A Steep Price (Tracy Crosswhite #6), by Robert Dugoni

Nine stars

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

Presenting yet another stellar novel in the Tracy Crosswhite series, Robert Dugoni has not disappointed his fans whatsoever. While trying to come to terms with her pregnancy, Detective Tracy Crosswhite has yet to tell anyone, save her husband and partner, Kinsington Rowe. An added stress befalls Crosswhite as she is forced to testify in an important case that has many within Violent Crimes hoping for the best. When she returns to Seattle PD after a day of testifying, Crosswhite discovers a new detective assigned to her team, one who knows more about her than she’s comfortable admitting. Has her pending maternity leave been leaked to her Captain and is this new woman her permanent replacement? Before Crosswhite can get too wrapped up in the drama, she’s alerted to an ‘all hands on deck’ call, where two of her fellow teammates, Del Castigliano and Vic ‘Faz’ Fazzio, are out dealing with a shooting close to a playground. The victim, an advocate for cleaning up the neighbourhood of its drug and prostitution. Might someone be trying to execute their own vigilante justice to silence a do-gooder? Crosswhite is also called down to Missing Persons by a fellow detective, one who has a bad feeling about a case that’s just come up. Kavita Mukherjee, a college graduate from a traditional Indian family has up and gone missing. Her roommate and close friend has called it in, as it is so unlike Kavita to disappear. As Crosswhite takes on the case off the books, she learns that the Mukherjee family’s traditional values go so far as to want Kavita to marry and start a family. With little to go on, Crosswhite turns to a technological angle in order to seek answers. With these two cases gaining steam, the reader is pulled in deep to Dugoni’s masterful storytelling where no one is safe and no topic seems off limits. Brilliantly done and sure to appease series fans, as well as those who love a good America police procedural.

I have long admired Dugoni and his work, which seems so easy to read, no matter its length. He has mastered the art of character development, both looking forward and through well-woven backstories. Tracy Crosswhite may hold the name for the series, but it is not only her struggles with motherhood that finds its way into the narrative, but also the familial issues of another detective, who must face life-altering news. The more things change, the more they stay the same. The adage fits perfectly into this novel, as Dugoni seeks to add depth to the series and its characters, which is readily apparent to series fans. The narrative pushes forward and keeps the reader involved throughout, mixing longer chapters to develop plot lines as well as shorter ones, presenting cliffhangers and parachuting new twists into an already compact story. Dugoni never stops, though the reader need not feel tired or mentally exhausted, but rather astonished that so much of the book as progressed as they are lost in the story. One can only hope that Dugoni will not tie-off the series in the near future, as I know many who have come to love these novels and all that he has to offer.

Kudos, Mr. Dugoni, as you offer up yet another winner. I love all your ideas and can only hope that the novel plots keep coming to you as you put them down.

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

Advertisements

Gate 76, by Andrew Diamond

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Andrew Diamond, and Stolen Time Press for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

What at first seems to be an airline disaster thriller soon takes on a life of its own in Andrew Diamond’s latest novel. While waiting to board his flight back to DC, Freddy Ferguson notices another passenger in queue at Gate 76, a flight soon departing San Francisco for Honolulu. This passenger, a fairly attractive blonde, seems distraught and slips out of line at the last minute, rushing to board another plane. As Ferguson lands in DC, the news is full of reports of that Hawaii-bound flight, which blew up soon after takeoff and killed all those on board. Ferguson and the Private Investigation firm for which he works is soon hired by the airline to look into what might have happened. Even with a baggage handler in custody in San Francisco, something does not seem right, especially since Ferguson saw that woman acting oddly. Ruled one of the dead passengers, Ferguson knows this woman, Anna Brook, may hold the clue to better understanding what actually happened and who is to blame. Sifting through all the paperwork and following up on leads sees Ferguson chase down a tangential idea to the heart of Texas, where things take an interesting turn and leave him wondering if he can penetrate the layers of red tape put in place by the Feds. Might there be something more sinister than an act of terror? Ferguson may have bitten off more than he can chew with this case, as he battles his own personal demons from the past. Diamond offers readers an interesting thriller that evolves continuously. Recommended for those who like a little mystery with their high-paced thrillers.

This being my introduction to the world of Andrew Diamond, I was not sure how I would react. The dust jacket blurb had me hooked and the novel began well, developing not only the backstory of Freddy Ferguson’s rough life before becoming a PI, but also some of the more personal aspects to the man’s life that shaped him. Diamond creates a number of interesting characters that could, should he choose, be the foundation of an entire series. The uniqueness of some central characters mesh well and give the reader much to hold their attention, though I will admit that the story does develop in such a way that there are numerous individuals who emerge and whose storylines must be followed, causing a degree of confusion at some points. Working with a mix of short and longer chapters, Diamond pulls the reader into the middle of the story and develops the plot effectively, creating both the slow revelation and the cliffhanger moments in equal measure. I enjoyed Diamond’s varied nature when it came to presenting the narrative and the twists taken to get to the final outcome, leaving the reader to piece the entire case together over the span of the book. These twists keep things engaging and free from a predictable outcome. I’ll surely read another Andrew Diamond novel, given the chance to do so.

Kudos, Mr. Diamond, for this wonderful piece. I hope some of your other pieces are just as exciting and that you’ll consider bringing Freddy Ferguson back for more.

