reader could complain. Divided into five distinct staves, Dickens pulls the reader in and keeps their attention until the final sentence, never letting things lose momentum. I can only hope to find more exciting tales in the years to come, to add to my December collection.

Kudos, Mr. Dickens, for a stunning story that touches the heart of each reader in its own way.

Daylight (John Puller #5, Atlee Pine #3), by David Baldacci

Eight stars

Never one to shy away from a great thriller, I turned to the latest in the Atlee Pine series, Daylight, by esteemed author David Baldacci. The story offers some great action and development in the Mercy Pine saga, though is overshadowed by a case headed by another Baldacci protagonist. Thankfully Atlee has no trouble sharing the ‘daylight’, though it does cast her in the shadows at times. A great book for Baldacci fans, even if patience and a John Puller storyline hijacking are two aspects for which the title does not prepare the reader.

Atlee Pine is a stellar agent with the FBI and knows how to track down a criminal with one hand tied behind her back. This might have something to do with the great support she’s offered by her administrative assistant, Carol Blum, but Pine is no slouch. When they take a leave from the Bureau to track done a lead in the Mercy Pine disappearance, both Atlee and Carol end up in New Jersey, hoping to put all the pieces together.

Arriving to speak with one Ito Vincenzo, brother to a high-ranking Mafia boss, Pine wonders if her sister’s kidnapping might have something to do with an act of revenge. Atlee’s mother apparently created quite the stir testifying and Ito may have wanted to take matters into his own hands.

Just as Pine arrives to extract some information, she stumbles into the middle of something and foils an ongoing investigation by Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID). The lead investigator, John Puller, is a little less than happy, but once he sees that it’s Atlee Pine, he softens a little. Pine and Puller have worked together before and, while another of the Vincenzo family has slipped away, the fact that it was in the hopes of finding Mercy Pine lessens the impact.

It would seem that Tony Vincenzo has been using his muscle to bring pills into Fort Dix, which is how Puller finds himself involved. With leads as hot as they come, Puller has little time to rest on his laurels, but does suppose that he and Pine might be able to work together, killing two birds with a single stone. They work their respective cases in tandem, trying to uncover leads and make progress however they can.

While Atlee learns little about her sister, she does discover that Tony Vincenzo’s narcotics reach may be only the tip of the iceberg, as there are people of some prominence caught in a larger web, reaching into the halls of Congress. However, without the big fish, it’s all a house of cards and will lead Puller nowhere. It would seem the sleuthing both Pine and Puller are doing has caused someone to feel the heat, as they are both targeted and almost killed.

Working the Vincenzo angle, much is discovered and Atlee inadvertently makes a discovery about where Mercy may have gone the night she was kidnapped. It’s not yet confirmed, but if it can be substantiated, things may finally be falling into place. With the truth out there, both Puller and Pine will have to watch themselves and step carefully, or fear never seeing daylight again.

I always enjoy what David Baldacci brings to the table and marvel at how he can keep multiple series on the go by himself. He has a way with words and keeps his readers enthralled. However, I think his interest in crossovers (this is the second in as many novels that has two protagonists working together) may have cost Atlee Pine the stardom that the book’s series tag suggests.

Atlee Pine is a gritty woman and strong beyond belief. Her background in MMA fighting and push to reveal the truth about her sister’s disappearance prove to be a key aspect to the protagonist’s overall development throughout this piece. While the Mercy Pine mystery proves a thread throughout this piece, Pine seems to take second chair to John Puller and his needs, thereby relegating her to losing true character development in this novel, which is unfortunate.

Baldacci’s use of strong supporting characters is on display here again. While I won’t call him supporting, John Puller’s presence is refreshing in this piece. He has a lot worth discussing throughout the piece and his appearance does complement Pine well, though, as I have said multiple times, he steals the show. Others help to shape the plot and keep the story moving forward, with banter and plot twists that are sure to keep the reader intrigued.

