The Vietnam War: An Intimate History, by Geoffrey C. Ward

Nine stars

As a reader who loves history, I turned to this book by Geoffrey C. Ward about the Vietnam War, an indelible mark on the American psyche. Pulled from some of the notes on a massive television documentary, Ward explores the war in new and engaging ways. His primary thesis, that Americans still argue and fight over the facts the war, shows that the largest military embarrassment in US history to date is highly divisive and multi-faceted. Ward takes an extremely detailed look at the war through the lenses of military campaigns, politics, and social reaction to provide the reader with something well worth the time invested. While I am no expert, I can say that I was enthralled with much of what Ward had to say, lapping it up and adding to my knowledge of events surrounding this time in American history. A superb piece that covers many of the bases for the history buff.

Ward chooses to explore the Vietnam skirmish, not only from the time that American entered the war, but rather the kernel of the issue in the region. He explores the French presence in the area, as well as how the Southern Asian actors all played their own role in building up tension. Vietnam was a Japanese plaything by the Second World War and soon became a hotbed of Cold War tensions, pitting the Communist North against the democratic South. The Americans saw an opening to push back the Red Wave and began pouring weapons and soldiers into the area. As Ward explores, those supporting the North did so with their own weapons and military prowess, but kept troop numbers to a minimum. Using talk of military decisions throughout, Ward shows how the Americans sought to treat this as another Korea, seeking a quick strike to make an impact, which failed miserably. This was not to be another swift battle, but rather one in a part of the world soldiers were not used to fighting. This was a new and unique military approach, which could have gone south on many occasions.

Exploring the Vietnam War through the political lens, it was a hot potato issue for the Americans that would simply not settle. As mentioned above, there was a significant push to make this another quick strike to quash Communist sentiments in Asia, a Cold War clash to flex political muscle. However, things were not as cut and dry, as Ward explores. The war served as a lodestone for many American politicians, especially presidents from Kennedy through to Ford, all of whom saw it as a thorn in their sides. Ward explores detailed decisions and sentiments made by those in the political arena, many of whom sought to distance themselves from the growing animosity the electorate had of the war. What might have been a ‘saving mission’ soon turned sour and there was no turning back, which only created more animosity. Ward effectively shows how things in Asia turned the tables repeatedly and left politicians to scramble to find the right side, which would connect them with the growing resentment of the public.

Ward’s greatest exploration throughout the book would have to be the social fallout. What began as a ‘war on the other side of the world’ soon became a means of dividing the American populace. The deeper the America investment in the war, the more resentment rose by the American people, particularly the young, who were on the list to draft. While it is no shock that the country’s fabric was torn apart by the war, Ward really gets to the root of the matter with repeated discussion around the blowback by the people, through marches, protests, outright defiance, and violence. The social divide was not only found within US borders, but there was a larger reaction around the world, as Ward mentions throughout. As the world watches on, many shake their heads.

While it is hard to synthesise such a subject in a short review, I would be remiss if I did not try to offer some sentiments that arose as a reader. Geoffrey Ward draws on so many sources to really make a difference as he explores the nuances and blunt reactions about the war. He offers sensational analysis and commentary, with first-hand accounts from those who were there or spoke as members of the media. The strains in the political realm became a constant theme of the book, showing just how troublesome things became, as politicians scrambled to cobble together support when their name appeared on a ballot. Impossible to compartmentalise, the Vietnam War would be a real blight for America and, it would seem by the details of the narrative, that it remains an issue four decades later.

To write something like this, Geoffrey C. Ward surely had to open the floodgates to offer a well-rounded piece. His narrative is full of well-documented sentiments on both sides of the arguments, without offering up too much on any single point. The detail provides a guide for how to following the detailed history that led to strong divisions within the American psyche. Long, thorough chapters provide the impetus for the reader to see just how much there was to consider, without getting too tied down into minutiae. I needed this depth to give me a better sense of what was taking place and how American truly well into an abyss, both political and social, with trying to show that their military might had not been decimated. While I have read a few books on the subject matter, I was unable to pull myself away from this book, lapping up everything that Ward had to offer. I will have to see what else he’s penned, both on this subject and others, to see if I might feel the same sense of education and entertainment in equal measure.

Kudos, Mr. Ward, for this stunning tome. I hope others take the time to educate themselves on such an important subject matter from the latter part of the 20th century.

The Perfect Season, by Stephen Roth

Seven stars

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

After being approached by the author and asked to read his book, I was curious to see what Stephen Roth had to offer. A book he said had elements of professional sports, racism, and even a degree of spirituality caught my attention and I could not help but want to delve a little deeper. Charlie Unger loves everything about the Detroit Tigers, especially the ins and outs of baseball. He’s made it his own religion, which also fills the gaps left by the death of his mother. When Charlie meets his neighbour and they connect on many levels, his passion for baseball only grows, as he learns to accept just how great life can be, one day at a time. Roth provides the reader with a thought provoking read in this novel, sure to impress many.

