The End of Forever (Cassiopeia Vitt #5), by Steve Berry and M.J. Rose

Seven stars

The collaborative efforts of Steve Berry and M.J. Rose have produced some lovely novellas over the past few years, each of which with their own form of magic. Taking one of Berry’s secondary characters, the pair have built a larger backstory for Cassiopeia Vitt as she lives a somewhat reclusive life in France. After learning of the death of a close friend, Cassiopeia Vitt is beside herself with sorrow. She’s trying to her best to keep it together, only to have tragedy strike close at home, when someone seeks to destroy her castle. Soon thereafter, she learns that she is not the primary target, but only a pathway to her lover, Cotton Malone. Now, she will have to try warning him before he meets an equally sinister fate. Another great addition to the series that is sure to impress readers of both these established authors.

Cassiopeia Vitt is left to mourn the loss of a woman she considered a second mother, which is made worse by knowing she was murdered. Now, Vitt must try to pull herself together or risk losing it all. When someone tries attacking her castle, a 13th century fortress, she’s distraught, but wonders if someone knows a secret about her property. Approaching a longtime friend, Vitt seeks answers and is only pulled deeper into the mystery.

As she wakes up aboard a large sailing vessel, she learns that she’s been a pawn in a larger mission, one that will see her long-time lover lose his life. Cotton Malone is on official business and appears to be the target of a madman, for reasons Vitt cannot completely understand. Now, it’s up to her to stop things before they get out of hand. Trouble is, time is not on her side.

I have long enjoyed the work of Steve Berry, as he knows how to entertain like few authors I know. When he began working with M.J. Rose to extrapolate on the life and time of Cassiopeia Vitt, I was intrigued and hoped that I could learn a little more. The pair combine their unique writing styles and have come up with something a little mystical at times. With strong characters and unique plot lines, it’s a series that I have come to enjoy, particularly because I can read the novellas in a single sitting most of the time.

While I have no context for Rose’s work outside this collaboration, I can see where she has injected her style into the story. The narrative flows well and keeps moving along without issue. Most times, Vitt is the only recurring character, leaving it to the reader to formulate brief connections to those who grace the pages of the novella. A decent plot helps keep the story moving along and adds something that I do not usually see when Vitt finds herself in one of Berry’s stories. I will keep my eyes out for more by this pair, as these five novellas have certainly proved highly entertaining.

Kudos, Mr. Berry and Madam Rose, for another winner. I enjoy this break from the more intense Cotton Malone novels, though they, too, are top of my list to read on an annual basis.

Never, by Ken Follett

Nine stars

Ken Follett returns with another stunning novel, where political and social action are layered throughout. Follett proves that some stories require a slow and intricate delivery, which can take time and many pages. Three significant goings-on take place in different parts of the world, each with their own implications. As tensions rise and political actors demonstrate their power, all eyes turn to the US president and how she plans to handle the crises. What begins as a mistake with a drone strike soon mushrooms into a cataclysmic event. All eyes look to the two counties who can solve it, though they are are odds as well. A brilliant piece that had me on the edge of my seat throughout, proving that Ken Follett still has it.

The world is an extremely precarious place, as politics weave their way into every possible situation. The country of Chad, long known to be full of corruption, is at the heart of a political situation involving two intelligence agents who are seeking to rid the region of a ruthless terrorist group. While no one said it would be easy, what’s even more difficult is trying to ignore the ongoing romantic sentiments that have developed. Lives and reputations are on the line, though no one seems too worried quite yet.

A strong supporter of some less than democratic regimes in the area, China is keeping its eye on what has been going on, including a senior government official who hopes to climb the ranks of the Communist Party, leaving the old wing in his dust. However, it is a delicate balancing act just to get one’s views noticed, let alone herd by those with some power. As a situation in Chad leaves China feeling vulnerable, talk of retaliation against America begins, with an annoying cousin nation, North Korea, happy to play a role in the action.

