No Place to Run, by Mark Edwards

Seven stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ninth Month, by James Patterson and Richard DiLallo

Seven stars

First read of 2023!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Tudor Christmas, by Alison Weir and Siobhan Clarke

Eight stars

A great holiday re-read!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nine stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wanderers (Wanderers #1), by Chuck Wendig

Seven stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Murder Can Be Fatal, Kevin Scott Allen

Seven star

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

Always eager to get my hands on new authors or independent publications, I gladly accepted an ARC for this novel from Kevin Scott Allen. Laid out as a mystery, the story revolves around Igg Downs, a private investigator who has seen better days and finds himself in the middle of a dry spell. When approached to help a friend investigate a murder, our protagonist finds himself neck-deep in evidence but without a clear killer. All the while, a detective with the LAPD is trying to stir up trouble in the form of retribution. A decent read for those who like PI mysteries.

Igg Downs has had better days. Working as a private investigator, Downs is used to dead ends when trying to locate people or chase something down. However, he’s hit a dry spell with no clear end in sight. That could be why he reluctantly agreed to help with this new case, where a woman’s been murdered.

Wanda’s dead body is making Downs quite nervous, this being his first stiff. However, the potential for some income pushes him through as he tries to piece together what happened to her. Seeking to stay one step ahead of the LADP Homicide Detective is key, for more than one reason. It appears that Downs may have ruffled some feathers when he bedded the detective’s wife not long after she left her husband. This will surely add some complexities to the investigation.

While Downs follows the leads he uncovers, he comes upon more bodies, killed in brutal fashions. Could all the killings be connected, a means of shutting people up while the killer makes a break for it? While being bullied for his past behaviour and worrying that this paycheque might slip through his fingers, Igg Downs will have to act swiftly and identify the killer. Kevin Scott Allen does well with this, keeping the reader wondering with each page flip.

Kevin Scott Allen does well with what appears to be one of his first published novels. Pulling on a number of the needed ingredients for a successful publication, Allen keeps the reader enthused from the opening pages, Adding some great narrative twists to allow the reader to better understand Igg Downs, the reading experience is heightened. While I did find it difficult to connect with the flow at times, I can see how many readers will latch on this PI mystery and feel completedly at ease.

Allen keeps the narrative at the forefront of the story, permitting the reader to see things from a variety of angles at any one time. The story flows fairly well, introducing the reader to the protagonist in the opening sentences and not letting go until the final statement ends. The characters found herein prove not only to be realistic, but also well placed to better understand all aspects of the story. Allen uses some great plot twists to keep the story fresh and hooks the reader who is not entirely sure where things are headed. While I cannot put my finger on it, I found myself not as enthralled as I would have liked. The story seemed solid and the characters proved entertaining. It could be that I was caught during one of my more fickle reading and reviewing moments, but I do not feel this should reflect on Kevin Scott Allen’s abilities.

Kudos, Mr. Allen, on an appealing potential series debut. I am eager to see where you take things and how readers can enjoy more of your work.

Steal (Instinct #3), by James Patterson and Howard Roughan

Seven stars

In this third instalment of the Instinct series, James Patterson and Howard Roughan work together to develop a great thriller with a unique twist. Psychological at times with some gritty crime aspects, the collaboration works well, as the previous two novels did for those who took the time to enjoy them. Patterson appears to mesh well with Roughan, which is a pleasant surprise, as books bearing the former’s name flood the marketplace on a weekly basis. A worthwhile reading experience.

It was a shock to everyone who glanced at social media to see that Carter van Oehson planned to kill himself. Even his Abnormal Psych professor, Dylan Reinhart, was taken aback. Now, a whole day later, Carter has still not turned up, but neither has his body.

While the hunt is on, there is no trace of Carter, at least until his boat turns up on the water, empty and with no signs of a struggle. People begin to wonder if Carter went ahead with his vow or could this just be a means of getting some attention? While people speculate, one person is sure that there is something nefarious going on.

Carter’s father, Mathias von Oehson, is sure there is more to the story, wondering if his fame and popularity might be the reason for an abduction. There is a family secret that could be used as leverage, allowing whoever is behind this to blackmail the van Oehsons and cause chaos. Without being able to turn to the police, Mathias needs answers and knows just who to ask.

Dylan Reinhart is ready to assist, but had no idea it would mean being in the middle of such a massive secret. He’ll need every fibre of his being to locate Carter, but must also rely on his connection to NYPD Detective, Elizabeth Needham. Together, Dylan and Elizabeth turn over rocks and investigate clues that could lead them to Carter, or send them to the darkest parts of the globe where additional trouble lurks. A chilling story that Patterson and Roughan develop effectively, keeping the reader hooked until the final page turn.

While I find James Patterson’s excessive publications too much to handle, particularly when I seek a decently penned book, I was pleasantly surprised by this one. Working alongside Howard Roughan, Patterson has developed a decent series that has potential. While the book had some slow moments, the narrative carried things effectively through to the stronger segments of the story. I am keen to see if there is more collaboration by this pair, be it with this series or elsewhere.

Dylan Reinhart and Elizabeth Needham have grown throughout the series, both personally and professionally. While they try to keep work and personal lives separate, there are times when things blur together, leaving the reader to wonder what might happen. Both have strong development throughout the series, though I did not feel as connected to them in this novel. They are worthwhile characters with much to offer, leaving me to wonder what’s next for this duo.

James Patterson has so many collaborators with whom he works, it is hard to keep them straight, as well as which offer high caliber writing. Based on my reviews from the past books in this series, as well as though that have his name attached, Howard Roughan is one of the ‘decent ones’. The narrative of this book worked well, though there were a few slow moments that left me tapping my finger as I sped through the chapters, though the overall experience was worth my time. Short chapters, what I consider Patterson’s trademark, worked well to keep the momentum going and left me able to focus on the endgame without getting too caught up in the aforementioned slower segments. A decent plot kept me curious and some characters served to flavour the writing in ways that made it a little more enjoyable. As I said before, I am eager to see what else is to come with this series.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Roughan, for a decent read. Eager to see what you have coming out soon.

Splitsville (Splitsville #1), by William Bernhardt

Seven stars

Eager to try the newest series by William Bernhardt, I turned to this debut novel. Always one to push the limits of the law, Bernhardt delivers something exciting and full of thought-provoking writing. Kenzi Rivera has something to prove, both to herself and those around her. When she was passed up for promotion within the family law firm, Kenzi uses that to propel herself into a worthwhile career. When she is approached by a young scientist to help win a custody battle, Kenzi puts her all into the case. Things take an interesting turn and Kenzi is soon defending her client in a murder trial, which will surely push everyone outside their comfort zones. It’s a trial like no other for Kenzi and her client. Bernhardt delivers a curious series debut that will have readers eager to forge onwards.

After being passed over for a promotion within the family law firm, Kenzi River is furious. She’s an established divorce attorney, used to fighting for her place as a lawyer and woman. She’s ready to make an impact, though Kenzi is never sure what’s waiting around the corner.

When Kenzi is hired by a young scientist who wants to win back custody of her daughter, the case proves more complicated than meets the eye. Kenzi’s client is involved in a religious group with some dubious stances, including tattoos and domineering hierarchies. Kenzi is ready for a challenge but this might be a little too much.

After a major fire in town leads to a woman dying in the blaze, all eyes turn to Kernzi’s client. It would have made things much easier for her, though Kenzi thinks that there is more to the story, including the possibility of being framed to smear the custody case. Kenzi has no experience in criminal law, but will have to learn swiftly, as she’s being pulled into the middle of a life or death case that could put everything Kenzi knows on trial as well. A great story that has more twists that the reader might expect at first glance.

Having long been a fan of William Bernhardt and his books, I was intrigued to see this latest series. There’s something alluring about the story and Bernhardt weaves a curious tale that is sure to pique the interest in the attentive reader. With a strong narrative and some unique characters, Bernhardt uses his strong abilities to keep the reader on their toes throughout this legal thriller that is more than it appears to be on the surface.

Kenzi Rivera is a great protagonist with a great deal to prove. She’s had a great run as a lawyer, but is not happy when her father overlooks her abilities and offers managing parter to someone else. Keen to prove herself, Kenzi uses her experience as a divorce attorney to help those seeking to fight for custody for their children. She’s a single mom as well, which helps Kenzi understand her clients’ need for clear answers throughout the process. When Kenzi is pushed to the limit, she does all she can to help a desperate client, which includes working parts of the law she’s never practiced. There is a lot more to learn about Kenzi, which may come out as the series progresses.

In this series debut, William Bernhardt finds new ways to tap into unique aspects of the law, pushing characters well outside their comfort zone. With a strong foundational narrative, things progress with ease, keeping the reader on their toes throughout. Decent characters flavour the story as well, leaving the reader to find some to whom they can relate as the story progresses. With a mix of chapter lengths. Bernhardt pushes the reader to forge ahead throughout the reading experience. Bernhardt has done well in the past to create wonderful stories with unique legal angles. I can only hope that, should I invest more time in the series, I will see the same things for myself.

Kudos, Mr. Bernhardt, for an intriguing series debut. I will have to look deeper into the series to see how I feel about it all.

Fear No Evil (Alex Cross #29), by James Patterson

Six Stars

Just as readers sometimes find themselves in a rut, the same can be said of authors who try to churn out something worthwhile. Many who follow my reviews will know that I have a love/hate relationship with James Patterson and his novels that appear to sell based on his name, rather than on any level of quality. I came into this book knowing that the Alex Cross series was one that had not been sullied with subpar writing or delivery. However, after reading this book, I am beginning to wonder if Dr. Cross may have overstayed his literary welcome and ought to hang up the cuffs for good. I could not connect with the book, the characters I have come to love, or even the action. Others may disagree, and I welcome it, but I am left wondering if it’s time to stop and let others fight crime. One of the cornerstone series for James Patterson, this one may have finally lost its steam and needs to be shelved for good.

While I usually offer a detailed summary of the storyline for other reviewers to enjoy, I can’t be bothered today, preferring to offer a quick summary of my sentiments so that I can move along. Patterson resurrects an old nemesis of Dr. Alex Cross’ and places the detective in the middle of a serious manhunt. Cross is his usual go-getter self, swooping in to help as best he can, while also rescuing his wife from danger as she investigates something over in Europe. The tension and action that is usually built up with short Patterson-esque chapters is gone, leaving the reader feeling flat and underwhelmed. Don’t get me wrong, there is action and some heart-thumping suspense, but I did not feel the push to keep reading well into the night or caring much about what was going on. I need that on occasion and this novel did not deliver.

While some authors can use their name to sell a book, I cringe at that, as the reader is left wondering if the quality is there. With another Cross novel on the horizon, I can only hope this was a stumbling block for Patterson (or if I am just out of sorts with my reading these days), and that Cross can return to his earlier glory. That being said, thirty novels may be a sign that Cross should enjoy time with the family and let the likes of Bennett and Boxer, other stalwart Patterson detectives, take the reins and keep things going. But, what’s do I know, right?

Kudos, Mr. Patterson, for finding new ideas to challenge your protagonist. It just did not impact me as I had hoped.

2 Sisters Detective Agency, by James Patterson and Candice Fox

Seven stars

Working together yet again, James Patterson and Candice Fox present a standalone thriller with all the ingredients for success. Two unsuspecting women are thrust together and find themselves in the middle of something truly terrifying, only to learn that there are even more layers yet to be seen. Rhonda Bird is not naive in the least, but is truly shocked to learn of the fallout of her father’s death. She travels to Los Angeles and learns that she has a sister, one who is not used to following rules. When they get tangled up in tracking down a crew of privileged teens, the end result is nothing less than horrific, particularly when one of the group’s victims seeks revenge for what’s happened. Patterson and Fox show that they have some magic within them, using this piece to prove it once again.

Rhonda Bird is a juvenile public defender, working the system as best she can with clients who feel they are untouchable. When she receives news that her estranged father has died, she agrees to go to Los Angeles to handle some of the paperwork. It is only then that she realises something truly baffling, she has a half-sister. Baby Bird is an entitled teenager who does not like to follow the rules, making it even more difficult for Rhonda to take control of the situation. If that were not enough, they girls’ father was no longer the boring accountant he presented himself to be, but a private detective with an active business.

While Rhonda tries to digest all that is put before her, Baby wants nothing more than to keep living the life she’s been streaming online. This includes interactions with other privileged teens. When one acquaintance comes for help, he soon discovers that he does not want to involve Rhonda in what’s going on, leaving Baby somewhat concerned.

As she’s used to prying information out of teenagers, Rhonda soon discovers that the boy is part of a gang of youths who target those in need of a message, roughing people up and causing havoc wherever possible,. Their leader, a psychopath if ever there was one, relishes the power they have been able to exert and cares little for the fallout. As Rhonda and Baby resurrect their father’s agency to work the case, they find themselves enmeshed in trying to bring this group of youths down, knowing little of those that have been victimized.

What begins as a hunt for a group of entitled brats soon takes a darker turn, as one of the victims, with a sordid past of his own, decides to take matters into his own hands. With a killer lurking in the shadows, Rhonda and Baby will have to watch their every move, sure that no one is safe or can be trusted. Rhonda may have wished she never answered the call that brought her to L.A., but now that she’s here, it’s all hands on deck to protect a sister she never knew she had. A decent crime thriller that had its moments of intrigue.

I have come to enjoy both the collaborative and individual work of James Patterson, as well as Candice Fox. They have been able to create some fascinating characters, plots, and novels that usually leave me flipping pages for hours at a time. While I applaud the ideas, this book did not grab me as much as their previous work, though there were moments of intrigue and captivating writing. The jury is still out on this one and I am left to wonder if this is a new collaborative series in the making.

Rhonda Bird proves to be a gritty protagonist in this piece, offering up her no-nonsense side with capable mind throughout. I was intrigued to see the balance of her professional and personal life, as it came to light throughout this story and could only wonder if Patterson and Fox had more in mind for her in upcoming novels. Strong-willed and ready to make a difference when it counts, Rhonda must also juggle being a quasi-parent to her new half-sister, more trouble than it is sometimes worth.

I spent a great deal of time thinking about this book, trying not to compare it to others I have read of late, or even the past collaborative submissions of the authors. I am almost certain that it is tough on writers who have had success to always achieve the same standards in their novels, as readers come to expect stellar work. Patterson and Fox are great writers on their own, and together, but this one did not resonate for me as much as I would have liked. I needed something grittier, darker, with more seriousness and complexity. Instead, I got some teenage vapidness mixed with amateur sleuthing on a case that did not fully captive me. This is nothing against the authors or their hard work, as the narrative flowed pretty well and the chapters moved things along. I simply felt that there was a disconnect with the plot and what I needed at the moment. Perhaps the next one will be a return to their old ways!

Kudos, Mr. Patterson and Madam Fox, on a valiant effort. I know what you can do, so there is no point bemoaning or panning this one blip.

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

All Quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque

Eight stars

Please enjoy the review after my annual re-read of this classic for this time of year!

LEST WE FORGET

This enthralling novel by Erich Maria Remarque provides the reader with a stellar look at a soldier’s life during the Great War. Told through the eyes of a young German soldier, the story pulls the reader in and personalises events in such a way that it almost seems palatable, without justifying or downplaying the atrocities at any point. All Quiet on the Western Front is sure to stir up emotion in those readers who have an interest in military discussions, as well as those who love war-time history.

This is the story of Paul Bäumer, a nineteen year-old fighting for the German Fatherland in France during the middle of the Great War. Having signed up voluntarily alongside a number of his classmates, Bäumer hoped things would be as exciting as they sounded. All that was dashed after the weeks of basic training, in which the young men are broken down and put through their paces before being tossed on the front lines, where the beauty of nationalism is replaced by the horrors of death. Now, these young men live in constant physical terror as explosions rock their every night.

The story explores the trials and tribulations the war brings to those who witness it first-hand. Bäumerl finds himself fighting to justify his presence in France and tries to survive on poor rations, barely enough for survival. He also witnesses how decimating the war can be, when only a handful of his training class survive after a short stint on the front.

Bäumer is also forced to sober up to the realities of life, which turns sensitivity on its head and permits pragmatism to surface. After a soldier dies in front of them, the fight is on for his supplies, something the surviving soldiers need more than the corpse. This creates a refreshing look at life and the lessons that come with it, leaving manners back in Germany when every day could be your last.

There are moments of harrowing action, as Bäumer accompanies the others to lay barbed wire and finds himself trapped under artillery fire. Scared and pinned down, the men talk about their own thoughts about how the war could be more effectively fought, as well as what might have changed the minds of the politicians who are sitting in their ivory towers, far away from the bloodshed.

When a bloody battle with enemy leads to men being blown apart with severed limbs and torsos, Bäumer sees the most gruesome part of the war, something that he was not told about when first he agreed to serve. Rats feast on the dead and Bäumer expresses a sense of being animalistic, trusting his instincts alone to save him. The casualty list is high and Bäumer tries to erase what he’s seen when he is given leave and encounters a few French girls, eager to help him forget.

Bäumer takes some extended leave to return home for a family visit. He feels like an outsider, unable to discuss his trauma with anyone. His mother is dying of cancer and she hopes that he can be proud of what he is doing, but wants him to come home as soon as possible. This surely pulls on his heartstrings and Bäumer is left to wonder what the fighting will really do, as he cannot be with family when they need him most.

After witnessing the horrors of a prisoner-of-war camp, Bäumer is determined to help bring the war to an end, vowing never to be captured or enslaved by the enemy. The months push onwards and the German army begins to lose control of its fate. Bäumer watches his friends die in combat, eventually leaving him as the only one left from his original class. By the fall of 1918, Paul Bäumer can see the end is in sight and hears much talk about an armistice, which would bring the bloody war to an end, something he’s wanted ever since arriving at the Western Front.

Erich Maria Remarque does a masterful job painting the image of war and how it truly gets into the pores of those who are fighting on the front lines. It is less about strategy and troop advancement than the blood and gore faced by those young men who were pulled from their schools in order to fight for their country. While many in the West see the Germans as the evildoers (in both World Wars), Remarque offers this wonderful look at the war through the eyes of one man, to show that there was nothing but pure fear within him. No matter whose sides was right, young men perished without knowing what they were trying to do. Their task, kill or be killed. Their horror, to be maimed or brutally injured. All this comes to the surface throughout this piece, which will surely shock the attentive reader.

There are many characters whose lives progress throughout the book, though I will not list them. Remarque seeks more to tell a story of the war through their experiences than to inject a deeper plot with the Great War as a backdrop. The horrors of war spill out from every page, as well as the senselessness of men who could barely shave being the pawns of an international political disagreement. This theme is echoed throughout, in twelve strong chapters. While many will likely turn away from the book because they disagree with war or have ‘read too much about it’, I would encourage everyone to give it a try to see just how deeply it affects you. Especially with November 11th just around the corner!

Kudos, Mr. Remarque, for this sensational piece that had me enthralled throughout. It has stirred up some real emotions within me.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

  • Canadian Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae

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

The Privilege (Joseph Antonelli #9), by D.W. Buffa

Seven stars

D.W. Buffa is back with another legal thriller, sure to pique the brain of those who have followed the Joseph Antonelli series with any regularity. While there is a great deal of courtroom drama, the bulk of the book also tackles legal and societal theory, both looking deep into the past and towards the future. Buffa take the reader on quite the journey, at times getting a little preachy and esoteric. Some who can see through this can enjoy another legal thriller, but I worry many will get lost in the minutiae of the discussions, which might sour them to the overall experience.

Joseph Antonelli has quite the reputation in the legal world, both within San Francisco and elsewhere. He’s never lost a case that was his to win and has few ticks in that unfortunate box at all. His latest client, Justin Friedrich, will soon be convicted for a crime he did not commit. All the evidence points to Friedrich shooting his wife aboard their yacht and it’s almost time to end proceedings. However, someone soon approaches Antonelli with an offer.

James Michael Redfield runs a tech company with experience in artificial intelligence. When Redfield speaks privately with Antonelli, they enter into a loose lawyer-client relationship, complete with retainer. The privilege from this transaction forbids Antonelli from speaking about what comes next, as Redfield hands over the gun and a receipt to prove Friedrich’s innocence. What could Redfield want and why did he wait so long to exonerate an innocent man? Antonelli is eager to discover this, though is sworn to secrecy, under the privilege requirement.

When another high-profile murder occurs on a university campus, Antonelli is pulled into the middle of it and is again defending an innocent person, with Redfield working in the background and promising that he can solve it all, in due time. Antonelli is unsure of the web in which he finds himself and can only imagine that he’s a pawn in a larger game. While the privilege will not protect any future crimes, Redfield has said nothing conclusive and is still using the privilege to keep Antonelli on a short leash.

As the legal manoeuvrings continue, Antonelli tries to see what Redfield is doing and the sort of game he finds necessary. It seems that the trial is the thing that Redfield wants most, the situation that helps prove his larger theory, which has ties to artificial intelligence. Antonelli wants no part of it, but is as much a victim of it all as those he represents to ensure justice. A complex story that shows Buffa has layers to his meanings. Perhaps a little too much for many, though.

While I have loved D.W. Buffa’s writing and all he stands for, his legal thrillers are surely the best of all his books. That being said, he usually uses the courtroom as a stage and shows the wonders of the law through the interaction of both sides and the jury as a central arbiter. This novel took things away from those actors and left the reader to ponder the Socratic methods of law, justice, and philosophy. While it was intriguing to get to the root of it all, things could likely have taken less of a dense road to success.

Joseph Antonelli is still a masterful character and shows his abilities throughout this piece with ease. However, there was something that seemed lost, as much of his magic was not convincing a jury of his client’s innocence, but rather swimming in the complexities of legal theory, philosophy, and being stuck in a madman’s web. Antonelli does well when he can see forward, but there’s something impeding him throughout this book, which lessens his impact overall.

While I like a book that makes me think, I believe Buffa went a little too far here, perhaps forcing series fans to dig through what they are using to finding in order to discover the legal gems they seek. Those who pick this book up out of the blue (I have never understood those who do not start a series at the beginning) will likely be lost and really lose interest before long. It’s too bad, as Buffa has much to offer, with longe and detailed chapters that accompany a strong narrative. However, I can see the density being a turn off for some. I persisted, mainly because I know the power of a Buffa novel. I am not sure many would have the same fortitude and this novel was not a true reflection of the rest of the series.

Kudos, Mr. Buffa, for one of your thinking novels. I appreciated many of the life lessons you offered, even if things were a little much at times.

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

The Exorcist, by William Peter Blatty

Nine stars

A great re-read for this time of year. Here is my original review for your perusal.

WIlliam Peter Blatty’s groundbreaking novel caused many waves at the time of its publication, though it is thought that the accompanying movie might have been even more controversial. I chose to embark on this journey, more out of curiosity than anything else. Knowing the premise, I thought I would indulge before the season of ghouls and other spine-tingling things is fully upon us. Chris MacNeil is a screen actress and lives in Georgetown with her daughter, Regan. Quite the typical twelve, Regan enjoys some independence, but is happy to engage with her mother on a regular basis. When Regan begins to exhibit strange behaviours, Chris cannot help but seek out some medical advice, none of which yields firm answers. When the oddities begin to manifest themselves into verbal and physical attacks on others, Chris is left to grasp at straws and is pushed in the direction of a psychiatrist. The name she is given, interestingly enough, is Father Damien Karras. A Jesuit, Karras works in the parish just on the other side of the MacNeil home. When Karras agrees to come visit Regan, he is fearful, yet baffled as well, though will not jump to the idea of possession, even as Chris pushes for an exorcism. With no religious ties, the MacNeils seem highly unlikely to have a demon in their lives, but nothing else seems plausible. Karras takes an academic approach to the situation and, after numerous encounters with Regan and her alternate personality, he wonders if there might be something to this talk of demonic possession. Regan appears to have all the signs and exhibits numerous tendencies that Karras has found in scholarly articles over the centuries. With a desecration in the local parish church and the gruesome death of Chris’ friend, a local homicide detective is poking around, engaging with Karras at every turn, though no one freely shares the goings-on in the MacNeil home, which might explain at least part of these occurrences. After making his argument to the Church about the needs for some form of Catholic intervention, Karras proceeds to arm himself to enter Regan’s domain, ready to do battle with whatever is inside her. It is then that things take a turn for the worse and Karras’ entire being is tested. Blatty penned this sensational piece that, even close to a half-century later, will still send chills chills up the reader’s spine. Highly recommended for those who love a great thrill ride and can stomach some graphic descriptions and language.

In one of my previous reading challenges, I pushed members to compare a book to its screen adaptation, hoping to see the parallels and great differences. Having recently indulged in the cinematic production of this book, it is difficult for me to divorce the two, as they complement one another so well. I thoroughly enjoy watching this movie and have done so on multiple occasions. While it was produced in 1973 and some of the technology is understandably outdated, it packs a punch and was surely quite thrilling at the time. Damien Karras is a central character in the book and his presence is felt throughout, both through his personal struggles with his faith and the dedication he had when thrust into the middle of the demonic possession of a young girl. Karras begins as a distant figure, who struggles to come to terms with his mother’s illness and, upon her death, seeks to leave the umbrella of the Catholic Church. However, his character grows as he becomes a well-grounded scholar and seeks to understand what is going on with Regan MacNeil and her obvious struggles with mental stability. Chris MacNeil is also a key member of the story and her struggle to understand her daughter proves to be an ongoing theme the reader will discover. The angst and utter helplessness is something that any parent would struggle to accept, forcing Chris to turn to the experts, none of whom have the answers she wants. One cannot review this book effectively without mentioning Regan and the demon that appears to be embedded within her, as it is this that proves to offer the ultimate spine tingling. The struggles the young girl has and the demon displays push the book out of the realm of simple defiance and into an area not seen by many books of the time. The raw and unedited language proves useful—needed, even—to fulfil that complete sentiment of possession. Many readers may not like it, as I am sure scores found it problematic when the book was published, but it serves to take the book to a level that makes it all the more believed. A handful of other characters and a few interesting sub-plots keep the reader engaged and ready to see where Blatty is taking things. The story itself is quite well done and has been able to stand the test of time. While exorcisms are no longer commonplace, their allure has not diminished, be it in the published work or cinematic presentation. Blatty slowly develops the demonic aspect in such a way that the reader can see it creeping up and spiking at just the right moment. Layering the narrative with some key research, revealed by Father Karras, proves to substantiate the larger theme and keeps things from getting too fanciful. Those with a strong constitution and who can handle some strong language will surely find something in this book to keep them up late at night. I know I’ll likely put this on a list of books to read when I want a real chill, though will have to make sure the audio is not streaming when Neo’s around!

Kudos, Mr. Blatty, for keeping me enthralled throughout. I may have to check out some more of your work in the coming months, as you sure know how to tell a story!

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

Later, by Stephen King

Seven stars

When it comes to Stephen King, few expect to find something straightforward and easy to digest. Such is the life of a man with a million ideas, racing from one side of the page to the other. While King certainly stands alone in the genre, he can sometimes come up with some gems that stick with the reader for years to come. Other times, it seems as though he simply needs to open up his head and get the idea out, a sort of mental spring cleaning. This piece appeared to be somewhere in the middle for me; entertaining with a slice of ‘well then’.

Jamie Conklin wants to grow up as normally as he can, though that is is not in the cards. His mother is raising him alone and struggling each step of the way, though provides the best she can for Jamie, even with the secret the young boy possesses. While it’s to remain a secret, Jamie can communicate and visualize those who have passed on.

This proves to be quite troubling for Jamie, as he cannot turn it off and on, but rather must live with the consequences on a daily basis. As Jamie inches into adolescence, the skill gets even more intense and he’s pulled into a scenario where his abilities could help others, while ruining himself at the same time. Jamie’s got to master the art of developing the skills without letting it subsume him.

After someone on the NYPD learns of Jamie’s ability, it could be a major benefit, particularly with a killer on the loose. Could Jamie lead the authorities right to the doorstep, using the ability to speak with victims in order to ascertain who’s behind the killings? Anything’s possible when Stephen King’s at the helm!

