A World of Curiosities (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #18), by Louise Penny

Eight stars

Louise Penny returns with another sensational story once again highlighting the characters of Three Pines, Quebec. While the town may be quaint, the people are feisty as ever, kept together at times by Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. When a case from his past rocks him and resonates into the present day, Gamache cannot help but remember and try to bring new closure before those around him and affected once more. Penny spins her storytelling web and reminds me why I love this series so much with each new novel.

While the community of Three Pines, Quebec is known for its bucolic nature, there are deeply troubling moments that emerge at the least opportune times. Armand Gamache and his son-in-law, reputable members of the Sûreté du Québec, have done well to keep the peace, but when two young people return to the area, it sends them into a tailspin of panic and memories.

These two were children when their mother was brutally murdered, which was only the tip of the iceberg. Revelations soon emerged about countless amounts of abuse, which crippled those working the case. Some wonder just how innocent they were at the time of their mother’s death.

When Gamache discovers an old letter that speaks of a major secret in Three Pines. Soon thereafter, a secret room in one of the community’s buildings is discovered and the whole town wants to be part of the action. Some speculate about what awaits them, while others simply want a glimpse to whet their appetite. All the while, an old foe of Gamache’s makes his return, resonating deeply and forcing the senior Sûreté detective to take notice. Nothing could prepare Gamache for what he learns, or the blowback that awaits him. There is so much to handle and little time too wonder in this chilling mystery that will turn Three Pines into a place of panic once again. Penny does a masterful job in yet another addiction to this highly addictive series.

There are few authors I have discovered over the years who can write so fluidly and enticingly about Canada than Louie Penny. She knows her stuff and keeps the reader in the middle of each story. Strong writing and powerful plots are complemented by characters who evolve and devolve simultaneously, but never to the point of disappearing completely. While Three Pines may be a lovely destination, it is anything but boring with Louise Penny’s pen.

The narrative flow of the book is matched only by the other novels in the series. Penny sweeps in and hooks the reader with the opening phrase, refusing to lessen her grip until the final sentence resonates. Characters with depth and sassy intrigue fill the pages as well as a setting that is second to none. Great plots and complex journeys to follow them is the key to Penny’s writing, which forces the reader to enjoy or be left behind. The Canadiana in the book is like no other, giving me that warm feeling without becoming stereotypical. There is so much to enjoy here and I cannot help but find myself excited to see what’s next for a writer who never seems to run out of ideas!

Kudos, Madam Penny, for proving that Canada does deserve its placate on the map of strong settings for stellar mysteries!

Deep Fake, by Ward Larsen

Eight stars

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

New to the world of Ward Larsen, I was eager to see how this political thriller would sit with me. Larsen has a wonderful style of writing and ability to inject political flavouring into the text that left me able to see what was going on, while also witnessing some of the ‘new Cold War’ themes he wishes to put forward. The curious reader will surely enjoy the approach and the ease with which the plot develops. Ward Larsen is yet another author I need to add to my radar, as this was a wonderful first impression.

The Ridgeway household has been through a great deal of change over the last number of years. Bryce was a long-serving soldier in the Army, making his mark on superiors and earning a number of commendations before he was injured and sent back home. Thereafter, he agreed to run for Congress, easily winning a set in the House. His wife, Sarah, has always been the dutiful spouse, but secretly has wanted something a lot simpler. This is stymied when Bryce foils a terrorist plot at a Republican fundraiser and becomes a household name in an instant. Bryce Ridgeway is not only a hero, but may be the GOP’s answer for the upcoming presidential election. Bryce is not certain, neither is Sarah, yet both agree to let fate take them where it will.

With a weak incumbent, the race is on and Bryce seems to be the easy choice to secure the nomination and a spot in the White House. However, Sarah begins to feel something is off about her husband and the campaign in general. His memory loss is worse than it ever was when he returned home after his injury and Bryce appears to be acting even more strangely than usual. Sarah seeks some advice from a friend with connections to research and surveillance, opening up a private investigation into Bryce Ridgeway, candidate for US President.

Soon, Sarah comes to realise that her fears may not have been that far off, as Bryce’s actions are completely unlike the man she married. Sarah will stop at nothing to get to the truth, even as those around her try to dismiss her claims. But there is more to the story than this, as a group of Russians hiding in the shadows are watching their plan unfold and the future of the United States crumble, one day at a time. They must ensure solidarity to the cause, which means silencing anyone who could spoil things. Sarah Ridgeway might be their greatest hurdle, but with her bombastic comments, she’s sure to be laughed out of any situation she faces. Still… one can never be too careful. A chilling story by Ward Larsen that had me wondering if this could happen with ease, even more subtlety than the Trump ‘puppet of Russia’ scenario.

I enjoy a well-crafted political thriller as much as the next person, but there has to be an element of reality to hold my attention. While Ward Larsen’s story does appear to have a fanciful element on its surface, reading the book proves just how subtly the actions could be to have ultimate success. Larsen builds his story with ease and keeps the reader guessing until the final piece falls into place. I was hooked and could not stop myself from binge reading, just to see how things would play out. Truly a sign of a great writer who knows his stuff.

With a strong narrative flow, the story builds in all the right places and keeps the reader wanting more. Momentum develops throughout and keeps the reader riding the wave, with strong characters who offer side-stories and flavouring the main themes. Plot twists are key to this piece and Larsen knows just when the develop them and how to tease the reader. While I did not enjoy the original story about which this book is surely based, I can see how Ward Larsen has adapted it to make it work and proves the new Cold War could be even more troubling.

Kudos, Mr. Larsen, for such a great novel. I can only hope that other novels you have penned are just as intriguing.

Lest We Forgive (Detective Liz Moorland #1), by Phillipa Nefri Clark

Eight stars

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

Having read and enjoyed a previous novel by Phillipa Nefri Clark, I eagerly grabbed for this ARC. Clark spins a great crime thriller with this novel, combining a police manhunt with a family struggling to put the pieces back together. Set in Australia, there is an added flavouring to the story, though the setting is enough of a backdrop that the novel would work in any locale. Impactful until the final pages, Clark proves that she is one to watch in what appears to be the debut of a new series.

After a horrible car accident claims the lives of her parents, eight-year-old Melanie is left in limbo. Having been in the vehicle at the time, she suffers a number of physical and psychological injuries, but will also need a guardian to take care of her. Melanie’s grandfather, Vince, is a former detective and has disappeared into the bottle since his wife’s death, alienating his own daughter in the process. With Melanie needing someone, Vince steps up to help, thinking that family is Melanie’s best option.

While Vince begins to wonder about the crash and whether it might have been a targeted hit, he has an inkling that his son-in-law’s business partner could be up to no good. When Vince reaches out to Homicide Detective Liz Moorland, she is anything but pleased. With the recent escape of a murderer from the local jail, Moorland has her hands full and does not need any half-baked ideas clouding her focus. Vince refuses to stand down and does his own exploration into things, including the night of the fatal crash.

While Vince is trying to help Melanie acclimate to a life with him, he’s able to make some headway on the case. Detective Moorland is willing to take another look, though her attention remains focused elsewhere, as new bodies pile up the more the manhunt intensifies. The pieces begin to come together, as Melanie begins to come out of her shell. She remembers things about the night of the crash, things that could implicate people to a larger crime. Vince will not rest until he gets to the bottom of what is going on, whether Detective Moorland wants to help or leave him to his own devices. The truth is out there, though someone is lurking in the shadows, wanting to tie off any loose ends that appear, even if that means wiping Melanie off the map. Clark offers up a chilling story that mixes the hunt for justice with the slow and methodical healing of a little girl.

There’s something about an author that can juggle multiple themes effectively in their writing that has me very impressed. Phillipa Nefri Clark does that with ease as she tackles a debut novel in this series, sure to be crime thriller based. Clark uses all the tools she has to paint a great picture of what is going on in a small community, as well as the struggles for truth and healing that are inherent when an accident harms a handful of people. A great balance of police procedural, mystery, and emotional connection, Clark weaves them all together to keep readers impressed throughout the journey.

With a strong narrative base, the story is sure to impress many who are looking for something that will capture their attention. Clark does well to keep things moving and never lets the momentum wane as the story and its plots become more involved. A handful of key characters keep things exciting for the attentive reader, offering multiple perspectives to enrich the story. I can only hope that Clark keeps the same recipe for the next book in the series, as I am eager to see what is to come of Detective Liz Moorland and the rest of the Melbourne Homicide Squad.

Kudos, Madam Clark, for a great start to the series. I cannot wait to see what’s to come.

In the Blood (Terminal List #5), by Jack Carr

Eight stars

Jack Carr returns with an explosive thriller that is sure to keep the reader biting their nails as they flip pages well into the night. Writing from his own unique perspective, Carr pulls the reader into the middle of a thriller than spans the globe and offers chilling realities of the goings-on well under the radar. Carr depicts the world of espionage as one that races along, taking guilty and innocent lives alike in a battle for stability. Carr has a superior ability to depict these struggles through his writing while offering the reader a bird’s eye view throughout the journey.

In the African country of Burkina Faso, a plane is blown out of the sky, killing everyone. Among the passengers is a woman who was contracted by the State of Israel to complete a hit on a known target. The media coverage of the crash hits the airwaves soon thereafter, stunning many, including former Navy SEAL James Reece.

Reece cannot shake that he knows one of the names of the dead. He remembers her from an old Mossad mission and cannot help but want to learn a little more. Reece owed her so much and sets about cobbling together a team of contacts around the world to help track down her killer. This is sure to ruffle a number of feathers and revive some old animosity, but Reece is determined to act.

While this may be a noble mission, Reece has made a name for himself the world over as an operative who takes no prisoners and is ruthless in his handling of the enemy. This bravado may well serve to endanger him even more than he knows. With a potential trap awaiting him, Reece will wade into the depth of international espionage and counter surveillance to find a killer whose primary mission has been to remove stability. What follows is surely the most dangerous game of cat and mouse imageable, especially when a cliffhanger at the end changes everything for Reece. A brilliant addition to the series by Jack Carr that has me wanting even more.

I was hooked from the opening pages of the first book in this series and Jack Carr has made it an amazing journey up to this point. Using some of his own experiences, Carr illustrates just how little the common person knows about what happens around the world. Full of grit, drama, and a dose of reality, Carr takes readers on an adventure like no other as he traipses across the globe in search of a ruthless killer. This alone should be enough to lure readers to rush to get their hands on this book.

While he purports to be nothing more than a retired soldier, Jack Carr has some great writing abilities. His narrative not only takes readers along a journey that is fast-paced and full of detail, but the direction is one that always leads to something more waiting around the corner. Strong characters and a number of humours personalities pepper the book and keep the reader from getting too serious about what is happening around them. Plot lines emerge, as they likely would on any mission, and keep the reader guessing until all comes together, sometimes in a bloody shootout. Carr does not dial back the action for one second and this leaves the reader trying to catch their breath as they meander through countless twists to get to the final reveal. I cannot say enough about this book, this series, and this author!

Kudos, Mr. Carr, for another great piece, I will have to check out the PRIME television show to see if it matches the intensity you create on the written page.

No Place to Run, by Mark Edwards

Seven stars

As it has been a while since I picked up a book by Mark Edwards, I thought that I would take a leap with this one. Edwards has been known to impress me with his thrillers, many of which explore the darker side of humanity. This piece, while offering moments of tense storytelling, did not hit the mark for me, leaving me wanting more and wishing that things could have been like some of the past novels Edwards has written. Still, I gave it my best and can only hope others find something alluring with the story.

During a trip to Seattle two years ago, Scarlett disappeared while visiting her brother. Aidan spent the follow years trying to track her down, running into countless dead ends and a handful of shrugs from those around him. When Aidan receives a tip that a young woman matching Scarlett’s description was running for her life in Northern California, he latches onto this and the search resumes. But, could it really be Scarlett after all this time?

Aidan makes his way to the location, only to be greeted by a fire-ravaged community filled with missing person posters. The locals are mum about anything going on, but Aidan is sure there is more to the story. He is about to give up once more, but locates a woman willing to talk. Lana helps Aidan as best she can, but they find themselves in deeper trouble when they try to learn too much. Deep in the forest, a number of teenagers thought missing have been living and working, but they are by no means free. Aidan tries to find Scarlett, which only creates more issues and helps endanger him, with Lana by his side.

With everything to lose and little time, Aidan and Lana make their move, in hopes of freeing many who have been held captive, but at some great risk. These are eco-terrorists who have indoctrinated many to follow their belief system and push back against many who might try to steer them in other directions. Scarlett means the world to Aidan, but will he be able to wrest control of her away from this group with little regard for the outside world? Edwards posits this in a thriller than has moments of brilliance.

I have always enjoyed the work of Mark Edwards, as it is chilling to the core and usually leaves me with more questions than answers. However, this book left me with the wrong type of questions as I tapped my toe for wanting to get to the point. Edwards weaves the story along, only to leave the reader wanting more and wishing that the journey could have been different. I am eager to see if he can rebound from this and return to his glory.

Edwards uses his quick narrative style to draw an image of the goings-on for the reader, which helped give me an initial interest in the piece. However things appeared to wane soon thereafter, not saved by some good character development or strong descriptive skill. Edwards offered some drama at just the right moments to keep things on pace for a decent novel, but I was missing the spine-tingling thrills to which I am accustomed in his novels. Lots of bluster and little impact for me, though I am sure many others found something with which they could relate.

Kudos, Mr. Edwards, for a decent read, but not at the calibre I have become accustomed. Better luck winning me over next time.

Damages Intentions (Abby Mullen #2), by Mike Omer

Eight stars

Mike Omer returns with another Abby Mullen thriller, sure to keep the reader thinking as they speed through this tense novel. Dealing with a number of important issues in this newer series, Omer takes the reader on a ride like no other and keeps them in the driver’s seat throughout. Abby has a lot to discover about herself in this novel with situations that would test the mettle of any typical individual. How the reader handles this will surely be a part of the excitement of the novel, as this is by no means a passive read.

Abby Mullen spent her early childhood within the Wilcox cult, still scarred by how it all went down in flames. She’s back in North Carolina to get answers, though this does not go as well as he would have liked. She’s got a full life in front of her now, so lurking in the shadows does not make much sense. Still, she needs answers in order to put that part of her life in the past.

As a mother and one of the best hostage negotiators the NYPD has on their payroll, Mullen cannot let distractions cloud her judgment, This becomes even more important when a local conspiracy theorist group calling themselves, The Watchers, decides to strike once Abby returns home. Looking to the local high school, where they are sure sex trafficking is rampant, The Watchers take a number of hostages, including Abby’s own daughter, Sam.

Trying to keep her wits about her as she deciphers the expectations of this group, Abby remains laser focussed and intent on getting everyone out without bloodshed. However, The Watchers have their own narrative and ideas, none of which can be derailed with a simple negotiation tactic. Abby will have to talk her way through this one, while also unravelling the truth behind a myriad of secrets. How does this all tie into her past with Wilcox? Abby will have to use all the resources at her disposal to get answers before Sam or the others face a grisly end to this tense stand-off. Mike Omer dazzles as he ups the ante with this novel, sure to keep the reader gasping with every page turn.

It was a few years ago that I discovered the work of Mike Omer, which is full of great narrative style as well as superior storytelling. Pushing a strong theme throughout his novels, Omer weaves a story that is sure to keep the reader guessing until the final page and even then, he offers cliffhangers or questions that cannot be easily put to rest. Great characters who all live their intense lives along differing paths, Omer produces stellar novels that are sure to be the talk of those who read them for months. A great find and an even greater reading experience.

The Abby Mullen series demands fast narrative development to stand on point and Mike Omer delivers. There is little time for lollygagging, especially with all that Omer wishes to cover, forcing the reader to strap in as the adventure begins. Adding to this, many characters find their way into the tale, including Abby Mullen herself. There’s so much to discover about this woman and how she can be cool under pressure with all that she has lurking in her personal closet. The plot twists that emerge throughout prove to help the already strong story, allowing the reader to be an active bystander to everything that is taking place throughout this piece. Omer has crafted a tale that is sure to garner a great deal of praise, while also pointing out just how angering conspiracies can be when fuelled by misinformation and a delusional leader who dictates the line between truth and fantasy. Sobering in its delivery and depiction, making this one of the best Mike Omer novels that I have read!

Kudos, Mr. Omer, for keeping me intensely involved in this read and all others you have published.

The Maze (John Corey #8), by Nelson DeMille

Nine stars

Nelson’s DeMille brings his politically incorrect protagonist, John Corey, back for another adventure that is sure to get the heart pumping. Having seen it all during his time with the NYPD and Feds, Corey is happy to relax in rural New York, but that is sidelined when he is pulled into an undercover operation like no other. Corey brings his specific skill set and ‘fear nothing’ attitude to the case, while trying to keep his zipper up and eyes off the ladies. DeMille masters the storytelling once more and proves that he’s still got the spark needed to impress readers.

While still the target of many Russian and Islamic terrorists, John Corey tries to use time at his uncle’s rural New York cabin for some much needed R&R. However, others did not get the memo, so when Corey’s former colleague and lover, Beth Penrose, shows up, there is sure to be something work-related to this. Penrose talks about wanting Corey to take a job with a local security firm, Security Solutions, hoping that it will help him transition to his next set of life skills. Corey, who is still trying to make his way through the minefield that has been work with the NYPD, FBI, and CIA, is not so sure. Still, a pretty face and a willingness to rekindle a past flame has him listening.

What begins as an apparent new job soon turns into something much more complex. It would seem that this security firm could be involved in something much more disturbing. One of the past private investigators who asked too many questions appeared to commit suicide, though speculation lingers that she could have been murdered for what she knew. A case of nine unsolved murders on Fire Island appears to be at the core of the matter, where sex workers’ bodies have been found and no one has yet been fingered as the serial killer. Could Security Solutions be the key to discovering who has been doing it, or at least leave a trail of corrupt breadcrumbs in the cover-up?

While Corey digs deeper at his own pace, he meanders through the plethora of women, corrupt acts, and scintillating discoveries to see if Security Solutions has been protecting a killer or at least killing those who get too close to the truth. With Corey working alongside Beth Penrose once more, both can only hope that this will be something that helps crack a case wide open, if not bring them closer together. Still, John Corey is not the most chivalrous man, always willing to bend the rules to his favour and to pave the way to sexual conquering. How will it all work out? Nelson DeMille shows just how stellar his writing can be with this piece and an addition to this must-read series, all eats for those with an open mind to Corey’s salty delivery.

I cannot remember when I first began reading Nelson DeMille’s novels, but I know John Corey has been a favourite series of mine since first I discovered his filterless delivery. DeMille has all the needed ingredients to make his thrillers both enticing and full of dry wit, things I appreciate when reading (or listening) to books. The stories are always on point and full of detail that proves DeMille uses a great deal of research to create these gems. He is also well-versed in the lingo to leave the reader feeling as though they are part of the action throughout the process. While some may cringe at the rawness of Corey’s comments, the realism that emanates from the text makes them all the more enjoyable today. I cannot wait to see if John Corey will be back soon, in another adventure where his zipper leads the way!

A strong narrative succeeds when a book is able to capture my attention, something with which Nelson DeMille has never struggled. The pace of the book, while it would seem slow because the true ‘crime’ element did not enter into almost halfway through, is perfect and the detail discussed proved essential to better understanding all the working elements. DeMille brings John Corey back, alongside some familiar faces, as well as a great deal of new characters, to keep the story lively. These characters all add their own perspectives to the larger story and enrich the experience for the reader. Plots develop as quickly as John Corey’s libidinous thought processes, keeping the reader entertained and chuckling throughout. While the book is aptly titled for many reasons, the reader will see the plots can be a maze until the final reveal puts it all together. I cannot say enough about Nelson DeMille or this book, hoping that others share my positive sentiments and this keeps John Corey alive for at least a few more novels.

Kudos, Mr. DeMille, for another great novel that had me laughing throughout. What’s next for your adoring fans?

Trace Evidence (Michael Flint #2), by Diane Capri

Eight stars

Having spent years reading Diane Capri’s Hunt for Reacher novels, I discovered this series, almost by accident. Michael Flint appeared in the latest Hunt for Reacher novel, impressing readers, but has his own story, which is just as exciting and even more riveting. Capri has sculpted this protagonist to be one that readers can enjoy with ease, while also being able to devour the novels in short order. This second book in the series delves deeper into the the Flint backstory and touches on some emotional and very personal sides to the man, all while battling a case or two in the present day. Capri shines in this series and has me eager to get my hands on another Michael Flint novel in short order.

When a woman of some means reaches out to Michael Flint for help, he cannot turn her down. Desperate to save her young son, Veronica Beaumont implores Flint to do what other investigators have been unable to do. Jamie Beaumont suffers from an illness and has been able to find no matches, but his biological father, Josh Hellman, might hold the key. Trouble is, Hallman has been missing for the last six years since his small plane went down on a fishing trip.

While Flint learns more about the plane crash and how the body of two men were found at the bottom of an icy lake, he wonders why there is no trace of Hallman. Did he walk away from the crash? Autopsies on the bodies showed non-crash related injuries that led to their deaths, leaving some to wonder if Hallman killed his friends and has since gone off the radar. Whatever’s happening, Flint wants answers. However, when he revisits the scene, some of the men he encounters, who were there at the time of the crash, are vague and appear to be hiding a secret of their own, including a former client of Flint’s.

The exploration for a lost parent sparks an interest in Flint to finally find out who his parents were and what happened to them. While files were spotty at the time, Flint learns that his potential mother may have been murdered by a man on death row, whose execution is imminent. With little time to waste, Flint works this as a side-job, hoping to get some of his own answers before it’s too late.

With a parallel narrative depicting what happened at the time of the crash, readers can see things from Josh Hallman’s perspective as well, including some of the secrets that Michael Flint is slowly unearthing. The mystery behind Hallman’s disappearance remains complicated, but there are some leads begging to be revealed that could help Flint find the key to saving the life of a young boy. Capri does so well with this piece that she will have readers praising her for the foreseeable future.

I discovered Diane Capri as the author of a great Jack Reacher spin-off, which I have long enjoyed. I knew she had some other series being published, but I never took the time to explore them. After Michael Flint’s appearance in the latest Reacher tale, I decided that I ought to expand my Capri reading knowledge. How pleased I was to do that, as Michael Flint turned out to be even better than any Hunt for Reacher novel I read. It’s nice to discover new aspects to an author you and long read and enjoyed.

Capri has a sensationally strong and detailed narrative base in this novel, which juggles numerous timelines and perspectives at the same time. The story gains further flavouring by a handful of one-off characters, who both enhance the larger story, as well as the Flint personal saga that proves to be a great undertone throughout. The Michael Flint backstory is captivating and keeps the reader engaged as a partial distraction from the Josh Hallman plot. The varied plot lines are entertaining throughout and keep the reader on the edge of their seat, as they seek to explore how Flint will be able to help others while doing the same for himself. This is surely the best Capri novel I have read to date and I am eager to see how the third novel in this series proves to be when it is released later this year.

Kudos, Madam Capri, for providing ongoing entertainment for your loyal fans.

No Plan B (Jack Reacher #27), by Lee Child and Andrew Child (Grant)

Eight stars

Jack Reacher, everyone’s favourite nomad, is back for another adventure, allowing Lee and Andrew Child to use their brilliant writing abilities one more. Reacher finds himself involved in an incident that spans across the US and gets him into trouble with a new collection of corrupt officials. The authors keep the action high and dry humour flowing in this novel, which has much more zip than some of their past collaborative efforts. Nice to see Reacher is back in fine form, with no signs of waning.

After arriving in a small Colorado town, Jack Reacher witnesses a young woman tossed in front of a bus, before the purported killer left with her purse. While others think they saw the woman leap, Reacher is sure about what he saw and tells the authorities as much. After a brief confrontation with a few men who might have been part of the killer’s group, he gets a glance inside the victim’s purse, where he learns a little more about her, including that she is far from her Mississippi home, where she works in a prison.

Painted as a target who might know too much, Reacher could find himself in a great deal of danger, but he refuses to stand down from trying to get to the root of the murder. Little does he know, but the killing is part of a larger conspiracy by a group who have even more nefarious plans that span across the country.

While Reacher and another Colorado local try to peel things back, which include a trip to Mississippi, a young boy has begun a trek across the country to flee a troubled home life. He finds himself involved in his own set of troubled circumstances and could use some help. When Reacher crosses paths with him, they find a common interest and appear to connect on some level. Still, both are on their respective missions, which could be intertwined, even if neither is quite aware of it yet. As Reacher is ready to put it all on the line, he must watch out for those who have him on their target list, prepped to leave another body if it keeps the silence. The Child brothers know how to keep Reacher at the top of his game and series fans can revel in another wonderful thriller.

I have followed the Jack Reacher series since its inception, which is why I was a tad leery when Lee Child invited his brother to collaborate. Things began a little shakily, but they appear to have righted themselves with this explosive thriller once more. Reacher is a nomad, but connects well with characters and the reader, given the chance. There is a lot to enjoy in this novel, offering series fans a glimpse at past greatness that just might be on the horizon once more. I’m eager. to see how the Child (Grant) brothers will handle Reacher in the future, as well as whether they foresee an end of his nomadic ways.

Much like its protagonist, the narrative style of this series has meandered all over the place, but captivates the reader on a repeated basis. The story keeps gaining momentum through the well-paced narrative that the authors develop so well. As always, there are many one-off characters, some of whom are able to connect with the reader in a short order and make for a more enjoyable experience. Wonderful plots help keep things sharp and on point throughout, something that Reacher appears to enjoy as he makes his way across the country. The authors have kept the series moving along, though anyone could easily pick up a book at any point in the series and be perfectly content. I am eager to see where things are headed and what location Reacher will discover next.

Kudos, Messrs. Child, on another enjoyable reading experience.

Blood Trails (Michael Flint #1), by Diane Capri

Eight stars

After spending years reading Diane Capri’s Hunt for Reacher novels, I was introduced to another of her series that packs just as much punch. Michael Flint, who appeared in the latest Hunt for Reacher novel, has a story all his own and one that many readers will surely find quite alluring. As Flint finds himself looking for a woman who is set to inherit a large sum of money, he’s faced with just how hard some people want to keep from being found, and the ghosts that lurk in their past. Capri shows her versatility with this piece, which capture’s the reader’s attention.

Michael Flint has spent the last number of years tracking down those who are set to inherent something or other. However, heir hunting is not as easy as it seems. While Flint brags that he can find most anyone, he may have met his match.

After he is called to a Houston skyscraper, Flint is tasked with finding Laura Oakwood, who has inherited her family ranch, which sits atop a massive (and as yet, untapped) oil field. Laura knows nothing of these riches, but two oils tycoons want her found or the land signed over for exploration. Laura has been missing for 28 years, not long after she was fingered for being part of a robbery gone bad that left people dead and her wanted in connection with the crime.

While Flint is ready for the challenge, he could not have known it would be this difficult, forcing him to battle henchmen on both sides trying to one-up each other, as well as the multiple dead-ends that the search garners. Flint will have to brave the cold of rural Saskatchewan, in Canada, to locate Laura Oakwood and potentially her offspring, who disappeared with her. Will Flint have enough time before the clock runs out and the land goes to someone else? Flint will do all in his power to bring another heir into the fortune they deserve. Capri keeps the reader enthralled until the very end and shows just how varied her writing can be.

As I said before, I have always known Diane Capri to be the author of a Jack Reacher spin-off, but I knew she had some other series in her quiver. When Michael Flint made an appearance in the latest Reacher tale, I thought that I would give his series a try, if only to compare it to what I had read for so long. Capri shows she has what it takes and kept me guessing until the very end of this crime thriller.

With a strong narrative base, Capri adds depth to her story through a string of strong characters, none of whom appear to get along completely with their neighbours. While there is some great development, it is the backstory of Michael Flint that provides the most interesting aspects for the reader to enjoy. With more to the series, one can only hope there will be moments to add to this character, who has my attention already. Great plot twists, in a story where locating a missing person is high on the agenda, proves highly successful and keeps the reader wondering how things will progress. I’ll set aside some of the foibles in the narrative as they relate to Canada and allow readers to focus on the larger story. I found myself quite enthralled with how Capri presented things, as I tried not to compare things to their other series. There is a lot to enjoy herein and I hope to enjoy the rest of the series in short order.

Kudos, Madam Capri, for keeping me entertained, no matter what you’re writing.

The Final Equinox (Theo Cray and Jessica Blackwood #2), by Andrew Mayne

Nine stars

Andrew Mayne brings two of his most complicated protagonists together once more for an adventure that is, literally, out of this world. Dr. Theo Cray and FBI Agent Jessica Blackwood explore the world of space and a few murders on Earth, trying to see how they might be interconnected. Cray uses his highly scientific mind to posit answers while gent Blackwood sticks to the facts to convey her thoughts. Mayne does a wonderful job, though the reader will have to remain attentive to catch all the banter found herein. A great addition to the series.

When Dr. Theo Cray is contacted to be a part of a highly secretive project, he is leery. The computational biologist has seen his share of fraudulent activities and is not entirely sold, but proves interested when presented with proof that a signal has been noted at the edge of the solar system. Other scientists have been brought in to consult, though it appears only Cray is completely grounded in analytical and provable thoughts to date. This leads to a trip down to Guatemala, where proof might be further presented and Cray is eager to see what awaits him.

Billionaire Thomas T. Theismann is at the heart of the project, having invested large sums to explore other intelligent life on other planets or in various galaxies. Cray follows along as well as he can, but enlists the assistance of his partner, FBI Agent Jessica Blackwood, to investigate the presumed murder of a previous scientist at the lab. Agent Blackwood soon discovers some mysterious goings-on at a recent conference and wonders if someone has been trying to cover something up from the authorities.

As Cray and Blackwood try to combine their investigations, they discover that Theismann’s life appears to mirror a poorly penned 1970s sci-fi horror novel. Could this be his plan, to use money and as-yet understood technology to bring his dreams to fruition? There are some troubling things that both discover, leading them to wonder if there is a more sinister aspect. With a cult-like group at the heart of things in Arizona, both will have to work their respective magical abilities to find the truth before they are the next victims. Mayne dazzles and invests a great deal into this latest novel, which is of the highest calibre.

I enjoyed my discovery of Andrew Mayne a few years ago, learning much about both these protagonists in their respective series. He has a way with any topic he chooses, pulling the reader into the middle and keeping them captivated throughout. Truth be told, the Cray series (and this one) are heavy on science, though Mayne tries to present it in such a way that the reader can digest. A strong story, full of great asides, kept me captivated until the final pages, as I tried to decipher just what Cray and Blackwood discovered and how the pieces fell into place.

While narrative flow is alway essential to a great book, I feel Mayne must also juggle trying to utilise the vast amount of science he wishes to include while staying ‘layperson’ enough for the reader. There is so much going on and so many angles that need addressing, keeping it straight and not losing the reader are much more difficult tasks. Mayne does so relatively well, using Jessica Blackwood to ensure that Theo Cray does not fly into too many feats of fancy (though he still does). Putting the Blackwood and Cray protagonists together has proven to be a great addition, creating a series that permits many more characters of differing backgrounds to pepper the pages of each novel. Mayne’s use of many and complex plot twists will surely work for some readers, though things do flirt with the line of being ‘overly technical’ at times too. I have thoroughly enjoyed all books that I’ve read by Andrew Mayne, though I do need to be at the top of my game to process them. Eager to see what’s next and where it will take things!

Kudos, Mr. Mayne, for keeping my non-scientific brain sharp as I try to decipher what’s going on whenever Theo Cray has something to say.

