After the End (Owen Taylor #2), by James Patterson and Brendan DuBois

Eight stars

James Patterson and Brendan DuBois are back with the follow-up BookShot, where the reader met Owen Taylor, a recently-retired member of American Special Operations. With as much intensity as the debut piece, Patterson and DuBois solidify their ability to keep Taylor fresh and at the forefront of the reader’s mind. Owen Taylor is quite enjoying his new life in rural New Hampshire, though some of his less-welcoming neighbours need a little reminder of common decency. When he’s visited by a former colleague, Taylor learns of an issue down in Georgia that has his name written all over it. Travelling down, Taylor discovers a former special ops has been decimated by an IED, though things are not quite as cut and dry as that. While it would be easy to point fingers at the Taliban or ISIS, some raw footage leads Taylor to believe that popular war correspondent, Jack Zach, may have tipped off the enemy to an America contingent, causing significant casualties. This pushes Taylor to agree to help and he finds himself seeking out the source. Jack Zach does not seem to want to engage with Taylor in New York, though the latter will not take a simple no. A tip sends Taylor over to the Turkey-Syrian border, but Zach’s little game of cat and mouse keeps him one step ahead. After retuning the the US, Taylor discovers that his sleuthing is not appreciated and that Zach has friends in high places. However, Owen Taylor is stubborn, if nothing else, and will not stop until he has been able to avenge this cowardly act, if he can make it out alive. Patterson and DuBois show that their collaborative skills are top-notch. BookShot fans and those who loved the opening Owen Taylor piece will surely enjoy this follow-up.

It is sometimes difficult to produce a second high-quality short story in such short order. Patterson and DuBois did well with their BookShot ‘The End’ and this sequel offers just as much to the curious reader. Owen Taylor’s character is again wonderfully developed. There is less backstory here, though Taylor does flashback to his crew on the final mission (which was the crux of the opening story). I was certain that things would remain focussed in New Hampshire, where Taylor had a new group of enemies to keep him busy, though he seems to have handled them in a single (short) chapter. Working through the skills that Taylor honed while serving his country, the reader is able to see a decent snapshot of the man and his capabilities. The story is brief and the chapters speed along, permitting the reader to catapult through to the end in a single setting. Doing the reverse of the first piece, the reader sees Taylor in his nirvana before being thrust back into the combat zone he so quickly fled. An interesting contrast and should be noted for those who like to dig deeply into a story’s symbolism. I said that I would formulate an opinion of whether I wanted to see Owen Taylor in a full-length novel after reading this piece. I can say that I would not, as I feel the quick pace of the story is the perfect setting. However, I would also not want to see numerous BookShots that pull Taylor back into the mix and away from his home. It seems too ‘agent for hire after he retires’ and would surely get old quickly. Patterson and DuBois have done well with these two stories. We’ll see if they are done or have another idea floating around between them, Owen Taylor or otherwise.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and DuBois, on a great follow-up piece. Your collaborative effort offers up some great storytelling and I can only hope to find more in the months to come (or this BookShot binge month)!

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

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The End (Owen Taylor #1), by James Patterson and Brendan DuBois

Eight stars

It’s nice to be able to pick up a BookShot and commit only a few hours to a story that can—though, not always—take you away somewhere wonderful or exciting. A few cups of coffee and a little quiet time allows you to fully commit and see what James Patterson and his collaborator have to say. This story is anything but peaceful, though it reads so well that I cannot heap enough praise on it. Brendan DuBois shows that he is not only an accomplished author, but also that he has just enough flair to pull this story off and keep a large group of readers entertained. Owen Taylor is ready to retire, but has one final covert mission to accomplish before returning to civilian life. Alongside his team of four other operatives, they parachute into Serbia to handle a warlord who has been trying to drum up enough panic to bring about another World War. As Taylor and the team begin their night operation, something goes wrong, and it’s not just a hankering for home cooking. As the trek through snow and sleet continues, Taylor gets the sense that they are expected, as if someone’s tipped off the locals and traps await. One by one, members of the team end up on the short end of the lucky stick, leaving Taylor to trudge onwards to complete what he’s been sent to do, all before the sun rises. By the time he reaches his final spot, there is a new threat that awaits him and he finally comes face to face with the reason for the compromised mission. The second half of the story explores Owen Taylor from a new angle, as he sifts through not only his last mission, but his time as an operative. His dreams for solitude, love, and stability flash through his mind as he tries to decompartmentalise after years of military service. However, they say that once a soldier, always a soldier. No quiet lakeside living can remove those ingrained traits… but Owen Taylor may have no choice. Patterson and Brendan DuBois do a masterful job at jamming much into the story, without leaving the reader gasping or seeking to pull the proverbial ripcord. BookShot fans, particularly those who enjoy something with a military flavour, will surely devour this in short order.