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

Atticus Finch: The Biography, by Joseph Crespino

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Joseph Crespino, Perseus Books, and Basic Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

The name Atticus Finch was long synonymous with kindness and compassion, showing his children the importance of not judging a book by its cover. In Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Finch’s character pushes the limits of 1930s Alabama acceptance and tries to bring justice to the African American population, calling himself a ‘moderate Southerner’. However, those who sought out and read Lee’s second published novel, Go Set a Watchman, are jolted to see Atticus turned into a racist who strongly sides with his Caucasian brothers in putting those of colour in their place. Shock came from this revelation, but there is a story there; two, actually. Joseph Crespino seeks not only to explore the vastly different versions of the two Atticus characters in this piece, but also to give the reader a better understanding of Nelle ‘Harper’ Lee and how she fashioned Atticus out of her own father’s life. The attentive reader will see strong parallels between the elder Lee and Atticus, leaving this book with a better understanding of the metamorphosis made by the latter between the two novels, published over half a century apart.

Amasa Coleman ‘A.C.’ Lee was a genuinely affable man who married his sweetheart before the start of the Great War. With two of his children born in the years following his marriage, A.C. started a law practice and had one highly controversial case, where he defended an African American man accused of raping a white woman. With that came the call for lynchings, an event that brought all townsfolk out to watch, even as it disgusted A.C. The Lee family welcomed their third child, Nelle Harper, born significantly later than her next youngest sibling. Nelle would forever forge a close connection to her father, as Crespino elucidates throughout the text, when A.C. became a single involved parent soon thereafter. It was this relationship between A.C. and Nelle that created the strong connection seen in both of Harper Lee’s novels. A.C. left the practice of law and found pleasure in life running a weekly newspaper in Monroeville, in the heart of Alabama. He would present the news to the locals as he saw fit and provided his readers with a large stage on which to offer their grievances through Letters to the Editor. A.C. would also use this stage to compose editorials of his own, helping to shape the community with a well-rounded set of opinions. These opinions did vary from many of those around Alabama, but A.C. would not be deterred. While defending the rights of all, he did understand that there were differences between the races, though did not extol them as vehemently as some in Alabama or around the Southern states. However, as Nelle grew, she soon came to see that the community in which she was living had vastly different views from those of her father, which did force her to question much of what was going on. A.C. did his best to shape his youngest daughter’s ideas, but the world around them was also helpful in providing its own Southern Charm, particularly related to race relations. As A.C. and Nelle watched Alabama become more deeply divided, it turned them both away from the hope for equality and into a realm of realistic division. By the mid- to late-1950s, as Nelle prepared to leave Alabama for the bright lights of New York City, A.C. was firmly rooted in a divisive view of race relations. It was an acceptance of inequality or race differentiation. Crespino explores how A.C. joined groups committed to keeping whites in positions of superiority, but would not engage with KuKlux members, citing that violence was not the answer. Throughout the late 1950s and into the early 1960s, Alabama’s race clashes reached a fevered pitch, which surely influenced A.C. in his waning years. This would provide Nelle much fodder for her writing career, which started in an interesting manner, permitting one A.C. Lee to breathe life into the fictional Atticus Finch.

Crespino explores Nelle (hereafter called by her author’s moniker, Harper) and her introduction into the world of writing through the most generous of Christmas gifts. Close friends of hers offered to give her a stipend equivalent to one year’s wages to allow her to write without distraction. Lee used her perch in New York to explore some of the happenings back in Monroeville and penned Go Set a Watchman in short order, which depicted one Jean Louise Finch returning from the North to take in what had become of her children Alabama home. When Harper Lee had the novel sent in for consideration, many found the story and the characters drab or too basic. Rejection letters abounded, but Lee did not let that stop her. Soon there were other short stories, sometimes penned in a brief time, which helped flesh out her key characters. A youthful Jean Louise ‘Scout’ Finch appeared, somewhat precocious and yet always seeking answers from her knowledgeable father, Atticus. It was only when Lee wrote To Kill a Mockingbird that she had publishers rushing to put it to print. Crespino notes that these publishers, located in New York City, rushed the printing as it was a book that Northerners could enjoy, with its criticism of Southern treatment of the African American population. Readers who are familiar with the book will know that Lee portrayed Alabama as strongly segregated and deeply divided, with the Finch family almost an island unto themselves. Atticus sought not only to stand alone around so many with strong opinions, but wanted to teach his children the importance of taking a moment to look at all perspectives before making any judgement. When Lee had the book published in 1960, it was a shock to the country (and the world) that such behaviour could be going on in the South, though its reception was not entirely joyous. Crespino explores the cinematic depiction of the book as well, with Gregory Peck as its lead. Peck utilised his own opinions to shape the Atticus character as a hero to his children and a villain to his fellow citizens, though few could expect much else. Atticus Finch in this regard is surely the A.C. Lee that Harper knew as a child, though it only told part of the story.

Where things take an interesting turn throughout Crespino’s book is the exploration of Lee’s first novel, the forgotten Watchman. It was only in its publication that readers saw another side of Atticus Finch in his older age. Lee depicts Atticus as more racist and drawn towards the racial class system in America. Crespino argues that this Atticus, who likely alarms many readers in his gruffness, was the A.C. Lee of the mid- to late-50s, after leaving his editorial views behind. Atticus reflects more of the Alabama of the times in this novel, vastly different from the man who sought to defend an African American man accused of rape. While Northern audiences loved Mockingbird, Crespino argues that Harper Lee sought to publish Watchman, which was closer to her own personal views, as a primer for Northerners to see things from the perspective of Southern inhabitants, to offer a dose of the other side. This is likely why it was rejected at first and only published in 2015, even then as an unedited manuscript years after Harper Lee died. There is surely a strong Atticus parallel with the life of A.C. Lee found within its pages, but nowhere near as soft or warm-hearted. Without the ability to defend her position, many soured on Harper Lee as an author and could not understand why she would bastardise her beloved Atticus so much. It is the attentive reader of this biography that sees the metamorphosis over time, as A.C. Lee no longer tried to block out the Alabama influence that permeated his daily life. Perhaps Harper Lee simply sought to present her readers with a complete picture, though there was no bridge or middle-ground on which readers could accept the transition. Left with questions and outrage, many vilified the author from the grave. Atticus Finch, like all other men, was flesh and blood, influenced by his surroundings, as A.C. Lee tended to be. However, without the background understanding of how closely Atticus was to A.C. Lee, few readers will understand or want to hear the justifications.