The American president, Pauline Green, has been facing a great deal of backlash as the country’s first female POTUS, both from the people and within the Republican Party. She’s held them off as best she can, but wants to make a name for herself in whatever way possible. Unwilling to go to war over something that could be handled with diplomacy, Green works channels for peace after a gaffe in Africa sees the Chinese boiling with ire. Events domino and the blowback gets more and more troubling, leaving both sides unwilling to turn the other cheek. It’s time to test resolve, diplomacy, and nuclear arsenals, but who will blink first and become the ultimate aggressor?

As the world watches, two superpowers do the dance and use their proxies to lay the groundwork for what could be a third and cataclysmic world war. It’s now time to see how things will go, in hopes of finding a final solution. Otherwise, it will be the obliteration of millions, if not billions, of lives and an end to any possible civility. All this, culminating in an act that no one could have predicted. A brilliant piece by Ken Follett that left me gasping aloud on many occasion and begging for more of this sort of book.

Ken Follett returns with a piece that is both sensational in its delivery and devastatingly chilling in its plausible nature. Putting politics, regional skirmishes, and the art of diplomacy in the spotlight, he hints at how the dominoes could fall, leaving everyone grasping for a shred of sensible maneuvering in a time when one wrong move could lead to disaster. His three-pronged storytelling is masterful and left me in awe, as things slowly inched together in a tale that is as plausible as anything seen in the news today. All the actors are there, with their own flavourings, in a narrative that leaves the reader feeling on the front lines.

There are many who take up the role of protagonists in their own right, forcing me to look at the larger character pool. Follett develops his characters with great backstories and powerful personal growth, pushing them to blossom as the story unfolds. There are many whose lives receive some of the limelight and this helps add depth to the overall story for all to enjoy. Politicians, intelligence officers, and even every day citizens play their role to shape the narrative and keep the plot from being too easily revealed. Brilliant efforts by Follett make it all worthwhile.

I have never come across a book by Ken Follett that I did not truly adore. His detailed narrative builds up a story like no other, using surrounding situations and people’s personal views to shape how things will go. Strong characters are always a key part of the story and Follett never fails there either, using believable names and scenarios to make things click. Plot lines that work effectively help shape the larger story and keep the reader enthralled with all that is taking place, culminating in some of the tensest storytelling I have come across. I could not get enough of the story, its intricate detail, and the plausible nature of things, based on the world in which we live. As Follett mentions in the opening, just like the Great War, the next ‘great war’ could be fought because politicians could not stop the momentum of something they did not want themselves.

Kudos, Mr. Follett, for a sobering and stunning look at the political landscape of hate world today. I hope many of your dedicated fans will take some time to enjoy this piece and feel as strongly as I do about it.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles (Hercule Poirot #1), by Agatha Christie

Eight stars

Being crowned ‘the Queen of Mystery’ is no small feat, though I am baffled why I have never picked up a book by Agatha Christie before now. After being encouraged to do so, I chose her debut novel, in which Christie introduces readers to a sharp detective with a keen eye for truth. A wealthy woman is poisoned on her estate and the list of potential suspects is long. The local authorities are baffled as to what they can do, leaving the door open for an eccentric Belgian, Hercule Poirot. As he examines the scene, Poirot works through a number of red herrings before honing in on the suspect and letting everyone know how the crime was committed. A great piece that had me shaking my head throughout. I will be back to try another mystery soon!

The country estate of Emily Inglethorp is known around England as being one of note. In the aftermath of the Great War, Styles Court is a sight to see and many have come to enjoy it. Our narrator, Colonel Hastings, makes his way there, after being invited by a friend. What follows is a series of arguments that allows Hastings to discover that not all is as peaceful at Styles as many would hope. Rather, it is tense and the family is fraying at the edges.

When Emily Inglethorp is found dead from poisoning a few days later, Hastings can only surmise that the murderer is at hand. The local authorities are baffled and cannot make sense of the scene, but there is another who could help. Having been displaced during the war, Belgian police detective Hercule Poirot has taken up residence close by and he is eager to assist. Poirot attends the scene and explores many of the items found close at hand. It is only then that he can begin piecing it all together.

