The Ambassador: Joseph P. Kennedy at the Court of St. James’s 1938-1940, by Susan Ronald

Nine stars

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

I have long been a fan of the Kennedy family, perhaps America’s first political dynasty. While much of my focus has been on JFK and his assassination, Susan Ronald opened my eyes to another angle worth exploring. Joseph P. Kennedy, the patriarch of the Kennedys, used power and influence to sway opinions, both in and out of the political arena. When he was given the role of US Ambassador to the Court of St. James’s (United Kingdom), it was the job of a lifetime. However, as Ronald argues effectively throughout this tome, it came with significant consequences for the country, the president, and world history. Ronald puts forth strong arguments and keeps the reader enthralled throughout as she lay the groundwork for how Kennedy’s ambassadorship changed history, not entirely for the better.

Susan Ronald opens the book offering the reader some great backstory on the Kennedys and how Joseph helped build his empire on both American coasts. His love of the movie industry helped make him a household name, though his focus was making money rather than making sure every American could recite his name at the drop of a hat. As his family grew, Kennedy found ways to build walls around himself, keeping his wife, Rose, at a distance when it suited him. However, He always wanted his eldest, Joe, Jr., and John (Jack) close to the action, hoping to pave the way for their successes in the years that followed.

With his eye on the ambassadorship in the United Kingdom, Kennedy lobbied Franklin Roosevelt (FDR) for the appointment. Many people know Kennedy was wealthy, but a position like this would require more than cutting a cheque to cover the costs. He would need to be a diplomat and one with power to persuade. Kennedy did all in his power to show that his influence could be used properly in Europe and that his connections would effectively help the Americans build stronger ties with their allies. Reluctantly, FDR agreed to the appointment in 1938, but tried to leash Kennedy to ensure things flowed smoothly.

While Kennedy was keen to use his new role to cement European connections, he was fond of offering his opinions when it came to the brewing unrest on the European continent. As the Germans and Italians rose to power, Kennedy repeatedly espoused views that fascism was not entirely problematic, as long as it kept communism from rising. This was not official American foreign policy and there are numerous instances when FDR offered angered rebukes about his ambassador. Kennedy was, perhaps indirectly, trying to formulate US policy on his own and speaking as the government mouthpiece while doing so. Using his ties within the British government, Kennedy sometimes could be seen to shape politics at Westminster in a time when a united front was needed against the boisterous Germans and equally troubling Italians.

Appeasement appeared to be the theme of the day, as Kennedy supported his British counterparts while they dealt with the fascist uprising. FDR did not take the easiest approach and recall his ambassador, for many reasons. With an upcoming election in 1940, FDR sometimes surmised that it was better to keep Kennedy away, so as to prevent him from making a run for the Democratic nomination. While war inched closer, Kennedy pushed his views, but was eventually rebuffed when FDR-supported Churchill returned to the prime ministership. Kennedy was no longer the great political statesman and bided his time while FDR turned attention elsewhere. Kennedy had overstayed his welcome and was soon on his way back, with little to show and no overt support from his own government.

Ronald effectively portrays Joseph P. Kennedy’s rise to power as being one in which the man thought that he could use his influence to change opinion, no matter what his superiors wanted. While this did occur repeatedly, the clash between Kennedy and official US foreign policy never seemed to be properly resolved. Kennedy dictated what he wanted, the State Department issued their version, and the two wafted next to one another, while Europe stood on shaky ground. Ronald shows how this gamble to send Kennedy to Europe paid off more to keep him out of the Administration’s hair than to keep things steady and calm. Joseph Kennedy had an agenda and would not leave without pushing it in one direction or another. That it caused a great deal of turmoil in the late 1930s is clear to many, though could it have been halted without ruining FDR’s chances at an unprecedented third term in office? That’s a mystery best left to the alternate historians.

While this was by no means a light and quick read, Susan Ronald makes it highly enjoyable for the reader who has an interest in this sort of thing. Her attention to detail and thorough analysis provides the reader with something intriguing to read. Much of the instability within Europe is well-known, but Ronald’s perspective offers readers a great insight into what happened and how Kennedy played a key role in its development. With chapters that are easily digested and a captivating narrative, the story advances well and the curious reader is provided some wonderful nuggets. Susan Ronald is clear in her arguments and does leave the reader with something on which to chew as they consider what might have been. I’d gladly read more of her work, as this offered a great perspective on pre- and early-war analysis.

Kudos, Madam Ronald,, for an insightful book. I am glad I took the time to read it and hope to find more of your work soon.

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

Woman in Shadow, by Carrie Stuart Parks

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Carrie Stuart Parks, and Thomas Nelson for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

I am always eager when I see Carrie Stuart Parks has written another novel, having found myself fully enthralled with her Gwen Marcey series a number of years ago. While Parks has moved into writing standalone thrillers, she can still pack a punch and offers up some great storytelling in this piece. When a woman who is saddled with much PTSD from a horrific work event arrives in rural Idaho, all she wants is some rest and well-deserved relaxation. Darby Graham could not have known that this ranch had so many issues and someone causing massive amount of uproar. As things begin to happen, Darby is thrust into the middle of trying to solve them and determine if there is a killer targeting the ranch or someone on its grounds specially. Gritty and mysterious, Parks does well to lure the reader in with this story.