Desert Star (Renée Ballard #5, Bosch World #36), by Michael Connelly

Eight stars

Michael Connelly returns with the latest in the Bosch/Ballard series, which has been getting better with each book. Both protagonists know their place and have been able to effectively make their marks on the series, as well as this story in particular. Working different angles in a ragtag group examining cold cases, Bosch and Ballard captivate the reader and keep them guessing until the final truth comes to light. Connelly shows that he has a wonderful direction for this series, with some monumental news in the latter portion of this book. A must-read for series fans (and if you were going to skip it)!

After a scandalous departure from the LAPD, Renée Ballard is back. The Chief of Police offers her a new start, to which she agrees, but leaves her colleagues behind to resurrect the Cold Case squad within the LAPD Robbery-Homicide Division. Tasked with a handful of volunteers, Ballard is able to bring Harry Bosch back as an investigator. Bosch has an agenda all his own, as he battles with a case that has nagged him for years, where a psychopath killed an entire family.

The killer appears to be free in the wind, though Bosch is sure it’s only because he did not have the resources to work it when full-time within the LAPD. Now under Ballard’s approval, Bosch does his best to tackle it with fresh eyes, allowing a few others to offer their insights. Ballard is happy to have Bosch there, knowing that she could learn a great deal from him. All the same, Ballard remains leery that this will be a case that could suck the life out of her former mentor.

As Bosch makes some headway, he relies on Ballard to clear the way for him to make his move, in hopes of adding a positive stat to the LAPD column. However, anything can (and does) happen on the rough streets of LA, something both Bosch and Ballard know all too well. It’s the final chapters that impact the story most, sure to pique the interest of Bosch fans. Connelly proves to be a master with this chilling story that accentuates two of his well-developed protagonists.

I remember discovering the Harry Bosch series and not being able to get enough. This passion helped me devour many of the books, as well as the television spin-offs that came from them, keeping me highly entertained over the years. Bosch’s grit and Ballard’s no-nonsense advocacy keep the series strong, particularly while they are still working together. Time will tell what will come of it.

Those who have read novels in the Bosch series will know that Michael Connelly knows how to spin a story. They see it from the outset in a narrative that both sets the scene and carries the reader throughout the journey. This is no exception, as both Bosch and Ballard are at their respective crossroads and need something new. Those who surround themselves with these two enrich the story and offer some light humour to a dark and troubling story. Plot twists in the cold case keep things from getting too mundane and Bosch has a way of turning over many rocks to unleash adventurous moments. I have seen Harry Bosch transform over the years and even Renée Ballard has made some significant changes in her short time in the series. I wonder what’s to come and how these two will keep readers on the edge of their seats, particularly with the cliffhanger Connelly offers.

Kudos, Mr. Connelly, for another stellar piece. Keep them coming, as I know many who love this series in all its forms.

Graveyard of Empires (Ben Hope #26), by Scott Mariani

Eight stars

Scott Mariani returns with another high-octane thriller with his gritty protagonist, Ben Hope. In this twenty-sixth installment, Hope returns to work with some SAS members in the ruthless Afghan countryside. Searching for an old acquaintance, Hope will soon find himself grasping to find stability in a country where it’s never been a high priority. Mariani proves his superiority once more in this addictive series.

Ben Hope has made a name for himself over the last number of years, proving to be a dedicated hero to those who need him, while also a keen teacher so that others can defend themselves. When Hope receives a call that a long-ago acquaintance, Madison Cahill, has gone missing in Afghanistan, he wants to help. He is too keen on living to voluntarily return to that part of the world, citing his apologies for not being able to assist.

When Hope is visited by a former SAS superior soon thereafter, he discovers that he is being put back into action, though without the commanding rank. Hope is being sent to Afghanistan to instil some stability with the Taliban back in power. It’s not a mission he relishes, but when called to duty, Hope won’t look the other way.

While trying to acclimate in-country, Hope and his comrades begin their mission, soon locating Madison and learning of her own mission in the country, which includes trying to save a number of items from Alexander the Great. Sure the Taliban will destroy anything they find themselves, Hope and his comrades begin helping Madison retrieve anything they can To get it out of Afghanistan. All while trying to protect a many with royal connections, another enemy of the Taliban. With no rules and few friends, Hope will have to tap into all his skills while staying as quiet as possible if he hopes to leave the country alive,. Mariani impresses once more and keeps the reader flipping pages well into the night.

Since discovering the work of Scott Mariani, I have been highly impressed with the series as a whole, as well and many of the individual books. Mariani uses his strong writing ability to entertain the reader while providing a significant amount of history to prop up the fictional side of the story. There is so much for the reader to enjoy and pique an interest so that they might explore more information on their own. These are stunning thrillers that never lose their impact.

Strong narrative foundations keep the reader on track for a successful experience. Mariani weaves truth and fiction together, forcing the reader to guess which is which. Great characters, mostly new and likely one-off, keep the story intriguing and add a humorous and gritty aspect that is needed to offset some of the more painful realities the subject matter begs exploring. Plot twists and historical moments keep the reader entertained and have them wondering what is to come, without feeling as though things are too predictable throughout the experience. I have loved these novels for many years and Mariani keeps them sharp, even this deep into this stellar series, which shows no signs of fading!

Kudos, Mr. Mariani, for another sensational thriller that left me gasping for breath.

Lone Star Jack (Hunt for Reacher #15), by Diane Capri

Eight stars

Diane Capri is back with the next Hunt for Reacher novel, trying to stay fewer than ten steps behind the elusive nomad. Turning to Texas, Capri tackles some curious situations and adds a few new characters who have caught my attention. FBI Special. Agent Kim Otto has remained front and centre in a series that appears to evolve with each new novel. I am eager to see where things are headed and whether, one day, Otto and Reacher will come face to face.

While Jack Reacher remains on the lam, Special Agent Kim Otto has not stopped looking. However, even she needs a reset and finds herself back in Detroit with family. When she learns that her sister, Sunny, has a new man and that he’s stationed in Texas, Otto wants to know more, However, her impatient boss, Cooper, has tired of the Reacher delays and collects her for the next phase of their mission. Interestingly enough, they are headed to Texas, where Reacher has left a message and directed Otto to meet a lawyer from his past.

Cooper has his own agenda and hopes Reacher will fall for a trap. Still, Otto wants to play it safe and see what the nomad has in store for her. Otto meets members of the Double Death Task Force, who have been investigating murders whereby the killer dies as soon as the act is committed. This could be part of a larger issue, particularly when a riot breaks out at a politician’s funeral.

All the while, an unwitting Pilar Inez Mendoza finds herself in Texas. An illegal migrant who was promised a job in Texas, she finds herself in the middle of a plot that could never have come to her, even if she had been told about it beforehand. How will her desire to get to Pecos, Texas intersect with Reacher and Otto, all while remaining under the radar? Otto teams up with Michal Flint, an unlikely partner, to get to the core of what’s happening as she continues her hunt for Jack Reacher.

I have long enjoyed these novels by Diane Capri, partly because she mirrors some of the work by the great Lee Child in the original Reacher series. Using Child’s Echo Burning as a basis, Capri weaves a story that has some wonderful elements and exciting twists. Capri has long ago proven her abilities and this is enough example of her great skills, sure to impress Reacher fans and those who enjoy her work, simultaneously.

The narrative style of these books reminds me a great deal of the early Lee Child novels, which makes reading them all the more enjoyable. Capri uses her narrative to guide the reader through many a scenario, all of which keep developing until the final reveal, which is in itself only a prelude for the next adventure. Great characters, some returning and others new or one-offs, keep offer the reader something different to enjoy as they make their way through the race towards Jack Reacher. The themes and plots that emerge from both this book and Child’s previous novel help keep things exciting and enticing through to the final page turn, when the reader will learn so much about immigration an the struggle that is real on the American border. Plus, after meeting Michal Flint in this novel, my curiosity is piqued about learning more about him, through the two novels to date that Capri has penned with him as protagonist. I suppose that will be my next adventure. Bring it on!

Kudos, Madam Capri, for another stellar piece of writing.

NYPD Red 7: The Murder Sorority (NYPD Red #7), by Marshall Karp

Eight stars

Marshall Karp takes over sole writing responsibility on the NYPD Red series, after collaborating on the previous novels with James Patterson. With intensity being a key element of the series to date, Karp has large shoes to fill, but does so with ease, keeping things on par with past publications. A gripping set of crimes, great character development, and some humour where it matters most, Karp is sure to impress series fans and has me wanting to explore some of his other solo work.

After a highly-publicised trial rocks Manhattan, what follows creates utter havoc. The defendant is killed by a sniper’s bullet while on the courthouse steps and his brother is murdered across town a short time later. Enter NYPD Red, the team assigned to the highest-calibre cases in the city, where the most prominent have their worries handled by the likes of Detectives Zach Jordan and Kylie MacDonald. While these two are well-versed in homicide and how to handle people with kid gloves, nothing will prepare them for what they discover on this case.

It would appear that there is a group of trained assassins on the loose around New York, killing those who are on a secret list. The Kappa Omega Delta (Killers on Demand) troll the city and fulfil needed hits, while secreting themselves away from the eyes of the authorities. While Jordan and Macdonald begin looking into things, they are sidelined when a more personal shooting takes place. Detective MacDonald’s boyfriend is shot and left to bleed out, for no apparent reason. It’s may be a distraction but Red have honed their skills to not allow anything to derail them while on a case.

Chasing down the Killers on Demand will require astute abilities and a sense of commitment, though both detectives go through some significant personal roadblocks that they cannot ignore. Still, once the clues begin falling into place, it will be a race to the finish, to neutralise these killers before NYC becomes a city with blood flowing through the streets, at least more than usual. Karp does a masterful job steering this novel on his own, keeping series fans excited for what is to come.

Collaborations with James Patterson tend to be a mixed bag, which I have long said when reading a book with his name on the cover. Marshall Karp has done really well to elevate this series since its inception, gripping me and keeping the series at the top of my list. Karp has been great at using poignant topics to entertain his readers and has yet to run out of ideas for cases. If his own writing is as exciting as these collaborative efforts, I am in for a treat when I tackle one of Karp’s own series later this year. Stay tuned for that in the coming months.

The narrative flow of this series has long been one of its strongest attributes. I find the momentum of the writing is dictated by the clipped pace on offer. Karp builds on this throughout, keeping the reader attentive as they make their way through the novel. Strong characters with some decent development help add something for series fans to enjoy, as there are some key aspects discussed in this seventh novel. The plot twists and story arcs presented keep the reader engaged and ready to learn more, stopped only by the limitations of Karp’s ability to publish future pieces. I can only hope there is more to come soon, as this is one series well worth my time!

Kudos, Mr. Karp, for keeping this series going with another great novel!

Sea Castle (Underwater Investigation Unit #4), by Andrew Mayne

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Andrew Mayne, and Thomas & Mercer for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Andrew Mayne returns with his somewhat unique series, set in the heart of Florida. Using a forensic diver as his protagonist, Mayne is able to tackle a different angle to most crime thrillers I have read, while keeping the reader intrigued until the final page turn. Adding some serial murder and cult-like behaviour, Mayne shows that he has all the ingredients for a great novel, sure to keep the reader enthused.

Sloan McPherson has made quite a name for herself in Fort Lauderdale as a member of the Underwater Investigation Unit’s forensic diver. When the body of a young woman’s body is found along the shoreline, Sloan immediately presumes it’s murder, while others ponder the possibility that she might have committed suicide. The clues do not make sense and Sloan is baffled as to what she is seeing in front of her.

Sloan begins poking around, but she is stonewalled by the authorities, as they are sure this was a simple miscalculation by a novice swimmer. Enter Gwen Wylder, who is quite rough around the edges and an outcast with the Miami Police. Wylder is happy to help Sloan, but for a price. Sloan must help by offering her own insight into some cold-cases that Wylder has been amassing, all part of what could be a serial killer who has been conniving while they traipse across Florida without detection.

As Sloan soon sees, her victim fits perfectly into the larger case study and there is proof that a killer could be travelling across the state, killing young women. Another woman goes missing, leaving Sloan and Wylder to race out so they can stop a killer from striking again. As things get more intense, both women find themselves involved in something they could not have expected, where they are not able to extricate themselves with ease. Mayne creates an intense story and keeps the reader hooked with some of his unique perspectives throughout.

It was the first book in this series that alerted me to the work of Andrew Mayne. Since then, I have not been able to get enough, having devoured a few of his series, while always remaining in awe. Mayne knows what he’s doing and keeps things fresh, unique, and on point. Whenever I see a new publication of his, I cannot help but rush to get it, knowing that it will be a stellar piece of writing.

Mayne develops his narrative in such a way that the reader wants to learn more. He knows how to present a tale that balances the criminal element with some strong backstory, all of which is essential to the final product. Great characters, some of whom build their development throughout the novel, provide the reader with some entertainment as they continue with the journey. The forensic perspective, mixed with the plot development, offer something unique, though this book steered away from underwater exploration and more to the chase for a killer. While this is not as enticing as some of the earlier novels, Mayne is still able to keep the reader in the know and dazzle with his writing style!

Kudos, Mr. Mayne, for another great piece of writing!

Livid (Kay Scarpetta #26), by Patricia Cornwell

Eight stars

Patricia Cornwell returns with another chilling novel in her long-running Kay Scarpetta series. Full of all the action and sharp wit that the series possessed in its heyday, Cornwell keeps readers highly entertained and thoroughly captivated. Scarpetta finds herself in the middle of one of the most challenging cases of her career, which only adds to the intrigue. A crime thriller with so many twists and turns, I could not always tell which way was up in Cornwell’s best novel over the last number of years. A must-read for those who have endured throughout the series.

Kay Scarpetta has been a forensics pathologist for many years, though she’s finally met her match. Having inherited a case that is now making headlines and drawing a large television audience, Scarpetta must separate truth from fiction as all eyes are on her. Both sides are equally divided and prepared to act violently if the correct verdict is not rendered.

Two years ago, the victim’s body washed up on the shores of Virginia. She had been out with her fiancé, who claims he has no idea what happened to her. When the authorities questioned him, through immediately tossed him in jail, where he sits today. Scarpetta holds the key to the forensic evidence and her word, should it be taken serial by the jury, could free a man or condemn him forever.

While the case sits with the jury, the judge’s sister is found dead in her home. Possibly a sign by one of the side that they mean business, Scarpetta is not ready to sit back and wait, even though she has been banned from investigating. Working with her long-time friend and colleague, Pete Marino, Scarpetta tries to get to the core of the matter, while keeping some of her past involvement with the judge out of her way. Scarpetta and Marino discover some odd burn patters that could mean something even more problematic, as everything points to a new age weapon.

As tensions mount for the case to be decided, Scarpetta must determine who is out there, lurking in the shadows. When POTUS arrives in town and an attempt is made on his life, Scarpetta knows that this is not your run of the mill killer, but rather some terror cell out for something larger. Someone is surely trying to send Scarpetta a message, while making an impact on the television news cycle as well. It will take everything in her being to keep Kay Scarpetta from letting justice be perverted, though everything comes together to unveil the truth about another crime that has haunted her for the past few years. Cornwell does a masterful job in this piece to resurrect some of her past greatness in the Scarpetta series.

I remember discovering Patricia Cornwell and this riveting series, which started with a binge read of the first number of novels. The attention to detail and means by which she could weave a tale left me in awe of Cornwel’s abilities and kept me coming back for more. While there was a rough patch when Scarpetta appeared to be on the verge of disaster, Cornwell returned to her greatness and has kept the protagonist from going stale or leaving series fans to beg for her retirement.

Working with a solid foundation, Patricia Cornwell keeps readers intrigued with a solid narrative that moves as quickly as any book I have read. Keeping the reader in the heart of the story, Cornwell adds characters who enhance things in their own ways, while never letting their presence overtake the momentum of good writing. Plot twists emerge throughout that help accentuate the thriller angle, leaving the reader gasping at times. With strong themes building throughout the short chapters, the reader feels propelled towards a climactic ending that has all the ingredients for a stellar novel. I am so pleased that Patricia Cornwell is back and can only hope there are more Kay Scarpetta novels to come of this calibre.

Kudos, Madam Cornwell, for keeping Scarpetta as gritty as she has been for years.

Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America, by Maggie Haberman

Nine stars

Readying myself for what is sure to be another intense presidential election period ahead of the 2024 vote, I have begun looking into things political once more. This biography of sorts by award-winning journalist Maggie Haberman proves not only insightful, but also offers context to how Donald J. Trump rose through the ranks of business and entertainment to achieve fame, whereby he squandered it all during a troubling term in office. With his attempts to regain power in 2024, it seemed apt to revisit some of his story, as well as analyses of his time in office, through the eyes of a journalist who was one of those allowed into his inner sanctum the most.

Haberman offers a look into the early days of the Trump family, where young Donald was groomed by his father, Fred, to become a man of business. Fred was anything but ethical in many of his dealings, but this is perhaps where Donald acquired his ‘cutting corners’ and ‘Trump means business’ mentalities, even if they only served to create resentment. Trump began tossing his name and borrowed money around, only to discover that he could get what he wanted through acts of bullying and name calling. Haberman clearly explains that while he got things he wanted, Trump was scoffed at behind his back, creating airs of resentment that would follow him like a bad odour.

While Trump sought to grow his empire, his eye was never far from looking for his next conquest. This is by no means shocking to anyone who has read recent pieces about the man, though it is enlightening and disconcerting at the same time to see a man who saw women as possessions, much like the real estate Trump bandied around whenever he felt like it. Misogyny drips from many of the anecdotes Haberman offers, which have been substantiated by many of those she interviewed for the book.

Dabbling into the political arena, Trump always sought to support others who wanted to get into the mud, rather than dive in himself. Trump sought to back those he felt could do him favours or owe him for financial backing. This served to be a mixed bag, as Trump never really was able to find a surefire way of picking a winner. Still, he made himself known and offered many critical moments for those who held the reins of power.

When Donald Trump decided to toss his hat into the ring, it was a hot mess that only got worse. Haberman explores the 2016 presidential campaign that gripped the country, with many of the famous Trump asides that had filled columns and books over the past member of years. Trump sought to make his mark and, at times, use bombastic actions over substantive policies to win over an electorate seeking something different. Haberman explores a number of theories leading to Trump’s victory, but keeps things as evidence-based as she can.

With Haberman front and centre covering the Trump Administration, she is able to explore some of the day to day moments that shaped his presidency, including how he would use Cabinet Secretaries as puppets to push some of his outlandish views. Some did so willingly while others held their noses (and tongues) as best they could until it was too much. Piling up gaffes and a refusing to follow diplomatic or policy views cemented in the American political way of life, Trump sought to carve out his own niche, always saying that it is what the people wanted.

Haberman offers a succinct but impactful exploration of the 2020 presidential campaign, where Trump lost and yet refused to believe it. The conspiracies mounted and Trump did all he could not to let the defeat sink in, choosing instead to scream ‘foul’ and surround himself with sycophants who would do the same. Haberman illustrates the desperation that followed, including how Trump grasped at straws to have his own vice-president try to defy constitutional and congressional rules to supplant a defeated president into office for another term. Readers can baffle at the gumption of the man.

Maggie Haberman chose not to make this about another smear campaign against the 45th president of the United States, but rather offer some context that all readers ought to heed. Trump was not born out of the swamp and became this aggressive man in 2015 when he chose to run for office. Rather, it was instilled in him for years and he grew into expecting the entitlement to follow him, so far that he wanted everyone to bow down and kiss the ring. Through well-document chapters, Haberman spins wonderful tale of success and failure, substantiated with many interviews from others who have their own opinions. While the book is longer, its detail helps to push it to the top, so that readers can feel a sense of education throughout the experience. Some will love it, others will not. Either way, its educational and entertainment value cannot be dismissed. Maggie Haberman shows why she is award-winning, and one can hope she has more to write soon.

Kudos, Madam Haberman, for pulling no punches and keeping the reader informed throughout the journey. I could not have asked for more.

Cat and Mouse (Helen Grace # 11), by M.J. Arlidge

Eight stars

Another chilling story in this great series by M.J. Arldige is sure to keep the reader flipping pages well into the night. A crazed killer whose acts do not appear to have any sense of explanation, a beleaguered murder squad headed by Detective Inspector Helen Grace, and families who demand answers for this losses; all these parts of a great piece of writing. Arlidge weaves the story to keep the reader on their toes and adds intensity to the narrative momentum. While the series has certainly grown over the last few years, Arlidge has not yet run out of ideas to keep the reader enthralled.

A brutal murder by an axe-wielding killer sendsDetective Inspector Helen Grace to lead the investigation. While her team is on point, they are going through some readjustments, forcing Grace to juggle things a little more than she might like. Still, there are clues to uncover and truths to reveal before things get even more out of hand.

After a young man is struck in his home, Grace and her team rush to piece things together while another family grieves. One solid lead takes Grace to a shipping port, only to be left on a wild-goose chase. There’s something about these seemingly independent killing that does not sit right with Grace and she is bound to discover it, even if it puts her in the path of danger.

When a clue falls into place, DI Grace and her team cannot believe where it leads and how it will connect to some of their own personal struggles. Could this be the motive they have been searching for, with everything pointing to a form of revenge. DI Helen Grace will stop at nothing until she gets answers. and brings a killer to justice. M.J. Arlidge does a fabulous job in his later thriller.

My discovery of M.J. Arlidge was both fortuitous and exciting over the last number of years. His Helen Grace novels have taken me on a whirlwind tour of crime in the UK, as well as inside the lives of those who try to keep the criminal element at bay. With strong storylines and well-developed characters, the stories gain a life of their own on the page and keep things moving throughout. I can only wonder what series fans have to look forward to in the months to come, as more Helen Grace is surely on the agenda.

Arlidge has a wonderful narrative style that pulls the reader into the core of the story from the opening sentences. The crimes described are gruesome, but handled in a respectful way, allowing the reader to dig a little deeper to understand what they are taking in. Strong characters who have their own backstories pepper the pages of the book, offering some updates in their lives and mannerisms. Arlidge uses short chapters to tease the reader throughout, as the plot thickens and veers off onto some differing perspectives. I found myself quite surprised as the story progressed into something gritty and suspenseful, without losing any of its momentum. I can only hope there will be more before long, as the wait proves troubling for those who are fully invested.

Kudos, Mr. Arlidge, as you continue to dazzle in your series work.

Alligator Alley (Joe DeMarco #16), by Mike Lawson

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Mike Lawson, and Grove Atlantic for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Mike Lawson returns with another stellar Joe DeMarco novel, allowing the ‘Bagman of Congress’ to expand his investigative wings down in the Florida Everglades. Lawson provides his protagonist with a difficultly case, trying partner, and intense moments of action throughout, sure to impress the reader. Lawson provides an entertaining backdrop in this sixteenth novel in the series, proving that the DeMarco momentum has not waned one iota.

After a young employee of the Department of Justice’s Inspector General’s Office is found murdered in the Florida Everglades, suspicion surrounding her murderer is high. Young Andie Moore had been following two FBI agents who were tasked with investigating Medicare fraud, but the case had gone sideways for no apparent reason. When Joe Demarco, a bagman for the Speaker of the House of Representatives, is sent to Florida to look into it, things take an interesting turn. DeMarco is not alone and his partner is surely not someone who enjoys taking second chair.

Working alongside the gritty Emma, DeMarco helps to explore the FBI agent angle, though these two are as tight lipped as they come. Still, Demarco and Emma think that there’s more to the story than simply two buffoons wanting their payday for screwing up the case. Emma has contacts all her own and calls on them to help with some of the digital and forensic know-how, which opens new perspectives. Trolling the crime scene in the Everglades, known to locals as Alligator Alley, Emma and DeMarco find some key evidence that shows that the kickback plot is a little more complex than first presumed.

With the apparent leader of the group proves elusive, DeMarco and Emma will have to work quickly and diligently to nail down the killer and ensure that Andie Moore did not die in vain. DeMarco will discover a few new things about himself and how to work alongside the rigid Emma, who has little time for any of his shenanigans. Mike Lawson keeps things strong and uses his abilities to impress the reader once more.

Since discovering the work of Mike Lawson, I have never failed to be impressed by all he adds to his stories to keep them on point. While the political aspect is secondary, it offers some interesting backstory to the larger narrative. Lawson has a great writing style and keeps his pieces moving at a quick pace, entertaining the reader from the opening pages.

With a strong narrative that does not rest for a moment, Mike Lawson lures the reader in from the opening pages. Strong criminal storylines provide something intriguing for the reader, while adding some humour at just the right moments. Great characters who add their own flavouring help Lawson move the story along with ease. A few plot lines fuel the story’s underlying greatness without impacting the momentum the narrative offers. While DeMarco is never doing the same thing, the continuity is there and series fans can be assured of a stellar piece of writing. Lawson is to be applauded and I am eager to see where things are headed next.

Kudos, Mr. Lawson, for a wonderful addition to the series, You never fail to impress.

Oath of Loyalty (Mitch Rapp #21), by Kyle Mills

Eight stars

Kyle Mills returns to extend the series first developed by Vince Flynn, doing so in masterful style. Mitch Rapp is a gritty operative with the scars to prove it. Now, things have taken a new turn as Mills creates exciting plot lines for one of the genre’s best-known protagonists. A gem with all the ingredients for a stunning novel, proving you can trust no one!

Mitch Rapp has faced many enemies throughout his career, but none more shocking than the man who currently wants him dead. Newly-elected US President Anthony Cook is sure that Rapp is a significant threat to both the CIA and country as a whole. CIA Direction Irene Kennedy is forced to try building a bridge between them, in hopes that no blood is shed in this intensifying clash. Rapp is told he must leave the country but remain within sight at all times during the Administration’s time in the White House. In return, there will be no hit placed on Rapp’s head.

While President Cook seems interested on keeping his side of the deal, others with his ear convince the president that Rapp cannot be trusted. After leaking the true identity of Rapp’s current partner, Claudia Gould, they watch as many security operatives seek her out and thereby place Rapp in mortal danger. As Rapp tries to keep Claudia protected, a new team of assassins makes itself known, headed by the elusive Legion. They will stop at nothing to capture and kill Gould, happy to neutralise Rapp in the meantime.

With Legion hired by someone unknown to him, there is no way to stop the wheels once they are in motion. As Rapp seeks to keep Gould safe at any cost, even though he knows she her existence is a thorny issue for many, he will have to fend off attacks from all sides. All the while, the US President sits idly by, wondering if he will be able to get rid of Rapp once and for all. A political thriller with ramifications throughout the world and surely one that will shape the future of this series. Kyle Mills shows why he was the ideal successor for Vince Flynn’s wonderful series

There is nothing like discovering an author who can spin a tale. When they retire or pass along, those who were significantly invested inthe series, as I was with Mitch Rapp, are left to mourn not only the author but the protagonist who is sure to walk into the sunset. When Kyle Mills was chosen (handpicked, I believe) to continue to series, I was a little leery, but soon came to see that he fit into the writing style of Flynn’s Rapp novels with ease. Mills’ stories work so well and the impact is just as strong as it was the from opening pages of the first Rapp novel. I could not ask for more from Kyle Mills, who presents just how Mitch Rapp would think in his latter days. I can only wonder what’s next or if the series has finally come to a close.

Kyle Mills uses the momentum that this series has. Developed over twenty-one novels to keep the reader on a world ride. There is so much going on, but the series fan will have come to expect this. Character development occurs throughout, with new and returning faces to balance the stellar writing. Mills keeps the plot twists coming and provides the reader with something exciting that is sure to keep things from getting stale, even so many novels into the series. There’s so much worth exploring for any reader who has yet to sample the series. I would (as always) encourage those who want to try out, to start from the beginning.

Kudos, Mr. Mills, on another success. I am eager to see what’s to come!

Shameless (Splitsville Legal Thriller #3), by William Bernhardt

Eight stars

William Bernhardt is back with another novel in his <i>Splitsville</i> series. While divorce law has never been one I get excited reading about, the twists that Bernhardt puts on the series make it well worth my time. With some strong legal matters and a quick pace, the novel has all the right ingredients for a stellar piece of work.

Kenzi Rivera has done a lot at the family law firm and made a name for herself, but also remains in her brother’s shadow. That said, she is a sharp divorce attorney, who has also been dabbling in criminal and civil law, as well as broadcasting her meteoric rise through social media. When her father’s decision to divorce proves headline-worthy, Kenzi agrees to help, if only reluctantly.

Soon thereafter, things get even messier, as her step-mother is charged with murder. The victim, Mr. Rivera’s mistress. This is one case from which Kenzi cannot run, but the fact that her father wants her as lead defence attorney is both baffling and awkward. While Kenzi preps for what will be a trial unlike any other she has presented, she’s left to wonder just what happened.

Working through the endless facts and forensics, Kenzi can only wonder if she’s agreed to help a hapless client, especially as the truth about the relationship and a sordid past come to light. Kenzi is one to defend her clients to the bitter end and this is not something she is willing to sidestep. Rather, she will give it her all, with her father watching from the courtroom. A powerful piece with all the elements of a great legal thriller.

William Bernhardt has long been a stellar writing of the top legal thrillers that have crossed my path. He is thorough and clever in his writing, as well as how he crafts the legal arguments, all while keeping the reader front and centre throughout. This is the third series of his that I have found highly addictive and I am never at a loss for words when Bernhardt is in the writing chair.

William Bernhardt has a style that many other authors could gladly replicate for stellar novels. His narrative is strong and begins with a bang. He’s always looking to build the drama and momentum throughout, keeping the reader along for the ride. His characters are complete, but already able to build on themselves throughout the series. Readers will beg to know more about them, which they are privy to as the series progresses. Plot twists and legal manoeuvrings appear throughout, keeping things from being too predictable, but never to the point that the reader is lost in the shuffle. I can only hope there are more books along these lines to come, be they in this series or elsewhere. William Bernhardt is surely one author to watch!

Kudos, Mr. Bernhardt, for another great legal story that had me glued to my seat!

The Drift, by C.J. Tudor

Seven stars

Having read a number of novels by C.J. Tudor, I gladly accepted this ARC. The dust jacket blurb intrigued me, pulling three stories together into a single novel, forcing the reader to tug at threads to put together an impactful story that is full of chills and thrills. Tudor focuses on the darker side in her narrative, but is able to entertain the reader with ease, keeping them flipping pages as the plot thickens.

Waking up to significant chaos, Hannah finds herself surrounded by blood and glass. The bus on which she was travelling crashed during a snowstorm while leaving her secluded boarding school. She’s trapped inside with a few survivors, an unknown virus, and no way to reach out for help. Deciphering that they will have to work together or face the reality of perishing with the others, Hannah rallies the troops, while trying to keep the secret The Retreat has from the outside world.

In the same snowstorm, Meg awakens, dangling in a cable car. As a former detective, her instincts are strong and Meg is sure something is off. With a number of strangers around her and one dead body in the cable car, Meg is unsure what’s going on. All she can remember is that she was on her way to The Retreat. Noticing a familiar face amongst the strangers, Meg begins piecing it all together, and it’s anything but good news.

Carter is safe from the blizzard in an abandoned chalet, spending time with his friends. They are working on a life-changing vaccine and trying to stay alive long enough to ship it out. With the power going out intermittently and the generator on the fritz, nothing seems certain. A shadowy appearance in the depths of the chalet could mean something nefarious awaits anyone who strays too far from the group. When all sources of power fizzle out, only the strongest will survive, but is Carter one of them?