Building up his own narrative of events, Poirot seeks to tie things together through a series of interconnected facts, though there are a number of red herrings that must be discarded as well. When all the pieces come together, Poirot has his suspect and makes it known, explaining the crime and the rationale in detail, before the authorities cart them off to jail. A sensational mystery that paves the way for some strong stories to come. I will surely have to try my hand at a few more Poirot stories to see what else Dame Christie has in store.

While I have enjoyed mysteries my entire life, I seem never to have tried one my the woman who created a niche for them. Agatha Christie has a reputation for being a stellar author, with her attention to detail and powerful writing. Poirot, her first detective, creates a wonderful story that all readers can enjoy, as he peels back the crime and deciphers truths that few see, even though they are right under their noses. Christie’s delivery is unique and yet highly effective, keeping the reader in the middle of the story throughout. I can see this being a series I will want to keep at hand for the foreseeable future, as the books seem like a perfect palate cleanser between denser reads!

While the story had many significant characters throughout, I would be remiss if I did not focus my attention on Hercule Poirot. A Belgian refugee from the Great War, Poirot has settled in England and this will surely explain his presence at many crime scenes in future novels. Christie does not offer a great deal about his past just yet, though there is still time for that. Rather, the reader can connect to him through his intuitiveness and deductive reasoning. I quite enjoyed that he saw things others did not, but was not a ‘know it all’ from the outset; Poirot stumbles and needs “aha!” moments as well. I am eager to see where this will lead and how his reasoning will shape future mysteries.

Agatha Christie has become one of the best-known mystery writers of all times and this novel shows what they title fits. While this was he debut novel, there is so much within it to keep the reader entertained and eager to forge onwards. Her narrative development is sensational and she pushes the story forwards, while keeping the reader entertained with all that is going on. Her characters are well-developed and the nuances in the story emerge slowly and sometimes quietly, forcing the reader to look back and see what they missed. Use of a second-person narrative had me scrambling to wrap m head around the story in the early stages, but I soon found my rhythm. While I have to mentally rewind and recall that these early pieces were penned over a century ago, they still work in today’s mad rush, even without the vulgarities and smarmy sexual side stories. There is a lot to be learned from the Queen of Mystery and I am happy to take some time as a curious pupil!

Kudos, Dame Christie, fir a stunning debut. I will be back for more in the coming weeks!

Mahoney’s Camaro, by Michael J. Clark

Eight stars

Michael J. Clark returns with another gritty Canadian crime novel, set in the heart of 1980s Winnipeg, where crack is as plentiful as mixed cassette tapes. When a tow truck driver is called to the edge of the Red River, he cannot believe what he’s seeing. A beautiful 1967 Camaro has been driven into the water and its owner is handcuffed to the steering wheel in an apparent suicide. After delivering the car to the impound lot, Steve Mahoney makes a play for the vehicle at auction, sure that it will help him restore his own Camaro. As Steve begins to use parts from the car, he soon realises that there is more to the vehicle than meet the eye. Now, Steve’s been sent on a mission to find a killer as he races through the streets of Winnipeg. Meanwhile, someone’s looking for him as well, hoping to silence any inquiries before they take flight. A nostalgic and humorous spin on the crime novel, Clark entertains throughout in this great piece of writing.

Steve Mahoney has dreams for himself in the summer of 1985. He wants to open his own mechanic shop, but does not have the money. Working as a tow truck driver, Mahoney trolls the streets of Winnipeg at night, waiting for calls to help unlucky motorists. When one call sends him to the edge of the Red River, Mahoney is shocked to see a ‘67 Camaro submerged in the murky depths. Pulling it out, Mahoney can only think about how this vehicle could be the answer to his prayers, or at least his parts dilemma of the Camaro he’s been trying to restore.