Not only was this a refreshing look at the life of Amasa Coleman Lee, but also a sobering snapshot of Harper Lee and her creation of Atticus Finch. For decades, Finch was seen as the personification of the moderate Southerner, whose views were neither radical nor browbeating. However, with the release of Watchman in 2015, much of the world turned against Finch (and by extension, Harper Lee). Joseph Crespino breathes new life into this debate by writing of the parallels between the fictitious Finch and A.C. Lee, which serves to help the reader better understand the significant change. Crespino relies not only on scores of historical texts and past Harper Lee biographies, but archived interviews to provide the reader with the mindset that Harper Lee had when writing these two novels and to explore the life and times of her father. It is likely difficult to model a fictional character after someone in real life, particularly if the author is close to that person, as the nuances of their character must (for some readers) be adequately substantiated to accept anything but the most loving of depictions on the page. Harper Lee, in all her wisdom, was not able to properly explain the latter depiction of Atticus Finch or show the general public the parallels between him and her own father. Crespino pulls back the curtain to offer that detailed analysis and may, fingers crossed, provide many readers with a better explanation as to why things got so intense when comparing the two pieces. Crespino has opened my eyes to much related to the Lee family, the writing of the two novels, and the influence that Alabama politics had on the metamorphosis of A.C. Lee and Atticus Finch. I will certainly have to revisit both novels and see some of the explanations that are made throughout this biography, especially now that I am armed with new information. I can only hope to have a better understanding and create my own bridge between the novels to justify things, something that Harper Lee never did. One question still simmers in my mind: had Watchman been published in 1957, would the general reaction to the book in the Northern part of America been such that we might never have seen Mockingbird in its print or film versions? And a follow-up: had Mockingbird not been published, how might the understanding of Southern race relations been depicted to the world?

Kudos, Mr. Crespino, for making me think so very much about this and other topics of interest. I am eager to find some more of your work and understand the nuances of Southern race relations and the inside knowledge of key American personalities.

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

President Carter: The White House Years, by Stuart E. Eizenstat

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Stuart E. Eizenstat, St. Martin’s Press, and Thomas Dunne Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

The presidency of James Earl (Jimmy) Carter has been seen by many as a flop, or so it would seem as I entered reading this book. Many would point to a few key items, namely Iran’s Revolution and the dire energy crisis, pushing Carter to the realm of lame-duck for most of his time in office. While many will remember the Camp David Accord, that seems to have been overshadowed by many of the negatives. Stuart E. Eizenstat, Carter’s Domestic Policy Chief, seeks to inject a new analysis, commenting from ‘within the tent’ to offer new insights, good and bad, about the Carter presidency and those who played key roles in the Administration. This comprehensive political biography sheds some light on Carter’s presidency in three distinct categories worthy of exploration below: domestic policy, foreign policy, and humanitarian efforts. By allowing Eizenstat to guide the reader through these categories, a new perspective may come to the surface, as historians are about ready to turn the microscope on the four years Carter spent in the Oval Office. Presidential history buffs and those who may have lived through the era may enjoy this piece, though it is quite dense in its factual presentation and by no means a swift read.

Before delving into this debate, it might serve the reader well to understand that Carter was a Washington outsider, having never served on the national level and with few friends. While he did have some strong Democratic support in Congress, Carter did not speak the language and even his closest advisors (Cabinet and otherwise) were forced to learn the intricacies of how things worked in Washington. What might have been easy to do as Georgia’s governor or running a peanut farm would not work here, where blood was shed without anyone blinking an eye. Carter would soon learn the game, or stumble trying, in an effort to create domestic policy that he could stomach and Congress would pass. This would come to be central in his single-term as president and shaped some of the major decisions that led to his defeat to Reagan in 1980, a few of which I will espouse below but many Eizenstat dissects in detail.

Jimmy Carter’s presidency saw both significant successes and resounding defeats when examining his domestic policy. The Administration will likely be forever haunted with the photos of serpentine lines at gas pumps during an energy crisis that plagued America after the OPEC fallout, as well as the president urging Americans to turn down the thermostat to save on energy. Eizenstat does not shy away from these gaffes, which turned the Carter Administration on its head and forced the POTUS to make numerous televised addresses to ‘rally the troops’. Within the White House, there were many drawn-out arguments about this and how the electorate would react, forced to pinch pennies at a time when things were already tough. Carter wanted nothing more than to provide for his people, but the numbers just did not add up. Eizenstat also explores Carter’s attempts to wrestle with the airline and transportation unions, creating a more consumer-friendly America, without the need to line the pockets of those in positions of power. As Eizenstat repeats throughout the tome, Carter had a great deal of difficulty thinking like the liberal much of the Democratic Party and its members wanted him to be. He turned his backs on unions in favour of trying to limit spending, surely not music to his Democratic backers. While energy was a major stumbling block for him, environmental issues were topics that Carter could handle with ease. Coming from rural Georgia, Carter knew the importance of nature and natural resources, including water and green space. Armed with this knowledge, Carter pushed forward to ensure that those in Congress who wanted such items in their districts could count on his support, though he was by no means blind to the need for some leveraging (even though Eizenstat explains he was not a good negotiator). Carter felt it more than simply an added bonus, more a quintessential part of the process, to have natural beauty in a country that had been forced to suffer through scandal for so long. Beauty may have been in the eye of the beholder, but Carter wanted to offer that opportunity to Americans for generations. Within the borders of the fifty states, Carter was able to offer some positive outlooks, though did stumble quite effectively when it came to domestic policy.

