Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism, by Amanda Montell

Nine stars

I first encountered Amanda Montell‘s work a year or so ago, when she dissected the world of language and how it has inherent gender pitfalls. In this text, Montell unwraps how language is used to develop strong followings or serve to persuade people into various collectives. After some great background, Montell labels this language as ‘cultish’, right up there with English, Spanish, and even French (yes, I see that the last breaks the fluidity of examples). Montell effectively argues that language can be used in subtle or blunt ways to coerce or convince the population to believe or disbelieve certain things. While many people are surely visual learners, the means by which language is used can have a major influence on decision making, something Montell shows repeatedly throughout the tome.

While the word ‘cult’ has morphed into something quite negative, for a long time it was not given the same eerie notion. Montell effectively argues that it was the rise of Jim Jones and his Jonestown commune in Guyana that sullied the word and permitted the world to make negative associations with the word so freely. Montell explores not only the group, but also how Jones used words and various phrases to really drill home his views to followers. It it so very intriguing how words and phrases, usually tied to salvation or persecution, can drum up such emotion in people. Montell’s exploration of the religious cult movement may not have been entirely unique to me (as in, I had heard some of the discussion before), but its presentation and analysis brought a much-needed new look to the subject matter.

Another way in which groups can be called cults is a use of insider language, keeping those who are not ‘in the circle’ completely ostracised. While the primary example of this is the Church of Scientology, it can be extended to other groups, usually those in the world of fitness or other health movements. The ‘us versus them’ mentality fuels a separation between those who are actively supporting the group and non-believers. Montell exemplifies that there is usually a push to ‘get more insiders’ in a variety of ways, but that those who refuse to believe should be left to perish. Language to create this inner know is essential to success and failure, something that Montell presents repeatedly.

Just as in many other realms, language can be key to bullying others, even within an organization. Multi-level Marketing (MLM) groups use it to keep their members motivated and trying to keep pulling more inside the circle, making it clear that those who cannot meet the standards are forced out and will likely be shunned for good. Montell explores many groups, usually popular sales from home companies, and how they use buzz language to promote continued growth, but also harsh critiques for those who are not able to succeed. While I am not working within an MLM, I know that sort of pressure, to a degree, in my current field of employment, where I work from home and try to liaise with the general public to help them protect themselves and their families. I see the strong verbiage that is used and the buzz language, which was only further highlighted at as I read this section of the book. Language can be a tool, though it is not always a building block, but rather a club to keep people in line.

Montell offers many other examples, but it is up to the reader to take the time to explore this book to see things for themselves. The book was paced well and tackled a number fo areas of interest. While there may be moments of ‘soap box’ preaching, it almost needed to be done to shake the trees and allow the reader to see what’s going on around them. Montell’s detailed chapters are full of evidence to suppose her thesis and is also written in such a way as to entertain while surely educating. Amanda Montell is a vibrant personality and this comes through in her writing, but she is academic when the need arises. This is no fluff piece or a means of debunking things that others have already espoused as troublesome. She seeks to devise her own arguments and presents them in a clear and succinct manner, permitting the reader to come to their own conclusions. This is masterful and just what I needed to keep my mental muscle flexed throughout this captivating read.

Kudos, Amanda Montell (for you taught me never to call you Madam), for this great book. I loved the hype leading up to its release and can say for a fact… it was well worth the wait.

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

Kill All Your Darlings, by David Bell

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, David Bell, and Berkley for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

David Bell does a masterful job in this novel, combining a well-paced thriller with hints of the writing process and the seedy underbelly of sexual harassment on college campuses. He is able to keep the reader committed throughout and reveals all in the closing pages when all the pieces come together. After an English professor publishes his first novel, he’s hoping for a great deal of praise. However, a former student—missing for the past two years—returns and presses him to admit that he’s used her thesis. This is the least of his worries, as the plagiarized piece includes details about a murder, as yet unsolved, that were never released to the public. Things spiral out of control as the police and college hierarchy begin to ask questions that cannot be dodged. Bell is utterly entertaining and captivating in equal measure.

Connor Nye enjoys his work as an English professor at a small Kentucky college. Having lost his wife and teenage son a number of years before, his work is everything. When Nye publishes his first novel, he is hoping for a great deal of praise and can all but guarantee tenure. Things could not be going any better for him, which fuels his emotions as he arrives home that night.

When he enters his home, Nye is greeted by one of his former students, Madeline O’Brien. This undergrad has been missing for the past two years and her surprise arrival here has Nye in a tizzy. However, things go from bad to worse when Madeline confronts him for using her honours thesis as his own novel. Madeline is keen to recoup her dignity and threatens Nye about coming clean, something that the previously faultless professor must consider.

If plagiarizing were not enough, the police are soon knocking on his door, citing that the premise of the novel resembles an unsolved crime in town from a few years before, including a number of details never released to the public. Now, Nye is faced with being changed as a suspect in the young woman’s murder. What’s worse, while Nye says that he does not know the victim, he can be played along her street many times, having used the area to walk his dog.

While the evidence begins to pile up, Nye is debating about telling the truth about his book, hoping that it will release much of the tension. However, there are more twists to come, some of which only make him look guiltier. With perspectives from Madeline in flashback chapters and a new student of Nye’s telling things in the present, the story takes on many topics as the truth is peeled back and the murder is better explored. Can Connor Nye escape the nightmare that was his attempt to get the academic pressure off his back? David Bell spins quite the tale and I could not get enough.