Charlie Unger may only be a teenager, but his passion for baseball is like no other. The statistics, the sound of the bat hitting a ball, and even the players play a part in his passion. He wants nothing other than to share his obsession with others, though few comprehend what goes through his mind, including members of the Detroit Tigers, Charlie’s hometown team.

Having lost his mother to cancer, Charlie’s focus is the Tigers and how he can make them a better Major League team once again. Supported by a doting father, Charlie tries to make his mark on the team by writing in with suggestions that will improve each player’s game. Around this time, he also meets his neighbour, Jasmine, who fled civil unrest in her native Cameroon. She brings a new perspective to Charlie’s life, seeking to show him the power of spirituality, which Charlie has a hard time comprehending with his scientific mind.

Together, their friendship blossoms, as Charlie becomes more involved with the Tigers organisation and proves an integral part of their late-season success. However, things outside of Charlie’s control lurk on the horizon, forcing everyone to put life into perspective. Stephen Roth takes the reader on quite the journey, entertaining and planting seeds in equal measure.

With no context as to his style, I entered this reading experience blind. That said, Stephen Roth caught my attention early on and I am happy to have taken the time to read this book. It stirred up a number of emotions for me, some good and others less positive, but that is for the reader to discover. Roth knows how to tell a story wioothout getting too caught up in the minutiae, while delivering some key messages throughout. A great plot and easy to digest narrative made this one book I will remember for a while to come. I am eager to see what else Roth may have out there for me to try, now that I have a strong baseline.

Charlie Unger is a great protagonist for this piece. He delivers a strong presence, offering a little backstory and some decent development throughout. Charlie lives and breathes his Detroit Tigers, but does so from a firmly scientific standpoint. His struggles with the emotional side of things could stem from some autistic tendencies, but there is a great deal of passion inside this teenager. The life experiences he has shape him as a person and help to create a foundation for others throughout the book. Roth has a handle on how to develop characters, which is shown throughout this novel.

A book that pulls on sports, racism, and spirituality in a single narrative is surely leaving itself open for trouble. However, Stephen Roth has tackled these three subjects perfectly, offering a much needed balance to keep the reader engaged and informed throughout. Roth uses an easy to comprehend narrative, peppers it with facts and baseball lingo, while utilising great plot twists and characters who help keep the momentum going. There are major life issues presented to the reader, as they synthesise all that is being said. I am eager to see what else Roth has published, or intends to put to paper, as this was an enjoyable experience, even if I found myself wondering in which direction things would go from time to time.

Kudos, Mr. Roth, for a great debut (for me at least). You have some strong elements in your writing and I hope others discover it soon.

The Petrus Prophecy (Vatican Secret Archives #3), by Gary McAvoy and Ronald L. Moore

Nine stars

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

Gary McAvoy never ceases to amaze with his stellar writing, one of the reasons I rushed to begin the latest novel in the Vatican Secret Archive series, featuring Father Michael Dominic. As McAvoy collaborates with Ronald L. Moore, they examine yet another mystery housed within the Vatican, while sinister forces seek to push the limits once again. McAvoy and Moore guide readers through a historical event shrouded in secrecy, providing plausible possibilities, which only amp up the level of curiosity. The story of the Secrets of Fatima is one known to many Catholics around the world. When Pope John Paul II revealed the third secret in 2000, he did so to dispel much of the hype that had built up over the past forty years, when his predecessors began refusing to share the secret with the general public. Now, an American priest and scholar is dead, and a group known as the Knights of the Apocalypse (KOTA) claim that the End Times are nigh, as they prepare to reveal the true text of the secret. Father Michael Dominic is pulled into the middle, seeking to find the true document and ensure the sitting pope is privy to its meaning, so that the Church can face its enemies, including those from within. McAvoy and Moore do a sensational job with the action and posit some intriguing possibilities for the reader to synthesise.

When three children saw a vision of the Holy Mother in 1917, their small Portuguese town was put on the map. The Three Secrets of Fatima became one of the major miracles chronicled by the Church. Two of the three secret, depicting premonitions, were revealed, though the third, so shocking and scandalous, was never publicly shared. Popes shied away from it, as its truths, speaking of the End of Days, were too problematic. Seeking to dilute the gossip and wonder, Pope John Paul II shed light on the secret in 2000, though many believe it was a false message meant to extinguish flames of speculation and curiosity.

When a priest and scholar working on a piece about the truth surrounding the Third Secret is found murdered in Chicago, a local police constable cannot help but wonder if there is a Vatican connection. When the name of Father Michael Dominic enters the discussion, said constable is keen to learn more from the man who heads the Vatican Secret Archives. A trip to Rome is in order, where the constable connects with one of her Italian counterparts to open an international investigation.