Carter also saw many successes and significant shortfalls when it came to the foreign policies he led throughout his time in office. Two immediately come to mind—the Camp David Accords and the Iran Revolution—which show the reader just how difficult such policies can be to enact. Carter worked to create a set of policies that would help other countries with what resources he had on offer, but also tried to remove the tarnish that had been left with the abject failure of Vietnam. America was still seething with that military disaster and needed a new image, combined with Carter’s desire to be a player on the world stage and help where he could. Eizenstat explores Carter’s ongoing efforts to shape the Cold War and push the Soviets off their perch as a superpower. Carter’s policy to stop shipments of grain to the Soviets after they invaded Afghanistan proved to be a policy that led to an international boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Carter has been seen to make a knee-jerk reaction by doing so, as Eizenstat argues effectively, but the effort to stand up to this and refuse to turn away shows that Carter had a larger agenda in mind, to push for sanctions of some sort against a country that was trying to expand its sphere in a significant and yet completely unnecessary way. One must remember that the spheres of influence at the time were created by playing international chess, with the USSR and USA being the two significant players. From a lighter perspective, Carter tried to renegotiate the Panama Canal Treaty, presenting this structure to its people and thereby removing an iron fist that Teddy Roosevelt created early in the 20th century through efforts to bait and switch with the Panamanians. Carter pushed to turn control of the Canal over to the locals, though he did receive much pushback from within Congress, who could not see the need to hand over such an essential piece of property that had done so much to aid with international trade. Eizenstat effectively argues that Carter and his administration took a hard approach and would not accept anything but complete success, creating a softer and more open-minded America when it came to its neighbours in the international community. This, in turn, may have curried some favour at a time when America was in dire need of some positive and non-aggressive outlooks with its foreign policy decisions. There were, however, times when Carter’s attempts at good foreign policy turned sour, if only because he had gone to the well too many times before. While some of the groundwork was made by the likes of Nixon and Kissinger, Carter engaged in a set of discussions to solidify a SALT II treaty, scaling back the number and type of nuclear weapons each side would possess, thereby seeking to rid the world of the potential of nuclear war. Carter found himself in the precarious position of pushing this sort of argument at a time when the USSR was on its way down, early stages of teetering before the knockout punch that would come at the hands of Reagan and Bush 41. Carter would not stand down and simply let the Soviets see his passive side, wanting a world free of such weapons, while also ensuring that the United States was not left vulnerable. This may look to be a positive decision made by the administration and the reader would be correct, but the eventual passage of such a treaty failed when Congress—specifically the US Senate—would not support the treaty. It would seem that Carter had arm-twisted too many times and called in all his favours, thereby leaving him no political capital with which to bargain. While one cannot entirely lay this failure at his feet, it does stand to reason that, as mentioned above, Carter’s lack of knowledge of the Washington game might have knocked him down to the point of not being able to push forward at an essential time, leaving the riches for Reagan to collect into the 1980s, where history can paint a much more vivid picture of the 40th POTUS. Carter’s mishandling of the diplomatic hostages in Iran is likely the largest stain left on his presidency and one that will forever be remembered in the history books. While Eizenstat does present a strong argument that Iran and its revolution does not rest on the backs of America, supporting the Shah and pushing to keep him as Iran’s rightful leader did prove to be a yoke that Carter could not toss off, leaving him in a horrible situation once Ayatollah Khomeini took control and used his significant influence to punish Carter personally until the moment he was no longer POTUS, thereby embarrassing him to no end. It goes without saying that US Foreign Policy was significantly shaped by Carter in his single term as president, though one can hope that it is the humanitarian agenda that is remembered for decades, rather than the necessary aggressive stances from 1977-1980.

Carter is best-known for his humanitarian efforts, mostly after he left office, some of which were very positive, though there were also some limitations that left him coming up short. Perhaps closely tied to his foreign policy objectives, Carter wanted nothing more than to promote human rights around the world, but more specifically to his Latin American neighbours. In an era when Nixon and Ford had done little to help push for true human rights, Eizenstat argues that Carter sought to look past the desire to rid the region of communism and focus on their rights of the people. Dictatorships (albeit not Communist) in Argentina and Peru had horrible human rights records and Carter could not abide by this. Rather than going in with guns blazing or CIA operatives ready to kill for peaceful results, Carter and his emissaries sought to turn favour by promoting a softer approach and using carrots over sticks to show just how effective it could be. This was a key approach that the reader can see developing throughout the book, as Carter was sandwiched between two significant administrations—Nixon/Ford and Reagan—who were less than interested in human rights and more for the push to annihilate leftist regimes in the region. While there were surely some less than admirable results, Carter and his administration did not stop their efforts to shape the region as one where human rights could be promoted, ushering in a more peaceful world by the time he left office. One could argue that Carter’s humanitarian efforts in the Middle East were not entirely successful, on a larger scale. Eizenstat spends much time focussing on the lead-up to the Camp David Accords by showing the Israeli and Egyptian delegations trying to forge a peace that would last, especially for the Palestinian peoples. The attentive reader will realise that while Carter tried to create a lasting peace, it did not work effectively, nor did peace with other regional players, but there has not been a significant war in the region since 1973, pitting Israel against its Arab foes, which is something. Humanitarian efforts are much harder to push, as it does not always encapsulate the American agenda in a lasting manner. Carter tried to step away from the norm and offer his own flavour, pushing for openness and the rights for all—likely influences by his Christian values—while many other politicians pushed for hard-line results, no matter the cost. Still, Carter’s humanitarian efforts are likely some of the greatest positives that historians will take away from his presidency and life, when that, too, comes to an end.