Baldacci’s writing is strong and proves to fit his usual outline of two strong, central characters, one male and one female. I have long used audio to read Baldacci, so I am used to the intertwined voices and characters that appear throughout. A mix of chapter lengths help provide the reader with the momentum needed to devour thgis book in short order, even if Baldacci’s plots alone serve this purpose. I remained curious throughout and the Mercy Pine revelations left me wanting more, hoping that Atlee will keep up her search for the truth about the sister she lost three decades ago. The final half dozen chapters prove essential to understanding advances in the Mercy Pine saga.

If I had to offer a critique, it would be the Puller hijacking of the book. While I am no author, I think Pine deserved her limelight and that John Puller could have been introduced later in the piece, thereby providing him a cameo/crossover spot and not taking things over. Might Pine have been chasing down the Vincenzo lead and stumbled upon something inside Fort Dix, the story could have blossomed from there. Pine could alert the authorities, subsequently dispatching Army CID and Puller to the scene, it may have allowed her to wrest control of the plot and not make her storyline seem secondary. Still, the book was exciting and Mercy Pine’s mystery does advance. Then again, I am but a single reader/reviewer and I have not seen others comment on this in their own summaries of the book.

Kudos, Mr. Baldacci, for another winner. While I have been somewhat critical, it is from my reviewing ivory tower. I love the writing and was thoroughly entertained.

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

The Elephant Bowl: A Collection of August Miller Short Stories, by Charles Prandy

Eight stars

After recently reading Charles Prandy’s first novel in his new August Miller series, I was eager to see more of his writing. I was pleased to see that he had written a collection of short stories about the homicide detective, all of which preceded A Cold Day for August. Anyone who loves a collection of short crime thrillers will surely be interested in this piece, after which I would highly recommend locating a copy of the first full-length novel in the series.

The Elephant Bowl

Homicide Detective August Miller was new to the job when she met Shelton Sewell. In fact, he would likely be one of the criminals she’d never forget. Twelve years later, Miller was finally able to close the book on Sewell and his murder of Payton Wells.

While on her way home from a night shift, Miller stops in at a yard sale and finds a small elephant bowl, one popular among children. It is only later that she remembers its significance in the Sewell case and things take a definite twist when Detective Miller returns to ask some questions of the elderly couple who sold her the trinket.

The Endearment Diary

When the Clarks decide to put a pool in their backyard, they are shocked to discover that the body of a teenage girl found buried beneath the soil. Detective August Miller arrives to follow up, learning that the victim is Mia Matthews. Miller takes some time to piece things together, soon discovering that Mia kept a secret diary, filled with admissions she could not even share with her own mother.

After taking a moment to read through the entries of this document, called an Endearment Diary by Mia, Detective Miller discovers that the teenage girl had a strong obsession with an older man. Could this have been the son of the homeowners where she was found, a man with a long and sordid criminal past? Detective Miller will have to work quickly before any of her leads dry up.

Between the Trees

A number of girls have gone missing and Detective August Miller is in charge of the case. When she receives a call that a man has checked into a hotel with an underage girl who appeared panicked, Miller makes her way there as quickly as she can. When she arrives, Carter Wyatt admits that he has been kidnapping and killing the girls, but says that there’s one that no one has yet discovered. However, Wyatt wants something before he will offer much of anything.

Detective Miller uses a clue from Wyatt to try locating a young woman, though it will not be easy. As Miller refuses to admit that she knows someone who was the victim of a crime, Wyatt remains coy about what he knows, promising that if Miller answers his simple question, he’ll tell all. It’s a rush to locate the missing woman, while August Miller tries to hold her composure about a secret from her past that she wants no one to discover.

This was a great collection of stories that shows some of the great ideas that Charles Prandy has for his new series. While I read A Cold Day for August before this collection, they complemented one another really well. Each story highlights some of Miller’s unique qualities as well as the grit she brings to the job. While the first two stories were quick paced, they seemed to fit together a little too easily. The final piece, a little darker and more panicky, is the ideal piece to read right before the first novel.