While I have read many books in the genre over the past while, David Bell has something that I am sure will stick with me for a lot longer than many. He has both a strong writing style as well as some unique approaches that envelop the story in both an entertaining read and educational tome on a few key subjects. The piece moves along well and keeps the reader guessing as the layers are revealed pushing the protagonist to flail between honour and truth. It’s a whodunit as well as a motive-seeking piece, which speeds along until the final few pages.

Connor Nye comes across as somewhat endearing, though his cheating a student out of her glory taints him early on. Suffering the loss of his family, Nye must keep it together as best he can, while also juggling the pressures of academia. When his lie snowballs out of control, Nye is not able to simply pull the plug on it, choosing instead to try explaining his way out of predicament. He’s determined to help his cause, while only making matters worse in short order.

Bell uses some wonderful supporting characters in this piece, as well as juicing it up with three narrative perspectives. As the story is closely tied to the murder, everyone plays their part and keeps the machine well-oiled and running in a single direction. Some characters complement one another, while others clash in needed ways to push the story’s plot along. It’s Bell’s mastering of development that proves to be the greatest accolade in this piece, fixing everyone together as needed to tell a captivating tale.

This was one of those books that took a bit for me to connect with, though when I did, it was pure magic. The plot gained momentum and I could not say enough about how the story flowed. With a mix of chapter lengths and perspectives, Bell gives the reader something they can thoroughly enjoy throughout and keeps them guessing. Plots are interwoven and twists occur repeatedly, offering the reader the chance to second guess themselves repeatedly. I have read some of Bell’s work before, but this was surely something even better than past novels, dealing with some real-life issues in academia, student rights, and the pressures of college campuses.

Kudos, Mr. Bell, for a great piece of work. I hope many find and read this in short order, as the messaging is on point and the writing easy to digest.

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.

https://www.mysteryandsuspense.com/kill-all-your-darlings/

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

Killing Evil, by John Nicholl

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to John Nicholl for providing me with a copy of this novel, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

I always find myself quite excited when I learn that John Nicholl has published another book. His style and choice of topics never ceases to have me clear my schedule so that I can devour his publications in short order, as they are filled with so many interesting characters and plots. In this piece, the reader meets Alice Granger, a young woman who has been saddled with horrible abuse as a child. She takes it upon herself to rise up and handle things in her own way, no matter the consequences. This vigilante behaviour follows her into adulthood, where she takes a position in a probation office. There, she is privy to the records of many who have made abuse a part of their daily lives. Alice decides to exact her own form of justice, hoping that it will create a form of justice, no matter what society might feel! Nicholl captivates the reader with ease and has found new ways to keep his fans enthralled.

Alice Granger was a victim of severe abuse, as far back as she can remember. Her father preyed on her in numerous ways, leaving physical and emotional scars that would not heal. Vowing to remove herself from being the helpless one, she took matters into her own hands and killed her father, while making it look like a freak accident.

This sense of ‘justice served’ follows Alice into adulthood, where she takes up a career within the probation office. While there, Alice sees many other men who feel the need to abuse children in sundry ways. Feeling a sense of responsibility, Alice lures them into traps and disposes of them, murdering a handful in short order. She’s careful to keep suspicion off her by trying to send the police in many directions, always one step ahead.

While the news is full of these stories, Alice keeps her cool, even as an office supervisor becomes more concerned with the number of their parolees who were being killed. When a Welsh detective starts poking around, Alice knows she will have to be especially careful and takes additional steps to cover her tracks, all the while trying to subdue the voice of her father from echoing inside her head. One false move could end this vigilante campaign and Alice has no intention of letting others suffer while she is caught for something seemingly justifiable. A chilling tale and one many of Nicholl’s fans will find right up their alley.

Each book I read by John Nicholl, I am taken back to my time working within child protective services (as I am sure he is as well, from his years on the job). The details that emerge and the utter horror of cases that are woven into the narrative make these books highly impactful. The sense of vigilante justice, while surely not condoned by many, almost has a place after reading this piece, causing the reader to debate whether Alice Granger is a hero or a cold-blooded killer. The choice is there for all to make!

Alice Granger proves to be a calculating woman in all she does. Throughout the piece, which is written in the form of numerous journal entries for the reader to enjoy, Alice shows her methodical nature and how her life has been a series of horrors that must be rectified. Alice finds little remorse in what she does, feeling that there is not only a need, but a justification for her actions. Readers will see deep inside her psyche as they get deeper into the story, one that will leave some on the fence as to what ought to be done.

Nicholl has a unique way of writing standalone novels that use some of his core characters, even in passing. The handful of individuals who make an appearance in this story serve the purpose to shape the narrative and advance the Alice Granger storyline. Using one of his key series protagonists, DI Laura Kesey, was brilliant and adds a layer of connectivity to the overall collections of novels, while allowing others to take the spotlight without issue. All those who grace the pages of this book have a purpose and Nicholl is careful to place them where it will serve them best.

I loved this story, as I have with many of the others that John Nicholl has written. There is a sense of both depravity and justice in the piece, as though the horrors of child abuse can be counterbalanced with the retribution that is made in the name of the powerless child. The narrative is strong and utilises the first-person journal-like approach to convey the inner thoughts of the protagonist as she tries to suss out what needs doing to bring balance to a jaded world. Short chapters keep the reader propelling forward and can assure a late night binge just to get to the ultimate solution, which Nicholl does so well. Social commentary is woven into the writing, though Nicholl does not try to inculcate the reader, even with all he has seen and the opinions he has surely developed. This impactful book may leave some feeling a tad uncomfortable, but the end result seems to make sense, at least for those with an open mind to how justice might work best and an affinity for the safety of children.