When she arrives in Idaho, all Darby Graham wants is some time to recharge her batteries and enjoy the wilderness. However, things begin with a bang (or more literally, a shake) and develop from there. In an area close to Yellowstone National Park, there are countless mini earthquakes that cause quite a stir. Graham encounters this, as well as two potential canine companions to join her as she makes her way up to Mule Shoe. Graham slowly tries to get herself acclimated, though she carries much baggage of her own.

Having arrived at the ranch from Clan Firinn, a program for law enforcement officers who have suffered severe PTSD, Graham hopes to put all her worries behind her. However, that is not always the case, as small things occur that trigger flashbacks and horrible fugue states. When these occurrences begin to pile up, Graham has no choice but to work with the locals to try uncovering what’s been going on.

A forensic linguist by training, Graham finds clues in language and how it is presented. She is able to use some notes from the past sent to ward others away and finds herself able to piece together a very loose profile. That may not help her now, as people are dying and destruction is rampant, though it does not deter Graham from trying her best.

Riddled with memories of the past that haunt her, Darby Graham will have to put all that behind her if she is to help find a killer before she becomes a victim herself. Much if riding on this, the least of which a chance to slay her own demons once and for all. A well-paced story that adds action and suspense throughout, proving that Parks has not lost her way with words.

I struggle after reading a series and the author turns to standalone novels. When I get into the groove of things, I can only see myself wanting to continue on the journey of a protagonist I know well, with dangling threads and new plot ideas formulated in the closing chapters of a book. However, Carrie Stuart Parks turned to writing novels that float on their own, equally as impactful to the attentive reader. These are still filled with the element of mystery and suspense, as well as utilising some unique forensic research, which is usually able to extinguish my longing for a series continuation.

Darby Graham does well in her role as protagonist, offering the reader a fair bit with which it work. Having suffered a great deal and still haunted with vast amounts of PTSD, Graham has tried to right herself and find a new path. Graham’s attempted escape to rural Idaho may not be the peace and quiet she needs, but it does showcase some of her wonderful forensic skills and keeps the reader guessing about how she will overcome it all. There is great growth and backstory construction in the piece, even if it is meant to go no further than the end of this novel.

Those Parks matches up with her protagonist also play key roles in keeping the story moving. While many flavour a particular aspect of the narrative, some drop clues throughout to help add depth to the story and provide insights into where things are going for the overall reading experience. Parks has a way of developing the rural authority figure effectively, which is not lost in this novel. Some of the characters help propel Darby Graham to a new level, while others are strictly there to impede her personal and professional progress throughout.

Things began somewhat slowly for me in this read. I needed some time to find myself interested in what was going on. Parks uses a slow reveal to really captivate the reader’s attention, but when it is found, the narrative picks up and finds its momentum. The various perspectives offered throughout provide the reader with an exciting tale, with decent backstory and mysterious twists. The plot advances in due time and keeps the reader guessing until all is revealed by the end. Short chapters push things along, though the information in them is essential, forcing the reader to play close attention. One of Parks’ great assets in her writing is presenting a typical criminal case through the lens of a less-known forensic profession. As with her Gwen Marcey series, the reader learns much through the eyes of Darby Graham, whose life as a forensic linguist offers some insights that may have been missed otherwise. While not my favourite piece by Carries Stuart Parks, I enjoyed it and would encourage readers to look into her other work, particularly that of the aforementioned Gwen Marcey.

Kudos, Madam Parks, on another solid piece of writing. You never cease to impress me with the new forensic angles presented in your writing.

Be sure to check for my review, first posted on Mystery and Suspense, as well as a number of other insightful comments by other reviewers.

https://www.mysteryandsuspense.com/woman-in-shadow/

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

Kill All Your Darlings, by David Bell

Eight stars

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

David Bell does a masterful job in this novel, combining a well-paced thriller with hints of the writing process and the seedy underbelly of sexual harassment on college campuses. He is able to keep the reader committed throughout and reveals all in the closing pages when all the pieces come together. After an English professor publishes his first novel, he’s hoping for a great deal of praise. However, a former student—missing for the past two years—returns and presses him to admit that he’s used her thesis. This is the least of his worries, as the plagiarized piece includes details about a murder, as yet unsolved, that were never released to the public. Things spiral out of control as the police and college hierarchy begin to ask questions that cannot be dodged. Bell is utterly entertaining and captivating in equal measure.

Connor Nye enjoys his work as an English professor at a small Kentucky college. Having lost his wife and teenage son a number of years before, his work is everything. When Nye publishes his first novel, he is hoping for a great deal of praise and can all but guarantee tenure. Things could not be going any better for him, which fuels his emotions as he arrives home that night.

When he enters his home, Nye is greeted by one of his former students, Madeline O’Brien. This undergrad has been missing for the past two years and her surprise arrival here has Nye in a tizzy. However, things go from bad to worse when Madeline confronts him for using her honours thesis as his own novel. Madeline is keen to recoup her dignity and threatens Nye about coming clean, something that the previously faultless professor must consider.