After approaching Father Dominic, he is just as confused as they are, but soon learns that there is more to the story than meets the eye. During the nefarious past few years, it would seem that the sitting pope was not given access to a key collection of documents, which include the Third Secret of Fatima. All the while, a group calling itself the Knights of the Apocalypse (KOTA) begins broadcasting news that they are in the possession of the Secret and will soon reveal it. This pushes Catholics around the world into a panic and places the Vatican on the defensive.

While Father Dominic and his core team race around Europe to locate a key that will grant the sitting pope access to a safe that contains the true documents, they are followed by those who would rather see them dead. Dominic soon learns how important these documents could be, as well as the importance to obtain the truth before KOTA wrestles control of the Vatican’s trust away from the world at large. What neither Dominic nor the sitting pope can know is just how far some people will go to discredit the Vatican hierarchy once and for all, tied to a handful of men who have been eyeing revenge for years. A brilliant addition to the series, which presents new layers of wonder related to Catholic truths and secrecy within the Holy See.

I have followed Gary McAvoy on this Vatican journey from the opening pages of the debut novel, which gripped me like few other series I have read. Many themes point to a Vatican that remains complex and multi-layered, which mirrors the Catholic Church in general. McAvoy brings Ronald L. Moore in as a collaborator, allowing them to find ways to bring the story to life and create gripping adventures, layered with historical events. The characters grow on the series reader as each story connects seamlessly. The authors provide a great series for all to enjoy, particularly the reader with an interest in all things Vatican.

Father Michael Dominic resumes his role as protagonist of the series, continuing to make his mark. His backstory remains complex and evolving, as series fans have come to discover. Devout in his faith, Dominic enjoys his work within the Vatican Archives, though he finds mysteries outside the walls of the Holy See that keep him constantly on the run. Danger appears to surround him, though he evades it with prowess, rather than pure brawn. The series has moved into some intriguing times, leaving the reader to wonder how Dominic will fit into the larger narrative, particularly with his revelation in the closing pages.

Gary McAvoy has long created a buzz around his stories and the collaborative effort with Ronald L. Moore once again puts the reader in the middle of the action. The narrative develops with each passing chapter, providing mysteries and curiosities sure to leave the reader hungering for more. As the authors intertwiine modern events with historical goings-on, explosive revelations add depth to an already strong foundation. Well-crafted characters, particularly those who reappear and build on their past developments, help create an emotional connection for the reader. While the theme may be the End of Days, once can hope McAvoy (and Moore?) have more to say on the matter, as things have reached a tense point in the series, with an obvious fork in the road towards future developments.

Kudos, Messrs. McAvoy and Moore, for another great piece in the series. You have captivated me yet again!

The Jealousy Man and Other Stories, by Jo Nesbø

Eight stars

Long a fan Jo Nesbø’s writing, I was curious about this collection of short stories and novellas. While I have come to love Harry Hole and how he emerges as an energetic character, as well as Nesbø’s standalone novels, I was not sure about handling a slew of the author’s creations in a single publication. This collection of stories is not only varied from the crime thrillers that many readers have come to love, but also offers a richness in its presentation, such that there is something for everyone. A great effort by Jo Nesbø, which is sure to appeal to many fans of his gritty writing.

While some might want a review, albeit short, of each story in this collection, I chose not to do so. I have always found short pieces are harder to synthesise without giving away too much, something many complain I do already with full-length novels (haters gonna, hate, right?). That, and I sometimes like to let the story roll around in my head, rather than have to be on point and take detailed mental notes. I will, however, address some themes and ideas that came to me as I listened to this collection, narrated by a number of well-established audiobook readers.

Nesbø offers up a wonderful cross-section of stories in this piece, exploring the human condition in a variety of ways. While jealousy and love appear to be key aspects to some of the earlier pieces, few stories take things in a straightforward manner, choosing instead to tackle the subject matter in a subtle or symbolic manner. From an opening piece about two individuals who travel on an overseas flight and discover much about their emotions to a larger piece about a post-epidemic world in which the struggle to survive is real, Nesbø delivers a great deal and forces the reader to think the entire time. Nesbø leaves the reader wondering as they make their way through each piece, discovering how characters handle the emotions that are put before them through a variety of plot twists.

The writing is typical Nesbø, which, for those who have read some of his work, will know is steeped in symbolism and a deeper analysis of the emotional being. Hidden meanings and ideas permeate the narrative, such that the reader may play close attention to get all that Nesbø presents in his writing. With stories that vary in length, it is even more important to pay attention, as there are times when a piece is over before it really begins, meaning the reader will miss what is being presented.

In a collection of stories that seeks to entertain as much as it educate, Nesbø delves as deeply as possible to offer something for everyone. Rich in its delivery, the stories appear to transcend the translation, as with many of the pieces, leaving the unsuspecting reader to remain baffled that these were not penned in English from the outset. The ease with which things transition is a credit to Nesbø’s writing and I cannot say enough about what he has to offer. The reader who is familiar with Jo Nesbø will likely enjoy the collection, even if it might leave them somewhat mentally exhausted by the final page flip. Then again, when doesn’t love a good book take a little something out of the attentive reader?