I thoroughly enjoyed all three pieces, which offered quick narratives and great characters. The attentive side of me noticed that the first two stories were likely meant to be much later than the last, based on Miller’s age. However, the revelations from these stories mesh so well with the first full-length novel. I hope many will take the time (under two hours) to devour these stories and then rush out to get the novel, as it will make for a wonderful and thrilling ride. I cannot say enough about Charles Prandy and his newer work. I will have to get my hands on his earlier series, which I can only hope is just as riveting.

Kudos, Mr. Prandy, for a great collection. I am eager to spread the word to others and hope to hear what they think 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

The Law of Innocence (Lincoln Lawyer #6, Harry Bosch World #34), by Michael Connelly

Eight stars

Michael Connelly is back with his favourite lawyer, whose office is a Lincoln that travels around the streets of Los Angeles, helping those in need. Michael ‘Mickey’ Haller has quite the reputation in his profession, though he is sure to have made some enemies. When he’s taken into custody for murder, Haller will have to use all his skills to defend himself, showing that The Law of Innocence is not just a textbook sentiment. Perfect for fans of Connelly’s loosely interconnected series, as well as though who love a great courtroom thriller.

After celebrating another win, defence lawyer Mickey Haller is headed home, only to be stopped by a traffic cop. What begins as a routine missing plate, soon gets out of hand when blood is seen dripping from the bumper. Before long, the body of Sam Scales is found in Haller’s trunk and the hotshot lawyer is dragged off to jail, about to face a murder charge. While Haller professes his innocence, many feel that this could be a form of retribution for a past client’s not listening to his lawyer.

As Haller tries to work all angles and defend himself, he elicits the help of those in his office, as well as former LAPD Detective Harry Bosch to make sense of it all. It’s proven that the body was dumped and killed in Haller’s garage, but there’s much more to the story than meets the eye, including an angle that has the FBI playing coy.

While Haller is not faring well in prison, his sharp mind helps develop a reasonable defence that seems to be winning over the judge. However, the prosecution refuses to let egg settle on its face and pulls a fast one, citing new and damning charges that all but ensure that Haller will spend a long time in prison. This is not how Mickey Haller imagined spending the winter of 2020.

Working with a co-counsel he knows well, Haller must prove his innocence to a panel of jurors who appear eager to hear what the state has to say. It’s sure to be a cutthroat trial where innocence will come second to the ability to spin tales. Haller has everything to lose as he finds himself in the hot seat, somewhere he’s not used to sitting.

I have always enjoyed the work of Michael Connelly, who is able to develop a story that hits the reader in the gut, using many of his great characters to entertain the reader. This piece, which seeks to put savvy defence lawyer Mickey Haller in the shoes of his clients, opens up some new and exciting avenues for the curious reader.

Mickey Haller is a great protagonist in this piece. He shows off his style and pizzazz, but is also relatable as he does what he knows best, defence work. Like his half-brother, Bosch, Haller gets to the root of the issue and uses those around him as inspiration. A father who is trying to ensure his daughter respects him, Haller seeks to show that there are time when the law is not entirely fair, though he never disparages the system in which he earns his living. Forced to use all he knows to save his own skin, Haller will have to show just how conniving he can be when his life’s on the line.

Connelly keeps things interesting with a slew of other characters, some of whom series fans will know well, peppered throughout the narrative. As with many of his novels, Connelly has crafted the perfect mix of good and bad people to push the story along, all connected to the trial in some form. There are some great subplots that emerge in this novel, utilising these supporting characters to offer poignant angles Haller himself could not develop alone. With a cameo appearance by Harry Bosch, fans of that series get a little dose of their favourite retired LAPD detective.

While the ‘Harry Bosch World’ series is long and drawn-out, those that focus on Mickey Haller have been limited. I love Harry Bosch and all he brings to the table, but his half-brother also have some quirks that are worthy of the spotlight. Michael Connelly does well with this novel to develop a strong legal thriller and propels the story forward with a paced narrative that is full of legal jargon. The reader can easily feel as though they are part of the action, with wonderful banter, both in and outside the courtroom. Chapters of various lengths keep the piece from getting too laborious, though there are times when detail takes time to come to fruition, something that Connelly knows well. This is also the first book I have read where the author uses COVID-19 as an interesting ‘window dressing’ to the larger narrative. Well done and placed perfectly so as to involve but not interfere with the overall delivery. I cannot wait to see what else Michael Connelly has for us, as fans await the next season of Bosch on Amazon Prime.