Kudos, Mr. Nicholl, for another impactful novel. I cannot say enough about it and I look forward to seeing what’s next!

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

Robert Ludlum’s The Treadstone Exile (Treadstone #2), by Joshua Hood

Seven stars

I am a purist by heart, which has caused me some grief over the years as I read. While I understand that some authors have created a wonderful series and then something happens to them, it is rare to find another writer who can pick up the reins and do just as wonderful a job with a strong foundation. Thankfully, Joshua Hood is one of those, though he is creating his own Treadstone series based on previous novels by the esteemed Robert Ludlum. In this sequel, Hood explores more in the world of Operation: Treadstone and how one man’s past working within it could be his downfall. Adam Hayes wants nothing to do with his past, when he was part of a CIA program meant to create superhuman assassins. His work for a charity organisation in Africa is derailed when his plane lands in the middle of a warlord’s territory. In order to free himself and get back to his young family, Hayes will have to tap into the past he swore to shelve and protect a few people around him, all while remaining stealthy. A jam-packed piece that kept me interested throughout, proving the Joshua Hood is the real deal and Ludlum would likely be proud of his efforts.

Adam Hayes remembers well the days of Operation: Treadstone, the black-ops CIA plan to turn agents into ruthless assassins. However, those days are over for him and now all he wants to do is help those in need. His current work includes a charity in Burkina Faso, which has him flying around Africa as needed. During one of those missions, Hayes finds himself with some plane trouble after being attacked and is forced to land.

As Hayes tries to secure parts for the plane, he encounters Zoe Cabot, daughter to a tech baron who is both enticing and friendly. Hayes is committed to his wife, but cannot help wanting to come to the aid of a damsel in distress. When Cabot is kidnapped by a local warlord, Hayes is thrust into action to help her, even if it will delay his charitable venture.

While Hayes is on the hunt for Cabot, some learn that he is in possession of millions of dollars for the charity, making him a new target. Hayes will have to use his skills and try not to tip his hand at that which he is truly capable, for fear that it could cause massive bloodshed.

Back in Washington, the Intelligence community is eager to get Treadstone back on track, even if doing so could spell disaster without someone strong at the reins. Rogue agents have been a problem in the past and this could easily occur again, given the right mix of aggression and determination.

While Hayes races to find the captive Cabot, he’s also forced to dodge those who see him as even greater prey, with money and stealth that could be useful to them. Africa is surely much different than rural America, where blood and violence supersede all else. Hayes will have to do whatever he can to overcome it all and remain alive to end the mission. Another great addition to this new series, which has wonderful potential in the hands of Joshua Hood.

As I said above, I am always leery about letting others take over the work (or ideas) of an established author. I have seen too many disappointments in my time to want to stick my neck out and try. However, when I have Joshua Hood the chance last year, I was impressed with his Treadstone piece and sought out this sequel to see if things could remain at the same caliber. They have and I am impressed, hoping those who love rogue espionage thrillers will take note and give this series a try as well.

Adam Hayes is a decent protagonist, giving a strong backstory and some wonderful character development. With a past as a ruthless agent, Hayes wants to offer his services through charity. There’s something to be said for his determination, as he will put himself and a great deal of money on the line to help others. While in Africa, Hayes will have to adapt to new customs and ideas, all while trying to keep his cool and remain in check, so as not to cause a massive dust up. Still, his is not about to take it all lying down, when honour is on the line.

Joshua Hood does well to create some flavour in the story with a strong cast of secondary characters. While I did not find myself connecting with many of them, there is a true sense of drawing Hayes out and showcasing his skills. I quite enjoyed that Hood steered away from some of the stereotypical villains (read: Islamic terrorists or Russians) and moved into something a little more unique, offering up something that has not been flogged to death. This aspect was quite intriguing and I hope to see more of it in future novels.

The story took a while to get going for me, though I was not bored per se. I am used to the action beginning in the opening pages, but Hood chose to slowly reveal things and pushed much of the impactful writing to the second half of the book. The reader is treated to a strong narrative that gains momentum as the story develops, with tense moments sure to keep them flipping pages well into the night, particularly in the African setting of ruthless warlords. With a mix of chapter lengths and cliffhanger moments, Hood pushes the reader to the brink in the most exciting manner. I can only wonder what else Treadstone has in store for readers and how the series will evolve.

Kudos, Mr. Hood, for another winner. I will have to keep my eye out for your work and see if I cannot find myself fully committed 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 Eagle’s Claw: A Novel of the Battle of Midway, by Jeff Shaara

Eight stars

While I was never one to get excited about war, there’s something about Jeff Shaara and his writing that always invigorates me. It could be that I come away with a new perspective, no matter the story, or that Shaara breathes new life into battles and maneuvers that have long since been presented in history books, but the pieces of fictionalised military history always seem to pull me toward them, no matter who is front and centre. This is another novel set in the Pacific Theatre of the Second World War, where the Japanese have recently bombed Pearl Harbor. The Americans are still reeling from it, unsure where to point all the fingers of blame, though they must be careful. The Japanese are not resting on their laurels at all, knowing full well that the American enemy is far from permanently crippled. However, perhaps one key strike at Midway could truly bring the giant to its knees, but it will have to be executed precisely and in complete secret. June 4th, 1942 was the Battle of Midway and what a skirmish it was! Shaara is brilliant in his writing again and fans of his work, or war history with a slight fiction twist will love this piece as well!