Kudos, Mr. Nesbø, for a great collection. While I am eager to see more Harry Hole, I enjoyed this piece quite a bit.

Quiet Wolf (DI Jamie Johansson #5), by Morgan Greene

Eight stars

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

Happy to have the latest Morgan Greene novel in hand, I rushed to settle down with Detective Jamie Johansson yet again. Greene develops another great crime thriller in rural Sweden, where Johansson finds herself in the middle of a missing person investigation. Still living in Kurrajakk, Detective Jamie Johansson has found her routine as she helps police the community. When she receives a frantic call from her former partner, Johansson makes her way even further north to look for a missing family. What she discovers is something far more confusing and sinister. Greene develops this series so well and keeps the reader on their toes throughout.

Detective Jamie Johansson has found her groove in the northern Swedish community of Kurrajakk. One of a literal handful of police, Johansson and her partner, Kjell Thorsen, must keep the peace. When Johansson receives a call from her former partner about a missing family in an even more remote community, she can Thorsen agree to have a look.

When they arrive, the sole police officer says that he is unsure what might have happened and cannot see any foul play, something that Johansson and Thorsen contradict when they make their way to the scene. Human hair and tire marks litter the road, depicting a worrisome crime scene. Now, it is a matter of finding them, left to wonder if there is a killer on the loose.

With the local police officer vowing that nothing is amiss and that the family has turned up at a local church, Johansson is not satisfied. When she and Thorsen investigate, they discover a group who call themselves the Wolves and act in a very peculiar manner. Their views are steeped in the Bible, as well as turning towards a leader who has all the answers. Alas, while Johansson and Thorsen want to help the family, it would seem that no one is going anywhere without a little push, something that might require help from all the way in Stockholm. A chilling thriller that will keep series fans on their toes and new readers rushing to get caught up with all that DI Jamie Johansson has to offer.

Since I was first introduced to the work of Morgan Greene, I have come to build a connection to Jamie Johansson. The strong writing Greene offers up and the storytelling never disappoints, leaving me to wonder what else is to come. I am always eager to see where Johansson will find herself, as well as how her new revelations will shape the series.

Jamie Johansson has definitely transformed in the last handful of novels, coming into her own as she tries to carve out a niche. While much of the book is about the cases at hand, there are moments where some inner development occurs, much to the delight of the series reader. Johansson appears destined to remain in Sweden, feeling that there is nothing for her back in the UK. However, that could all change before long and Greene will have to keep his protagonist on her toes as she tackles many of the issues that arise.

Morgan Greene has a way with his writing, pulling the reader in from the opening pages and sustaining the intensity until the final paragraph. His mix of great crime thrillers, Scandinavian settings, and strong characters make the books alluring to the curious reader. The narrative remains strong as it pushes forward through succinct chapters. The plot thickens and takes the reader on quite the adventure into some dark themes, which only adds to the allure. Continued peppering of Swedish into the text adds plausibility, being set in rural Sweden. I am eager to see where things are headed for Jamie and the entire crew, as Greene has announced a few novels set to release this year.

Kudos, Mr. Greene, for another successful Jamie Johansson thriller. There is much to enjoy with this series and I cannot get enough.

All that Glitters (Australian Historical Saga #4), by David Field

Eight stars

David Field concludes this impactful tetralogy by expanding the focus on colonial Australia, while keeping the Bradbury family front and centre throughout the narrative. Jack Bradbury has continued to make a name for himself in the legal world, such that he is called down to Melbourne, as gold is discovered in the region. This begins a series of events that include a push for more democratisation and a free press. As the Bradbury family ages and tackles new challenges, Australia leaves infancy and wanders toward an awkward adolescence. Field is brilliant as ever, with this novel and the series as a whole.

Jack Bradbury has discovered his passion in the law, choosing to use it to balance the scales of justice. With the discovery of gold in the south, prospectors and workers flood the area, which is sure to cause the odd skirmish or two. Jack makes his way there to defend a man accused of attacking a police officer, who was himself assaulting a hapless immigrant worker. It is then that Jack gets a taste of the new Australia, where rules are not simply accepted by the masses, many of whom demand representation in order to have their voices heard. In the same vein, a free and published press begins voicing ideas, not altogether supportive of Jack and his legal maneuvers.

After settling his family around Melbourne, Jack watches his daughter, Emily, grow up and find a passion for education. First, in a small school house, where she cannot get enough of learning, and later as a teacher herself. The story moves to explore Emily’s maturity and how she handles being a woman in Australia, with suitors trying to force her to settle down and direct her. Emily pushes back, wanting to carve out her own niche, without compromising the Bradbury name.