When the body of a young woman is found handcuffed to the steering wheel, Mahoney must wait for it to be cleared before he takes it to an impound lot. However, it would seem that the Winnipeg Police are sure this was a cut and dry suicide and they quickly release the vehicle. Mahoney snatches it up at auction, hoping that this will be a gift he never saw coming. What he discovers while removing parts will not only shock him, but really throw a wrench into things.

The ghost of Heather Price remains linked to the vehicle, more than the smell permeating from the seats. An accountant with some questionable practices, Price convinces Mahoney that she did not commit suicide, but was murdered for what she knew about a sketchy used car dealer. She vows to haunt the Camaro until Mahoney gets her the justice she feels is deserved. Turning into an amateur sleuth, Mahoney must piece things together in order to make sense of a crime that could have significant blowback, all while living life in the heart of Winnipeg. A great thriller that will entertain any reader with an open mind, Clark took me back to my childhood and memories of a simpler Winnipeg!

There’s something about reading a book set in your hometown, even more so when you can picture many of the locales. Michael J. Clark does a masterful job of bringing Winnipeg to life in the summer of 1985, adding a gritty story to keep readers on the edge of their seats. Without the need for complex legal or investigative analysis, Clark provides the reader with an entertaining piece of writing that never tries to be something it’s not.

As the title suggests, Steve Mahoney is the protagonist and has much to prove. While enjoying work as a tow truck driver, he aspires for more. The reader learns a little about him throughout the book, which provides a decent amount of backstory and some tidbits of character development. Mahoney is thrust into the middle of a mystery, all in the hopes of ridding himself of this apparition that has affixed itself to his Camaro. Now, he’ll have to face some of the rougher side of Winnipeg to provide justice to a woman who got caught up in it all.

Michael J. Clark has penned a few novels, all of which have made Winnipeg (or Southern Manitoba) their home base. While this may not matter much to most readers, being from the area, I found myself connecting with the narrative even more. Clark offers wonderful detail in his storytelling, such that the images from my youth re-emerged in my mind and left me feeling even more keen to move through the story. Gritty characters, many with their own backstories, offered a great flavour to the piece, giving the reader a variety of perspectives throughout. The story’s pacing and chapter lengths kept the momentum up throughout and left me feeling as though things were working to my advantage throughout the reading experience. I cannot wait for more by the author, particularly if he keeps close to home, being a Winnipegger.

Kudos, Mr Clark, for another great piece. I love the unique style and can only hope others will ‘get’ it.

The Evening and the Morning (Kingsbridge #0.1), by Ken Follett

Nine stars

There’s always something exciting when reading a book by Ken Follett, as the reader is subsumed with history, drama, and wonderful storytelling. Follett has done well with his Kingsbridge trilogy, so much so that he chose to add this, a prequel, to deliver context on some much-wondered happenings in the early stages. Set at the end of the Dark Ages, the story explores the lives of three key characters and how their interactions bring a community together over a period of time. While the world is slowly developing, there is much going on and societies are emerging with their own unique perspectives. Follett weaves a tale that is not only impactful, but offers series fans a remarkable treat and will have them rushing to re-read this epic series.

The Dark Ages are coming to an end in England, but that does not mean all is tranquil. With the Welsh and Vikings eyeing this jewel, no one is entirely safe, as the country is in flux. Chaos has taken over and many are left to fend for themselves. It’s 997 CE and a small English community awaits what will happen to them next.

Three distinct characters emerge, each with their own stories and hopes for the years to come. Edgar is a young boatbuilder, who lost the love of his life during a Viking raid. Ragna is a noblewoman who arrives from Normandy and seeks to make a new life for herself. Aldred is a young monk and hopes to make an ecclesiastical mark while setting up a monastery to help enrich the community. Each has a tale all their own, but their lives inch closer to being intertwined.

As the story progresses, the community of Dreng’s Ferry comes to life. Edgar tries to make a life for himself on unproductive farming land with two brothers, whose greatest worry is how they will survive being married to the same woman. Undeterred by the obstacles before him, Edgar makes a niche for himself and becomes a staple part of the community, earning the respect of those around him.