The attack on Pearl Harbor was like nothing the Americans could have expected. As the country and its military reels at the surprise attack, America must dust itself off and face an enemy that fights in ways European militaries have never considered. Sly, cunning, and without bluster, the Americans face Japan and its slow, yet methodical, military forces that seek to claim control of the seas and the Pacific with a deliberate attack system, based on surprise.

While the Americans refuse to bow down in the Spring of 1942, they are unsure of what to expect from their new foe. Peering out along the Pacific, Japan has already claimed much of the Asian islands and is inching towards Hawaii. This is less the aggressive tactics of the Nazis, but could be equally as troubling, when US ships and planes have nowhere they can be safe on the open waters.

The Japanese refuse to relax after a successful attack on Pearl Harbor. They seek to keep making their presence known and have utilised some key military planning to choose their next target, in hopes of drawing the Americans into battle. It will have to be both a surprise and calculated, using codes that the Americans could never decipher. Key military commanders have an idea, choosing the island of Midway, but it will not simply fall because someone wishes it. This will have to be calculated and thoroughly planned to ensure success.

Clashes between these two military giants have been ongoing, with submarines lurking below and eyeing the battleship and aircraft carriers, making sure to strike when the need arises. However, the battle is not always below the waters, as Navy pilots are scanning the skies and military men scan radio transmissions as well, all in an effort to report to their higher-ups to receive new orders in this game of chess that is being played in a methodical manner, much different than the land battled in Europe around the same time.

As both sides inch closer, the prowess of the Japanese is key, with their tactical leaders and determination. However, it will be an American code breaker who learns of the plan and ensures those in leadership (and in the region) are able to prepare for the attack. What follows is not only a battle of military might, but wits and patience, as both sides fight for their survival in a clash that many have said turned the tide of things in the Pacific theatre. Told with sensational detail and using wonderful characters, Jeff Shaara proves that he is a master in the genre and readers with an interest in military history will surely devour this, even if the end result has been renounced many times before.

One need not be obsessed with the military to enjoy these stories, though an interest in battle and movement of troops and tactical efforts surely helps. Shaara takes these battles that have been key to American military growth and breathes a new life into them, creating characters who live them. It is a ‘now you are here’ approach that allows the reader to feel a part of the action, while still being surrounded with names and locations that may be familiar to them from history texts and recounting of key skirmishes during wartime. I love it and it truly teaches me while entertaining in equal measure.

As with many of his books, Shaara mixes actual historical figures with invented characters. This enriches the book and keeps it exciting for the reader, while also permitting constructed dialogue that may or may not have happened. Shaara’s approach to look at both sides and utilise plots in both military camps helps to give a well-roundedness to the story, adding depth and intrigue. By providing actual historical context in the Afterward, Shaara permits the reader to see where fact met fiction with all those who played a meaningful role in the story itself.

I knew little about Midway and even less about many of the men who starred in this piece, but Jeff Shaara made sure I did not leave with the same misunderstandings. His rich delivery of history in an exciting manner left me excited and wanting more, never worried about missing a key part of the narrative. Told from many perspectives, Shaara makes sure the story is thoroughly recounted from all angles, never siding with one group over the other. Each chapter is rich with information, both of the military manoeuvres and those actors involved in things, to the point that the reader can see how much angst and struggle went into the decisions and that this was not simply two sides, hungry for blood and seeking to destroy the other in a sick game. Shaara has always been my go-to for military history with a personal touch and that has not changed. I am happy to invest my time and efforts into his writing. I eagerly await what else he has in store for his large collection of fans.

Kudos, Mr. Shaara, for another winner. You dazzle like no author I’ve known in the genre and I appreciate it greatly.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Couple Found Slain: After a Family Murder, by Mikita Brottman

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Mikita Brottman, and Macmillan Audio for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

While I rarely read true crime, I was drawn to this book by Mikita Brottman, which seeks to explore a unique perspective. After a young man killed his family, he went to authorities to admit the act, but felt that he was not in his right mind at the time of the murder. Deemed not criminally responsible, Brian Bechtold was sent to live in a psychiatric facility for the foreseeable future. After meeting Brottman there, Brottman is able to slowly reveal the truth behind what happens inside these facilities. What is presented is as chilling as the lead-up to Brian Bechtold’s arrival! An explosive book that really had me thinking throughout and a must-read for true crime fans!

In 1992, Brian Bechtold walked into a police station in Florida with a stark admission. After some mumbling and confused banter, Bechtold told authorities that he had killed his parents within the last few weeks in the family home. When the police in Maryland made their way to the Bechtold house, they found two bodies, dead for over a week, all of which substantiated Brian’s comments down in Florida.

Citing years of abuse—which the author depicts in the opening chapters that summarise the Bechtold family—Brian did not deny what he had done, but felt that his actions were fuelled by feelings that left him not responsible for his actions. The State of Maryland agreed and deemed Brian Bechtold not criminally responsible for the murders. This would not set him free, however, but rather force him to reside in a psychiatric facility for the foreseeable future. It is here that the crux of the book presents itself.