If plagiarizing were not enough, the police are soon knocking on his door, citing that the premise of the novel resembles an unsolved crime in town from a few years before, including a number of details never released to the public. Now, Nye is faced with being changed as a suspect in the young woman’s murder. What’s worse, while Nye says that he does not know the victim, he can be played along her street many times, having used the area to walk his dog.

While the evidence begins to pile up, Nye is debating about telling the truth about his book, hoping that it will release much of the tension. However, there are more twists to come, some of which only make him look guiltier. With perspectives from Madeline in flashback chapters and a new student of Nye’s telling things in the present, the story takes on many topics as the truth is peeled back and the murder is better explored. Can Connor Nye escape the nightmare that was his attempt to get the academic pressure off his back? David Bell spins quite the tale and I could not get enough.

While I have read many books in the genre over the past while, David Bell has something that I am sure will stick with me for a lot longer than many. He has both a strong writing style as well as some unique approaches that envelop the story in both an entertaining read and educational tome on a few key subjects. The piece moves along well and keeps the reader guessing as the layers are revealed pushing the protagonist to flail between honour and truth. It’s a whodunit as well as a motive-seeking piece, which speeds along until the final few pages.

Connor Nye comes across as somewhat endearing, though his cheating a student out of her glory taints him early on. Suffering the loss of his family, Nye must keep it together as best he can, while also juggling the pressures of academia. When his lie snowballs out of control, Nye is not able to simply pull the plug on it, choosing instead to try explaining his way out of predicament. He’s determined to help his cause, while only making matters worse in short order.

Bell uses some wonderful supporting characters in this piece, as well as juicing it up with three narrative perspectives. As the story is closely tied to the murder, everyone plays their part and keeps the machine well-oiled and running in a single direction. Some characters complement one another, while others clash in needed ways to push the story’s plot along. It’s Bell’s mastering of development that proves to be the greatest accolade in this piece, fixing everyone together as needed to tell a captivating tale.

This was one of those books that took a bit for me to connect with, though when I did, it was pure magic. The plot gained momentum and I could not say enough about how the story flowed. With a mix of chapter lengths and perspectives, Bell gives the reader something they can thoroughly enjoy throughout and keeps them guessing. Plots are interwoven and twists occur repeatedly, offering the reader the chance to second guess themselves repeatedly. I have read some of Bell’s work before, but this was surely something even better than past novels, dealing with some real-life issues in academia, student rights, and the pressures of college campuses.

Kudos, Mr. Bell, for a great piece of work. I hope many find and read this in short order, as the messaging is on point and the writing easy to digest.

Be sure to check for my review, first posted on Mystery and Suspense, as well as a number of other insightful comments by other reviewers.

https://www.mysteryandsuspense.com/kill-all-your-darlings/

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

Couple Found Slain: After a Family Murder, by Mikita Brottman

Eight stars

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

While I rarely read true crime, I was drawn to this book by Mikita Brottman, which seeks to explore a unique perspective. After a young man killed his family, he went to authorities to admit the act, but felt that he was not in his right mind at the time of the murder. Deemed not criminally responsible, Brian Bechtold was sent to live in a psychiatric facility for the foreseeable future. After meeting Brottman there, Brottman is able to slowly reveal the truth behind what happens inside these facilities. What is presented is as chilling as the lead-up to Brian Bechtold’s arrival! An explosive book that really had me thinking throughout and a must-read for true crime fans!

In 1992, Brian Bechtold walked into a police station in Florida with a stark admission. After some mumbling and confused banter, Bechtold told authorities that he had killed his parents within the last few weeks in the family home. When the police in Maryland made their way to the Bechtold house, they found two bodies, dead for over a week, all of which substantiated Brian’s comments down in Florida.

Citing years of abuse—which the author depicts in the opening chapters that summarise the Bechtold family—Brian did not deny what he had done, but felt that his actions were fuelled by feelings that left him not responsible for his actions. The State of Maryland agreed and deemed Brian Bechtold not criminally responsible for the murders. This would not set him free, however, but rather force him to reside in a psychiatric facility for the foreseeable future. It is here that the crux of the book presents itself.

The book continues by picking up the thread of Brian’s story—and life—within the walls of this facility. The author met Brian as she came to hold weekly meetings with residents to hone their reading and fiction skills. Brian’s story explores not only life within an institution, but also how residents live under constant scrutiny of staff, guards, doctors, and the general public. Some residents, like Brian, were suffering from obvious mental illnesses, but whose live were manageable with the proper medications and daily rituals. Others, on the other hand, appeared highly troubled and in a world all their own. The variance is substantial and truly remarkable for the attentive reader.

The struggle is not only one of the life of a psychiatric patient, but how they are treated and what rights they have. The author shows on numerous occasions the powerlessness that Brian suffered and how his diagnosis all but neutered his ability to stand up for himself. There are both legal and health issues that emerge throughout, many of which led to actual court proceedings. These interactions, albeit brief, with the outside world, show the limits that patients have, particularly when saddled with crimes they have committed.