Ragna is from noble blood and finds herself in the community after she is married to one of the rich men. While she assumes that she will be able to rule alongside her husband, nothing could be further from the truth. Her husband’s brothers have other plans after his death, leaving Ragna with little as she seeks to stay afloat. With a burgeoning brood, Ragna suffers greatly at the hands of others. Her nobility means little to some, taking it so far as to make her a plaything and leave her to suffer, but Ragna refuses to be defeated. Rather, she does all she can to show her children that love and determination mean more than anything else.

Aldred is a lowly monk with high hopes for Dreng’s Ferry, seeking to make it a scholastic and religious centre in Europe where many can grow their knowledge and become better people. However, some of the local clergy have other ideas and try to destroy Aldred’s ideas and the monastery he hopes to build. Corruption abounds, leaving Aldred to turn to others for help, all while fending off those who would see him fail.

These three show how determination and a passion for others can shape the community in ways never thought possible. Dreng’s Ferry grows and soon becomes Kingsbridge, home of a bustling community and centre of Follett’s novel The Pillars of the Earth. I can only hope that patient and determined readers will try this book, as well as the official trilogy, losing themselves in the greatness that is this splendid series.

While I seem to have stuck to some of Follett’s heartier work (read: trilogies), I have never been disappointed. He is a master at telling a complex story with relatable characters and wonderful narrative flair. There is something to be said for this, while also penning massive tomes to get as much information shared as possible. Follett captivates as he reshapes the narrative throughout, spinning three stories and trying to bring them together under one proverbial roof. It was a journey like no other, but one I am pleased to have undertaken. With a new novel already out, I will have to see what new adventures Follett has in store for those who love his writing.

One thing that Follett has always done is use strong characters to guide the story, Here, he chose three presumptive protagonists and presents a thorough, delightful piece told through their eyes. While there is a great deal of backstory, the essence of the story brings out some masterful character development, first as independent characters, but slowly inching each together until the final chapter, as fans of Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth can see a recognisable location. Follett’s attention to detail with those he places in the story cannot be downplayed, as it helps create a picture in the mind of those who guide the narrative along.

While many find Ken Follett novels difficult to digest, it is usually because of an excessive amount of detail, rather than a lack thereof. Follett’s writing is so on point that I could not get enough of the details and the development that occurred with each passing chapter. A grounded narrative that slowly develops is accentuated with fundamentally ideal characters, all of whim have a richness that is essential to understanding the larger issues discussed. Plot twists and historical goings-on fuel a stellar story that seeks to lay the foundational groundwork for what is to come, a sensational trilogy about a cathedral and the town that develops around it. While there were portions that delved into areas that I did not find as alluring, there is surely something for everyone with this piece, leaving me enthralled with everything I read. I can see a new series that Follett’s recently released, which has me excited, as I am never sure what to expect.

Kudos, Mr. Follett, for leaving me curious yet again. Keep it up and your fan base will surely grow.

The First Kennedys: An Immigrant Maid, Her Bartender Son, and the Humble Roots of a Dynasty, by Neal Thompson

Eight stars

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

Always one to eagerly explore anything related to the Kennedys, I reached for this biographical tome by Neal Thompson. Rather than rehashing much of the Kennedy drama, from Joe and Rose onwards, Thompson turns his focus on the early Kennedys who settled in Massachusetts and paved the way for future successes. Thompson’s attention to detail and great storytelling abilities left me intrigued to learn so much about the family that has become synonymous with power and political machinations.

Thompson takes the story back to its roots, the heart of Ireland. It is here that the Kennedys found their start, in a country that was battling for an identity and independent rule. While Britain was a force to be reckoned with, many Irish felt they were left to suffer and forced to cut corners just to survive. Poverty was rampant, with disease a close second, all of which left citizens to look across the ocean and dream of a better life.