While still early in my month-long binge of BookShots, I have come across some great pieces that those I feel should remain on the shelf. This one has been on my TBR list for a while and I wanted to see if it lived up to some of the hype. With a sequel (which I will tackle in short order), I wondered if Patterson and DuBois could bring the intensity and yet leave some threads dangling to lure me into pushing through and getting my hands on that second piece. Owen Taylor’s character is wonderfully developed, though there is still much that can be done with him. The reader receives some backstory about Taylor’s past missions, though it is the current one, seen through a pair of Night Vision Goggles, that really pulls the reader in. Taylor’s feelings and deep-rooted sentiments as things happen in real time provide the reader with a general idea of who this military man might be. Without revealing too much, the latter portion of the book further explores Taylor and his thought processes, personalising the man and divorcing him from his soldier stoicism. While the story is brief and the chapters speed along, the reader is also able to learn a little more about those on the team alongside Taylor, which offers further exploration into the different individuals who find themselves on these sorts of missions. Patterson and DuBois do well in short order to present believable and intriguing characters, both in the Serbian darkness and the locale of the story’s latter portion (trying not to spoil!). The story was well-crafted and left me wanting to know more, though I am sure the sequel has just as much punch to it. A mix of military thrills with personal reflection offers a larger group of readers something to enjoy. It’s not all blood and gore, but also not saccharine and lovey. Patterson and DuBois have laid the groundwork for something here and I cannot wait to see where they take it. Not quite sure if I can see a full-length book out of his yet, but I suspect that my the time I finish the second story, I’ll have an opinion.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and DuBois, on a great piece of writing. Your collaborative effort offers up some great storytelling and I can see the partnership going places (as it has already).

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

The Dolls, by James Patterson and Kecia Bal

Eight stars

One of the interesting aspects to the BookShot collection is the vast array of topics that emerge from the various author combinations, serving up a little something for every reader to enjoy. Working alongside MasterClass Co-Author Competition Winner, Kecia Bal, James Patterson presents this story that is as eerie as it is futuristic. After working the crime desk in Chicago for a decade, journalist Lana Wallace arrives in Boston to work the business section and sharpen her mind in a new environ. However, as she arrives, a millionaire has been found murdered in his home, which turns the attention away from anything as mundane as the business pages. Still, Lana tries to use her crime beat past and mesh it alongside her her role to explore the business dealings of the recent victim, the second rich businessman to have been killed in recent days. What Lana finds out shocks her and leaves her gasping for air. CEO of PrydeTek, Eric Blake, was in the market to create life-like dolls that replicate humans in every way; from their physical appearance to the feel of their skin, and even their mannerisms. Labelled ‘robot companions’, these pieces of artificial intelligence can do whatever their owner desires and yet give the appearance of being entirely life-like. One of the darker sides to the PrydeTek discovery is the submissiveness of these robots, such that they are completely compliant in every way. As Lana tries to wrap her head around the sexual nature of these creations, she pokes around to find out just how realistic these robots seem to be for their owners. Discovering one such robot, Lana engages ‘Sandra’ in conversation and learns of her desire to leave the home, where she has been ordered to stay, but is programmed to remember a negative thought process from a past attempt to enter the outside world. After learning the extent of the horrible treatment of these robots, Lana discovers that a third body has turned up, yet another businessman. When a loose-lipped detective releases some poignant commentary on key pieces of evidence, Lana begins to see a larger and more disturbing picture, forced to act before it is too late. Patterson and Bal do a wonderful job presenting this 21st century piece of social commentary rolled into a thriller of sorts. BookShot fans with open minds will surely enjoy this piece, which differs from anything I have read to date.