The book continues by picking up the thread of Brian’s story—and life—within the walls of this facility. The author met Brian as she came to hold weekly meetings with residents to hone their reading and fiction skills. Brian’s story explores not only life within an institution, but also how residents live under constant scrutiny of staff, guards, doctors, and the general public. Some residents, like Brian, were suffering from obvious mental illnesses, but whose live were manageable with the proper medications and daily rituals. Others, on the other hand, appeared highly troubled and in a world all their own. The variance is substantial and truly remarkable for the attentive reader.

The struggle is not only one of the life of a psychiatric patient, but how they are treated and what rights they have. The author shows on numerous occasions the powerlessness that Brian suffered and how his diagnosis all but neutered his ability to stand up for himself. There are both legal and health issues that emerge throughout, many of which led to actual court proceedings. These interactions, albeit brief, with the outside world, show the limits that patients have, particularly when saddled with crimes they have committed.

Mikita Brottman may focus much of her attention on Brian Bechtold’s life, including many of his advancements and regressions, but also branches out to tell the stories of other residents at times, offering strong contrasts in how others were treated, handled, and relegated to a sort of psychotic heap when things got to be too much. There is not a single chapter that does not raise many interesting arguments about psychiatric facilities or the treatment of those within their walls, as well as the difficulties of those who are inside to ever make it back in to the general population. While some have drawn parallels to famous movies about life on a psychiatric ward, Brottman offers fact, rather than glamourised fiction, to tell a story that will surely offer true crime fans new horrors and fears about what happens when most of their books end. The story is far from over at the point of conviction!

I will be the first to admit that true crime is not usually the type of book I flock to read, though there was something here that drew me in. Perhaps it was Brottman’s desire to ‘show the view behind the curtain’ or to discuss the other side of true crime. It may have been the author’s clear narrative that built the story up while also tackling key aspects of the Bechtold experience. The story progressed nicely and the narrative clearly laid things out in such a way that the reader could follow the story without much trouble. The content was, at times, staggering in its bluntness and also somewhat ghastly. That people are regularly treated in such a way, outside the view of the public, is astonishing. It is, however, something that must be said and Brottman has done so effectively. I felt a part of the struggle throughout Bechtold’s turmoil, which is what I expect Brottman wanted.

Kudos, Madam Brottman. You have me curious about what else you may have penned in the genre and so I will have to scour some library shelves to see what I can find.

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

The Impostor (Pat Norelli #2), by David Temple

Eight stars

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

Discovering new authors is one of the things I like most about being an active book reviewer. When given the chance to explore David Temple’s work, I gladly obliged. Powering my way through the series debut, I was pleased to get my hands on an ARC of this novel, which continued the high-impact ride. Temple picks things up a year after the debut, with many of the chilling elements still resonating in the narrative. LAPD Detective Patricia ‘Pat’ Norelli is still coming to terms with almost dying at the hands of her therapist, Darius Tercel. Stung by the fact that he slipped away has haunted her ever since. When her best friend, who was also a patient of Tercel’s, turns up dead, Norelli is sure he’s lurking in the shadows. However, all the evidence points to Norelli, who is subsequently suspended. Norelli will not sit idly by while she is set to be accused of murder. She works the angles and finds herself travelling to every corner of the world to find Tercel and bring him to justice. That being said, this is not going to be easy, or safe… but Norelli has never been one to take the easy road. Another winner by Temple that is sure to keep readers flipping pages well into the night.

Detective Pat Norelli cannot sleep, still remembering how she was one syringe injection away from dying at the hands of her therapist, Darius Tercel. He got away, but the LAPD has not forgotten what he left in his wake. Now, Norelli is ready to return to work and tries to find some semblance of normalcy, a year later.

When reports of a death come into the precinct, Norelli recognises the address as being that of her close friend, Angie. What presents as a heart attack has Norelli baffled, as they were out only the night before. Further investigation shows that Angie died from an overdose administered by an injected narcotic, which screams Darius Tercel. However, much of the evidence points to Norelli herself, including a sizeable amount amount left in Angie’s estate.

As Norelli is being investigated by Internal Affairs and could face murder changes, she is suspended and forced to stew. Anyone who knows Norelli understands that she will not sit by, awaiting the kindness of others to solve the problem. Norelli decides that this is her time to find Tercel and bring him in, no matter what it takes.

Armed with some great colleagues who are convinced that Tercel is behind the death, Norelli tracks the psychopath to Australia, sure that he has been hiding there and blending into the local surfing scene, with a great deal of plastic surgery to help. This will be a slow and methodical game of cat and mouse, which finds Norelli learning more as she travels the country. New victims litter the path, but Norelli will not stop until she gets the answers she needs and has Tercel in cuffs.

Crossing the Pacific again, with IA close on her heels, Norelli takes a gamble and ends up in New York, sure that Tercel has plans there. She inches closer, but must not act too swiftly, or she will risk losing everything once again. Darius Tercel has one weakness, Pat Norelli, but he won’t simply walk into a trap without setting his own plan in motion. A chilling story that keeps readers guessing until the final page!

David Temple offers the reader yet another well-developed piece, presenting a strong police procedural that has an international flavour. Those who read the series debut are easily swept into the continuation of the story and find the intensity has not lagged, even a year later. The race is on and while the settings constantly change, there is an element of surprise in each chapter, which culminates in something truly captivating for those with enough patience. I am eager to see if Temple will keep the series going, as he has made a fan out of me in short order.