As the years pass, both Jack and Emily forge onwards in their separate professions, all while Australia inches towards an awkward adolescence, still under the thumb of the mighty British Empire. Change is ever-present and the people of this colony watch to see what awaits them, with independence on the horizon and the 20th century set to bestow forced maturity. David Field has done much to keep the reader enlightened in this series and this culmination is a classic end to what has been a stellar presentation.

David Field exudes passion in his writing and desire to include the reader on a formidable journey. Field provides a strong narrative and plausible dialogue, leaving the reader feeling in the middle of the action. Each novel is vastly different from the others, with this being perhaps the most impactful from a character and plot development angle. Field has done much in a short period to offer up needed themes that put Australia the country, the colony, and the collection of people into context, educating the reader while keeping things somewhat light.

Jack Bradbury resumes the role as central protagonist in the early portion of the novel, but bows out to allow his daughter, Emily, to take over. Emily is growing up in a still as yet confused Australia, where British rule is strong, but new ideas and freedoms are on the horizon. Emily is independent, while still drawing on the life lessons her Bradbury family instilled in her, allowing the reader to see wonderful connections and new explorations. Liberation, democracy, and equality resonate from characters throughout the story, keeping the reader on their toes as things progress.

David Field has shown time and again that he is a master at whatever he presents in his books. This collection of four novels about the early Australian colony not only opened my eyes to the goings-on, but also including a well-balanced piece of fiction. A keen narrative depicts the struggles that many faced as British tried to keep its far off colony in line, counterbalanced with the need for democracy. Key characters make their presence known at various points, allowing the reader to connect with many of them. The plot, which offers historical events and fictitious happenings, proves to be perfect for the length of novel Field presents. While it is impossible to pull everything into a short tetralogy, David Field has done so well and I am pleased I took a few days to read these four books. I hope others will do the same, when time permits.

Kudos, Mr. Field, for such a a great series. You really do have elements of some other authors who have masted multi-generational series about colonial lands, but you stand alone in your delivery as well.

A Colony Divided (Australian Historical Saga #3), by David Field

Eight stars

David Field is one writer I’ll not tire of reading, hands down. He’s shown me, through his writing, that there is truly something for everyone amongst his array of novels. Field’s latest tetralogy explores the development of Australia, from penal colony to a settled country struggling to define itself. In this third novel, the focus is on Jack Bradbury, second generation Australian, and his attempts to define himself against the still unable nationhood of his homeland. Interesting enough, it parallels some of the struggles his own father, Matthew, had in the second novel, to step out from under the shadow of his own father. Jack is not interested in the family business, but has a passion for the law, wanting to bring justice to all, particularly the indigenous community. While working under a well-established Sydney lawyer, Jack learns the ins and outs of the trade, only to discover that those indigenous who are left as slaves and to live in small communes are disparaged when it comes to the law and accused of crimes before the evidence can be synthesised. Jack’s eyes are opened on numerous occasions, as well as his heart, in this telling story. Field does a masterful job and portraying the struggle in this, the most engaging novel of the series to date.

Jack Bradbury has grown up in his father’s shadow and expected to take over the family hardware business. However, Jack’s passions lie in law and justice, something he espouses regularly when speaking of the poor treatment of the indigenous community around Sydney. When given the chance to be tutored by one of the city’s esteemed criminal lawyers, Jack takes the chance and learns a great deal. He’s also caught the eye of Gwendoline Hannigan, his tutor’s daughter. She decides at her birthday celebration that they are to be engaged, leaving Jack shocked and betrothed when he cannot dispute it.

While working the case of a falsely accused indigenous man, Jack connects with a friend from his past, a young woman who grew up in the care of the Church when her mother died during childbirth. Lowanna is mixed-race, but also the first girl Jack ever loved, feelings that he cannot entirely hide, even after it has been years since they last saw one another.

When Gwendoline discovers Lowanna is back and appears to be with child, the aristocratic woman young assumes the worst and calls off the engagement, leaving Jack speechless and soon without a job. Forced to reinvent himself, Jack does just that and continues to work helping the indigenous as best he can. During a trip to the courthouse, he finds himself inadvertently chosen to defend Gwendoline’s new beau for conspiracy, something he struggles to do, but knows that justice is blind and he must put on the best case possible.

As he works through the case, something significant occurs and Jack is forced into hiding. It is only worth the help of Lowanna, who owes her people’s legal freedom to Jack’s dedication, that they are able to help the young lawyer return to society. A changed man who sees the error of his ways, Jack knows there is only one thing that he has yet to do to tip the scales of justice and societal correctness in his favour, but will he be able to convince others in the Bradbury clan? David Field does a sensational job in his novel that explores the legal and societal strains under which an awkward Australia must come to terms.