As I have said before, it is refreshing to see new talent grace the pages of the BookShot collection. To learn that Kecia Bal earned this spot after a rigorous competition is even more exciting.Together, she and Patterson have crafted a piece that pushes the envelope, but also provides much needed insight into the world that is developing before us, even if things get a little personal and graphic at times. Lana Wallace proves to be an interesting protagonist, with her sleuthing capabilities and attempts to reinvent herself. The reader is not fully capable of engaging in a complete backstory with so little time to explore the story, but the authors do an effective job keeping the reader curious and always on their toes. Adding a number of strong (or, at least, quirky) secondary characters keeps the story moving forward and provides the reader some time to think, particularly when the dialogue and subject matter move away from traditional artificial intelligence discussions. The story itself is quite engaging, more for the eerie nature and twists embedded in the narrative, sure to keep readers talking for some time to come. I felt the story was the perfect length for a BookShot and one can hope these two will return to present more pieces of such high quality.

Kudos, Mr. Patterson and Madam Bal, for developing such interesting topics of discussion in this short story. Perhaps one of the better BookShots I have read, as it kept me thinking until the very last page.

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

Manhunt (Michael Bennett #10.5), by James Patterson and James O. Born

Eight stars

While BookShots can be a real gamble, it’s sure money when James Patterson and James O. Born team up and offer a new instalment to the Michael Bennett series. As is their annual tradition, the Bennetts are preparing for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Eager to secure a decent spot, they leave before dawn and take in all the festivities along the streets of New York. When, during the middle of the parade, Detective Bennett notices a vehicle crashing through the parade route, he arms himself for the worst. After crashing into one of the floats and pressing a detonator switch, the driver utters a baffling Arabic phrase and rushes off while mayhem ensues. Bennett leaps into action and chases down the driver, whose powerful fighting skills see him escape the clutches of the NYPD’s finest. For his heroics, Bennett is loaned to the FBI Taskforce to determine who the driver might be and what motive might explain this recent terrorist attack. Paired with Russian Embassy official, Darya Kuznetsova, Bennett is baffled as to why the Feds are utilising foreign countries to handle this investigation. After studying some of the tape from the event, its determined that the driver hails from Kazakhstan and has ties to Russia, though seems to have been turned by an Islamic terror cell for reasons yet unknown. Bennett and Kuznetsova seek to learn a little more about the man and how he might have masterminded this attack, as well as whether there is more to come. Bennett will not let up as long as the terrorist is on the loose, even if that means bending the rules set out for him. Bennett learns a little more about the driver and is baffled to learn some key information that might better explain what happened along the parade route. Might there be more to the story than meets the eye? With the Feds itching for answers and the Russian Mob on the hunt, Bennett must rush before everything disappears into a puff of smoke. Patterson and Born do a masterful job and show just how powerful a BookShot can be in the right hands. Lovers of these short stories and Michael Bennett fans alike will surely find much to enjoy in this.

Just as I have said that James Patterson ought to stick to a few key series (Michael Bennett being one of them), I also feel that there are a handful of collaborators who bring out the best in this super-rich author. James O. Born is one of those men, who has started to help steer the Michael Bennett series towards renewed success. Born is also wonderful in his BookShot submissions, dazzling the reader with high quality and succinct writing, which Patterson surely enjoys in whatever capacity he has. Tying in nicely to the previous full-length novel, the Bennetts are out in full force for Thanksgiving. Michael Bennett is, as always, a powerful character and receives a peppering of backstory here, though the number of past novels and the brevity of this piece do not leave much time for thorough expansion. The use of Darya Kuznetsova proves an interesting addition to the story, which works on many levels to add a new flavour to the over-utilised terrorist theme prevalent in the genre. Some of the twists these two discover only add to an already intense narrative, pushing the story along at breakneck speeds. The number of secondary characters also complement the story’s direction without weighing it down and forcing the reader to synthesise too much. The story is exciting and allows the reader to discover a new angle in the War on Terror, while also flirting with some of the new revelations about the former Cold War nemesis. Paced well with short chapters and just enough for an afternoon of reading, this Michael Bennett piece delivers in all the right ways!

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Born, for another superior collaboration. I can only hope that you have more lined up for BookShot fans in the coming months.