I have usually enjoyed reading Stephen King’s work, more because it is varied and one never knows what is waiting around the corner. His vast array of ideas and characters makes any read something unique and highly unpredictable. However, I cannot connect with every story or plot, making some pieces less alluring to me than others. I find myself in a grey area here, not sure what I thought or how to react to the experience.

As with many of the characters King develops, Jamie Conklin was an interesting individual with his own backstory and quite the active life. He’s seen a lot for a kid and does not hold back when speaking to the reader. The maturity he possesses is great, though it is matched with some bombastic and outlandish choices, some of which leave him in a great deal of trouble.

Those who have read a fair bit of the Stephen King collection will know that he rarely enjoys being succinct. Adding tangents upon tangents, King can spin a tale into a massive tome or take the reader down what appears to be a rabbit hole, only to turn it into the main theme of the novel. Doing so can create odd narratives that appear out of nowhere, as happened at times in this book. I sought something a little more straightforward, but got this. While there was strong narrative progress, it just did not go in the direction that I wanted and left me hoping for more. What that ‘more’ is, I cannot be entirely sure, but it is an itch that has not been scratched. King’s prose is strong and creates vivid images in the reader’s mind. Those who are new to King will have to learn that patience is the greatest tool in order to find answers within his stories.

Kudos, Mr. King, for an interesting take on the ‘child with powers’ theme. Not one of my favourites, but I applaud the effort.

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

Shutter, by Melissa Larsen

Eight stars

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

Melissa Larsen brings much to this debut novel, taking the reader on a curious, as well as eerie, trip through the mind of a film director with a mission. A young woman has her sights set on making it big and heads to New York, where she knows but one person. After being introduced to a mysterious film director, Betty agrees to be cast in the leading role of an upcoming film, not entirely clear what it will entail. Later learning that this is an ‘act natural’ film, Betty soon discovers there’s more to it than she thought at first, pitting actors against one another, especially those unaware that the camera is even rolling. Well-paced and chilling at times, Larsen shows in Shutter that she has what it takes to stand above many in the genre.

It’s been a rough few months for Betty, which is why she has decided to flee her small California town for the bright lights of NYC. There, with only one childhood friend to call upon, Betty tries to make it big. She’s soon introduced to Anthony Marino, a film director with a new idea. Marino feels that Betty could be the perfect fit for his new project, but he is not yet ready to share any of the details.

Travelling up to a small Maine cabin, Marino, Betty, and a few others prepare to shoot the film on-location. It happens to be the Marino family cabin, where Anthony spent much time as a child. Betty is told that the film with be without script or actual direction, more an ‘act natural’ idea, where cameras are always rolling, hidden in rooms, on trees, and many other places. It is supposed to be a chance for everyone to just be and let the story evolve.

Betty is tasked with becoming Lola, a young woman with no clear backstory. She must also develop immediate chemistry with her leading man, Mads. While this may be the goal, Betty finds herself constantly drawn to Anthony, which will make building proper chemistry a little harder. Still, Betty is trying to come to terms with the literal and figurative transformation into Lola, its importance as yet baffling.

When Anthony announces that there will be a stalker element to the film, he introduces a new face, Sammy. This is a childhood friend of Anthony’s and an unknowing addition to the film. While Sammy appears inquisitive on the surface, he begins to gravitate towards Betty in odd ways. It is only then that the truth about the Anthony-Sammy connection is revealed, as well as the essence of Betty’s transformation into Lola. What’s not yet clear is what will happen when all these elements are put together in a bucolic setting, with the cameras rolling non-stop.

Melissa Larsen does a great job in her storytelling, pulling the reader into the centre of this piece with unknown elements coming together at just the right pace. With little revealed at the outset, the mystery is as present for Betty as it is for the reader. Slowly, things become clearer, which does not always make for a smooth ride for anyone involved. It permits a handful of key twists throughout the piece to shape a narrative that gains momentum with each page turn.

Betty is a great protagonist, in that she offers much to the story on both a personal and ‘professional’ level. Her desire to flee home is apparent throughout, as the reasons come to light throughout the novel. Her thirst for escape is only heightened when she feels that she can transform into a new woman by taking up the film project. However, while Betty would love to forget herself, it is not the change into Lola that fuels what she had in mind. All that being said, there is a great deal going on, none of which Betty could have predicted from the outset.

Larsen offers a number of intriguing secondary characters throughout the piece, all of whom bring something to the table to flavour the story effectively. While some complement Betty, others serve as obvious roadblocks to impede her natural growth. The underlying Anthony-Sammy storyline comes to a head and adds a needed depth to the plot, though things are less than smooth from thereon in. Larsen is able to portray the likes of Sammy, Anthony, and even Mads as different yet all tied together in one form or another. This keeps the reader entertained and curious about how the chemistry will develop, much like actors working on a script with the cameras rolling.

For a debut, I was quite impressed with Melissa Larsen’s efforts. While there were some small bumps, the overall experience was one that I enjoyed and would do so again without a second thought. The narrative flows well and gains momentum at just the right pace, with characters offering something to the experience without stealing the spotlight. Save for the opening chapter, each part of the book is short and keeps the reader wanting to know more, which is matched with an eerie plot that injects twists and confusing at key points. Larsen’s great use of dialogue keeps things feeling natural, which is an interesting parallel with the actual premise of the book, where the characters are to ‘be themselves’ while the cameras roll onwards. With a chilling end, Larsen leaves the reader wondering and thinking well after turning the final page, which is the essence of a strong thriller.

Kudos, Madam Larsen, for a great start to your writing career. I cannot wait to see what else you have in store when next you publish!

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/shutter/

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

21st Birthday (Women’s Murder Club #21), by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro

Seven stars

The latest in this long series by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro offers readers something intriguing and somewhat unique, though twenty-one instalments can sometimes breed repetition. Full of minor character development and some fast-pace criminal work, the Women’s Murder Club has a new case that will pull all four of them in, using their specific skillsets, to catch a serial murderer. When a young woman and her daughter are reported missing, the husband is the prime suspect. While he has an alibi, others in his circle also turn up dead, leading the DA to move ahead with charges. The suspect decries his innocence and points the finger at another man, who apparently has a long history of murderous behaviour. It’s up to Sergeant Lindsay Boxer to turn over every rock to see if the lead comes to fruition. A decent addition to the series, which has surely shown its ebb and flow, though fans of the Club may want to check it out.

Cindy Thomas noticed the post on her news blog and knew it would be trouble. Even after taking it down, Cindy thought about the disappearance of Tara and Lorrie Burke, a 20 year-old and her infant daughter. When Tara’s mother arrives at the San Francisco Chronicle to follow-up, Cindy cannot shake the distraught woman’s pleas for help. Tara’s husband, Lucas, is the prime suspect and appears to have quite the hold on his young bride. Trying to appease the woman, Cindy calls in a favour with SFPD Sergeant Lindsay Boxer, who agrees to poke around a little.

With little to go on and no sightings of either Tara or Lorrie, Boxer must bide her time. Her background into Lucas Burke shows a reputable English teacher with no criminal history, though there were a number of calls to the police, which Tara dismissed as soon as anyone arrived. Still, Boxer has an itch that there is more to the story. She learns that Burke may have been stepping out on his wife with a teenage student, which does raise a few flags, but nothing criminal, yet.

When the body of Lorrie Burke is found along the shore, the case gains some momentum, especially when it appears the infant was smothered. However, Tara remains missing, which only adds to the mystery. A few more bodies emerge, all tied to Lucas Burke in some way, and the case begins to build. It is only when Tara is found murdered in her car, which had been dumped in the ocean, that Lucas Burke’s guilt appears all but certain. Even with an alibi, this is not something that can be dismissed as coincidence.

While Lucas Burke is brought it for questioning and arrested, he makes an explosive accusation, that his father is likely behind the murders. Evan Burke is a former Green Beret and may have been behind the disappearance (and murder?) of his own wife and daughter, as well as a string of others over the years. Lucas is certain he has resumed hunting for victims, but with little to substantiate it, the DA moves ahead with murder charges.

When the case goes to trial, ADA Yuki Castellano is set to take first chair. She has her own theory, one that she has shared with fellow Women’s Murder Club members, Boxer and Thomas. Still, Yuki will do things by the books and try to get a conviction on the evidence she has before her. Boxer works the Evan Burke angle, which has her racing to Vegas to track down the man and investigate the accusations. While there, things get dangerous for Boxer and her temporary partner, as they corner the elder Burke as he works his magic on a young woman.

With Yuki forging ahead in court and Boxer gathering evidence, it will only be a matter of time before Lucas Burke’s fate is determined. It will take all members of the Women’s Murder Club working together to solidify the truth, however murky and convoluted it might be. Then again, the Club has never sought to do things the easy way. An interesting addition to the series that reads well and shows that the collaborative effort of Patterson and Paetro appears to work well.

I have been a fan of the series from the start. This is one of the few Patterson collections that has been able to stand the test of time. While I am coming to see that some of these series may have lost their earlier momentum, there are moments of brilliance here, even as things wane. I have always wondered about rejuvenating things with a crossover between Alex Cross-Michael Bennett-Lindsay Boxer, still feeling it might do something for all three protagonists. Still, this book works well and could be read as a standalone, though I never counsel that in a series, as the reader misses so much peering only at a snapshot.

Lindsay Boxer’s character development ended long ago, even though motherhood always adds a new layer to her backstory. She is gritty and shows that she is able to work in any environment, something that is changed throughout this piece. Adapting as best she can, Boxer never loses sight of what matters, justice for the victim, and makes her mark repeatedly throughout the book. While the series may be getting a little old, Boxer’s abilities remain on point throughout.

The other members of the Women’s Murder Club also have their own moments of glory, though Boxer does rise to the protagonist role with ease. Each has a backstory and some development to offer, complementing the SFPD sergeant throughout. The handful of other key characters emerge throughout the story and offer the reader something intriguing to enjoy. There is no lack of action and suspense woven into the characters or their actions, though few standout as being remarkable.

The story was decent, as many have been in this series, though there was no shock factor. It’s a race to find the truth, muddled with accusations and false leads. Boxer and the rest of the Club try to work their respective angles, sometimes stepping on one another’s toes, but always able to find something worth discussing at their regular meetings. The story flowed well and the narrative kept its momentum throughout. Patterson’s trademark short chapters keep the reader pushing through, as I did yet again. Decent characters, believable scenarios, and the trademark connection to a specific number from the title, this is a series that has lasted over the years. I just wonder if the zenith has been surpassed and it’s time to sail into the sunset, making way for something fresh… or at least the aforementioned crossover.

Kudos, Mr. Patterson and Madam Paetro, for another decent addition to the series. While I know you are likely a novel or two ahead in the series, I would suggest heeding my idea. I know other series fans have echoed what I said… and it could really inject something into all three series.

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

Game Knight: A Novella, by Andrew Mayne

Seven stars

Having discovered and enjoyed a number of Andrew Mayne’s other books, I thought that I would give this novella a chance. I had a gap in my reading schedule and needed something to tide me over for the day. This book, a thriller of sorts, takes the reader into the odd world of medieval knights and sword-wielding foes. A young man wakes up and is unsure what’s going on, as a man is trying to kill him. He takes the opportunity and slays the man, only to have all the evidence disappear. A few more events occur, in a similar vein, leaving him to wonder if this is a cruel joke or some sort of drugged out game that someone’s playing. It may be of interest to other Mayne readers, but I really could not connect.

Kevin Miller regains consciousness mere moments before axe-wielding man decapitates him. Dressed in chainmail and donning a sword, Kevin does all he can, killing his attacker, unsure of his identity or how things progressed to this point. After Kevin helps a woman free, she assaults him herself and flees. It is only later, when the police saw Kevin in his garb, that he admitted what happened, even though it sounded equally troubling.

With no body to speak of, Kevin has no idea what’s going on or who is behind it. Odd things happen on a few more occasion, in the same vein, leaving him to wonder if his new meds have been spiked or the whole thing is a sick joke. However, the injuries he has suffered are not fictitious and he cannot explain it. However, there is surely some puppet-master out there, somewhere.

As I mentioned above, I am truly a fan of Andrew Mayne and at least two of his series. However, when I chose to read this novella, I had to second guess whether it was Mayne who penned it. The depth, the intrigue, the nuances… all of them were gone and I was left with something less than enticing. Thankfully, I did not begin my Mayne reading adventure here, or I may not have discovered some of the true gems out there.

While the writing was decent and the story had promise, I could not connect. It might have been the Kevin Miller character, the premise of the novella, or the lack of magnetism towards the plot. Whatever it was, I was not a fan. Thankfully it was short and I can use it as a blip on the reading radar, as I prepare to dive into a full-length novel soon. All I can say is that this is not the Andrew Mayne that I have come to know, so don’t use this as a proper baseline.

Kudos, Mr. Mayne, for the attempt to push outside of your usual writing zone. It did not work for me, but others may really enjoy it.

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

The Soul-Breaker, by Sebastian Fitzek

Seven stars

After enjoying my first venture into the world of Sebastian Fitzek, I thought that I would return with something equally chilling. Another psychological thriller that appears to have divided the reviewing world quite effectively. A mysterious person kidnaps women and leaves them in a state worse than anyone can imagine, psychologically empty and apparently soulless. Now, in a psychiatric facility, the perpetrator is loose and there are plenty of victims on which to ‘feed’. Souls will be broken, but will anyone be able to put them back together?

A spree of three missing women who turn up in a catatonic state, each with a riddle. They were not killed or raped, or even tortured, but one dies soon after being found. The psychopath who did this appears to have pushed them into a vegetative state, more chilling than anything seen before. It’s all the rage across Germany and yet no one has any answers.

Labelled ‘the Soul-Breaker’ by media outlets, this person lurks in the shadows, awaiting their next victim. After being transported to a psychiatric clinic in a snowstorm, the Soul-Breaker is set to strike again, unbeknownst to those inside. With a handful of patients and staff locked in, it will not only be a battle to protect those who are trapped within, but a race to neutralise this psychopath before more souls are lost and additional damage is wrought.

Add to this, another narrative that includes a group reading the summaries years later, under lose medical watch. Might the Soul-Breaker case be one that will be studied for years by those in the field, or is this just an experiment performed on clueless students?

I needed a little something to bridge my audiobook listening selections and thought this short novel would do just the trick. Using the Audible dramatisation, I figured the story would come to life for me. It did, to a degree, though I appear not to be as riveted as some who got their hands on the actual text. Fitzek does well with the premise, offering something eerie and chilling, though perhaps my listening as I did what I usually do while streaming an audiobook lessened the impact. All that being said, I liked it for the most part and will surely listen to more Fitzek to see if I can continue to enjoy his work.

Kudos, Mr. Fitzek, for another good publication. While I have only the Audible dramatisations to use as reference, you do seem able to really offer a chilling tale with a number of key characters offering varied perspectives.

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

The Russian (Michael Bennett #13), by James Patterson and James O. Born

Seven stars

Michael Bennett is back for his next case, lucky book number thirteen. In the capable hands of James Patterson and James O. Born, Bennett is ready to face off against another wily killer who stalks New York City. However, this one has a different motive and a larger kill area than many others who have crossed Bennett’s path. With his massive brood at home and a wedding on the horizon, Bennett will have to push the distractions aside and focus on catching a ruthless killer. A nice addition for those who enjoy the Michael Bennett series, though not as sharp as some police procedurals I have read lately.

The faint sound of wedding bells seems to pervade Michael Bennett’s every thought, as the big day approaches. With ten children, one grandfather, and a fiancée at home, he has a great deal to juggle. Add to that, a new partner learning the ropes of Homicide, and Bennett has little time to collect his thoughts.

Bennett is soon called to the scene of a brutal murder, one in which the victim’s body is not only slain, but her eye eviscerated. Bennett has not seen something like this in a long while, which can only mean that this killer has something to prove. The murder is similar not only to others in surrounding boroughs, but also other cities crisscrossing America.

All the while, Daniel Ott watches as New York panics. He knows what he’s doing and chooses to push people to the brink. Anyone who disrespects him has a chance of being his next victim; he’s that easily swayed. Between his kills, which he is sure will baffle the NYPD, he makes regular calls back to his family. A wife and two young girls have no idea what he’s doing and hope to see him soon.

Bennett makes little progress on the case until he finds something that ties all three cities together, a computer system update ordered by numerous companies. While everyone remembers a single tech, Ott was so forgettable that no one can recall a physical description. However, Ott knows Bennett and is preparing to derail the detective and the investigation long enough to flee the city and find new victims.

As with most series that extend past a handful of books, things can get a little stale without new plot lines and story arcs. Patterson (with Born in the later novels) has continued to push Michael Bennett to find killer that lurk across the five boroughs, rarely leaving the confines of NYC. Still, there are moments when readers will likely enjoy Bennett’s work, but things appear to be dragging, in my humble opinion.

Bennett returns as the series protagonist, still juggling the usual mix of personal issues and professional responsibilities. While he is well past backstory, Bennett is always evolving, if incrementally. His upcoming marriage has him a tad nervous, though he knows that he’s madly in love. Working with a new partner forces Bennett to be more open with his views and help teach the next generation of Homicide detectives. Gritty and ready to break down any barriers, Michael Bennett shines as best he can with a killer out for blood.

Patterson and Born develop a decent supporting case to push the story along. While it can be hard to find unique approaches to killers, the collaborators do a decent job of spinning the Daniel Ott backstory to offer a fresh approach. With some decent recurring characters and new faces, the story stays somewhat fresh and intriguing, though the sharp edge is gone from both the plot and the characters.

It could be the format of Patterson’s work that breeds a less than chilling approach to the series as it sticks around, something that Born does not see when he collaborates on standalone novels. There’s just something lacking in these latter books that was there in the early stories, though I cannot put my finger on it. Patterson is apt for selling books because of his name, rather than content, as I have bemoaned before, though the issue cannot be placed solely on Born’s shoulders. With short chapters, the story does move forward and keeps the reader guessing, even if it is not a piece that forces late night page flipping to determine how things will end. I wonder if Michael Bennett, like his DC counterpart Alex Cross, might want to look for new adventures. That said, I am still hoping that Patterson can create a Bennett-Cross-Boxer collaborative effort that would pull all three of his successful detectives into a single case crossing multiple novels and keeping readers scrambling to read them all in succession. Then again, that might be too much to ask… or is it?

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Born, for keeping things going. You work well together, though I wish there was something a tad grittier in your collaborative efforts.

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

Spin (Captain Chase #2), by Patricia Cornwell

Seven stars

Master storyteller Patricia Cornwell is back with the second book in her Captain Chase series. Pulling the reader into the middle of a cyber-tech thriller, Cornwell uses the exciting world of space and the threat to NASA as a whole to keep readers on the edge of their seats. Building on the momentum from the opening novel in the series, Quantum, Cornwell utilises her masterful way of developing a plot to make Spin a novel that is a must-read for those who love her style.

A member of the US Space Force, Captain Calli Chase is following up on a lead involving a murder at a NASA testing facility. Trapping in the middle of a snowstorm, Chase finds herself feeling testy and significantly on edge when she is targeted by a potential killer and saved only when her twin sister, Carme, appears out of nowhere.

Before Calli knows what’s going on, she’s drugged and whisked away to a facility, where she is given more upgrades that she knows how to process. Emerging as a sort of Bionic Woman, Captain Chase is now armed and ready to work at new levels, as she seeks to assemble all the pieces to help her crack the case wide open.

With everything literally at her fingertips, Calli is tasked with locating a young boy who has hacked into NASA and procured a special computer chip, one that could have significant consequences if it falls into the wrong hands. While the lad denies being guilty of anything, the jury is still out. With this chip, control of the internet and other significant technologies could be changed forever. Calli learns that one woman, Neva Rong, has sinister plans when she gets her hands on the chip and will stop at nothing to get it.

As tensions mount, Chase will have to protect the boy and try not to show her cards before it’s time. Rong’s power has already been seen, as she is likely the culprit behind the murder at the NASA facility. Rong’s power in the aerospace world and connections all the way up the political ladder makes her even more deadly, while Chase seeks to reveal all before it’s too late.

There is no doubt that Patricia Cornwell did extensive research for this book, having proven that she understands the topic throughout both novels. She is also not one to slowly offer what she knows, for spoonfeeding has never been what she does best. That said, it is also not presented in a condescending manner. Rather, space becomes exciting in this tech-thriller, for those who have a penchant for all things scientific.

Calli Chase is a likeable character, or so it would seem. She is on point when it comes to her navigation throughout the book and she handles much of what is tossed before her. While she wrestles to understand how she fits into the larger picture, Calli does well to dodge the major issues that occur throughout this piece. The reader will find her learning much about herself, as well as a past she did not know existed.

Cornwell does well to develop a number of other characters throughout the piece, keeping them all complementary of Captain Chase, but never putting the protagonist on too high a pedestal. Cornwell develops her characters to entice the reader, contrasting well with one another at various points. The reader can learn much about the story and Captain Chase through those who cross her path throughout this piece.

While many have come to know Patricia Cornwell for her Kay Scarpetta character, this is far from that domain. While both women thrive on action, Captain Calli Chase is nothing like literary predecessor. Cornwell has taken things in a significantly different direction here and thrives on making waves in a new and exciting domain. Some will love it and others will likely find it too ‘techy’ for their liking. The writing is comprehensive and the plot is somewhat easy to decipher. However, if the reader’s interest is not space, technology, or artificial intelligence, this book may implode before the plot is able to capture their attention. With mid-length chapters, Cornwell develops her story well and tries to keep things on the level, but it missed the mark for me, in that I could not find myself wholly invested. I enjoyed parts of it, but felt out of my element in others. Still, it was a decent effort, even if it’s not entirely my sort of book.

Kudos, Madam Cornwell, for a great leap away from the type of writing I have come to expect from you. While it did not engage me as much, I hope you find many fans and keep your readers guessing where things are headed next.

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

Deadly Cross (Alex Cross #28), by James Patterson

Seven stars

Alex Cross is back for yet another adventure along the streets of D.C., which means James Patterson has been at it again. When the former wife of a high-ranking politician turns up dead, Cross is on the case. He’s also working with his partner to discover who’s been kidnapping and murdering a number of young women. This is sure to be one summer that will keep Cross busy. A decent addition for series fans, but there’s something lacking in this latest novel.

Alex Cross loves nothing more than spending time with his family, but when work calls, he knows where he’s needed. The former wife of the current vice-president has been found murdered and Cross is willing to step up to help. It would seem that their past acquaintance is not going to help as much as Cross had hoped, as tabloid journalists try to use it to smear her and leave Cross in an awkward position.

While working that case and taking direction from the Chief of Detectives—Cross’ own wife, Bree Stone—Cross and his partner, John Sampson, begin working on a series of kidnappings of young women. What’s worse, some of the women have turned up murdered, leaving little doubt that there’s a serial killer on the loose. Cross and Sampson begin a thorough analysis of the case, but a personal tragedy strikes, sidelining the affable Sampson.

As Cross splits his time between cases, he’s not getting the traction he had hoped, which is causing a significant amount of pressure up the chain of command. Bree is feeling the heat from her own superiors and loses it at one point, wondering if police work is really for her. It’s no easy decision, but, like Cross, family comes before the badge.

After Cross finds himself in rural Alabama working some leads, he learns something that could solve the case that has those on Capitol Hill buzzing. It could be a red herring, but there’s no time to leave anything to chance. What Cross learns blows the case wide open, forcing everyone to question what they know and who they can trust.

Back in D.C., it’s anyone’s guess who could be killing young women, but Sampson bounces back, using work as a salve, and discovers a few breadcrumbs of his own. With so much set to chance in the Cross sphere, solving these cases might help with what’s on the horizon.

I have long enjoyed the work of James Patterson on this series, one of the few that he has kept for himself. While Cross does not seem to lose his finesse, there’s something about this book that left me less than fully enthralled. I have mentioned it before and will do so again, might it be time for Dr. Alex Cross to hang up the cuffs and let others handle things?

Alex Cross returns to reprise his role as protagonist, though there is little backstory or actual development to be had. Cross lives for the moment, watching his family continue to grow and the cases pile up. He’s still likeable, works hard, and loves his family. I guess I expected something new to rejuvenate him as a character all his own. I did not dislike him whatsoever, but there’s something lacking that left me almost indifferent throughout the novel.

With a core of close knit supporting characters, Patterson does well to keep the large story arc going. There are the requisite new faces who appear to keep the cases flowing well and leave the reader with others to explore. A little backstory appears here and there, but the reader gets much of their narrative development with the police work that is being done throughout the book.

I always find it hard to stay loyal to a series when things seem to taper off. Not that this collection has fallen into horrible disarray, but it lacks what it once had, hardcore crime work and cliffhangers that leaver the reader wondering. Patterson is able to keep his protagonist moving and guessing, though there is a lack of spark that I remember from earlier novels. Surely, Cross is aging and his family is getting more independent, but if that means it’s time to fade into the sunset, let’s take that route and move along. Other series that have lasted this long have their protagonist moving into retirement. I wonder if this is an option that Patterson’s considered. Not that he’s not busy enough overseeing others writing books with his name on it.

The writing itself is still fairly strong and the story he’d my attention throughout. I was eager to see how Cross would handle things and was happy to see the narrative’s momentum did not lag. Short chapters kept me pushing ahead, wondering what was to come next, though I was not as riveted as I would have liked. Those who have dedicated themselves to the series may also see the writing on the wall. I’ll keep reading, but I can only hope that Patterson ties things off with dignity for this long-serving detective, and we don’t have him perishing in an alley, blood pooling around him.

Kudos, Mr. Patterson, for keeping Alex Cross going. Perhaps it’s time for a mega crossover (with Women’s Murder Club and Michael Bennett) before calling it a career for the Metro detective.

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

Liberal Privilege: Joe Biden and the Democrats’ Defence of the Indefensible, by Donald Trump Jr.

NO STARS

I have decided to embark on a mission to read a number of books on subjects that will be of great importance to the upcoming 2020 US Presidential Election. Many of these will focus on actors intricately involved in the process, in hopes that I can understand them better and, perhaps, educate others with the power to cast a ballot. I am, as always, open to serious recommendations from anyone who has a book I might like to include in the process.

This is Book #19 in my 2020 US Election Preparation Challenge.

I sought to read some books on both sides of the political spectrum, in hopes that it would enrich the challenge experience for me. Unfortunately, this backfired with this book, in the largest possible way. While I had hoped to get a strong and complete argument from the right about how things have been going well and what we have to look forward to, it was a hot mess from the get-go.

Imagine holding a voice-to-text app up to either Donald Trump and then publishing what spewed out of their mouths. This book is just that, full of rants and non-sensical blather about a variety of topics. Toss in a few slanderous comments and curse words and you have the entire book. This is not a book seeking to explore America from the right, but rather a smear campaign in the shadow of the worst president America has seen. It was painful to read… oh wait, I bailed after the first chapter because my head hurt so much.

I am all for books and self-publication. I applaud those who seek to use their own blood, sweat, and tears when it comes to getting a book to market. However, in the case of this book, it speaks volumes that it was published by Donald Trump, Jr. No one else would touch it! And.. the audiobook was read by Donnie’s own girlfriend (something he repeats throughout the portion I could read while dry heaving). If this is not a red flag, I am not sure what could be.

For those of you who want to try something that has no merit and little substantive value, go ahead. I cannot believe I am saying this… but I may actually need to find Lou Dobbs’ book. It CANNOT be worse than this one!

Kudos, Matt Pechey, for suffering through this pile of steaming Trumpism.

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

The Grownup, by Gillian Flynn

Seven stars

In this short story by Gillian Flynn, the reader meets the unnamed narrator, whose life working as a quasi-sex worker pays the bills, but really doesn’t bring too much glory. Working as a ‘psychic’ on the side, she encounters Susan Burke, who has quite the story of familial worry and concern. After visiting the old, Victorian home, the ‘psychic’ is not longer sure that this con will work, as some of the things that take place are quite disturbing. With a sociopathic step-son, Susan passes along a haunting story of previous inhabitants of the house, where a bloody break with reality led to some horrible press. As the step-son begins spouting off some violent ideas, our protagonist is all but sure she will be one of the next victims and has little to show for her life. A great filler between larger reading commitments, Flynn keeps the reader hooked throughout. Recommended to those who need a twist or two as they read, as well as the reader who does not want a linear experience.