David Field shows a passion for writing on a vast array of subjects, as is demonstrated by his numerous short series. Field entertains readers with his flowing narrative and apt dialogue, while exemplifying a great deal of research on the subject matter. This novel was yet again a contrast to the other two in the series, offering up more social commentary at a time when Australia is trying to define itself, yet still yoked with many of the colonial ways of thinking. Field explores all of this, as well as a young man’s emotional well-being through a story that captivates and engages with each turn of the page. I have come to expect nothing less of David Field!

Jack Bradbury is the central protagonist in this piece, though one cannot discount Lowanna and her presence. While Jack explores the legal and judicial aspects of the country, Lowanna offers a refreshing look at how poorly the indigenous population is treated and how blame is shoved towards them without a second thought. There is a great deal of development for both of these characters, peppered with some backstory to offer context and strengthen their connection towards the latter stages of the book. Field has does a masterful job at portraying the struggles both face, without candy coating any of it. The attentive reader will likely need a moment, as I did, to reflect on what transpires and reflect on the current situation in some parts of the world.

David Field presents ideas in an easy to digest fashion, while adding impactful themes throughout. The narrative flows with ease, using varied characters and sentiments that entertain and engage on every page. Shorter chapters help construct the needed momentum and support numerous plot twists. As with the other novels in the series, there is a strong balance of fictional storytelling alongside historical happenings, which provides needed context at every turn. Field never disappoints and he has done so well with this piece. He continues to impress me and I can see glimpses of two other authors who have mastered the art of colonial exploration through multi-generational series. I am eager to see how he ends things in the final novel.

Kudos, Mr. Field, for such a well-paced series. I have been devouring these books and cannot wait to see how it all comes together in the end!

Eye for an Eye (Australian Historical Saga #2), by David Field

Eight stars

Since discovering his writing, I have been a fan of David Field and told anyone who would listen. Having penned a variety of series on numerous topics, Field truly has something for everyone. Field’s latest tetralogy centres around the development of Australia, going from penal colony to settled country with its own struggles. In this second novel, the focus is on Matthew Bradbury, first generation Australian, and his attempts to define himself. Matthew pursues his dreams and becomes a police constable, protecting the region to which he is assigned. When he takes on the case of a missing child, Matthew and the woman who seeks his help become embroiled in more than hunting down a kidnapper. It will surely have a long lasting impact, no matter which way things turn out. Field does it again, pulling the reader in which this short novel that educates and entertains in equal measure.

Matthew Bradbury has grown up in his father’s shadow for long enough. He wishes to definite himself by his own dreams and aspirations, but the elder, Daniel Bradbury, is having none of it. Having left the family home, Matthew takes up as a volunteer constable, in hopes of showing his determination. It’s only when his sister, Rebecca, pleads with him to come home, even for a brief time, that Matthew must face his family and decide what he wants to do.

Chosen to take over a constabulary near Sydney, Matthew agrees to take on the role, partially to fulfil his goals, but also to show his family that he is worth his mettle. When Matthew begins looking into some ghostly events around the community, he discovers Hannah Newcombe, long thought dead. She tells a heart wrenching story about how her husband was murdered by a gang of outlaws and her baby kidnapped. While Hannah has taken justice into her own hands, there is one member of the group left to kill, Phoebe Jackson. With a fire in her belly and Matthew willing to assist, they work to locate Phoebe and the baby.

Juggling his daily role and this special assignment, Matthew Bradbury finds himself connecting with Hannah in ways other than as a worried mother. Leery to share too much, Hannah remains guarded, but cannot deny the connection as well. When Phoebe crosses their path, it is a battle to the end, all in hopes of bringing some justice to a situation that has been filled with blood.

If that were not enough, Matthew must also contend with the rising sentiment of animosity by townsfolk towards the indigenous population. Unwilling to simply drum the original inhabitants of the land out to the bush, Matthew must walk a precarious line and keep order, or risk complete disarray. He hopes only to keep the peace and show his superiors that he has what it takes to maintain order for the time being. Field does a wonderful job at keeping the reader hooked and eager to learn with every page turn.

David Field is an author whose passion is evident in his writing. Having done a great deal of research to present topics so succinctly, Field entertains with his witty narrative and wonderful dialogue, leaving the reader feeling as though they are in the middle of the action.This second novel was vastly different from the series debut, but did much to show me how major issues are beginning to take shape in the new colony, with real struggles and worrisome social division. Exploring the second generation, one can only surmise that Field will use subsequent offspring to expound on evolving issues, as some epic authors have done before him in their own epic series about newly colonised territories. Field holds his own and I would say he stands among those authors of note.

Matthew Bradbury surely takes up the central protagonist role in this piece, though, like the debut, there is a strong female who also has a significant place and cannot be discounted. The character development and backstory of Matthew Bradbury and Hannah Newcombe is revealed throughout, as Field peppers the narrative with both. Their connection is undeniable, though it sees a little more strained than that of Matthew’s parents in the previous novel. Both Matthew and Hannah come into their own and complement one another well, leaving the reader to bask in the greatness of this budding relationship, even if both are hesitant to admit it from the outset.