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

Private Gold (Private #13.5), by James Patterson and Jassy Mackenzie

Eight stars

I have always enjoyed the quick reading I can accomplish with the BookShot collection, developed a few years ago by James Patterson. What had me even more excited was to see that Patterson chose Jassy Mackenzie to help expand his series, tapping into another aspect of the Private collection with this accomplished South African author. With Private Johannesburg circling the drain, there is little for Joey Montague to do but close up shop after his partner’s untimely suicide. When Joey receives a call from Isobel Collins, seeking to hire Private to act as a bodyguard, he cannot decline, especially since this poor American has decided to situate herself in the roughest neighbourhood in the city. Joey rushes to meet her and they appear to hit it off immediately, though someone is lurking in the shadows, their eyes firmly focussed on Isobel. Joey soon learns that Isobel is in possession of a set of coordinates that have her truly baffled, though she is sure it ties into something having to do with her husband’s business. They trek out of town, heading in the direction of an abandoned gold mine, long since decommissioned by the government. What they discover there shocks them, both in its bone-chilling reality and potential monetary value. It also goes to substantiate something that Isobel has been wondering, based on other figures she and a friend have intercepted. Before they can alert the authorities, the shadowy figure strikes and nothing is guaranteed. Might Joey’s partner have a message from beyond the grave? Patterson and Mackenzie have shown that they are a force with whom to be reckoned as the Private series expands onto new continents. Fans of Bookshots and the Private collection may appreciate this a great deal, though anyone wanting a quick thrill ride may also find it well worth their time.

I have a love/hate relationship with James Patterson, though I can respect that he is also saddled with many writing projects, pairing up with countless co-authors. The BookShots are always hit and miss stories, for I find that it is a delicate writing chemistry that will either produce something I highly enjoy or a piece that falls flat. Jassy Mackenzie has never let me down and I am so happy to see that James Patterson took a gamble to work alongside her. The characters in this piece have little time to develop themselves, but what is offered up permits the reader to lay a solid foundation. The reader can attach themselves to Joey and Isobel with ease, as well as the less savoury person lurking in the shadows, whose mission is quite clear. The premise of the piece is also quite good and I hope to see more by this pair, as the narrative flowed well and utilised the short chapter formula that has worked so well for Patterson in the past. As this was a BookShot, developing the South African flavour was not possible and those who are not familiar with the geographic region will not be able to feel its richness in such a short time. I can only hope that readers will look into Jassy Mackenzie as a solo author and discover this wonderfully unique setting, or that Patterson will return and perhaps allow Mackenzie to utilise her skills in a full-length novel alongside his tight framework.

Kudos, Mr. Patterson and Madam Mackenzie, for such a wonderfully written short piece. I enjoyed it and would surely love to see you both team up together once again in the near future.

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

Filthy Rich, by James Patterson, John Connelly, and Tim Malloy

Eight stars

Needing a book to help fill a small gap before the end of the year, I turned to this James Patterson piece that has been collecting dust on my TBR shelf for a while. Patterson does not usually delve into non-fiction, but when he does, the reader can expect something of high quality (which surely begs the question, why does he torture his fiction fans with tepid writing at times?). He has teamed up here with two other authors, John Connelly and Tim Malloy, to add further depth and impact to the already troubling narrative. The brief dust cover commentary left me with some idea of what to expect as I looked into the life of Jeffrey Epstein, particularly his criminal behaviour, though nothing could have prepared me for the salacious nature of Epstein’s crimes or how money seems to have paved the way to his receiving a light slap on the wrist. Patterson et al. present the Epstein situation as one where a billionaire is able to use his financial holdings and penchant for young girls to fuel his own sexual gratification. Epstein employed an assistant and a few ‘scouts’ to bring other teenage girls (14-17) to his home in Florida, where they were told to offer him massages, clad sometimes in a pair of panties and, at other times, nothing at all. Epstein knew the girls’ ages, though he made it perfectly clear that he did not care. Sometimes a massage turned into sexual gratification for Epstein, as detailed on numerous occasions, with an outlandish recounting of events. While the police built a case and used some early girls to report on his actions, the lewd behaviour seemed to continue, where the girls were paid from $100-300, depending on what they were asked to do. Epstein seemed to be aware of the mounting case, but did not stop or seek to alter his approach. When the police acted and the Federal Government pressed charges, Epstein was able to call in favours and use his clout to defy all legal precedent, entering a plea and receiving minimal jail time (and the time he did spend was a joke). From there, the book explores the man, his far-reaching connections, and how being associated with him ruined some people. It is baffling to see this book progress, as the reader’s stomach will likely turn with each passing chapter. Wonderfully presented for such a horrid situation, it allows the reader to see that money can buy freedom and how the rich can be completely clueless about the laws the commoner must follow. I cannot think of a group of people who would ‘like’ this book, but it is a well-crafted piece that will surely blow the mind of many, without taking too long to devour its contents.