Pat Norelli remains a strong protagonist, still coming into her own. With a strong sense of personal struggle that emerges in the opening portion of the book, Norelli must get back on her feet and remember the grittiness that made her so effective in the first novel. She will not let Tercel define her, nor is she happy to let him continue to haunt her, which emerges in everything she does throughout this piece. A great balance of personal growth and strong police work push Norelli to the edge and leave her vulnerable when faced with the ultimate decision.

In any series that is still fresh, there are a number of supporting characters who make an impact. Temple does well to create individuals to complement Norelli regularly, while others serve well in a one-off role. Temple’s use of multiple settings provides him with a vast array of options when developing characters and his Aussie gang is particularly intriguing. Still, it’s a police procedural overall, so there must be some hard-ass coppers who reel things in. This is apparent throughout and these types grace much of the book in an effective manner.

David Temple does well in developing this story, particularly by picking up some threads from the first novel. While the genre is supersaturated, Temple finds his own way to individualise the experience for the reader. Pat Norelli was well presented and left me wanting to know more, especially with her life on the line and a killer still trying to impact her. A mix of chapter lengths propelled the story forward and definitely left me wanting to keep reading. Paired with a strong narrative that switched from first to third person, the book utilised some decent twists and yet did not tie everything off, so I need more. That is the sign of a strong writer and I am happy to stick with David Temple, provided he keeps developing Pat Norelli and this series in the coming years.

Kudos, Mr. Temple, for another strong novel. I hope others trip on this series and see your talent!

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

A Tale of Witchcraft (A Tale of Magic #2), by Chris Colfer

Eight stars

I have long been a fan of Chris Colfer, first in his television career, and more recently as an author of this genre of books. In fact, it was my son, Neo, who got me interested in them and I am eternally grateful. Colfer paints a wonderful picture of the nursery rhyme/fairytale world and keeps the reader on their toes throughout. Now that she’s taken on a powerful position, Brystal Evergreen is trying to promote the wonders of magic to all four kingdoms. However, there is a push to quash it amongst an old and established organisation that will stop at nothing to neutralise anyone who chooses to practice magic. Brystal must work to stay one step ahead of this group, while also determining who has been targeting members of the royal family to gain access to the throne. Meanwhile, a young and impressionable Lucy Goose is pulled into joining a new network of witches who want to hone the skills of faeries to practice witchcraft. Lucy accepts the invitation and soon learns that not all is as it seems, putting her in the middle of an awkward situation. As sinister powers rise, someone will have to come to save the day… and Prince Charming is nowhere to be found! Colfer’s books may be geared to the younger reader, but they can be enjoyed by those of all ages. This is truly another winner for all who are intrigued.

After a great deal of effort, Brystal Evergreen has risen to become the magic academy’s administrator, along with the fancy title of Fairy Godmother. Brystal is pleased to see that magic has not only become accepted across the Four Kingdoms, but widely practiced. The academy is booming and Brystal cannot help but be happy, allowing her some time to attend her brother’s wedding. While she’s away, one of the other instructors, Lucy Goose, is approached by a mysterious woman who speaks about a new academy that is starting; one that will show the intricacies of witchcraft. Unable to turn away from the challenge, Lucy agrees to attend and hone her skills in this other form of magic.

Meanwhile, an organisation lurks in the shadows, steeped in tradition and honour. The Righteous Brotherhood sees itself as the protectors of all things that are good and has made it their goal to eradicate magic from all kingdoms, at whatever cost. The best way to do that is to find Brystal and remove her from her position of power. With the upcoming nuptials, it would seem the perfect opportunity to remove Brystal and cause chaos in equal measure.

While Brystal is enjoying the wedding, she meets a young royal, Prince Gallivant. who is seventh in line for the throne. He aptly chooses the moniker, Seven, and has turned the excited Brystal into a smitten fairy godmother. While Brystal and Gallivant are getting closer, they are thrust into a tornado of worry, as the Righteous Brotherhood strikes and tries to take the godmother’s life. Instead, a member of the royal family is killed and Brystal is beyond worried about what this means for magic around the kingdoms.

Lucy has been learning a great deal about witchcraft and trying her best to make an impact, even though those around her at the academy are not sure she can handle it. While Lucy is determined, she’s not naive to what is going on and soon discovers that all this training is not meant to make her a more well-rounded fairy, but to sharpen skills of witchcraft that can only have detrimental effects on the magic community as a whole. Lucy must decide what to do before it’s too late, risking life and limb to protect what she feels is right.

As Brystal is targeted for her proficiency in magic, she gets pulled into the middle of a horrible plot to bring down the royals. She is forced to choose the right path and stay one step ahead of those who would see her fall. It is sure to be a harrowing feat, but what fairy tale works well without a few twists and turns throughout? Colfer has pure magic in his veins as he creates this formidable series that is sure to impress many.

Chris Colfer is spot-on with his depictions throughout this piece, pulling the intrigued reader in with the opening pages and never letting the thread of the discussion go from there. While the themes may be better suited to a younger audience, the nuances are pure entertainment for readers of all levels. This book will, as many do, offer something different for each person who picks it up, which only adds depth and wonder to the piece. Each reader will pull something different from the story, allowing the discussion to be both fruitful and varied.

Colfer develops his characters really well and keeps the reader wanting to delve deeper to understand them. While Brystal Evergreen is surely a strong character, there are others who complement her well throughout. Colfer’s use of some well-known characters from fairy tales (with a spin and a twist) keeps the story light and intriguing, while also entertaining throughout. It is the best way to write, as it mixes humour and insightfulness in equal measure. There are a number of characters who have emerged for this sequel and whose presence would be great as things continue to progress. Colfer has an amazing way with development, as can be seen in all the books he’s written over the last few years.