Looking back through the entire journey of this tome, the reader can see that Eizenstat not only encapsulates an effective exploration of the Carter presidency, but is able to dispel many of the myths that history has left as footnotes in its texts. Carter was not a failed president who was incapable of keeping gas in the pumps or bringing home the American hostages from Iran, he was a man with strong convictions who tried to play the Washington game without fully knowing the rules. Elected at a time when America was healing, they turned to a man without the taint of Vietnam, Watergate, or civil rights abuses and wanted to create a new beginning for themselves. Even the Democratic Party, particularly its congressional members, had to look at the president in a new light, using his compassionate side with fiscal conservatism to help build up the coffers after much expense. Might this have helped Reagan when he came in to show a new dawn to America? Yes, it is possible, but Eizenstat argues that without Carter, America would possibly have continued down its rabbit hole and been a sour country that could not shed itself of a corrupt image. Carter’s presidency was a sense of new life that was needed, if only to jumpstart things and help see that there could be hope and positive outcomes, given enough time and effort. That single term in office did much for the country and reset its vision, even if Carter was not given the chance to guide America into the 1980s. Jimmy Carter might not have been the Washington politician that many had come to expect, but he did offer a perspective that differed from many, brining his understanding of the South to the world stage and surrounding himself with strong-minded individuals. Eizenstat does not and cannot take that away from anyone, though the theme of a unique approach resonances throughout this piece. The 39th President of the United States will likely receive new recognition in this piece, and rightly so, for he did do much for the country in its time of need, even if it was not the medicine Americans thought they needed at the time.

Looking at Eizenstat’s book, it is clear that there was much to analyse and develop, even over a four-year time in office. The amount of work that went into laying out all the information and developing key themes cannot be lost on the attentive reader. Eizenstat parsed through not only his own recollections, but those of many other players to create this well-balanced tome, which offers as much praise as it does criticism. To have someone on the inside of the administration is likely a double-edged sword. Some will feel that it offers an unbalanced approach and pushes a more laudatory narrative for the reader to enjoy, though I feel it helped enrich the overall presentation. Knowing who to talk to about what did nothing but offer the reader something special and the piece worked well offering significant amounts of detail on which to chew. Eizenstat surveys much of the Carter Administration’s efforts and seeks to categorise them in a succinct manner—not always winning with brevity—to provide the reader with key themes to judge on their own. The attention to detail and backstory is without question one of Eizenstat’s key attributes throughout. I was able to take away not only the political arguments from the book, but also find interesting historical approaches to key events that I would not otherwise have known without needing to explore countless sources. Jimmy Carter has always been an elusive figure for me, sandwiched between the bumbling Ford and powerhouse Reagan. Eizenstat offers a more comprehensive and well-developed perspective of the man and his thoughts, as well as some of the influences that led to his key decisions. Carter may not have been an excellent president—as Eizenstat argues—but he was a good one and worked well with the tools he had at his disposal. Many who have sat or will one day take a place in the Oval Office could learn from him, or at least admire what he did and how he fought to make America great for all its citizens.

Kudos, Mr. Eizenstat, for your dedication to this powerful book. I did learn so very much and can see a few areas I want to explore more, thanks to some of the ideas you presented in this lengthy piece.

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

Milk!: A 10, 000-Year Food Fracas

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Mark Kurlansky, and Bloomsbury (USA) Publishing for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

I remember an advertising campaign from my youth that extolled the virtues and health benefits of drinking milk. It stuck with me and I have tried to present the same positive outlook to my son. When I saw the latest Mark Kurlansky book, all about the history of milk, I could not help but wonder if it would be an entertaining read, as I knew he had tackled some other interesting food topics. One may presume the topic is quite mundane or simplistic, but the attentive reader will discover that milk and its byproducts are anything but boring, though it is one area where history has only added to the controversies, rather than neutralise them. In a book that is as eye opening as it is refreshing, Kurlansky offers the reader much insight into this product that has been a central part of history as long as female mammals have roamed the earth.

Milk has long been a controversial staple through the centuries, from the debate between breastfeeding and delivering the essential nutrients to babies, to the best ‘type’ of milk for humans to consume, and even whether to treat milk to make it safer for consumption. Kurlansky details these and other debates throughout the pages of his book, presenting arguments and views as they were documented throughout history. There remains a strong debate over pasteurisation versus raw milk, which has led to various parts of the world to adopt varying rules and regulations. While many Western countries turn to cow’s milk, there are numerous other animals whose milk is widely used, utilising the higher concentration of such mammals on differing terrains.