Having never read any Gillian Flynn before this, I was surely quite curious to see what all the hype might be about. Flynn pens quite the piece, opening with some narration that had me do a double take. From there, things progressed away from the bawdy and into something a little paranormal, though nothing too off the wall. Those characters who were presented served their purpose, though none leapt off the page for me. The story held my attention throughout, something that needed to happen early on, as there was little time to develop an affinity for all the essential elements. I enjoyed the hour or so I invested, but I was not gobsmacked. Still, I’ll try something else and plunge into the mix of reviews again to see where I find myself.

Kudos, Madam Flynn, for entertaining me. I like your writing and can only hope your other work is just as intriguing.

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

The Midwife Murders, by James Patterson and Richard DiLallo

Seven stars

With another collaborative effort, James Patterson and Richard DiLallo present a thriller that will touch on some of the most panicked possibilities that many parents could imagine. This book will help pass the time, though should not be considered one of their stronger efforts. Working in the heart of New York City, Lucy Ryuan is a senior midwife. She helps women all throughout their pregnancy journey, culminating in live births and the joy of parenthood. When two babies are kidnapped from the hospital while she is on shift, Lucy is highly concerned and can only imagine the horror that follows for two mothers. When a woman is found cut open, clinging to life as her newborn is nowhere to be found, Lucy knows that she will have to help the authorities take action. She learns of a case where someone has been trying to purchase babies from mothers, wondering if there may be a connection. While Lucy is eager to follow a few leads, the detective on the case wants her out of his hair and sends her on a temporary vacation. Lucy and her son make their way to West Virginia, where Lucy’s family resides. While her mind is off the kidnapped babies, Lucy is forced to face some skeletons in her familial closet and come to terms with a past she hoped to put on the back burner. When the authorities learn of a potential new baby sale, Lucy’s called back to New York, where she can help with a sting operation. However, this is no regular couple looking for a baby and Lucy may find herself in a great deal of trouble. A decent book to add to the massive Patterson collection. Recommended to those who like the quick Patterson style, as well as readers who like a unique-style mystery.

While I know that this book has received mixed reviews, I tried to go into the experience with an open mind. I did not feel the book was as horrid as some panned it in their reviews, but I was also not left in a state of awe at the superior writing style. Patterson and DiLallo offer up an interesting mystery, told from a unique angle. Lucy Ryuan proves to be a decent protagonist, bringing a unique profession into the spotlight. Serving as a midwife, she educates the reader throughout the novel about her profession, while showing a great deal of compassion for the mothers and babies with whom she deals on a regular basis. The authors paint a well-rounded picture of Lucy’s life as a single mother, though some of the more rom-com moments proved to be a little over the top. She is gritty and shows where her priorities lie as she fights for the newly-born in a world where the lives of babies are sold for a price. Others who grace the pages of the book offer their own perspectives, flavouring things and keeping the story going. I cannot say that there were any that stuck out tremendously, but most could stand on their own. The story was decent enough, trying to find out who was kidnapping babies and then selling them, though there were some overly stereotypical discussions and antagonist labelling throughout. I was pleased to see Patterson and DiLallo tacking the ongoing issue with opioid overdose in a tangential plot line while Lucy was in West Virginia. This is an issue that has received much attention in the news, though it was also handled with grace here, neither diluting it nor making it into some sensational revelation. Overall, it was an enjoyable reading experience, though I am not sure it will resonate for months to come with it. Still, Patterson books tend to be good fillers between larger reading experiences.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and DiLallo, for this interesting piece of writing. Your parental sides are surely shining here, though I suspect you needed help with some of the more technical birthing terms.

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

The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett

Seven stars

In my ever-growing attempt to expand my reading parameters, I turned to my latest reading challenge book. A great fan of detective novels, I was eager to try Dashiell Hammett’s famous novel that depicts sleuthing at its finest. Full of dated references, this is a story that fans of the genre will love, while those who are easily offended will surely be pulling out their hair as they cite sexism on every page. Sam Spade is a decent investigator, who does not take himself too seriously. Miss Wonderly—a damsel in distress who is easy on the eyes—walks into Spade’s office and tosses money around to hire him. Her sister’s disappeared with a crook by the name of Thursby and Wondely wants answers. Spade is not sure he believes the tall tale, but if someone’s willing to pay him, he and his partner will take the case. Spade’s partner is killed, alongside the aforementioned Thursby, and our protagonist PI is a little concerned. With a penchant for his partner’s wife, it might appear that Spade knocked him off to have the woman all for himself. Spade brings Miss Wonderly back in and learns that she’s been lying to him all along. Her real name is Brigid O’Shaughnessy and Thursby was her partner in crime. Turns out Spade is actually needed to sell a priceless statuette from O’Shaughnessy to her former gang members, and promised a large commission. He’s leery, especially when he meets the beefy men who are involved. After being beaten, drugged, and harassed, Spade can count on no one, save his faithful secretary to keep him safe. Spade will have to stay one step ahead of all these goons and keep himself from succumbing to the wiles of Brigit O’Shaughnessy while making sure the Maltese Falcon does not end up in the wrong hands. A classic piece of sleuthing that is just as entertaining ninety-some years after its original publication. Recommended to those who love a good mystery, as well as the reader who enjoys taking a journey back to a time when gin joints and smoky rooms were all the rage!

While I have heard all about this book, I never took the time to sit down and enjoy it (the joys of reading challenges)! Penned and published in 1929, the book is understandably dated, but that only adds to its superiority over many of the books within the detective genre today. Sam Spade is the ideal detective of the era, winking at women and piecing things together while not hiding his rough edges. Spade may not share his emotions with ease—how many men did at the time?—but he certainly connects with the reader. Spade’s inquisitive mind may not be Sherlockian, but he certainly is able to take things one step at a time and finds himself forging ahead in the case, no matter what obstacles are put before him. Hammett does a great job at adding those obstacles, in the form of both people and actions against his protagonist. The story is full of these dicey moments, where the reader is to wonder how Spade will survive. Hammett creates a wonderful cast of secondary characters, all of whom help in their own way to better the story. There are some stereotypical roles here, certainly some that will anger those espousing liberation, as well as some wonderfully nuanced individuals that only the attentive reader will discover. The story itself is quite good, with some interesting plot twists. I felt that Hammett had some wonderful sparks in this piece, though there was no raging fire as some would have me believe. Sure, this is a ninety-one year old story and things were done differently then, but I found that I could not completely connect to the story of the characters as I might have liked. Perhaps I am too inundated with ‘popcorn fiction mysteries’ in my reading adventures, but something about this ‘classic’ did not resonate with me. That being said, I am but a single voice, so choose to take my opinion with a grain of salt.

Kudos, Mr. Hammett, for this great piece of detective work. I liked the banter and even those ‘faux pas’ comments that are peppered throughout. I will have to check into more of your work in the coming months.

This book fulfills the September 2020 requirement of the Mind the Bookshelf Gap reading challenge.

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

Malorie (Bird Box #2), by Josh Malerman

Seven stars

After enjoying The Bird Box a great deal, I was eager to get my hands on this sequel by Josh Malerman to see how things progressed. In a story that offers some interesting continuity and progression, Malerman did some things well and others that I could have done without. Malorie has been living at The Jane Tucker School for the Blind over the past number of years. With all the protections in place, her children, Tom and Olympia, have come to accept that this is how things will be forever. When census data comes to the school and Malorie learns that her parents are listed as still alive, she is overjoyed. With a little convincing, she agrees to take Tom and Olympia on the journey to reunite with them. It will be dangerous and the Creatures are still out there, sure to target them. Using as much safety as possible, they begin the journey across Michigan. It is slow and arduous, but Malorie is able to learn a great deal about herself, while also remembering the ‘old days’ and living with her family as a girl. When they discover a train system running throughout Michigan, they agree to ride it, though there are soon some revelations that cause things to ‘go off the rails’. Tom exerts his teenage angst relating to the prison in which he feels he lives and Olympia seeks to push boundaries she is sure need a nudge. Will Malorie make it to her family home with her own next generation, or will the Creatures strike her independently-minded children and cause chaos for everyone? An interesting addition to the highly popular novel, though it might be one of the few times I felt a sequel did not pull me in just as much!

There are some novels that end on such a cliffhanger that the reader begs to know more, scrambling to see if another novel will tie things off and provide some closure. While Josh Malerman was surely looking to do that with this follow-up piece, I wonder if this is one sequel that should never have been penned. The attentive reader will always posit what should come next or will likely occur to solve some of the situations that are left dangling, as is common at the end of a novel. The means by which Malerman sought to fill in the gaps and offer his own conclusions (or extend some of the threads) were less exciting for me than I might have hoped. There is a great deal of backstory in this piece when it comes to Malorie, offering the reader some insight into her life as a child and the way in which she grew up. This is projected forward as Malorie must now parent her two children and hope for the best. There are ups and downs throughout, though Malorie has the added worry of Creatures ready to turn her children (or anyone they might encounter) mad and ruin a good thing. There were a number of interesting characters found herein, which kept the story moving along, but I did not feel the creepiness that I had hoped to discover. While I admit the ‘bird was out of the box’ in this piece, the wonder and eerie nature of the narrative seemed almost tame and everyone acted as though there was a chance they could live or die, without the worry or paranoia that came front and centre in the first book. While Malerman held my attention throughout, I wanted something more… something scarier that would leave me panting by the end. Instead, I was left nodding my head and wondering if the sequel interpretation might have been better left in the minds of those who adored The Bird Box!

Kudos, Mr. Malerman, for a valiant effort. Alas, I ended up in the review group that was somewhat underwhelmed!

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

Near Dark (Scot Harvath #19), by Brad Thor

Seven stars

Never one to turn away from a Brad Thor thriller, I turned to the latest in the Scot Harvath series. In a novel that picks up where the last conveniently ended, Thor thrusts the reader into the middle of yet another tactical battle. When Carl Pedersen is found murdered, Scot Harvath can only wonder if it has something to do with one of his past missions. News emerges that Harvath has a massive bounty put out on him, forcing him to take significant precautions. This is an open bounty, where anyone who is successful collects a massive sum, leaving Harvath to always peer over his shoulder. Without knowing where his enemies await, Harvath must forge ahead with reckless abandon and hope for the best. When Harvath finds himself in Lithuania, he learns a little more about Pedersen and some of the missions he undertook in the past. There are some whispers that the Russians might have taken action in retribution for a recent dust-up, but Harvath cannot rest on his laurels. Working with a sly agent whose background comes from the Scandinavian countries, Harvath seeks to extract as much information as he can in order to neutralise the largest threat. With the bounty still in play, he will have to be careful not to make a misstep, for it may be his last. A must-read for series fans, though this one lacked a little of the spark I had hoped to find. Recommended to those who enjoy Harvath and his thrills, as well as readers who like a little international flavour to their novels.

Every series has its best before date and it is up to the writer to keep things fresh, or tap out before they expire. While the first eighteen books in this series proved to be ‘edge of your seat’ thrillers, Brad Thor may have let his foot off the gas with this one, sure to displease ardent fans. Harvath has lived a long and productive life, as can be seen by those who have long followed the series. He has had victories and utter failures in his personal and professional lives, all of which are recapped here throughout a constant flashback narrative. With little to develop except that which is before him, Harvath loses some of his appeal, as though he is simply going through the motions and trying not to die. If I can be so bold, it seems as though Harvath is at the point where it might be time to hang up the tactical vest, as he is no longer able to forget the scars and the numerous aches. The list of strong secondary characters include some returning faces and many new ones as well. Thor hints at some possible new leaders or spin-off series with some who receive both backstory and character development, which might help revitalize the larger Thor universe and breathe new life into his writing. There was nothing overtly wrong with the writing or inherently poor with the plot, but it lacked the depth, sharpness, and twists that series fans have come to expect. I can only surmise that Thor is wondering if he wants to go in a new direction and yet seeks to tie things off before departing, or if this was a last kick at the can in hopes of getting one more book out of Harvath. There is no shame in moving on, but one can hope that Brad Thor will effectively shift things to a new series and not leave his fans with an abrupt cessation after a score of novels bearing Harvath’s presence.

Kudos, Mr. Thor, for another interesting book. I have a feeling this book was meant to convey something to your fans without you bluntly putting it out in a press release. Am I wrong?

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

The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding

Seven stars

Perhaps one of the only people in the world who never read this book in high school, I thought that it was high time that I tested the waters. William Golding has created quite the novel, using young adolescents to develop key societal themes while being isolated from the world. After their plane crashes on a deserted island, the surviving young boys gather to determine how they will survive. Using a conch shell as both a gathering tool and one that denotes speaking power, the boys elect Ralph as their leader. From there, it is a delegation of duties to ensure everything is done, something Ralph discovers is not as easy as he would like. His greatest rival for leadership, Jack, begins to instil distrust and rallies those around him not to fall into line with Ralph. As time progresses, cracks occur in the unified group and they splinter off, with Jack taking some of the older boys into his own ‘savage’ camp. The two groups are forced to devise new ways to procure the needed skills for survival. Ralph agrees to attend a feast held by the saved group, only to discover that they are ruthless and end up killing one of the boys. As outside assistance remains bleak, tough choices will have to be made and the lives of all the boys lay in the ever-shifting balance of power. A clever novel that touches on many important issues and has stood the test of time. Not sure I would call it stellar, but surely worth my time and effort.

I never do well when a book is called a ‘classic’, feeling the pressure is always too high that I should like it. I rarely turn to the classics, finding my enjoyment of reading halted when I am supposed to find themes and symbolism. Then again, I love to learn when I read, something Golding does somewhat subtlety with this piece as he speaks about the roles and differences that adolescent boys have within society. The story is both well-paced and overly detailed in places, as Golding seeks to lay the groundwork for a great deal in short order. Some say the downed airplane was part of a nuclear situation that saw the world on the cusp of World War Three, while others surmised it was just a freak accident that left all the adults dead. By thrusting the boys into the role of leaders, Golding posits that their leadership and follower roles would become more apparent over time, though there is a fine line between leading and dictating. As can be seen throughout the piece, the give and take between Ralph and those under him comes to fruition, causing strife and anxiety, which Jack uses to his advantage. The need to survive also pushes the boys to take drastic measures, something they might not normally do, as has been seen in other books and stories of groups stranded and away from help. The use of longer chapters seems needed for Golding to lay some necessary groundwork on different topics. Rather than a constantly evolving flow to the narrative, he chose to tackle these major issues in a single chapter, forcing the reader to push on to understand the concepts being discussed. I suppose it works, but not the approach I might have taken. There were times I also felt the dialogue was slightly jilted, though I am not sure if that is due to the time it was written or a stylistic choice by Golding. I know the way in which young boys speak has devolved of late, but I kept asking myself if I could properly picture boys bantering and ordering one another around in this way. Golding speaks in the introduction about how boys were the only option, that girls could not have played a role in this piece. While I can see what he means, to a degree, wearing my 2020 glasses and not those from 1954, I think much has changed and would love someone to take a stab at the story from the girl-centric approach. I’m sure it would be a refreshing look at this tale that everyone seems to know.

Kudos, Mr. Golding, for a decent read that kept me thinking throughout.

I never do this, but I recently read a novel that takes some influences from Golding’s piece. Do check it out once it is published:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/52616219-the-benevolent-lords-of-sometimes-island

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

The Good Earth (House of Earth #1), by Pearl S. Buck

Seven stars

Tasked with reading this award-winning novel by Pearl S. Buck, I was a little apprehensive, but ready to read with an open mind. Buck takes the reader into imprecise time in China’s past and presents a story of a farmer who saw more than was before him. As the novel opens, a young Wang Lung is preparing for his marriage to a local slave girl. Wang Lung is not a rich man, but has a parcel of land he cultivates the best way he knows how. While he and his wife, O-lan, work the fields, they discover prosperity in the fruits of their labour. Earning a decent amount of silver, Wang Lung and O-lan work as hard as they can, beginning a family when possible. After a few sons, Wang Lung is gifted with a daughter, though this is nothing worth celebrating in his eyes. He struggles with what to do, but has little time to contemplate it, as poor weather makes it harder to farm. When a drought overtakes the land, Wang Lung looks out of his northern village to the south, in hopes of finding something to help him get back on his feet. He sees the glitz and glamour of the big city, even taking up running a rickshaw, but does not feel comfortable away from farming. When he returns to the field, he tries not to get discouraged and works even harder. He may be poor, but he is able to provide for his family. As his sons grow, they show propensities for things other than farming, which Wang Lung privately praises, but cannot condone outwardly. A clash occurs when one son seeks to define himself in unique ways, which can only end with a father forcefully putting his son back in line. There is much to learn for them both, but Wang Lung realises that this is one time when profits for a good harvest cannot solve the trouble. A well-written piece that obviously earned Pearl S. Buck some notoriety, though I am not sure it was that amazing. Open to those who want to travel back in time, though surely not worth staying up late into the night.

I often struggle when a book receives many prestigious accolades, as though this makes it a must read or standard when it comes to literature. I struggle understanding why classics get that label and this is the second novel in my reading group that has earned a Pulitzer without my being blown away by its content. Buck does well to paint a picture of Wang Lung and his humble beginnings. The story works well as he and his wife begin a life together, as well as some of the personal developments that form him into the protagonist. He does his best and tries to put his family above all others, struggling at times to prosper. As Buck seems to indicate throughout, it is the age-long story of a man trying to exert his authority and keep his pride, no matter what stands before him. The attentive reader will likely see how Wang Lung develops as he ages, struggling with new ideas and societal views, while still wanting to keep control of his small parcel. If the earth that Wang Lung cultivates could have a personality all its own, it would be a strong secondary character, interacting on a yearly basis with the farmer and presenting struggles throughout. The handful of secondary characters in the novel prove useful to tell the story injecting their own ideas while flavouring the narrative, though I was not entirely captivated by any of them. Buck can spin a tale, of that there is no doubt. She can craft a piece that needs little technology or specific time to keep the reader wanting to know more. The themes she presents are worth understanding, but the book was not sensational. Rather, like its title, it was good earth, decent soil from which a plot can sprout and fertilise the mind of the reader. That’s about it! While this is the first of a trilogy that explores the cultural and societal changes in China, I’ll let others continue the journey.

Kudos, Madam Buck, for a decent piece. Your foreshadowing and foreboding work well, but I don’t think the praise is necessarily worthy.

This book fulfils the August 2020 requirements of Mind the Bookshelf Gap’s challenge.

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

Twisted Justice (Daniel Pike #4), by William Bernhardt

Seven stars

Long a fan of William Bernhardt’s writing, I returned for the fourth novel in his Daniel Pike series. Bernhardt still has a great ability to write, though I do miss some of the sharper prose from his earlier series work. Early one morning, Daniel Pike and his paramour, who also happens to be the mayor of St. Petersburg, are startled awake by a knock on the door. A detective and two officers greet them with arrest warrants for the murder of the District Attorney. He’s been shot and gruesomely crucified for all to see. An anonymous email sent to the St. Pete PD includes a recording where Pike and the mayor discuss getting the DA ‘out of the way’. Pike is used to defending the innocent on serious charges, but now he is the one in the hot seat. He turns to his colleagues, the Last Chance Lawyers, who begin to sift through the evidence. Much of this appears to be a campaign to smear Pike and send him away for good, if not see him executed. While the team tries to build a case for Pike’s defence, the famed attorney has a hard time sitting on his hands and letting the wheels of justice turn for themselves. Meanwhile, a young woman emerges out of the water one day, battered and bruised. All anyone can get out of her is that her name is Elena, though the rest is complete nonsense. Working an angle based on rumours and hearsay, the defence tries to prove that the illustrious DA might have been involved in something that got him killed. However, time is running out and the evidence is still too flimsy to ensure Pike’s innocence. An interesting take in the series that pulls no punches. Bernhardt does well to tell his story, even if it lacks some of the cutting edge many fans have com to expect from past novels. Recommended to those who need a decent crime thriller, as well as the reader who wants something to pass their travel or vacation time.

There’s nothing like a great legal thriller to get the blood pumping. William Bernhardt has delivered this time and again with some of his Ben Kincaid novels, though the turn to Daniel Pike has been somewhat of a diluted collection of stories. Pike remains a decent protagonist, whose backstory of wanting to see the innocent stay free pushes him to do all that he can to find the truth. Badgered by a few in town who want nothing but to see him suffer, Pike is always trying to find legal loopholes for his clients. His Casanova-like moves are also a key to his character, though one can only hope that he’ll find a way to tame those while facing a major legal battle. Other characters emerge as decent additions to the series, bringing their own flavour to a novel that takes the reader in many directions. Some of the new faces that emerge offer new and interesting perspectives, though no one stands out as stellar for me. With a decent plot and well-paced narrative, the book was a decent read, though I was not as enthralled as I might have hoped. Daniel Pike seems almost to be biding his time for something bigger and better. Bernhardt is surely quite busy with all his writing seminars, where one can hope some of the next big names are learning the craft, though the caliber of his writing seems to be suffering a tad. Still, I like them enough to keep pushing forward and hope there is more to come from the Last Chance Lawyers before too long.

Kudos, Mr. Bernhardt, for a decent effort. I trust you have some more ideas to share with your fans soon.

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

Transparent Things, by Vladimir Nabokov

Six stars

After reading Vladimir Nabokov’s (in)famous. Lolita, I chose to find another piece of the author’s writing to see if I could find a balance to offer a better, well-rounded sentiment. I turned to this novella—Nabokov’s shortest piece—in hopes that it would provide me with something to get to the core of the Nabokov writing style without needing to splice out some of the more controversial aspects of the story. This story pertains to the life of Hugh Person, a young publisher who is sent to Switzerland to interview a prominent figure. Clumsy beyond belief, Hugh does his best to complete the work assigned, but ends up falling in love with a local woman, Armande, along the way. Their love sees them return to New York, though Hugh is not one to lay down too many roots and ends up in a heap of trouble, which only leads to more headache and a final return to Europe. Back in Switzerland, Hugh must come to terms with the entirety of his life. With a deceptive title, this was anything but clear, even though the book is barely one hundred pages. Not the comparative piece I had hoped to use to flesh out my sentiments about Vladimir Nabokov.

I had high hopes that I would come out of this short piece with a stronger connection to the Nabokovian writing style and one in which the reader is not subjected to illegal thoughts and action on each page. However, rather than see paedophilia, I was subjected to random thoughts strung together in ways that made little sense to me. To call it confusing would be an understatement, though perhaps it is my problem for trying to make sense of Russian literature. Nabokov creates a dense and opaque narrative at best, using characters who seem not to go much of anywhere. At least in Lolita I could see the path and the troubles that lay ahead. Here, I am left to ponder what I, the reader, am doing on this journey. I am still hoping to find that balance (now between two pieces by the author) to see if it is me, or whether Vladimir Nabokov is an author whose writing and style is best left out of my reading bubble.

Kudos, Mr. Nabokov, for confusing me from the outset and throughout. I am thoroughly flustered now, more than I was with the incestuous book that piqued my curiosity in your work to begin this journey.

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

Lethal Politics, by Bob Blink

Out of fairness, I will not offer a star rating, as I did not complete reading this book!

I gravitated towards Bob Blink’s book when I read the dust jacket blurb. I had hoped that this, a political thriller, would interest me, especially since it surrounded a fictitious presidential election. POTUS is seeking re-election, after steering his policies away from the GOP core’s central beliefs. This alienation causes him to lose his base of support, though this is the least of his worries. A strong and progressive Democrat is burning up the campaign trail and should be a sure opponent in November. But, how to derail such a strong contender? That’s the premise of this book though I did not made it far enough to truly delve into the gist of it.

While many bemoan the issues of COVID-19 being staying safe and healthy, my plight lies with trying to stay entertained with books. I have found that this isolation has me reading more (and for longer periods at a time), whereby I find more duds and books that do not capture my attention. While I suspect it is neither all me or the authors, it is a tad disconcerting. Blink’s book is not poorly staged or written, but I just could not find myself hooked enough to want to push onwards. I am not sure what it is, but I was happy to set it aside after an hour of reading. Perhaps I will return to it another day or month, but for now… I have some solid reads that need my attention.

Kudos, Mr. Blink for trying… and for changing the path in the 2020 presidential election. Alas, we are not so lucky with reality, though it is not yet June (see book for reference).

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

I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson

Seven stars

Encouraged by my reading group to try this piece by Richard Matheson, I was soon pulled into the world of vampires and a massive plague (how fitting!) as this story unravelled. Robert Neville is in a battle against the world, or so it seems to him. His house surrounded by vampires, Neville must try to negotiate his way around in order to ensure he has the necessities to fend off the attack. Many of his friends and neighbours have succumbed to these blood sucking beasts, but there must be more to this existence. As time progresses, Neville turns scientific and discovers some of the microbiological aspects of the plague, as well as how it spreads from host to host. Neville uses this knowledge to work on some sort of defence, in hopes that it will allow him the chance to push back and take his life into his own hands. When another human crosses his path, he passes along all the information he has, hoping it is not a Trojan Horse sent to trick him. In his own mind, Robert Neville is a legend for cracking the code, though the reader may feel otherwise. A decent story, though by far nothing on the level of Stoker’s eerie storytelling.

When this book was assigned during the annual submission of tomes in early February 2020, I had never read Richard Matheson’s work. However, before trying this book, I did dabble into his world when I read a short piece by the author, which inspired Stephen King and one of his sons to use it as a launching pad for a more modern piece of horror. In this story, Matheson shows off some of his eerie side, though I did not get the scare factor I hoped to find. Robert Neville came across as quite level-headed, at least as much as he could be under the circumstances. His limited backstory came out through the pages of this book, though I was not connecting to him as much as I would have liked. Aspects of Neville’s personality shone through, particularly when he turned microbiologist and quasi-geneticist, but I was still slightly disinterested as the story progress. There are glimpses of other characters in this piece, which Matheson develops when the need arises. They help complement Neville, but do not leave a lasting impact for me. The premise of the piece was decent and I would have loved to feel more connected to the entire situation, but I found it was half horror and half cerebral, neither of which drew me in when I needed it most. I hope others find this was chilling and highly entertaining. I’ll just be sure to have some garlic on hand for Rounds 2 and 3 of COVID-19!

Kudos, Mr. Matheson, for this piece. Not something I’ll flock back to read again, but I could be in the minority.

This book fulfils the April 2020 requirement of the Mind the Bookshelf Gap Reading Challenge.

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

The Wise Friend, by Ramsey Campbell

As I did not complete this book, I will not offer a star rating, out of fairness for the author!

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Ramsey Campbell, and Flame Tree Press for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Exploring a new author in Ramsey Campbell, I thought to see how much of a horror story this book provided to me. In a story that focuses on the artwork of a woman who subsequently took her life, the reader learns a little more about what might have influenced her. Patrick Semple knows that many thought his aunt was different and her art led her to many odd places. He has memories from his youth about visiting her and trying to understand her thoughts and way of being. Years later, when he son, Roy, discovers some of the books about her work, he becomes highly interested. Patrick tries to rebuff him, but the teenage will not relent. Opening this could really pose to be a problem. However, this is as far as I made it, since the book lost my interest up to this point. I leave it to others to forge onwards and determined the ‘horror’ nature of the piece, as the narrative and story up to this point turned out to be horrific enough for me.

I respect that many people have their own opinions about books and what makes a good story. That being said, at a time when things are so chaotic outside with the COVID-19 pandemic, I look for books that will hold my attention and keep me wanting to turn the pages. Surely, some will love Campbell’s writing and the way he tells a story, but I could not find myself enthralled enough to stick it out. I will be eager to read reviews of those who complete the book and offer something enlightening. Perhaps I will return to this novel down the road, as I find that I can sometimes enjoy a book under a different circumstances. That being said, I am not holding my breath.

Kudos, Mr. Campbell for trying to lure me in. I may be in the minority, but wanted to voice my opinions frankly.