Mikita Brottman may focus much of her attention on Brian Bechtold’s life, including many of his advancements and regressions, but also branches out to tell the stories of other residents at times, offering strong contrasts in how others were treated, handled, and relegated to a sort of psychotic heap when things got to be too much. There is not a single chapter that does not raise many interesting arguments about psychiatric facilities or the treatment of those within their walls, as well as the difficulties of those who are inside to ever make it back in to the general population. While some have drawn parallels to famous movies about life on a psychiatric ward, Brottman offers fact, rather than glamourised fiction, to tell a story that will surely offer true crime fans new horrors and fears about what happens when most of their books end. The story is far from over at the point of conviction!

I will be the first to admit that true crime is not usually the type of book I flock to read, though there was something here that drew me in. Perhaps it was Brottman’s desire to ‘show the view behind the curtain’ or to discuss the other side of true crime. It may have been the author’s clear narrative that built the story up while also tackling key aspects of the Bechtold experience. The story progressed nicely and the narrative clearly laid things out in such a way that the reader could follow the story without much trouble. The content was, at times, staggering in its bluntness and also somewhat ghastly. That people are regularly treated in such a way, outside the view of the public, is astonishing. It is, however, something that must be said and Brottman has done so effectively. I felt a part of the struggle throughout Bechtold’s turmoil, which is what I expect Brottman wanted.

Kudos, Madam Brottman. You have me curious about what else you may have penned in the genre and so I will have to scour some library shelves to see what I can find.

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

Shadow Target (Jake Keller #4), by David Ricciardi

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, David Ricciardi, and Berkley Publishing Group for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

After a binge of the previous three novels in this series, I was able to get to this, the gem of the collection to date. David Ricciardi has done a wonderful job building up to this piece, planting story arcs and developing his Jake Keller character, only to put him in the crosshairs of a convoluted plot that spans years and many parts of the globe. Keller awakens in rural France, having been in a plane crash, but is unaware of what just happened. Barely able to escape, he makes his way back stateside and tries to discover what has happened. After a few more attempts on his life, Keller realises that his safety is not guaranteed. Meeting an old friend, Keller discovers that someone is trying to hunt down CIA paramilitary officials for reasons that are not yet clear. He will need to dig deep and rely on many resources to get to the bottom of it all, trying to stay one step ahead of a ruthless killer with connections all their own. Perhaps the best Ricciardi novel to date, it is sure to impress series fans.

It was all a blur to Jake Keller as he lay in the snow. There was a plane crash and he was involved, but the specifics have eluded him and the cold is beginning to envelop his body. Able to hide as two men scour the wreckage, Keller is able to evade capture and is rescued by the authorities before he makes his way back to America.

Once there, Keller begins to piece things together, though he is not sure why he has been targeted, having been on leave from the CIA. When someone tries to kill him again, Keller knows that something’s up and his name is on a hit-list of sorts. He connects with an old friend and discovers that there have been a few unexplained deaths of fellow CIA paramilitary officials around the world, as well as some whispers that Jake’s own troubles can be tied to some Russian officials having tipped off the locals. Armed with this intelligence, Keller does the one thing he was sworn not to do, connect with a person in his past who thinks him dead.

Travelling to France, Keller has an awkward reunion with the first woman he ever loved, someone with credentials within the French security agency. Keller receives a cold shoulder to begin, but is soon able to connect and prove that he’s being targeted for reasons as yet unknown. A Russian oligarch appears to be pulling some strings and using his connection to the Russian president to bring Keller down, as well as trying to extinguish the lives of many CIA officials. There must be a mole within the Agency, offering some help, but Keller is not yet entirely sure.

Working angles and trying to stay one step ahead of those seeking to kill him, Keller gathers more intel and works with some British officials as well to craft a plan not only to trap the Russians, but to lure a rogue American official out of hiding, in hopes of revealing the CIA mole once and for all. Additionally, there is a major plot to assassinate a head of state, one that will leave more than blood running in the streets. It’s up to Keller to utilise his skills and mindset to foil the plot, all while trying to stay alive long enough to reveal truths many had hoped to bury.

In the short time I have been aware of David Ricciardi’s work, I have truly come to enjoy it. His fast-pace action and attention to detail keep me feeling as though I am right in the middle of the action. While each book develops themes of their own, there is a loose connection that spans more than the protagonist, all of which comes together in this fourth novel in the series. With wonderful characters and a plot that never stops evolving, it is not hard to believe that David Ricciardi is rising within the ranks of the genre to make a name for himself.

Jake Keller has evolved greatly since he was summoned onto a plane, heading for Singapore in the debut novel. His personality has deepened faster than the needed plastic surgery he received when he was a man wanted in all corners of the world. Keller shows his grit and determination to get to the truth, but also has a personal side that yearns for that romantic connection he’s lost a few times along the way. Relatable and down to earth, Keller shows readers that not all those who star in the genre need to be indestructible, but it helps to have an unbreakable sense of determination.