Liquid milk is only scratching the (fatty) surface of the discussion, as Kurlansky talked extensively about the various byproducts. Often discovered by accident, byproducts include cheeses, butters, and creams, though their variety can easily be forked into hundreds of different outcomes. The history of cheese is both long and full of political intervention, as Kurlansky discusses at length. Creation of cheese can be a laborious process and is tightly regulated, creating different colours, flavours, and consistencies. Kurlansky explores not only how different milk determines key cheese creations, but also the food intake of the cow that can vastly alter the end result. Turning to creams, history has seen the evolution of different products, based not only on filtering techniques but also the ability to refrigerate or cool for lengthy periods of time. Different people claim fame for various inventions that many take for granted now, though there was surely a fierce debate at the time to launch the best clotted creams, ice creams, and desserts that stemmed from there. Kurlansky also explores how different parts of the world tapped into shaping these byproducts with the local ingredients, creating even more differentiation across the globe.

The political and social aspects of milk are firmly rooted, particularly when government health and legislative bodies learned that they could levy fees and fierce regulations. Milk can be a highly profitable industry, though strict adherence can also lead to marginalizing those who have spent their life trying to make a living off dairy production. Kurlansky turns the focus away from North America and delves deeply into the European and Asian markets, which may shock some readers in the West. There is surely a hierarchy when it comes to milk consumption, as well as a fierce debate about how to treat the animals and the food they consumed. There is no correct answer, nor does Kurlansky try to steer the reader in any single direction, but offers a wonderful cross-section of information for a better understanding. Readers and milk enthusiasts alike can enter the debate better armed for the battle.

Kurlansky’s delivery of the topic at hand is so seamless as to create a story that flows with ease from beginning to end. While there is so much to cover, Kurlansky offers detailed discussions throughout without bogging the reader down with minutiae. Not only does he provide a rich history of milk and its evolution, but Kurlansky offers hundreds of recipes embedded in the narrative, permitting the reader to explore the more amusing side of milk’s maturation. Offering education and entertainment in equal doses, Kurlansky provides the reader with a fulfilling historical tome that will fuel interesting discussions for all. Any reader with a love of history and curiosity about food will surely find something they can enjoy in this book. “Milk. It does a body good!”… and so much more!

Kudos, Mr. Kurlansky, for such a wonderfully diverse piece. I have learned so much and dazzled others with random facts that will stick with me for years to come. Now I am convinced that I will have to find some of your other food histories and see how they compare.

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

The Retreat, by Mark Edwards

Eight stars

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

In his latest thriller, Mark Edwards adds a degree of the paranormal while also creating a mystery that will keep the reader guessing. Lucas Radcliffe is still riding the wave of his latest bestseller, exploring a number of missing children who were taking by a mysterious beast. Seeking to gather himself as he begins his next piece, Radcliffe makes his way to a writers’ retreat in North Wales. On his way up to the secluded spot, Radcliffe learns more about the local lore and the proprietress’ own personal tragedy; a daughter, Lily, who went missing two years ago and a husband who drowned the same day, looking for her. Radcliffe is curious, though understandably reticent to speak about it when it is introduced to Julia Marsh. Could this story of the Red Widow have any basis in truth or simply be a way the locals keep themselves in check? Radcliffe divulges what he knows to Julia, who is still traumatised by the happenings two years before. Wishing to help, Radcliffe hires his own P.I., hoping to make sense of what he knows. When odd things begin happening inside the retreat, Radcliffe wonders more about the lore, but cannot admit to himself or anyone else that he might be ready to accept it. Julia is convinced that her daughter will be back and must be ready for the inevitable. When people tied to the community begin turned up dead, Radcliffe is convinced that there’s a coverup, both tied to the recent disappearance, but also to the lore that posits the Red Widow will arrive every thirty-five years to take a child as a sacrifice. As panic mounts and a collection of writings reveals many secrets Lucas Radcliffe may have stumbled upon something more captivating than any novel he could wish to create. Edwards is brilliant yet again and delivers a stunning thriller sure to keep the reader hooked through to the final pages.

I have always loved a good Mark Edwards novel, especially as they do not follow too strict a writing path. Edwards is able to breathe chills into his writing while keeping the story plausible and unique from past publications. His creation of Lucas Radcliffe is surely a loose mirroring of himself, an author with a collection of darker ideas. Radcliffe does come across as a little passive in his appearance throughout the piece, but does have a sense of determination, especially when a mystery emerges. He seems eager to help, though it is readily apparent that his literary net is always out, seeking tidbits for another novel that may help him further explore his dark thriller side (like Edwards?). Julia Mars proves to be another strong and alluring character, whose focus on trying to find her daughter trumps everything else. Seeking to protect herself from the outside world, Julia is less a waif than seeking to foster what little strength she has left. The cast of secondary characters are well developed and help to create a curious mystery throughout. Spanning over thirty-five years, the characters have honed their personalities and proved as secretive as they are forthcoming, creating an interesting duality that only the reader is able to see. The story may seem a little silly, paranormal in its delivery, but Edwards does a wonderful job to provide the reader with a mystery and chilling narrative that weaves into many unexpected twists and keeps the story from becoming too predictable. Layering the present narrative with both flashbacks of Lily’s final year before her disappearance and some journal entries back in 1980, Edwards keeps the story fresh and the reader engaged, which allows them to become lost and pleasantly surprised.

Kudos, Mr. Edwards, for delivering yet another powerful piece that thrills and shows just how versatile a writer you have become.