David Field knows his stuff and presents it in a compact and easy to digest fashion. The narrative flows wonderfully, with varied characters that entertain on every page. Shorter chapters help with the momentum and complement the plot twists, which weave fiction with fact to create an entertaining mix. I have never been disappointed with Field or his writing and this series is shaping up to be something great. Bring on the next book, as I am eager to see where we are headed.

Kudos, Mr. Field, for such a good series to date. Australia has always been of interest to me and I feel right there (though I am scrambling to slip under a tree, with my freckled skin!).

The Jailhouse Lawyer, by James Patterson and Nancy Grace

Eight stars

James Patterson and Nancy Grace collaborate again on a pair of legal thrillers that are sure to keep the reader on their toes throughout. The stories stir up a great deal of emotion and intrigue in equal measure as they explore the legal world from new perspectives. The first story has a small town lawyer accept the job of county public defender, only to realise that the sitting judge has an agenda of his own. Many citizens are under his thumb and no one has the wherewithal to stand up to the man in the gavel. No one except Martha Foster. The second story turns the attention to Leah Randall, who leaves her Chicago firm to return home to Arkansas. While her primary goal is to assist her sick father, Leah is soon pulled into the middle of a criminal case with a suspect who has everything to lose. Exploring many facets of the law, Leah will have to work hard to ensure a young woman is not railroaded in a state where the jury is public opinion! A wonderful set of stories by Patterson and Grace that solidifies the power of their collaborative efforts.

The Jailhouse Lawyer

After leaving her job and looking for something more fulfilling, Martha Foster brings her son to Erva, Alabama. They are ready to take on the world and set up some roots, especially after Martha is offered the position of Public Defender for the county. While Martha tries to get her bearings, she learns that Judge Pickens is not only revered, but also might be feared around town. Still, Martha has a job to do and is prepared to accomplish it.

As she begins her work, Martha soon realises that Judge Pickens has a reputation for legal firmness around the county, holding many to a higher standard. This standard includes locking them away for small offences and using a ‘chair’ to ensure people follow the law, his law. While Martha can respect the bench, she cannot stomach anything that Judge Pickens has been doing. Now, she’s forced to stand her ground, which may mean upsetting the scales of justice and landing her in some hot water.

With little holding her back, Martha takes on Judge Pickens, hoping that she will be the one person who can stare him down. Pickens is ready for this and tosses everything he an in her direction, hoping to break her. That being said, Martha Foster is not one to bend to the will of others without a fight. Will this fight be more than Martha and her sick son, Andy, can withstand?

Power of Attorney

While Leah Randall has had a great deal of success defending insurance companies, she cannot stomach the slimy nature of the work and quits. This is fuelled not only by her conscience, but an odd message from her mother that she is needed back home in Arkansas. Leah learns that her father, a prominent attorney in the small town of Bassville, is sick and headed downhill fast.

When Leah returns to her hometown, it is as if nothing has changed. She is welcomed home with open arms, but eyebrows raised, as she gets reacquainted with everyone she left behind. While her focus is to help her father, Leah is soon pulled in to assist on a tricky criminal case. Amber Lynn Travis, a missing young woman, has recently resurfaced. First thought to be the only survivor in a house fire that was likely arson, Amber is soon at the centre of the investigation, the likely murderer of her cousin and his wife. While Leah is shocked to hear this, she is even more baffled at the simple nature that Amber portrays, which is substantiated by the fact that she has only a second-grade education.

With the court ruling that Amber must stand trial for the murders, Leah prepares a defence as best she can, stymied by the limited resources at her disposal. Amber wants the proceeds of her cousin’s will, which she vocalists repeatedly, though it is a contract that Leah discovers which proves more disturbing, especially since the elder Randall oversaw its creation.

While Leah can rely on no one else and Amber looks even guiltier the more evidence is presented, she will stop at nothing to ensure her client has the best possible defence. What Leah cannot know is just how much Amber knew or realised throughout her servitude at the hands of a cruel cousin for a number of years. As always, justice might be blind, but the courtroom has a way of twisting the truth.

Nancy Grace brings a strong legal background to these stories, which are vastly different, yet both well balanced. She complements the Patterson style of delivery and helps develop a great legal thriller (two, actually), for the reader to enjoy. Pulling on lesser discussed tactics, Patterson and Grace deliver something the reader can easily enjoy and use to whet their appetite for more legal thrillers. With a strong narrative in both pieces, Patterson and Grace capture the legal themes well and keep the reader hooked until they discover the crux of the story’s argument.