Kudos, Mr. Connelly, for another winner. I loved the concept and thoroughly enjoyed Bosch’s cameo within the story.

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

A Cold Day for August (Detective August Miller #1), by Charles Prandy

Eight stars

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

Always up for a good police procedural, I eagerly reached for Charles Prandy’s latest book A Cold Day for August. A detective works a baffling case where young women keep turning up murdered in various ways. With little to go on, Detective August Miller tries to follow up on the few leads presented to her. However, there’s something in her past that has her feeling a little off-kilter and may impede her usual clear headedness. A great start to what looks to be a new series, prefect for those who love a thriller with many twists.

Detective August Miller is a well-established homicide detective in Maryland. She’s called out to handle the discovery of a young woman’s body, apparently murdered by strangulation. With few leads, Miller must try to piece together the final night of the victim, in hopes of discovering the killer’s identity. While things seem to be leading in a certain direction, she encounters a few dead-ends, which only creates layers of frustration.

When another woman is found, this time drowned in a lake, Miller works even harder to piece the crimes together. Might there be a serial killer out there who is targeting young women for reasons as yet unknown? It’s also got Miller worried that someone from her past, her sister’s killer, has come back to resume his obsession.

While working these murders, Miller is called out to what seems like the suicide of an older gentleman. However, something is not making sense, leading Miller to think that there was some foul play. Could the case be tied to her two female victims?

With all this going on, Walter Presley, popular crime author, is going through his own issues. An admitted voyeur, Presley has been having a hard time pushing his urges down. He’s fixated on a new woman and ends up sneaking into her house on a whim, but has little interest other than spying on her. However, she’s gone missing and Walter cannot decide if he ought to come forward and help the authorities. His chance encounter with Detective Miller does not go well and a last-second decision puts him at the top of the suspect list. A killer is out there and Detective August Miller will have to find them before the victim count rises even more.

While I have never read anything by Charles Prandy, this book alone makes me wish I had. There is so much in this book that kept me wanting to read more, with a captivating writing style and a plot that never lost its fast pace. It was quite the experience learning about August Miller and her complex past, something I hope Prandy expands into a series of some length.

August Miller comes off as a strong protagonist, complex and yet easily relatable by the reader. She takes her work seriously and has no issue standing firm against the pushback she gets from her male colleagues. Her grit and determination propel her to never stop asking questions and trying to reveal truths that seem to elude others. Her personal struggles related to the murder of her sister seems to fuel Miller’s determination to help others, no matter the cost.

Prandy has a lot going on in this book and keeps his subplots developing with a strong supporting cast. While there were times that it was hard to keep track of everyone, Prandy keeps the characters evolving and intriguing, sure to help the reader want to know more. Be it the banter between Miller and the suspects or some of the lighter interactions in other chapters, Prandy uses his characters well to push the novel along.

I have read many crime thrillers and police procedurals over the years, some of which I found to be highly intriguing. Prandy opens his novel with what looks to be a killer’s journal, which had me hooked. I needed to know more and the story only got better from there. With a distinct narrative and strong dialogue, Prandy keeps the reader in the middle of the action. His short chapters not only propel the story forward, but forces the reader to push for “just a little more” before they put it down for a time. I was all-in from the early chapters and wanted to know more. By the end, I could only hope that August Miller might come back for another few cases, as she has something about her that remains unresolved. I’ll definitely add Charles Prandy to my list of authors to watch.

Kudos, Mr. Prandy, for a great novel. I will have to look into some of your other series, hoping they are just as good.

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

You Can Go Home Now, by Michael Elias

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.


There is something chilling about Michael Elias’ latest thriller, You Can Go Home Now, that is sure to pique the interest of the reader. A single cop working a handful of cold cases with one of her own that has been simmering for decades. Nina Karim knows how to follow the rules and when to break them. She’ll need a little of both if she has any hope of setting things straight. A strong story is sure to keep the attentive reader begging for more!