Love/hate the review? An ever-growing collection of others appears at:

https://pecheyponderings.wordpress.com/

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

The Pardoner’s Crime (Sandal Castle #1), by Keith Moray

Seven stars

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

A great fan of Keith Moray, I was interested to try this piece, completely different from his other work. When the publisher approached me, I thought there was no better time to give it a go, hoping for the best. The year is 1322 and Sir Richard Lee has been sent to Sandal Castle by the king, Edward II. A Sergeant-at-Law, Lee will preside over the local court and determine some of their legal matters. Along the way, Lee encounters a band of outlaws, headed by one Robert Hood. Permitted to pass, Lee is warned not to cause any trouble. However, a man’s body is soon found murdered, with an arrow through the eye. Lee cannot hep but wonder if this Hood character might be involved. When other crimes occur that could be tied to the group of outlaws, Lee demands that Robert Hood be brought before him to face questioning. That may be easier said than done, in this medieval tale of law and heroism. Moray paints quite the story here, far removed from many of the pieces of his I have read before. Recommended to those who enjoy all things medieval, as well as the reader who enjoys crime fiction of a more regal nature.

This was a walk on the wild side for me, as I am not used to reading much in the medieval realm. That which I have read has left me feeling less than impressed, but I wanted to give Moray the chance to convince me. The story flowed fairly well and those who enjoy the time period would get a lot more out of it than I did. I wanted to see Moray as he used this new period to see if he could enthral me as much as he does with his Scottish mysteries. The characters find themselves in the middle of much goings-on and it served the story well to have so many different perspectives. While I found a lack of connection to any of the particular characters, I was able to follow the plot well enough to feel I can speak confidently. Moray does well spinning this tale and kept me feeling as though I were right there, at the inquest as well as at court. I am not sold into becoming a true fan of the book, the series, or even the time period, but I made it through and I hope others find it to their liking, as Keith Moray has lots to say!

Kudos, Mr. Moray, for a decent novel. I will stick to your modern Scottish work, but I hope you acquire a fan case for this piece.

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

Blindside (Michael Bennett #12), by James Patterson and James O. Born

Seven stars

A fan of the Michael Bennett series, I was pleased to get my hands on the latest novel, which exemplifies the collaborative efforts of James Patterson and James O. Born. In a story that does little for Bennett’s character development, but showcases his abilities, the authors provide the reader with a decent crime thriller set on both sides of the Atlantic. While working a double murder, Michael Bennett stops in at a local store, where things take a turn for the worse and he shoots two men attempting to mug him. While Bennett is sure it was a justified shooting, the public are not so sure. Bennett takes some time off, which allows him to enjoy a little family time, but that is cut short with Internal Affairs wants him to meet with the mayor. At this meeting the mayor asks for some help on a case that must remain off the books. The mayor’s daughter has been missing for weeks and Bennett is asked to find her, but tell no one of the job. As Natalie Lunden is deep into the world of computer hackers, Bennett starts there, finding himself following a few leads. When others with ties to Lunden turn up dead, Bennett is sure he is onto something and ends up in a firefight while trying to protect a close friend of Natalie’s. All this leads to an infamous hacker in Estonia, which will be an adventure in and of itself. With no financial support, Bennett will have to make the trip and work with some of the resources the NYPD and FBI can provide there, though the latter wants him out of the country as soon as he arrives. While Bennett looks for Natalie in and around the capital, he encounters the ruthless killers from NYC, who will stop at nothing from keeping Bennett from making his way back to America with the mayor’s daughter. Stretching himself as thin as he has ever been, Michael Bennett must remember who awaits him at home and how his safety is of paramount importance. A decent thriller in a series that may be showing signs of closure. Recommended to series fans who want to check in on Bennett, as well as those who enjoy crime thrillers that span the globe.

Some of James Patterson’s work tends to grate on my nerves because it lacks that hook that I like in my thrillers. However, he is usually able to work effectively with James O. Born to find a happy medium to his work. Michael Bennett has done much in his career, while supporting a massive family. He works well within the NYPD structure, though is always looking to challenge some of the authority and red tape that he finds useless. In this piece, Bennett is challenged at every turn and stays level-headed throughout, while juggling a personal life that has a fiancée looking to set a date. His resourcefulness is front and centre as he enters Estonia, seeking to find someone and leave, but things never end up being that easy. Others keep the story flowing well and the reader can enjoy a variety of personalities as they clash on the page. The story worked well, though I found it lacked the intensity I needed. Bennett’s mission was a locate and return, with little mystery involved. The early search on US soil seemed to lack something as Bennett bounced around from one person to the next, all before landing the big lead. Perhaps I am cynical or used to something a little more action-packed, but I will return to see if Michael Bennett and his brood have more to offer.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Born, for a decent addition to the series. Eager to see what’s to come for Bennett and your collaborative efforts.

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

The Vatican’s Vault, by Barry Libin

Seven stars

Having never read any books by Barry Libin, I approached this piece with an open mind. Finding it on Kindle Unlimited, I discovered this novel lacked the hype of many pieces I have read of late, allowing me to form my own opinions. When a priest is found murdered in the most horrific manner within the residence of the Archbishop of New York, the NYPD takes things seriously. While baffled as to what it means, Dr. Jeffrey Moss takes the lead on the case, trying to find some forensics that will tie it all together. At the same time in the Vatican, a newly-elected Pope has come to feel that the Church is straying too far away from its flock and seeks a special meeting of the leadership to address how to modernise. This comes with some significant blowback from long-serving officials, some of whom have their own views on how things ought to be run. While Moss makes a discovery on the body of the slain priest, he cannot completely understand what two coins might have to do with the murder, which takes him to Israel. He encounters a young archeologist who joins the hunt to understand how these murders might connect the Vatican to a biblical-era cache of riches. As more bodies pile up, Moss learns that this case has deep roots and someone wants to keep the secrets hidden, at least until they can take control of all things having to do with the Church. But, at what cost? Libin takes the reader on an adventure like no other, through murder, history, and biblical prophesy. A decent read for those who enjoy this sort of thing, though I am unsure where I stand on it all.

I enjoy a mystery as much as the next person, which is why I found myself drawn to this piece all about the Vatican and inner workings of Church politics. Barry Libin did well to depict how the murder of a priest with a message tied itself to a larger conspiracy, even if I was not entirely sold on the pot twists. Dr. Jeffrey Moss finds himself in the middle of this hoopla, a former top-notch surgeon who was enticed by something more grounded in the world of police forensics. He uses some of his know-how to piece things together, but needs help from many on the outside to make it all come together nicely. His attentiveness pushes clues to the surface, as he travels to find out how two coins might be at the core of a Vatican conspiracy to exert power beyond anything imagined. With some interesting backstory and a pinch of character development, Moss finds himself trying to connect with the reader at every turn, though it is only somewhat effective. Others congregate around the core tenets of the story, pushing things along while trying to remain true to all that is laid before them. The reader may enjoy this, or find that it is simply a little overdone, as names and places blur together. The premise of the piece was decent, though I found things less than riveting in a book I hoped would drum up sharp action and intense drama. Not too long, the book ought to have been filled with cliffhangers and gaining momentum, though I found it puttered along and kept me wondering, but not gasping as each piece fell into place. Libin does a decent job here, though I had hoped for something, though the precise description eludes me at present.

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

The Victim of the System, by Steve Hadden

Seven stars

Having never read anything by Steve Hadden, I picked up this book off the Kindle Unlimited shelf and hoped to find a winner. With a little thriller aspect and some code-breaking, I discovered an interesting piece that kept my attention throughout. Jack Cole is at the centre of a custody battle, as his parents are going through a messy separation. When his father apparently commits suicide in the middle of the ordeal, Jack knows that he will have to take action, not believing what others so readily accept. This ten year-old genius takes it upon himself to shoot (and kill) his mother’s lawyer, which only opens up more trouble for everyone. In the State of Pennsylvania, no matter the accused’s age, first- and second-degree murder charges require the defendant to be change as an adult. With Jack heading to trial, his lawyer is seeking some way out of this hole, particularly since Jack admitted it all to the police. Enter, Ike Rossi, a well-known PI who goes to the mat for his clients when they need him. While Rossi shares a personal connection to Jack, he is not sure he wants to wade into this case, having commitments elsewhere. During some preliminary investigations, Rossi receives some odd emails with mathematical equations from Jack’s deceased father. They make no sense on the surface, though there must be something to them. After some heartfelt reflection, Rossi realises that he cannot leave Jack or his aunt to be subsumed by the other side of the family, which includes a vindictive mother, whose own father is a powerful businessman with a great deal of influence. Furthermore, Rossi feels that the suicide might have been a convenient cover-up for something that could put Jack in danger. While the trial approaches, Rossi continues to receive more math equations and Jack’s hope for redemption seems to be slipping away, though it seems no one is open to any type of alternate theory. Rossi does all he can to help his client, including uncovering some dirt that could help. But what do these equations mean and hope does it all come together? Hadden has penned an interesting piece that will take the reader down a few rabbit holes before reaching a fast-paced conclusion.

There are times I venture away from the list of popular authors that I have, allowing me to find something different. Plucking something off the shelf at Kindle Unlimited allows me to venture even further, as I can be kept from a Goodreads influence as well, where I will find some lesser-known authors who wish to share their work. Steve Hadden’s book was one such adventure and I felt it was a decent foray into the world of thrillers with a slight scientific/mathematical angle. Ike Rossi plays the protagonist well, allowing the reader to learn much about him as the story progressed. From the fact that his parents’ murder remains unsolved for many years, which brings him closer to Jack Cole, to the admission that he uses boxing to clear his head, Rossi is a man of many interests and has a burning passion to get things done. All this spills onto the page as he takes his job seriously and tries to find a happy medium. He is surrounded with a number of strong secondary characters, who keep the story on track and prevent things from getting too chaotic. The premise of this book was decent, allowing the reader to become involved in this legal travesty, while keeping a distance as well. The narrative moved well and proved insightful, gripping the reader at times. That said, I was not as enthralled as I would have hoped, at times left on the periphery as things were taking place. It was definitely a decent effort, but not as intense as I might have expected. I will likely try another of Hadden’s books down the road, though I will let things percolate for the time being.

Kudos, Mr. Hadden, for a decent effort. I am intrigued to see what else you have to offer.

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

Lost, by James Patterson and James O. Born

Seven stars

In their latest collaborative effort, James Patterson and James O. Born tackle the world of human trafficking with an American twist. Tom Moon is a Miami PD detective who heads up a multi-agency task force with a focus on international crime. After being able to foil a child trafficking ring at the Miami Airport, Tom takes it upon himself to ensure the children are safely returned. He takes the flight to Amsterdam, where he crosses paths with a Dutch National Police detective who shares his passion for keeping people safe. Whispers on the street is that the Russian Mob is seeking to ship a large group back through Miami, mostly children to be sold into the sex trade. Tom must not only hone in on the traffickers, but also determine when and how these people will slip into the United States. Even when the plot is revealed, it will take more to destroy this Hydra before it grows another and more sinister head. The race to save young children is on, but it will take an open-minded hierarchy and nerves of steel, particularly when a ruthless Russian will do whatever it takes to pad his pocket. A decent crime thriller that shows the authors are not out of fresh and catchy ideas. While there are some wrinkles, it was an enjoyable read, leaving me wanting more by this duo.

I have often struggled when a book sells based on the Patterson name, rather than the quality of the work. I have read a number of Patterson-Born novels, most of which kept me entertained throughout the experience. Tom Moon proves to be an interesting protagonist, whose backstory and character development are revealed throughout. Juggling the high-impact world of international crime with the struggles of a mother and sister in need of his help, Tom seems capable of doing what is needed to ensure that all the boxes are checked. He has a sense of humour and yet knows when to be serious on the job. Having shown his passion for children, the reader can connect with him and he will likely keep evolving, if the rumours of a series come to fruition. The supporting characters are equally interesting and help keep the story moving forward. I can only hope that some will return to develop themselves a little more. The plot was decent and the story clipped along well, perhaps because of Patterson’s trademark short chapters and constant cliffhangers, but there were times I sought more momentum from the plot and the building narrative. I can only hope that the collaboration continues and sharper presentation is part of future releases.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Born, for writing effectively, even if you have yet to ‘eclipse’ others in the genre.

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

Dewey Defeats Truman, by Thomas Mallon

Seven stars

Returning for another Thomas Mallon novel, I hoped to to amazed with a telling story set against the backdrop of a political situation that ties things all together. The year is 1948 and the United States is in presidential election mode. With Truman in the White House, it is time for the electorate to pass judgment on him, as he ascended to the post when FDR died in office. The stage is set and Truman does not seem all that sure that he can pull it off. Things turn to Owosso, Michigan, hometown of the Republican candidate, Thomas Dewey. The locals are gearing up and there are stirrings about the local boy making his way into the Oval Office, going so far as to prepare for being a new ‘must see’ spot for tourists. As the months pass, it is simply a waiting game for the all but coronation of Dewey as POTUS. On the local front, Anne Macmurray is swept up, not in the political fervour, but with two men who seek her heart. One, a wealthy Republican who is as confident as he is determined, seeks to woo Anne, while showing her what connections can do. The other, a former soldier turned United Auto Workers organizer who has a flame burning inside him and seeks to ensure the underdog is never forgotten. As spring and summer turn to autumn, the choice will have to b made. Who will Anne choose and how will she come to the decision? Will Dewey’s momentum be able to carry him into the White House, leaving Truman in the dust? The knowledgeable reader knows the answer to at least one of these, but Mallon is never one to write without a significant twist. A decent piece of fiction with gritty political undertones, though not my favourite of the author’s work.

This is the first time I have sat down to physically read Mallon. The other of his novels I have allowed an audiobook reader guide me, which might be why I am less than enthused. I made my way through this piece, eager for the development of the plot—personal and political—but left feeling less than enthralled. There is surely a great deal of banter in this book, as Owosso residents cheer on their local boy and await his arrival on the campaign trail, but I felt lost in trying to connect with any of the three characters who play roles in this love triangle. Mallon uses long chapters to tell his story and pulls the reader in many directions, peppering politics with post-War American development. A few young characters seek to define themselves throughout the narrative, with a core few mentioned above. It may be I who is at fault for not liking this one, though I have seen others echo my sentiments. Still, I know authors cannot please everyone all the time. I am simply happy this was not the first Mallon I ever tried. I have a few more I would like to attempt down the road. Perhaps I was looking for more bang for my buck. Apt to use in reference to this novel, ‘The buck stops here!’. It most truly did!

Kudos, Mr. Mallon, for an attempt to pull me in. It did not work as well as I would have liked, but I cannot fault you entirely for this.

This book fulfils the February 2020 requirement of the Mind the Bookshelf Gap reading challenge.

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

Passport to Death (Dotan Naor #2), by Yigal Zur

Seven stars

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

When Yigal Zur approached me to read another of his novels, I was intrigued and interested yet again. His Dotan Naor series caught my attention before and with another adventure, there is sure to be a great deal more action. Dotan receives a call that his services are needed in Thailand to help find a missing woman, Sigal Bardon. Landing in Bangkok, Dotan is reminded of the many other times that he has come here over the years. While his initial search is to locate the body of Sigal, he soon discovers that things may not be that simple. In a country where people come to disappear or are made to vanish, answers are elusive. As he juggles the open drug and prostitution trades, Dotan trips upon a lead or two that lead him in a certain direction. Itching to know more about who sent him this mission, he speaks to his colleague, who is anything but forthcoming. However, with a decent sized Israeli population in the city, Dotan soon learns that this may be a game of cat and mouse he wished he never entered. There are some dangerous men around, any of whom might have taken Sigal for their own reasons. As more bodies pile up, Dotan wants to finish the investigation and flee back to the safety of Israel. Sigal Bardon had her reasons for coming to Bangkok, but is her disappearance entirely of her own doing as well? A worthwhile thriller read, though I was not entirely pulled in as much as I would have liked.

I try to keep an open mind when it comes to reading, as one never really knows when the next great book with cross your path. While I was not as drawn into Zur’s piece as I would have liked, there were some great aspects that cannot be discounted. The setting for much of the story is Thailand, that elusive country whose laws differ greatly from much of the Western World. Zur depicts it with such detail that I felt I was there at times, strolling the streets and never quite sure what I would find. The narrative is full of colourful language and off-hand comments that I cannot say enough about how well the story developed from this point of view. The story itself was decent, with a missing girl and am investigator set to find her. I found myself losing some interest with the meandering nature of the piece. I wanted to feel more connected and possessing more care for everyone involved. This is just an opinion, but I do remember relying the same way the first novel I tried by the author. With short chapters and a quick story overall, this was not a painful read, but left me feeling as though I needed more to satisfy my reading experience.

Kudos, Mr. Zur, for another decent book. I may opt out from further pieces, but I will let others enjoy your writing 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

The Shape of Night, by Tess Gerritsen

Seven stars

After reading a number of Rizzoli & Isles novels by Tess Gerritsen, I was drawn to her latest piece, a standalone, to see if it held as much excitement for me. Definitely full of mystery, this book will leave those who have loved the aforementioned series with many questions and potential concerns if this is the new path Gerritsen is set to take. Ava Collette has decided to leave the busy life she led in Boston, settling in a small Maine town. With many secrets in the rear view mirror, Ava has a deadline to complete her latest cook book, which she will fill with sea-themed New England classics. After renting a property, Ava discovers some disturbing things that have her wondering about her choice of accommodation. She learns that the house was built by Captain Jeremiah Brodie, who is a local seafaring celebrity. When she is visited by an apparition late one night, the haunting takes on a new level of concern, though things are also a lot more intense for Ava on other levels too. As she digs into the background of the previous owners and renters of the house, Ava discovers something highly disturbing, leaving her little choice but to take immediate action. Question is, will it be enough? A very unique piece by Tess Gerritsen that will surely get people talking, but perhaps not for the right reason.

While I have always enjoyed the Tess Gerritsen books I’ve read, this one was surely out in left field for me. I cannot be sure if this ties in to some of her other standalone novels, but other reviewers seem to be on the same page as I am. Paranormal soft-core pornography is not a genre I want to read about, especially from someone like Tess Gerritsen, so I will have to be very careful about what I read of hers in the future. Ava Collette began as quite the interesting protagonist. Fleeing issues in her life, she settles in a rural community to lose herself, or perhaps find her writing groove. Her backstory emerges throughout the book, which tells an interesting narrative all its own. The development that occurs, particularly in relation to the haunting/paranormal activity. I felt this really lessened the impact of the story, adding to that the sexual encounters that occur throughout. Other characters helped try to make this a strong story, but it was as though Gerritsen could not help returning to this silly theme that really sullied the story for those who have enjoyed her thrillers in the past. The story could have been great, as it had all the needed ingredients, but it flopped on a few occasions and left me wondering why she might want to go in these directions. All the power to those who want to read ‘his pulsing member’ novels, but when you add ‘his pulsing apparition member’, you lose even more level-headed readers. Not all is lost, but some readers like me may not be able to simply ignore it.

Kudos, Madam Gerritsen, for the attempt, but let’s stick to Boston’s crime scene and more Rizzoli & Isles, if you please.

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

Endgame (Fawkes and Baxter #3), by Daniel Cole

Seven stars

Daniel Cole brings his Ragdoll trilogy to an end with this novel, saving what he feels could be the best for last. While William ‘Wolf’ Fawkes evades capture by those he used to call colleagues, he is drawn to visit the home of someone close to him. The recent death of Finlay Shaw by suicide is troubling for many, none more than his wife, Maggie. That being said a curious Wolf refuses to believe that it was by Shaw’s own doing that he ended up with a gunshot to the head. While Wolf is hauled in to answer for his crimes, he is able to negotiate some reprieve as he looks into the case. When Wolf comes face to face with his former partner, Emily Baxter, it’s oil and water, leaving Wolf to try mending fences as best he can. The deeper the investigation goes, the more Wolf is sure he is on the right track. With a powerful new Police Commissioner calling the shots, Wolf becomes a target of a cover-up no one saw in the making. With certain chapters telling a detailed backstory of how Finlay and Maggie met and grew closer, the reader can see the pieces of the puzzle coming together before their eyes. Someone is pulling the strings and willing to silence anyone who may spill the beans. It’s a hunt for power in an endgame that is sure to spill a great deal of blood. Cole does well bringing things together, though leaves some key threads to dangle for what he references in his author’s note will be a fourth explosive novel. Recommended to those who enjoyed the series and want some closure.

I remember listening to the first two novels in the series and enjoying them to varying degrees. The themes that come up and the way Cole discusses them was always of interest to me. I felt less connected in this final piece, which is sad, as it seeks to collect the questions and provide needed answers. William Fawkes and Emily Baxter remain central characters, though their roles in this investigation have them working apart rather than in tandem. Their characters continue to advance and are pushed together in the middle of the novel, which turns out to loosely work in their favour, though creates a little drama for the reader to discover. Other characters make strong appearances throughout, including segments of a backstory with Finlay and Maggie, as well as a few other key players who reemerge in the present tale. Cole does well to develop these characters, weaving them into key plot lines and keeping the reader guessing. The overall story was decent and developed nicely, but it did not pack the punch I was hoping to get as I started the book. I wanted something sinister, that would blow my mind, but was instead given something that slowly emerged and offered some finality. Cole’s hinting at a new book that keeps some of the characters active has me curious, though he mentions new angles to the same cast, so perhaps the focus will shift to new eyes and dramatic situations. We shall see in the months to come!

Kudos, Mr. Cole, for a strong story, even if it was not my favourite. I have a great appreciation for your work and hope to feel more attached to your next publication.

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

We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson

Six stars

After having this novel recommended to me, I was eager to give Shirley Jackson’s piece a try. While I attempted a few times to get into the story, I could not find myself involved enough and left it to wither on the proverbial vine. Mary Katherine ‘Merricat’ Blackwood is living with a horrible cloud over her. A number of her family members died of arsenic poisoning in their home. Now, living with her sister and uncle, Merricat, must come to terms with the loss, while trying to face the other townsfolk. Outwardly hostile to the Blackwoods, the story shows how others mistreat them as the troubling news of the poisonings spread like wildfire. When a new member of the extended family arrives, thing take an interesting turn, though no one can truly be fully aware of what the Blackwoods are doing behind those doors, or what they have planned for others in the town. Less than intriguing for me, but something that others may highly enjoy, this book from the past shows that horror writing can touch all types of readers in different ways.

While it could be the writing style, the plot itself, or simply the intended audience, I was not able to full grasp the nuances of this book. Jackson does well to develop the setting and instils something into the dialogue that makes the reader sit up and understand that animosity is high. Still, I was left wanting more, be it something spookier or more entertaining. Penned close to sixty years ago, this book could surely be read and presumed it is from the present-day, though perhaps the younger audience would find something more alluring with the topic and how Mary Katherine goes about her business. I cannot lambaste it, as I know others have come to really enjoy Shirley Jackson’s work, though I will likely hold off for a time before returning for another helping.

Kudos, Madam Jackson, for the valiant effort in putting this story together. I cannot say that I was fulling committed, though I did give it a try.

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

Quantum (Captain Chase #1), by Patricia Cornwell

Seven stars

After a hiatus from her successful forensic series, Patricia Cornwell returns with a novel that will have readers reaching for the stars in the middle of this impactful crime thriller. Captain Callisto ‘Calli’ Chase gave up a promising career in the military to help her family. She was able to land on her feet, serving within the NASA police in Virginia. While out investigating an alarm within the facility, Callie comes across some forensic material that leaves her baffled. When one of NASA’s scientific contractors is found dead in her room from an apparent suicide, Calli takes notice. What starts out looking like a simple cry for help does not make sense, the more pieces come together. The note left for others to find, the state of the body, even the last meal laid out on the table. It all points to something that’s been staged. While she is trying to juggle her workplace situation, Calli is brought up to speed that her twin sister, Carme, is wanted for questioning in the disappearance of a man she was seen to have had words with not too long before. Unable to locate Carme, Calli struggles as she remembers the key event in their past that drove a wedge between them as twins and sisters. While Calli is certain there is a killer on the loose within the NASA facility, she must remain calm and do all she can in order not to show her hand, while inside the terror mounts. An interesting return by Cornwell with an entirely new concept. While many did not enjoy this novel, the concept grew on me by the end and I am ready to recommend it to those who enjoy something scientific alongside their crime thrillers.

I have long been a fan of Cornwell and her Scarpetta series. While those novels did begin to lag after a time, I could see a great deal of effort went into their creation. When I heard that Cornwell was going to try her hand at something new, I was a little surprised, as Scarpetta was not yet tied off. This space-themed crime thriller novel has all the ingredients for the author to reinvent herself, with a curious cast of characters and a great deal of research having gone into the narrative. Calli Chase proves to be an worthwhile character and serves well in the role of protagonist. Her strong belief in the law and order resonated with me, as did her mathematical quirks that surface throughout the novel. However, there were times that I felt a significant disconnect. I am not sure what it is, as I do not remember having this issue with Kay Scarpetta, but realise that it may take me some time to connect properly with Calli. Her backstory and character development were both present throughout, offering some early tidbit on which Cornwell can build. I hope for more reveals to ensure Callisto Chase is not just another character whose unique name is the sole reason she stands out. Other characters grace the pages of this book and prove to be entertaining, though they also proved to be lukewarm at times. The multiple plots are strong and the ideas are there, but the delivery though the characters was significantly lacking. As a story, there was a great deal of potential here, though things fell flat early. I scanned Goodreads and noticed others felt the same way. Thankfully I held on, as things did get better and I was able to feel confident in finishing this piece. Such class and past success as an author should not deter Patricia Cornwell, though I would hope that this is just a rut and not the new face of a talented writer I have enjoyed for a long time.

Kudos, Madam Cornwell, for trying something new. Not sure if it worked, though some of my other favourites are stumbling these days. Perhaps it is just a phase.

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

Skeletons in the Rain, by Christian Nava

Seven stars

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

Having been approached by the author with an ARC of the book, I was curious to see what I might discover. Finally published in English, Nava’s book portrays the rough life in Venezuela and the issues the Church has when faced with a troubled past and gangs who rule the streets. Local priest, Ismael Niebuhr, has been holding onto a secret for a long time and wants out of the small community in which he has been a guiding light. Prepared to flee, Niebuhr is confronted with a gang known across Venezuela as being ruthless. The Skulls have targeted Niebuhr and continue to ask him one poignant question. Their leader, the Mime King, is not prepared to rest until he has all the answers. As the story progresses in a series of ever-advancing flashbacks, the reader learns of a horrible abuse that befell one of the alterboys under Niebuhr, but the truth is murky and clouded in much speculation. With the Skulls advancing and learning what they need to know, Niebuhr becomes expendable, but he cannot be left to tell what he knows about someone within the Skulls. The action progresses as the truth comes to the surface, though nothing is as clear as it might seem at first. Nava offers the reader something intriguing and worth a read, even if it did not resonate as powerfully with me as I might have hoped.

I always enjoy reading new authors and have found myself agreed to read pieces that authors themselves peddle. The issue is that sometimes I cannot be sure what I am getting into when I agree, left to accept the author’s self-praise and those of my fellow Goodreads reviewers. The book had some great moments, describing aspects of life in gangland Venezuela while also working on the clichéd history of the Catholic Church.. Nava’s development of the story and characters are not necessarily diluted when translated into English, though I did not feel the strong pull to “keep reading” as much as the story moved along at such a speed that I found the pages melted away. The premise was interesting and kept me guessing, though the constant layering of flashbacks that advanced to the present moment seemed almost overdone. I agree, it is a writing style that helps reveal things slowly and some readers enjoy that, but I suppose I was not in the mindset to want that. With short chapters and an ever-advancing plots Nava keeps the reader wondering and on the edge of their seat. There is a lot of potential here and I hope Nava can weave more of his master class work with an established author into his future work. He was proud to share that with me and I can only see great things as he publishes more.

Kudos, Mr. Nava, for an interesting piece. While it did not resonate as a blockbuster win for me, I think others will devour it. I look forward to seeing more of your work in the future.