These two stories explore completely different legal elements, but use a strong female protagonist to do so. Both Martha and Leah have completely different backstories, though it is the development that each presents throughout the process that is sure to impress the reader. While these are likely one-off stories, Patterson and Grace have done enough to create some strong roots and have me wanting to know more about both women, whose gritty determination will not allow the pressures of the courtroom leave them weak in the knees. Wonderful characters in both pieces had me cringing and cheering at various points.

While James Patterson is not known for his legal thrillers, he has teamed up with some great individuals over his career to pen some formidable pieces. Working with Nancy Grace a second time here has proven to be a masterful choice on his part, as both these stories read as some of the better thrillers I have read in a long while. Paced well, with a narrative that pushes forward easily, the stories offer much for the curious reader. Using the underdog technique, both stories tap into the darker side of the law and how the ‘little guy/girl’ can sometimes be left to suffer because they are a single voice. Fans of courtroom thrillers will likely enjoy these, as there is a definitely uniqueness to them, which I usually find in some other authors, whose fame matches Patterson’s. Pleasantly surprised, I will surely keep my eyes peeled for more by this collaborative duo!

Kudos, Mr. Patterson and Madam Grace, for a great set of stories. Please do consider working together again, as you have a knack for great storytelling.

A Far Distant Land (Australian Historical Saga #1), by David Field

Eight stars

**

A great fan of David Field and his writing, I was eager to hear that he had started a new project, this time focussing on the historical beginnings of British presence in Australia. While I have read a little on the subject (a favourite author of mine penned a major trilogy), I was interested to see what Field had to say on the matter, looking to this, the first in the tetralogy. When Second Lieutenant Daniel Bradbury arrives in New South Wales, he is unsure what to expect. With a boatload of convicts, he can only hope that setting up a community will run smoothly. After numerous encounters with one of the female convicts, Martha Mallett, they fall in love and begin setting up roots. As the years pass, the colony grows, as do the responsibilities of Lieutenant Bradbury. What follows is the start of the saga that will include many others, as Australia begins to grow as a British colony. Field does it again with his writing, keeping me hooked until the final page.

Second Lieutenant Daniel Bradbury has high hopes as he sets sail with a boatload of convicts, on their way to the penal colony on the other side of the world. With plans to set up camp in New South Wales, Bradbury prepares for what would surely be a rough few years, but could not have predicted that he would cross paths with the feisty Martha Mallett. A female convict and fabulous actress, Mallett finds a way into Bradbury’s thoughts, which eventually leads to a spot in his heart and bed. As scandalous as it might have been, both knew that they were destined to be together.

In the years that follow, both Bradbury and Mallett make their mark on the colony and those around them. Bradbury finds himself able to connect well with the indigenous community, forging a loose form of communication to ensure peace. Mallett, while not yet free of the convict moniker, has been able to earn a special respect of the other soldiers and members of the British delegation. Still, she hopes for more, considering herself a petty criminal, only guilty of trying to stay alive.

With time, Martha is removed from her role as criminal and granted a place with Bradbury in the upper crust of colonial society. Bearing a few children for her husband, Martha is able to make an impact, but wants more. As Lieutenant Bradbury rises through the ranks and the years pass, he becomes a prominent member of the colonial hierarchy and has hopes that his family will continue to influence the settlements that expand across the still barren land. However, much has yet to be decided and the Bradbury name is being bandied about for higher causes. David Field impacts the reader effectively and keeps the reader wondering what is to come.

I have always found David Field is one author whose interest in a topic resonates from every word he puts to paper. Not only that, but his varied interests have proven effective in a number of well-developed series, quick reads all of them. This series debut is stunning in its depiction of the era, the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and how the British sought to make their mark on a territory so far away. The characters are highly intriguing and will surely continue to flavour the narrative, as the series moves forward with three other books to come.

While there are many who mark their mark within this short novel, Daniel Bradbury and Martha Mallett are key protagonists throughout. Their backstories are developed briefly, but it would appear Field is more interested in laying the groundwork for character development and future roots that will impact the series as a whole. From vastly different ranks, Bradbury and Mallett find ways to connect, while also influencing the lives of those around them. I am eager to see how they, and their family, will make a difference as the series moves forward.

Since discovering the work of David Field, I have always had an affinity for his writing. Be it Victorian crime novels, Tudor scandals, or even an Australian epic saga, he never fails to deliver. While much more compact in his writing, Field reminds me of one of my favourite authors who (as I mentioned above) also penned a multi-volume series about the settlement of Australia. High compliments for that, as the narrative flows just as well, with wonderful characters to keep the reader entertained. Short chapters help push the story along and forces the reader to feel a part of the action. Interesting plot twists, both woven into the actual history of events and fictional occurrences, make the reader’s journey all the more delightful. I am eager to get my hands on the second novel in the series to see if it packs as much punch.

Kudos, Mr. Field, for another winner. I cannot say enough about this debut or all of your writing. I hope your fan base grows as people discover what a delight reading those books can be!