Two of these Irish folk were Patrick and Bridget Kennedy, who had seen the horrors of their country and wanted something better. It was only when they were able to flee that things took a noticeable turn for the better, settling in and around Massachusetts, where many other Irish folk took up lodgings. They settled and started a family, which they hoped would allow them to show the next generation of Kennedys a better life. However, this was not quite the case right off the bat. While the Irish presence in East Boston was reasonable, control of the schools and community was still held firmly by the English, or at least groups with little desire for Irish influence. Patrick and Bridget both faced significant hardships and their children suffered at the hands of cruel educators, seeking to indoctrinate them into Protestant ways.

It was only after a family tragedy that the Kennedys saw something positive come into their lives, when Patrick John (PJ) was born. The elder Patrick died not long thereafter, forcing Bridget to raise her children as a widow and work to put food on the table. A sharp minded boy, PJ would quickly grow and found himself exploring Boston and all its facets. As Thompson explains, PJ Kennedy chose many professions as a young man, always striving to better himself, likening mirroring the life of his mother. PJ took much away from each job, making connections that would prove useful when he eventually found his calling in politics. Thompson uses the latter portion of the biography to explore how PJ Kennedy rose in the ranks of the Democratic Party in Massachusetts to become a household name. His wheeling and dealing around the stature did not go unnoticed and he was surely able to pass this passion along to his own son, Joseph, who is introduced in the last chapter of the tome.

Neal Thompson does well to explore some of the early roots of the Kennedy family, how they found themselves fleeing the horrors of Ireland while never forgetting their past. The hard work and determination that each member of the family showed helped strengths the resolve the next generation and kept the flame alive for those Kennedy heirs many have come to know so well. While Camelot and all the glory of the Kennedy name might be waning over the last few decades, there is something about this family and their roots that has always drawn me in, and likely still will as long as well-developed books are written about them.

While I know little of Neal Thompson or his past writing, I was pleasantly surprised at how well this book flowed. A great deal fo information helped shape the narrative of the piece and gave me some needed framework to better understand how grit, determination, and political acumen entered the Kennedy gene pool. Now, with this exploration of the early generation, I have a better idea. Well-paced chapters, full of information, kept me wanting to learn more and left me eager to connect the dots. Written in such a way that any Kennedy fan could read it, without needing significant backstory to piece things together, Thompson makes the journey all the more exciting. I’ll definitely have a look for more of Thompson’s writing in the coming months.

Kudos, Mr. Thompson, for a great piece that has renewed my love for all things Kennedy.

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

Break Point (Billy Beckett #4), by Kelly Hodge

Eight stars

A longtime fan of the work of Scott Pratt, I was drawn to the Billy Beckett series, which included collaboration with Kelly Hodge. After Pratt’s death, Hodge continued to pen novels in the series and make it his own. Usually wary of ‘post-death continuations’, I kept reading with trepidation, but Hodge proved to me that things were in good hands. Billy Beckett is a sports agent always looking for the next big star. His latest client is a nineteen-year-old tennis phenom with goals of storming onto the scene at the Australian Open. However, there are some hurdles keeping him from reaching his potential. A friend of Beckett’s is keen to see how things will progress, but must also deal with some troubling news within the trucking business he owns. Could there be more than meets the eye in the transport trailers and, if so, who is heading the illegal operation? Hodge does well with this, his first solo endeavour in the series.

Billy Beckett knows talent when he sees it, even if his clients cannot see the larger picture. He does his best to hone in on the possibilities, but is keenly aware that there are more hurdles out there than most expect to find. With a tennis star in the making, Beckett wants his client to reach for the stars, which begins with a spot in the Australian Open, the first Grand Slam of the season.

While Beckett mulls this over, his close friend, Zander, has issues of his own to confess. Zander’s trucking company has suffered some losses after one trucker was found murdered in rural Missouri. The authorities believe it may have been tied to drug trafficking, something about which Zander knows nothing. However, it is worth investigating a little more.