Ricciardi crafts wonderful supporting characters throughout his novels, some of which serve as recurring characters, while others find their purpose in a single book. There was a great mix here, allowing series fans to revisit some of those they have enjoyed in the past while also finding new and exciting storylines emerging from fresh faces. This is a story of loose thread, allowing the reader to see unfinished plots resumed and pieces of the puzzle fitting together at opportune times. A great cast complements Keller at times, while also contrasting with the grit the protagonist offers throughout the novel.

The test of a true novel is the ability to grip the reader from the opening pages. This is done effectively throughout, beginning with the opening chapter. Ricciardi crafts his story around the mystery of what’s happened to Jake Keller and what’s to come, slowly revealing plot twists as needed. The narrative gains needed momentum throughout and keeps the reader guessing, while also showing both sides of the tale—the hunter and the hunted—for added excitement. Great characters and decent dialogue banter inject some humour where needed to lighten the mood, but nothing takes away from the urgency that emerges throughout the piece. I can only wonder what’s next for the group and how their coming together may have forged a new and exciting alliance that could work effectively in future series novels. The wait is on, though one can hope it will not be too long!

Kudos, Mr. Ricciardi, for another winner. I liked the change of pace, though it does not lessen the impact of the plot or the excitement found herein.

Be sure to check for my review, first posted on Mystery and Suspense, as well as a number of other insightful comments by other reviewers.

https://www.mysteryandsuspense.com/shadow-target/

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

Hard Target (Alex Morgan #2), by Leo J. Maloney

Eight stars

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

Leo J. Maloney is back with another adventure for the younger Morgan family member. Alex has become the rising star in Zeta Group, even though some cannot see the benefit in her role. When Alex and a handful of others are tasked with helping the NSA, things go wrong while they are in Chicago. An attempt on the vice-president’s life is foiled, but bodies are everywhere, with Alex the sole apparent survivor. Many feel that this is a Zeta mission and a manhunt is started to bring Alex Morgan to justice. She’s on the lam, just her and a motorcycle, but she won’t be able to do it alone. It’s fast-paced like you have never seen it before in this novella. Maloney fans will not be disappointed.

Whispers of a planned attack in Chicago reach the highest levels of US security, which causes worry when the vice-president is set to speak there. Zeta Team is sent in to help, seconded to other agencies, though there are multiple issues to tackle and little time to do it. When an explosion rips through an underground passage, many die and an ensuing shootout brings the body count even higher. When the smoke clears, it seems only one person is left alive, Alex Morgan. Rather than cheering this, US officials wonder if she was behind the attack and have started a manhunt to locate her.

Left with little to do but hide, Alex tries to make her way out of Chicago on her motorcycle, which is not the most conspicuous of transportation modes. She will have to be as stealthy as possible, but even that can’t be done alone. While traveling, she learns of a second attack on a uranium facility, sending Alex on another mission to protect her country. It won’t be easy, but she finds help in an unlikely source to make it a little easier. Meanwhile, her ever-protective father, Dan Morgan, is working with Zeta to save all involved before it’s too late.

This was a great novella that read family quickly. It’s got all the elements that Leo J. Maloney usually brings to a book, with strong characters, action that never stops, and short chapters to push the story forward. The reader familiar with the series and Zeta will know that there is little time to rest at any point, keeping a heightened level of excitement throughout. While only a short piece, Maloney hit the mark with this one. Teasers can only help fuel the interest in the next publication, something that I am eager to see, when it comes to fruition.

Kudos, Mr. Maloney, for another winner in this series. I have come to expect great things when you write and rarely am I disappointed.

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

The Truth about Lies: The Illusion of Honesty and the Evolution of Deceit, by Aja Raden

Nine stars

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

Everyone lies! Let’s get that out of the way before we get any further. Aja Raden sets out to explore the world of lies that seems to have woven its way into our moral fabric, offering the reader some insight in to why we lie, how it has become commonplace, and what lies have become supposed truths over the centuries. While she attempts to divide the types of lies into three categories, she is able to show that some lies have turned to accepted truths, though many are oblivious to the fact that will is constantly being pulled over their eyes. With straightforward writing and insightful research, Raden provides the reader with a great exploration of how truth and lies are interconnected on so many levels.

Raden uses the first part of the book to explore the world of lies and swindles that some have used to tell others. Her example of a man travelling from Europe to ‘settle’ a territory in the Americas, only to sell tracts to unwitting people shows that some people will believe something because it is so far-fetched that it must have a grain of reality. Raden hashes out how and why people believe these types of large-scale cons, explaining that the extravagance is too large to trick people, so it must be true. Yet, people fall for the cons each and every time because they are hard-wired to trust in others. Shell games, where someone is to guess the location of a pea under a shell, are also prime examples of putting trust in others. The expectation is that one of the shells will hold the sought after pea, while in reality, a sleight of hand means that none of the shells possesses the item in the long run. Trust and deception are intertwined here, providing the con artist the greatest advantage throughout.