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

Take it Back, by Kia Abdullah

Seven stars

Kia Abdullah pens this controversial legal thriller that will have readers pulled into the role of courtroom spectator in a rape case that could go either way, depending on who is to be believed. When Jodie Wolfe enters a women’s legal clinic, she has quite the story to tell. Meeting with Zara Kaleel, Jodie shares a story of being gang raped by a number of her fellow classmates at a recent party. Jodie, physically disabled with neurofibromatosis—a significant facial deformity—asserts that she was lured to a warehouse by four Muslim boys, where they took turns degrading her, laughing the entire time. Zara, armed with this information, begins the process by reporting it to the police, hoping that she can find justice for her client. The accused boys deny that there was any rape and one asserts that it was Jodie who came on to him, only regretting the act after it had taken place. When the incident is ready for trial, there is a media feeding frenzy, pitting the word of one Caucasian girl against the four boys, which fans the flames of racial imbalance in the United Kingdom. At trial, both sides present strong cases, though the narrative differs greatly. Zara is tried in the court of public opinion for helping to prosecute fellow Muslims, which brings shame to her family, but she remains firm that the truth must come out. With Jodie’s story soon developing holes, it is anyone’s guess who is to be believed and whose story is stitched together by last-second fabrications to save face. Justice may be blind, but it certainly is swayed by human influence, as can be seen throughout this piece. Abdullah keeps the reader stunned as they await the outcome, where the truth will offer some solace. Recommended to those who love a slowly developing legal thriller that has more twists than straightforward answers.

I had seen much about this book on Goodreads and wanted to indulge in what looked to be quite the legal thriller. While there is so much on which the attentive reader can feast, there are times when the pace drowned the momentum, rather than increasing it. Jodie Wolfe comes from unenviable means, which is seen throughout this piece. Her physical deformity is one that cannot be hidden, as is the lack of popularity she suffers because of it. She claims to have been a victim, but no one can believe that her appearance would make anyone sexually aroused in the least. Abdullah addresses this throughout in a variety of ways, as the attentive reader will see. While she holds firm to her narrative, the revelation of new and troubling evidence could put the entire case in jeopardy, forcing Jodie to come face to face with holding back the entire truth. Other characters, particularly Zara Kaleel, offer their own flavour to the story. Kaleel must face the issue of law over religious unity, something that not only creates a pariah out of her, but serves as an interesting subplot to the entire piece. Abdullah fills the pages of the book with this struggle, judged in the harshest way, to show that there are time when the truth must come out, no matter what the personal consequences that accompany it. The story was strong and offered some interesting nuances for the reader to discover. There are societal issues that are deeply rooted, as well as cultural norms that fuel the underlying momentum of the press coverage, neither of which is all that helpful. That Abdullah wishes to covey this is worth noting, at a time when quick generalisations fuel opinions, and cultural beliefs come into conflict with firmly held judicial and societal norms. While the story worked well, it was encased in massive chapters that helped dilute the impact. Abdullah might have kept the reader’s attention better with shorter and choppier segments, as she does break up the perspective throughout within each of the chapters. The premise is strong and I was eager to see how things could play out, with many subplots to keep the reader engaged and intrigued.

Kudos, Madam Abdullah, for this thrilling piece. A few tweaks and I would have been thoroughly captivated.

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

Napoleon’s Hemorrhoids: And Other Small Events That Changed History, by Phil Mason

Seven stars

Phil Mason introduces readers to some interesting tales in this collection of ‘what ifs’ and ‘did you know’ trivia in history. As the title of the book suggests, some things are quite random, but there is seemingly a great deal of curiosity surrounding these feats, accidents, and anomalies in history. Mason organises his book into some larger themes and proceeds to offer up facts—sometimes in a few sentences and at other times a page or two—that will both baffle and intrigue the reader. How things might have been different had Hitler stayed longer during a speech he delivered, or Napoleon been in better health the day of the Battle of Waterloo. Exploring sports, history, and business as well, Mason provides a seemingly endless set of examples of how the world might have changed on a whim. I am a great fan of alternate history, though I usually like longer tales or more meat to the explanations. While I suppose Mason wants to allow the reader to ponder on their own, it may have been fun to see some speculative narration when Mason presented some of the anecdotes in this piece. Full of eyebrow-raising stories, Mason lets the reader see how one small change in history could have completely changed the path taken and altered things significantly. With a number of substantive chapters, the reader can use what they learn here at their next dinner party or on a road trip to fill dead air. A fun read, though I won’t go do far as to offer a formal recommendation.

Kudos, Mr. Mason, for this interesting collection. I can see this is something you enjoyed preparing quite a bit.

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

Trial by Fire (Joseph Antonelli #7), by D.W. Buffa

Seven stars

Just when you thought D.W. Buffa might have run out of ideas, he comes up with another stunner to keep the reader—and Joseph Antonelli—on their toes. Having basked in the limelight for many years, Joseph Antonelli is much pickier when it comes to the cases he will take. Instead, he is happy to stay in his corner office at the San Francisco law firm he calls home and watch the legal world spin on its head. When he is approached by one of the partners, asking him to appear on television, Antonelli is not quite sure that he’s game. However, when one of the firm’s clients owns a network with a top-rated legal talk show, one must sometimes accept the pressure. While on a panel discussing a current homicide trial, Antonelli meets Daphne McMillan, a lawyer in the D.A.’s office, and Julian Sinclair, a brilliant law professor whose knowledge of criminal proceedings is second to none. Sinclair comes off as quite docile, but there is a spark within him, so much so that Antonelli convinces him to join the firm. When Sinclair calls Antonelli one night, it is anything but a social call. He woke to find a murdered Daphne McMillan in his home. While they were having an affair, Sinclair denies that he was involved and requests Antonelli’s assistance. In whirlwind fashion, the trial is upon them, though media outlets have wasted little time passing judgment on Julian Sinclair. As Antonelli tries to put forth a defense and narrow in on the repulsive way Mrs. McMillan’s husband treats women, it all falls on deaf ears. Trial in the court of public opinion seems to be the only place justice is being heard. Angered by the farce, Antonelli works to find a new way to bring truth to the headline grabbers, though he will have to be conniving and convincing in equal measure. Buffa takes the legal thriller theme and expands it in this piece, which pushes Joseph Antonelli to his limits. Recommended for series fans who have enjoyed the collection to date, as well as readers who find unique thrillers to their liking.

I have enjoyed binge reading this series by D.W. Buffa, particularly as he uses his protagonist to push the envelop a little further than might normally be expected. These are a wonderfully complex set of novels that pit the protagonist against a legal world that has embittered him over the decades. Antonelli has become a celebrity in the legal world, which leads him to become more choosy with the cases he agrees to defend. Added to that, he comes to terms with the fact that no one wants to sit through a trial when there are talking heads who will dice and splice before delivering the verdict that everyone ought to accept. Antonelli wrestles with this throughout, though is able to use traditional lawyering to make sense of it all. Older and more job-focussed, the reader does not get the energetic lawyer that many have come to expect. Others make one-off appearances, even with Antonelli home in San Francisco. Some may have hoped for more of a homecoming theme, with recognizable names and characters, but that is surely not the case here. The story followed much of the same recipe as in past novels, but did not seem to come across as effective as in the past. The trial—usually a central focus—is almost a forced hurdle in the middle of the novel and there is little spark in the courtroom. I was disappointed with this, though one might expert that Buffa wanted to turn to other projects and needed an effective way to end Joseph Antonelli’s legal career. That being said, Joseph Antonelli does make a return (call it an eight book?) in Necessity, which returns the protagonist to his wonderful role as defense attorney. An interesting progression in the series, though I was not entirely convinced of its effectiveness. I would recommend readers begin at the start of this series and not use this novel as a litmus test for others.

Kudos, Mr. Buffa, for keeping Joseph Antonelli fresh and exciting, though perhaps it is time that he hang up his wing-tips.

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

The Brief (Charles Holborne #1), by Simon Michael

Six stars

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

Always a fan of a decent legal thriller, I jumped at the opportunity when offered this opening novel in Simon Michael’s 1960s London series. Charles Holborne is a barrister who has acquired his share of enemies. Shunned by the Jewish community when he chooses to forget his roots, Holborne must also handle a heavy criminal case load and deal with the fallout of lost cases and angered clients. One can also not forget the numerous other legal minds whose reputations he has tarnished while working in London. However, someone has been watching him and waiting to strike at just the right moment. Playing on the marital strains and are building within the Holborne household, someone seeks to frame him for a significant crime. Forced to take things into his own hands, Charles Holborne must risk his life and reputation to save them both. A decent story, though it did not pull me in enough to call it riveting. Those who enjoy legal stories may like this one, though I remain on the fence at this point in time.

I cannot say that Simon Michael hooked me with this novel, launching a series that appears to keep growing. That being said, the story wad sound and the characters appeared to have some depth. Set in London’s early 1960s, the story surrounds legal practices of the time and some of the criminal element that stalked the streets. Charles Holborne proves to be an interesting character whose legal mind and gritty determination help him forge compromises while also creating an ever-growing list of enemies. His personal life is full of issues as well, including a wife who has come to realise that she will need to look elsewhere for love and a romantic connection. Other characters make an impact on the story, though I was not as connected as I would have liked. The premise of the story was decent, though I felt the first half dragged and the second sped by too quickly for me to feel a decent connection to much of anything. I am not entirely sure if I will return for more, though I suspect Michael has a great deal to offer, even if I did not develop the needed connection to enjoy this reading experience. There was less legal intrigue than I might have hoped and it left me wanting much more. I may be in the minority here, but sometimes that’s a decent spot to inhabit, as I swim against the tide.

Kudos, Mr. Michael, for your efforts. Not entirely to my liking, though surely others may differ from my opinion.

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

13-Minute Murder: A BookShot, by James Patterson and Shan Serafin

Seven stars

Note: This is a review solely of this short story, not the collection of three BookShots found in the published work bearing the same name. Please search each of the other two stories individually, as they were read and reviewed previously, also independently.

It is always nice to curl up with a BookShot to pass an hour or so, watching James Patterson and his collaborator try to sell the reader on their latest short story, with limited space for character and plot development. In this piece, Patterson invites Shan Serafin to join him on a journey into he world of hit men. When Mike Ryan and his associate are given a hit, it could net a payout that allows them to hang up their guns and live an honourable life. They find themselves on the campus of Harvard University, plotting the takedown of the son of a Croatian mob boss. Weighing all the factors, Ryan gives the green light, but things go horrible backwards, forcing him to scramble and try to make sense of what’s going wrong. This spirals into a manhunt for the person who ordered the hit, something that will cause much bloodshed as the body count mounts. When things get personal, Ryan finds himself willing to risk it all to find answers he never thought important before. Racing around Boston, Mike Ryan will cross paths with some of the more ruthless men to get answers, risking life and limb with little regard for anyone. An interesting story that develops in short order, but is not as gripping as I would have liked. BookShot fans may like this one, though the collaboration is far from Patterson’s best work.

I find myself drawn to BookShots, more because they are quick to digest than their stellar writing or plot development. James Patterson can be hit or miss with them, as he tends to be with all his writing, leaving the reader unsure what to expect when they start. This was a strong mediocre piece, with some interesting character presentation and a somewhat plausible plot, but I had hoped for something more gripping, with the premise laid out before me. Mike Ryan has been in the business of killing people for over a decade and has it down to an art. He sketches out the kill, the escape, and the blow-back fairly well, developing a great plan while also promising his wife that he will make an honest man out of himself before long. When faced with this last kill, things go wrong and the reader can see how he handles the unknown, while rubbing elbows with mob men who have no heart when it comes to killing those who cross them. Other characters are peppered throughout the piece and they move the story in somewhat of a forward direction, though some of the grittiest characters lack the sharp edges one would expect. It could be the limited space or the need to limit the plot, but I was left wanting much more from many of these characters. The plot had possibilities, especially when dealing with the criminal underbelly, but there was an noticeable lack of grit and action, as Mike Ryan sought retribution and tried to make this final kill one that would mean something. Shan Serafin does well to complement the Patterson juggernaut, though I was not entirely sold on their collaborative effort.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Serafin, for a decent output. I can see a lot of potential between you two, though I was not sold on the end product here.

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

When No One is Watching, by Joseph Hayes

Seven stars

Joseph Hayes puts forth an interesting premise in his novel, which sees two men—once best friends—take drastically different paths after a horrible night. After winning a significant legal case, Blair Van Howe and Danny Moran are celebrating together, allowing the champagne and anything else to flow freely. It is at this party that Van Howe divulges that he plans to announce a run for Congress the following morning. On the ride home, Blair sits behind the wheel, while Danny is barely able to stay conscious, both highly intoxicated. A near miss on the road turns fatal when a family swerves and slams into a tree, eventually killing the driver. Panicked and with Danny unconscious, Blair checks in on the victims before fleeing the scene, knowing full well that this will ruin any political ambitions. With a history of drunken stupor, Danny is the perfect scapegoat for the accident and is left to face charges. Blair announces his candidacy and is swept away by the political machine, while Danny faces ruin and is subsumed by the guilt of tearing a family apart. Danny accepts guilt for everything, choosing to turn his life around after serving jail time, even though some who were investigating are unsure of the truthfulness of the narrative. Meanwhile, Blair’s meteoric rise to fame continues until he has his eyes set on the White House. A sure winner, it is only a matter of time before ‘President Van Howe’ will be elected, though begins making noise about the accident and what may really have happened. Two men, one night, a brutal crime. One has served the punishment, but will the real criminal ever be brought to justice? Hayes leaves the reader wondering in this thriller that evolves over a decade. A decent quick read for those who like novels where all is known, it is just a matter of getting from A to B.

I have read a few of Hayes’ books over the last while and enjoyed them all. The characters push the story in some interesting directions, forcing the reader to live through their lives in order to get to the root of the plot. While Blair Van Howe and Danny Moran open the novel as the purported protagonists, it is Moran who takes the lead. The reader is able to see his spiral down after a single night of drinking, where rock bottom has cost him everything. Saved by the help of AA, Moran is able to put the pieces of his life together, though he never forgets the pain he caused one family. Still, he has shouldered the blame for it all, not thinking twice about his former best friend, Blair. Hayes creates a soft and sweet character here, perhaps the vessel that all things can be right if you find yourself and something on which to connect, in this case, AA. Meanwhile, Blair rides success from a run for Congress, a gubernatorial race, and then sets his eyes on the one place every politician dreams of finding themselves, the White House. However, as clean a life as he has been known to have, that one secret in his closet may be come out at the worst possible time. He seems detached from it all, ready to let others clean up the mess and hope for the best. His rise is literally handed to him over a number of pages, with no development, leaving the reader cheated of what could and should have been wonderful development. Others grace the pages of this book and provide the reader with a decent push forward, though there is nothing that will prepare them for the final handful of chapters in the book, when things get real, while still lacking the needed grit with the fodder Hayes has in waiting. The novel has a great premise and decent delivery, but there was so much time spend on Danny ‘finding himself’ and so little on developing the Blair rise to power, something was missing, as if the political aspect was tacked-on later to give it more pizzazz, but was not polished properly. If it had to be done in a single book, there needed to be more meat throughout, as this one seemed to meander for a bit, push forward a number of years, and then slowly develop some grit with too few chapters to really make sense of it all. Hayes does well, but it lacked the knockout I know he can deliver. A decent read for a beach day or when the rains keep the curious reader inside.

Kudos, Mr. Hayes, for a great novel. It needed just a little more teeth to make this novel sensation.

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

The Ripper Secret, by James Becker

Seven stars

Popular author James Becker (one of his many pseudonyms) brings readers an interesting take on the Jack the Ripper murders, injecting his own speculation into this piece of fiction. While traveling through Jerusalem in 1870, Charles Warren comes upon a spectacular find that will surely flourish in the right company. However, this menorah is anything but an innocent artefact, particularly when another man, Alexei Pedachenko, had hoped to take it for himself. Fast-forward to the streets of London in 1888, where Pedachenko has been able to catch up to Warren, who is now a commissioner with the Metropolitan Police. Rather than simply ask for the menorah, Pedachenko wishes to create havoc for the man who caused him such distress. After reading about the murder of a prostitute on the streets of Whitechapel, Pedachenko devises a plan that will not only get him the sacred menorah, but also push Warren out of his job. While penning notes to Warren under an alias, Pedachenko shows that he is serious, by killing women in the dead of night and leaving mocking notes. Warren is aware what is going on, but refuses o budge. As the spring turns to summer, the bodies continue and Warren is racked with guilt, but still unable to find it within himself to cede the treasured find. Pedachenko is happy to let the blood flow under the guise of Jack the Ripper, masking his crimes with all sorts of errant clues, all in the hopes of pushing Warren to the brink. It will be a game of cat and mouse, though Pedachenko shows no hint at ending his spree and Warren must decide how to retaliate. An interesting bit of fiction, which allows Becker to entertain rather than solely educate. Those who want a quick read may enjoy this book for its entertainment value.

Unsolved crimes are always fun to think about and James Becker has added a little fuel to the fire. While neither purporting to have evidence about Jack the Ripper, nor wanting to discount much of the history that has been created, Becker develops this piece of fiction to suit his own needs and entertain the reader in equal measure. Charles Warren is a decent character, a man whose stubbornness and cowardice fuel a string of murders throughout 1888. While he watches London go mad with worry, he sits on the one thing that could stop the killings, waiting this murderer out while investigating through official channels. Alexei Pedachenko is a much more interesting character, seemingly fuelled by the desire for a sacred item and yet turning to murder to get it for himself. Both men offer an interesting push and pull, keeping the story moving without being all that sensational in their own right. The story was decent and full of what one presumes are factual bits of information about the killings. Becker has done well to educate the reader as they make their way through the story. That being said, I was a little put off that the idea of the Jack the Ripper murders surrounded a menorah and that revenge was the sole rationale behind it all, though I suppose stranger things have come to pass when it comes to motives. While surely not one of Becker’s stronger novels, it was a quick read and allowed me to fill some time between more stimulating undertakings.

Kudos, Mr. Becker, for a decent book that educates and entertains. I may have to look into another of your ‘alternate history’ stories, though might wait a bit before getting too committed to that idea.

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

Death in Shanghai-La, by Yigal Zur

Seven stars

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

Approached by Yigal Zur to read this thriller, I jumped at the opportunity to expand my horizons. Set in both Israel and India, the story encompasses both cultures intensely, giving the reader a literary smorgasbord on which to feast. Dotan Naor enjoys life in Israel, running a somewhat profitable business returning individuals who have been displaced against their will. When he is approached by a long-time friend, Naor agrees to help, though his latest target is less than eager to make the journey back from India. As the story progresses, Naor returns from India, though he’s hit a snag when the target is incarcerated for trying to traffic drugs. Just as he gets settled, Naor is informed that a friend has been found in India, decapitated at the hands of a band of terrorists. It would seem that there are a few cases of Israelis being killed by this roving group of rogues. As emotionally attached as Dotan Noar feels, he refuses to return to India—a place about which he knows a great deal—happy to have two feet planted on Israeli soil. However, the story has been garnering a great deal of press and Naor is convinced to travel across the world to get answers. Armed with his journalist, Naor travels to the rural part of the country, crossing into the contested zone between India and Pakistan. Seeking answers, Naor finds himself in Kashmir, trying to understand the struggles and what might have fuelled a ferocious attack on his friend. Working through the cultural differences in a far-away land, Dotan Naor will try to bring answers home without becoming an Israeli statistic, if he can help it. An interesting thriller that seeks to open the reader’s mind, Yigal Zur has done a decent job. While this novel did not resonate fully with me, I can see the allure for others.

I always enjoy opening my mind to new authors and cultures, particularly when the story pulls me in from the outset. While I cannot say I am fully sold, the thrills were high and the banter such that many will surely find much to enjoy in Zur’s work. Dotan Naor proves to be an interesting character, whose experiences helping those in need shapes both his personality and development as a character. The reader will be able to find something of interest as they seek to better understand this man in both his natural and adopted environs. The other characters that surround him prop Naor up and fleshes out the nuances in his character. The story proves decent, serving to introduce the reader to the wonders of India, as well as the intricacies of the local political situation. Zur draws on both the caste situation in India and the religious clashes with Pakistan’s large Muslim population, both of which help to add additional flavour to the narrative. The thrills occur throughout, with a murder investigation in full swing. The reader is pulled into the middle of it all with this high-impact story. I did find myself less than fully enthralled, but it could just be me having an off day. I suspect that others will enjoy this novel, brief and full of action, even if I had my own difficulties.

Kudos, Mr. Zur, for this interesting novel that spans two very different cultures.

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

Crashing Heat (Nikki Heat #10), by Richard Castle

Seven stars

In the latest instalment of the Nikki Heat series, Richard Castle continues to weave interesting tales about his two protagonists, while peppering the narrative with an entertaining mystery. Still enjoying married life, NYPD Captain Nikki Heat and Jameson Rook are at an awards ceremony, though they itch to find a private place to ‘express their love’. After Rook wins another award for his gritty journalism, he and Heat must come to terms with the fact that he will be leaving for upstate New York on a teaching assignment for a semester. Before they can lament this, burgeoning journalism student Chloe Masterson comes to express excitement that he will be one of her academic and journalistic mentors in the coming weeks. Loving the attention, Rook promises to touch base with her while he is there, glad to have a fan hanging on his every word. After Heat and her team get a case, Rook agrees to stay in touch, making his way out of town. Heat is surprised to hear from him so soon afterwards, though it is anything but good news. Rook appears to have come into contact with local law enforcement, after young Chloe’s naked body showed up in his bed, murdered. Heat drops everything and heads to help her husband, not asking the obvious question that burns in her mind. When Heat arrives at the local precinct, there is quite the surprise awaiting her, one that will stretch the understanding she and Rook have with one another. Bound and determined to clear Rook’s name, Heat begins working with the locals to uncover what Chloe Masterson may have been investigating and how Rook could possibly be involved. In a case that will take Rook back to his student days, Heat must find a way to explain what’s happened to the victim and exonerate her husband, while also trying to see if their relationship is as strong as she thought. Sometimes the greatest secrets reveal much about a person, as Rook and Chloe know all too well. Corny at times in its delivery, this is a decent addition to the Heat series, one Castle has been building over the last number of years. Recommended for those who want a quick read in the mystery genre, as well as fans of the series.

There is the old adage that one should never compare books to their cinematic interpretations. The same can be said about books and their respective television shows. I was a fan of the Castle program when it aired, waiting for a new book to drop each season to see how it tied into the storyline. However, I became a little startled about just how corny and cheesy the books became, particularly as the love interests of the books’ protagonists paralleled those on the show. Stepping back, I can see that these books are pure entertainment and that tying myself up in knots can only serve to annoy me, rather than allow me to fully enjoy what is going on. Nikki Heat has climbed the NYPD ladder for the past number of books, having secured a spot as captain. Her ascent has been well documented and based on courage and merit, something that she brings to work on a daily basis. Her abilities are great, though she could not do it without the help of her author sidekick and husband, Jameson Rook. Turning to the affable and punny Rook, there is something about his worldliness that helps solve cases, though he is able to grate on the reader’s nerves without trying. Rook seeks to show just how in touch he is with things, even when he is the one in the hot seat. The handful of other regulars almost take a backseat in this one, particularly because the central case is out of NYC. Still, Castle peppers the story with some interesting one-offs, none more than someone from Heat’s long-ago past. The reader may enjoy some of the banter that ensues, though it barely covers some of the cheesy dialogue that serves to help ensure one’s eyes are still able to roll upwards. The idea for the book was decent, offering something for the reader to enjoy, though the stories do not lend themselves to being blockbusters. A good read, as long as the reader knows what they are getting themselves into. Perfect for beach or travel reading, with just a touch of audible sighing.

Kudos, Mr. Castle, for a great addition to your series. It served the purpose I hoped it would and for that I am ever grateful.

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

The Vatican’s Last Secret, by Francis Joseph Smith

Six stars

With this historical thriller, Francis Joseph Smith pulls the reader into the middle of a dramatic plot that melds the Nazis with key figures within the Vatican during the waning days of the Second World War. With the end of the War all but done, a group of key Nazis load up as much of their riches as possible. Travelling off the Allies’ radar, a long procession of train cars seek to make it to safety, with the riches out of the hands of the victors. When the Allies catch up to the cache, some of it is missing and the presumptive claim is that the Vatican is holding onto it, something the Holy See denies, but never substantiates. Moving to the present day, an elderly former Nazi tells his son of another hidden cache that sits in rural Germany and should be collected before others note its whereabouts. Soon thereafter, two men begin the trek to find it, while higher-ups in the Vatican also seek to get their hands on the riches, while remaining coy about their interest. In a story that flashes back to wartime Europe, the narrative shows that someone within the Vatican wants to silence any chance of a smear campaign, while also amassing additional riches for its own coffers. Blood shed at the hand of protecting the Holy See may be fully justified by some, but the secrets being protected could never be publicly understood or accepted. The race is on to find this last collection of riches and to uncover the Vatican’s darkest secret tied to the Second World War. An interesting piece with a strong premise, but whose momentum dwindled at times. Those who like thrillers and can handle highly tangential storylines, this book may be for you.

The cover and premise of the book caught me from the outset, though I will admit that the deeper I got into the book, the less enthralled I became. There are many subplots to keep the narrative moving forward, though they get muddled and diluted with all the action. In a story that is so long, one must hope the author can keep building the momentum, rather than have it inch along that the aforementioned train cars full of riches. The variety of characters add some flavour to the story, though there was an obvious need for a tighter connection between reader and characters on the page, which may have helped propel the story forward. The historical premise was quite interesting, particularly the race to uncover (or cover-up) the truth about the riches and the Vatican’s connection, but things just lasted too long. Smith does well to splice in current and flashback chapters, which substantiate the narrative foundation, but I became lost after a time and simply sought a resolution. What could have been a stellar thriller that left readers wondering just how much Vatican officials would deny turned a little lugubrious and needed a kick in the literary posterior. Then again, maybe it’s just me… but other reviews will shed light on it.

Kudos, Mr. Smith, for a valiant effort. I wonder if the story could/should have been split into a duology or trilogy… or editors done better work tightening it up. Premise was there and I could surely see potential.

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

Mind Games, by William Deverell

Seven stars

Returning to another William Deverell novel early in my 2019 Reading Challenge, I turned to one that has been collecting virtual dust for a while. Deverell’s novels can be hit or miss, depending on the reader’s engagement with the characters and story. In this piece, Dr. Timothy Dare finds himself visiting fellow psychiatrist Dr. Allison Epstein, filled with a number of issues that could use the detached analysis of an established therapist. Dare brings these issues to the therapeutic couch, including an impending hearing on professional conduct, a patient who is likely a serial killer, and Dare’s own relationship struggles. Throughout the novel, Epstein opens each chapter with some session notes and excerpts from the conversation before the narrative switches to Dare recounting, in detail, the happenings that fuel the discussion. The reader can see the ongoing struggles that Dare has with his fiancée and how an attractive patient plays on this, soon pushing him to the brink and turning a spurned seduction of her therapist into Dare having used his power to persuade her into a tryst. At the same time, Dare and Epstein appear to be forging a platonic bond, one that could have troubling fallout the further things spin out of control for the beleaguered Dr. Dare. As the intensity ramps up, the reader is subjected to many troubling revelations in a story whose ending builds in intensity. Deverell does well with this piece, whose mind games are plentiful, for reader and character alike!

I have come to realise that when I begin something by William Deverell, I am never sure where it will take me, or if I will find myself committed to the cause. This novel steers away from legal matters, for the most part, keeping those readers who revel in Deverell’s masterful presentation of Canadian law from becoming too excited. Rather, focus remains with Drs. Dare and Epstein, both sifting through the detritus of the former’s life choices. Dare bears all and shows the writer that his life is anything but smooth sailing, learning much in therapy as he tries to glue the pieces back together. Epstein appears to be the bystander, forced to sit through her patient’s narcissism as he deflects many of his poor life choices. Some of the other characters who grace the pages serve as narrative vessels to push the story along, much needed in this psychological piece that has some coming of age alongside self-discovery. Deverell does well trying to weave a patchwork of ideas and vignettes together to create a cohesive novel, though I do wish it had been one where the courtroom was the primary setting, not a therapist’s office. Still, as with all Deverell books, the name of the game is thinking and piecing it all nicely together.