It would seem that transporting items across state lines by truck is a reasonable way to do business. Someone’s taken it upon themselves to slide in some illicit drugs with various loads, from marijuana to cocaine, all in an effort to build their own empire. But loose lips are making things a little more difficult and people need to be terminated to keep the leaks from spreading.

While Billy works with is client, Zander must get to the root of the issue and solve the problem before his empire goes down the tubes. The trouble is, doing so might mean ruining the future for Billy’s latest client. It will certainly be a gamble either way and no one knows what to expect.

I know I did not do justice to the plot summary above, but rest assured that Kelly Hodge knows what he’s doing with this series. The stories are rich with action and strong sports themes, keeping the reader engaged and curious about what is to come. A great narrative rhythm keeps things flowing and character development is non-stop throughout. I can only hope that Hodge, an independent author, will keep churning out stories and get them out to the public!

Billy Beckett is a no-nonsense kind of guy, but always seems to be putting out fires to help his clients. Few know how to handle fame, which is where Beckett comes in. He has his eye on the prize, even when the athletes are diverted by their own foibles. Beckett’s character may not be front and centre throughout, but there is some decent development in the story. He knows what to do and how to make it click, though remains humble about it as much as possible. There is some great personal and professional development in the story, leaving the door open to possibilities as the series (hopefully) continues.

As I said above, I only came to know of Kelly Hodge through his collaborative work with Scott Pratt. That being said, Hodge has made an impact on me, such that I want to keep reading whatever he publishes. This story, seemingly his first solo effort (without collaboration with Pratt since the author’s death), proves to be just as strong as the previous three novels and keeps the momentum needed to create a great thriller. The narrative flows well and uses short chapters to tease the reader. There is a strong plot that continues to develop and some unknowns that must be resolved in short order. Those looking for a complex thriller can look elsewhere, but there is something in here for the reader who wants entertainment and an easy to digest novel. A great way for me to begin a new reading year!

Kudos, Mr. Hodge, for this wonderful story. I can only hope Billy will be back soon, with more to share!

100,000 First Bosses: My Unlikely Path as a 22-Year-Old Lawmaker, by Will Haskell

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Will Haskell, Avid Reader Press, and Simon & Schuster for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Always a sucker for a unique political memoir, this book by Will Haskell caught my attention from the title alone. After the election of Donald Trump, Will Haskell, a university senior, knew he wanted to help change the system. He turned to what he knew best, his home state of Connecticut, and began a journey to unseat a long-time state senator. His hope was to show that young people (all of 22 at the time) do care and could make a difference. This memoir is his way of showing how change can come from an idea and short time in office. A great piece and easy to digest, showings that grassroots change is possible with enough passion!

While Will Haskell had always been around politics, he did not give it much thought. He knew that the winds of change were coming, but could not foresee the hurricane of Trump or the destruction that it would bring to America. While still in university at Georgetown, Haskell thought back to some of the comments made by President Obama before he left office and how change would only come by doing something. Cue the interest in being a part of that change.

Discovering that there was a state senate election on the horizon back home in Connecticut, Haskell began bandying around the idea of running for the Democrats to unseat a long-time Republican. Of note, this was a politician who began her service before Haskell was born. It would be monumental, but it was something that Haskell knew would evoke the change he sought. Armed with a small purse and a great deal of gumption, Haskell began making waves and shaking hands, receiving some harsh and sobering advice along the way. However, he did not let it deter him, as his campaign got off the ground and his ideas became key coffee chat topics around his district.

While winning on Election Day was grand, it was only the beginning of a steep learning curve. Haskell recounts some of the major stumbling blocks facing him when he arrived in Hartford, the state capital, as well as how business in the statehouse made for messy work representing constituents. Haskell informs the reader throughout of the struggles to have a voice, get ideas on paper, and push them through to the governor’s desk, even with a majority of Democrats at the helm. He explores the great difference between wanting change and making it happen, while juggling budgets, constant requests, and the shadow of the Federal Government. Through it all, he pushes that idealism is the fuel for change and that anyone, no matter their age, can make a difference if they want it badly enough.