My interest in James Patterson is tepid at best, but this book has surely shown why I can sometimes applaud this author. Patterson use of Connelly and Malloy to craft this book, helping it flow and deliver a razor-sharp punch, complete with short chapters and a ‘to the point’ narrative for which Patterson is so famous. Patterson et al. push the reader into the middle of his horrific mess of sexual assault, child prostitution, and lewd pleasure-seeking, through a series of recreated interviews and conversations with victims of Epstein’s behaviour. What might be most stunning about the presentation of the book is that the victims tried to distance themselves from the acts, or even downplayed them. This emerges throughout the early part of the book, which pulls the reader in and forces them to want to know more, as if there is an addiction of sorts at play. The reader must know what happened (even if they remember the tabloid reporting) and how it all came crashing down. Interestingly enough, Patterson et al. make a point of showing that the normal course of justice seems to have been bastardised and Jeffrey Epstein was handled with kid gloves throughout. Even the required jail time left much to be desired. The evidence was there, the victims seemingly had lots to say about what happened to them, but high-priced lawyers and some glaring gaps in the legal system seem to have permitted Epstein to waltz through unscathed. This story is not one that even Patterson could dream up as he churns out pieces faster than most readers can type a review. Perfectly titled for its hideous abuse of the legal system, this book shows how money does talk and the laws are only for those who cannot circumvent them, even when children are being abused and the perpetrator does not deny it. Pardon me, as I need to vomit now that I have done my reviewing duty.

Kudos Messrs. Patterson, Connelly and Malloy. You’ve shed light on this horrendous collection of events and shown that even the likes of Donald Trump had enough sense to steer away from this man. If that doesn’t prove how awful Epstein is, nothing will!

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

Tell Tale: Short Stories, by Jeffrey Archer

Nine stars

It is always a pleasure to read something penned by the great Lord Jeffrey Archer, whose ideas seem never to run out as he presents them in a witty fashion. In this group of short stories, Archer presents the full gamut of his capabilities, showing that he can write something shorted than half a page, as well as a multi-part piece that spans many of the collection’s pages. Brilliant in his ideas, Archer tells tales of stamp collector, eager parking attendants, duplicitous insurance scammers, and those who want to ‘stick it to the man’. The reader will find themselves fully captivated in the stories and wishing the collection could go on forever. As intriguing as his Clifton Chronicles and some of his other epic novels, this short collection is worth every invested moment the reader takes to complete these fourteen stories.

I am filled with joy to find anything by Jeffrey Archer on my TBR shelf, especially his short stories. His list of ideas seems endless and he always finds ways to weave together masterful pieces that include a little punch at the end, as if the reader needed a jolt to end their reading experience. The vast array of characters in this collection is wonderful and Archer is able to develop those vessels of the narrative with such ease (and differentiates them so effectively). I can almost see the characters as they travel through the story, which is surely the sign of a quality writer. The stories are also wonderful for their variety as well as poignant lessons embedded in the text. Even when Archer is faced with stunning limitations (one hundred words exactly, due in 24 hours), he is able to deliver something eyebrow-raise worthy. What a master at the craft he has remained over four decades. There will be some who bemoan his legal issues, and such trolls have emerged on Goodreads. It is surely they who are the jealous folk, incapable of writing themselves out of a wet paper bag (and, trust me, their troll comments prove that point). Sit back and enjoy this collection! It will not be something you regret.

Kudos, Lord Archer, for offering your fans such a wonderful post-Clifton collection of writing. I have no doubt that you will continue to amaze us with all your ideas for years to come.