All three of these storylines come together in unexpected ways to create the larger narrative that is this novel, where working together becomes essential and may be the only way for the truth to come out. A chilling piece by a master of the genre, C.J. Tudor shakes the reader to their core with this novel, sure to be the talk of the winter season!

I have come to expect a great deal from C.J. Tudor, though I am never sure what awaits me when I start one of her books. The ideas are unique and the approaches even more so. Tudor offers readers some crumbs and then leads them on quite the adventure, where the end result is anything but clear.

C.J. Tudor has a wonderful way of building up the narrative with plenty of detail and intense description. The story comes to life, though the reader remains slightly confused as the story opens on three independent fronts. As things progress, there are small bits that connect each storyline, with key characters in each setting making themselves known. By then the plot as been developing and keeping the reader guessing, which serves to bind all three narratives together. The momentum is unstoppable by this point, as is the falling snow, which adds an eerie sense to it as well, keeping the reader completely at Tudor’s whim. While I struggled with parts of the development, I can see what Tudor was hoping to offer readers as the story’s perspective became clear.

Kudos, Madam Tudor, for another unique success. Keep them coming!

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/the-drift-2/

The Night Man (William Wisting #5), by Jørn Lier Horst

Eight stars

Finally, one of the early books is published in English!

Back for another chilling thriller from the world of Jørn Lier Horst, I found myself standing alongside William Wisting as he followed a case that has social and international implications. Horst is able to bridge the language divide and provide a stellar piece of writing that kept me reading well into the evening or around the house when I could spare a moment. This series, which is as addictive as it is well-paced, is sure to keep readers talking the world round, no matter what language of the text they read.

The severed head of a girl is found on a stake, ruffling the feathers of everyone in the small Norwegian community. Inspector William Wisting is sent to investigate, though there is little in the way of clues to determine much of anything, save for the fact that she is not Norwegian, but rather from somewhere in Asia. Surely there is a message here and Wisting is baffled as to what it might be. Thankfully, his daughter, Line, is a sharp reporter with skills of her own, hoping to kick over a few stones to get some answers.

While Line cannot hope to get all the answers at once, she is determined to do it without using her father’s intel or appear to be his lapdog. When Line does find something, she’s surprised that this is not just the killing of a foreign national, but part of a larger criminal enterprise, headed by the Night Man. He’s a dangerous ring leader with powerful reach, both Line and Wisting himself will have to play their cards carefully.

Stirring up leads from a few loose lips, Wisting soon realised that the Night Man has plans to fuel his drug empire by using hapless foreigners to peddle his wares, or bring them into the country. However, Wisting hopes to neutralise this before things get even more out of control. More bodies emerge and this only pushes Wisting to make his move. That said, the Night Man is no wallflower and is ready to strike back at any time, making William Wisting an easy target for a new message; don’t mess with the Night Man! Horst dazzles as he spins this tale and takes readers on an adventure like no other.

Whenever I discover a new novel by Jørn Lier Horst, I find myself slightly more excited. I have come to realise that his books are always jam packed with action, great stories, and there is no sluggishness, even though the text is originally in Norwegian. Horst has been able to really make me care for both William and Line Wisting, especially as they evolve throughout the series. I can only hope that there’s s more to come, as I cannot help but wonder what William Wisting has waiting around the corner.

Scandinavian crime thrillers are usually successes for me. It would seem that whatever the authors drink, it helps them formulate strong plots and great storytelling abilities. Jørn Lier Horst shows repeatedly that he has the magic to come up with some stellar pieces, always pushing himself to outdo his previous publications. The narrative flow is there, keeping the reader fully informed, as they venture deeper into the piece. A handful of key characters, who develop and evolve throughout the series, leave the reader something familiar onto which they can latch as they progress. The plots, while never completely unique, are poignant with the times and always keep the reader guessing as to where things are headed. With a translation as seamless as anything i have read, I am often left to wonder if Horst actually write this in English, as it is so smooth. I can only wish that publishers would finally grab the first few novels in this series and translate them, as I am eager to get an early snapshot of how William Wisting developed before the loss of his wife and estrangement by his son. I keep asking and hoping, but nothing quite yet! That said, this is the fifth and previously untranslated piece, so perhaps more are on the way!!

Kudos, Mr. Horst, for a dazzling thriller that is sure to keep series fans talking for a while.

Yuletide Splitsville (Splitsville #2.5), by William Bernhardt

Eight stars

A holiday short story that fits nicely in the middle of his most recent series, William Bernhardt offers some joy during a busy time of year. Providing the reader with some great storytelling through the eyes of his strong characters, Bernhardt helps pass the time. Grab a glass of eggnog (homemade, if you can) and a biscuit, before you enjoy this piece, sure to bring a little of the holiday spirit back to your life.

Kenzi Rivera is eager to spend some quality time this holiday season with her work colleagues. However, when her assistant, Sharon, receives a call from her parents, Kenzi agrees to accompany her over there. It would seem that a family heirloom has gone missing and without finding it, Sharon’s parents could be headed to an end of matrimonial bliss. As Kenzi enters what soon becomes a war zone for her, she sees just how tense things are between all members of the family. With Kenzi’s intuitive nature, the holiday season could be saved, but it will take a great deal of work. William Bernhardt offers up a nice story to warm the heart without too much time invested.

I have long enjoyed the writing of William Bernhardt. He knows what he’s doing and keeps the story on track to be worth the reader’s time. With strong characters and an easy to understand narrative, things flow with ease. While this was not my favourite series, I enjoyed some of the development that took place within. I’m eager to read the last novel in the series to catch up, but this is surely one that helped me pass a little time with the Christmas rush in my rearview mirror.

Kudos, Mr. Bernhardt, for a great piece that reminded me of the importance of family. Hoping others fins this to be the dame type of gift.

Operation Masonic, by Helen C. Escott

Eight stars

Helen C. Escott dazzles readers with her strong police procedurals, adding a Newfoundland flavouring, which makes the Canadian setting all the more intriguing. This latest piece pushes the limits of both policing, as well as the mysterious world of the Masons in the heart of St. John’s. Escott tackles some great social issues as well, while layering them with a strong procedural that centres on the murder of a man with a complicated past. As Escott makes her mark again, I am left to wonder where she plans on going next and how she’ll be able to top what she has published to date.

When Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officers are called to the scene of the Masonic temple in the middle of a snowstorm, they find more than a pile of snow inside. The body of the Most Worshipful Grand Master, Mortimer Williams, turns up, likely a murder suspect. Inspector Nick Myra and his team begin polling around, unsure if this was a Masonic ritual gone awry or someone out for blood.

Bringing a new hire, Constable Donna Whiffen, along with him, Myra begins digging into the Masons, as well as those who belong to the local chapter. There is more to the story than simply a man and his interactions with others, Rather, a secret past away from anything Masonic, lurks in the shadows, as well as the death of the victim’s parents decades before. Myra and Whiffen begin to wonder if someone is trying to divert attention from the true motive, or if everyone might be spinning their own web of lies to ensure they are not caught.

When Myra and Whiffen seek the assistance of a local historian, they discover that the Mason are deeply embedded in architectural events throughout St. John’s, particularly some of the most important churches in the city’s core. Myra also learns of secret passageways and rumours of a buried treasure, all of which might hold strong reasons for wanting to kill someone at the head of the organisation. Still, there are a few nagging feelings about who could be behind it all and how the murder took place. Myra and Whiffen may have busy lives at home, but they are not about to let this derail them from getting to the core of the most important search of their careers, as a murderer sits idly by. Escott keeps the reader hooked until the very end with this stellar piece. I am so pleased to have reconnected with the series.

There is something about how Helen C. Escott writes that pulls me in. Surely, the Canadian angle appeals to me, with some nuances that only those who know the country will understand, but it is also a strong ability to spin a tale and keep the reader engaged throughout. Escott uses her intuitive researching abilities to help support a strong story and keep plots from getting too too predictable. I can only hope there is more to come, as the series and its characters have grown on me.

Escott crafts a wonderful story and develops a strong narrative to guide the reader. Full of historical details about both the Masons and the city of St. John’s, Escott shows the reader that she is interested in reality with a dash of fictional creativity. While keeping the momentum going, Escott pulls on some characters from past novels and adds a new one for the reader to enjoy, as well as weaving in the struggles of home life and the hurdles found therein. The investigation takes on many angles and keeps the reader guessing, as the plot lines diverge at times, keeping the predictable nature of some novels at the door. Escott addresses many social and personal issues, as is usually the case, providing her reader a platform to better understand things and perhaps spark an interest in doing some of their own research. I am eager to see what is in the pipeline for Escott and this series, as each book works so well to develop strong themes and builds on where the previous story ended.

Kudos, Madam Escott, for a look into the mysteries of Freemasonry and more about your beloved St. John’s. I feel the pull to visit, if only to learn more about the historical side of the city that serves as an ideal setting for your novels.

The Ninth Month, by James Patterson and Richard DiLallo

Seven stars

First read of 2023!

Needing something a little lighter, I turned to this collaborative effort that James Patterson and Richard DiLallo published. While I have made my sentiments known about the former, I find there are some gems when he chooses the right collaborator. In a story that surely defies “write what you know”, Patterson and DiLallo offer readers something with a little thrill, some introspection, and just enough NYC to keep things gritty. A decent novel, though it did not grip me by the lapels and shake me into heightened excitement.

Emily Atkinson has been taking New York City by storm. Her powerful job and oodles of money to do with as she pleases make for quite a life. However, every electric high must be countered with a death-defying crash. Emily’s comes in the form of a hospital visit, when her rampant alcoholism and unexpected pregnancy stop her in her tracks. Faced with what to do next, Emily must sober up quickly and decide how to handle the news, while she’s lost her job and is left with shards of her life littered across the floor.

Trying to get her mind readjusted, Emily turns to her nurse and new friend, Betsey. Together, they seek to make the most of the situation and help Emily on her way towards motherhood. All that seems minor, when Emily discovers that others in her social circle begin disappearing. This raises the hairs on the back of her neck, as Emily must wonder if something is going to happen to her. Could that man at the park be staring a little too long? Did the lady at the grocery store glare mischievously?

As the story progresses through the entire pregnancy, there are flashforward chapters about an apparent murder in the present day, with Emily at the centre of it. Could someone have caught up to Emily, making her fears realized? With NYPD involved, the story gains a darker side and the mystery heightens. Emily Atkinson may have been a hot mess in her pre-pregnancy life, but did she deserve to be a crime statistic? Patterson and DiLallo present a decent story, easily digested for a quick read experience.

I turn to Patterson’s work when I need a lighter and easier read, which seems to help offset the more involved novels on my list. The quick chapters and easy to see plot path gives the reader something they can enjoy. Richard DiLallo is here to add his own collaborative flavouring, though I am baffled how two middle-aged men could want to create a pregnant protagonist. All that being said, fiction is about thinking outside the box. With a decent story and some great wit embedded into the narrative, the authors surely succeed in what they are trying to accomplish. Not the most stunning Patterson novel I have read, but I’ll take it as a decent piece to pass the time.

Patterson novels are not known for their complex narratives or plot lines that leave the reader gasping. Still, both are present here and the reader can follow the direction throughout. Some great character development provides the reader an entertaining experience, to the point that I might have been able to picture them throughout. There is a lot going on, through a number of timelines, which makes it a little more difficult to juggle at times. I admit I was not enthralled with the story, but it’s not a total loss. Made for a great filler before my next great read!

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and DiLallo, for a decent collaborative effort. Eager to see what you two have for us next!

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, by Timothy Snyder

Eight stars

A refreshing re-read to end the year, as I gear up for another two years of rhetoric from a tyrannical American trying to locate a path to steal power back!

“History does not repeat, but it does instruct,” is the opening line of Timothy Snyder’s short work on tyranny. How apt this is and the examples throughout the piece of writing goes on to further explain what the author wishes to convey. Pulling from examples throughout the 20th century, Snyder effectively argues that the situation in America has some loose—perhaps still germinating foreboding—concerns from the rise of authoritarian regimes in history that sat on both sides of the political spectrum in decades past. Snyder warns the reader not to ignore these, as there are times when waiting makes change too late. He also effectively draws parallels between the lulling into complacency that leaders mastered—using false rhetoric and duplicitous nationalism to appear patriotic—and the goings-on at apparent ego rallies when not on Twitter. Snyder has strong examples that fit, things that the layperson will like have heard about in their general knowledge of world history. Can it be stopped? Snyder feels there is the potential, but only by heeding the warning signs now. While the 2020 presidential election is around the corner, the electorate cannot be duped into thinking that this is a nightmare the US Constitution or the other branches of government will rein in. Alas, that only works when the actors in the system agree to the rules and do not supersede them to fit their needs. Thought provoking and a wonderful fill between books, Timothy Snyder’s piece did just what it sought to do; leave me wondering about how the past should be a yardstick for success, not just a bunch of words in a tome that could never happen again. Recommended for those with strong political interests who wish to explore some of the pressing issues of 21st century, as well as the reader with a keen interest in history’s repetitive nature.

This book was slyly passed along to me by a good friend, wanting to see how my politically minded brain might process it. It’s short (even by academic publication standards) and yet packs a major punch. Snyder uses concrete examples, specifically from the national socialism (fascism) found in Nazi Germany and the communist countries of Soviet Russia and Eastern Europe. At first, the parallels with the US Administration were simply presumed, but Snyder blunts his comments when he eventually uses POTUS and America by name, perhaps his way of ensuring the point is not missed. The chapters (points) can be as quick as a few lines, or as length as a couple of pages, but all twenty resonate to the attentive reader who will likely see things as soon as they are pointed out. I know there will be trolls and those who disagree, which is their right, though I would really enjoy someone trying to talk their way out of the case Snyder makes. Then again, what do I know, a mere Canadian?

Kudos, Mr. Snyder, for a sobering look at tyrannical reign in the American republic. Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln (all men POTUS thinks he is like) would roll over in their graves if they saw the republic today!

The Chimes: A Novella, by Charles Dickens

Seven stars

Most people equate Charles Dickens and Christmas with his popular story, A Christmas Carol. However, in the years that followed its publication, Dickens penned another story about the holiday season and ghostly apparitions. This is that story, which I thought would be a good thing to try during the holiday season. Dickens pulls on the ghoul factor in this piece, which seeks to portray a deeper message for his readers, and which resonates, if you pardon the pun, quite well.

Toby “Trotty” Veck, is a working-class man who has become dispirited with his lowly caste in life. He feels that his family is poor, not only because they cannot gather enough money, but also his unworthiness of having anything special. This extends to a disbelief in the common person and Trotty finds himself ending another year in woe.

On New Year’s Eve, Trotty is visited by a number of spirits, speaking through the local church bell, who try to put things in perspective. Trotty is sure that all has befallen him because of a higher plan. The spirits wish to show him that it is the choices people make that push them in one direction or the other, something that Trotty will have to come to terms with if he is to enter the following year with any sense of hope. Buried throughout the story is a set of life lessons for the reader to enjoy, which Dickens makes clear will help formulate a happier person during the holiday season.

While I would not be telling the truth if I said that I enjoyed this novella as much as the classic holiday piece that Dickens made famous. That being said, I can see the themes woven into the narrative, which builds through four strong chapters. The narrative flows and takes the reason on many interesting journeys before presenting an epiphany for the reader to enjoy. Using the spirts once again Dickens shows how sometimes people need being from other realms to see what is before their own faces. Some wonderful writing and remarkable themes that many will likely want to synthesise at their own pace to see if they mean anything.

Kudos, Mr. Dickens, for a great piece to add to my holiday reading collection.

Exiles (Aaron Falk #3), by Jane Harper

Eight stars

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

Jane Harper is back with another thrilling police procedural featuring Aaron Falk. In story full of emotion and tense revelations, Harper strikes a chord for many readers and offers a sensational piece that is sure to entertain. Harper has kept me enthralled with all three novels in the Aaron Falk series and this is likely her best. Eager to see what Harper has on the agenda next, I hope this novel impresses other series fans and those who enjoy something with a great Australian flavouring.

A young baby is found on the grounds of a local festival in rural Australia. Her mother, Kim Gillespie, is nowhere to be found. While the baby is safe, it is the complete vanishing act has everyone baffled. People speculate, but this does not help in the search for Kim or strengthen the foundation that is a motive to abandon a little one.

A year later, plans for the baby’s christening coincide with an updated plea for news about Kim, who remains at large. Federal Investigator, Aaron Falk, is part of the group that has gathered, hoping that he can find a clue as to where Kim might have gone. While Falk hopes to work with the family, he notices things are not as bucolic as they first appeared in this small Australian community.

While things are slow to prove fruitful, Falk refuses to dismiss the gut reaction he has about Kim Gillespie and her disappearance. He discovers more about her past and how she was treated as a teen, particularly around the festival that is playing out around them. What demons lurk in the shadows and might they explain Kim’s disappearance? Falk will stop at nothing in his own policing style to get answers and bring news to those who need it most. With flashbacks that cover a variety of time periods essential to the story’s foundation, this is perhaps Harper’s best Falk Nobel to date. I am eager to see what other series fans think and how Harper will build things from here.

While there are many authors who have been successful in the police procedural genre, those who differentiate themselves have earned by additional praise. I have enjoyed Jane Harper’s Aaron Falk series from the start and can only hope others echo this sentiment. The writing is strong and has a great “Aussie flavour” that never gets tiring. While I appreciate Harper’s stand-alones as well, it is this series that always impressed me most.

Kudos, Madam Harper, for a great read with moments of quaintness amongst the heightened drama.

Operation Trafficked, by Helen C. Escott

Nine stars

While there are many authors who can write police procedurals, Helen C. Escott takes it to a new level, and does so from a Canadian (read: Newfoundland) perspective. Her novels are both well-crafted and very detailed, while keeping the reader hooked with sensational crimes. Escott pulls on her past experience and adds a writing ability like few I have come across, keeping the Canadiana subtle enough that anyone the word over could easily enjoy this book without feeling clueless. I cannot say enough about Helen C. Escott and hope other readers will discover her work, sure to add her to their ‘must read’ list.

When a teenage girl turns up murdered in a downtown St. John’s hotel, all clues point to a victim of human trafficking. Sergeant Nicholas Myra of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary and Corporal Gail McNaughton of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have been working different angles on trafficking across the province and find themselves on a Joint Forces investigation to solve this case and hopefully help neutralise trafficking pathways. Myra and McNaughton are not sure they will be able to stymie this multi-billion dollar business, but they have a victim before them and hopes of bringing closure to her short life.

After having a third officer seconded to them—Constable Colleen Royal— Myra and McNaughton begin trying to piece together where this teen came from and who might have visited her on the evening of her death. While there are some seedy businesses in town, none have women who admit to being trafficked or held against their will. This only makes the investigation all the more difficult, but no one is ready to toss in the towel just yet.

The Joint Task Force uncover a complex system of getting girls from all corners of the globe and bringing them to Canada, where they are brainwashed into thinking that this is a luxurious life, while there are undertones of threats should anyone try to escape or speak out against their captors. Myra and Royal work some angles, as McNaughton seeks to nail the local owners of a massage parlour, who may be a puppet front for bikers and even the Russian mob. All the while, McNaughton has some personal stresses piled onto her already overflowing plate.

At one point, the team is informed that a seven-year-old local girl is being offered up for sale in the United States, with a mother eager to get cash for her offspring. Child pornography, sexual slaves, and horrible abuse, all taking place under the noses of everyday citizens, sicken all three officers, though they cannot relent, for fear that another vulnerable person will fall prey to these horrible men who have recreated a slave industry in the modern world. A chilling story that is sure to leave the reading in awe and yet fixated to learning how things will progress. Escott proves her mettle yet again!

As I mentioned before, there is something about Helen C. Escott’s writing that really pulls me in. It may be her superior ability when it comes to police procedurals, or the Canadian flavouring that I have rarely found when I read this genre, or even the depth to which the topics on hand are discussed. Whatever it is, Escott has a sensational ability to keep the reader on the edge of their seat through the storytelling process. I can only hope others find her work and enjoy the Newfoundland perspective as refreshing as I have.

Escott pulls the reader in from the opening pages with a strong narrative flow. The direction points the reader towards a story that is darker than many, but needs to be to get its point across. Pulling on some strong characters from past novels that many of Escott’s fans will have come to know, the development within the story leaves the reader feeling as though they know McNaughton, Myra, and even Royal a little better. The development of the plot throughout leaves the reader uncomfortable, but in a way that is needed to be impactful. Escott’s past in law enforcement has likely put her in contact with the world of human trafficking, which is why things are so detailed and intense. While the topic is surely one many might shy from, it is this awkwardness that makes reading about it all the more necessary. I love each of Helen C. Escott’s novels for their own merits and al eager to get my hands on her next novel, sure to be just as impactful.

Kudos, Madam Escott, for a look into the dark world of human trafficking and sexual exploitation of children. I could not put the book down, while also being disgusted by some of the antics portrayed within its pages.

The Santa Killer (DI John Barton #6), by Ross Greenwood

Eight stars

Always eager to get my hands on the writing of Ross Greenwood (and wanting a thriller to fit into my holiday season reading), I turned to this novel. Full of great police work and with some stellar criminal events, Greenwood takes the reader on an adventure like no other during the holiday season. As sharp as the other DI Barton novels, the reader can enjoy this piece and feel as though they are in the middle of it all, chasing a killer who resembles Father Christmas and appears to have multiple, skewed motives. Ross Greenwood impresses once more, providing a holiday gift like no other!

With Christmas only a few weeks away, the town is bursting with lights, busy shoppers, and holiday cheer. However, after a single mother is brutally attacked, things take a distinctive turn. DI John Barton and his team work to piece things together with the crime, but are baffled to discover that the victim has no sordid past and no enemies whatsoever. Could such a personal attack have simply been a random act? The only clue they have is the blurry witness statement by the victim’s special needs daughter, who is sure she saw Father Christmas (Santa) attacking her mom.

When others are attacked in the middle of the investigation, DI Barton can only wonder if there is a specific ‘Naughty and Nice List’ being enacted or if these are all random acts of violence. After someone confesses and is taken into custody, the case is presumed solved, but more people are attacked, with a new and completely different style. Could there be two killers on the loose, working independently or even in tandem? DI Barton will have to crack things side open, as Christmas inches closer.

All hands are on deck for this one, which has the police as baffled as ever. Random notes sent to locals purport to show that they, too, are in danger and could be next. Might this Santa Killer be more than a figment of the imagination, but actually a sharp and ruthless killer? DI Barton had better figure it all out before the magic of the season is lost for good! Ross Greenwood captivates readers with this thriller that pulls on all the strengths he has as as writer.

I found the work of Ross Greenwood years ago and have never looked back. His police procedurals are strong and full of detail, while balancing some humour and insightful sleuthing as well. Great themes and unique plot twists keep the reader unsure what they can expect around the corner, while they are also keen to flip pages well in the night. I can only hope that Greenwood’s next writing project is as addictive and that I can get my hands on an early copy.

Greenwood uses a strong narrative tho guide the reader throughout this well-paced novel. Police work is at the core of it and keeps the reader pushing on, in hopes of cracking the case. Great characters, many of whom receive decent development throughout the series, offer the reader something a little lighthearted throughout the heavy subject matter. A few key plot twits make this novel worth the time to read it, without being too predictive. One can only hope that Ross Greenwood will keep writing strong police procedurals, as he has developed a stellar series with DI Barton at the core.

Kudos, Mr. Greenwood, for another stunning thriller. I hope to see more soon and more killers pushing the limits as to what can be expected.

The Best School Year Ever (Herman’s #2), by Barbara Robinson

Eight stars

The sequel to one of my favourite childhood books, when the Herdmans take over the Christmas Pageant at church and retell this most famous story.

In this book, the Herdmans remain the worst behaved family in town. What’s worse is that they all attend Woodrow Wilson School. Robinson tells of the antics of this horrid family throughout a school year, from hazing to smoking cigars and even forcing children to undertake back-alley orthodontics. When the teacher sets out a year-long project of choosing a classmate and finding ways to compliment them, everyone is confused. Is there anything complimentary that can be said about any of the Herdmans? Read and find out…

A lovely story that leaves me smiling, as there is nothing the Herdmans won’t do.

The First Christmas: A Story of New Beginnings, by Stephen Mitchell

Eight stars

A Holiday re-read!

Always one to enjoy some unique reading during the festive season, I turned to this short piece by Stephen Mitchell. It pulls upon the Nativity story, told in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, and offers a more thorough and first-hand account of some events surrounding that period. While Mitchell explains that these are some of his own thoughts put into dialogue and a well-paced narrative, something resonates in them and it makes sense.

Mitchell captures many angles of the Nativity narrative, from those major players many will know (Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and the wise men), as well as some who were surely essential but receive only a mere mention in biblical passages (the ox and donkey). These perspectives weave together not only a well-developed narrative, but provides the reader with some insight as to how each felt about the event, a well as some of the lead up to things that occurred that cold night. It leaves the reader to ponder a little more what they know and surmise about that story that, for many, is so well known.

Between each chapter (and on occasions, within them) Mitchell offers some of his own analysis of events and how they fit into the larger story. This is almost an annotation or extensive footnoting for the reader to better understand why he wrote things a certain way. I was please to have this, feeling it added to the overall experience and left me feeling a bit better if there were parts I did not understand.

While I am no scholar or expert on the subject matter, I count myself as someone who knows the story fairly well. I was eager to see this approach to better understand the story without being made to feel that this was an academic piece or even one that required heard thinking. I do enjoy challenging myself from time to time and will not stop with this piece. I’d love to see if Mitchell (or others) have other pieces like this, where I can explore new perspectives on long-told and remembered stories from my past.

Kudos, Mr. Mitchell, for a great piece that I devoured in a single day. I’ll keep my eyes open for more of your work and see if I cannot latch onto it as well.

The Homecoming, by Earl Hamner Jr.

Nine stars

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

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

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

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

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

Boundary Issues, by Thomas Boxleiter

Nine stars

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

After I was approached with an ARC of Thomas Boxleiter’s novel, I could not help but be intrigued. The dust jacket blurb presented a novel full of action and with just the right amount of legal flavouring to be something that I would enjoy. Boxleiter did not disappoint at any point, providing a story that garnered not only my attention, but admiration for being so thorough. Mixing a number of areas together with just enough detail to leave the reader wanting more, Boxleiter has shown himself to be an author worth watching for in the years to come.

Dr. Hank Pressman has been running his psychiatric practice for years, with a number of patients who have achieved various forms of personal success. Beneath the surface, Pressman has a life that is a little more involved, from the death of his long-time wife, to bouts of infidelity, and even a blossoming addiction to alcohol. Still, he’s been able to keep things running smoothly.

When Marian Ash visits Dr. Pressman and demands that he take her on as a client, things begin to get a little more intense. Refusing to offer more than the bare minimum when it comes to information—as she fears her husband will find out—Marian speaks of an abusive relationship at home. She comes to the office with physical bruises, which only worries Dr. Pressman more. He does his best to help her, but Marian Ash has other ideas.

While Dr. Pressman is trying to get his life back on track with a new relationship, things take a turn one night when Marian shows up at his home. Soon thereafter, she’s taken into custody when her husband is found murdered. While Dr. Pressman has some of his own views on the matter, a series of events leave him wondering if he can serve as an expert witness to either help or hinder the defence. Faced with a mountain of personal and professional issues, Dr. Hank Pressman while have to decide what matters most to him and how he will look himself in the mirror once legal proceedings begin. A thrilling piece that is sure to make a name for Thomas Boxleiter!

I always enjoy new authors who make their way onto my radar. Thomas Boxleiter did so effectively and showed just how much skill he has with both storytelling and writing. The story, which may seem cookie cutter from the outset, actually delves into some wonderful themes and topics, all while educating the reader throughout the process. Boxleiter pulls no punches and keeps the reader in the middle, feeling as though they are right there with Dr. Pressman and the others. I look forward to reading more by Boxleiter, when the chance arises, and would encourage anyone looking for something refreshing and highly entertaining to try this novel for themselves.

Thomas Boxleiter offers up a strong narrative to guide the reader through the journey. Things begin well and build from there, providing a roadmap for a successful story. The characters Boxleiter uses throughout flavour things effectively and keep the reader intrigued about what is going on, without proving to be too over the top. I must applaud Boxleiter for developing Dr. Hank Pressman so well throughout the novel. There is significant progress for the character, who grows and expands in a variety of ways, such that the reader really feels as though they know his struggles. Use of plot twists keeps the story on point and allows the reader to feel a sense of not knowing where things are headed. While I cannot tell if there will be more for Dr. Pressman, or other novels in the same vein, I can only hope Thomas Boxleiter keeps writing and that I have the chance to read them. I was thoroughly impressed with this effort, which appears to be a debut novel!

Kudos, Mr. Boxleiter, for a great piece that kept me turning pages well into the night.

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

Eight stars

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

The Secret Dead

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

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

The Academy of Secrets

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

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

A Christmas Requiem

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

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

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

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

Kudos, Madam Parris, for an exciting collection of stories that remind me how much I enjoy Giordano Bruno. I cannot wait to see what else you have to offer soon.

Point Blank (Jack Lisbon #6), by Blair Denholm

Eight stars

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

Always eager when Blair Denholm hands me an ARC of his newest book, I took it upon myself to devour this novel in short order. Denholm provides the readier with a decent piece of writing that is full of criminal goings-on, plot twists, and a bit of character development for DS Jack Lisbon. Much takes place in the book, as well as a chilling revelation that Lisbon will have to digest in his personal life. A quick read that complements the other books in this series.

Golf is a sport for patient men, as Detective Sergeant Jack Lisbon has come to believe. While he is not very good at it, he enjoys the challenge of trying to get a ball into the hole, no matter how many swings it takes. When DS Lisbon and his companion on the links hear a gunshot, they immediately revert into police mode. Rushing over, DS Lisbon discovers that Paul Keenan has been shot and his golfing partner is clinging to life.

Once the golf course is secured, DS Lisbon and the team work tirelessly to find out what’s happened and secure any suspects before they are able to flee. Based on the account of witnesses, a drone flew in close at hand and shot both men in the head. Who would have the skills not only to fly the drone, but to aim with much accuracy as to leave bodies on the putting green?

As DS Lisbon tries to piece it all together he receives a disturbing call from his daughter in the UK. Forced the juggle personal and professional, DS Lisbon begins exploring all the options and how Paul Keenan may not have been as nice as he would like many to believe. This only expanded the susp[ect list and makes catching a killer all the more difficult. However, DS Jack Lisbon is up for a challenge. A great addition to the series that shows Blair Denholm has much to say on the topic of Jack Lisbon.

I have been a fan of the DS Jack Lisbon series since Blair Denholm reached out to me, asking that I read the first novel. Since then, whenever a new addition to the collection comes out, I am eager to get my hands on it to see what Denholm has done with his protagonist. Always advancing the personal plot, Denholm keeps the reader on their toes throughout each crime thriller, adding just enough humour to cut the tension down.

Denholm uses a strong narrative flow to keep the reader feeling as though there is constant momentum throughout the book. Key characters arrive to help add depth, but it is surely not Denholm’s key tool for success. Rather, it is the investigative prowess of DS Jack Lisbon, who always seems keen to get to the root of the issue even if it means taking a detour on occasion. With some personal strife peppered in throughout the story, series fans know that something is about to change drastically, which could shape how things progress from here.

Kudos, Mr. Denholm, for a great addition to the series. You have a great way with words and I am intrigued to see what direction things might go.

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

Nine stars

Another wonderful annual re-read!! This year, Neo joined me!

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

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

The Man who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol Rescued his Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits, by Les Standiford

Eight stars

A holiday re-read!