Nina Karim know what she wants and how to get it. Having risen through the ranks of the Long Island City PD, she knows that her single status and being a woman makes it hard for her colleagues to take her seriously, though she has long since stopped caring. She’s handling some of the ‘lighter fare’ in the department and is trying to track down a missing couple whose domestic bliss is long past its due date.

After a body is discovered, it turns out to be the missing husband, an abusive man with a long reputation for using his fists before any common sense. Being a former cop, the Blue Wall seems to have protected him for a long while, as his wife has turned out to be a punching bag. Detective Karim locates the wife who has been staying at a women’s shelter. She promises that she is not involved, but cannot say that she is sorry to see him dead.

Karim expands her search parameters and discovers a number of other cold cases with abuse as an underlying circumstance. It would seem that this particular women’s shelter is housing a number of the victims’ significant others. Could there be a massive coincidence or is this a lead that could yield a killer? Karim must find out and so she poses as an abused woman, putting out feelings to see if she can use an abused victim story to churn out a ‘hit’.

While all this is taking place, Karim has been wrestling with the murder of her father years ago. Killed by a sniper in the kitchen, likely for his willingness to perform abortions on women who sought them, Karim is sure that the killer is part of a pro-life movement that made New York anything but safe back in the day. She has a few leads of her own and will stop at nothing to avenge the death of an innocent man. But, will the end result prove more troubling than the sense of relief that comes from locating a killer?

Michael Elias writes is new to my reading experience, but he writes in such a way that one cannot help but feel a sense of connection quickly. The story is strong and the narrative flows well, keeping the reader on their toes and wanting to know more as the pages turn.

Nina Karim may not be a cop whose story is entirely unique, but she has a wonderful way of approaching life. She has her own missions, both personal and professional, as well as a strong sense of dedication to the task at hand. Her backstory is littered with peaks and valleys, though she is never one to dwell on them. While her father’s death haunts her, she has a plan to avenge him, even if it takes her to hell and back. With some grit and determination, Karim will face anyone that stands in her way and finds herself to be an advocate for those who need it most, namely herself.

Elias keeps the story strong with a full cast of supporting characters. He tells a few of the strong subplots with a vast array of people from all walks of life. Things are never dull and the reader can almost feel as though they are at the centre of the action, with realistic dialogue and banter. I could almost picture myself watching some of the interactions as I read this book, they were depicted that well.

The story’s premise was strong, tacking abuse and retribution through the eyes of the victim. At times somewhat disturbing, but in a way that is sobering to the reader who has not experienced it, the story takes on a great deal and tries to put some sense into it. Elias has a way with words and lets his narrative flow well as things keep gaining momentum. With short chapters, the reader is pushed into forging ahead and trying to solve the case in a single sitting. Elias knows what he’s doing here and while abuse is no laughing matter, there is a sense of happiness as some semblance of retribution takes place within the pages of this well-crafted novel.

Kudos, Mr. Elias, for an insightful piece. I am eager to see what else you have in store for you fans, and will have to look into some of your previous publications.

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

Deadly Cross (Alex Cross #28), by James Patterson

Seven stars

Alex Cross is back for yet another adventure along the streets of D.C., which means James Patterson has been at it again. When the former wife of a high-ranking politician turns up dead, Cross is on the case. He’s also working with his partner to discover who’s been kidnapping and murdering a number of young women. This is sure to be one summer that will keep Cross busy. A decent addition for series fans, but there’s something lacking in this latest novel.

Alex Cross loves nothing more than spending time with his family, but when work calls, he knows where he’s needed. The former wife of the current vice-president has been found murdered and Cross is willing to step up to help. It would seem that their past acquaintance is not going to help as much as Cross had hoped, as tabloid journalists try to use it to smear her and leave Cross in an awkward position.

While working that case and taking direction from the Chief of Detectives—Cross’ own wife, Bree Stone—Cross and his partner, John Sampson, begin working on a series of kidnappings of young women. What’s worse, some of the women have turned up murdered, leaving little doubt that there’s a serial killer on the loose. Cross and Sampson begin a thorough analysis of the case, but a personal tragedy strikes, sidelining the affable Sampson.