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

Poison: A Novel (Dismas Hardy #17), by John Lescroart

Nine stars

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

As a long-time fan of John Lescroart and his work, I was pleased to receive an early copy of his latest legal thriller, which offers series fans much to digest while being highly entertained. Dismas Hardy is still recuperating from the harrowing end of the last novel, when he was shot twice at point blank range. Vowing to scale back at the legal practice and refuse any significant criminal work, Hardy is contacted by a former client whose was arrested for the murder of her boss. Hardy is willing to at least provide some early legal advice to Abby Jarvis, though remains at least somewhat dedicated to his promise, something his wife will demand he honour. The death of Grant Wagner shocked everyone, particularly since it was originally deemed a heart attack, only to be re-examined when one of the Wagner children could not understand the finding. Further inspection reveals that Wagner was actually poisoned, paired with other interesting pieces of evidence, including that Jarvis had been skimming from the company’s profits and that she had been spending a great deal of extra time with Wagner before his death. While the legal system moves forward, it is not only Hardy who feels that his client might be innocent. The entire Wagner family seems shocked that Jarvis might have murdered their father, aware of some secrets shared between Grant and Abby. As Hardy agrees to represent Abby at her arraignment, he pulls out all the stops, upsetting his former partner and current district attorney, challenging the validity of the evidence used to arrest his client, which opens a rare bail hearing and leaves everyone watching what else Hardy might have in store for the courtroom. When Wagner’s recent love interest is shot in the face and killed, it leaves SFPD Homicide to use all their resources to see if the shooting might be tied to Wagner’s murder. Trouble is, Abby Jarvis was behind bars during the shooting and could not have committed the crime. Can the Grant Wagner murder be fuelled by financial gain or might there be something far more sinister at play here? And how does all this tie into another recent shooting that has baffled SFPD Homicide? Lescroart does a masterful job with his full collection of San Francisco characters, sure to impress series fans and those who love a well-crafted legal thriller.

It is always a pleasure to pick up a John Lescroart legal thriller, or more generally, a piece from his ever-expanding ‘San Fran crew’ as I call them. As this extended series keeps its quality throughout the twenty-plus novels, it is enjoyable to dive into Lescroart’s work and discover the legal nuances he has to offer. Lescroart’s Dismas Hardy is always an interesting character, who has evolved throughout the series. While there has been little backstory offered over the last number of novels, the ever-flourishing developments within his family and legal units keeps the reader connected to this unique man. Hints throughout leave the reader wondering if there is some major change brewing, though surely Lescroart will force everyone to wait for the next novel to unveil his plans for this central character. There are a number of strong secondary characters, both those who appear regularly (and receive their own novels in the extended series) and the one-timers who appear within this novel. All the characters mesh well and promote a multi-faceted story that keeps the reader wondering as the narrative develops nicely. Turning to the story, Lescroart delivers a strong piece that looks not only to explore the legal nuances of Abby Jarvis’ case, but also some key areas of poison, finance, and familial interactions. Lescroart never enters a topic half-assed, choosing instead to show that he has done his work to permit the reader the most detailed information as possible. The narrative is heavy with all these areas of insight, but things do not get bogged down by this. Rather, they flourish and permit the reader new areas of interest that might pique their interest for personal exploration. I would be remiss if I did not mention the quality of Lescroart’s work. The novels always flow so well and chapters seem to melt away as the reader rushes through the narrative and finds a well-crafted story throughout. I can only hope that Lescroart will stick with the San Fran gang and let those novels propel him to continued greatness.

Kudos, Mr. Lescroart, for another stellar piece of writing. I have loved this series since first I discovered it and will recommend it to anyone who has an interest in legal thrillers.

This book fulfils Topic #1 in the Equinox #2 Book Challenge, A Book in a Series (not a debut).

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

House Witness (Joe DeMarco #12), by Mike Lawson

Nine stars

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

As a long-time fan of Mike Lawson’s work, I was pleased to get my hands on an advance copy of his latest Joe DeMarco novel. After House Minority Leader John Mahoney receives word that someone close to him has been murdered, his first call is to Joe DeMarco, his fixer of sorts. Understanding the nuances of the Manhattan D.A.’s Office, Mahoney insists that DeMarco offer his services to assist in any way possible. The case looks fairly cut and dry, but those are the ones that tend to be the most problematic if they reach trial. The killer comes from family money that will stop at nothing to erase events in any way possible. When the defence attorney places a call, seeking some assistance in the matter of trying to turn an easy conviction into something far less straightforward, there is hesitation. However, for the right price, things may turn their way. Enter Ella Fields, who has made it her business to work alongside her husband to help dissuade or disappear key witnesses from what they saw, thereby toppling the proverbial apple cart. As things begin to get a little shaky in Manhattan, DeMarco learns of the possibility that someone like Fields could be out destroying easy cases. He vows to track her down, travelling across the United States to learn more about a number of cases, always two steps behind. However, with the trial about ready to begin, DeMarco may have stumbled upon something, though even he is not sure if it will be enough. Lawson continues paving the way for DeMarco to remain at the top if his game, while pulling readers into the middle of this quick-paced series. Fans of Joe DeMarco and those who like crime thrillers that do not slow down will surely enjoy this piece and the entire collection.