Charles Dickens’ classic Christmas tale is surely synonymous with the holiday season, from its spooky mention of ghosts to its endearing message of love and understanding. However, the story behind this shorter novel is almost as intriguing as the prose itself. After reading a fictitious version of events, I looked to Les Standiford, whose non-fiction account, The Man Who Invented Christmas, offers curious readers something on which they can chew to better understand the background. Highly educational and enlightening, this is a great piece to accompany the Dickens classic. Recommended to those with a love of the holiday season, as well as the reader who may want to chase the Scrooge out of their heart after a horrid 2020 (and 2021).

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

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

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

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

I only read A Christmas Carol for the first time in the 2019 Christmas season. While you try to catch your breathe and step back in shock, I will let you know that I have seen the movie and know the premise, but the story itself takes on new meaning when using the author’s actual prose. Pairing the actual story with Standiford’s book (as well as a piece by Samantha Silva, do check it out), offers a great understand of Victorian times and how the holiday evolved. There is a great deal for the reader to understand that will permit a thorough and comprehensive exploration of the themes and ideas. Standiford does a masterful job at shining some light on this for those readers who wish the context.

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

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

Abuse of Power (Blake Jordan #9), by Ken Fite

Eight stars

Having spent the last few days catching up on a few Ken Fite novels I put aside, I realize just what I have been missing. The Blake Jordan series is as addictive as it is action-packed, keeping the reader in the middle of everything throughout. Mixing strong political themes with some investigative elements, Fite has the reader flipping pages well into the night, as he did with me. Another stellar novel that has me hoping there are more to come soon.

A week after the failed assassination attempt on POTUS, the news is still buzzing. A number of rogue CIA agents tried to gun him down during the motorcade’s progress throughout Washington, only to be stymied at the last moment. However, there are still agents out there, with a number trying to cover their tracks.

When FBI Agent Mark Reynolds appears to have tossed himself off a building, some wonder if he might have been involved in the event, but the guilt left him feeling there was only one way out. Blake Jordan, who knew Reynolds well, feels that this could not have been the case and is sure that someone is behind the death. He’s also sure that there are others hunting down any loose ends.

It’s soon determined that the connect to these rogue agent reaches all the way up into the White House, where someone is feeding intel that only those closest to POTUS might know. It will be up to Jordan and a few others to locate the mole, neutralise them, and stop the next plan from coming to fruition. Will they be able to act in time? Ken Fite does a wonderful job pulling on a great deal of sources to pen a must-read novel.

Ken Fite writes thrillers that I cannot seem to put down. After a few chapters, time stops and the story envelopes me. I seem to devour these novels in a single day, proving that Fite knows how to keep the reader enthralled with ease. Fite develops his Blake Jordan character effectively and keeps things progressing with ease throughout the reading journey.

Ken Fite balances the political thriller with some action to keep things moving from the opening pages, especially with this story that follows the previous novel by only a week. The narrative pushes the story in a forward direction, with numerous twists to keep things unpredictable. Fite uses character development effectively, permitting noticeable progression between novels. There’s something not entirely describable that makes this series one I keep following, rushing to grab any outstanding books so that I do not miss a beat. I will have to wait for the next in the collection, but will not do so with patience.

Kudos, Mr. Fite, for keeping things intriguing and on point for all to enjoy!

Spencer’s Mountain, by Earl Hamner Jr.

Eight stars

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

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

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

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

Person of Interest (Blake Jordan #8), by Ken Fite

Eight stars

I discovered Ken Fite’s novels a number of years ago and could not get enough. My busy schedule over the last number of years kept me from enjoying the Blake Jordan series, but I am back, with a gap in my reading commitments left me able to catch up on this explosive collection. Blake Jordan keeps the intensity high and has some great character development in this novel, set in the middle of DC.

The presidents of the United States and Russia have been working on a peace treaty in secret and wish it conclude it with a public ceremony. When American intelligence agencies intercept a message related to an assassination attempt, they take action immediately. This means Blake Jordan and his wife, Jami, will be in meetings first thing to determine how to handle the situation.

After Jami fails to show up, Jordan becomes a little worried, which is exacerbated by a call from a blocked number. Jordan is informed that Jami’s been kidnapped and will only be released when demands are met. Jami’s release hinges on the assassination of both world leaders, forcing Jordan to decide between family and his country. However, anyone who knows Blake Jordan realises that it’s no question as to where is loyalty lies.

As the signing ceremony approaches, Jordan rushes to secure Jami’s release, while also trying to determine who mole within the intelligence community could be, likely the person who received that coded message. Jordan will have to work quickly, as the kidnapper means business and is happy to sacrifice Jami to bring the peace accord down in flames. Ken Fite pens yet another sensational thriller that is sure to appease series fans.

Ken Fite has a knack for writing thrillers that I cannot put down. Once I get a few chapters in, time seems to stand still as I delve deeper into the story. I devoured a few of his early novels in a single day, proving that he has what it takes to keep the reader entertained. Fite has developed the Blake Jordan character to be someone who is always advancing, yet never forgets his roots. I’m kicking myself for having waited this long to return to the series.

Ken Fite balances the political thriller with some action to keep things moving from the opening pages. Adding depth to a story that has action allows the reader to feel as though they could visualize everything from the written page. A strong narrative propels the story forward, with twists to keep things from being too predictive. I also highly enjoy how Ken Fite keeps his characters evolving, so there is something to notice from novel to novel. I can only hope this continues, as it is highly effective. Series fans will enjoy how one novel appears to move into the next, though I am sure those who choose to parachute in and reach for any of the novels (though I am baffled as to why anyone would want to) can do so with some comfort. With the latest novel just released, you know where I am headed next!

Kudos, Mr. Fite, for keeping things on retract and will of action. I can only wonder what awaits me in the next novel.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (Herdmans #1), by Barbara Robinson

Eight stars

A wonderful story from my youth that I added to my annual reading list (and hope to get my son hooked soon)!

The Herdmans are a collection of six hellion children. When they hear about free and plentiful refreshments are being offered at Sunday School, they decide to attend one week. That happens to be the same week that Christmas Pageant rehearsals are announced. Enter the entire Herdman clan, who decide that they want in. Soon thereafter, they find themselves with all the staring roles and take it upon themselves to interpret the story in their own Herdman way.

What a classic and I am so pleased to have found this and relived some of my favourite childhood memories from my youth.

Camelot’s End: Kennedy vs. Carter and the Fight that Broke the Democratic Party, by Jon Ward

Nine stars

After reading Neal Gabler’s Against the Wind: Edward Kennedy and the Rise of Conservatism, 1976-2009, I wanted to revisit this book, which has almost as much detail of a key Kennedy life event. Neither book disappointed at all!

Many have heard the Kennedy family referred to as living in a modern Camelot. Powerful patriarch, Joseph, and his sons strove to make a difference in the political realm. But when did it all come to an end for them and how did America turn away from this glorified view of the Kennedys? Perhaps they never have, though Jon Ward argues that the political Camelot came crashing down with the 1980 Democratic National Convention, dragging the Party along with it. All this primarily due to an embittered campaign for a presidential nominee. Incumbent President Jimmy Carter took the stage at Madison Square Gardens to seek the formal nod by delegates to take the Democrats into the campaign to face the electorate in November. Standing in his way was Edward ‘Teddy’ Kennedy, the last of the political brothers and a powerhouse all his own. Ward takes the reader on a journey to see how these men destroyed their political bases, the Party, and all but handed Ronald Reagan the presidency in 1980, leaving the country in awe during a time it needed solace the most. Opening with great biographical narratives told in parallel, Ward discusses the upbringing of both men—Kennedy with a silver spoon lodged in his mouth, while Carter sweated it out picking peanuts—and how different they were.

Kennedy had politics in his blood, but the shadow of his two brothers seemed to stymie his ability to stay on the beaten path. Carter, a respected Navy veteran, sought to promote his progressive ways in the Deep South, where segregation and racism were the lifeblood of politics. Coming up through the ranks, both men had their foibles, which lingered with them, though Kennedy’s 1969 Chappaquiddick driving debacle that left a young woman dead would seem to have overshadowed much of Carter’s aligning himself with racists in order to secure both the Georgia governor’s mansion and a 1976 run for president. While both men knew the other only in passing, they remained on one another’s radar.

Kennedy passed up the chance to run in ‘76, but many felt that he was gearing up for ‘80, though he remained uncommitted. Meanwhile, Carter sat in the Oval Office and faced economic disaster at a time when the American people could not accept anything less than the prosperity they felt the world’s superpower deserved. While Carter had some international successes, these were overshadowed by long gas lines and protests by the American people. Kennedy toiled in the US Senate to create needed legislation for healthcare reforms and tax breaks that would help the middle class. As they geared up for the 1980 campaign, Carter and Kennedy both sought to take the Democratic Party in their own direction, though it was the latter’s decision to challenge a sitting president that left Carter promising to ‘whip his ass’ even before the last Prince of Camelot had formally entered the race.

Speaking of entering the race, Ward goes into detail about a CBS special on Teddy Kennedy before he announced, which depicted the man as one who could not dodge the Chappaquiddick disaster from a decade before and had no clear reason for entering the race, even though he was seen as an odds-in favourite and wanted to shape policy in new directions. From there, the primary season began, allowing both men to claw at one another and make gains in different ways. Kennedy stumbled out of the block and found financial limitations paralyse his progress, while Carter was trying to juggle the Iran hostage crisis, which was yet another black mark on his reputation. Even when Carter had the needed delegates to win, Kennedy would not concede, crafting an idea about releasing delegates from their primary commitments when they arrived in New York. Bloodied and bruised, they arrived for the convention to a raucous, yet highly divided Democratic base, all while GOP candidate Ronald Reagan sat back and basked in the knowledge that he would obliterate either man, come November.

Ward offers a wonderfully detailed description of the goings-on at the Democratic Convention, including Kennedy’s last attempt to wrestle control away from the sitting president. However, nothing could outdo the events surrounding the last night, when Kennedy handed Carter the snub seen round the world. From there, it was a rocky push through the general election campaign, where Reagan all but handed victory to Carter, who fumbled many chances to bury the ‘television lightweight’. In the end, with Carter trounced and the Democrats in disarray, both men turned away from the presidential limelight. Carter was shunned by his party and turned to a life of humanitarian aid and writing, while Kennedy spent one final decade as a philanderer, while honing his skills as a senator and helped bring the institution together before his death. While it is impossible to know what might have happened in 1980, had things been a little different in the primaries or during the election, there is no doubt that the 1980 left a sour taste in the mouths of many watching the implosion of the Democratic Party by two men who refused to compromise. Camelot is gone, left crumbled by a bumbling third son and other relatives who have passed on. Gritty political battles are also a thing of the past, at least those played out on the convention floor during prime time. But, as we continue to see today, tearing a party apart remains a game that some play for the fun of it, leaving some to wonder if the GOP will resurrect the bloodbath this book depicted in 2020. A powerful narrative that engages the reader with anecdotes and historical accounts, sure to educate and entertain in equal measure. A must-read for political fanatics such as myself, especially those who love American politics.

While I am a fan of political history, particularly as it relates to presidential politics, this book stood out as something even more exceptional. Jon Ward delivers not only a description of the battle for the Democratic nomination in 1980, but serves to present a well-rounded biographical piece of the two main contenders. Mixing in many of the political flavours of the time, Ward supports his claims that this was to be the true litmus test of how the Democrats could meld two of their major factions ahead of another clash with the Republicans. Vowing not to be as criminal as Nixon or as blazé as Ford, the Party wanted to build on its successes, while also trying to ignore some of the domestic disasters that had befallen the Carter Administration since January 1977. In doing so, two men who refused to bow to one another began a battle that would ensure no stone was left unturned and allowed the world to watch as they destroyed one another. Unity was second to victory in August of 1980, with a sitting president being forced to fight for his own party’s stamp of approval, though it was from the last man in a family that had owned the Democrats for decades. Ward uses not only press coverage, but interviews, behind the scenes candid depictions, as well as poll sentiments at the time to develop a narrative that permits the reader to feel right in on the action. Vicious attacks were lodged and stubbornness helped disintegrate any form of coming together before the prime time disaster that encapsulated the Democratic Party coming apart. Who was to blame for all of this? Ward offers some suggestions in his powerful prose, though it is up to the reader to decide in the end. With powerful chapters full of research, Jon Ward offers readers that detailed look into the political goings-on leading up to the 1980 Convention and how it took years for the Democrats to recover and unite to defeat their GOP opponents, at least for the White House. I am so pleased this book found its way onto my radar and hope to find more in line with this style soon.

Kudos, Mr. Ward, for a great story of political undoing in the modern age. I will have to find more of your work, especially if it is as easy to comprehend.

Thin Blue Line (Blake Jordan #7), by Ken Fite

Eight stars

When I discovered the writing of Ken Fite a number of years ago, I could not get enough. Be it a busy schedule or a pile of books that needed to be read on a deadline, my attention turned away from his Blake Jordan thrillers for a time. However, I found a gap in my reaidnfgf commitments that allowed me to return to this explosive collection. Blake Jordan has lost none of his gusto in another fast-paced thriller that puts the reader in the middle fo the action. Fite delivers another winner with this book, set on the streets of New York City!

While in NYC with his fiancée , Blake Jordan receives a call. There’s an unknown hooded man who has blown up a building and making an odd demand, the release of a prisoner from a local facility. Jordan knows the prisoner well, having served with Dallas Webb in the SEALs years before. As Jordan tries to piece it all together, he is baffled as to what’s gong on and how he can help before things go south.

While he is happy to lend a hand, there are others within various agencies that do not feel Blake Jordan will be much help. Still, there’s no time to lose, especially when another bomb goes off. Through some high-tech tracing, the hooded man is revealed to be someone who knows Dallas Webb well, though there is no way he can be who he appears. Jordan continues on his pursuit, hoping to neutralise things before they get too hot.

With the potential of a nuclear event, politicians at all levels rush to assert authority, none higher than POTUS. Still, Jordan will keep him cool and try to protect NYC and all those who call it home. Along the way, Blake Jordan learns that some would jeopardize everything for their own time in the limelight, something that must be stopped before countless others are harmed. Ken Fite offers up a brilliant piece I could not help but devour in a single day!

There are few authors I can sit and read with such ease as Ken Fite. I remember devouring a few of his early novels, polishing each off in a single day. The writing is strong and the plot is something that pulled me in. Fite knows what he’s doing and has crafted Blake Jordan in such a way that things seem to flow with ease. Anyone looking for a thrilling collection need look no further than these novels.

Ken Fite opens with an addictive narrative that never loses its momentum. The story build and the characters all find rather places on the stage, as the action takes over. Poignant themes emerge and are complemented by a stellar plot, all while keeping the backstory developing and characters seeking to make their niche known. Series fans will applaud the seamlessness that occurs between novels. While it has been over two years since I read a Fite book, I felt as though I had just finished the sixth novel and picked this one up . Pure enjoyment for all!

Kudos, Mr. Fite, for a great read. I have two more of your books to tackle, which I know will be just as thrilling.

The Christmas Train, by David Baldacci

Nine stars

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

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

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

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

Waiting for Santa: A Holiday Short Story, by David Baldacci

Eight stars

Another sensational holiday re-read!!

Tucked away in the back of Baldacci’s The Christmas Train, he offers up an extremely short and touching piece around the holidays. After losing his wife in childbirth and his day-old daughter, Sara, on Christmas Day, the narrator recounts how he would take the annual trek down to the mall to watch the children queue up with parents to whisper their desires into the ear of the ever-patient Santa. Eight years into this experience, he meets Sara, who has lost her parents in an accident. While they wait in line, Sara tells of how she misses her parents a great deal, basking in the love they had for her, even if she cannot remember them as people. Sara wants nothing more than to be adopted and have new parents, a wish she has been telling Santa for as long as she can remember. With an aging grandmother, Sara is not sure what her future brings, but hopes she can eventually feel the love of two families, the one she lost and the one out there for her. This touching experience leads our narrator to explain how he found love and had a son of his own. When he arrives at the mall to introduce young Timothy to Santa, he remembers his encounter with Sara and feels the connection his life has, as well as the love of two perfect families. A great story that I never noticed in all the years I read (and listened to) Baldacci’s holiday classic. A wonderful read for the reader who is looking for something as the coffee (or cocoa) cools slightly on December 25th.

Baldacci shows another side of himself in this Christmas story, seeking to pull on the heart strings of the reader who is used to fast-paced crime and thriller pieces. He is able to pull the reader in with so few words, exemplifying how wonderful a writer he has become. This piece was sandwiched between his entire writing career and, while penned over a decade ago, still evokes emotion and curiosity in the open-minded reader.

Kudos, Mr. Baldacci, for yet another piece I will add to my annual collection of Christmas stories to read. I am thankful for the family I have and this story helps solidify these sentiments.

What Lies in the Woods, by Kate Alice Marshall

Eight stars

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

New to the world of Kate Alice Marshall, I reached for this ARC in hopes of finding a new author with whom I can connect. Marshall’s eerie story pulled me in from the opening pages and I did not want to let go until all was revealed. An intense thriller that leave the reader wondering if all is as it seems until much is revealed with reorganised memories. Impactful and well worth my time, Kate Alice Marshall is an author worth noting.

Naomi Shaw had a magical childhood, which culminated in the summer of her eleventh year. It was then that she and her two best friends, Cassidy and Olivia, played in the woods, creating a magical game all their own. It was also that summer when Naomi was attacked and almost killed, leading to the capture of a serial killer who had been racking up victims for a significant time. Naomi, a victim in her own right, testified and put the killer away, making her a hero and one who always fought the limelight, even when she did not want it.

It was two decades later that Naomi received a call that the man who had attacked her was dead. Finally she could breathe a sigh of relief, though changing her name had already helped with that. Naomi returns to her hometown to tie off some of the loose ends, particularly with Cassidy and Olivia. However, the suddenly apparent suicide of Olivia with a note apologising for being a ‘part of the lies’ turns the tables on everything from that summer twenty years ago. Might the girls have used their young age and the wave of publicity around the serial killer to point the finger at the wrong man?

As the truth comes crashing down on Naomi, she must relive the past and piece things together in the correct order, no matter how painful it might be. Chilling as it seems, the truth must come out, but Naomi wants to be in charge of its dissemination, as it will surely tarnish her image. However, a man has died in prison who might have been innocent of all crimes, as three girls lapped up the stardom their victimhood brought along with it. Marshall tells an electrifying story and keeps the reader in the centre of things as they come to fruition.

New authors can be a joy to a reader who has experience in specific genre. Well-paced stories that attract attention with ease make for an exciting adventure and leaves readers thirsting for more. Kate Alice Marshall did that for me, introducing her writing in such a way that it is hard to stop once the momentum takes over.

A strong narrative is at the heart of the reading experience, keeping me hooked from the opening page. The premise, a young girl captured and almost killed, had me wanting to know more, even as the narrative was slow to reveal truths. Building with decent characters, all of whom had a story of their own, as well as flashback moments that fill in the blanks, I kept wanting to learn a little more. A plot that never stayed clearly pointed in one direction had me hoping to get to the truth, while perceived reality dominated. Marshall has me wanting to read more of her work, as soon as I can get my hands on it, as this was one thriller that will stay with me for a while.

Kudos, Madam Marshall, for leaving that indelible mark and making me want to get deeper into your writing. I can only hope there is more to come, as this was a reading experience I will be sharing with others.

The Devil You Know (Detective Margaret Nolan #3), by P.J. Tracy

Seven stars

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

Long a fan of P.J. Tracy and their work (from the era when it was a duo and now a single author), I have followed things from the Monkeewrench series to this new collection. While things have proven to be less impactful for me, the stories remain strong and have the needed spark to attract many readers. Full of action and set on the West Coast, Tracy keeps the reader guessing in this unique police procedural that has subtle undertones of personal struggle. Tracy has done well as a single author, though I do miss the duo that had my rapt attention with every turn of the page.

LAPD Detective Margaret Nolan is back with a new case that takes her into all aspects of the city’s citizenry, including the stars who feel that they are untouchable. While the every day citizen toils and the dark underbelly use crime to get by, there is a privilege the rich feel they have, and Nolan sees this first hand. She’s also forced to contend with her own issues, which might pale in comparison, but are still prevalent as she does her job each day.

Prominent actor Evan Hobbes turns up dead in the rubble of a recent rockslide. Shouldering accusations of child pornography kept Hobbes from being able to live his best life, but Detective Nolan thinks that there might have been more than a rockslide involved in his death. The world of the entitled makes Nolan’s job all the more difficult, parsing through truth and deception. Still, Detective Nolan is determined to get to the bottom of what’s happened and who might have wanted to smear Hobbes’ name.

When another body turns up, with strong connections to Hobbes, Detective Nolan is all but assured that there is a killer on the loose; someone with an axe to grind and message to deliver. Detective Nolan will have to work with her team to get to the bottom of what’s happening, all while she tries to deflect the gleam of riches and entitlement that stardom leaves in its wake. With a killer hiding, Detective Nolan knows that this will be a challenge, but when has she ever shied way from it? A great addition to the series!

Authors surely undergo a transformation for a number of reasons, be they personal changes or writing styles. P.J. Tracy is one of those authors, moving from a strong mother-daughter duo into the daughter alone after the death of the elder. I have seen a significant change in the writing, which is to be expected. I have not been able to connect as much with this new series, but it could simply be that my writing tastes have shifted as well. Still, this is a series that has a great deal of potential and should attract the attention of many readers.

The key to a strong police procedural is to keep the crime at the centre of the narrative and build from there. P.J. Tracy does that well, adding her own flavouring with characters and setting development. Plot twists throughout keep the reader guessing, which permits things to be less than predictive. I appreciated this, as well as shorter chapters, which propelled the story forward. While I did not feel as connected to the story, I can appreciate how some would find this to be their perfect reading experience.

Kudos, Madam Tracy, for a decent novel that is sure to impress many, even if it was not something about which I can rave.

Devil’s Way (Kate Marshall #4), by Robert Bryndza

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Robert Bryndza, and Raven Street Publishing for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Always eager to get my hands on novels by Robert Bryndza, I reached for this ARC in the Kate Marshall series. Pushing the limits of private investigation, Kate and her associate delve into some of the seedier cases across the UK, only to discover how past secrets can emerge and haunt those who hoped they would stay buried. Bryndza spins quite the tale here, pulling the reader into the middle of it all with an impactful novel.

After a freak swimming accident leaves Kate Marshall hospitalised, she has a great deal of time on her hands. Some of that time is spent speaking to her roommate, who recounts the horror of her missing grandson. Charlie Julings disappeared during a family camping trip eleven years earlier. Kate, in a moment of medicated curiosity, agrees to take the case, working with her associate, Tristan. How could a little boy disappear into thin air?

After trolling the area and determining that Charlie did not fall into the raging river close by, at least by police investigative notes, Kate and Tristan must look elsewhere for more information. When Kate learns that a social worker who had been looking into Charlie’s well-being was brutally murdered two weeks after the disappearance, the case takes on a new level of interest.

Could Charlie still be alive? Is someone harbouring a deep secret that cannot get out? With the help of a few others, Kate and Tristan begin piecing things together, in hopes of bringing some peace to a family that has been on the edge for over a decade. Bryndza does a masterful job spinning this tale, keeping the reader wondering until the very end.

I have come to expect great things from Robert Bryndza when reading his novels, as he has impressed me so much in the past. Crime procedurals that pack a punch and leave things slightly off-kilter, these novels never fail to leave a lasting impression. Great narrative approaches help shape the story and propel it along, with a few twits to keep the reader from feeling too comfortable along the way.

Both of Bryndza’s crime thriller series had the advantage of a strong narrative foundation, keeping though moving and forcing the reader to pay close attention. Bryndza weaves his story through the narrative, which encapsulates the intensity of the moment, while adding characters who flavour things for the reader’s enjoyment. Plot twists abound, as does the necessary character development, leaving readers feeling a sense of comfort and discomfort in the same breath. I have long enjoyed the work of Robert Bryndza and this was no exception. I only hope that there is more to come, as Kate Marshall is one character who remains somewhat of a mystery to me.

Kudos, Mr. Bryndza, for another winner!

All the Dangerous Things, by Stacy Willingham

Eight stars

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

Back with a new and intense novel, Stacy Willingham presents readers with something chilling. A story that has multiple layers and an eerie resonance the more that is revealed, Willingham dazzles and keeps the reader gasping. Well-paced and full of twists, this is one story that will have to be absorbed attentively, as pieces subtlety fall into place as the narrative crescendos. A great addition to a genre that has been gathering momentum over the past few years!

It’s been a year since Isabelle Drake had her worst fears realised. Her young son, Mason, was taken from his crib in the middle of the night while the rest of the house slept. Since then, Isabelle has been trying to find him and attending true crime symposiums to pass along the news. Isabelle has turned into a raging insomniac, vowing that she will sleep only when Mason is safely returned to her.

The disappearance causes strains in her marriage, as well as accentuating a number of memories from her past, when Isabelle’s childhood sleepwalking was at its worst. Isabelle struggles with these memories as well as the possibility that she may have unwittingly harmed Mason.

If that were not enough, Isabelle tries to juggle her estranged husband’s actions, as well as a crime blogger who wants to know more about what happened. The pressure is enough to make anyone crack, though Isabelle must be keep a facade of calmness to ensure no one suspects anything. An intense thriller that Stacy Willingham as created, sure to impress many readers, to at least keep them flipping well into the night.

I discovered Stacy Willingham through her debut novel a number of months ago. Her work is both chilling and well-paced, making me want to explore more and dig a little deeper within the narrative. With strong characters who accentuate a decent plot, the story moves along well and keeps the reader guessing. Quick chapters help push things along, though there are enough twists to also whet the appetite of the hungry reader. Not to be missed and proof that Willingham keeps getting better!

A story needs direction in order to succeed for me. I found Willingham to have all the needed elements to develop a strong story from the outset. The narrative direction is strong and keeps the reader wanting to know more, as does the handful of strong characters, all of whom have a purpose throughout the piece. Chapters serve as teasers and make things move well, without getting in the way of the momentum. I like Willingham’s style and found her delivery to be on point throughout. I’m eager to see what else she has in store for fans in the coming months.

Kudos, Madam Willingham, for an entertaining read. Keep the publications coming.

The Nazi Conspiracy: The Secret Plot to Kill Roosevelt, Stalin, and Churchill, by Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch

Eight stars

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

A longtime fan of Brad Meltzer’s writing, I have come to also admire his collaborative work with Josh Mensch. Together, these two pen stellar pieces of ‘little known’ history that allow the reader to feel refreshed when reading about topics that have sometimes been overdone. Meltzer and Mensch explore a unique angle of the Second World War, as well as a plot that would have changed the world significantly. Eager to wrap my head around this piece, I devoured the book and was left to wonder ‘what if…’ on numerous occasions.

After a tumultuous few years in the Second World War, US President Franklin Roosevelt is looking forward to meeting with this two greatest allies, Winston Churchill (Prime Minister of the United Kingdom) and Joseph Stalin (leader of the USSR). While these three men have been juggling the war on two major fronts, they have yet to sit down as a group of three to plot out how to exterminate Hitler and the Nazis. Secret discussions determine that Tehran, Iran would be the ideal place for these three to meet and hash out a plan to neutralise Germany before any other Axis powers can come to their aid.

While planning remained covert, the Nazis had a stellar spy network that leaked the information back to the highest level within the Party. Hitler and his closest associates thought it best to plot something so nefarious that it would not only show his might, but also resonate deeply, while crippling the war effort. Hitler thought it best to use German soldiers to infiltrate the Tehran meeting and assassinate all three men, thereby turning the tables on a growing Allied effort in 1943. Hitler would expect nothing less than success. While the end result was anything but spectacular for the Nazis, Meltzer and Mensch posit that the entire plan could have been a Russian piece of war folklore.

The authors take the reader through the build-up to this remarkable summit, as well as the Nazi planning to kill all three leaders. Paced with wonderful anecdotes, asides, and a great narrative, Meltzer and Mensch offer the reader a new look into a very documented period in world history. While I vowed not to read anything set during the Second World War—mostly because I was tired of hearing about Nazi death camps and Hitler marching across Europe—I was happy to read this piece and learn a great deal as I devoured the text.

Meltzer and Mensch have worked together before and impressed me with their efforts. Taking a little known event and turning it into a great piece of writing proved helpful yet agin. From the inside look at all four sides (US, UK, USSR, and German), as well as some of the cultural aspects to a summit in Iran, the authors provided an impactful piece that is sure to garner a great deal of attention. I am pleased I took the gamble and am happy to see Brad Meltzer keeping his avenues open with a variety of writing projects geared towards different audiences. Well worth the effort, particularly with Scott Brick as narrator for those who listen to the audiobook.

Kudos, Messrs. Meltzer and Mensch, for a stunning look at history through a unique lens. I am eager to see what other projects you two have in the works.

How Mrs. Clause Saved Christmas (Christmas Chronicles #2), by Jeff Guinn and Layla Nicholas

Nine stars

Part of my annual re-reads!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Great Santa Search (Santa Chronicles #3), by Jeff Guinn

Eight stars

While others have filled their reading time this holiday season with some of the classics (I have as well), I stumbled upon this wonderful collection of Christmas pieces by non-fiction author Jeff Guinn and I cannot say enough about them. Working around the premise of telling the true story of Christmas from the perspective of Santa, Guinn has worked with the Big Man himself—and his wife, Layla—to shed light on how things came to be, as well as explaining some of the historical things that take place around this time of year. In this final piece, the story moves back to Nicholas and his perspective, filling in some of the final holes in the historical record, while also telling what some might call a slightly hokey piece of fiction as well. It was in the early 1840s that a storekeeper came up with the idea of bringing Santa to the children, allowing them to interact with him directly and tell some of what they might like. Nicholas was dead set against it, particularly when he saw the low caliber of ‘fake Santa’ the storekeeper intended to use. He vowed never to partake or condone it, though he understood some of the reasoning behind it all. When the emergence of malls appeared, ‘Mall Santas’ were all the rage, as the story shares some of their history. By the early 21st century, the story tells of a man who really wanted to capitalise on the Santa part of Christmas, creating a reality show to come up with the best one, who might act as spokesman for a high-end brand of toys. Nicholas, tired of seeing the subpar people chosen, is convinced to try out and show the world what Santa is really like. Trouble is, during auditions, he flubs it by trying to tell too much to a screening panel that only wants the basics, as known to every boy and girl. Santa will have to go another route, which includes qualifying through a Mall Santa candidacy, and thus begins the rigours of sitting and listening to what children would like. With the reality competition coming, Santa will have to train his mind and body, in hopes of not being eliminated before the final vote. Thankfully, he has a trusted group eager to assist. When the spotlight shines in New York on Christmas Eve, or dear Santa wants to be on stage, if only to show that the real thing wins the crown of BEST SANTA EVER! A slightly more comical take on all things Christmas, but a nice way to round things out in this series. Recommended to those who have enjoyed the other two books in the series, as well as the reading who likes some lighter fare at Christmas.