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

Full Disclosure, by Beverley McLachlin

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Beverley McLachlin, and Simon & Schuster Canada for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

In her first piece of published fiction, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada Beverley McLachlin storms onto the scene with this courtroom thriller that will keep the reader guessing until the final chapters. Jilly Truitt is trying to establish herself as a competent defence attorney in Vancouver. Having been brought up in the foster care system, Jilly has seen just how dark things can get and found a way to move towards the light. Having been mentored by the best when she was fresh from law school, Jilly now finds herself face to face with the same man who taught her how to shape the law to her favour. When millionaire Vincent Trussardi hires her to defend him on a murder charge, things do not look good, but Jilly is up for a challenge. Having been accused of killing his wife, Laura, Trussardi proclaims his innocence and will not accept anything less than being fully exonerated. As soon as she begins preparing for trial, Jilly is warned by many to drop this legal hot potato as fast as she can, as there are secrets and mysteries that could easily trip up her defence. Still, Jilly sees potential and will use this to springboard her to greater success within the Vancouver legal community. However, with the case progressing, Jilly hits a few snags but cannot be deterred; she is in for the long-run. At trial, Crown Prosecutor Cy Kenge will do whatever it takes to bury his former protégé, forcing her to see that some people do not deserve their day in court. With the city watching and everything on the line, Jilly must decide if Trussardi’s defence is worth all she has to offer. McLachlin does well with this, her debut novel, and will have those who love the genre raving about this for years to come!

Having followed former Chief Justice McLachlin throughout her time on the High Court, I was ecstatic at the opportunity to read her first novel, a wonderful career change since her recent retirement. McLachlin uses all her legal skills and injects the perfect amount of realistic plot and dialogue to help the reader relate to the story, be they from Canada or not. Jilly Truitt is a wonderfully crafted character, whose backstory is somewhat murky, but is revealed throughout the narrative. Jilly seeks not only to better understand herself, but the world around her, as well as how her clients could get into the messes in which they find themselves. The reader will notice some character development throughout the piece, both inside the courtroom and with her personal life. McLachlin surely knows how to breathe life into her characters, which is equally exemplified in the others who populate the intense narrative. Working together, there are enough crumbs left that the attentive reader could see a series emerging, giving just enough to pique curiosity. The plot is strong and the crimes believable to the point that they are realistic. The story moves through case preparation and into the courtroom, where McLachlin utilises her legal expertise to deliver banter where needed and testimony summary at other times. While the chapters are not extremely lengthy, there are some who bulk up the narrative, though they pass with ease as the reader forges ahead and makes the most of the experience. The reader is ready for all McLachlin has to offer and finds themselves treated to a wonderful legal thriller. There is enough Canadian content to give it a wonderful flavour, though the Canadiana does not inculcate the reader at every page flip. Highly recommended and one can hope that there is more Jilly Truitt to come in the near future.

Kudos, Madam Former Chief Justice McLachlin (is this the correct title, anyone?), for such a stellar debut. I will be encouraging anyone who enjoys the genre to read this and judge for themselves.

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

Against the Law (Edward Hall #1), by Jay Brandon

Eight stars

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

Jay Brandon has crafted this wonderful legal thriller that pulls the story into the courtroom, where a woman’s life hangs in the balance. Edward Hall is startled to hear from his sister, Amy, who finds herself in some legal hot water. Dr. Hill is accused of killing her estranged husband, Paul Shilling. Amy admits to being at his home, though is adamant that she did not gun him down. Edward may be compassionate to her plight, but has issues of his own. Edward recently served jail time for a crime committed at the Houston courthouse when he was an up and coming star in the DA’s office. As such, he has had his licence suspended and is still technically not able to practice law. That does not deter Amy in hiring her brother, who is sure that he can offer some much needed advice. As the trial approaches, Edward realises that he may be put in the position of defending his sister and will have to face the ramifications of his legal issues later. When they are assigned a strict judge for the murder trial, Edward cannot help but remember that this woman was once his colleague at the DA’s office and is intricately tied to the crime he committed. Giving it his all, Edward must face insurmountable odds to defend his sister, though her defence is weak and a key piece of evidence has been placed before the jury, sure to tip the scales against them. Facing a potential death sentence if she is convicted, Amy must hope the brother she has always idolised can pull out a miracle in the courtroom, where he’s made quite a name for himself. Brandon does a wonderful job with this story, pulling on heartstrings and legal manoeuvres alike. A wonderful read for anyone who enjoys a legal thriller with the courtroom as the key setting.

This is my first Jay Brandon novel, but I am sure it will not be my last. He writing strength comes not only from his legal descriptions, but also the detailed characters and delivery throughout this piece. Edward Hall is a wonderfully complex character that shapes the direction of this novel on numerous occasions. The backstory on offer is well balanced with some of the development throughout the novel, as short as the timeline might be. Seeing not only the legal drama that Hall has overcome but the personal and familial struggles he suffered do pull the reader into the middle of it all, perhaps in hopes of trying to personalise him and tipping the scales in his favour. Amy Hall Shilling is another wonderful character who seems to undervalue the extent of the legal hot water in which she finds herself, more focussed on her innocence than the trial and pitfalls that continue to crop up. Brandon does well to portray her as the lost sheep, seeking her brother to guide the way, even when he is barely able to keep his head above water. The story is intriguing, and what it lacks in uniqueness it makes up for in its alluring legal antics. The story flows well and keeps the reader guessing until the very end, hoping that Edward will be able to pull a rabbit out of the proverbial hat when faced with such trying odds. Brandon has done a masterful job and keeps the narrative moving such that the reading experience will surely lead to late nights for the reader.

Kudos, Mr. Brandon, for this powerful piece. I am eager to read more of your work in the coming years.