It is hard to believe that this is the twelfth instalment of the Joe Demarco series, though Mike Lawson has a wonderful handle on things. What began as a strong political thriller has turned more into something criminal and loosely legal in nature, but the reader is not forced to compromise too much. DeMarco’s backstory is well known to series vets, but is not lost here in the crumbs left for new readers. His past comes full circle as he is forced to come to terms with the murder of his cousin, though there are even larger shocks for the attentive reader. DeMarco has grit and determination, as well as charm and some rough exterior that usually garners him the results he needs. It is some of the other characters, particularly Ella Fields, that steal the show in this novel, offering up both a thorough backstory and a wonderful collection of traits as the story’s narrative heats up. The reader is left little time to ponder what’s been read, too busy are they with trying to see where the next part of the cat and mouse game will go. The story itself is well crafted in a legal thriller genre that I felt worked more effectively as a one of the crime variety. DeMarco rushes to fill the gaps while Fields will not go down without a fight, eluding capture throughout. Newer fans of the series, or first timers in general, will not be aware of the transformation of the series. If I had to offer up one area that I disliked, it is that political intrigue and centrality are gone, as though Lawson feels that he has lost that avenue. As I read, I could not help but ask myself, ‘Will DeMarco play more than a passing role in this story?’ for much of the early narrative, though Lawson did bring things back before too long. I yearn for a political thriller, if there is someone that Lawson has left in him, though I will not complain too much, as this story was written in a masterful style and one sure to pull the reader in from the early chapters.

Kudos, Mr. Lawson, for another success. I always look forward to what you have to offer and hope that you’ll keep writing.

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

Beezus and Ramona (Ramona #1), by Beverly Cleary

Eight stars

Returning to my childhood, I picked up this cute piece for my current book challenge. Beatrice ‘Beezus’ and Ramona Quimby share an interesting sisterhood connection. Ramona is that annoying four year-old, seeking her own independence and annoying a much older (9-10) and mature Beezus, in this collection of short stories. Ramona finds herself fixated on a certain book, the desire to join in the fun with the older children, and even to throw herself a party. Beezus is left to process all that her sister is doing and seeks to right all the wrongs, while utilising her parents’ desire for a calm life to keep Ramona in line. However, Beezus must come to realise that even if she does not like Ramona all the time, she loves her sister with all her being. These tales pave the way for an entire collection of adventures these sisters will have, bringing a number of other friends and family members along. Sure to entertain the young person in your life, Cleary shows that sibling rivalry and love surpasses the test of time. Perfect for young readers who are learning to discover the passion of books.

I remember reading these books and watching the associated television program in my youth. While I also had a younger sister, nothing was as over the top as the antics that Ramona seems to create for those around her. This first in the series is sure to open the way for many adventures that the young reader can discover, seeing how Beezus and Ramona tackle some of the issues that seemed to face young people at the time. Without the aid of video games or hours of television on hundreds of channels, the Quimby girls had to find their own entertainment, which sometimes led to outlandish adventures. While I would not have picked these stories up on my own, doing so has allowed me to tap into my childhood again, much as devouring stories of chocolate factories or errant Christmas pageants might as well. With a young son just discovering the wonders of books, I hope to be able to pass along these types of stories to show him the wonders of books and how fun the experience can be. Books open the mind and the soul, which is something that Beverly Cleary has fostered in this wonderful series.

Kudos, Madam Cleary, for reminding me of the wonders of early independent reading. I will pass along this passion to Neo and anyone else I can.

This book fulfills Topic #5 of Equinox #2 Book Challenge: The Earliest Remembered Chapter Book Read in Childhood

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