Jeff Guinn’s writing tells such a captivating tale, adding little-known facts to educate the reader throughout the experience. After devouring the first two books, I had to complete the series to see how everything comes together. Having penned a great deal about both Nicholas and Layla, it was time to fill in any gaps and provide more of a fictional account of how things could happen in this day and age. The references to many of the characters the series reader will already know enriches the experience, while complementing those who are newly added to the narrative. Guinn finds a way to mesh the mountain of information he has in an easy to digest read that will have readers flying through the pages with ease. With a mix of chapter lengths, Guinn and Nicholas take the reader through some of the more ‘reality-based’ aspects of current society, perhaps added their own social commentary. I felt that the piece had a slight ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ vibe to it on occasion, though it could be because I grew up on that film and love the nuances offered therein. While things did get a little hokey, I enjoyed the lighter reading and hope many will not become Scrooges to the entire series—as I noticed some did—if the caliber of this piece is not as high as the previous two, Not to be missed by those who love Christmas, or those who seek a spark during this holiday season.

Kudos, ‘Nicholas Holiday’ and Mr. Guinn for helping to remind me what Christmas is all about!

Missing (Bombay Crime Bureau #3), by Krishnaraj HK

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to Krishnaraj HK for providing me with a copy of this novella, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

I was pleased to be handed yet another ARC for this series, a well-paced novella this time. Always ready to enjoy a great police procedural, I was eager to return to the Bombay Crime Bureau, where SSP Dev Shinde has a daunting case on his blotter. Using an Indian flavouring to advance the story, Krishnaraj succeeds once more with this series, keeping the reader guessing until the very end. Well-paced and with a few twists at the right spots, I found myself devouring the latest in the series.

After a young woman leaves a note to say that she’s gone off with her lover, the family is unsure how to proceed. Noor’s husband cannot face the rejection and won’t go looking for her, while their son is only ten and cannot wrap his head around what’s happened. Local police treat this with disdain and choose to let a number of days go by without putting any effort into the search. What’s even more baffling is that many of the city’s CCTV cameras show no sign of Noor whatsoever. Something seems off, but local police remain disinterested.

SSP Dev Shinde and the Bombay Crime Bureau are soon brought in to lead the case, with too many loose ends left dangling. Shinde has his team begin the investigation from scratch, in case previous members of the squad missed something. Questioning anyone and everyone, SSP Shinde and the Crime Bureau soon make a little headway in the form of another missing person, this time a young girl. Might the two be connected? If anyone can figure that out, it’s SSP Dev Shinde. Still, it will take all his efforts and a keen sense of the criminal mind to bring things to a reasonable close. A great story that takes the reader on quite the journey.

It was a gamble when first I tried one of these ARCs, but found myself completely absorbed and intrigued with how Krishnaraj writes and presents his stories. I readily accepted this latest police procedural novella, still waiting in for the full-length novel the author promised is on its way. I hoped that it would prove to be as strong as the previous publications, soon proven correct. The story is clear and creates twists throughout to keep the reader on their toes. Introducing the reader to some great characters and policing techniques, Krishnaraj has done it again with this story.

Police procedurals often require strong narrative direction, particularly for those unfamiliar with the local customs or laws. The reader can easily follow Krishnaraj’s writing, which keeps things moving briskly. Characters offer some depth throughout, which provides strong development. Plot twists keep the reader wondering, as well as providing an unpredictable realisation when things come together. I gladly read these shorter piece, but am also waiting for the full novel that appears to be ‘just around the corner’.

Kudos, Mr. Krishnaraj, for reaching out and providing a wonderful way to pass a few hours. Keep the stories coming, whenever you can.

The Autobiography of Santa Claus, as told by Jeff Guinn

Nine stars

Another sensational holiday re-read!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens

Eight stars

What a way to continue my annual Christmas reading…

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

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

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

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

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

Against the Wind: Edward Kennedy and the Rise of Conservatism, 1976-2009, by Neal Gabler

Nine stars

After being enthralled with the first volume of Neal Gabler’s biography of Ted Kennedy, I knew that I would have to come back for the second portion in short order. Gabler dazzles like few biographers I have ever read, providing context and insight into the life Kennedy lived while espousing the liberal dream in the first volume. With the winds beginning to blow towards conservatism, this second volume tackles that, as well as Kennedy’s greatest obstacle, the presidency. Trying to move out from his brothers’ shadows, Ted Kennedy had to decide whether he would run and how using his own merits might help him. Gabler does a phenomenal job at portraying Kennedy as a hard worker and passionate about the every day citizen, even in the face of significant conversation that sought to drown out his liberal flame. Poignant with some even more passionate entries than the first volume, Gabler does it again.

In the latter portion of volume one, Gabler presented the reader with the crossroads that Ted Kennedy faced in the mid-70s, with the political winds changing dramatically, The country had seen the rise of Nixon and the beginnings of a conservative change in their sentiments, followed by Watergate and the end of Vietnam, under President Ford. With the 1976 campaign for the White House heating up, Kennedy had a chance to toss his hat into the ring, but he chose to wait for another time, feeling that this was not his place. As he watched from the sidelines, an unlikely Democrat claimed the nomination and headed into the general election. Jimmy Carter appeared to be the antithesis of Kennedy’s liberal values and potential a Democrat in name only, something which worried Kennedy a great deal, and yet he remained outwardly quiet.

After Carter’s victory in ‘76, Kennedy had to work with the Administration, which proved painful. Carter did not share Kennedy’s values, trying to shut down the senator’s legislation, discussions, and any momentum that Kennedy might have. As Gabler puts it, Carter was always waiting for Kennedy to announce his campaign for 1980, which did not come until late in the lead-up to the primaries in January 1980. Kennedy waffled and weighed all his options, as America drifted further away from his liberal left towards the right and kept those the senator held dearest on the outside of the tent. When Kennedy did announce an intent to run against the incumbent Carter, it was a series of gaffes and a lack of connection to the people he long called his own that left the campaign drooping from the outset. As Gabler magically recounts in long chapters, the battle was on, though it took a long time to get going and Kennedy was always playing catch-up. Kennedy did appear to catch Carter, though it may have been a little too late. With Carter poised to capture the nomination and the Republicans locking up their candidate, Ronald Reagan, the fight was on for one final liberal push. Kennedy entered the 1980 Democratic National Convention hoping to challenge Carter on the floor and bring the party back to its liberal roots. It failed and Kennedy, seeing the writing on the wall, had to admit defeat, while promising never to let the winds of change extinguish his liberal flame.

Shaking off the pain of a defeat for the nomination, Kennedy watched Carter get pummelled in the election, with Reagan storming onto the scene. This was a battle that many media outlets thought Kennedy might have won had he been the Democratic nominee. Still, it was time for Kennedy to lick his wounds and hope that he could use his role in the Senate to rein in the Reagan Administration. As much as this might have been his plan, Kennedy appears to have dialled things back, according to Gabler. Feeling the conservative wind and how Reagan vilified the liberal perspective, Kennedy turned his attention to his own personal causes. It was only when a controversial Supreme Court nominee came before the Senate that Kennedy’s old ire returned and left Robert Bork embarrassed for all to see. Gabler shows how this was Kennedy’s time to shine and he did so, stymying the nominee and infuriating Reagan at the same time.

This ‘lay low’ technique continued after Kennedy chose not to run for president in 1988, clearing the way for VP George H.W. Bush to assume the role. Kennedy tried to push his liberal agenda and protect minorities from his perch, earning a few small victories with legislation to help those with disabilities and another push for additional civil rights. While Kennedy did make a small push on blocking Bush’s Supreme Court nominee, Clarence Thomas, the spark came too late and was mired by Kennedy’s own personal issues with drink and tabloid scandal. This left Thomas to turn the tables on the Senate Judiciary committee and create a race issue out of something that had been sexual harassment claims by one of the nominee’s former colleagues. The family aura was quickly tarnishing and Ted Kennedy could not stand aside, as he was being painted with the same brush as some of his adult nephews, who found themselves in trouble with the law or in treatment centres. Even Kennedy’s own constituents wondered if it was time to step away from politics, as he was not proving to be an advocate for their needs, but rather dodging his own scandals.

This was a true wake-up call for Kennedy, who sought to realign himself to ensure that he had a purpose. His passion lay with legislating and representing the people of Massachusetts, which was strengthened when he ran in 1994 against his toughest Republican opponent yet, Mitt Romney, whose family had deep ties to national politics as well. Kennedy used this re-election campaign to find himself and reconnect with voters, showing that he still had the passion needed to serve and could put scandalous behaviour in the rear view mirror. Kennedy also used this time to work with President Bill Clinton on trying to forge new ground open some of his pet projects. While Clinton was passionate about healthcare he demurred when faced with the cost and the Herculean effort needed to pass it through a Congress led by ideological Republicans. Kennedy would return to Congress rejuvenated and help Clinton as best he could, with both legislative and social issues. Still, Kennedy had to wonder, as Gabler posits, whether this might be the path to his final swan song as an American politician and leader.

In a whirlwind of American political change, Kennedy saw the Democratic Party ebb and flow once more, particularly as the judicial branch weighed in on the 2000 presidential election. George W. Bush became the eventual leader but showed a willingness to look across the aisle and use Kennedy’s passions to help America, particularly with education reform. Gabler explores this odd relationship and how Ted Kennedy put partisan views aside to help children and enshrine their eduction into the American psyche. This collegiality was short-lived, though, particularly after President Bush began his War on Terror campaign, sending troops into Iraq and Afghanistan. Kennedy was adamantly opposed to the troop deployment, one of the only senators to voice those concerns, but received no support from his colleagues and proved to be a thorn in the side of the White House. Attempts to push through some important legislation proved insurmountable when many saw Ted as being unpatriotic for opposite gender US intervention. Could this have been the writing on the wall Ted Kennedy needed to see that his political career was done and that he ought to hang up his advocacy boots once and for all?

By the end of the Bush Administration, much had changed. A new tiredness with conservative ideals, packaged a number of ways by countless Republicans, left the electorate hungry for change. Kennedy could see that a new era of liberalism, or at least sustainable Democratic hope, had come to the party, particularly when a young Senator Obama began making waves. It was at this time that Ted Kennedy’s fallibility also showed its true colours, when he was diagnosed with an inoperable Brian tumour. Kennedy loud see the end was near and yet he wanted to ensure his country, his ideals, and his values were left to those who. old protect them. As Gabler presents a strong narrative in the final chapter, the country came to Ted Kennedy to offer their thanks, even politicians who used his name to rally support for the opposition . The Lion of the Senate and master of all things congressional would not be forgotten. The final Kennedy brother would soon be gone, but his mark would never fade. An outstanding two volume biography that is sure to touch any reader with the patience and open-mindedness to read it.

I have read many political biographies in my time, but Neal Gabler’s work stands apart from many. Gabler lays extensive groundwork about all aspects of Ted Kennedy’s life, which was full of struggles at each turn. Kennedy’s greatness is balanced with stumbles along the way, illustrated in a clear narrative style. There is so much material in this tome (let alone the opening volume) that many readers might find themselves overwhelmed, but Gabler synthesises and discusses things with ease. The themes emerge and come full circle throughout the narrative, allowing the attentive reader to bask in all the glory that Gabler has to offer. With long and detailed chapters, Gabler develops the message of Kennedy’s impact on American politics, while also dividing each segment into small sub-chapters, perhaps to aid with digestion. I could not have asked for more, though there is no doubt a great deal that was skimmed over, in order to get to the best parts of the Kennedy story. Those who have time and interest will surely not be disappointed whatsoever.

Kudos, Mr. Gabler, for this stunning portrayal of Edward Kennedy and America that. Saw a great deal of change over the years. I can only hope that some of your other work is just as intriguing.

A Tudor Christmas, by Alison Weir and Siobhan Clarke

Eight stars

A great holiday re-read!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Conspiracy of Ravens (Avery Byrne #1), by Dharma Kelleher

Eight stars

Having discovered the work of Dharma Kelleher a few years ago, I have not been able to keep from devouring anything she publishes. In this, a series debut, Kelleher introduces a new protagonist who is still faced with criminal goings-on while trying to stay one step ahead of those who mean her harm. Kelleher addresses many social issues from the acceptance of being transgender to non-traditional stereotypes in 21st century society, perfect for the open-minded reader. Another successful publication by an author whose modesty matches her ability.

Avery Byrne has made a name for herself in Phoenix as one of the city’s great goth tattoo artists. When her girlfriend, Sam, is brutally murdered by a local mobster for stealing a large sum of money, Avery must go on the run. Struggling to stay one step ahead of those who are hurting her, Avery also addresses the reaction that many have to her being transgender.

While trying to keep her family safe and steer Sam’s killers towards the authorities, Avery finds herself trying to see who she can trust. This mobster has fingers in many pies with a long payroll. Turning to an acquaintance, Avery is able to cobble a path back to the city, though even that is fraught with issues.

Trying to avenge Sam’s death, Avery puts her neck out to lure the killers into the open, only the wonder if she made the right decision. Avery will have to work alongside Jinx Ballou, a former Phoenix cop turned bounty hunter, to make it right, with members of a Mexican cartel joining in on the action. Dharma Kelleher does well with this new series, holding true to her foundations while keeping things unique enough for readers to enjoy the journey.

I have enjoyed the work of Dharma Kelleher for the last number of years, enjoying the large learning curves she presents and moments to education myself about lifestyles with which I know little. Kelleher can write and spin a story without getting caught up in soapbox preaching or flogging an issue to death. With great characters and strong narrative direction, these novels read with ease and keep the reader engaged until the final chapters.

Kelleher has always presented strong direction with her work, aided by clear narrative focus and quick delivery. Short chapters push the story along, teasing the reader to enjoy even a little more as things progress. A handful of strong and unique characters differentiate Kelleher’s other series from this one, but there are moments of connection that keep the reader referring back to other books published by the author. Plot twits throughout and a non-linear direction to get to the solution provide entertainment and action for the reader who seeks something unpredictable. I am eager to see that there is more to come with this series, as it caught my attention and has me wanting to discover Avery Byrne‘s interesting backstory.

Kudos, Madam Kelleher, for a great launching point for a new series. There is lots to learn and you have my attention when you choose to educate.

Look Both Ways, by Linwood Barclay

Eight stars

Always eager to read Linwood Barlcay’s novels, I made some time in my schedule for this one. Combining his well-established talent with a life-long obsession of cars, Barclay entertains the reader while forcing them to think on just how technology could turn against us. With his stellar writing style leading the way, Barclay shows us a different side to his craft, which is equally as enthralling as his usual publications.

It’s a big day for Garrett Island, a small community that is about to help launch a new innovation in transportation. With all gas-consuming automobiles banned from the island, locals have been using Arrivals, the latest in self-driving technology. Operated by voice commands, Arrivals transport people all over the island, obeying all laws and virtually taking any worry out of being on the road. Just sit back and enjoy the scenery.

While many have been panning the experiment of self- driving vehicles, Sandra Montrose is counting on it to boost her image as a press relations exec with Arrival. She needs something good in her life, after the loss of her husband and straying of her teenage children. Sandra cannot see anything that could go wrong, as the cars appear perfectly in tune with what they need to do, which is garnering a great deal of positive feedback all over the United States.

However, disaster strikes and things go horribly wrong. With no other form of transportation on the island, the glitch has left people running for cover as the Arrivals appear to take on a life of their own. Panic ensues and people are soon targets for these dream cars. It’s only a matter of time before things turn deadly and there are many around the island who are fighting their own battles with these machines.

Part Christine and part Terminator, the story takes on a life of its own from a variety of perspectives. As each sub-plot inches closer to the centre, things come together and the truth behind the Garrett Island disaster becomes clear. However, could anyone have predicted what the end result would be or who might end up on the losing end? Linwood Barclay at his best in this one, which stirs up as many questions as it does answers.

There’s something about the work of Linwood Barclay that always has me coming back for more. His acerbic wit combined with a great ability to tell a story keeps the reader inthe middle of the action. Always eager to see how his plots will develop, I devour his books and find myself captivated with whatever is going on around me. I can only hope others see the same thing and end up just as taken aback.

Linwood Barclay provides a strong opening to lure the reader in, while keeping them guessing what is to coming. The narrative gains momentum and provides the perfect guide to what is sure to be a soapbox moment on technology and the sacredness of automobiles. However, with a cast of characters ready to explore all angles of vehicular technology, the story keeps developing while plots emerge. It is only when the reader is neck-deep into the tale that they find themselves unable to put the book down, waiting as new issues arise and any sort of resolution seems futile. As the multiple narrative perspectives collide, Barclay brings things home effectively and with purpose, leaving the reader fully embedded in the story at this point. A chilling tale that has hints of past car-based horror stories worth a few twists to keep things uniquely Linwood Barclay.

Kudos, Mr. Barclay, for keeping me hooked until the very end. I cannot wait to see what else you have in store for fans soon.

The White House Plumbers: The Seven Weeks That Led to Watergate and Doomed Nixon’s Presidency, by Egil ‘Bud’ Krogh and Matthew Krogh

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Egil ‘Bud’ Krogh, Matthew Krogh, MacMillan Audio, and St. Martin’s Press for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

As an avid history buff, I was eager to get my hands on this book about the White House Plumbers. While I have read a great deal about Watergate, never have I taken the time to explore anything written by those men who were involved in the break-ins that would one day bring down a sitting US president. Egil ‘Bud’ Krogh and his son, Matthew, tell a great story in a handful of chapters, explaining how Nixon became paranoid about national security, which snowballed into worry about the Democratic Party leading up to the 1972 general election.

It was the summer of 1971 when Egil ‘Bud’ Krogh found himself sitting in a top-secret meeting within the White House. While Krogh expected to be talking about some part of the Vietnam War, things soon took a turn. President Nixon was highly worried about the leaking of the Pentagon Papers, a covert history of the war in Vietnam. Krogh was handed a file and tasked with heading up the Special Investigations Union—SIU—nicknamed ‘The Plumbers’. Their job would be to find the leak and plug it once and for all. This began a series of events that Bug Krogh would never forget.

Fuelled by a dedication to his country and president, Krogh blindly followed the direction of those above him as he sought to find proof of the security leak. The primary goal was to sully the name of Daniel Ellsberg, presumed to be the core of the leak and a potential Soviet spy. Working to do whatever was asked of him, even when it was highly illegal, Krogh began by organising a break in at the office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist, in hopes of finding damning evidence. These steps would one day bring down Nixon’s presidency and leave an indelible mark on the country for decades.

After committing this crime, Krogh left the SIU and chose to work within the Administration, lying when called upon to testify during the Watergate hearings. When the truth about his involvement surfaced, Krogh pled guilty to his actions shedding some unique light on what happened during those late night meetings and just who gave the orders, as well as who knew what was happening at any one time. His frankness and eagerness to tell all is both intriguing and resonates just how corrupt the Nixon inner circle turned out to be.

Exploring his attempts to put his life back together after time in prison, Bud Krogh explains his meetings with Nixon in 1974-75, as well as trying to regain his ability to practice law. While it was a superficial exploration, the reader can take something away they likely did not know.

Having now died, Bud Krogh’s story went with him to the grave, but this written account helps shed some light on the actors long deemed guilty, even if they deflected any responsibility at the time. While short and somewhat crafted as a primer, it was a refreshing look at Watergate, the role of paranoia in the early 1970s, and how Richard Nixon’s intoxication with power proved to be his downfall.

While this was not a stunning publication, full of revelations and finger-pointing towards new and mysterious actions in the Waterhouse debacle, it was still worth my time. Bud Krogh provides some blunt admissions and interesting insider views from 1971 and 1972, particularly related to illegal break-ins that Nixon could use for his own power games. Using short chapters and a clear narrative, Krogh presents eye-opening tales of events, naming names and eagerly explaining just what happened. His views, while surely tainted from years passing between the events and this publication, prove forthright and well worth the reader’s time. Surely a way to ‘ease one’s conscience’ before death, Bud Krogh was able to leave this world with a clean slate and likely allowed Matthew to see what happened when the younger Krogh was just a child. Short and to the point, the read was swift and a decent piece of writing, but lacked the depth and intensity I had hoped I would find with a piece of this nature.

Kudos, Messrs. Krogh, for this piece. While little was shocking, the entertainment value that emerged while reading and piecing things together proved well worth my time.

Catching the Wind: Edward Kennedy and the Liberal Hour, 1932-1975, by Neal Gabler

Nine stars

A long-time fan of anything biographical about the Kennedy family, I eagerly turned to this, the first of two volumes about the life and times of Edward Kennedy. Neal Gabler explores the youngest Kennedy child, the one Joseph and Rose Kennedy deemed their ‘great accident’. Gabler uses this first volume not only to lay the groundwork for how Ted rose from familial oblivion to become a powerful force in American politics, but also counters it with some of the significant foibles he had during an era of liberalism. Full of stunning anecdotes and detailed accounts of political and social events, Gabler treats the reader to a stunning piece against the backdrop of how Camelot was still within the reach of the third Kennedy brother, though many things stood in his way.

As with any Kennedy biography, Gabler spends the opening portion laying the groundwork and exploring the lives of earlier Kennedys, particularly Joseph P. Kennedy and how he tried to develop the golden pathway for one of his offspring to sit in the White House. While Gabler spends a great deal of time exploring these topics, it serves well to glance over it for those who are well-versed in the family and their rise to power. Ted Kennedy, the ninth child and labelled as the ‘ultimate oops’ had a great deal to do in his life to prove himself and make a name worth of Kennedy glory,. While he was trying to fill the shoes of his brothers, John and Robert, as well as try not to be forgotten, Ted Kennedy forged his own path, complete with family rule bending and attempts to get away with what others could never fathom. This would set a small sense of entitlement for Ted Kennedy, though he would, at times, push the crutch away and make sure truth rang true.

When John ascended to the presidency, the Senate seat in Massachusetts needed a new face and Ted Kennedy provided the perfect man to fill it. While some felt him a place keeper, Ted Kennedy had high ambitions to use a Senate seat to help further those curses he found to be dear to him. A gritty fight in 1962 saw Kennedy cut his teeth on the hard work required to win political office, all while he sought not to let his name usher him into the seat without effort. It was this victory, coupled with the tragic death of JFK that left Ted Kennedy keen to make a difference and help keep the Kennedy name in good standing.

Gabler explores the early years of Kennedy’s time in the Senate as ones not only to forge a difference, but to find battles worth his time. With Vietnam growing exponentially and getting out of control, Kennedy tried to wrestle control and hear those whose growing voices of discontent could no longer be ignored. Walking a tightrope between the people’s wishes and President Lyndon Johnson’s leadership, Ted Kennedy tried not to come out to harm the Administration, but not appease them by pretending things were fine. Gabler uses these years as a wonderful contrast between Ted and Robert, two brothers fighting for the same thing, but taking such different approaches to criticism of Johnson.

While Ted Kennedy became a strong politician, he always deferred to Robert’s ambitions for the presidency in 1968, choosing to support his brother, especially with President Johnson chose not to run for re-election. Gabler explores the run-up to ‘68 and the year that was possibly one of the most political in modern US history, with the death of Martin Luther King, Vietnam’s bloody escalation, and the eventual assassination of Robert Kennedy. Crippled by the loss of another brother, Ted Kennedy entered another stage of mourning, while the country sought him to pick up the pieces and run as a Kennedy on the presidential ticket. While Ted would not do so, he harboured future ambitions and kept the Democratic Party wondering until the summer as to whether he would fill the void Robert’s death left on an almost sure victory at the polls. However, without a Kennedy on the ticket, the Democrats were trounced by Richard Nixon and a new era of American politics began. However, Ted Kennedy was no muted politician, eyeing 1972 as his time!

Events in the summer of 1969 changed all that. After Ted wrested control of his first leadership role in the Senate—that of Majority Whip—things took a turn. A party one night that led to a drunken car crash and young Mary Jo Kopechne trapped in a vehicle while Ted left the scene and informed the authority hours later, changed the narrative. As Gabler explores in a key chapter, all Kennedy aspirations ended as news reports came out about Kopechne and Kennedy’s murky reporting of her being trapped therein. Media took their pound of flesh and left Ted wondering if his senatorial career might be over. While it was a blemish, Kennedy appeared to weather the storm, albeit with a great deal of self-loathing and some punches in the headlines. Still, it left him bruised and kept White House officials certain that they had neutralized any Kennedy run in ‘72.

While Kennedy continued to push for liberal ideals and led the Nixon Administration to the edge, forcing admissions to protect those in need, there was a sense that Ted might be the poster boy for the little guy and that liberalism was not dead. As Gabler cites throughout, Nixon tried to push conservatism on America, in hopes that they would see the need after too many years of Democrats in the White House or appeasing policies pushed by Eisenhower. Nixon began to show his true colours as the 1970s began, helping Ted Kennedy to reclaim his title as ‘Shadow President’ coming into the 1972 Campaign. While Kennedy did not want the mantle of Democratic nominee, the Party and many around him sought to push him into the ring. Might this be Ted’s turn to shine?

While Kennedy did not take the electoral bait, he did raise the concern of Nixon. Gabler explores how the Watergate antics may not only have been about general Democrat spying, but more specifically related to th Kennedy wave of support, which needed to be neutralised. Kennedy remained in touch with the goings-on and would not stand down as Congress began hearings in order to get to the bottom of it all. It was also this time that Kennedy also found a new passion to champion; health care. Specifically, the role of public health are in America proved to be something that Ted Kennedy could not ignore. He pushed for more legislation on the topic, as The Nixon Administration tried to tap the brakes and keep the country from moving too far to the left. While the topic did show Kennedy’s colours, Ted wanted to keep those who felt through the cracks from being lost and left to live in squalor.

As politics never stands still, Kennedy found himself in a whirlwind. Nixon fled Washington in disgrace, a new president—Ford—sought to turn America back into a moderate nation, and 1976 was just around the corner. Ted may finally have his crack at the White House, where liberalism could flourish and the country could put the nightmare that was ther Nixon presidency aside. However, it would not be a foregone conclusion, nor would the Democrats embrace him as their knee jerk saviour. It would take time and effort to red the political tealeaves and see if the country might yet be ready for another Kennedy on the campaign trail. Ted Kennedy had done so much in the Senate that this could be a gamble without a guaranteed victory. Neal Gabler teases the reader as the tome ends with the happenings of 1975 and how Kennedy stood at a crossroads, though he had vocalised 1976 as ‘not being the right time’. It was time to check the winds of power, which had been blowing towards liberal victory, but there was a gale on the horizon which could bring a gust of conservative sentiment and force Kennedy to stand firm to keep America on course.

While I have read many political biographies in my time, Neal Gabler’s opening salvo about Ted Kennedy has got to be one of my favourites. It lays extensive groundwork, while also telling stories in such an easy fashion. Kennedy’s ascension to power and repeated stumbles are illustrated in a clear narrative style, while addressing things in a chronological fashion. There is so much material here that many readers might find themselves in a panic, but Gabler synthesises things with ease, offering clear direction throughout. The themes develop effectively and the attentive reader can see where things are headed, without being too overwhelmed. Kennedy’s passions can easily be understood, as can the impediments he had during an early consideration of higher office. With a second volume to come, I can only hope that it proves as captivating and full of anecdotes. There is a great deal yet to come and I am eager to see how Gabler handles it. Let’s get it loaded and see how the story progresses, with Kennedy’s most important decisions to come in an era of staunch conservatism.

Kudos, Mr. Gabler, for this first volume of the life and times of Edward Kennedy. You have me itching to get to the second volume in short order!

Take Your Breath Away, by Linwood Barclay

Eight stars

Always a pleasure to read the work of Linwood Barclay, I reached for this book. Barclay spins quite the story, exploring a case in which a woman long-thought dead appears and how her six years away can be explained. Struggling with piecing it all together, the protagonist does all he can to keep his name clean while getting to the bottom of what actually happened Barclay uses his great writing style to pen a winner that will pull the reader into the middle of the mystery before offering a larger perspective and answers to all the questions. An entertaining read that will surely leave the reader wondering where the time went as they fly through the story in short order.

When Brie Mason disappeared while her husband, Andrew, was away, everyone was sure he’d killed her and hidden the body. Andrew vowed that he had nothing to do with it and did all he could to clear his name. Unable to quiet all the critics, Andrew changed his name and tried to begin anew.

When, six years later, Brie appears outside her old home, the neighbours begin talking and reach out to Andrew. Could Brie be back, after leaving no trace for the last number of years? Andrew rushes to follow-up on this, but must also explain the situation to his current partner, who knew nothing about Brie’s disappearance or the allegations made against Andrew.

As Andrew’s life shatters once more, he is left to wonder if his wife is back and what’s happened to her for all these years. The detective working the case has new questions, as does Brie’s family. When, in the heat of the moment, another body is found murdered, many wonder if this is all part of a larger plan to implicate Andrew and resurrect the allegations that he had his wife killed while he was away. It’s a fast-paced story with so many threads that must be tied off, the reader will surely get a little whiplash as Barclay weaves his tale for all to enjoy. A chilling piece that had me flipping pages just to get answers, before it all fell into place!

I have long enjoyed the work of Linwood Barclay, usually because things take on such a high intensity, there is little time to relax. The stories are always well-plotted and the narrative speeds along, forcing the reader to hold on or get lost in the dust cloud that is created. Stellar storytelling and eerily strong plot releases prove that Barclay is at the top of his game and genre.

Linwood Barclay opens his novel with what could only be called an innocent vignette, which turns out to be the hint at something more sinister to come. The narrative builds from there and soon there is little hope of stopping things to catch one’s breath. A handful of strong characters, none of whom are all that out of the normal realm, emerge and the plot thickens, as layers of narrative development overtake what appeared to be a simple case of a missing woman. As past and present collide, Barclay balances both effectively and the reader is able to piece things together with some ease, while still scratching their head to determine how it all happened and what will bring things together in the present. Never disappointed with a Barclay read, I add this to another winner for me, which has me itching for more, when I can find something of his I have not read.

Kudos, Mr. Barclay, for another winner. I cannot wait to locate another of your novels to continue this electric feeling.

Hidden in the Shadows, by Angie Vancise

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to Reedsy Discovery and A. D. (Angie) Vancise for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

After having A.D. Vancise reach out and request I read this ARC, I was both honoured and curious about what was to come. An eerie story that spans two time periods, Vancise takes the reader on a journey and jolts them with what they will discover. Part mystery, part horror thriller, the story develops quickly and leaves the reader wondering if they have any control over what they are reading. My first piece by A.D. Vancise and what a ride it was.

Evie Day is back in her hometown, five years after she vowed she would never look back. In Woodsville, Arkansas to attend her grandfather’s funeral, Evie discovers an old photo in his belongings. This leads to other oddities, including a vial of blood, presumably from a case he was working as a local cop many years ago. Now, Evie is pulled into the middle of the mystery that her grandfather left for her, albeit inadvertently.

While she delves a little deeper, Evie uncovers a secret life her grandfather may have been living, or at least a case that remained unsolved. What begins somewhat innocently soon unravels and keeps Evie from being able to stop herself. Mysteries abound and people she’s never heard of become the centre of her world.

Meanwhile, in a flashback narrative, the story of what happened back in 1933 comes to life, with horrible situations and a witness there to recount the tale. Torture, murder, and a taste for blood all come to the surface while a killer (or group) runs rampant around town. How will it all connect with Evie‘s discoveries and what does it all mean? A.D. Vancise has the answers, but demands patience and full attentiveness of her audience to discover the truth.

I try to keep an open mind when I discover a new author, in hopes that they will click for me. A.D. Vancise did so in some regards with this uniquely framed story that had me scratching my head throughout the reading experience. Some crime fighting and even more baffling revelations left me wanting to know more, while being jarred by what I was learning. I can only wonder if some of Vancise’s other books pack the same punch, as she is sure to have quite the following if this is the case.