As Cross splits his time between cases, he’s not getting the traction he had hoped, which is causing a significant amount of pressure up the chain of command. Bree is feeling the heat from her own superiors and loses it at one point, wondering if police work is really for her. It’s no easy decision, but, like Cross, family comes before the badge.

After Cross finds himself in rural Alabama working some leads, he learns something that could solve the case that has those on Capitol Hill buzzing. It could be a red herring, but there’s no time to leave anything to chance. What Cross learns blows the case wide open, forcing everyone to question what they know and who they can trust.

Back in D.C., it’s anyone’s guess who could be killing young women, but Sampson bounces back, using work as a salve, and discovers a few breadcrumbs of his own. With so much set to chance in the Cross sphere, solving these cases might help with what’s on the horizon.

I have long enjoyed the work of James Patterson on this series, one of the few that he has kept for himself. While Cross does not seem to lose his finesse, there’s something about this book that left me less than fully enthralled. I have mentioned it before and will do so again, might it be time for Dr. Alex Cross to hang up the cuffs and let others handle things?

Alex Cross returns to reprise his role as protagonist, though there is little backstory or actual development to be had. Cross lives for the moment, watching his family continue to grow and the cases pile up. He’s still likeable, works hard, and loves his family. I guess I expected something new to rejuvenate him as a character all his own. I did not dislike him whatsoever, but there’s something lacking that left me almost indifferent throughout the novel.

With a core of close knit supporting characters, Patterson does well to keep the large story arc going. There are the requisite new faces who appear to keep the cases flowing well and leave the reader with others to explore. A little backstory appears here and there, but the reader gets much of their narrative development with the police work that is being done throughout the book.

I always find it hard to stay loyal to a series when things seem to taper off. Not that this collection has fallen into horrible disarray, but it lacks what it once had, hardcore crime work and cliffhangers that leaver the reader wondering. Patterson is able to keep his protagonist moving and guessing, though there is a lack of spark that I remember from earlier novels. Surely, Cross is aging and his family is getting more independent, but if that means it’s time to fade into the sunset, let’s take that route and move along. Other series that have lasted this long have their protagonist moving into retirement. I wonder if this is an option that Patterson’s considered. Not that he’s not busy enough overseeing others writing books with his name on it.

The writing itself is still fairly strong and the story he’d my attention throughout. I was eager to see how Cross would handle things and was happy to see the narrative’s momentum did not lag. Short chapters kept me pushing ahead, wondering what was to come next, though I was not as riveted as I would have liked. Those who have dedicated themselves to the series may also see the writing on the wall. I’ll keep reading, but I can only hope that Patterson ties things off with dignity for this long-serving detective, and we don’t have him perishing in an alley, blood pooling around him.

Kudos, Mr. Patterson, for keeping Alex Cross going. Perhaps it’s time for a mega crossover (with Women’s Murder Club and Michael Bennett) before calling it a career for the Metro detective.

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

The Opium Prince, by Jasmine Aimaq

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Jasmine Aimaq, and Soho Press for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

As a reader, there are always books that one comes across that appear out of this world when perusing the dust jacket blurb. However, once you get into the thick of the story, things take you to another place entirely, not always for the good. This is likely why someone coined the phrase about judging a book by its cover. The premise sounded highly alluring and I could see myself loving this piece of historical fiction, not least because there was so much action that was described within its pages. However, I could not find myself able to push through the early part during three sittings. This is indicative of a pass for me.

For me, Jasmine Aimaq’s piece was well written, to the point that I was not entirely lost in the opening pages. However, it failed to grab me when I needed the story to hold onto my collar and shake me. It could be that my head was not in it. It might also be because the publisher ‘gifted’ this book to me seven days after it was published and the review window was only a day before NetGalley locked it away, forcing me to rush to begin. It might also have been because I was simply expecting one thing and got another. That’s why I have to mark it as DNF and move along!