The book continues by exploring the large-scale world of deception of the masses through lies, deception, and guilt. Raden uses some wonderful examples, the greatest of which is the promotion of medications of all sorts. The reader learns of the origins of ‘snake oil salesman’ and how the masses are duped into trusting that their ailments can be cured with one item of another. Scientific studies show the effect of placebos to the individual, debunking the need for the miracle cure if the personal inherently trusts that what they are putting in their mouths (or elsewhere) is the cure all. This can be extrapolated to the world of televangelism, where the only path os the one used by the speaker on the television, whose needs to ‘save’ are wrapped in a pricy donation. People fall for this because they cannot see past the wonders of salvation or healing, however dubious or backwards it may look on the outside.

Raden’s final section tackles the topic of lies on the grandest scale, the con, where it is society who is the targeted victim of falsehoods. Using platforms of media and mass information distribution, Raden shows how there are certain soapboxes that have been used to push an idea to the masses, all in the hopes of spreading a falsehood that is so vast that it seems real. While many readers may have lived through the time where #fakenews was a daily cry, Raden explores what it means and how it works, amongst other areas of societal duping. She also offers the reader insight into how to create a great con by insisting that lies can be used, brick by brick, to create a false truth that everyone seems to follow. Fascinating throughout and definitely perplexing when put in those terms.

I do enjoy a mix in my reading, usually to keep me on my toes and my brain sharpened to some of the non-fiction topics of the day. Aja Raden did a masterful job presenting this piece as being one that is not only relevant, but also highly intriguing. The psychology, sociology, and plain history that emerges from the pages of this book are not over simplified, but used effectively to keep the reader learning at every page turn. With a strong narrative, peppered with some saltiness to lighten the mood, Raden offers a wonderfully relatable piece that will keep the rewards enthused and laughing in equal measure. Lies have a way of pulling people in, wanting to see where they were duped and how others fell for something so simplistic (in hindsight). Raden does this perfectly and kept me wanting to know more. Quite the book, sure to pique the interest of many. My only question…how much of it was true?!

Kudos, Madam Raden, for a great piece. You had me hooked from the opening pages and I learned more than I thought I could on one (vast) topic. I cannot wait to get my hands on your other book, which I hope is just as informative.

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

Six Weeks to Live, by Catherine McKenzie

Eight stars

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

Emerging with another unique psychological thriller, Catherine McKenzie shows why she is at the top of her her genre. Mixing mystery with real-life situations, McKenzie presents the reader with a story that will surely hit home for many. Recently diagnosed with terminal cancer, Jennifer prepares to live her final weeks with family. However, she comes to discover something odd in a past blood test result and wonders if the cancer might have had some ‘help’ emerging, leaving her to speculate who might have targeted her to die. Another winner for McKenzie fans and those who love books with slowly revealed ‘aha’ moments.

Jennifer Barnes could not have expected the news when she went to the doctor about a series of headaches. Told that she has brain cancer and only a handful of weeks to live, Jennifer tries her best to come to terms with it and make the most of her time remaining. With adult triplets and a few grandchildren, Jennifer is ready to bask in the love they have for her as she wrestles for answers inside herself.

However, among the papers her doctor handed over, there is an old blood test result that denotes a spike in lead levels, something about which she knew nothing. When the doctor’s office has documented proof that they called her for additional tests and she communicated by phone that she wanted a second opinion, everything thinks it has to be related to her forgetfulness and a bout of migraines from last year. Jennifer in not convinced and begins digging a little deeper.

At the time of her aforementioned migraines, her husband had begun asking for a divorce, the next step after he had admitted having an affair and left the marital home. Might he be responsible for the anomaly in her blood test? Could he have wanted to kill her all along?The plot thickens as more is revealed and new layers of the family drama come to the surface.

While Jennifer’s time is running out, she refuses to take it sitting down. She must learn the truth and who has been trying to harm her over the last year. While the cancer progresses and she must make amends with the life she has lived, Jennifer refuses to die before knowing what really happened last May and who within her circle she can truly trust. Chilling and emotional at the same time, Catherine McKenzie keeps the reader guessing until the very end.

I have been a fan of Catherine McKenzie and her work for a few years now, having discovered her books while reading other reviews. Each of her books that I have taken the time to read proves to me that she is the real deal and knows how to spin a tale that will captivate the reader wholeheartedly. This is another stunning piece that seeks to weave a tragedy within a mystery and encapsulate it in a psychological thriller, where the protagonist cannot tell who can be trusted. A stellar piece, if ever I have read one.

Jennifer Barnes plays the presumptive protagonist throughout, offering the reader an insight into her life and how she’s come to have only a few weeks left. Her struggles as a mother, a wife, and a victim of adultery all come to the surface, while she refuses to lay down and let her world come crashing in on her. While she has only a limited time left, she is determined to discover the truth behind her lead poisoning and who could have acted so brashly as to try to kill her. McKenzie creates moments where Jennifer exposes the relationships she has with each of her triplet daughters, her own mother, and the husband who betrayed her, leaving everyone as a potential suspect, even if one name rises to the top throughout.

The collection of secondary characters are, to a degree, not as supporting as one might think. McKenzie’s storytelling is such that all three daughters could share the limelight with their mother and it not be a stretch. There is much to learn about them and their differences, even though they share a birthdate. Deception and duplicity are mixed with moments of compassion, as McKenzie contrasts how each connects with both parents in different ways. The story is richer for it and the twists even more impactful. This is the sign of a really great piece of fiction, where lines are blurred and the reader must decide who to like and hate.