Kudos, Mr. Deverell, for your hard work and dedication to the cause. I do enjoy novels that force me to think a little, though the mind games here may have been a bit much so early in the reading year.

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

High Crimes, by William Deverell

Seven stars

With 2018 coming to a close, I chose to try one final William Deverell novel. With his vast knowledge of the Canadian legal system and experience with clients involved in many criminal activities, Deverell brings a unique realism to his writing, though asserts that it is all fiction. In this piece, the story opens in a Newfoundland courtroom, where a wily lawyer has been able to turn the tables and help his client elude conviction. Thereafter, there are whispers by drug trafficking kingpin Peter Kerrivan of a plan to bring a new and highly potent form of marijuana into Canada, directly under the noses of both local and American officials. Gathering a small group of diligent workers, Kerrivan is able to facilitate a trip to Columbia to check out the product, literally tons of ‘female bud’ marijuana. From there, it will have to makes its way up the coast and back through Newfoundland, where distribution is sure to garner hundreds of millions of dollars, should all go right. However, RCMP and DEA officials have been tipped off, but must play their cards right, in order to ensure the law is on their side when they intercept the drugs before arriving in Newfoundland. If that were not enough, lawyers await to tie government officials in knots and possibly keep anyone involved out of prison. It’s an adventure on the high seas that no one could have predicted. Deverell does well to keep the reader hooked throughout this novel, which finds new and exciting ways to tell a story of dealing, trafficking, and using in 1980s North America. Some who are familiar and enjoy Deverell’s writing may enjoy this one, though it is written in his highly dense style, which is sure not to appeal to all readers.

As Canada has recently legalised cannabis use by its citizens, there are some interesting aspects to this novel that make it a worthwhile read. However, very little of Deverell’s premise involves personal use of the product, but rather massive shipments through numerous borders, all while eluding authorities during America’s War on Drugs. Deverell fills the pages with information, drug-use, and legal meanderings to give the reader interesting angles on the entire business of the drug trade. While there could surely be called a few protagonists, many of the key players melded together for me, leaving a general group of ‘drug runners’ who seek to make their millions by taking a sizeable gamble. These include one fellow whose personally recorded journal is placed within the pages of various chapters. The story is strong and its ideas are quite interesting. That said, I am not sure I was ready for as dense a read as Deverell offered, as I was sifting through the narrative and trying to extract precisely what themes were being presented. However, the story flowed well and kept my attention, educating and entertaining me in equal measure. While not my favourite piece, I am happy to have given Deverell another chance to impress me in the final days of this year!

Kudos, Mr. Deverell, for another interesting novel. I love how you make me think while I read, even if my brain is not always able to compute what you want the reader to understand in short order.

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

The Case Against Impeaching Trump, by Alan M. Dershowitz

Seven stars

Having read a great deal about recent topics surrounding presidential impeachment, I thought it appropriate to explore a little more about sentiments against the constitutional removal of President Trump. There are surely many Trump supporters who oppose impeachment talk, even those not employed by Fox and Friends. However, I sought something with more teeth and legally grounded. Enter, Alan Dershowitz, who makes strong and repeated assertions that talk of impeachment is not only premature, but also legally unfounded. Dershowitz presents arguments that he makes clear to the reader that he’s held for over fifty years and offers them repeatedly throughout this tome. Interestingly enough, I have read many of the texts Dershowitz hopes to debunk with his arguments, citing that these legal scholars and academics suffer from tunnel vision and could not support their assertions if the ‘shoe were on the other foot’, one of his tests to credibility. Dershowitz, an admitted civil libertarian, extols the necessity that impeachment and bringing criminal charges against opponents should not be a club to remedy ideological differences. Dershowitz also spends much time trying to erode the entire current impeachment process as being anything but supported by law. He cites strong concern about the hiring of a special prosecutor to undertake investigations into all the alleged activities that fuel the calls for impeachment, explaining that bias has rotted the core of the exploratory system. With a less than stellar Robert Mueller, an Attorney-General in Jeff Sessions who tried to play two roles, and members of Congress who are fixated on loose claims, Dershowitz goes almost so far as to call the entire process a sham. Narrow interpretation of the US Constitution is another area where Dershowitz tries tirelessly to nullify the need for considering Trump’s actions as worthy of impeachment. A firm believer of literal interpretation of the Founders’ words, Dershowitz cannot see where Trump has done anything to contravene the limits set out by those who created the political rulebook for the United States. The repetitive nature of Dershowitz’s arguments leaves the reader to wonder why he needs to constantly provide an air of self-aggrandizement, as though others could never contribute as effectively. Dershowitz shows why he is the ideal criminal defence attorney, pushing smoke into the eyes of the layperson while concocting bouts of browbeating to confound someone who simply wants some basic arguments to offset much of what is being said in print and on television. Dershowitz is to be applauded for holding firm to his ground, but makes few arguments that come across as substantial without being condescending. An interesting read for those who can comprehend his complex and highly academic views, though sure to miss the mark for many other readers.

I admit that my impeachment binge may have been one-sided, though I did learn quite a bit from the constitutional and legal areas of the matter at hand, which have helped shape my opinions. However, while I respect some of the sentiments made by Dershowitz, his approach seems to be very troubling or extremely narrow-minded. While there are some who assert that the US Constitution lays out rules that must be followed and we cannot stray from them, I have always been a ‘Living Tree’ believer, that laws, even of a constitutional nature, must grow with the society they oversee. I always marvelled at how former Justice Scalia could make rulings based on the Founding Fathers original intent without taking modernity into account, but he seemed to do so effectively. Dershowitz takes that same approach in that he tries to tie the reader into knots about believing those who call for impeachment without clearly defined reasons in the Constitution. Taking this approach not only confounds those who seek to have modern discussions, but also closes the door on having an evolving exploration, when one mind is stuck in the late 18th century. Additionally, Dershowitz offers up a rebuttal of those who speak of collusion or obstruction, refusing to see anything in federal statutes that supports claims. Again, he is happy to parse the laws to his literal favour, rather than allowing his mind to expand and work in the modern exploration of a living constitutional document. Infuriating as it is, this pales in comparison to his oft-repeated sentiment that he is the sole legal mind who has held firm and would sat the same things no matter who was being slandered. This self-aggrandizement does little to warm the reader up to his arguments, as they are forced to watch Dershowitz pat himself on the back, yet continue to call himself entirely neutral. This is likely because this text is a set of short essays published over a short time, in which Dershowitz repeats his key arguments. While this could be used effectively, the reader forced to hear that same arguments (i.e. shoe on the other foot) over and over, things quickly become mundane. I had truly hoped for some strong arguments refuting the sentiments made by the other side, but was subjected to inane arguments that chose more to mock others for being too invested rather than provide counter-claims that could sway arguments. For all this intelligence and the stellar work he has done in criminal defence, Dershowitz seeks not to help the common American turn their opinions, but wants to blather on in law school classrooms and in the clouds with those academics who can handle his banter.

Kudos, Mr. Dershowitz, for your long-winded arguments. If mockery and tying the reader in knots is your attempt to confuse people into agreeing with you simply to stop the circular arguments, you have succeeded. Heaven forbid that you change your mind and agree to help Trump on the Senate floor with the impeachment trial, for that could be as brain-numbing as watching them shampoo the carpets ahead of the trial itself.

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

Dear Madam President: An Open Letter to the Women who will Rule the World, by Jennifer Palmieri

Seven stars

The 2016 US Presidential Election is that indelible mark that will likely be commented upon far past the next such event. Historians are happy to watch the ‘players’ bandy their own theories about for the time being. Jennifer Palmieri, a senior member of the Clinton Campaign, pens this short piece in the guise of writing a letter to the future first female President of the United States. In fact, it is her own mini-memoir and soapbox statement about the campaign, the issues, and her involvement in the political process. She explores how this fictitious first female POTUS will have to embrace her difference from all past holders of the office, rather than try to downplay it. She speaks of how said POTUS will have to rise above the fray and face verbal bullets along the way, as well as some of the poisonous attacks that Clinton took from the Trump fans. This elusive POTUS will also have to strive to be better and look back on what came before her, seeking to better the institution and the country, while staying true to herself and her family. Overall, Palmieri needed a place to vent her frustrations about being so close and so far from being able to pen this letter to her own boss after 2016. A decent account of personal stories and sentiments, though by now the entire process has been so over-examined that without something new to offer, the narrative blends in to all the other pieces that fill bookstore shelves.

I will be the first to admit that I was not pleased with the end result of the 2016 US presidential election, for more reasons than one. However, I have read many of the books on the subject, from both academics and laypeople, campaign staffers and candidates, which has given me some detailed—and exhausted—insight into the process and the end result that November night. In the end, there are reasons that things turned out a certain way, some of which are being investigated at present. However, there seems to be only so much that can be said and so many ways to blame a fool. We must look forward to heal and while Palmieri wants to, she’s still wrapped up in some regurgitation that does little to move the discussion forward. Developing a book about an open letter to a future presidential election winner is good, though the true content of this piece is less about the uplifting newness of the process and a way to bitch about why Clinton could not hold that role. It’s ok, bitterness is likely still concentrated in the veins of the campaign workers, but they will need to shake some of it off and look to 2020, when there is a new chance to slay an old dragon. Palmieri has some interesting perspectives, having worked with some strong-willed characters in the realm of US politics. But, these are used as anecdotes to create a mini-memoir about her own life, rather than constructive ideas for a yet to be identified winner of a presidential election who will go where Clinton could not in 2016. May that woman be great and intelligent, as well as keen to govern, but may she also not sit around and kick the can about lost opportunities forever.

Kudos, Madam Palmieri, for a decent insight into your life and experiences. A brief read, so the experience is not overly time consuming or troublesome. You communicated well with the time given to examine the subject matter.

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

Stolen Lives (Danny Sanchez #2), by Matthew Pritchard

Seven stars

After recently completing Matthew Pritchard’s series debut, I was left underwhelmed. I vowed to give this second book a try to see if it had that missing piece, some form of momentum. Danny Sanchez is back, steno pad in hand. He’s come to the local landfill to cover the story of a body discovered in the piles of refuse. There is a missing woman who fits the loose description and in a community where flashy news is scarce, this is sure to make some waves. Sanchez begins poking around into the life of Teresa del Hoyo, who has been anything but a model citizen in this strongly-Catholic community. A wild child in her youth, Teresa joined the Reds (communists) and has been speaking out against the Church ever since. As Sanchez takes some time to connect with his own mother, he learns a little more about the Spanish Civil War, remembering stories about its divisiveness and the destruction by the Franco nationalists. When a local cemetery begins having its headstones destroyed, Sanchez draws parallels to Teresa del Hoyo’s personal campaign to reveal something that has been covered up for too long. He discovers that the graves are all of babies born in a local clinic, many who were stillborn. The mystery only thickens from there, as it would seem that Teresa’s killer may have ties to a sect of the Catholic Church established to root out those whose message is anything but laudatory. However, the more Sanchez discovers, the more he reveals in print, making him a potential target. Could he know enough that his silence is the only way to stop the questions? Pritchard does well to drum up some interesting historic themes, though I am still not entirely convinced. Readers should give at least one of the two books a try and decide for themselves. They can serve as standalone works, making either a decent test subject.

The premise for this novel was as strong as the debut piece, with well-developed writing, but I felt the delivery was again lacking something. Danny Sanchez remains an interesting character the reader can enjoy, particularly as he shows a little more grit and journalistic determination. While he appears to be hot on the trail of the victim’s backstory and how it might tie into a mysterious killer, Sanchez proves somewhat lacking in his presence throughout the chapters of the book. Pritchard does tip his hand and offer a little Sanchez family history while discussing Spain’s move into a fascist state after the Second World War, though I would have liked more. Danny Sanchez needs more depth and while some could argue the book was too short to offer it, I ask, why not take the time? Others in the story helps push the plot lines along well, from Spain’s political history, strong Catholic connection, and the role the Church played in indoctrinating young people at a fragile time. While there were shortfalls, Pritchard’s writing did leave me wanting to know more about some of the historical aspects, which is definitely a plus. Pritchard story idea was sound and I suspect there will be many who love it completely. I am not sure if I want to take the Danny Sanchez experience one novel further, but I may return to complete the series to date in 2019. For now, I will let those who love the book offer their own forms of praise.

Kudos, Mr. Pritchard, for another decent attempt. I’ll wait and see if I am moved to read more, but I am sure others have helped create a strong fan base.

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

Scarecrow (Danny Sanchez #1), by Matthew Pritchard

Seven stars

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

When the publisher asked me to read this piece, I was taken in by the description provided on the dust jacket. Anything with a serial killer element is sure to bring chills up the spine and keep the reader connected throughout the journey. Danny Sanchez is a reporter for a small newspaper in a British retirement community in Spain. While covering an article about homes being torn down, Sanchez is shocked to discover that there is a body in the wall of one such residence. What makes it even more gruesome is that the body has been emasculated and obviously left for a period of time. After another body is found in a similar state, Sanchez notices the additional clue of face paint on the victim, which triggers something in his memory. Fifteen years before, Sanchez was working in the U.K., where a serial killer was stalking his victims and leaving them with face paint, as well as slashed genitalia. Sanchez returns to the U.K., where he knows the killer has been institutionalized. Might there have been a copycat killer, or could The Scarecrow have had an accomplice during the slayings? The closer Sanchez gets to answers, the more people distance themselves from him. Danny Sanchez refuses to stop until he gets to the bottom of this, even if it means uncovering a network of serial killers working in concert. The trouble is, without knowing how many there are, will impossible to tell just how to stop the body count from growing. Readers can expect some decent writing in this piece, though I am not entirely sure I found the chilling depictions I sought.

After reading this piece, I’ve come to discover that the premise for this novel was strong, its writing well-developed, but the delivery lacked a little something. Writing in this genre needs something edgy and sharp, though Pritchard has given readers some work with rounded edges. The gore and the mystery were well-paced, but I needed something that would keep me up well into the night and create worry about the bumps in the night. Danny Sanchez is an interesting character the reader can enjoy in their own way. His gritty journalism background is apparent throughout, as is his determination to get to the bottom of each lead he uncovers. While he appears to be hot on the trail of this mysterious killer, Sanchez cannot crack things wide open or place himself in a position that keeps the reader chilled and guessing. Others in the story offer place sittings to keep the story moving, though I am not entirely enthralled with many of those who grace the various chapters of the story. I will admit that Pritchard had a decent story idea and some great threads on which to build a darker and more ominous story, though it missed the mark. The hunt may have been on, but it was as though everything was discovered in light and sunny weather. I hoped for chills and can only hope that Pritchard’s debut novel was jitters and that he has a lot more in him for the next novel in this series. I’ll give that one a try and hope for the best, as everyone with potential deserves a second chance.

Kudos, Mr. Pritchard, for the attempt, but I really hope there’s more to come. Delivery is essential in the genre and I am eager to see if you have it in you.

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

Needles, by William Deverell

Seven stars

William Deverell has a knack for dazzling fans with his unique writing style, tackling the Canadian legal system as only he appears able to do. Drawing on decades of experience, Deverell’s fiction has a great flavour of truth that cannot be discounted by the attentive reader. Here is his debut novel, which first appeared in 1979 and won some significant awards. Drug addicts in Vancouver have long been trying to find the ‘next new hit’ to awaken them to the glories of that lasting high. When a cartel based in Hong Kong sends a senior member to Canada’s West Coast, they hope to open a shipping line to bring White Lady heroin to the streets and find a large and hungry clientele. Leading the cartel’s Canadian network is one Au P’eng Wei, nicknamed ‘Dr. Au’, who brings a ruthless nature to the drug trade as he seeks to make copious amounts of money. Those who cross Dr. Au are sure the face the consequences of his medical training, as one Jim Fat learned the hard way. When Fat’s body is discovered, Au is fingered as the likely suspect, though it is hard to get anyone to speak out against him. Scrambling to prosecute, Vancouver’s senior Crown attorney turns to Foster Cobb, whose legal abilities seem somewhat questionable. Cobb is not only an attorney whose shingle is rusting, but he has a heroin addiction all his own, chasing it down dark hallways just to stay level. As Cobb begins to cobble together a prosecution, he discovers that Dr. Au is not one who will be easily convicted. With a wife who has all but checked out of the marriage and a second-chair who wants into his legal briefs—we’re not talking about arguments to the judge, here—Cobb must risk it all to find justice while trying to slay his own closet full of dragons as well. Deverell delivers a powerful story embedded in his complex writing style. Those who are fans of the author will likely find something worthwhile here, though I caution the reader new to Deverell’s work to begin with something a bit more grounded before making a decision.

Many will know that I discovered William Deverell when binge reading his Canadian legal series last spring/summer, where I was able to meet the sensational Arthur Beauchamp. From there, I agreed to branch out and see just how great Deverell could be with his one-off novels. Some I found to be well grounded in legal arguments and societal norms of the day, while others appeared to miss their mark. This novel finds itself somewhere in the middle, as I could see a great deal of legal potential, though some of the periphery writing was not as crisp as I would have liked. I attribute at least some of this to Deverell’s early writing, which I have come to discover is a lot harder to digest with ease (though it all seems to have won many literary awards). Foster Cobb proves to be an interesting character, much like the early Beauchamp, who struggles with addiction and a marriage that is hanging by a thread. However, Cobb seems quite lacklustre in his legal workings and therefore his character does not compensate for the addiction that looms over him. I had hoped for a sensational courtroom display—a la Arthur Beauchamp—to balance the novel out, but it failed to materialize and the story dragged for me. While I love a good courtroom drama, Deverell served up something more tepid. Surely I am biased from all my reading of his past work, so I suppose I must take that into account. The other characters proved less than persuasive for me as well, offering up placeholders for the narrative in a legal thriller that lacked the thrill. Crooked cops, scared cartel members, a wife who is unplugged and close to useless… all names that crossed the page and proved to be stumbling blocks as I sought to finish the read in a timely manner. The story could have been sensational, though it lacked many of the elements that I hoped to find. This was Deverell’s debut novel and, admittedly, penned before many of the books to which I am comparing this work. I have seen Deverell hone his skills and so I will give this one its due and not harp on it any longer.

Kudos, Mr. Deverell, for another interesting piece. It is sometimes hard for a reader to go back and not judge more recent (read: refined) works against it. The premise was there and yet the delivery needed something else.

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

The Battle for England: Women at War in Medieval England, by Austin Hernon

Seven stars

I was asked by the publisher if I might be interested in reading and reviewing this series debut by Austin Hernon. With little foreknowledge of the topic, though a strong passion for all things political, I thought that it would be a wonderful experience to expand my horizons. The Magna Carta is surely one of the foundational documents in all of history, exploring the codification of laws, thereby making them easier to enforce. The signing of the Magna Carta was to have brought peace to the land, though England is in total disarray in the early thirteenth century. King John is on the Throne, but has lost large swaths of land, both in England and France. He has been excommunicated by a pope who seeks to control all under a Catholic Church that remains a force the world over. The English themselves have seen the country turn on itself and they seek a leader; one who will not shirk responsibility. Throughout all this, there are two women holding down their respective fortresses for the King: Nicholaa of Lincoln and Matilda of Laxton. Their hereditary holding of the position adds not only pride of country, but respectability of lineage to their position. Will they be able to hold firm, or will these women be pushed aside as England deteriorates more each day? An interesting premise and start to a series by Hernon. While I cannot say I was completely enthralled, I cannot fault him for his efforts.

I will be the first to admit that I am not always drawn by historical novels. I have my niches and usually stick to them, though I am willing to try something a little different to explore new and exciting periods in time. While some may say this makes me ineligible to properly review such a book, I feel I might be the perfect candidate, as the author’s responsibility to lure me in is even stronger. Hernon did not do so, though I do not feel it was because of poor writing or faulty character development. I simply am not interested in some of the goings-on during this time. As the reader learns a little more about Nicholaa and Matilda, they will discover that these women are by no means dainty and swooning. They are ready to kill a man if it means protecting their ancestral land and do so for the King. Hernon depicts them as strong-willed and powerful in their own ways, refusing to back down from a challenge. For those who read through the series, this will surely be an interesting development aspect and one that will be key as the narrative develops. Many of the others who surround these women have their own perspectives—as depicted in different chapters, when characters offer their bird’s eye view—and things come out in the narrative to help shape these men and women. Their presence here is not simply to move the story along, but to enrich the characters of Nicholaa and Matilda. The story seemed decent, though I was less than enthralled from the outset. Much on battle and little on politics, which left me wanting more. That said, this is not my area and so I entered this read looking for something that was not there. My fault, perhaps. Still, Hernon does well with his descriptions, narrative, and great banter in well-paced dialogue. I am sure there will be many who enjoy this piece, which will make it a gem for them. I am not one and will let the ‘experts’ continue on with the series!

Kudos, Mr. Hernon, for this enlightening piece, even if it fell short for me. I hope you find a large collection of fans for it, as it seems to be well constructed.

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

Bitching Bits of Bone, by Dr. Norman Mounter

Seven stars

When I received a message from Dr. Norman Mounter, seeking that I read his latest publication, I could not wait to discover what the author had penned or how I would feel about it. His premise was simple, yet somewhat complex at the same time. ‘What prompted Geoffrey Chaucer to write The Canterbury Tales? And what became of him afterwards?’ I will be the first to admit, I am no Chaucer fan, nor have I ever had the inclination to read the Canterbury Tales—I suppose I did not inherit those English teacher genes from my father—but I am usually open to something a little off the beaten path. Plus, with a title as scandalous as the one presented here, how could I refuse? Mounter reveals all in his fourteenth-century tale that explores some of the events that led Chaucer to come upon a number of individuals whose personal vignettes were worthy of addition into a larger poetic expression. There are both delights and horrors, some events so graphic that they will make your skin crawl, but all told in as realistic and detailed prose as one would likely have uncovered with the locals who had little interested in censoring their speech. Church and State prove not only to be intertwined, but make strange bedfellows, at times taking a young maiden along with them for a pox-filled night of glorious debauchery. Mounter brings the journey to Canterbury alive and provides Geoffrey Chaucer with more personal characteristics than are present in the classic piece of English literature. Most likely a stunning piece for those who love such things, though as an outsider, I felt as though I played my part and did not emerge contented. But, such be the nature of the beast at times.

One cannot always expect to love a book, especially if it is written from outside one’s zone of comfort. It does raise the question about whether someone with little interested in a topic beforehand ought to pen reviews of books, which may skew the sentiment and overall passion that others would feel for the piece. While I choose not to wade too deeply into the debate, I can admit that since the author sought me out, my voice should not be diluted. Additionally, there are times when books should be held to play a role other than to entertain, but also to lure the reader into the middle of its plot. This book did not do this for me, though I refuse to pan it entirely for that shortcoming. Mounter does offer up a wonderful story related to Geoffrey Chaucer and those he met during his foray through England. The details attributed to many of the characters kept me raising my eyebrows. I will admit that I could picture some of them as they developed, even if I was not entirely taken by their presence. From powerful clergymen to pox-filled whores, the vivid description, both in the narrative and through recounting dialogue help bring these folks to life in many ways. The story seemed sound and Mounter surely has researched the topic, as well as injected some of his own creative sentiments throughout. I can only hope that those who enjoyed Chaucer’s epic Canterbury Tales will find something interesting herein. I can say this for Mounter, if nothing else: he surely loves to find a way to use the title in the story proper, for it comes up in some form or another in most every part of the book. I have even found myself using it when speaking to others, creating a meaning to fit my need for its use. One might also say that Mounter is accurate in his depiction of the time period and those aspects of Chaucer’s journey, so there is that. Entertaining for some and riveting for others, though I find myself unable to admit to either aspect entirely.

Kudos, Dr. Mounter, for this interesting piece. I am pleaded to have said I tried, though will by no means feel as though I succeeded in wanting to know more about Chaucer or his misadventures!

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

Target: Alex Cross (Alex Cross #26), by James Patterson

Seven stars

In the craziness that is James Patterson’s massive collection of collaborative efforts, it is hard to find something that truly has the ‘Patterson flavour’ any longer. While he has shuffled many of his series and one-off novels to others, the Alex Cross novels remain solely his, allowing fans to see where he has taken his longest-serving protagonist over two decades. In this novel, Alex Cross and the rest of the country are stunned by the death of the President of the United States, an event that resonates, no matter one’s political leanings. As the country seeks to brush itself off, Washington is stunned by a new set of murders, including one of a sitting US senator. Alex is pulled in to work the case by the FBI, which forces him to keep his wife, Chief of Detectives Bree Stone, away from the action. As they work, the case seems somewhat open and shut, with a suspect all but pointing to where they committed the crime. Then, things take a definite turn. Multiple murders of several high-ranking officials lead Cross and the FBI to feel that there might be an international threat to the United States. It’s no longer a criminal they seek, but a country ready to do whatever it takes to weaken America. With nuclear weapons on hand, this could quickly escalate into a war from which no one will walk away unscathed. Patterson does well to amp up the action as Alex Cross continues to entertain, in his twenty-sixth novel. Recommended to series fans and those who want to ride the wave of international meddling in American affairs.

It is becoming harder for me to find myself hooked on James Patterson series of late. While I have come to really enjoy some of his long-running collections, they begin to get a little stale or outlive their run. Alex Cross has always been a stalwart for me, something on which I can rely. While the characters age, Alex never lets that dilute his work on crimes or his passion for family. Still, one must begin to wonder if there is a time and place to let him hang up the cuffs and enjoy those around him. I began to feel that way about this book, as things have become somewhat stagnant. The crime is surely out of this world—well, country—but I was left wondering if things simply have run out for Alex Cross and if he needs to let someone else take over. Cross is a remarkable man and his character is second to none, though I think it is not him that is so bothersome, but some of the corny interactions he has with patients and his own family that has me soured. Great kids, lovely wife, and a funny grandmother, but it’s just a little too hokey in the dialogue. I’d never want Patterson to wipe them out, for that his the Cross foundation and all that keeps him sane. Still, they tend to grate on my nerves, which spills over to creating an animosity for me as I read. The premise of the story is great and could really have worked well. I think it needed some more grit, something deeper and more intense. There are some wonderful political and criminal elements in the story that I would love to see in a series (or one-off) that can dedicate time to this sort of political thriller, but Patterson’s use of short chapters and hokey family sub-plots were not for me. An easy read and I will always keep Patterson around for that, but could it be that Alex Cross novels are falling victim to James Patterson Syndrome? Might they be selling for the name on the cover and not the quality of the writing? We can at least applaud him for a wonderful cliffhanger ending!

Kudos, Mr. Patterson, for keeping Alex Cross going. I know I can be tough, but I think it’s fair game when you are so established and basking in fortune

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

Famous Assassinations, by Sarah Herman

Seven stars

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

Sarah Herman seeks to explore the somewhat controversial side of death, particularly as it relates to those of some notoriety. Herman uses her introduction to explore the difference between simple—as if that word applies—murder and an act of assassination. Assassination includes the murder of a political or religious figure to negate some change being espoused, keeping the definition vague enough to include many figures in history. She also effectively argues that assassinations of key figures can be found throughout history, as far back as documents exist. Tracing not only the history of assassinations, but also offering a backstory on some of those she uses as examples, Herman shows that plots to kill for power can be found centuries before the Common Era, where Roman emperors were slain to make room for others who wanted their crowns. Other monarchs also found themselves at the wrong end of a sword’s blade, slain sometimes to stop their despotic power or to change the political and geographic unions that kept Europe together. Herman moves through to those who pushed political movements and sought to change things from the grassroots level. While not powerful in the traditional sense of politics, these groups sought to change results and their deaths may have been attempts to neutralise the ‘thorn in the side’ these men created. From Gandhi to Martin Luther King, Jr., those who sought to enact change came up against strong resistance and found themselves slain, becoming martyrs for their causes. Herman seeks to explore some interesting developments in the latter portion of the book by exploring presidential assassination, some of whom are better known than others. Looking at US presidents Lincoln and Kennedy, Herman explores their well-known slayings and makes some generic summaries of events surrounding their respective shootings, while also looking at assassination attempts that fell just short. Herman takes an all-encompassing look at assassination as a form of political and religious movement to effect change, arguing that it is by no means a new phenomenon. Interested readers can bask in the large number of cases Herman introduces and use this book as a springboard to more in-depth reading about those cases they find most intriguing.