The story may not have been challenging to read, but it was certainly worth the time invested. The characters are on point, the plot moves along well, and there is, as mentioned before, entertainment value at many levels for the curious reader. I was highly impressed with how the narrative kept things clipping along. With chapters of various lengths, the reader was able to get fully invested at times, while racing through the story at different points, hoping to get to the juicier bits. There’s surely something for everyone in this piece and I am eager to see what else Chris Colfer has to offer in the coming years, as he has surely found his niche with this type of book.

Kudos, Mr. Colfer, for another winner. I am happy to find a book that can impress Neo and also have me wanting to find more for us both to enjoy!

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

The Poser (Pat Norelli #1), by David Temple

Seven stars

The thrill of discovering a new author is heightened when the writing and story make for an electrifying read. David Temple has done just that with this series debut, putting a gritty detective in the middle of a complex murder case. LAPD Detective Patricia ‘Pat’ Norelli is used to the bright lights, having grown up in the shadow of her father, a legal legend. However, when he admits that there are some troubles that could cost him everything, Norelli is keen to help. That will have to wait, as a television star is found dead at her home, an apparent suicide that does not present entirely as it should. With the killer out there, Norelli and her partner will have to dig through the clues and find out who is targeting people and posing them off as suicidal castoffs. Temple does well to set the scene with this novel, offering up a decent procedural in the heart of Hollywood.

Detective Pat Norelli has never been afraid of the limelight, though she’s rarely seen it herself, as her father has hogged it for a long time. Once a lawyer and now a judge, the elder Norelli’s time coming to an end and with retirement close at hand. It appears someone has high hopes of extinguishing the justice early, unless he helps fix a little criminal problem. Detective Norelli is understandably worried, but unable to focus too much of her attention on it just yet.

When television star, Meredith Johansen turns up dead in her bedroom, having slit her throat and left a suicide note, the community is abuzz. However, when Norelli and her partner, Brown, arrive at the scene, something does not ring entirely true. The angle and depth of the cut lead Norelli and Brown to wonder if this was staged, though a motive is not entirely clear.

Working all the angles at their disposal, Norelli and Brown soon discover that the victim’s fame was not entirely tied to her television career, but that she had a secret life away from the small screen. Her escapades with many—men and women alike—may have created a significant amount of jealousy for some, though could it have been enough to kill? Add to that, her current flame comes off as being quite cocky, in all senses of the word.

While Norelli works to fit the pieces together, she is struggling with things in her personal life. A recommendation from her superior to see a popular therapist seems to help, as Norelli is soon able to sift through much of the personal detritus she has piling up. The man seems well respected, having a long list of top clients, as though that is the tell-tale sign of success. Still, there’s something that’s said in sessions that offers Norelli some insight into her case at just the right moment.

With more bodies appearing in staged suicide poses, Norelli begins to wonder if the killer has a fixation that cannot be quenched. She races to connect the dots, worried that if she lags too much, the killer will slip through her fingers. It’s only when the target turns on her that Norelli realises just how complex the web is and how she’s sure to get trapped unless she can remain one step ahead.

David Temple provides the reader with a decent story here, offering all the elements of a strong police procedural. He uses these elements to his advantage and the reader is swept into a well-crafted piece that moves along, while adding the element of surprise at various points. While the series is only getting started, I have high hopes for Temple and those within the pages of this collection. With a second novel on the horizon, one can only hope that there is more action of this caliber to come.

Pat Norelli proves to be a great protagonist in this piece, offering up a mix of strong crime fighting abilities with the urge to create her own narrative. Having lived in the shadow of her successful father, she seeks to stand alone whenever possible, without forgetting her roots. The grit and determination found within the piece helps to shape her, balanced effectively with the personal side Norelli seeks not to hide, through her familial ties and playing the role of a mother to a daughter who is just trying to find her way. There is still a great deal about the Norelli character that remains a mystery, something that I hope Temple expands upon in the coming novels.

With any series debut, there are a number of characters in a supporting role that catch my eye, some of whom I hope to see enter further novels, while others were fine as one-offs. Temple does well to create these individuals to complement Norelli, though it is hard to tell how they will effectively be utilised in other pieces. The good-bad balance is surely there in this story, keeping the reader connected to a number of characters for a variety of reasons, though none leapt out at me as being ‘must haves’ for the next piece, save perhaps, Stuart Brown, Norelli’s partner and a new father himself.

David Temple does well in developing this story. The genre is surely supersaturated with stories and characters trying to make the streets safer in a detective role. Los Angeles itself is full of gumshoes and homicide teams, scouring the streets for killers and those who would do harm. While there was nothing earth shattering about Pat Norelli, her presence was well presented and left me wanting to know a little more. Short, swift chapters pushed the story forward and left me wanting a little more, while the narrative’s momentum kept the story clipping along. The book utilised some decent twists throughout to keep the reader guessing and while it would not keep me up well into the night, the story was entertaining, something I needed at that point in time. I am definitely off to get the second novel to see what awaits Norelli and the handful of others who are surely a part of this next adventure.

Kudos, Mr. Temple, for a great series debut. Let’s see what else you have to entertain readers with the next in this series.