Whatever it is, I am surely in the minority here and don’t hold it against the author, the publisher, or anyone else who loved the book. This just happened to cross my path at the wrong time, under poor review-time restrictions, and I could not deliver for myself or others. It happens to the best and worst of us!

Kudos, Madam Aimaq, for penning what might have been an epic novel for many.

Interference, by Brad Parks

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.


Brad Parks is never one to lead the reader down a straightforward path in his thrillers, and Interference does not buck this trend. A seemingly mysterious medical ailment turns into something a lot more impactful as the story progresses, straddling the line between thriller and quasi-sci fi at times. With a race to discover the truth and a time limit imposed by a hostage taker, this is one book that does not have time to rest on its laurels. Perfect for the reader who needs a little science in their thriller reader experience.

Brigid Bronik has been enjoying her life, even with some of the hurdles its tossed in her direction. When she receives word that her husband, Matt, has collapsed at work, she is frantic. His apparent seizure is nothing that Brigid can understand, but she’s not alone. Doctors have no clue as to what might have befallen Dr. Matt Bronik. He’s a quantum physicist, so it’s not as though he’s come across anything that could knowingly have caused this inexplicable medical issue.

When it happens again a few days later, Brigid is beside herself. It’s only then that Matt admits that he has been working on something top secret for the Department of Defence. It would seem that America is dabbling in quantum viruses, particularly of the tobacco mosaic variety. This means little to everyone who is listening, but Matt assures them that there’s something going on.

After Matt goes missing when he’s seen being carted off by some EMTs, Brigid is as panicked as ever. Bringing in the assistance of New Hampshire State Police Detective Emmet Webster, Brigit tries to pass along what she knows. Detective Webster is not entirely clear on what’s going on, but soon realises that there’s more to the story than even he can handle. Matt’s post-doctoral student goes missing and the ‘kidnappers’ are soon proven to have been sleek in their plan to remove Matt from the premises.

It would seem the tobacco mosaic virus has a form of entanglement theory woven into it, a term from quantum physics that refers to the interconnectivity of two particles, no matter how far apart they are, reacting and sensing one another. As Brigit and her group inch closer, it seems as though Matt knows they are coming and pushes away a little more.

When a ransom demand is made to a local billionaire who had been courting Matt Bronik for some other work, a set of events is set in motion that could blast things wide open. It would seem Matt Bronik is at the centre of a suspicious game of cat and mouse, where numerous people would benefit from his disappearance. While Brigit is not entirely sure who she can trust or where to turn, she can only hope to ‘interfere’ with the master plan enough to bring Matt home safely.

I have read a few pieces by Brad Parks before and they never fail to pull me in. While the subject matter is sometimes far outside my comfort zone, I always learn a great deal and find that the thrilling plot and quick pace keep me needing to know more in short order.

Brigit Bronik is well placed at the centre of the story, though I would argue that she shares the spotlight with Emmet Webster throughout. Both have had significant things happen in their lives (Webster most recently) that shape their outlook and how they approach the current Matt Bronik disappearance. The story permits them both to grow and develop, though their outlook when it comes to the case at hand could not be more different. Working together and in tandem, Brigit and Detective Webster uncover truths throughout this story and will surely keep the reader intrigued.

Parks has so many moving parts in this piece that there is a need for a strong set of secondary characters to keep the subplots alive. Parks develops them well and keeps the reader intrigued with how they complement one another or serve a small, independent purpose. From Chinese nationals to a seemingly innocuous physics professor who enjoys chasing skirts whenever he feels the need, each character that appears plays an integral role in understanding the larger picture here. Parks supports them to the point that the reader cannot help but be a little curious, which makes for a wonderful story.

While some of the plot lines seem to be tied to scientific phenomena, Brad Parks does not write in such a way so as to lose the reader along the journey. The narrative gathers momentum, but explains things as they progress, turning highly technical terms into digestible educational moments. The reader is kept attuned to all the developing storylines and can follow along with ease. Character interactions are key to this story, which is told from both the Brigit and Emmett Webster perspectives. The split narrative is a key aspect of the book, opening the reader’s eyes to more than they might ave expected. With short chapters that keep the cliffhangers coming, there is little time to digest things before the next plot twist comes along. This is the kind of story that will have readers up late into the night, begging for ‘a little more’. I cannot wait to see if this is the start to something bigger, a short series perhaps. I’d surely be game!