I have always had an interest in assassinations, as they mix the need for power with the desire to better understand what led to such a dramatic reaction. Herman has done a fair bit of research to generate a large narrative of assassinations that pepper the history books, organising them into distinct categories. Her choice to offer the reader a small background of the victim and killer is furthered by a ‘lay of the land’ related to the events leading up to the tragic act and some of the fallout thereafter. From emperors to monarchs through to presidents and protestors, Herman argues that violent death does not discriminate, as long as it serves the purposes of someone with a plan. While Herman’s book offers a wonderful cross-section of assassinations, the reader should be clear that this is strictly a primer. Her descriptions, while great for those wanting a brief glimpse, is not all-encompassing. It serves only to whet the appetite for those readers wanting a thorough exploration of assassinations throughout history. Herman’s book serves its purpose, though skimming the surface on so many historical events leaves readers like myself feeling somewhat shortchanged. A decent primer shows that Herman knows her stuff and should be applauded for her effort in gathering up so many examples to prove her arguments.

Kudos, Madam Herman, for a nice introduction to the world of assassinations. I will look forward to finding more of your work in the coming months.

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

Wolfgang (Wolfgang Chronicles Book 1), by F.D. Gross

Seven stars

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

Having been asked by the writer to read through this book, I gladly took the opportunity to do so, waiting for the ‘ghoulish’ time to approach, when I would inundate myself with other tales of a similar nature. Lord Tenor Alvadine Wolfgang is a heroic vampire hunter like no other. Armed with all the tools of the trade, Wolfgang sets out to slay Lord Egleaseon, a powerful vampire. Completing the task, Wolfgang can only hope that peace has finally been established in the area. Fast-forward sixteen years and Wolfgang has started a family, including his lovely wife, Diana, and son, Dorian. When he returns from one of his missions, Wolfgang is stunned to see his house in flames and Diana clinging to life. Worst of all, Dorian is nowhere to be found, presumably kidnapped. Wolfgang sets out to locate his son, crossing paths with many ghoulish beings. With nothing to live for if Dorian cannot be saved, Wolfgang will stop at nothing and shed copious amounts of blood to track down the fiendish individual who captured his son. As he follows the path that may lead him towards Dorian, Wolfgang discovers a plot to deceive him that has been years in the making. With this knowledge, there are even fewer he can trust during his time of need. Gross does well to lay the groundwork for this series, sure to pique the interest of readers who enjoy vampires and their associated slayers.

I agreed to take the gamble and try this book, in hopes that it would prepare me for the season. While I admit that this is not a genre I read regularly, or really find a passionate connection to, Gross has done well painting a literary picture that is sure to keep those who love vampires keenly interested. Wolfgang appears to be one of those men who have the brains and brawn, particularly when it comes to slaying bloodsucking monsters. His love of killing seems only to be eclipsed by his passion for family, though that foundation is all but gone now. Using numerous tools at his disposal, Wolfgang sets out to rid the world of evil, one creature at a time, but his motivation is quite specific. How he will evolve in the novels to come remains to be seen, but Gross has much that he can do, given the time to develop this character. The other secondary characters serve a decent purpose, including the creatures he encounters on his mission, though I admit they held little interest for me. The plot is decent and the narrative pushes forward at a decent pace, even if I was not fully enthralled by the content. While the book was not up my alley, I can recognize great work and Gross surely has much to offer those who love a good vampire hunter. While no Stoker, he is surely an author to be noticed with a series worth the curious reader’s time.

Kudos, Mr. Gross, for an excellent effort. I may not rush out to continue the series, but I hope many will, enjoying each twist along the way!

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

Disaster Inc., by Caimh McDonnell

Six stars

My choice of Caimh McDonnell’s book was made in a somewhat blind manner. Choosing the book entirely based on its cover, I had no idea what to expect or how I would enjoy the piece. To say that the book was a surprise is an understatement, though it is perhaps this lack of knowledge that made the reading all the more adventurous. When Bunny McGarry walks into a rural diner, he has little idea what to expect. Besides being without tea—a shock that resonates throughout the piece—this small eatery is filled with an interesting cross-section of folks. The peaceful nature is shattered when two masked men enter and begin waving around their guns. While Bunny tries to diffuse the situation, these men are on a mission, which is derailed when Bunny takes things into his own hands. Fleeing before the cops can make their way to the scene, he is approached by one of the diners who is willing to aid in his escape. Amy Daniels admits that she was the one those men sought, having become tangled in their web not too long before. Amy holds a secret about them that could cause many issues and her life is likely in jeopardy in order to protect the men. While Bunny and Amy try to stay off the radar, there is fallout from the botched attack at the diner. The two men are part of an investment firm that has been helping a number of former government bureaucrats pad their retirement nest eggs in some less than savoury ways. Dubbing themselves Disaster Inc. they are being controlled by a woman who seeks to keep her secret from making it to the authorities, willing to expose and exterminate anyone in her way. In order to stay away from her potential captors, Amy agrees to help Bunny trace his whereabouts leading up to arriving at the diner, on one of his benders that saw his traipsing all across New York City. Amy’s eyes are opened to all the antics that Bunny McGarry can undertake in a single night, which serves only to distract her from her larger issues. An interesting story for some, but I could not find myself latching on, no matter what McDonnell had to offer. There are apparently other branch-off books in a parallel series, which may interest fans, but I think this is one surprise that is not sitting well with me.

The trouble with walking into a story blindly is that you never know what you’ll get. I have found some winners and a couple of real hot messes in my reading gambles. This one veers closer to the latter category for me, though I am sure others will lap it up and laud McDonnell’s work. I found that the Bunny McGarry character had some interesting Irish tendencies and his humour was top-notch, but I could not see myself overly drawn to what he did while meandering from A to B within the chapters of this book. His full backstory and development is likely better understood by latching onto the series McDonnell has written, but in this case, a drunk Irishman who has muscles and a decent brain did little for me. Amy Daniels was also one of those characters you either loved or hated. I suppose I can sit on the fence and feel tepid about her, though she’s one that made little impact on me. The others found their way into the story and served a purpose, but did little for me, as I begged for a strong narrative to capture my attention. I was not driven to utter literary frustration with the book, but just could not find anything exciting or stimulating to keep me attracted. I skimmed at times, seeking something, but found little that kept me wanting to thoroughly examine the plot as it developed. McDonnell can surely write and keep the story moving, but I found little of interest. Aptly titled, it was a disaster and one that I’ll remember. Blind reading can be troublesome, especially for someone who has such strong sentiments about the books I place before me. Still, it was an excellent way to push me out of my rigid reading rules. I’d do it again, though I am not sure I want to spend more time with Bunny McGarry and his band of merry drinkers.

Kudos, Mr. McDonnell, for what is surely a wonderful addition to your writing repertoire. I just could not find my niche in it.

This book fulfills Topic #2: Reading Blind in the Equinox #5 Reading Challenge. Thank you, Adrea Pierce, for the topic choice.

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

Snow: A Prequel Short Story (Inspector Porfiry Rostnikov #0.5), by Stuart M. Kaminsky

Seven stars

Needing a quick short story to tide me over, I chose Stuart M. Kaminsky’s prequel short story from the Inspector Porfiry Rostnikov series. Knowing nothing of these novels, I entered this piece without any preconceived notions. During a heavy Moscow snowfall, newly minted Officer Porfiry Petrovich Rostnikov and his superior are in search of a baby. Having visited a crime scene in a Moscow apartment, Rostnikov and Inspector Luminiov noticed a still-warm crib close to a recently murdered woman, leading them to believe that someone has a little one. With the snow close to blinding, Rostnikov and Luminiov locate a man atop another building, carrying what appears to be a bundle. Rostnikov uses his wit and gift of calm speech to bring the man’s defences down, if only to save the baby before something dire can take place. With Luminiov and a gathering crowd waiting, one can only hope that this new recruit has it in him to help the situation, not add to the body count of this winter night. An interesting story that, should I continue on with the series, will likely prove poignant in helping me build a larger understand of the character who will rise through the ranks of the Moscow Police Department. For now, a neutral recommendation, as the story was too short to really point me towards any particular group of readers.

I admit that I have not read any Kaminsky before this piece, which can sometimes be a good thing, keeping me from being influenced one way or the other. Interestingly enough, I could find no mention of this book on any sites (such as Goodreads), so I am at a loss to really understand if this was a lost story or one embedded into a larger collection of short pieces by many authors. All the same, Kaminsky does have a good grasp on how to lure the reader in and lays the groundwork for what looks to be an interesting series. Rostnikov may be a young officer, but he has a history, as yet not fully understood. His leg injury at the hands of a Nazi tank is likely one that has more play in another piece, but it does show his roughened exterior and ability to survive, making the most of what he has. The brevity of the story leaves little time for any other characters to shine during this snowfall, but the minute portions of character development on offer suits the story well. Meagre folks who remain nosy but not willing to help pepper the short piece and help shape part of the setting’s despair and lack of caring. The story itself is decent, though it almost seems as though Kaminsky needed somewhere for his long-standing protagonist to begin and chose this piece to flesh it all out. I am not sure if I’d rush out to binge this series, but I will surely keep it in mind when I am looking for something new and perhaps a little different from my usual reading fare.

Kudos, Mr. Kaminsky, for this interesting piece. It served the purpose I had (needing a short story) and has me slightly intrigued, but I am not dazzled just yet!

Love/hate the review? An ever-growing collection of others appears at:

https://pecheyponderings.wordpress.com/

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

True Fiction (Ian Ludlow Thrillers #1), by Lee Goldberg

Six stars

Needing a quick read, I turned to this series debut by Lee Goldberg, about which I have heard many good things. When an airplane crashes in Hawaii not long after take-off, the news outlets begin streaming coverage and countless people gasp in horror. However, thriller writer Ian Ludlow is not one of them. Hiding in his Seattle hotel while on a book tour, Ludlow knows that with this event, his life is in imminent danger. Coaxed out of hiding by his author escort, Margo French, Ludlow tells of how the CIA is trying to kill him after an authors’ retreat a few years before. At this event, Ludlow shared a potential plot idea that seems to have been replicated down to the smallest detail. Little does Ludlow know, it is not the CIA, per se, but Blackthorn Securities that has their eye on him and is responsible for the crash. Now it is up to Ludlow, with Margo by his side, to dodge Blackthorn as they zero-in on his location. What started as a fearful writer running for his life has become a high-stakes game of cat and mouse, with only one possible outcome. Fast-paced and with little time to synthesise the info, the reader is taken on this adventure as Goldberg tosses twists at every possible instance. Those who need a good beach read need look no further than Lee Goldberg’s new series.

This is my first time reading anything by Lee Goldberg, though it would seem he is well-established. He has a great ability to portray the ‘author writing about an author’ theme and not make it come across as corny, though does utilise the ‘cat and mouse’ thriller recipe well, injecting a little cheesiness when needed. Ian Ludlow (apparently Goldberg’s nom de plume?) is an interesting character, established in his writing capabilities yet always looking to stay relevant. His slightly geeky side mixes well with the fear of being caught by the giant bully and the story turns into his using some of the resources he has been able to cobble together as a writer over the years. The story progresses as he gains some courage, but the reader must also remember that some of the stereotypical ‘bad ass geek’ is on display here. Hokey at times, Ludlow does come across as somewhat enjoyable and I did find myself laughing while shaking my head on more than a single occasion. Margo French proves to be a nice counterbalance for Ludlow, as she has somehow been pulled into the middle of this adventure without wanting to be there. A dog-walker and amateur singer, French brings the sass and sarcasm to this party without becoming the helpless femme fatale. A handful of secondary characters flesh-out the wonders of this thriller novel, keeping the story edgy and propelling it towards what is sure to be a bloody conclusion. The story was by no means stellar, but it proved entertaining, which seems to be Goldberg’s goal, as he has written much for television and knows how to keep the audience enthralled. I’ll surely keep my eyes open for more of his work, though cannot rave about how wonderful I found the book or how it is likely some of the best reading I have done all year. Still, if you need something for a trip or lounging by the pool, Goldberg has just what you might want.

Kudos, Mr. Goldberg, for an interesting introduction to the series. I admit, I am intrigued and will see what else you have to offer.

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

Texas Ranger, by James Patterson and Aaron Bourelle

Six stars

In another of his endless collaborations, James Patterson has called on Aaron Bourelle to work alongside him on this standalone novel. Part murder mystery, part protagonist self-discovery, this piece takes the reader down to the heart of Texas. Rory Yates is part of the elite Texas Rangers, one of only two hundred in the entire state. Best known for his quick draw capabilities, Yates has found himself in a few situations of shooting first and asking questions later. After one such event, he takes a call from his ex-wife, Anne, who’s been getting creepy messages and items left on her property. Yates makes his way across the state to check on her, only to find her dead body. Yates is soon cleared as a suspect, but has an idea who might be responsible and pushes the local police to investigate. While he may be a Ranger, this is one case that Rory Yates will not be welcome to join, officially. Back in his hometown and trying to chase down leads, Yates reconnects with his family and some of his former sweethearts, all of whom help stir up scores of emotions and memories from his time as a child and being married to Anne. With a killer on the loose, Yates cannot let his past cloud the present, even if it means turning down new love, or rekindling a past flame. When another person close to Yates turn up dead, stalked in the same manner, Yates is sure the killer has him in the crosshairs and will do whatever it takes, legal or not, to end this. Patterson and Bourelle have an interesting one-off novel here that seeks to pull the reader in from the outset. Perfect for those who have travel plans or need some beach reading. Patterson collaborations always fill a gap between substantive reads and this one is decent enough to recommend without hesitation.

I have come to realise that while many see the name James Patterson and flock to the book, I tend to give it a second thought, having been on the rollercoaster ride that is the Patterson Express. One can never know what to expect, particularly with one-off novels. That said, Bourelle has made a name for himself with some stronger collaborative efforts—Patterson’s BookShots—and so I trust something of a higher caliber when I see their joint efforts. This story worked well and kept me reading, which says a lot when it comes to the massive pile of books I have to read. Rory Yates is an interesting protagonist, by no means unique, but the spin put on this rough exterior cop is one that kept me intrigued throughout. I was not sure how Patterson and Bourelle might have approached him, but they did well to offer a hard-nosed man who demands respect with a soft side when it comes to those he loves. Yates has that ‘nothing will stop me’ mentality, perfect for a stubborn cop, though does not reek of ‘redneck traditionalism’, should such a stereotype deserve a formal label. The handful of other characters who influence Yates’ progress in the novel serve to eke out interesting tidbits about the protagonist and his backstory without taking the reader down too many rabbit holes and losing momentum throughout the narrative. The story is surely interesting, as it gives the reader a glimpse into how a cop might handle a murder investigation of someone close to them, though keeps a unique angle as the narrative progresses by tossing sub-plots related to self-discovery throughout. With little time to waste, the authors push forward and force the reader to juggle both types of storyline simultaneously. Using Patterson’s trademark short chapters full of cliffhangers, the story never has a chance to slow and the resolution comes crashing through the gates in the closing pages, with that lingering wonder throughout who might be responsible. My rating has nothing to do with the quality of the book, but more that I want to be blown out of the water, as Patterson has been known to do on the rare occasion. A decent story, but I would not offer up a ‘stellar’ label at this point.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Bourelle, for your ongoing collaborative work. I can see wonderful things within these pages and hope you’ll find more time to write in the coming months and years.

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

Private Princess (Private #14), by James Patterson and Rees Jones

Seven stars

James Patterson has returned for another collaborative effort with Rees Jones to add to the ever-expanding Private series. This novel, like many of the others, takes readers around the world and into a high-stakes game of sleuthing and action, with an international twist. Jack Morgan, head of Private, the international investigation service, is back in London. This trip is anything but a chance to sightsee or make one of his random check-ins with the local offices, for he has been summoned by Princess Caroline, third in line for the British Throne. After being hurriedly whisked off to her residence, Morgan meets with the royal, who explains that a dear friend of hers has gone missing, a woman with a wild streak and great tabloid fodder. Never one to turn down a challenge, Morgan begins his investigation, sure there is more to the story than the princess is willing to tell. While doing so, Morgan engages with the head of Private: London, Peter Knight. It would seem Knight is on a case to explore an apparent suicide of a well-to-do gentleman whose daughter wants to keep scandal from the tabloids. When Knight and Morgan compare notes, they realise that there is more to each of their cases than meets the eye. Joining efforts, some semblance of closure can be found, but there remains an overarching mystery whose narrative remains a leaden weight for both men and their cases. Morgan’s trip across the Pond has also allowed him to attempt a revisiting of an old flame, though time has all but extinguished those possibilities. When an old foe from a past U.K. case resurfaces with deadly intentions, Morgan cannot simply leave. He is invested and soon has malice pulsing through his veins. Jack Morgan and the entire Private: London enterprise are on this new mission, refusing to back off until all is right again. Trouble is, Jack Morgan’s luck may have finally run its course. An interesting addition to the series, returning to a British locale. Jones and Patterson spin a decent tale, sure to be of interest to those seeking a beach or travel read, but also worthy of those who have followed Private through its long series run.

Having long been a fan of Patterson and followed this Private series over the years, I can say with some confidence, that this was a decent addition to the series. Patterson and Jones have returned to a familiar spot, using characters seen before, and extrapolating on some of the plots left to dangle during a previous novel and short story. Jack Morgan, the ever-present character that finds himself in all Private-based stories surely plays more of a central role here, offering the reader a further glimpse into his past and some of the grit that makes him a worthy addition to each series piece. More focus on the likes of Peter Knight and some of the other local Private folks is also refreshing for the series fan, as some will be able to pull on past skirmishes and character development. The story is by no means phenomenal, but it follows a decent Private layout, playing out with at least two cases running parallel and eventually merging. Morgan’s personal story here proves to be a third plot, though it, too, seems to have some ties to the early cases, something the attentive reader will notice. While I cannot say Private is one of Patterson’s premier series, it is one that can be enjoyed if read independently or as an entire collection. Rees Jones should be applauded for helping keep the story on task and relevant, as well as stronger than some of the past pieces in this series. I’ll surely keep my eyes peeled for more when they are released.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Jones, for a great effort. While I cannot admit to being mesmerised, I enjoy this lighter reading material.

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

12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, by Jordan B. Peterson

Seven stars

When asked if I would take a leap of faith (pun evident later in review) and read Jordan B. Peterson’s book, I was slightly hesitant. Surely, I could take something away from this and learn how to incorporate it all into my daily life. If not, I would be able to drum up some interesting discussions with people about the content. Peterson argues effectively that life has become chaotic for most people, as he has witnessed in his profession as a clinical psychologist. His analysis of this chaos can, and should, be rectified by better understanding twelve rules that can assist the wayward person to find their way and live a more productive and less erratic life. While I choose not to delve into all twelve, some interesting insights did emerge as I made my way through this piece, including that humans are not alone in their struggles, nor are their reactions unique. Early in the tome, Peterson makes strong parallels between human inter-personal relationships and those of lobsters. Making some fundamental ties to the two, Peterson seeks to convince the reader that there are strong correlations that cannot be dismissed, simply because the two groups seem so vastly different. From there, the narrative takes an interesting tangent, exploring the lack of self-care that people have, whereby they are more concerned with the health of pets than with themselves, at times. His argument seems to be that it is essential to look inward and fix that which is reflected in the mirror before trying to ‘save the world’. The burden of the world’s issues is chaotic and can be too much to handle, but making that one change—the self change—can bring stability. Core tenets such as listening to what others have to say and trying not to compare one’s self to everyone else seem to fill much of the narrative, as Peterson seeks to push the idea of the inner view to betterment, rather than one of comparison. No one is entirely perfect, so it is a waste to try modelling a life based on the outward appearance of others, be it their physical display or attributes. Rather, taking the time to stop and reflect will lead the reader to acquire the needed tools to betterment. These twelve rules do seem well-grounded and based on a number of years of experience that Peterson has garnered, through study and interactions with patients, and so the reader need not think this is a twelve-rule modern stone tablet set of commands. Those who enjoy learning and analysis of behaviour may enjoy this one. I found some tidbits highly thought-provoking, but I am not yet sure if I will return to take more detailed notes for personal betterment.

I will be the first to admit that I am not one for self-help books or those that seek to point out flaws with a recipe for success. I suppose that is the primary reason I chose this book for the Equinox Book Challenge, to push myself out of a comfort zone and face some of the raw aspects of my being. While I was interested in most of what Peterson had to say, I found some of it troubling, especially if the message was meant to go out to the general public. While I will admit that the West is strongly a Judeo-Christian society, particularly the general rules and moral pathways laid out, it is an ever-evolving society that cannot be boxed in. While done effectively, Peterson used numerous biblical passages and stories to assert his points, both the flaws that have been around for centuries and the solutions that have been followed when listening to God. At no point did I feel that Peterson sought the reader to ‘find Christ and be saved’, but such ongoing reference to these stories boxes the reader into knowing them before being able to make the correlations. Peterson does explain the stories and then explores how God was trying to communicate something to the mortal individuals, but there can be a sense of inculcation, even if not intended. To reach out to the largest cross-section, removing the faith-based narrative may help. Secondly, I would venture to say that this piece straddles the fence between academic and useful for thought-provoking argument, rather than helpful to the masses who might need it. While the core tenets are laid out in the rules and a brief description of them, the discussion is quite detailed and thorough, perhaps too much to truly get the meat out of the piece. Peterson knows his stuff and has much to say on the topics, but perhaps too much to effectively leave the reader with something to take away. Biblical reference, personal experience, historical context. They all occur within each discussion of the different rules, but it is traversing the entire narrative to find the thread of discussion that can leave the reader wondering what they just read and where this all began. I admit that I enjoyed the meandering discussion and numerous insightful viewpoints, but if the premise of the book is to find twelve keys to successfully slaying the chaos dragon, it may be best not to meander along the countryside and forget the task at hand. Soldiers in the battle need clear rules of engagement. That being said, perhaps people enjoy the discussion and as I admit to not being keen on this genre, I am speaking for myself alone. Whether I enjoyed the content, the method of delivery, or even the message, Peterson does craft an effective book and keeps the reader engaged throughout. Canadian content is always nice to see and he personalises the journey, rather than speaking from an ivory tower down to the lowly masses. I can applaud him for that and am pleased to see that type narrative flowed so well and seemed to present a clear understanding of the topic at hand.

Kudos, Mr. Peterson, for your helpful insights into the world of removing chaos. I’ll keep the book for future reference and be sure to speak to others about it.

This book fulfils Topic #5: First and Last? in the Equinox #3 Reading Challenge.

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

Hangman (Detective William Fawkes #2), by Daniel Cole

Seven stars

Daniel Cole is back to continue his thriller series that had readers gasping at the cliffhanger ending. Riding the wave of his debut success, Cole presents this follow-up that appears to lack the intensity and grit of DS William Fawkes’ initial case. With Fawkes away and on the lam, all eyes turn to newly-promoted Detective Chief Inspector Emily Baxter. While the Ragdoll killer is safely locked away, the case lingers and everyone remains on edge. When a call come in from New York City, where a body identified as ‘William Fawkes’ has been found, Baxter agrees to travel and investigate this oddity. Before she makes it out of the country, she visits Belmarsh once more to see the Ragdoll, only to be trapped in the middle of an event that leaves him dead and Baxter significantly spooked. Upon her arrival in NYC, DCI Baxter liaises with some of the local and federal authorities as more murder scenes emerge, victims bearing ‘puppet’ and ‘bait’ inscriptions on the body. Might there be a connection to Ragdoll that’s crossed the Atlantic? Baxter is equally baffled when news from the Met reaches her that other killings of a similar style have been taking place in the UK. How can all these killers be connected without a clear threat to bind them? As Baxter continues to investigate, she follows a lead that turns the case on its head, but media outlets have chosen to broadcast it before it can be properly analysed. Might there be a central leader who has ordered these murders, as odd and unrelated as they seem? Witnesses have recounted that the killers seem almost detached from the events, leading many to wonder about some form of mind control. Religious symbolism and the talk of cultish behaviour begin to flood Baxter’s investigation, forcing her to come to terms with the fact that this might be more than just tracking down a killer, but someone who holds a handful of strings and can make followers dance on command. Cole surely has devised an interesting way to ‘string along’ the reader, though to substance of the story is not as strong as I would have hoped. Fans of the debut will likely want to take the plunge, if only to discover what Cole has planned, but all the hype this book has received is lost on me.

It is disappointing to find a writer dedicate so much of their time to a debut that skyrockets, only to find the follow-up limp along. I was captivated by Cole’s first piece and could not wait to get my hands on this one (which had been getting some great reviews), but found it fell short of the mark. The story had potential, as did the characters, but delivery of both seems to have been rushed or not cultivated enough to pique my interest. With DS Fawkes gone (spoiler alert?), the narrative pulls DCI Emily Baxter into the spotlight. She has strong ties to Fawkes, but is also trying to make a name for herself in the Met, where women are still rapping on the glass ceiling. Her energetic attitude and interest in getting dirt under her nails is unequally balanced by her desire to fill shoes that do not fit. I found myself constantly trying to like Baxter as a character and investigator, but nothing stuck for me, either in her personal or professional life. This is unfortunate, as the protagonist is the one who leads the reader along through the case at hand. A smattering of other characters on both sides of the ledger also lacked the complexity that I felt this book needed, especially with the set of crimes being offered up to the reader. I needed to feel angst and confusion as well as determination to let nothing stop justice from making its mark. Instead, I felt things kept circling the drain, hoping to find some action or sicko moment that would spring the narrative to life. Cole had all the ingredients for success, but the mix did not work for me. Others will surely agree and I can defer to them. The story had much possibility, especially utilising two venues, but fell flat and left me wanting more and needing to feel a stronger connection. Even the central mastermind became beige, leaving me wishing I had known this before rushing to seek enjoyment with this second novel. Perhaps I needed to let Ragdoll ferment before rushing into this one, but whatever it was, this did not work and I am sorry. A third novel in the series is surely a while off, so I will have time to gather my thoughts before then.

Kudos, Mr. Cole, for attempting to keep things running effectively. If you had to have a less impactful novel, thankfully it was this second, as your debut is the net that will catch you many fans. As I know your potential, I’lol likely come back for another read and hope for better things.

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

Wave of Terror, by Jon Jefferson

Seven stars

Jon Jefferson has created this intriguing science-based thriller that stirs up some interesting possibilities for 21st century terrorism. While completing some research on the Canary Islands, astronomer Megan O’Malley is angered to see that her telescope images are blurry and the placement of the instrument is constantly bumped out of place. However, when she places some calls, she is baffled to learn that there are not anomalies with the telescope and no seismographic documentation to explain any earth tremors, the usual suspects for such erroneous images. Megan is sure of what she’s seen, the photos acting as concrete documentation that something’s happened, no matter how minute. Digging a little deeper and running some of her own tests, Megan soon learns that the official seismic information has been altered online, helping to hide the actual tremors, but from what? Discussing these findings with a British academic, Megan learns that there has been chatter about some tsunami-like waves bound for the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. Security experts have downplayed this as hogwash, as there is nothing to suggest that there are any seismic shifts that could bring this about. FBI Special Agent Christopher ‘Chip’ Dawtry seems to feel that there is more to Megan’s story than many will admit and begins to follow the trail, even when he is ordered not to give it any credence. Tracking her down and coming to offer his assistance, Chip works with Megan to reveal the truth before they can be targeted for extermination. As they learn just how deep the plot runs, Chip and Megan must convince the authorities before the seismic technology creates an act of terror that would make September 2001 seem like a warm-up act. Jefferson does a decent job with this End of Days thriller, mixing the right amount of science to keep the reader wondering about how plausible this might be in the coming years. Those seeking a lighter fare in their reading may enjoy this piece.