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

The Bone Code (Temperance Brennan #20), by Kathy Reichs

Eight stars

I have long been a fan of Kathy Reichs novels, particularly her forensic anthropology series featuring Temperance Brennan. The stories not only entertain and keep the reader on the edge of their seat, but are full of educational moments and peppered with humour to keep things moving along. This was another winner by Reichs, with her cross-border protagonist working magic with bones and unsolved cases. While Dr. Temperance (Tempe) Brennan is preparing for a hurricane in North Carolina, she is visited by a patient woman with a curious mission, to help uncover a death mask that might have been made of her great-aunt many years ago. Brennan is intrigued, but also wary of the heightened winds. She decides to head to South Carolina to see a friend for a few days and is pulled into a mysterious case when the local coroner enlists her assistance with a medical bin that has two unidentified bodies within. While Brennan helps, she is chilled by the memory of a similar case she worked in Montreal. Might they be related? Crossing into Canada, Brennan works the angles of the cold case and tries to find a link, all while being helped by her lover, retired homicide detective Andrew Ryan. Things take many a twists and Brennen will have to work both cases at the same time to find an answer. Reichs uses all her abilities to really bring this story to life and keep the reader hooked until the final page turn.

There’s nothing like the thrill of a hurricane, said no one. Dr. Temperance Brennan is prepping for one and rushing around her office to get things in order, while meteorologists are calling for evacuations. That does not seem to stop some woman from seeking Brennan’s assistance, even if it means waiting all day. Brennan agrees to meet the woman, who shared a twisted tale about her twin sister and how multiples run in her family. It would seem that the woman’s great-aunt was also a twin but disappeared long ago. Now, there is only a death mask of her and yet nothing to go along with a photo of it. Intrigued, Brennan agrees to look into it, but is also leery of the advancing storm.

After surviving the gale force winds, Brennan agrees to visit a friend in South Carolina, particularly with this new mystery of the death mask. On her way there, Brennan is contacted by a local coroner, with a case consultation request. It would seem that a medical bin has washed up after the hurricane, with two decomposing and unidentified bodies within. While Brennan goes to help, she is eerily familiar with the details, as she was part of a case like this in Montreal. Unknown bodies, presumably a teenage girl… could the two be connected, even though they were years apart?

Brennan begins working the angles, which will require her to head north to her second home in Montreal. There, she tries to dig up the case file and draw parallels to the Carolina case. While the detective in Charleston is keen to solve the case she is not one to take any guff, causing Brennan to grit her teeth with some regularity. Luckily, Montreal brings Brennan closer to her lover and former colleague, Andrew Ryan. They are able to make some headway and soon discover that the victim may have arrived in Canada from elsewhere long ago.

While unravelling the story on the old Montreal victim, Brennan uses some newer DNA testing to identify the Charleston victim, a teenage runaway with a sordid past of her own. However, there is much to uncover while trying to trace the story from her last day at home until she ended up in a medical bin. Brennan is determined to not only put a face the the victims, but also find the killer (or killers) who could do such a thing. It won’t be easy, and there is still that nagging death mask query that has Brennan pulled in many directions.

I have long been a fan of Kathy Reichs and her work (including loving Bones, the television spin-off of the books), which has never left me feeling cheated in the world of forensic anthropology. Reichs uses her own life experiences and turns them into wonderful books, helping readers better understand the ins and outs of forensics, medicine, and how victims can go from unknown to identified. While the book series has been long, Reichs has been able to keep it fresh, working two primary setting ands pushing her protagonist out into other parts of both countries when it suits the story. Kathy Reichs is a master of the genre and I hope many others will find (or continue with) this series to see how intense things can get.

Dr. Tempe Brennan is nothing if not a busy woman. As series fans will know, she never rests on her laurels and always has something going on to keep her busy. When she is not using forensics, she’s trying to keep her life in order, finding humour whenever possible. She’s come to really connect with colleagues and friends in both the US and Canada, which adds depth to her character and allows the reader added entertainment throughout. I’m always eager to eye what else one can learn about Brennan in these novels, as Reichs adds tidbits in each piece.

While there is always a strong core of secondary characters, Reichs is sure to add some new faces to keep things interesting. The reader will find many of those here, some who are meant to be loved while others are best left at arm’s length. Reichs uses her great style to breathe life into each individual and uses them as needed to advance the cases or backstories of others, which appears to work well here. It’s nice to have some of those familiar faces, including Andrew Ryan, though old storylines are sometimes best used to pass the time, rather than plan centre stage.

The story was strong and held my attention throughout. Reichs uses COVID-19 as a passing subplot, hinting that it has passed, so there is no mention of pandemic protocols or masked limitations, though something new has popped up in South Carolina (read the book to learn more). The plot works well and, in usual Brennan fashion, ties unknown remains into a quest to offer a victim their own identity. In a story that spans a few months, Reichs adds some ‘realism’ to the story, ensuring it does not seem that a week is long enough to crack open the case with ease. This paced approach and mid-length chapters keep the story moving along at a relatable pace, with twists and turns throughout to keep things exciting. With strong medical and forensic topics throughout, Reichs educates her readers as they are highly entertained, adding humour where needed to keep things from getting too somber. I have come to love the series and cannot get enough of these books. I cannot wait to see what’s next, as Tempe Brennan has not lost any steam, in my humble Canadian opinion.

Kudos, Madam Reichs, for another winning novel. This series is one that always gets me excited and reader for new discoveries. I hope many others will find it, if they have not already!

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