It takes a strong narrative to keep the reader connecting with a piece through to the very end. A.D. Vancise does that in her own way, luring the reader with some jolting information and hopes that it will be enough. The pacing of the book proved useful to help digest some of the larger and more problematic parts of the storytelling, content, not delivery. Vancise uses a handful of interesting characters to portray the jarring effective of her story and left me asking myself what I was reading on more than one occasion. Plot twists and reveals helped keep me on my toes throughout and left me to wonder if there will be more in this vein, if not in the form of a series. Vancise is a new author for me, but I have not yet decided if I will be back for more, or if this is one novel I need to allow some digestion before committing to something else. Well worth a gander, if only to see what the hype is all about.

Kudos, Madam Vancise, for a unique journey well into the depths of the genre. I liked it, i think!

The Jeffersonians: The Visionary Presidencies of Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe, by Kevin R.C. Gutzman

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Kevin R.C. Gutzman, and St. Martin’s Press for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

In the early years of the American Republic, the Founding Fathers sought to craft the foundation of the country, then lead it in their own image. Once Washington had laid some of the essential groundwork, it fell to a few men to build on it and create a strong nation. Kevin Gutzman explores three of these men throughout their presidential tenure: Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe. Gutzman argues that they were intertwined under the ‘Jeffersonian’ umbrella, while still being independent from one another. Gutzman presents, in detail, their respective presidencies, which occurred consecutively, thereby creating an era of government, legal precedents, and development of a country from its thirteen colonies into a geographic juggernaut. Full of anecdotes and well-placed arguments, Gutzman does a stellar job of connecting these three men together for the reader.

While all were strong political allies, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe had different outlooks for the country they helped develop. As Gutzman opens the tome exploring the presidency of Jefferson, there is a strong view towards setting the scene and building on core values the country had developed under Washington, while also exploring some of the newer ideas that came to the surface. Many of the constitutional questions that shaped a more modern America came from the Jefferson period, as interpretation of laws and the foundational rules of the country were being hashed out and challenged. Jefferson was also keen to create a mark on the international scene, using his ambassadors to form pathways for the still youthful country seeking to stand on its own. Gutzman effectively shows how Jefferson mandated this and made the country one that Washington would have been happy to see still progressing.

James Madison took up the torch when Jefferson, eager to create the two-term precedent that Washington began, stood down for new blood to take over governing. Madison’s impact was to keep trying to fill Jefferson’s shoes and keep the country on track, while also being faced with the first major international crisis to befall the country, a war with the British. Madison had to develop keen leadership skills and rely on many of his military men to keep America ready for any attack, and to fend off a reverting back to British control. Gutzman shows that the battles of the War of 1812 were hard fought and Madison was not one to get into the fray, but he valued the importance of America remaining independent and ready for whatever was tossed its way. Building on the Jefferson presidency, Madison sought to push America out of its infancy and into rugged adulthood, where it could grow and prove its prowess.

James Monroe was a leader who looked back as much as he did ahead, trying to keep the momentum going without losing much of what’s his predecessors forged for him. A man of great intellect, but not as gritty as the others, Monroe held his head high and focussed his attention to ensure that the work Jefferson and Madison did was not lost. Gutzman shows him to be the less impactful of the three men, but still trying to keep things running effectively and helping to shape Jeffersonian policies to keep Congress working effectively and with a detailed purpose. Gutzman shows how Monroe used the life lessons from his predecessors to shape America into the power that it would be moving towards its most tumultuous years. Monroe did all he could to keep things steady, without toppling too many apple carts along the way.

While the book was well written and full of formidable themes, there was a huge amount to digest. The history and the day-to-day exploration of things in a detailed narrative could, for some, get to be too much. Kevin Gutzman does well to leave the reader feeling as though they are a part of the action, but there is just so much going on that it can be overwhelming. While this is not an academic tome, its detail and analysis could keep only the most dedicated readers holding on. I was so pleased to be able to pluck something from each chapter, which helped me see how things are interconnected. The theme of three independent men directing the country through their respective presidencies is a stellar undertaking and Gutzman easily argues that this occurred. However, the names and places, as well as historic events, proved a great deal, as I sought to synthesis all that I read. Thankfully, he uses relatively short chapters, permitting the reader to launch themselves through the tome with relative ease, should their interest persist. I would gladly explore some of Gutzman’s other works to see if I can take more away from them, but I cannot say enough about this tome and the effort invested in it to give the reader something about which they can feel highly educated by the end of the reading experience.

Kudos, Mr. Gutzman, for piece of historical writing that left me hungry for more, even though I needed to pace myself to absorb it all.

A Tale of Sorcery (A Tale of Magic #3), by Chris Colfer

Eight stars

Back for another Chris Colfer novel, I relaxed my views and plunged into another young adult story. Colfer uses his phenomenal imagination and some interesting plot lines to provide the reader with vivid imagery in a world far from our own. The third in the series, Colfer has been able to build on the themes from the past novels and sets the groundwork for what could be another book in the series.

Time is not on Brystal Evergreen’s side as she has yet to fulfil the promise made to Death. Seeking the Immortal to save her own life, Brystal works with her fellow fairies to locate the evil being, with little luck. There is also another evil menace lurking around them, one that presents itself in the form of fire and destruction.

When Xanthous Hayfield discovers the root of this evil, many presume that he is part of the group, as his specialty is fire, which begins raging around the Four Kingdoms. With Xanthous on the run to keep himself from being captured, Brystal works with a select group of others in the kingdoms and territories to locate her friend. They re sent on a mission that could be full of danger, but an especially secretive group of sorcerers promises their help, keen to learn more about Xanthous and his abilities. Brystal wonders if it’s too good to be true, but has such a trusting heart.

Brystal begins this epic journey, learning a great deal about herself and those around her. She worries for Xanthous, who has not had an easy life himself. It will surely be a challenge to set the record straight, while still looking for the Immortal to save herself. Brystal makes a number of new friends, while also finding new enemies along the way, in this great addition to the ‘A Tale of…’ series. Colfer at his best in another novel that let me rest my brain.

While I originally started reading these books with my son, I found them captivating enough to want to continue on my own. Neo is always eager to have me read them, so that we might discuss them together. Colfer’s imaginative style of writing pulls the reader into the middle, while also providing a key exploration of social themes prevalent to the young person of today. I am eager to see where the series is headed, while also learning more about Brystal Evergreen and her close friends.

While young adult and fantasy are two genres I do not read a great deal, I always find myself enjoying the work of Chris Colfer. A little silly, a tad out of this world, but always grounded in social and societal analyses that is aimed at the young person, Colfer creates something well worth the reader’s time. The narrative flows well and keeps me on my toes as I am immersed with a number of well-described character, each with their own personality that comes to the surface. Colfer does well to keep things light, with a peppering of evil goings-on, as is typical in something fantasy-based. Strong themes and plots emerge throughout, providing the reader with some time to wonder, rather than predict everything. I was quite impressed with the topics Colfer tackles herein and am pleased that Neo had the chance to read about them as well. Now then, Neo awaits me to talk about the book and where we want things to go in the next piece.

Kudos, Mr. Colfer, for another winner. You’ve come a long way since I first discovered you on a television program.

Lessons from the Edge: A Memoir, by Marie Yovanovitch

Nine stars

Always keen to expand my knowledge of world politics, I gladly picked up this memoir by former US Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, which highlights a powerful career, even in the face of significant adversity. Yovanovitch explores her life working in the foreign service, from a low-level lackey at an embassy in Africa through to her ultimate job as Ambassador in Ukraine when Trump was ruining America for the first time. A wonderful read with many anecdotes perfect for the reader who loves to dig a little deeper into issues and see how things work behind the scenes. Yonvanovitch may have received a great deal of slack for her pushback against Trump, but she can also be seen as a hero for many who refused to let the man ruin the country.

Marie Yovanovitch grew up with two very strong-willed parents, having seen a great deal during their young lives. The Yovanovitches had Russaian and German roots within them, having done the best they could n authoritarian regimes. Yovanovitch grew up idolising her parents’ passion and found herself learning from their stories and life lessons, as she eyed a life where she, too, could play a role in international politics.

After attending school and preparing for the workforce, Yovanovitch found herself drawn to the foreign service, which would open so many doors for her as well as provide an education like no other. Yovanovitch recounts the hard training she undertook before she was placed in the US Embassy in Somalia, which would prove to be the first of many postings where her eyes were opened to the way things actually worked. The grittiness that Yovanovitch expressed cannot be lost on the reader, as she sought to change the world one day at a time.

After some junior-level assignments back in the US, Yovanovitch was given the chance to work briefly in the newly-democratised Russia, which proved to be quite eye opening for her. A country that had spent so long under the auspices of authoritarian Soviet rule, Russia was not quite sure how to digest the freedoms that democracy brought to the table. Yovanovitch sought to use these experiences to enrich her understanding of international politics and the world around her, which would prove essential when she had other postings in the region. The theme of authoritarianism to democracy and the wobbly back can be found in much of the latter portion of the tome, which is sure to be noted by the attentive reader.

Yovanovitch speaks of the times she struggled to climb the ladder within the foreign service, in hopes of landing an ambassadorship of her own. When she was noticed and offered a spot, it would be some of the hardest and most valuable work she could imagine. Working in old Soviet republics helped Yovanovitch sharpen her teeth to see just how intense the struggle was for those who sought to toss off the yoke of authoritarianism, but also the amount of corruption that surrounded her. Yovanovitch helped stem the tide repeatedly, but also came to see that Russia and its new leader, Putin, were seeking to move more towards a stronger dictatorial regime, even without the communist undertones.

Yovanovitch found herself butting heads with many who did not feel she could do the job, but also pushed parts of the old Soviet satellite states back into controlled environments. She vowed never to let that happen on her watch as America’s representative in the region. This helped propel her to the crown jewel position in her tenure, the US Ambassador to Ukraine, at a time when Russia was trying to annex parts of the country for itself. It would also prove to be a time when sentiments in the US were changing an an ignorant quasi-despot found himself seated in the White House.

Yovanovitch offers up many sentiments about how she saw Trump and his new administration, not one of which were positive. While she tried to remain neutral, it can sometimes be difficult when one sees their country being dismantled or turning into an authoritarian regime, a term Yovanovitch does not use lightly, but also one she can use effective as she had lived through this leadership style in her past postings. Trump wrote his own rule book and spat on those who did not follow it, making his sentiments known both domestically and on an international front. When Putin came calling, Trump could not cozy up fast enough, which also included trying to go on political witch hunts to remove anything standing in his way. This I where Yovanovitch could not take the pressure and had to act, subtlety at times. It would cost her a great deal, but left Yovanovitch wanting to tell her story so that others could see the horrors that befell her for trying to speak for America first and POTUS last. The last few chapters are perhaps the most intense and worth a slow and intricate analysis by the reader, as Yovanovitch sought to tell her side of the story, even as the Trump Administration attempted to muzzle her.

While I knew only a sliver of what happened in the latter part of Yovanovitch’s time in Ukraine, I was happy to have been able to take this story to heart and educate myself. Yovanovitch has a powerful way of writing that keeps the reader in the middle of things. The chronology helps pace the book along and keeps the reader in the middle fo what is taking place. Yovanovitch pulls no punches and keeps the reader entertained while also educating them from the opening pages unti lthe very last sentence. There is something to be said for such a strong-willed woman and the rollercoaster she wet through while serving her country. I found many of the stories insightful and it helped me get a better idea of the shape in which America finds itself nowadays I can only hope that I will find more books of this caliber that pull me into the middle of US and international politics, particularly as we ramp up for what is sure to be a hellish 2024 presidential election campaign.

Kudos, Madam Yovanovitch, for a stunning portrayal of America and the move towards authoritarianism. You are a hero to many, even when you want to be modest.

Murder by Definition (42nd Street Library Mystery #4), by Con Lehane

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Con Lehane, and Severn House for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Always eager to read another of Con Lehane’s stories, I reached for this ARC, hoping it would be as exciting as some of the other novels in the series. Using New York’s 42 Street Library as a backdrop, Lehane weaves a mystery that is full of action and even some simple moments of book loving to provide the reader with something well worth their time. Unique and to the point, Lehane does well to keep things interesting throughout and provide readers more to ponder when it comes to protagonist Raymond Ambler.

Raymond Ambler loves is job as the crime-fiction curator within the prestigious 42 Street Library in New York City, but is always looking for a new edge. When approached by Will Ford, a rough around the edges writer with some critical acclaim, the discussion turns to Ford’s old manuscripts. While the author is known for his gritty writing, he also has a history of womanizing that has left many with a sour taste in their mouths. However, as Ambler soon discovers, Ford has penned a controversial short story that has more fact than fiction to it, including talk of a cop who’s covered up a murder they committed. No wonder Ford does not want this story to see the light of day.

As Ambler tries to discover the truth behind the story, he trips upon a handful of cops who may not want the truth coming out either. Ford has taken too many liberties and might reveal some of the darkest parts of New York’s underbelly, painting cops and criminals with the same brush. The more Ambler pushes, the more is revealed, before Ford is eventually shot and killed. Was he silenced as revenge or so that he cannot tell anyone else of his escapades?

As Ambler rushes to get to the truth, he convinces his long time friend, Mike Cosgrove, to help, Cosgrove, a former NYPD detective, is reluctant, but feels that there is something to the investigation. Together they turn over some rocks, only to learn that some things are best left in the dark. Ambler soon feels he has put himself in even more danger and risks the happiness he is building in his personal life. With some family matters of his own to digest, Ambler will have to play his cards right or end up with a bullet in his own head for his amateur sleuthing. Lehane keeps the series alive with this latest piece, sure to pique the interest of many.

The debut novel in this series fell into my lap a yew years ago and I was eager to see where things might go. Lehane paints a great picture while using the somewhat bucolic backdrop of the library as an odd setting. Mixing a library with murder might seem odd, but it works and Lehane has done well to keep Raymond Ambler in the heart of the action, while also passing in some personal foibles to show his bumbling nature. I am eager to see where things are headed, as there is never a clear path put out for the reader, even with a cliffhanger in the final chapter here.

Lehane tells his stories in a quick paced manner, while also adding some meandering for good measure. Sure to impress some readers, the narrative moves along at a steady pace and provides the reader with something they can follow with ease. Great characters and some well-placed plot twists keeps the reader from getting too comfortable, as things prove highly intense by the latter half of the novel. With more to come, I am eager to discover Lehane’s plan for both the series and Raymond Ambler’s personal situation. I suppose I will have to wait a but but hopefully not too long.

Kudos, Mr. Lehane, for keeping me guessing throughout this one! I cannot wait to see what you have coming next.

Next in Line (William Warwick #5) , by Jeffrey Archer

Eight stars

Always eager to get my hands on anything by Jeffrey Archer, I devoured the latest book in the William Warwick series. Archer has Warwick offer more insight into the wonders of British policing in the late 1980s, climbing the ranks on his way to the ultimate promotion. Warwick has his hands full with this one, showing how versatile he can be, alongside his team, as they face some of their most daunting work to date. Archer proves that he’s got many ideas to share and I hope he’s able to finish this series before laying down his pen.

It’s 1988 and Britain is in the middle of their love affair with Diana, the People’s Princess. While many in the Royal Family prefer to keep a low profile, Diana attracts the flashbulb like none before her. This nothing new, but something is on the horizon, lowing the tabloids to feast on all the crumbs tossed their way.

With all the hype, Scotland Yard and the Met will have to ensure they are ready for the heightened security issues that await them as they guard Diana’s every move. While the Royal Protection Command is tasked with keeping the royals safe, there appear to be some issues, which could prove disastrous. Detective Chief Inspector William Warwick brings his team along to investigate the Command, trying to root out those bad apples who are more concerned with padding their pockets than jumping in front of a bullet.

While Warwick sends one of his most trusted detectives to protect Diana, there’s much to be done to keep the peace. As Diana rushes all over with her newest paramour, someone is planning something that could turn Britain, and the world, on its head. Trying to keep the peace so the general public is unaware, Warwick will have to diffuse the plot before things get out of hand.

All the while, one of Warwick’s old nemeses is working through some legal issues all his own, wrestling for control as he seeks to get the upper hand on Scotland Yard. However, there are many others who have equally conniving plans that could stymie an open and shut case, leaving many to wonder what the future holds. With a handful of other Warwicks and a few retuning faces, Archer dazzles in this latest story that advances the plot and heads towards the ultimate finale.

I have long admired the work of Jeffrey Archer, which mixes an intensity alongside something highly entertaining. This series, which has a unique angle known well to those who loved Archer’s Clifton Chronicles collection, never ceases to amaze me and keeps things speeding along with strong plot, sensational storytelling, and a cast of characters who use actual historical events as a great backdrop to deepen their own presence. I can only hope there is enough time to get this series to its ultimate ending, which I know will be worth the wait.

Archer knows storytelling and has pulled me in on many an occasion with his flights of fancy and historical perspectives. A strong narrative guides the reader throughout a great deal in short order, never stopping long enough for the reader to catch their proverbial breath. A cast of characters that improves and deepens with each passing book offers the reader something they can enjoy, complaining progress and recession throughout the novels. A set of well-honed plot lines keeps the story electric and provides some forks in the narrative progression, keeping the reader on the edge of their seats throughout. I can only hope the intensity continues as the book continues, rocketing towards the ending Archer has in mind.

Kudos, Mr. Archer, for another winner I could not stop reading. How you have such control over me!

Blast Wave (Alex Morgan #3), by Leo J. Maloney

Eight stars

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

Always eager to get my hands on anything by Leo J. Maloney, I rushed to read this ARC. Maloney extends the Alex Morgan series with the novella, keeping the excitement high and the backstory ever-developing. Maloney has done well already with the elder Morgan (Dan) in a previous series and this collection is following in its footsteps with the same stellar outcome.

As Alex Morgan is in London for an international security conference, she can only wonder what’s going on. Smoke billows around the city, with explosions in the background, while a sniper has been trying to mow down members of the Zeta Group. While Alex does her best to neutralise the threat from the Ares network, there are apparently larger threats that require her attention on the other side of the world.

After being sent to Japan to help Yoki-Dyne, a significant tech company in the region that finds itself being targeted through cyber attacks, Alex realises that there is more to protection than guns and bullets. She soon learns that Ares has been working to dismantle this company as well, in hopes of siphoning off large portions of its profits, likely funding terrorist efforts around the world. As Alex learns more, she discovers that Ares is using a female operative of their own. This clash of women could turn out to be Alex’s most difficult mission to date.

Working with some locals, as well as members of Zeta, Alex seeks to get to the heart of the matter and stop events from getting out of control, all while seeking to remain one step ahead, of the operative targeting her. While Alex’s father, Dan, was a master at keeping the enemy at bay, she is still earning all the family tricks of the trade, with little time to ponder her next move. Zeta Group is relying on Alex, as are many others, to keep Ares from retrieving some of the most delicate intel and Yoki-Dyne’s profits to fund their future terrorist plots. Alex not only has the Morgan name, but also the grit and determination to get it done. Another stellar piece by Leo J. Maloney that will have series fans begging for more.

I cannot remember how I came across Leo J. Maloney and his early work, but I have never looked back or missed a book. Maloney mixes an intense counter-espionage thriller with something that adds depth to the Morgan family through the eyes of their daughter, Alex. Gritty in its delivery, Maloney pulls out all the stops to keep the reader enthralled with this novella, where there is little time to stop and take a breath. I can only hope that both Morgans will be back soon, in another adventure that keeps me occupied as I delve into the world of terrorism and high-stakes espionage.

Leo J. Maloney has always had a great handle on his narrative, telling a story that keeps the reader on their edge of their seat until the final page turn. As the narrative builds, key characters add something to the story that provides direction where there is little time for stagnancy. A few plot twists occur within the story, keeping the reader wondering as Alex Morgan tries to untangle herself from the web that Ares has spun for her. Strong storytelling and suspenseful writing are two keys to Leo J. Maloney’s work, which are present once again. I can only wonder what Zeta Group and Maloney have in store for readers in the coming months.

Kudos, Mr. Maloney, for another great piece, show as it may have been. I await more, which I am sure is close to completion.

Played in Seattle (Dr. Julia Fairchild #6), by P.J. Peterson

Eight stars

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

Back with another Julia Fairchild novel, P.J. Peterson dazzles once more. A cozy mystery, perfect for a quick read, Peterson adds depth to her series with this addition that, as Julia Fairchild mentions throughout, ‘does not include a dead body’. Quick chapters and a narrative that flows with ease, P.J. Peterson shows that her writing ought to be taken seriously, or at least enjoyed by many.

Dr. Julia Fairchild and her sister, Carly, are away in Seattle for a girls’ week. While everything appears to be going well, they notice a man entering a cub one night, who turns up unconscious in the water the following day, a scrap a paper lodged in his hand. It will take all in Julia’s power not to play amateur sleuth, though Carly knows this may be a lost cause.

The plot thickens even more when Julia’s old college beau turns up, a professor of nuclear engineering, who has ties to an old Navy communication project that was shelved in the 1960s. When messages begin emanating from one of the Navy’s old beacons, no one is quite sure what to make if it all. It’s made even more problematic when whispers of espionage could be on the horizon, as intel appears to be going to the Chinese.

While Julia and Carly want to enjoy their time in Seattle, they become enmeshed enmeshed in the investigation, only to be stymied with the lack of progress. It will take a great deal of sleuthing and some risk-taking to get to the bottom of this case, while keeping Carly from getting too upset at the lack of sightseeing that’s being done.

The race to the truth leaves many trails, including a few missing people and a kidnapping of a small child. Whatever has happened, it’s sure to keep everyone on their toes and asking what awaits them. Julia and Carly have surely ended up in the middle of a major mess, but this seems to be just what the doctor (Julia) ordered for their vacation. A great mystery that will keep series fans begging for more!

I discovered P.J. Peterson through my connection to a mutual friend and devoured some of her early mysteries in short order. Now, as each book is ready to be released, I receive an ARC to offer my own views and have nothing but positive things to say. Peterson writes with ease and develops a story that works, without the need for a great deal of minutiae. Quick, enticing, and great for a mystery reader on the go, P.J. Peterson is one to take note of for all who enjoy the genre.

While my mystery reading tends to take me on the deeper trolls through crime scenes and police experts analysis, I thoroughly enjoy these shorter and cozier stories as well. Peterson develops a strong narrative that is easy to digest without all the extra that distracts the reader from the central plot. Quick chapters push the story along and keep the reader wanting to know more. Characters who develop with ease add something t the story, while the protagonist (perhaps we can add Carly too, as she has been in repeated novels) continues to add depth to a story that has been in the works from the beginning. Plot twists throughout help keep things from being overly predictable and leave the reader feeling entertained as they power through the book. I can only hope there are more to come, as Dr. Julia Fairchild is fast becoming a character whose adventures I impatiently wait for as I read to pass the time.

Kudos, Madam Peterson, for a great piece that kept my attention until the final page.

The Chancellor: The Remarkable Odyssey of Angela Merkel, by Kati Marton

Nine stars

While I love all things political, I have come to realise that I ought to expand my knowledge related to some of the world leaders outside North America. When I noticed that Kati Marton penned a biography of former German Chancellor Angela Merkel, I leapt at the opportunity to learn more about her and how Europe’s most powerful leader during her tenure kept the trains running on time. Marton does a fabulous job explaining the life of Merkel, as well as those topics that make her tick. Well worth a read by those who love political biographies.

Angela Merkel spent her early years as a pastor’s daughter in East Germany, behind the Berlin Wall. Her time living in a communist regime allowed Merkel to see how she did not want to live life, but would also provide insight in the Russian ethos, which would prove useful when dealing with the likes of Putin. Merkel used her time behind the Wall honing her life skills and becoming a top-rate scientist, choosing to question the world around her.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Merkel sought a new career for herself, finding a spot in the first united German cabinet. Merkel may not have had a great deal of political experience, but she made up for it in determination and a passion to see change in the new and fragile German Republic. Merkel was known for not fitting in and challenging norms, but never stopped trying to make changes that would help those around her. One of her key attributes that followed Merkel throughout her public life was a push to remain private. Many did not know the personal Angela Merkel, nor did she try to flaunt her life. She remained grounded and quiet, keeping to herself outside the role as Chancellor, which would baffle many as time progressed.

As she rose through the ranks of her party, Merkel found herself in a position of power and would become a rarity in German politics, a woman in a position of power. Merkel climbed into the role of Chancellor while others around her whispered their doubt that she would last. However, Merkel was less concerned about what others thought, choosing to turn her attention to fixing many aspects of the German state. As Marton explains throughout the tome, Merkel made an impact as she moved to change the way Germany was seen within the European community, as well as on the world scene. She stopped at nothing to push for economic reforms and a stronger sense of equality within the German Republic, turning away from the dark stain that was the Nazi regime.

One thing that Marton makes clear throughout the biography is that Merkel would stop at nothing to ensure the world did not slip back into the perils of authoritarianism or leave any part of the population homeless. Her own experiences resonated loudly and she would not stand for any bullying. Facing off against the likes of Putin and Trump, Merkel stood her ground and made sure not to let their snide remarks go without a response. Marton does contrast this with a softer view on China, one of Germany’s great trading partners. One can suppose that economic output would supersede human rights violations.

While Merkel never saw herself staying in power forever, she did have a list of things that she wanted to accomplish. Merkel served four terms as chancellor, buoyed by parliamentary governments who supported her enough to stay in the job. Merkel saw a great deal of change in the warld, in Europe, and even in Germany throughout her tenure, but also saw the next generation slink onto the scene in the latter years of her fourth term. Merkel may have been very involved in Germany’s progress, but she also had passions all her own that she wanted to share in the latter portion of her public life. Marton hints at some, but is clear that Angela Merkel is a private person and would likely enjoy her privacy as well. A public life well lived, Kati Marton has shown me a new and intriguing side to this woman who appeared to hold Europe together at the seams for long periods of time, while also providing compassion to those around her.

While there are many who purport that they can pen a political biography, only a handful are usually successful. Kati Marton does a formidable job exploring the life and times of Angela Merkel, breathing life and personality into a politician known primarily for her hard-line approach to governing. The tome exemplifies a much more personal side to the woman and her rise to power, as well as the topics into which she delved to keep the country and world together. Pulling on both professional and as many personal experiences as Merkel would allow to come out, Marton builds a strong and all-encompassing narrative well worth the reader’s time. An easy to follow format keeps the book from becoming too sluggish and there are many wonderful anecdotes woven into the larger tome. I must applaud Kati Marton for her detailed approach, which offers a personal side to a woman thought to be all work and little play in the eyes of the world.

Kudos, Kati Marton, for this stellar piece. Your time with Angela Merkel is shown in the great political biography I’ve just finished.

The 6:20 Man, by David Baldacci

Eight stars

David Baldacci is one of those authors whose books pull the reader in, no matter the subject matter. While I do enjoy the series he has written, I also find a great deal of happiness reading standalone thrillers, as this one appears to be. Baldacci hits the mark with this piece, intertwining some military background with a crime thriller that is sure to keep the reader up well into the night. I’m happy to see such a variety coming out of Baldacci, but am also looking forward to more of his series to build on the excitement.

Travis Devine is a financial grunt who has the same routine every day before work. Riding the 6:20am train to the heart of New York, Devine preps for another day as an analyst, peering out the window for a sliver of excitement. While is days are usually full of the mundane, when he receives a cryptic email, all this turns on its head. One of his mentors is found hanging and what originally looks like suicide is soon deemed a likely homicide.

While Devine is panicked as to what is going on, the evidence soon points to him as being the murderer. Sure that he will need to stay ahead of the game to exonerate himself, Devine is pulled into a parallel investigation by people from his military past, hoping to reveal something highly sinister. Who might have killed Sara Ewes and for what reason?

As Devine digs a little deeper, he realises that someone is targeting him and trying to ensure the police do as well. Trying to gather minute pieces of evidence, Devine forges ahead with some theories of his own, only to find himself tangled in the web of his employer and a powerful man at the top. There’s no doubt that Devine is one step away from disaster, but he will have to work fast ensure he gets the answers he needs to provide a pathway for the truth.

When others begin dying as well, Devine surmises that this is more deadly than first he thought. There is someone out there, trying to silence a select few about something that could cause financial chaos should it leak. Armed with his intuition and some help from roommates he hardly knows, Devine will pull out all the stops to prove his innocence and get to the root of Sara Ewes’ murder. Another winner by Baldacci, sure to impress those who enjoy a good thriller.

One need never worry when David Baldacci is at the helm, as the story always flows with ease. Baldacci’s seemingly endless ideas weave together and provide the reader with something well worth their time. Strong characters and a developing plot keep things on pace as the story crescendos to its climax. I am eager to see if there will be more standalone novels, or if Baldacci might weave Travis Devine into some of his other writing.

Key to a successful story is the narrative that leads the reader along. Baldacci has mastered this and provides a strong foundation for a powerful piece. With characters who are as interconnected as they are individualistic, Baldacci uses them to push the story along with ease, without getting too wrapped up in minutiae. A few plot twists to keep the reader from guessing too much provide great turns for all to enjoy. While I do love the series work that Baldacci has developed, I cannot help but enjoy some of his individual books that provide something refreshing for fans. I am eager to see what’s to come in the next few months.

Kudos, Mr. Baldacci, for another great book. I know those fans will find something in here that they can enjoy.

Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (Alice #2), by Lewis Carroll

Eight stars

Continuing to fill a small gap in my reading schedule, I thought to continue my trip into a wonderful world by Lewis Carroll in a sequel to his classic tale. With more wonderful narrative moments and vivid descriptions, I re-visited the world young Alice discovered previously, this time while gazing through a mirror. Carroll intrigues his readers once more with this follow-up story that adds something for all ages.

Alice is back, having missed her adventures in Wonderland. As she peers through a mirror, she is transported back to the world where nothing is quite as it seems and where animals show personalities all their own. As Alice trudges along, she finds herself in the middle of new challenges, including engaging with royalty once more. The Red and White Queens wish to educate her, while showing off their mental abilities at every turn.

Alice meets some friends from her last adventure, as well as new individuals, friendly and fierce alike. Tweedledee and Tweedledum offer her many an insult, but it pales in comparison to Humpty Dumpty, who is anything but kind to Alice. All the while, Alice is intrigued with how things are going, though finds herself overly flustered at numerous points as well, all before waking up in a haze. Another winner by Lewis Carroll, which offers picture-perfect images of a world just out of arm’s reach.

How pleasant it was to put aside a busy day to find Alice once again. Lewis Carroll adds to the magic of his original story with this sequel, delving a little deeper for his fans to enjoy. A clear narrative, at least for the time, with some wonderful characters pushes the tale along, offering many moments of thought-provoking storytelling and vivid imagery. While these are the only two stories of Caroll’s that I have read, I will have too dig a little deeper to see if there are others that might pique my interest.

Kudos, Mr. Carroll, for another piece that got curiouser and curiouser the more I read!

Wayward (Wanderers #2), by Chuck Wendig

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Chuck Wendig, Ballantine Del Rey and Random House for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

While many found Chuck Wendig shone in the series debut, I was not as captivated as I would have liked. However, with this ARC in my possession, I wanted to give things a chance to see if I could be drawn into the middle of things with the sequel. While I was not, I surmise that it could be my own personal issues and not Wendig’s abilities throughout this detailed novel.

It was five years ago when a number of everyday Americans began randomly sleepwalking across the country. The reason was unknown, though the malady caught the attention of many. Making their way to a specific place, these sleepwalkers were followed by people, self-identified as shepherds, in an effort to protect them as they wandered in their trace-like state.

Upon arriving in Ouray, Colorado, the group began setting up their outpost, as though they were the chosen ones and all others were set to perish. While a militia sought to destroy them, the sleepwalkers remained diligent in their mission, advised that this was only the first step in a slew of significant changes to come.