Kudos, Mr. Parks, for another winner. You have such a way with words that I hope to go back and check out some more of your work, 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

The Demon Club (Ben Hope #22), by Scott Mariani

Eight stars

Back for another tale in the Ben Hope series, Scott Mariani has again succeeded in keeping the momentum going. This series, which always seems to have something new to add, provides thrills and entertainment, as well as a few twists to keep the story sharp. Who doesn’t love a demonic cult of rich men? Sure to impress series fans and those looking for a well-paced thriller.

Jaden Wolf’s been given a mission to exterminate a man with a sizeable bank account that accompanies his stellar reputation. Wolf’s scouted him out and follows the prominent fellow to a rural part of England, only to stumble upon some sort of ritualistic event that ends in the sacrificial offering of a young woman. He’s got it on video, but only realises after the fact that his presence has also been caught on film, forcing him to flee.

After returning from a romantic weekend, Ben Hope is eager to see if this new belle might be someone worth keeping around. However, his thought processes are interrupted when someone approaches him on one of his flights back to France with a mission, find and kill Jaden Wolf. Otherwise, a certain ‘lady friend’ will be killed. Hope knows that he cannot risk the life of an innocent woman, so he reluctantly agrees.

Hope traces Wolf to the outskirts of a Spanish village, remembering how they served together in the SAS. Wolf was a sly soldier and so Hope will have to use all his wits, if it means getting this done quickly and without making any waves. However, once Hope and Wolf come head to head, the truth is revealed about what the latter witnessed, forcing Hope to reconsider his extermination contract.

All the while, Hope’s two associates learn what’s been going on and go into full protection mode, travelling to Scotland to aid a lass from being murdered. This, in turn, takes much of the pressure off Hope and leaves him able to focus on the task at hand, learning more about this ritualistic group. It turns out, its members are all important figures in the British social community and one has penned a tell-all book, but not before being killed himself.

It will be up to Wolf and Hope to learn more about The Pandemonium Club—as they call themselves—and the rules of their game. This could be the only way to truly end the demonic acts these men perform, masked and robed in the dead of night. However, it will be no walk in the park, but more a stroll through the depths of Hell!

Scott Mariani has never failed to keep me entertained with one of his Ben Hope novels. Mixing the thrill of the hunt with some educational aspects of lesser-known groups, the reader is always treated to something well worth their while. While the series is well-established, this being the 22nd novel, things have never waned to the point of overdoing it, as can be said for some series that stretch well past their best-before date.

Ben Hope returns for more protagonist fun. He’s always eager to show off his brains and brawn, though does toss in a little character development on occasion as well. Eager to take on a mission that will leave him vulnerable, Hope knows what it means to stand up against the forces of evil, no matter whose hiding in the shadows. Still, he is less reckless than one might expect, but makes up for it with a great deal of grit.

With a mix of recurring characters and those who are new to the Hope sphere, Mariani uses his supporting characters effectively. The story rests on interactions and narrative momentum that is fuelled by well-established secondary characters. One learns a great deal about Hope’s past, as well as his determination, though the actions of those who grace the pages of the book. Mariani keeps the banter and jokes coming with them, but also injects the needed evil aspects to keep the plot from going stale.

The story itself was entertaining, even if it might not have been entirely unique. A demonic cult of wealthy men with a core sentiment driving them has a way of grabbing the reader’s interest. While Ben Hope is an acquired taste for some, I have come to like the stories, eager when I hear that a new one is on the way. With a mix of short and longer chapters, I can rely on being pulled into the middle of a worthwhile plot and kept wondering until all is revealed. The attentive reader will also see great connections to other books in the series, without rehashing everything at the beginning of each novel. Highly entertaining and perfect for this time of year, which has proven to be very hectic for me.

Kudos, Mr. Mariani, for another winner. I am happy to find that you can still lure me in with your ideas.

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