While I have long held a passion for politics, I appreciate my sidelines position. Will Haskell explores some of the great grassroots aspects to politics and how one voice can and will make a difference, given the chance. His writing is real and yet not sloppy, giving the reader a great narrative as they follow along through this unique journey for all to see. I loved the honesty that each chapter brought, as well as the brevity, helping me push through the memoir with ease. There are great themes that emerge throughout, even as politics has taken a dark turn for many over the last number of years. Haskell provides hope for young people who feel they want to make a difference without getting too preachy. I will have to keep my eye out to see how things go for Haskell, as he makes politics intriguing and shows that passion can fuel action, given the right push!

Kudos, Mr. Haskell, for a great political memoir. You show that grassroots need not be a bad thing and that passion is no longer a pipe dream to success!

Desolation Canyon (Detective Margaret Nolan #2), by P.J. Tracy

Seven stars

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

Having read many of P.J. Tracy’s novels in a past series, I was drawn to this new collection of crime thrillers, sure to make their mark on the curious reader. Leaving Minnesota behind, this series shifts to the West Coast, when LAPD Detective Margaret Nolan is struggling with a number of family issues. When she receives no support from her parents, Nolan turns to drinks with an old colleague, something that could have dire consequences. When they discover the body of a prominent lawyer, it looks like an open and shut case, until whispers of a dark religious cult emerges and Detective Nolan may have to risk it all to protect those around her. An intriguing story that pushes the limits and keeps the reader entertained.

LAPD Detective Margaret Nolan has been struggling for a while, partially because of the death of her brother overseas, but also because she shot someone in the line of duty. While Nolan seeks some solace from her parents, they turn a stiff upper lip and try to compartmentalise it all. This forces Nolan to turn to a friend (sometimes with benefits) for a drink at a posh hotel. If this is the only way that Nolan can dull the pain, so be it.

The time out for a stroll on the grounds turns ominous when Nolan and her companion come upon a man floating in the water. His death appears to be an accident, but Detective Nolan has an eye for these things and something does not add up. She is keen to investigate, though she remains apprehensive about what awaits her.

Sam Easton, another key character, has been asked to help a friend who has a dilemma of his own. A woman and her daughter were found in the middle of the desert, apparently trying to flee a religious compound with a reputation as being a Shanghai-La to the rich and famous. Something does not make sense here.

As Sam and Detective Nolan work side by side on their respective cases, there appears to be a thread of commonality, one that could turn both cases on their heads and leave many in serious danger. Nolan and Sam work together, allowing them to unravel much of what has been going on, only to discover the dangers that lurk beneath. P.J. Tracy has done well with this piece, even if it did not resonate with me as much as I might have liked.

I look for strong writing and a well-crafted narrative in the books I read. While I found some aspects of this in the book, there were times that it lacked and did not pull me in. Detective Margaret Nolan has moments of intrigue, but there was also times when I could not keep things straight, which also happened with Sam Easton. For some, it will surely be an amazing read, but for me it was simply decent and a way to end a year of books.

Margaret Nolan and Sam Easton work together to create interesting protagonists, though not as sensational as I would have liked. They prove to be quite unique in their personalities, struggling to find themselves at various points. While I cannot say anything bad about them, I was not drawn to want to learn a great deal more, which could surely be an issue of my own making. Still, I sought a little something else throughout, though Tracy can develop characters quite effectively.

The story had moments of greatness, but they were outdone by some neutral aspects that I could not ignore. A decent narrative and some intriguing characters rounded out the piece, offering me just enough to want to keep reading, but far from being riveted. The characters worked well and I found myself curious at various points, but I did not have the spark I had hoped to find. P.J. Tracy has a way with words and develops plots well, but something was just not on point for me. I chalk it up to being the last book of the year for me, leaving me ready to begin a new year with a BANG!

Kudos, Madam Tracy, for a decent piece. I am eager to see what;s to come and how it will compare.