The story itself was fantastic, which might help explain how I was able to read it in a single day. McKenzie tells things in such a clear manner within getting too wrapped up in the frivolous details. There is so much to learn and it comes out in a strong narrative that forges ahead, alongside great character development and quick dialogue. As is McKenzie’s style, there are many twists that the reader might not expect, which keeps the reader on their toes as they push forward to discover the truths that await them. Telling a multi-layered story is not easy, but Catherine McKenzie does it with ease, without revealing too much and letting the reader guess what is to come. I cannot say enough about this piece or the quality of Catherine McKenzie’s writing.

Kudos, Madam McKenzie, for another winner. You hooked me with the opening chapter and I could not stop reading from that point onwards.

Be sure to check for my review, first posted on Mystery and Suspense, as well as a number of other insightful comments by other reviewers.

https://www.mysteryandsuspense.com/six-weeks-to-live-2/

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

Bone Rattle (Arliss Cutter #3), by Marc Cameron

Nine stars

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

Marc Cameron is back with the third in his Arliss Cutter series, a collection of novels that get better with each new addition. Cameron’s background as a former Deputy Marshall serves him well in this piece, where the action is ever-mounting and the reader is pulled into the middle of a sensational story from the opening pages. Arliss Cutter enjoys his work on the Fugitive Task Force, but has no interest in any management position. When he and his team are sent to Juneau to help with a high-profile trial, things go south soon enough. Cutter is pulled into a situation and must find a young woman who is the target of a crooked businessman, all in rural Alaska. It’s a story that will keep the reader flipping pages well into the night. Another winner from Marc Cameron for sure!

Arliss Cutter loves his job as Supervisory Deputy Marshall up in Anchorage, though there are surely times he misses his native Florida. Working hard all day, capturing those who have tried to evade the law, Cutter and his team within Alaska’s Fugitive Task Force do all they can to help balance the scales of justice. There are bumps and scrapes along the way, but it’s all in a day’s work. When he returns home, it’s to help take care of his twin nephews and teenage niece, a handful on their own. Still, he would not have it any other way.

While there are some odd goings-on in Anchorage, Cutter and his partner, Lola Teariki, are sent to Juneau to help in a high-profile trial. The jury is about to be sequestered and the judge is in need of protection, as the defendants are part of a gang that prefer to take justice into their own hands. With the trial being covered by a sharp reporter, everyone is wondering where she’s getting her scoop. Lori Maycomb is not prepared to say much of anything, as she wants to keep her information under wraps and her informant out of the limelight.

When things at the trial go sideways, Cutter knows that he will be put to work hunting rather than simply protecting. There’s more to the story than a simple confidential informant, but a crooked business owner has plans of his own for the local territory and he’s not prepared to let anyone stand in his way. Even when a valuable artifact is found that might impede a money-making transportation venture, it’s no impediment to progress, as long as the right people can be silenced, permanently.

With a young woman in hiding up in the Alaskan hills, Cutter will have to work quickly to get to her, or at least keep those with a mission to scrub her out from arriving first. It’s a race against time and through a series of hurdles, including a mining area. Cutter knows it won’t be easy, but he’s not prepared to simply let a young girl’s life be silenced to pad the pockets of a corrupt individual. Justice must be done, no matter the cost!

I have long had an appreciation for Marc Cameron and his work, which pushes the reader to think outside the box. Not only is the Alaskan setting unique, but the writing delivers something that is not entirely in line with many novels in the genre. It is a different type of gritty, one that leaves the reader wanting to know more. So much is going on in this book, though it never feels overwhelming. This is definitely a series for those who love trillers and quasi-procedurals. While some applaud this as a decent standalone, I cannot think why anyone would not want to grab the previous two books to have the full context of this sensational series and its protagonist.

Arliss Cutter has grown on me over this trio of novels and there is nothing like seeing how his progression has developed. I love a mix of personal and professional growth in a character, something that Cameron offers in spades throughout. Cutter may be a saviour to his family, after the death of his brother, but he is also one who allows his sister-in-law to take on the primary role, while injecting some of his own familial life lessons when they are needed. On a professional front, Cutter works well with his partner, Lola Teariki, but does not force her to conform to what he does at every turn. The richness of the Cutter character develops well throughout this book and in the previous two novels, making him one that many readers can admire, given the time.

Marc Cameron has done well in this piece to really add some standout supporting characters. From those who recur throughout the series to the people who are one-offs to add depth to the story, there are few who do not make an impact. I thoroughly enjoy how Cameron crafts those who appear on each page, honing their personalities to flavour the narrative and enrich the plot where needed. There is something to love or hate with each person the reader encounters and this is precisely what I needed after reading some novels where things are brushed over too swiftly. While not a dense read, the book is by no means superficial and the characters help add some weight to the final product.