Those who are setting things up in Ouray include a scientist who tries to piece together a plan to lead, a former police officer with ideas on how to protect a select few, and a teenage shepherd who is still trying to come to terms with what’s happened to her and what awaits the world. While outside forces continue to push around the outskirts of Ouray, many will have to sacrifice it all to protect themselves. From ruthless politicians to those who do not fully understand the special nature of the sleepwalkers. At the heart of it all is Black Swan, an A.I. program behind the entire ‘end of days’ scenario. Wendig does well to stir up the reader’s emotion throughout, even if it did not impact me as much as I would have hoped.

While I have only read the series debut by Chuck Wendig, I have tried other books in the genre, so there is a general understanding of the premise. Wendig provides a strong foundation and keeps the reader wondering throughout the narrative. Continuing with the apocalyptic theme, the story clips along and will likely grab many readers. For me, my mindset was not entirely into the experience, though I can see Wendig’s abilities clearly.

The story continues with a great narrative that serves to guide the reader. Bleak when needed but also well-paced, the story adds more surprises and roadblocks found in the debut novel. Using strong characters with their own personalities helps to shape the story once more. Plot twists emerge to offer some excitement as things take a darker turn. Some may get lost in the premise of this novel or simply not like where Wendig is headed. While it was not for me, I can see how many would really enjoy this series and find themselves excited by this new publication.

Kudos, Mr. Wendig, for a thought-provoking piece that is sure to impress your fans.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Alice #1), by Lewis Carroll

Eight stars

With a gap in my reading schedule, I thought that I would take a trip down a rabbit hole all my own to enjoy this classic by Lewis Carroll. Full of tantalising narrative moments and stellar descriptions, I tackled the world young Alice discovered when she followed a rabbit down its hole and into an underground world. Carroll does well to keep the reader engaged and wondering what will follow, though there is no predicting what awaits after every turned page.

Young Alice is sitting with her sister before drifting off for a nap. In her dreams, Alice follows a white rabbit, caught muttering about being late for an important event. Alice finds herself stuck underground, where she’s met with different foods and drinks, each of which changes her in surprising ways. As the adventure continues, Alice comes face to face with a number of animals, each with strong personalities of their own, ready to teach her a thing or two.

As Alice continues to explore this wonderful land, she comes upon the Queen of Hearts, a woman whose sole interest appears to be removing the head of anyone who dares challenge her. As Alice witnesses a series of odd events before the royal family, she comes to realise that she’s the odd girl out and must leave before she becomes the Queen’s next target. A wonderful tale that swept me into a world of magic and mystery for a few hours.

How pleasant it was to leave the busyness of the day and find Alice ready to lead an adventure. Lewis Carroll crafts white a story with this piece, offering a clear narrative that the younger reader can enjoy, while injecting some chilling aspects that will entertain adults as well. Strong characters and well-developed themes throughout keep the story moving and the reader on their toes. Carroll does not rest on his laurels at any point, providing the reader with things that get ‘curiouser and curiouser’ as the tale continues, with an abrupt ending to keep the confusion on high. I am eager to see how the sequel will complete this piece and leave me with a sense of excitement that equals today’s reading adventure.

Kudos, Mr. Carroll, for quite a strong story tat never seems to wane, no matter the subject matter.

Contracts for Sale, by Edward Izzi

Eight stars

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

Always eager when Edward Izzi hands me an ARC of his newest book, I took it upon myself to devour this novel in short order. As usual, Izzi provides the readier with a stellar piece of writing that is full of strong writing, powerful themes, and building on past novels, while remaining a standalone piece for anyone to enjoy. Those who discover the work of Edward Izzi are in for a treat and should not hesitate to find one of his books soon.

After reporter Paul Crawford begins investigating the disappearance of a corporate executive, he’s unsure where it will take him. Working for the Sun-Timesin Chicago, Crawford is used to the unusual and everything has a whiff of mob activity. A little research shows that a number of people are disappearing into thin air with no trace or apparent reason. A lack of any forensics or video surveillance leaves Crawford to wonder if these are well-executed professional hits. Working in tandem with his friend and fellow reporter, Chaz Rizzo, Crawford cannot make any solid headway, save for referring to those who have gone missing as ‘Houdini Victirms’.

Meanwhile, Mark Stetler has been working behind the scenes as CEO of Eradication, Inc. a company that specialises in providing murder for hire. While the fee is high, the result is usually to the client’s desire, as nothing is left to chance. Meeting in secret, the Board of Directors for Eradication, Inc. reviews submissions and delegates the work to their two hired assassins. Members of the group are in it for life, with dire consequences for anyone trying to leave the fold. Stetler is sure that this will continue to become a lucrative business, as long as those who seek their services to not have loose lips.

When Crawford and Rizzo get some intel that points to the possible existence of Eradication, Inc, they begin digging deeper, alerting some within the group that the cover nature may soon be blown. It will take a great deal of effort and determination for Eradication, Inc. not to let everything come crashing down around them, especially with two nosy reporters on the prowl. The grit and determination shown by Crawford and Rizzo is something few in the Chicago reporting world have seen.

Scrambling to put the pieces together and alert the CPD, these two reporters ramp up their competitive side while working to bring down this organisation. It will take everything they have, but someone must act or Eradication, Inc. will continue these brutal murders and turn Chicago into a city with blood flowing down the streets. Another stellar piece by Izzi that only proves even more why I enjoy this author.

While I have been around for each of Edward Izzi’s novels, it took me some time to get used to his style. Izzi writes in a gritty fashion and pulls the reader in from the start. While each novel is a standalone, the setting and characters overlap, such that a reader of all the books will find threads that connect each storyl and add to the enjoyment. Izzi keeps getting better and shows that he is one author worth noting, particularly for the reader who needs something fast paced.

Izzi provides the reader with something intense and yet easy to read, with a strong narrative that keeps the story on track. With short chapters and strong plot development, there is little time for the reader to rest as they make their way through another Chicago-based thriller. As mentioned before, Izzi writes standalones, but some of the charcaters return from book to book, permitting those who have read many of Izzi’s books, as I have, to enjoy some development throughout the overall ‘series’ experience. I cannot say enough about Izzi or his writing and can only hope that there are more to come soon, as I eagerly await his emails with ARCs attached.

Kudos, Mr. Izzi, for impressing yet again! I look forward to what you have to come.

Wanderers (Wanderers #1), by Chuck Wendig

Seven stars

After receiving an ARC for Chuck Wendig’s second novel in this series, I thought it best to begin with the debut novel, in hopes of getting proper context. Part science fiction, part psychological thriller, Wendig offers readers a thought-provoking look into mind control and how science both views it and tries to control it. Wendig digs up some intriguing ideas on which readers can ponder or posit, depending how invested they wish to be in the experience.

After Shana wakes to discover her sister in some trance-like state, she’s worried. This does not appear to be simple sleepwalking, as the younger girl cannot be woken from the state. As the two girls begin a journey walking to an as-yet-unknown destination ,Shana realises that her family is not the only one in the middle of this oddity. Before long, Shana comes to see that many others are sleepwalking in the same manner, with ‘shepherds’ to keep watch over the slumbering individuals.

All the while, a scientist who thought his active work at the CDC was over has been brought back to help on a Black Swan experiment. While this is nothing like any previous scientific endeavour on American soil, secret or publicly known, there is an element of fear woven into Black Swan, such that no one is entirely sure of the endgame.

As the sleepwalking begins to catch headlines, the curiosity turns to fear and people rally against this group that appears destined for a single goal. A militia is formed to exterminate anyone sleepwalking, which only creates more of a dystopia in an already fragile world. The truth behind everything could bind the country together or tear it apart at the seams. Only time will tell and Shana is not ready to wait. Wendig does well to stir up thoughts and controversy within the pages of this book, which is sure to entertain some readers.

While I have not read anything by Chuck Wendig, I have tried other books in the genre with mixed success. Wendig does well laying some groundwork here and keeps the reader guessing as to how things will play out, when the pieces do fall into place. Working on a dystopian/apocalyptic flavouring, the story progresses well and is sure to capture the attention of many readers For me, it was a bit much for the reading mindset in which I find myself at present.

Wendig uses a strong narrative to paint a picture for the reader throughout this piece. At times bleak, while also fascinating, the story weaves its way through surprises and roadblocks along the way. Strong characters with unique personalities cannot be discounted throughout the reading experience, making some readers want to delve deeper. Plot twists emerge, on many fronts, and fuel a story that does not seem to have a clear A to B delineation. That said, for many it follows a path they can handle. Others, like me, may get lost in the slow reveal that is the essence of this novel. While it was not for me, I read the book to get to the ARC, which I will attempt next. Full disclosure, I am already on guard, which may work against a completely neutral review of the latest publication.

Kuds, Mr. Wendig, for concocting something worth talking about. I am eager to see what others think of it and how my views fall on the spectrum.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson

Eight stars

Always ready for something a little spooky, I dove into this classic novella by Robert Louis Stevenson. Exploring the world of dual personality, Stevenson presents the reader with quite the story that resonates throughout. With high-brow narrative description and sensational attention to detail, Stevenson offers the reader insight into the mind, the duality of personality, and the struggles to keep it all in a neat package. Perfect for those who want something spooky without the gore.

London is electric and the population is abuzz. John Gabriel Utterson has been working on many a legal matter but it is a personal one that has him tied up in knots. His friend, Dr. Henry Jekyll, usually quite the sociable fellow, has stopped emerging from his home. Others have seen a man they do not entirely recognize, whom the house staff call Mr. Hyde. While all this seems mysterious enough, the fact that the doctor is letting this lone man inside his home is all the more baffling.

As the days pass, a gruesome murder of a prominent politician occurs and all the signs point to someone matching the description of Mr. Hyde. Is there a way for Mr. Utterson to coax Hyde out, once and for all, or will the mystery continue? Worried that Dr. Jekyll is in grave danger, Utterson and others make a play to enter the home and get to the truth. What they discover will baffle them all and thicken the plot even more. A great piece that can (and was) read in a single sitting, sure to chill the bones and explore the early analysis of dual personality.

I remember reading this piece in high school, many moons ago. While i use the ‘Jekyll-Hyde’ moniker often when I see people acting strangely, I did not remember the nuances of the piece until I re-read it. Stevenson paints quite the vivid image in clear English, leaving the reader to want more and surely getting it throughout this piece. Well developed and full of an English stuffy-collared narrative flow, the piece is easily devoured by the curious reader.

While I have never been one to read classics or even understand how one gets a book listed under this label, I can see how Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella would be given the honour. The narrative flows well, skimming over a number of topics to get the heart of the matter slowly and with obvious momentum. The characters, all of whom depict Victorian fellows, provide some entertainment as the reader can see how their dialogue posits many hypotheses as to the situation with Jekyll and Hyde. While the theme of the story was to be expected, I tried to put myself in the shoes of those who did not know what was coming and found myself quite impressed with the dénouement and Stevenson’s means of addressing the as of then unknown dual personality disorder. I’ll likely try to read it again around the Hallowe’en season, as I have with other books of the same nature.

Kuds, Mr. Stevenson, for a spooky tale that had me thinking a little more.

This Will Not Pass: Trump, Biden and the Battle for American Democracy, by Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns

Nine stars

While the 2024 US Presidential Election is still a while way, the mid-term congressional elections for 2022 are just around the corner. This makes it the perfect time to sink my teeth into this book by Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns. Martin and Burns provide the reader with an insightful piece that explores the doomed final year of the Trump Administration—complete with scandals and riot—before turning to examine the first year or so of the Biden White House. With a number of first hand accounts and interviews, the authors provide the reader with a scintillating read, at least for those who enjoy the subject matter.

There is no doubt that the Trump Administration, and 45th president himself, transformed American politics into an embarrassing circus. The authors use the opening chapters of the book to explore the final year of that doomed Administration, riddled with lies, panic, and an inability to cope with the COVID outbreak. Crazy home remedies splashed across the headlines of major news outlets, with The Donald spouting his odd-ball comments at every turn. He used this to catapult him into the 2020 presidential election, where he was sure he would win, no matter his opponent. Democrats had another idea and, after much cat-fighting of their own, chose a viable candidate in Joe Biden, longtime politicians in DC and former vice-present. The gloves came off and, as many will know, things did not turn out well for the Republicans in the White House, or either congressional house.

While rhetoric flew and people spewed rigged elections, the Biden team had to prepare to take over the White House, looking to create a sold group that could take America out of the quagmire it found itself and return things to stable ground. Biden and his closest associates found the transition period tough, as they tried to appease many they met on the campaign trail, while ensuring that they did not lose their base. Clinging to the smallest of majorities in the House of Representatives and a virtual tie in the Senate, which could be broken by VP Kamala Harris, Biden had to walk carefully in who he chose for senior roles.

While the riots of January 6, 2021 rocked the Capitol, lawmakers began to see just how crazy things could get under Trump and how fresh ideas might be the answer. Biden’s early attempts at reunifying the country fell short, both because many of the electorate still fell for the lies of rigged elections and fake results, but also because of the razor-thin majorities both Houses gave him. With two senators who appeared ready to wear the Democrat hat only when it suited them, Biden had to ensure he compromised, but even that was not enough. While the Republicans were in a Trumpian Civil War, the Democrats were imploded just as much, having stretched themselves too thin and trying to be too inclusive.

As the authors recount the struggles for any sort of meaningful legislation, Biden was beginning to show cracks on his own. His memory gaffes could only accentuate his age and many wondered if he would be a place keeper for the next star within the Democratic Party. Who that could be was anyone’s guess, as VP Kamala Harris was not shining on her own, though some feel this was because she was not given anything with which she could do so. As the authors point to many weaknesses, they remind the reader that neither party appeared ready to effectively lead America further into the 21st century. Age, infighting, and an inability to see America’s needs over their own, politicians turned to protecting themselves and leaving America to the dogs.

Building on the issues that both parties possess, the authors depict an America that is ready for change and newness, though without a light to guide them. Can this solely be because of the Trump years? Certainly not, though many of his decisions resonate throughout the tome’s narrative. Could Biden have been the elder statesman on paper but really not a man able to lead the country out of peril and into a new Promised Land? It would not be a stretch to profess that. However, change is coming, immediately in the form of mid-term congressional elections, which are sure to reflect the electorate’s beliefs in how things have been run, as well as though who have yet to toss aside the yoke of falsehood and panic. One thing is for sure; it will be a hell of a ride up to the 2024 election, with primaries paving the way for what could be the fight of a lifetime. I’m ready for it and can only hope I have to stomach to handle the drama.

Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns do a fabulous job at laying out the groundwork for what is sure to be a raucous next few years, offering not only insight into the end of the Trump Era, but also how wobbly things appeared to be when Biden took the reins. Instability is the name of the game and, through a number of well-crafted chapters, the authors weave a tale of despair, worry, and outright nonsense as politicians sought to define themselves or hide in the shadow of a man whose only interest is in himself. The arguments were strong and portrayed both parties as troublesome, while pulling no punches about how Biden has not been the saviour many had hoped he would be. There are fissures in the Democratic Party, large enough that they ought not be able to withstand the onslaught in November 2022, but there is still hope that 2024 is not lost. Exploring things from many angles and discussion so many actors whose roles are pivotal to understanding the larger story, both authors shone and left me wanting more on the subject. As I read the news and see how troubling things are getting South of the Canadian border, I can only wonder how rocky a road it will be for the next while. As a lover of all things political, I am ready, popcorn in hand!

Kudos, Messrs. Martin and Burns, for a stellar piece of work, I cannot wait to read more by you and on this subject matter.

Murder at Black Oaks (Robin Lockwood #6), by Phillip Margolin

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Phillip Margolin, St. Martin’s Press and Minotaur Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

A long-time fan of Phillip Margolin and his work, I was eager to read this latest in the Robin Lockwood series. Margolin uses his strong ability with legal thriller and mixes in a murder mystery to create a doubly impressive piece for everyone. Full of great drama and some strong storytelling, Margolin impresses while never losing the momentum that this series appears to have with each new novel.

Frank Hardy was a stellar part of the DA’s office, able to push for convictions on many crimes. He even went so far as to put a man on death row for a heinous crime. After leaving for private practice, Hardy discovers that one of his clients was actually behind the murder, but knows the rules of attorney-client privilege keep anyone from being the wiser.

Years later, Hardy summons up-and-coming defence attorney, Robin Lockwood, to his palatial estate in the Oregon mountains. Hardy reveals what he knows and pushes Lockwood to see that justice is done, allowing an innocent man to go free. Lockwood does all she can, while also baffled about Hardy’s residence, the Black Oaks manor. Many a mysterious thing happened at the original manor, in the heart of England.

After Lockwood is successful in getting Jose Alvarez free from prison, they make their way to Black Oaks for a celebratory meal. Alvarez has made it clear that he holds a grudge towards Hardy for the delay in acting to set him free, even over the rational arguments made by his attorney. When Frank Hardy and others are murdered during the party, many wonder if the curse of Black Oaks has reared its ugly head. Robin finds herself scrambling to find a killer and try to piece it all together before too many others fall victim to a murderer and the curse of Black Oaks. Margolin dazzles with this piece and proves his versatile nature.

Phillip Margolin has proven his ability time and time again, luring me in with a well-developed story and a cast of characters well worth the reading time. This story moves things away from being strictly legal and into the realm of mystery, as if Robin Lockwood must temporarily resurrect a character from an Agatha Christie novel. Working on building a strong connection to the story and characters alike, Margolin proves he has what it takes to entertain the reader throughout.

Margolin develops a strong narrative and uses this to propel the story forward. With a strong foundation, the story clips along at a rapid pace, helped by short chapters and a handful of strong characters. The plot twists move the story from a legal thriller to a mystery, taking the reader along for an exciting ride. Building on a series that has already garnered a great deal of positive feedback by fans, Margolin is set to keep things flowing with ease, well into the future. I cannot wait to see what’s next for Robin and her legal team!

Kudos, Mr. Margolin, for a great piece that had me binge reading and enjoying every moment.

Exposed (Splitsville Legal Thriller #2), by William Bernhardt

Eight stars

Always keen to read anything by William Bernhardt, I returned to this new series to see how the worlds of divorce and murder collide. (No comments from the peanut gallery, please!) Bernhardt spins quite the story and gets to the root of many topics that are abuzz in society, while also using his stunning writing style to keep the reader entertained throughout. Another winner from an author who has shown he has the magic many authors seek.

As a competent divorce attorney, Kenzi Rivera works well in her family’s practice. However, she is still living in the shadows cast by both her father and brother, leaving Kenzie eager to carve out her own niche. When she lands a high-profile divorce case, she’s sure that it will help her define an already exciting career. When a two members of a thruple reach out for assistance in a divorce case, Kenzie is eager to help. Wading into the world of polyamorous relationships, Kenzie realises just how poorly versed she, and most of the legal community, tend to be on the subject.

After a scandalous set of photos leak during the divorce proceedings, Kenzie must be on guard for what could happen next. When one of the women in the thruple turns on the other and accepts a payout, tempers flare and accusations are made, but things really take a turn when the jilted wife is accused of murdering her fellow wife by strangulation.

Kenzie is forced to change gears and leave divorce proceedings behind as she defends her client on charges of murder. The evidence is stacked against her, but Kenzie is not yet ready to toss in the proverbial towel. Working her way through the trial, Kenzie wonders if there is more to the thruple than meets the eye and whether someone might be trying to push all the blame on her client.

All the while, someone has been targeting people along the streets of Seattle, strangling them and leaving their bodies for the authorities to discover, while others simply vanish into thin air. Could the Seattle Strangler be behind the murders, leaving Kenzie’s client in the clear? It will be a major uphill battle, pitting Kenzie against some ruthless DA who is seeking to advance his career. However, determination will be one of the tools in Kenzie’s legal quiver she will have to use effectively. Bernhardt at his best, stirring up legal matters to educate his readings fans!

I have long enjoyed the work of William Bernhardt, finding his approach to legal writing to be both intriguing and highly educational. Bernhardt always hits the nail on the head and shows how complex legal matters can be. Using new and unique angles to the law, the reader is able to immerse themselves in all that Bernhardt has to offer, taking much away from each novel. Well-paced and full of drama, this is a series I am surprisingly enjoying more than I thought I might.

William Bernhardt has a way with writing, such that the reader is pulled into the middle of the legal drama and never loses their interest. The momentum builds with a strong narrative and develops as plots and characters add depth to an already intriguing piece. Chapters of varying lengths keep the reader guessing what awaits them and they can usually find momentum in forging onwards as the book gets more intense. Bernhardt uses legal and societal matters to grease the wheels, keeping the reader in an ever-learning situation. I am keen to see how the next (and last?) novel in the series will play out for fans.

Kudos, Mr. Bernhardt, for another winner in a long list of wonderful novels.

The Collector (Kaldan and Schäfer #2), by Anne Mette Hancock

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Anne Mette Hancock, andCrooked Lane Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

After her series debut piqued my interest, I returned for another ARC by Anne Mette Hancock. A Danish psychological thriller, the story works in ways that force me to look outside my traditional expectations for novels in the genre. Full of local flavouring, Hancock develops a piece that is sure to intrigue many readers, though I am not sure if the original Danish was more impactful from a linguistic point of view.

After the disappearance of a young boy from his school, the authorities in Copenhagen are on high alert. Lukas was gifted in ways that exceeded academia; he obsessed over pareidolia, where one sees faces in inanimate objects. After scouring Lukas’ possessions, they discover a photo of a barn door with what could be a face in the shadows. Might this be a clue to his whereabouts? Journalist Heloise Kaldan thinks that she might be able to help, but struggles with locating the source of the barn.

After the grisly discovery of Lukas’ jacket, the forensics points to a former soldier with a mountain of issues all his own. Could Thomas Strand have abducted Lukas for some twisted reason? What was the endgame in all of this and how did it all take place? While Heloise Kaldan works with the authorities, including Detective Erik Schäfer, little comes together, However, once Strand is found executed in his apartment, the case takes on deeper and more sinister panic.

A missing child, an executed soldier with mental health issues, and this lingering pareidolia. How did it all come together so swiftly? While Schäfer and Kaldan try to piece it all together, they have some personal demons that must come to the surface or risk ruing their ability to successfully manage the case. In a gripping piece that has moments where the reader will surely gasp aloud, Hancock creates a chilling tale with a tense ending for all to enjoy!

While I do read a number of Scandinavian thrillers, I would not call myself an expert, That said, I know what I like and which books I am happy to push to the side. Anne Mette Hancock has all the ingredients for a strong piece, though there were times I felt it lacking. I contemplated what it could be and wonde if the translation was not as crisp as I would have liked. I know that with many books that face the translation mountain, I cannot tell where the seams are located. However, with this one, they were all too apparent, leaving things slightly jilted.

The key to a strong thriller is to begin with a bang. Hancock does that with the disappearance of a young child, as well as some of the subplots related to the protagonists. She pulls the reader in and uses her narrative abilities to build on the story from there. Once things are strong from a foundational point of view, Hancock is able to incorporate strong characters and key plot twists to keep the story moving. I felt as though I were on the streets of Copenhagen throughout and never left the scene of the crime, which exemplifies Hancock’s abilities. I am eager to see if there will be more to this series, which I may give one more chance, as the translation proves a yoke to my overall enjoyment.

Kudos, Madam Hancock, for another intriguing piece. I am curious where things are headed now.

The Prisoner, by B.A. Paris

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, B.A. Paris, and Macmillman Audio for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

After reading the dust jacket blurb for this piece I was eager to get my hands on B.A. Paris’ latest novel. Full of some chilling psychological twists, Paris provides the reader with an addictive thriller that is sure to keep them up well into the night. Paris builds her story effectively and provides a clear path towards the unknown. Well-paced and surely something for fans of this genre!

Amelie is a woman with a great deal of resolve, having faced adversity from a young age. She’s lost both her parents while living in Paris and has now made a life in London, hoping for something fresh. Slowly creating a life for herself, Amelie gets caught up in a posh lifestyle and catches the eye of Jed Hawthorne, a man who has significant money in family wealth.

When Amelie wakes up in a dark room, she tries to piece together what’s happened to her. It takes a while, weaseling information out of her captors, but Amelie discovers that both she and Ned are being held prisoner. While Ned feel certain that Amelie is dead, he makes choices that prove that she is but a pawn to him. This leaves Amelie to wonder whether she has anyone backing her, or if she is left to her own devices. As the days advance, Amelie learns more about her supposed husband and his family, though it is anything but exhilarating. A chilling story that proves Paris has what it takes.

While this may be the first of B.A. Paris’ novels I have read, it will likely not be the last. Paris constructs a great piece, full of psychological thrills that are sure to impress the dedicated reader. Slow at times, the story has many ups and downs, but ends up working well, with a great ending that will keep the reader gasping late into the night.

Paris uses a great narrative to develop the story, keeping the pace throughout while leading the reader down many a rabbit hole. With chilling twists, the story evolves and turns into somethingthe reader will likely remember for a long time. Great characters and a setting that adds needed flavouring, the story is able to grow through these pathways. While I struggled with some slow parts, the overall experience was redeemed by the end and left me wanting to try more of Paris’ work. This audio version of the book allows the reader to use their imagination to picture what’s taking place, as the narrator weaves the layers of the story together for an impactful conclusion

Kudos, Madam Paris, for a great piece that is sure to impress many.

Monsters Amongst Us (Interrogations #0.75), by Krishnaraj HK

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to Krishnaraj HK for providing me with a copy of this short story, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

I was pleased to be handed another ARC by the author for a new short story, also highly entertaining. Always enjoying a great police procedural, I eagerly devoured this piece, which uses an Indian perspective. Well-paced and peppered with twists, I was yet again impressed.

Dev Shinde, Senior Superintendent with the Bombay Crime Bureau, has a file sitting on his desk, which is sure to be the proverbial hot potato. Tina Rakesh arrived at the police station, intoxicated and admitting that she shot her husband and his lover. She is happy to assist the authorities in any way she can. Shinde knows that this is sure to be first degree murder, with serious consequences if she is found guilty. Additionally, Tina’s parents are established members of the law enforcement community, muddying the waters even more.

After SS Shinde approaches Tina, he learns of her drunken escapade and reads some of the early forensics. Something does not make sense and the more Tina speaks, the more SS Shinde wonders if she’s been set-up. A deeper investigation proves that the pistol shots were not the same for the two victims and that CCTV coverage makes it hard for Tina to have been on the scene. If that’s the case, who is the culprit and why are they targeting Tina Rakesh? SS Shinde delves even deeper, using his skills and the assistance of all the evidence to cobble together a truth that could target the real killer or killers. Krishnaraj impresses once more with a gritty short story!

I usually find it a great risk when an author approaches, seeking feedback on their work. While there is pressure, I keep things honest for all involved. I enjoyed this police procedural short story by Krishnaraj and it did once again whet my appetite for the upcoming novel with the same cast of characters. The story proves strong and creates great twists throughout, allowing the reader some surprises. There was less character development in this piece, but I am still eager to learn more about those who surround SS Shinde, as well as the police detective himself.

Many police procedurals rely on strong narrative direction, particularly for readers not familiar with the local customs or system of law. Krishnaraj keeps things moving at a brisk pace and the reader is able to follow with ease. Characters are plentiful and one can hope they will reappear in the full-length novel to come. Plot twists throughout keep the reader on their toes, as mentioned before, while also providing some ‘aha’ moments. I am glad that I took the time to read another of these shorter pieces and await the full novel.

Kudos, Mr. Krishnaraj, for reaching out yet again. I am eager to see how well you write full novels in the same genre.

The Palace Papers: Inside the House of Windsor- the Truth and the Turmoil, by Tina Brown

Eight stars

With the recent passing of HRH Queen Elizabeth II, it was fate that this book by Tina Brown became available around the same time. Always one to enjoy a bit of historical explaining when it comes to royalty, I was intrigued to see what Brown had to say about the royals and some of the characters who have made headlines in the last few years, scandals and successes alike.

Brown presents the book as being a great means of exploring the backstories and more recent happenings of a number of royals. She seeks to give the reader a better understanding of the context into which the current tabloid headlines base their comments. This permits the reader to better fit the pieces together and provides a concrete understanding of how these royals lived such over-the-top lives.

While Brown’s book does delve into a number of the scandalous activities a handful of royals found themselves, I feel that it would be a waste of time to list them. Those who are interested in reading this book, as I was, are surely aware of the gist surrounding these events, but seek more of the details or context. Brown does well to offer that, providing the reader with great anecdotes.

The structure of the book seeks to explore each of the royals on their own, but also to show how their lives intertwine. There are certain moments where the likes of Charles, Andrew, and William are all compared, though there is an effort to present their differing views as part of the larger picture. This enriches the narrative and provides the curious reader with a better all-around analysis of a single event.

While there is no way to dodge that there are some scandalous moments depicted within the pages of the book, Brown seeks not to make it smarmy or overly controversial. Rather, she provides the reader with some great insight and seeks to delve a little deeper to help the reader better understand what took place, rather than sensationalize the event at hand.

As the book was published earlier in 2022, much of the comments surrounding the future of the royals comes into greater clarity now that HRH Queen Elizabeth II has died. With the ascension of Charles III to the throne, some of the expectation of the royals have shifted, or their roles become more important. While Brown could not have predicted the reality when she penned this book, a great deal is coming to pass now, as I watch the news and see how things at Buckingham Palace have changed. An oracle without necessarily knowing it.

When taking a look at the book itself, the reader can feel a sense of enjoyment as they learn about the central royals without feeling the need to take a shower to cleanse themselves from all the disgusting reporting. Brown paces the book to explore a number of the key royals in a respectiful and courteous manner, without treating them like glass figurines. In full chapters, Brown addresses characters and themes that enrich the storytelling experience. She pulls on a number of key events and gives context, which provides the reader with a better view of the horizon before them. I found her writing clear and concise, making me want to learn a great deal more when time permits.

Kudos, Madam Brown, for a highly insightful piece. I am ready to learn more about the royals and you seem to be a wonderful vehicle for my education.

The Cellar, by John Nicholl

Eight 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.

When approached by John Nicholl to read his latest novel, I was pleased and cleared my schedule. Nicholl is known for his succinct and yet terrifyingly realistic depictions of the depravity that the world can produce. With short chapters and a punchy plot, the story flows well and keeps the reader enthused until all is revealed.

Marcus Gove has had issues for many years, something that has been whispered about by those who spend time with him. However, he’s never been caught and keeps some of his deepest secrets to himself. He captures women and stores them in his cellar, particularly those who will not be missed. He enjoys sick forms of torture, dismembering his victims and ensuring their parts are found by others.

After Gove, who refers to himself as Moloch in public, tries to entice a young Lucy Williams to come paint him home, she is intrigued. The daughter of the local Member of Parliament, Williams is pleased to see her artistic talents are being noticed by those in West Wales. When Lucy is lured to Moloch’s home, she soon realises that she’s in way over her head. Being held captive, she will have to hope that someone notices she’s gone missing.

When Lucy’s father calls on the police to help with his disappearance, the West Wales force begin their investigation. Part of that includes calling DI Laura Kesey back from holiday. Working with the few clues at her disposal, DI Kesey begins learning a little more about this Moloch and how serious things could get for Lucy if she’d not found soon. It’s a race against time with a ruthless murderer hiding in the shadows. Nicholl does it again with an impactful novel sure to chill all readers.