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

The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell, by Robert Dugoni

Nine stars

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

In his latest standalone novel, Robert Dugoni shows just how versatile he can be with his writing. His dazzling prose and wonderful ability to convey a story will warm the heart of many readers throughout this powerful novel. Sam Hill was born just outside the Bay Area to two loving parents. As he tells in the early part of the story, the love his parents showed him was unlike anything else in the world. However, Sam was born with a unique feature—red irises, called ocular albinism—which would come to haunt him in the years to come. Though it did not affect his ability to see, Sam was scorned by other young children and faced a significant issue trying to get into the local Catholic school. However, his persistent mother never lost the faith and Sam was soon enrolled alongside the other pupils. His eyes did cause many an issue, helping him develop the moniker, Sam Hell. This did not deter him, though kept the other children from playing alongside him. Friends with Ernie Cantwell, a young black boy—the only in the school—Sam discovered that some children take things to extremes and was severely bullied. As hew grew, Sam and Ernie remained the best of friends, soon adding Michaela ‘Mickie’ Kennedy to their brood. As the story progresses, the reader learns of Sam’s older years and how things developed for him, allowing life lessons and personal epiphanies to shape his way of life. With each part of the book flashing forward to 1989, the reader is able to discover a ‘modern’ narrative and how Sam has used all those lessons to shape what came to be his greatest moments, influenced deeply by his mother. Those fans of Dugoni’s work will marvel at this personal story that has all the ingredients his police procedurals as well. Those seeking a touching story that does not get too sappy will also love this and may develop a love of Robert Dugoni’s writing in general.

I have long loved the writing that Dugoni puts out and find myself completely captivated by his current series set in Seattle. However, it is wonderful to see an author step away from his/her comfort zone and develop an ability to write with an entirely new set of characters and plots. Dugoni does this so effortlessly and pulls the reader in the middle of an emotional story that holds the reader’s attention until the very last phrase. Sam Hill is a wonderful character whose maturation is a fundamental part of the story. His backstory and ongoing character development provides the reader with a rich understanding of the issues that he faces as a child with a physical trait that distinguishes him from others. Secondary characters, such as Ernie and Mickie provide a wonderful flavour for the story and are offset by the more grounded Mr. and Mrs. Hill, who have their own quirks. The vignettes that occur within each part of the larger story provide a wonderful collage of moments that, when sewn together, provided a powerful set of characters that convey a powerful message. I almost could not tell that this was Dugoni, so used to his mystery and police stories, though I am blessed to have seen how detailed he made the entire experience. Dugoni offers up some wonderful themes throughout the piece and arcs them together effectively, touching the reader at just the right moments. The short chapters help push things along and the spiritual nature of the narrative does not create a Christian inculcation, but surely serves as an effective theme in Sam’s life and the reader’s experience with this novel.

Kudos, Mr. Dugoni, for such a powerful book. I can only hope to read more standalone novels of this calibre in the 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

The Triple Frontier (Jericho Quinn #7.6), by Marc Cameron

Seven stars

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

In his latest novella, Marc Cameron brings Jericho Quinn back for another high-octane adventure, this time way out of his comfort zone. The Triple Frontier—the area where the sovereign states of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay converge—is extremely dangerous. Drug running and human smuggling are common, creating a zone where the authorities have all but stopped trying to enforce the law. Bo Quinn is down in the region with a group of rich Americans to ride their motorcycles around the country. While travelling one morning, they are ambushed by a group of locals, though Bo is able to activate his SOS and GPS beacons before being tossed into the back of a van and led away. Back in America, Bo’s older brother, Jericho, receives word that the beacon has been activated, but cannot raise his sibling over the phone. Panicked, Jericho prepares to make his way down to South America, though his close friends will not let him go alone. On a rescue mission, Jericho prepares to head into the unknown, though is promised the help of a local when he arrives. Meanwhile, a ransom note comes in, seeking $3 million, only to be trumped by another offer of five million. Could rival cartels be using Bo and his clients as pawns in a larger battle? By the time they reach the Triple Frontier, Jericho and his entourage realise that this is one mission that will not end peacefully. When an unexpected individual shows up to offer Jericho added support, the mission takes on an entirely different flavour. Jericho forges ahead into the unknown in hopes of trying to clean up the mess that is this hostage situation without alerting the formal authorities. Faced with kidnappers who have nothing to lose and seek a major payday, the end result is anything but predictable. Cameron provides an entertaining addition to the Jericho Quinn series that fans of the collection will surely enjoy as they wait for the next full-length book.

Marc Cameron has done well crafting the Jericho Quinn series over the past numbers of years. While he has taken on some additional series work elsewhere, fans of the novels have been biding their time with some novellas, though their quality remains at the highest calibre. While much attention has been spent on Jericho and his interesting backstory, Cameron has only recently shed any light on the life of the younger Quinn, Bo. In this piece, the reader is able to see just how resilient Bo can be when faced with trouble, cool under pressure and ready to fight for what he feels is right. As the premise of the piece is an intense rescue mission, Jericho is still able to take centre stage in this story and does so, showing a compassionate side when it comes to protecting his family. Some of the secondary characters on both sides are able to keep the attention focused on the fast pace of the rescue mission, adding interesting flavours to the narrative. The story remains a ‘cookie cutter’ effort to save those who are being held captive, but it is the way in which Cameron approaches the story and how he is able to inject some much-needed humour into the dialogue to lighten the mood. With a narrative that clips along, the reader is swept up in this novella that has as much action as any of the stories that Cameron has published to this point. That being said, I eagerly await something longer in the near future.

Kudos, Mr. Cameron, for this entertaining piece. I can always count on something interesting and full of adventure when you write.

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