This is the second of Marc Cameron’s series that I have read, neither of which have left me feeling disappointed. The writing is strong and there is something that makes me want to keep reading every time I pick up one of his books. The narrative flows well, offering wonderful twists throughout, without tying the reader up in knots. The characters have depth and prove to be intriguing no matter what they have going on in their lives. Cameron teases the reader with shorter chapters at times, as if to coax them into settling down for the longer and more detailed parts of the book, which allow plot development. I enjoyed the banter through dialogue, which added something to the book and helped me imagine things playing out on the screen with ease. I cannot wait to see what’s next with Arliss Cutter, as there were a few threads left loose, which is another of Cameron’s great abilities, as the reader begs to understand what’s to come!

Kudos, Mr. Cameron, on another stellar piece. I cannot get enough of your writing and hope Arliss Cutter will be back soon!

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

In Her Tracks (Tracy Crosswhite #8), by Robert Dugoni

Eight 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.

Robert Dugoni is back with another Tracy Crosswhite police procedural procedural, but adds a certain twist to keep the reader guessing. It’s been a tough go for Seattle PD Homicide Detective Crosswhite, but she is not one to let bumps in the road derail her work. Returning from maternity leave, Crosswhite is forced to take a position she does not want, but tosses herself into the work. She discovers an intriguing case that appears to be without strong leads. When Crosswhite is pulled into an active case, she finds her spark again, much to the chagrin of a captain who wants her under his foot. The missing and presumed dead have a voice in Detective Tracy Crosswhite, but she will have to breathe life into their cases before they go cold.

While she loves motherhood, Tracy Crosswhite cannot wait to get back to work. Returning to the Seattle PD’s Homicide Team, Crosswhite hopes to have her position back. However, her wily captain has other ideas, citing that they need to fill the spot while she was on maternity leave. Offering her a position as the cold case detective—one that everyone is sure Crosswhite will decline—it’s a chance for Tracy to decide what she wants next. A pep talk with the retiring detective leaves her willing to give it a shot, if only to scuttle the plans of her nemesis for a while longer.

Crosswhite scours the list of cases and finds one that piques her interest. A little girl went missing when her father took her to a corn maze and was never seen again. Part of a bitter custody battle, the little girl made numerous comments about how her parents fought before the separation. As a beat cop at the time of the disappearance, the father pulls on the heartstrings of Crosswhite, but she must remain objective.

Working on a few of the leads that go nowhere, Crosswhite is pulled into the middle of a fresh investigation with her former partner. A young jogger has gone missing in a local park and no one saw anything. Canvassing the neighbourhood, Crosswhite comes across three brothers who live together but seem to be hiding something. With nothing concrete to assert her claims of guilt, Crosswhite will have to pursue a few options on the sly.

While her missing girl case is going nowhere fast, Detective Crosswhite finds herself fixated on this jogger and how she could have disappeared into thin air. There’s something that is not adding up and those who know Tracy Crosswhite understand that she is not one to let opportunity slip through her fingers. She’ll use all her resources to get to the bottom of it, even if it means putting her future in jeopardy with a captain who wants her head on a platter.

There’s something about this series that has always kept me fully engaged and wondering. Robert Dugoni has crafted a stellar cast and writes so fluidly as to keep the reader on their toes. New ideas emerge with each novel and the series gets better the deeper into the characters Dugoni pulls the reader. I can see this being one series that will not get old any time soon.

Tracy Crosswhite is a stellar detective in her own right, having grown effectively over the last number of novels. Her grit and determination are like no other and she keeps her eye on the prize throughout, hoping to make the most of what is offered to her. Balancing work with motherhood has been tough, but Crosswhite has found a balance, even though it has come at the cost of her preferred job. It will take all she has inside her to solve the cases placed at her feet, while dodging the obstacles of suspects and a captain with an ax to grind. There is mention throughout her cold case investigation about how a missing child can tear a family apart, something Crosswhite knows all too well from her sister’s disappearance. Guilt is nothing new for Detective Tracy Crosswhite, which makes her all the more intriguing as she strives for truth.

Dugoni creates a string of strong secondary characters in this piece that complement Crosswhite when the need arises. Pulled from a variety of sources, those who fill the gaps and keep the reader intrigued offer their own spin on these missing persons cases. Some are straightforward while others prefer to present deceptive fronts, all of whom work well to keep the reader wondering what’s to come. The recurring cast is always welcome, but I also enjoy how Dugoni has created new and one-off characters that keep things exciting for all readers.

There’s something to be said for the novels in this series, as they take police procedurals to a new level. While there are the essential elements found throughout, Robert Dugoni uses his strong writing abilities to create a certain magnetism that pulls the reader into the middle of the case and won’t let go. The narrative pushes along effectively and keeps the reader on their toes until the very end, when the pieces finally come together. It’s a piece that may reveal itself slowly, but once the momentum is started, there’s not tapping on the brakes. Short to mid-length chapters propel the reader forward and keep the story on track, as much is revealed with each page turn. I can only wonder what’s to come and how Dugoni will continue to shape his core set of characters with new and exciting hurdles.

Kudos, Mr. Dugoni, for another winner. Your work is some of the best in the genre and I can only hope you have many more ideas to share soon.

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