John Nicholl is one author I can be sure will entertain me with his stories. Set in Wales, the novels offer that wonderful flavouring, while also tapping into some great storytelling of the darker side of society. Nicholl is back to present a piece about a sadistic killer who is on the hunt for more victims, with a police force ready to delve in and keep the peace. I enjoyed this one again and hope there are more to come soon.

Nicholl knows how to spin a tale, using a strong narrative base to provide the reader with something easy to follow, Adding a handful of strong characters who are able to flesh out the narrative foundation, Nicholl adds another element that keeps things moving. With a plot similar to some of his past pieces, Nicholl must try to make this piece stand out. He did so, while also using the traditional ‘police hunt’ tactic that many novels in the genre tend to prefer. While everything seemed to go really well, I was a little disappointed with what appeared to be a quick resolution. A swift act within the cellar and the police come rushing in, then the story ties itself up in a few more pages. I would have liked something a tad more suspenseful and developing in the climax.

Kudos, Mr. Nicholl, for another winner. I am always happy to see when one of your books lands in my inbox.

The Fall Girl, by Marcia Clark

Seven stars

Always eager to read the legal fiction she writes, I turned to the latest novel by Marcia Clark. While some readers will remember her from the early 90s—when a certain iconic sports hero got away with murder—Clark has reinvented herself as a great writer of legal thrillers, pulling on her experiences, both personal and professional. Clark weaves an intriguing story that adds layers as the story progresses, though it lacked some of the impact I came to expect in both her previous series. A decent novel, though not yet at the level I have come to expect of Marcia Clark.

Charlie Blair has been trying to reinvent herself in the Santa Cruz DA’s office, having left a great deal in the dust. While she’s been trying to forget her past life in Chicago, she’s been finding the ability to self-medicate usually takes the edge off. However, all that comes crashing down when she’s handed the file of a recently murdered bail bondsman, Shelly Hansen.

When Charlie is paired with the new hot-shot prosecutor, it could be a great match. Charlie hopes to learn much from Erika Lorman, who has a way with juries and is riding a high after putting away a celebrity chef for murder. However, Charlie notices some cracks in the case and cannot help but wonder if there was something more than legal maneuverings taking place.

With a prime suspect in Shelly Hansen’s murder in the crosshairs, Charlie will have to decide if she can pin the murder of a teenage girl. Things seem to be stacked up against her, but even Charlie cannot believe everything she’s reading. When a distraction from her past puts Charlie on the edge, there’s no telling how the present case will be affected. A chilling legal thriller that has many of the needed elements to make a great story.

When I discovered that Marcia Clark was writing legal thrillers, I had to given them a chance. I could not put them down once I started, as the stories are as intense as they are gritty. A strong plot keeps things interesting for the reader, while Clark uses her legal knowledge to paint quite the picture. While this one waned a bit, there is hope that it was simply the standalone jitters that left me feeling a tad underwhelmed.

The key to a great thriller is to find the crime and build on it from there. I feel as though Marcia Clark has been using all the needed ingredient to make a great story, from a foundational narrative on up. Proving to be a key pathway to the story’s success, the narrative uses both past and present to tell the story of Charlie Blair, filling in gaps for the reader along the way. Great characters help paint the scenes well, though I was sometimes confused as the time period changes from chapter to chapter. The plot kept things interesting, both in the courtroom and out in the community. Even with two time periods, things appeared to come together nicely. It may have simply been me and the headspace in which I currently find myself, but I felt a lack of spark throughout the piece. There were great moments, but my attention waned as I forged through the book, which is not what usually happens when Marcia Clark is at the helm. I will chalk it up to a lot on my plate and see what others feel about this book before casting my views too heavily.

Kudos, Madam Clark, for another good book. I hope others find a great deal to enjoy in your writing as well.

Cold, Cold Bones (Tempe Brennan #21), by Kathy Reichs

Eight stars

It is always an adventure when Kathy Reichs is at the helm of another novel. A mix of thrilling adventure and forensic science await the reader, who is never quite sure what is around the corner. This twenty-first novel in the series is strong and keeps the reader guessing, providing proof that Reichs is back and ready to keep the quality high. Straddling both past and present, the story keeps the reader engaged until the very end, as things finally come together. Another great piece by Reichs, who has shown that she’s not afraid to take risks.

While snowy weather is not common, it does happen around Charlotte. Dr. Temperence ‘Tempe’ Brennan is prepared, as she spends a great deal of her time up in Montreal, one of Canada;s largest cities. Still, it’s an adventure, as those around her try to cope, including Tempe’s daughter, Katy. As the two prepare for a nicer meal at home after Katy has returned to civilian life from a stint in the military, their tranquility is broken by the sight of a box on the porch step, which contains a recently removed eyeball.

Baffled as to what the eyeball means, Tempe reports it to the police and her colleagues at the morgue, only to be rattled again when she is sent to investigate a mummified body that is eerily similar to a case from her past.

More cases pile up and Tempe cannot shake the parallels to files from her past work in Charlotte and across Canada.

While she tries to piece the present and past cases together, Tempe’s forced to come to terms with a more personal issue when Katy does missing after volunteering at a men’s shelter. Worried and sure that someone is watching her, Tempe tries to remain one step ahead, while worried that Katy may have fallen prey to this copycat killer. Who is next on the list and how will Dr. Brennan be able to guess what awaits her? All the while, Katy’s disappearance eats away at Tempe, who cannot fathom the loss. Reichs dazzles in this piece, while keeping the forensics high and the twists plentiful.

Novels of revenge can be wonderful, as long as their basis is grounded in something the reader can understand . Kathy Reichs uses her great abilities, not only with forensic anthropology, but also writing, to keep the reader engaged and on the edge of their seats. While she waned for a while in her publications, this is a return to some of the stellar pieces I began in the early part of the series. There is something for everyone and great asides, which serve to humour and educate the reader in equal measure. Reichs packs a punch and keeps the reader guessing until the end, when she brings it all together, as any great thriller writer would.

I remember discovering Kathy Reichs and her writing many years ago, bingeing the early novels in this series, so as to discover how forensic anthropology might be a worthy angle of investigating crimes. Now a full-fledged fan, I am always eager when Kathy Reichs publishes a new piece, hoping that it will pack as much of a thrill ride as some of the early novels. With a great narrative and stellar pacing, the story begins well and keeps getting better. Solid characters, some of whom are regular faces for series fans, keep the piece moving and add needed flavouring when things demand it. Twists are plentiful, as are moments of pure education, so the reader can better understand what is happening before them. Reichs’ own work as a forensic anthropologist is highlighted throughout, as is her passion for both Charlotte and Montreal. Those eager to find a series that will take the reader on a ride need look no further, though do not expect anything superficial, as this is a hefty topic!

Kudos, Madam Reichs, for keeping your fans appeased and penning a great novel. Where are you headed next it’s Tempe and those who surround her?

Rising Tiger (Scot Harvath #21), by Brad Thor

Eight stars

When it comes to novels in the thriller genre, one need look no further than Brad Thor. Always keen to pluck out some struggle on the international scene, Thor proves insightful and highly entertaining as he presents his novels in a no holds barred manner. Pushing away from the over-flogged Russia and ISIS angles, Thor turns to China and India as new domains, where democracy and international safety hang in the balance. With operative Scot Harvath on the scene, the reader can be assured of something intense and full of action. Another Thor winner, sure to keep series fans quite content.

After a US operative is killed in India, the Americans are not ready to turn the other cheek, but must retaliate with some subtlety. Sending Scot Harvath into the region seems the most propitious way to handle things, though it will require much coordination to ensure things go smoothly. Harvath has not spent much time in India, but is ready for a new and difficult challenge.

After arriving in country, Harvath is paired up with a rugged former cop, whose job is not only to show him around, but also help tease out information from locals who may not be as happy to speak with a westerner. Harvath and his host learn a little more about the Indian underworld, in hopes of targeting a gangster who is said to have ruthless ways of dealing with his enemies. Harvath sets his sights on the man and hopes that a little cat and mouse play will lead to a quick capture, or extermination.

All the while, China is raising the stakes with a new and terrifying weapon. Using members of the Indian Army as test subjects, the Chinese hope to create new wave technology, blasting their enemies into submission, while doing a number on physiological aspects of the body as well. Harvath knows all too well what threat the Chinese hold and is sure that this is only the beginning. Working to catch a killer is but one aspect of the mission, but Scot Harvath cannot do it alone. He will need the help of a few locals to harness learning the ropes in a country whose rulebook differs greatly from American covert operations. Thor does a masterful job with this novel to keep the story fresh and the angles sharp.

While series fans have seen a great deal of transformation in Scot Harvath and the stories, there is something familiar with this piece that ties it all together. Well-paced and full of action, Thor painters a picture of a new 21st century threat and how conventional means will not work to solve the problem. Brad Thor is an author like no other, leaving the reader to dazzle in his abilities throughout this high-octane piece.

The world of espionage and covert operations requires constant tweaking to remain relevant without getting too technical. The reader needs to feel as though they are in the middle of the action, but also understand what is going on around them. Brad Thor’s narrative pace is such that things are ever-evolving, but at least not to the point that the reader feels left behind. A handful of returning characters help connect this piece to many of the others, while new faces help add a flavouring not seen in past Harvath novels. There is great character development, such that I want to know more about some of the newcomers, which I hope means they will be back soon. Plot twists emerge throughout, but things stay relatively true to current goings-on in the world, allowing the reader to feel as though they are part of the current international operative network and can trade the threats presented as real and potential in the coming years. I am eager to see how much more Scot Harvath has left in him, though am not tiring of his presence or how Brad Thor is developing the series.

Kudos, Mr. Thor, for another winner in this collection of intense novels. I wait to see what’s next in your arsenal and trust you will dazzle once more.

A Hideous Convention (Bombay Crime Bureau #0.5), by Krishnaraj HK

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to Krishnaraj HK for providing me with a copy of this short story, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

I was pleased to be handed an ARC for this short story, which proves to be highly entertaining. As I am one who always enjoys a great police procedural, I was eager to sink my teeth into one that uses an Indian flavouring to advance the story. Well-paced and with a few twists to keep me forging onwards, I was pleased to begin my journey reading Krishnaraj and his work.

After an early-morning vehicle accident claims the lives of two people, a teenaged boy is the only survivor with answers as to what’s might have happened. Scanning the scenes the police cannot answer all their queries, but are fairly certain that sleeping at the wheel as the likely cause of the vehicle veering into the path of an oncoming truck. However, Forensics may have something else to say on the matter, which leads Dev Shinde, Senior Superintendent with the Bombay Crime Bureau, to take a closer look.

When a container of pills are found in the glove box, Superintendent Shinde wonders if there may be more to the story. He digs a little deeper to learn that the family has a history of addiction, including the teenager who was on his way back from a facility with his parents. As Superintendent Shinde probes a little more, additional secrets begin tumbling out, which only adds motive and depth to this road incident. Might there be more than a freak accident to investigate here? Who might have wanted others in the vehicle to suffer and how did this all come about? A great introduction to the Bombay Crime Bureau. I look forward to the full-length novel to come.

It is always a gamble when an author approaches you, in hopes of you reading their work. The pressure is on, but I am happy to keep things honest throughout the review, as this is the only way an author will grow. I readily accepted this police procedural short story by Krishnaraj and hoped that it would whet my appetite for the upcoming novel with the same cast of characters. The story is strong and follows well, creating twists throughout to keep the reader on their toes. There are some good characters whose backstory will surely be developed as the series takes root. I am eager to see where things are headed and am happy to have taken the gamble with this piece.

Police procedurals the world round rely on strong narrative direction, particularly for those who are not familiar with the local customs or system of law. The reader is led quite nicely along with this piece and Krishnaraj keeps things moving at a brisk pace. Characters offer some depth, as well as comic relief, throughout the piece, which opens the door to some great development, once the series gets rolling. Plot twists throughout keep the reader on their toes, but also provide some ‘aha’ moments as Krishnaraj surely does not want things to become too predictable. I am glad that I took the time to read this shorter piece and await news on the full novel, which is sure to come soon.

Kudos, Mr. Krishnaraj, for reaching out and providing such a nice introduction to your series, I am eager to see how things go.

1989 (Allie Burns #2), by Val McDermid

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Val McDermid, andGrove Atlantic for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Always eager to to read the works of Val McDermid, I readily reached for her latest novel. Allie Burns and her journalistic prowess are back for another adventure, using the backdrop of history to spin a story like no other. McDermid packs of punch with this novel, which explored a number of issues from 1989, both social and historical, while providing her reader with something well-worth their invested time. I can only wonder where McDermid will take things next, but am sure fans are in for another treat.

Allie Burns has come a long way in a decade. Now in a senior role within the Sunday Globe, Allie has come to terms that her passion for investigative journalism must be shelved as she tries to cater to readers with tabloid-style writing. Sent to cover the Lockerbie memorials after a plane exploded over the small Scottish town, Allie soon realises that she is meant to be a pretty face digging in the mud of societal grief.

After tripping upon a story about AIDS in Edinburgh, Allie discovers that there is more to it than labelling the city as the disease’s European hotspot . A drug trial aimed at stemming the effects of HIV is quickly stopped by UK authorities. As Allie digs a little deeper, she learns that trials for the drug continue in East Germany, though little is known about what’s going on. Allie vows to get answers and heads behind the Iron Curtain to get to the truth.

While in East Germany, Allie learns much about the pharmaceutical industry, but has another hot potato story land in her lap. The apparent suicide of a media magnate has ties to Nazi Germany and Allie is keen to get to the bottom of this as well. While she tugs on a string or two, Allie soon realises that she has unraveled quite true story and won’t stop until she gets to the truth. The world is changing around her, but Allie Burns is one woman who won’t watch it pass her by! Another stunning story by Val McDermid that will keep the reader flipping pages well into the night.

I have long enjoyed the work of Val McDermid, who never shies away from controversial things while highlighting the wonders of Scotland. There is so much going on in this piece that it is difficult to summarise with ease. McDermid encapsulates a great deal within the pages of this book and keeps the reader wanting to know more. Society and the world at large come under the microscope in this piece, which is both reflective and refreshing in equal measure.

McDemrid is able to develop a strong narrative from the outset, which serves to guide the story along for most of the ride. There are strong themes that resonate out of what McDermid has to say and she’s keen to address them in detail. Great characters offer the reader some entertainment throughout, though it is the depth to which they take the novel that is their greatest purpose. A few key plot twists, complementing the historic goings-on, prove to be the best part of the story and keep the reader learning as they make their way through this gripping tale. I wonder if there is more. to come and what year Mcdermid will choose next.

Kudos, Madam McDermid, for a great piece and wonderful collection of historical moments. You never ceases to amaze.

Storm Tide (Courtney #20), by Wilbur Smith with Tom Harper

Eight stars

It is always a pleasure to return to the world of the Courtney family, especially when Wilbur Smith is the literary tour guide. In this twentieth novel in the Courtney series, Smith tosses things back to the late 18th century once more, as the American War of Independence looms, as well as some other topical adventures for the current Courtney to face. Full of history, drama, and just a little humour, Wilbur Smith proves that he is one of the greatest historical storytellers I have read. A return to greatness after some lacklustre collaborative work.

It’s 1774 and Rob Courtney is still coming into his own. Having spent much of his life along the east coast of Africa, Rob knows little of the exciting life that awaits him on the open seas. He decides to put his dreams into reality after a death in the family and sets off aboard a ship for England, with only a family heirloom to accompany him.

Rob discovers that life in Africa is but a speck of what is going on in the world. He finds himself. lapping up a life of adventure, though soon comes to understand that dreams cost money and he is soon to run out. With an offer to join the British Navy, Rob finds himself back on the open waters and sailing towards the American colonies, where an uprising is beginning to make things quite tense. It is then that Rob Courtney finds true adventure, following in the steps of his ancestors, who never turned away from danger and risk.

Arriving on colonial shores, Rob begins fighting to keep Britain in change, while being seduced by the beauty of a woman who wants to show him how gracious she can be. As Rob gets more ensconced with the battle, two distant relatives emerge on the other side of the fight; young men who will stop at nothing to toss off the yoke of British rule. Rob’s eyes are soon opened up to many new perspectives when he sets sail for other parts of the Americas, including the importance of freedom and that love cannot always follow societal rules. A stunning addition to the Courtney series, Wilbur Smith does well with a little help from a secondary author.

I remember discovering the wonders of the Courtney family years ago, as Wilbur Smith was setting the groundwork for some of these other novels. The stories were always rich with history, social revelations, and stunning narrative development. Smith has not lost his gusto, adding depth to the pieces all these years later. I can only hope there are a few more to come, as they surely capture the reader’s attention and force them to think a little harder.

Wilbur Smith has tackled some of the thorny issues related to African colonisation and how the white minority wrestled with their role generations ago. In this piece, the story looks not to colonisation, but rather the slave trade and uses some strong narrative pathway to express how things were back in the latter part of the 18th century. Smith keeps things on edge with some wonderful characters, each of whom play an important role in telling how things progressed, while using historical events to keep the reader connected with fact. Plot twists throughout with some detailed discussions of societal norms force the reader to remain attune with what is going on, as they piece together much of what Smith has expressed in past books over a handle of generations. Long live the Courtneys, which Wilbur Smith seems keen to do!

Kudos, Mr. Smith, for another great piece. Keep them coming as best you can!

The Accomplice (Eddie Flynn #7), by Steve Cavanagh

Eight stars

Glad to return to the world of Steve Cavanagh and the Eddie Flynn legal thrillers, I turned to the latest instalment of the series. Cavanagh takes an interesting approach to the law and investigation in a piece that shows just how on the ball the author can be when it comes to the world of serial killers. A strong story and great characters help elevate the book and make me yearn for more as soon as possible.

Eddie Flynn has been enjoying his legal practice for the last number of years, choosing who he represents and making sure criminal defence work receives as stellar a reputation as possible. When his team is approached by a lawyer to take on the defence of Carrie Miller, arguably the most hated woman in America. Carrie is the wife of Daniel Miller, also known as The Sandman, a horrific serial killer who is still on the loose. While Carrie professes to being innocent of any wrongdoing, the court of public opinion is clearly ruling against her.

While Eddie is hesitant to take the case, he’s persuaded by something deep inside him. Preparing to defend her on charges of being an accomplice to murder, Eddie knows that it will be an uphill battle, exacerbated by the fact that his client has skipped bail. Add to that The Sandman is lurking in the shadows and still killing, when he makes a bold move; kidnapping one of Eddie’s team members and promising to release her only when Carrie is exonerated.

As the drama in court heats up, events around New York are also changing, such that the truth evolves with each passing hour. While Eddie may have a lock on helping Carrie, the truth about The Sandman soon comes into question, leaving some to wonder if Daniel Miller’s as sinister as many would believe. It will take Eddie’s best work to save his client and a team member from sure chaos. If anyone can do it, it’s Eddie Flynn! Cavanagh does a wonderful job at keeping the reader thoroughly engaged throughout.

I remember stumbling upon the Eddie Flynn series and bingeing the first few novels. Since then, I have tried to keep my eyes open for new submissions by Steve Cavanagh, all of which open my eyes to new angles of American criminal defence. Cavanagh knows his stuff and keeps the reader completely engaged as they progress through the story, making this the perfect piece for any who have a penchant for legal thrillers.

The strength of the story is founded in Cavanagh’s ability to cobble together a powerful narrative, as is usually the case. He uses this as a means of leading the reader along a path that keeps the momentum going and provides a collection of stunning revelations along the way. Great characters, whose presence make for a more entertaining read, return and provide some lighter banter at times, as the subject matter is quite intense. Plot twists and reveals help the reader remain on the edge of their seat and leave little room for mass predictability. I have always enjoyed when Steve Cavanagh writes and will eagerly await his next book, which I hope is in the works now!

Kudos, Mr. Cavanagh, for keeping me entertained and highly in tune with the world of legal thrillers.

The Neon Punch (Eddie Flynn #0.1), by Steve Cavanagh

Eight stars

Always a fan of Steve Cavanagh’s Eddie Flynn series, I was happy to stumble upon this extremely short piece that could be considered an early preface to the collection. Eddie Flynn has always been a favourite character of mine and this piece, while brief, was a great addition to the collection of legal thrillers that Steve Cavanagh has penned. A glimpse into his past life provides the reader a great look into Flynn’s dicier days before the law took over.

Eddie Flynn may not have always been a lawyer, but has had a way of reading a room, as well as those he is trying to play. In this piece, Eddie Flynn is in Vegas and trying to dupe a professional gambler out of a large pot of money. Just as things are getting tense, a woman appears and seems interested in making a scene. When Eddie intervenes, he finds himself on the wrong end of a punch to the gut. Poker chips fly and a commotion ensues. What follows is proof that Eddie Flynn is a master and knows just how to turn things to his advantage. A great piece by Cavanagh, perfect for a short coffee break.

Steve Cavanagh has a wonderful ability to pull the reader in swiftly. His Eddie Flynn character is not only entertaining, but his backstory is one many readers will find intriguing. This very short piece does not delve too much into that area or character development, but does provide a context as to where Flynn came from and how his pre-law life was just as important as those cases he tries and helps investigate in the series to date. I stumbled upon this piece while reading the latest legal thriller and am pleased to have added it to my list, as well as how it helps enrich the overall Eddie Flynn experience.

Kudos, Mr. Cavanagh, for a great piece that took only a few minutes to digest!

Genesis (Detective Robert Hunter #12), by Chris Carter

Nine stars

Pleased to get my hands on the latest Chris Carter thriller, I eagerly read the book to see how things would progress in yet another police procedural with psychological thriller undertones. Detective Robert Hunter is back for another in-depth exploration of a psychotic killer whose motives only become apparent after a significant amount of analysis. Carter provides the reader with a stunning story that takes things to gruesome levels, but never loses its momentum. A great thriller in line with other novels in the series, proving Chris Carter can impress and captivate with ease.

Detective Robert Hunter has long been a valuable member of the Ultra Violent Crime division of LAPD Homicide, investigating the most heinous crimes committed. While this may be the case, he has always seen it eat away at his inner self, which leaves Hunter to wonder how much energy he has left.

When he and his partner are called to the scene of a brutal murder, where the victim has been hung up with a giant fish hook, Hunter begins to wonder if he has reached the edge of the depravity people could inflict on others. With a piece of poetry left at the scene, Hunter and others within the LAPD begin to ponder if this message has a deeper meaning.

When other killings occur with completely different motives, it is only the line of poetry that connects them all together. Hunter must use all the resources at his disposal to determine what’s going on and how to connect the dots. It is only when taking a step back and syntheising the evidence that Detective Hunter makes a possible connection, though this is not guaranteed to come to fruition.

With time running out and another victim sure to be targeted by the killer soon, Hunter will have to try to stay one step ahead. How does the killer choose their victims and what motive ties them all together? Hunter and the rest of the team will have to make sense of this, taking things back to the beginning, the so-called genesis of the killer’s motivation. Chris Carter impresses with a story that leaves no time to catch one’s breath, but keeps the reader turning pages well into the night.

I have always enjoyed the writing of Chris Carter, who pulls out all the stops in order to hook the reader from the opeeening pages. In a story that provides a substantial amount of narrative progression, Carter also adds his trademark collection of gruesome killings, which help the reader take note. Great storytelling and intricate puzzling together of clues provide the reader with an entertaining experience while chilling them to the core.

Chris Carter has never suffered from an inability to captivate, no matter the angle of his story. He uses a strong narrative to set the scene, adding highly descriptive moments and short chapters to keep the reader intrigued and wanting to read more. The characters, which series fans will have come to know well, continue to have depth to their personal backstories and fit together effectively for the overall experience. Plot lines emerge throughout, with twists to keep the story from being too predictable. The story is built on layers, which are slowly pulled back in order to get the the kernel. However, even atthat point, nothing is completely linear. There is a chilling aspect to the piece that Carter instills with each of his publications, though this is offset with great background development, keeping things from being too gory. I have seen the strain the series has taken on Detective Robert Hunter, but he is just so strong a character that I hope Carter has more to come.

Kudos, Mr. Carter, for another chilling thriller that cements your place at the top of the genre!

Duplicity (Brick Kavanagh #2), by Shawn Wilson

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Shawn Wilson, andOceanview Publishing for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Always eager to to try new books and authors, I gladly accepted an ARC of Shawn Wilson’s latest novel. After familiarising myself with the debut novel, I dove into this one, which was just as intense. Wilson creates a stellar mystery with some strong themes and keeps the reader guessing until the final page turn. I cannot wait to see how former cop Brick Kavanagh progresses as Shawn Wilson develops this series.

While the DC area is always wonderful, former homicide detective Brian ‘Brick’ Kavanagh needed a change. A trip to his ancestral homeland of Ireland proved useful, choosing to return stateside only because of the visa requirements. However, Brick did not leave Ireland empty handed, having struck up a romantic connection with a flight attendant who spends much of her time in Chicago.

Brick is looking for something to bide his time and agrees to help a criminologist talk about cold cases to one of her college classes. Choosing one, Brick begins revisiting a hit and run that came to nothing, primarily because the accused was able to hide behind diplomatic immunity. All the same, it is something to keep him occupied and once Brick finds a thread, there’s no knowing where it will lead.

While away on a brief trip to Chicago, Brick hopes to strengthen his relationship and see if it is going anywhere. However, a panicked call from his former partner, Ron Hayes, has Brick rushing back to DC. Ron’s wife and twin babies have been kidnapped and they are nowhere to be found, though clues begin popping up. Brick will have to tap into all his detective experience to help piece things together, but the direction in which things are going seems baffling.

Both cases progress rapidly; the cold case showing signs of a potential motive lie the kidnapping a sinister revelation. Brick might have wanted to let sleeping does lie with this case, as it seems his poking around has someone highly agitated. Still, Brick Kavanagh is not one to turn his back on progress and will open whatever doors are before him, even if they could cause harm. How will Brick be able to juggle two intense cases and bring justice to them both before more people are hurt? Shawn Wilson weaves another great story in her latest novel, not to be missed by those who love something intense and unputdownable.

I enjoy discovering new authors, as they are a formidable challenge for me. I find some who are best left behind me, but others, like Shawn Wilson, who earn a spot on my list of those I will gladly follow. A great writing style is balanced with poignant plot twists, all of which create something well worth my while. In a genre full of authors who purport to have what it takes to spin a police procedural into something fabulous, Wilson excels and should rise to the top for those seeking something worth their reading time. I just hope there is more to come before too long.

From the opening pages, Wilson builds up her narrative to create a mystery that has all the elements of success. The story flows easily and is aided by strong characters who add flavour where it is needed. Short chapters keep the reader pushing forward before realizing they are neck-deep in the story and cannot put it down. Plot twists emerge throughout that keep the reader on edge and wondering what awaits them. I can only hope that Shawn Wilson will keep up this calibre of writing, as I devoured both of the first two novels in the series. There’s something about Brick Kavanagh that has me eager to come back, whenever the next novel makes its way to readers.

Kudos, Madam Wilson, for another great piece. You have a fan in me!

The Secret Witness (Shepard & Gray #1), by Victor Methos

Eight stars

Always a fan of Victor Methos and his writing, I was pleased to begin this new series. In stories that always pack a punch, Methos treats readers to the dual protagonists of cop and prosecutor, both of whom are trying to reinvent themselves. Gritty storytelling matches well with a deceptive killer to give the reader something exciting to explore and paving the way towards what could be a stunning new series. Methos at his best!

The opening line of an anonymous letter published in the local paper says it all: “This is Reaper speaking.” The announcement comes just after a couple is found brutally murdered in the vehicle, the scene quite similar to a string of killings years before. Sheriff Elizabeth Gray is not sure if she has a copycat on her hands, but she knows that she will not be able to do it alone.

After being permanently sidelined by an attack in the courtroom, Solomon Shepard is trying to make the most of his days. He’s left the legal world and has been writing, as well as lecturing on serial killers at the local college. However, when Sheriff Gray calls on him, he’s intrigued and ready to put some of his knowledge to practical use. The Reaper case is one he knows well and Shepard is ready to see just how intense being back in the field can be.

While sifting through the evidence, both Gray and Shepard realise that this killer will stop at nothing to be noticed and make the list of victims grow swiftly. Bloody discoveries will leave them both in the crosshairs of this new killer, seeking to be a part of evil greatness. What Gray and Shepard soon discover is that they had no way of predicting the truth that is revealed before them. Methos chills the reader to the core with this novel, the first in what could be a stellar series.

I have always enjoyed the work of Victor Methos, primarily because he gets to the heart of the matter with stunning legal and criminal analysis. There is a great deal for fans of both genres to enjoy here, particularly those who like something with more of a serial killer flavouring. Methos keeps things sharp and presents the reader with something that has them wanting more, which can only mean he better keep the stories coming.

At the heart of every good book is a strong narrative, which serves to guide the reader. Victor Methos does that effectively with a strong foundation that directs the reader throughout the story. Short chapters and great characters help keep the reader enticed, while providing something for all to enjoy. Plot twists abound, keeping the reader from being able to predict everything as it occurs, one of Methos’ great skills. I can only hope the series progresses soon with new and exciting ideas, as Methos has me curious about where things are headed.

Kudos, Mr. Methos, for another great story. I can only hope you have more ideas percolating.

Relentless (Brick Kavanagh #1), by Shawn Wilson

Eight stars

Always eager to to try new books and authors, I gladly accepted an ARC of Shawn Wilson’s latest novel. In order to get the full context, I chose to begin with the first in the series, which brings me to this review. Wilson provides the reader with a strong police procedural, adding depth and character development throughout, as she illustrates the struggles her protagonist has while working as a DC Homicide detective. Full of wonderful storytelling and some painful revelations, Shawn Wilson is one author worth reading for a stellar experience.

The DC area is always beautiful in the spring, but all this is dashed when a young woman’s naked body is discovered in the Tidal Basin. This calls for DC Homicide Detective Brian ‘Brick’ Kavanagh, who attends the scene in hopes of making some headway before forensics disappear and the young woman is left as a crime statistic.

As Kavanagh begins his investigation, he learns that this murder is tied to another, with close personal ties. He tries to peel back the truth from an ever-mounting pile of deception, but Kavanagh encounters fellow detectives who are keen to shelve this as a crime between minorities. Others may not care, but Detective Brick Kavanagh feels everyone deserves their fair share of investigative time.

After someone confesses to the crime, Kavanagh wonders if that is the end of it, as his colleagues seem happy to move on. However, the defence attorney might be his one chance to get to the truth. Upset by the lack of support DC Homicide offers, Kavanagh retires and begins investigating on his own. It’s only then that the dark truth comes to light and no one is safe. Who killed two innocent Guatemalans and how has Kavanagh risked the lives of everyone around him? Wilson does a masterful job in this piece stringing the reader along until the impactful ending.

New authors have always been a welcomed challenge for me, as I learn so much about them through their writing. While I have a list of go-to authors, I am happy to expand it when I come across someone who is worth my time. Shawn Wilson is one of those, as I have come to discover with this piece. She has grit and determination, allowing me to feel as though she could compete with others in the genre and perhaps surpass them. I am eager to get to the ARC of her latest book, in hopes that it is just as exciting as this proved to be.

Wilson works to build her narrative up from the opening pages, providing the reader with a stellar pathway throughout this police procedural. Her depiction of characters is spot-on and allows the reader to feel in the middle of the action, which adds more to the story. Plot twists keep the reader on the edge of their seat, as short chapters propel them to ‘read a little more’, which makes for a great reading experience. I am eager to add Shawn Wilson to my list of authors and hope others will try this book, in hopes of doing the same.

Kudos, Madam Wilson, for a stellar debut novel. I am eager to read more and see how I like your style.