I have read a number of Jon Jefferson novels, though he was always collaborating with William Bass in the Bone Field series (with their great ‘Jefferson Bass’ moniker). The story proved to be entertaining and the premise quite engaging at a time when terrorism has become stale and any mention of ISIS or Al-Qaeda has many readers walking away. Jefferson creates quite an interesting character in Megan O’Malley, whose passion for the skies is matched by her inability to get her point across in social situations. Megan remains the academic damsel in distress, unable to defend herself effectively when the guns and blades come out. She comes across as passionate, even though the reader may find it hard to connect to her throughout the narrative. Equally complicated is Chip Dawtry, who has a dedication to his work and a passion for security that clouds his ability to be as open and engaging as the reader may like. Sticking the two together, and peppering many other secondary characters, makes for an interesting story that keeps a decent level of energy throughout. The premise of the story is decent, a new form of terrorism hidden within scientific occurrences, as well as some developing organisations to strike against the Americans, though I felt that the overall piece failed to grip me to the extent that I had hoped. The story had some decent foundations, though it seemed only to skim the surface when it came to creating a thriller sensation. The science is strong but the narrative needed more to push things into full-fledged panic mode. Perhaps I am trying to compare Jefferson’s solo work against his collaborations, which I enjoy tremendously. Jefferson’s past work with Bass is surely a stronger effort, though I am sure this is only an anomaly and there is more to come in the next novel. Catastrophic thrillers do tend to have a hard time not becoming too cheesy in their delivery.

Kudos, Mr. Jefferson, for a valiant effort on your own. I like what you have and hope you’ll be able to sculpt something even better next time around.

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

The Fairy-Tale Detectives (The Sisters Grimm #1), by Michael Buckley

Seven stars

Needing something a little shorter to fit into my reading schedule, I turned to this series debut by Michael Buckley, which takes readers behind the scenes and into the stories of the Brothers Grimm. Sabrina and Daphne Grimm have been shipped off from one foster home to another for many years. What they’re told that their paternal grandmother has agreed to take care of them, though Sabrina becomes very dubious, having heard that the woman died many years ago. However, after meeting the slightly eccentric woman and seeing family photographs, the girls are more apt to believe these tall tales. The transition from NYC to Ferryport Landing is a shock, though not as much as the truth behind their ancestry. Grimms have long been around to ensure that Everafters are protected, but also abide by all the rules, keeping humans from locking them away. That being said, the form of protection offered is isolating them in their current township and not permitting any further exploration. Surely a factor in all the resentment. Grandma Grimm explained further that she is a form of detective, working to puzzle together some of the odd happenings around Ferryport Landing while also battling the sinister ways of Mayor Charming, once an English prince and now a power-hungry fool. With Sabrina and Daphne on board to help, they come across a house that’s been flattened by what one can only presume is a large boot, beanstalk leaves surrounding the property. The girls watch their grandmother in action as she opens up the investigation and begins positing what might have happened. However, as luck would have it, a giant returns to the scene—large boot and all—where he scoops up Grandmother Grimm, leaving the girls in a sense of panic. A new mystery on their hands—how to retrieve their grandmother—the girls seek the assistance of other Everafters, while dodging some of the more nefarious characters who cross their paths. One can only hope that this will have a happy ending for all. Buckley uses some strong fairytale references, sure to entertain the young adult or teen reader, surely the target audience for this book.

Sometimes you need a reading break, but are not fully prepared to turn to the newspaper funny pages. In those cases (or when I need something shorter), I turn to YA books, where I can usually suspend my belief system and yet still be entertained. Buckley provides that here with this first novel in what looks to be a fairly developed series all about the Sisters Grimm and their detective capabilities. Mixing the story of two humans in a community full of Everafters (read: characters from fairytales), Buckley is able not only to provide the reader with some semblance of a connection to previous well-known stories, but also twist the character to suit the story, such as the sheriff who was once one of the three pigs but has since become a corrupted and hoofed authority figure. Buckley seeks not to create fully believed scenarios, but at least entertain with the characters who pepper the pages of this story. The plot is decent for what it is and I was impressed with the flow, keeping the story moving without getting too bogged down in silly humour (though what might be right in line with the age range for the piece). It served its purpose for me and I will try to use the age-appropriate filter here, seeing Neo return to these books in a few years when he is a strong individual reader and criticising my review for being off the mark.

Kudos, Mr. Buckley, for such a wonderful debut piece. I think I may return for more in the future, as there is something fun about these stories.

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

The Hanged Man (The Bone Field #2), by Simon Kernick

Seven stars

Simon Kernick is back with another thriller set amid the bodies of The Bone Field, where readers saw DI Ray Mason and PI Tina Boyd work together to discover the horrible collection of unidentified bones. Still baffled by their findings, Mason and his partner are called to a rural home, where a woman lies dead and a half-penned suicide note leads them to believe that her husband, Hugh Manning, might have decided to stay alive a while longer. The deeper Mason digs, the clearer the story. Manning might have been visited by others seeking to silence him once and for all. For what, no one is yet sure. However, when the first of the bones is attributed to a woman who was presumed missing, the case opens wide and Mason soon learns that Manning may be the key to the entire Bone Field case. With a ruthless gang looking for Manning, it will only be a matter of time before the case goes cold again, forcing Mason to take matters into his own hands. With the help of his current girlfriend, PI Tina Boyd, Mason pushes not only to protect Manning, but also to bring the killers to justice and identify all the victims in short order. Trouble is, the criminal element rarely play by the rules. Kernick does well with this sequel and keeps the reader enthralled until the final pages as the mystery developed throughout. Those familiar with Kernick’s work and fans of darker police procedurals will likely enjoy this piece.

I discovered Kernick last year when the debut in this series crossed my path. I remember being interested, though was not sure how I felt about the story. I decided to give this one a chance to see if some of the loose threads might be tied off and the level of mystery heightened. I am pleased I took the gamble, though there were times I felt things took a while to gather momentum. Kernick’s interesting plots leave me feeling that I will try some more of his books in the near future. DI Ray Mason is an interesting character, having invested much of his time in police work, but now tied to Tina Boyd, who has both sobered him and kept him always looking behind his back. While he is still reckless at times, he also loves to get to the heart of the matter in a sensible way, hoping to stay alive a while longer. Still, he struggles with a relationship and being close to someone else. Boyd, for her part, seems to feel the same (and I will admit I have not ventured into her series that Kernick has padded with numerous novels). The cast of secondary characters prove believable and help push the story along, though I did not find any of them shone enough to jump off the page. The story, veiled in the Bone Field mystery, was decent and showed just how jaded some in the criminal world tend to be and what lengths they will go to get what is needed. Filled with interesting tidbits that trace back decades, Kernick has done well here and keeps the reader wondering, which is the sign of a well-crafted novel.

Kudos, Mr. Kernick, for creating this timely sequel, as fans sink their teeth into this new series, which has much potential.

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

Sweetpea, by C.J. Skuse

Seven stars

After having written a number of Young Adult novels, C.J. Skuse turns to her darker side in penning this piece, rich in angst and homicidal actions. Rhiannon Lewis hates her life and most of those who cross her path. Using a series of diary entries, she explores this hatred by tipping her hand to the reader. Many of her entries begin with a list of those she despises the most and why they rub her the wrong way. Be it people from the news, those at her place of employment, or people with whom she must interact in public, Rhiannon cannot let things flow off her back. As the narrative progresses, the reader learns that Rhiannon was once famous for being the sole survivor in a horrific attack on a daycare facility, though she suffered significant injuries. These injuries seem to have numbed her ability to truly care for others, while also helping to foster a sense of vigilante behaviour, which she uses to restore balance in the world. Rhiannon has many secrets, but none darker than the need to punish those who have wronged the innocent and to harm people who do not serve a useful purpose in her day to day life. The narrative is full of these struggles and the list of personal enemies that Rhiannon finds troublesome seems to grow as time passes. That being said, a personal event turns everything on its head and forces Rhiannon to reassess her life and the choices she’s made; a new feeling for this seemingly cold and emotionless woman. Whatever the struggle, Rhiannon Lewis will not be the same by the end, though no one can truly tell how she’ll turn out. Skuse offers a very dark and demented path through this novel, sure to interest those who enjoy personal struggle and protagonists with deep and homicidal secrets.

I chose this book on the recommendation of a friend, who knows how much I enjoy a twisted tale. I was not entirely sure what to expect, but did hope for some psychological thriller that would keep me up well into the night. Instead, I pushed through this personal journal of a twenty-something woman who has a hit list a mile long and many deep secrets she wants to keep from others. Rhiannon is quite the repulsive character, particularly because of her attitude towards the outside world. As she mentions throughout the narrative, she has a ‘me’ side and a public persona to uphold, a difficult act to support through troubling times. However, her Dexter-like duality might serve to better underscore her struggles on a daily basis. The reader cannot help but feel a ray of sympathy for her, though surely dislikes her ongoing attacks on anyone who is not perfect. With a cast of varied secondary characters, Skuse is able to prop up her novel with a vast array of fodder to fuel Rhiannon’s fire, though no one can be sure when things will take a significant turn. The story itself is decent, though there are surely segments that drag and left me wondering how long it would take to push through. This is definitely not a fast-paced piece, nor is it something with mysterious crumbs left throughout the narrative. The reader must dedicate themselves to getting to the very end, where more surprises lie in wait. I am happy to say I made it, though the journey was anything but simple. Still, Skuse kept me wondering and guessing, with some significantly curious means of tying up loose ends by the final few entries.

Kudos, Madam Skuse, for a great piece, which differs greatly from your usual fare. I am eager to see what else you might bring up for publishing in the coming years. I know I’ll keep an eye open!

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

Jack the Reaper (The Hunt for Jack Reacher Series #8), by Diane Capri

Seven stars

Diane Capri has returned to add to her Hunt for Reacher series, taking a slightly different approach to events. After an explosion in a home, everyone is presumed dead, including the elusive Jack Reacher. FBI Agents Otto and Gaspar have been two steps behind him for so long and now, it would seem, things have gone frigid. However, after the controversial document dump, TrueLeaks, transcripts of a telephone call speaking of Reacher being alive and well, which means Otto and Gaspar must rush to New York to continue their investigation. All the while, General MacKenzie ‘Nitro Mack’ Parnell has come to learn of a sizeable amount of money being hidden away in an New York apartment, money that was tied to an operation he sanctioned years ago. Now, Parnell wants what he feels is his and will stop at nothing to retrieve it. Nitro Mack has a history with Reacher as well, someone who had little love loss for his superior while still serving in the military. As Agents Otto and Gaspar piece together a better understanding of what is going on with Reacher, they are soon following the track of Parnell’s mess as he hunts down the money. As more bodies pile up and the money is nowhere to be found, everyone begins to wonder if, like Reacher, it’s disappeared in plain sight. Capri does well to stand alone while keeping Reacher true to his nature. A decent effort that Reacher fans may like, though the series grows and stands on its own merits.

As she tends to do with each novel’s introduction, Capri pays homage to Lee Child and his creation of the Jack (none) Reacher character. She speaks of how each novel she writes parallels with one that Child has created, which allows the reader to read them one after the other and notice the chronological ties. I have never done so and feel that Capri’s work can stand alone, though the elusive nature of Reacher from Child’s novels is just as strong in this series. Otto and Gaspar remain central characters here and pose no threat to overpowering one another. Many of the past novels have developed their characters, but here, it would seem as though they are in neutral and the focus is strictly Reacher and Parnell. Capri’s glimpse into Otto’s personal thoughts and a run-in within her apartment is about as in-depth a character reveal as the story offers. The secondary characters, as with the mainstream Reacher stories, change each time, though they are well placed here to deliver a strong story. While the story was good and paced itself well, I found it difficult to affix myself to everything that was going on. I wanted to, as I love Reacher, but this piece seemed less focussed on Reacher and more on how the agents would eventually fall in line with Parnell’s antics. It could be an anomaly of the series and I will not rake Capri over the coals for my own sense of confusion. Overall, a decent effort and I am eager to see if she can redeem herself with the next book, highlighted at the end of the narrative.

Kudos, Madam Capri, for keeping Jack (none) Reacher alive between Lee Child novels. You do well on your own and it shines through with each novel you produce in this series.

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

Steeplechase, by James Patterson and Scott Slaven

Seven stars

Returning for another collaboration, James Patterson and Scott Slaven have created this historical BookShot that will keep the reader guessing as time switches between two distinct periods. Steeplechase Park draws large crowds to Coney Island, even as far back as 1907. With the most exciting and innovative rides, crowds rush to enjoy their time and take in the atmosphere. Katie Silver has helped design much of the layout, unheard of at that time, though her reputation precedes her. Flashing forward to 2017, Silver wakes from what must be a very strange dream, as she can vividly remember herself on the grounds of Steeplechase one hundred and ten years before. As Head of Security, Silver has a lot of responsibility to keep the crowds under control and the patrons safe. However, a series of ‘accidents’ over the past few weeks has Silver wondering if she will soon have a job. As the story alternates between both times, Silver finds herself in the middle of a plot to take control of Steeplechase Park and wrestle it away from its current owners. Gangsters and low-lifes have plans that not even Silver can stop. Confused about these dreams and their meanings, Katie Silver must stop something from happening in the past so that it does not ruin things for her 2017 self. Patterson and Slaven have their work cut out for them in this piece, as they try to sell the reader on this piece of historical fiction. Some will surely enjoy it for its mysterious meandering, but I could not get a firm grasp of the story or characters depicting it.

Patterson and Slaven have taken things in an interesting direction with this piece. While I may not be the story’s largest fan, that is not to say that it was horrible by any sense of the word. I enjoy stories that transcend a single time period, but I felt I may have missed some nuances that could have helped strengthen this piece for me. Katie Silver was certain the glue that held this story together, though my missing something surely kept me from being able to enjoy either incarnation of her or the larger place she played in the story. Her dual roles surely provide both a beacon and foreshadowing for what is to come. Complemented throughout by two sets of secondary characters, Patterson and Slaven have helped to create a distinct narrative that tells of this amusement park and some of the tragic happenings that befall it over a century apart. The story seems decent and the delivery is strong, but I feel as though I missed something in receiving it, though it is entirely possible that I simply did not pay close enough attention. I have another BookShot with this duo to read and can only hope that we’re all on the same page with that one, before I pass judgement too harshly.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Slaven, for an interesting premise. I hope you find many fans who adore this, as it has potential.

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

You’ve Been Warned—Again, by James Patterson and Derek Nikitas

Seven stars

Back to try another Patterson-Nikitas collaboration, which pushes the BookShot into the realm of the paranormal. That being said, this one was at least palatable. Joanie Whitmore is dreading this Thanksgiving gathering in rural Rhode Island. Her family is quite pretentious and judgemental, just what she wants for her new fiancé, Nate. As they arrive in a storm, Joanie’s fears are soon substantiated, with a cold-shoulder greeting by her father and an equally stiff mother. As the storm gets worse, Joanie and Nate are unsure if now is the time to make their announcement, but with the wedding only a month away, they have little other time, if at all. When a knock comes at the door, a stranger appears, wondering if he might be able to use the phone, as his car’s broken down. Reluctantly, the Whitmores invite him in, only to discover that the phone lines are down, which is soon followed by all the power in the house. As Joanie begins to scour the house, she discovers that its history is anything but uplifting, having been where an entire family met their fate in a murder-suicide. Soon, members of the house begin to follow that same path adding a creepier element. This will surely be one Thanksgiving Joanie Whitmore will never forget, though it may also be one she never survives. Patterson and Nikitas fare well with this piece, though some of the paranormal aspects seem more subdued than one would expect in a short story. A well-crafted piece for those who like the genre and open-minded fans of the BookShot collection.

I admit that my previous attempt with this collaborative team proved to be a disaster of epic proportions. Perhaps it was that the story rang truer as a psychological thriller than completely paranormal, but it might also have something to do with the fact that I was less on edge while reading. Joanie Whitmore’s character serves the story well, pushing it in many directions as her emotions seem to shape the way the narrative turns. There are times of high drama and others of absolute fear, which are usually seen effectively through the filters Joanie presents the reader. While a short piece, the secondary characters and the interactions they have with our protagonist prove key to pushing the narrative away from a simple A to B scenario. From loving fiancé to standoffish father to this mysterious stranger who appears at the door, all of these types of characters pepper the narrative in interesting fashion. The story was fairly strong and the reader can lose themselves in the slow development of the plot, but there comes a time when things take a turn away from the normal and into a realm of pure oddity. Still not my favourite genre of BookShot, but it’s growing on me.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Nikitas, for this better effort. I can see some stronger potential with this and hope you’ll keep working together to hone your skills as a team.

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

Stingrays, by James Patterson and Duane Swierczynski

Seven stars

James Patterson and Duane Swierczynski team up for this interesting BookShot that explores a crime during a party weekend in the Caribbean. When the Stingrays are hired to explore the murder of Paige Ryerson, they must use all their grit and determination to bring the killer to justice. Killed in the Turks and Caicos, Ryerson was partying with some friends and simply disappeared. When Matthew Quinn and his Stingrays arrive, many of the players involved in the party scene that Ryerson frequented have reason to want her dead. The various Stingrays sift through the evidence and point fingers, though some of these leads turn cold as soon as they’re explored. From a corrupt cop to a playboy with a yacht, and even the captain of the sea-faring vessel, many people recount their various tales of seeing Paige Ryerson, but all promise that she was alive and well. It’s a race to get the answers, and someone’s holding out. With time ticking away, Quinn and his team must make a move and trap the killer, before they get away with the ultimate crime. Patterson and Swierczynski create this interesting piece that is sure to keep the reader intrigued as they speed through the story. Not my favourite BookShot, but this one had potential.

As with any short stories, BookShots can be hit and miss, interesting some readers while others raise their eyebrows and move on. I was not disheartened by this piece, but did not feel the connection to it that many others may feel, which only goes to show that my unique interests differ from those of other BookShot lovers. The characters were not all that intriguing to me, though they surely did offer some interesting insight into a cross-section of the population. Presenting a handful of potential murderers, the authors let the reader see some of the interesting parts about their lives. Same goes for the Stingrays, all of whom bring something to the table that might interest the reader, given the proper inclination. The story was nothing special for me, which I feel might relate to the fact that I could not connect to the Stingrays. Had I felt more of a connection to the sleuths, I might have found something in their tracking down a killer and become more invested in the story. It was not horrible, though I am not sure I’d race out to read another BookShot of the same premise. Patterson and Swierczynski provide the reader with some interesting aspects in this story, though I did not find myself enamoured. Perhaps it has to do with my not feeling my greatest, but I could not connect with this piece on any level.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Swierczynski, for a decent piece of writing. While I am not hooked, that is not to say that others will not enjoy what you had to offer.

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

The Exile, by James Patterson and Alison Joseph

Seven stars

One advantage to James Patterson’s use of collaborators is that he is able to present stories set all around the world, permitting the reader to experience new authors and locales to pique their interest. In this BookShot, Patterson brings Alison Joseph on board and shifts the focus to rural Ireland. While living in London, Finn O’Grady receives a panicked call from Bridie O’Connor, a friend from back in Galway. She explains that the old tale of the Green Man has merit, as her son saw him the night before. Out of her mind, Bridie will not accept no for an answer, pushing Finn to cross the Irish Sea to offer his assistance. While he wants to help, Finn is hesitant to return to Ireland, having been chased away when he served on the police force. The narrative explores the case that ended Finn’s police career, the rape and murder of Bridie’s teenage sister. Finn sought to crack the case wide open, disbelieving that the man who admitted to the crime was actually guilty. Trying to shake the stigma, Finn turns his attention to Bridie’s concerns around the Green Man. Well aware that the tale is simply folklore, crafted by Bridie’s grandfather many years ago, he seeks to show this to Bridie, who refuses to listen. When members of her family are found murdered, Bridie renews her feeling that the tale holds a degree of truth. Forced to cross paths with old enemies and the police chief who banished him, Finn tried to rectify that lingering case, while dispelling the Green Man tale. A killer is surely on the loose, though no one can quite be sure who it is or why to resurrect the myth. An interesting BookShot for those who enjoy the international experience, though it did not have the punch I sought to find it thoroughly enjoyable.

I am a fan of Ireland and was hoping to envelop myself in this wonderful story when I learned of its setting. There was something within the reading experience that left me less than drawn to the story or its characters, though I cannot put my finger on the specific issue. Patterson and Joseph create a strong character in Finn O’Grady, offering up significant backstory and present character development in this short piece. Finn struggles with trying to find truth in a community where lore and secrets prove a stronger reality. Having struggled with trying to find justice for Bridie and her family, Finn returns and wants to set the record straight. The story offers a number of secondary characters to help to prop-up this flashback-filled piece, though I was left slightly more confused and irritated than pleased with all the names that crossed the page. It was as though Patterson and Joseph wanted to bite off more than they could chew in this short story, forcing the reader to juggle names, places, and crimes in short order. The story was decent, filled with Gaelic phrases and hinting at some of the mystery that Ireland has always given me, though the true cultural sentiment was not as strong as I might have liked. I sought something with fewer threads to tie-off and more small-town feel to it. This story seemed to be all about past grievances and a character stain that Finn O’Grady wants to scrub away, with short chapters that created a jilted narrative. This may be one time that Patterson’s trademark writing style did not work for him. I applaud Patterson and Joseph for trying hard to tap into this fictional experiment and can see some strong foundations for a decent story, though I was just not feeling it. Call it my first let-down in this month of BookShot reading.

Kudos, Mr. Patterson and Madam Joseph, as you sought to push BookShots into the Irish countryside. Alas, I am not sure if a few pints of Guinness and a re-read would make the story any better for me.

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

The Lifeguard Lawyer, by James Patterson and Doug Allyn

Seven stars

In an attempt to try something different, I’ve decided to open 2018 with a month of BookShots (or as many as I can handle until I go mad), those short stories thrillers that James Patterson began overseeing a few years ago. With piles of them at my disposal and more coming out each day, there is never a lack of them to pique my interest. Adding Doug Allyn to the mix will allow me to start the year with a new collaboration team and hopefully lead to many new and wonderful discoveries. Brian Lord has returned to his childhood community of Port Vale, where he is hiding from a recent traumatic event. It has only been a few days since his fiancée was blown up in a car bombing and Lord is one of the prime suspects. A former Assistant District Attorney, Lord is now working on the other side of the aisle, defending clients who surely have checkered pasts. After a heroic rescue at the beach, where Lord briefly returns to playing the role of his teenage job as a lifeguard, he is no longer able to hide from the spotlight and must answer questions surrounding the fatal explosion. Might one of Lord’s past clients have had a beef with his work, or seek to quiet a snitch from proceeding with their case? After being terminated for conduct deemed problematic with his current firm, Lord is out on his own, still with a handful of clients that no one else wants to touch.He’s happy to work with the authorities to find the person responsible for the bombing, but must also protect some of his own clients, both from self-incrimination and sleazy former spouses. In the meantime, Lord seeks to return to his job as a lifeguard, tired of the three-piece suits that muzzled him for so long. There, he meets an old friend and they take quite the walk down memory lane, revisiting unfinished business. Now, it is time for Lord to find the bomber before he, too, is killed, forever silencing this maverick legal mind. Patterson and Allyn craft a decent story that entertains for the duration of the piece. BookShot fans can praise this as one of the better stories in the ever-growing collection that seems to have no end. Hey, at least I will have fodder for the entire month!

I have a love/hate relationship with James Patterson and these Bookshots, though this does seem to be a decent piece of work, which allows Allyn to shine. The premise is good and the piece seems to flow effectively, based on the large number of characters who add their own flavour to the narrative. Brian Lord receives a decent backstory, as well as some redeeming characteristics as the story progresses, which allows the reader to build a bond with him throughout. He is not, however, the world’s more endearing lawyer, nor does he come across as one that I would want to read about for a full-length piece. Patterson and Allyn develop him just enough to forge a connection and pepper in some interesting secondary characters to keep the story interesting. Forcing Lord to process his feeling for his decently deceased fiancée alongside a teenage love interest allows the reader to see some of his more vulnerable aspects, though there is little time to truly tap into his sentiments for either woman. The array of other characters are interesting and serve their purpose, though I am not seeking anything too detailed or to have them grace the pages of another BookShot. The story in general has some strengths, as Lord wrestles with his life and work, while also trying to synthesise the recent bombing. Things move along effectively, and come to a head as Lord must make a decision about his life, with a lukewarm epiphany on which the reader can grasp. The story served its purpose and was entertaining, which is surely the premise of all BookShots, even those who test the waters ahead of new Patterson series.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Allyn, for presenting this well-developed piece I would read more of your collaborative work in BookShot form and will keep my eyes open for anything coming down the pipeline.

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

End Game (Will Robie #5), by David Baldacci

Seven stars

David Baldacci is back with another in his hard-hitting Will Robie series, which matches an impactful thriller with some social commentary. After a harrowing mission in London, Will Robie is summoned to see the new Director of Central Intelligence. He’s met there by his sometimes partner, Jessica Reel, who has just come off her own mission that ended quite poorly. Together, they are informed that their handler, Roger ‘Blueman’ Walton, has gone missing during his annual vacation to Colorado. Armed with respect for their superior, Robie and Reel make the trip West in hopes of piecing this mystery together in short order. When they arrive, the two find themselves in the middle of a backwoods quagmire. The town is run by a tiny police force and populated by two distinct organizations: a collective of Neo-Nazis and a New Age group who refer to themselves as the King’s Apostles. As the investigation gathers steam, it is soon discovered that Blueman was well known in these parts, though his actual work was a complete mystery to the locals. Learning of a troubled childhood, Robie and Reel discover new respect for the man who has been leading them on numerous missions. After a significant run-in with the leader of the Neo-Nazis, Robie and Reel are barely alive, but must pick up the pieces and forge onwards, trying to locate a handful of prisoners who have gone missing. Robie and Reel soon discover that there is another group who find themselves hiding out in Eastern Colorado, armed with their millions of dollars and secretive condominiums in former military outposts, awaiting the End of Days. There are more questions than answers, leaving Robie and Reel to wonder if this mission might be beyond their capabilities. With little time to ponder what the future holds, Robie and Reel must act now and sort out their past connection later. Fans of the series will surely flock to this piece, which does not let-up until the very last page. Baldacci at his best and most energetic.

I have long enjoyed Baldacci’s work, even though he seems to keep his fans dangling by creating and then shelving a series just as it gains momentum. I have often wondered if he intends to create some series that meshes some of his most beloved characters together, though I am sure trying to juggle that many plots could prove too much of a pain. For this novel, there is decent character development in the two protagonists, though their progression differs greatly. Robie, who has always been seen as a cold and calculating assassin, seems to be trying to foster something with his partner, though she is slow to pick up on his subtle hints. The rugged man who beds the helpless woman is not missing from this book, though the reader is surely wondering if Robie and Reel will ever master the art of sharpshooting Cupid’s arrows, rather than dodging them. Reel is still a slow to emerge character for me, whose past is a jumble and present seems quite focused on the mission. She has a weak side, but does not reveal it easily, though when she does, it almost seems a let-down. Together, the sexual tension seems almost unbearable, but it does not detract from the plot and cutthroat nature of the mission. The story is strong, as can be expected with Baldacci. And yet, I was not pulled to the edge of my seat through each chapter. I could see things playing out and was impressed with the pace and forward movement, but cannot say that I was kept up late into the night reading or wondering. I enjoy Baldacci and his series, but can only hope that if he is losing his passion for these two, that he will tie things off and turn his gaze onto his well-developed newer series, which also packs a punch.

Kudos, Mr. Baldacci, for keeping your readers happy by writing so well. I hope you have more magic in store, though I am never sure in which direction you will take things.

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

The Seventh Commandment, by Tom Fox

Seven stars

After a successful trilogy that encapsulated some interesting Vatican happenings, Tom Fox is back with this captivating novel that seeks to shake religion to its core once again. Something was surely wrong when the Tiber River began to run blood red. This was only exacerbated when gunmen opened fire in crowds across Rome, leaving many dead. Dr. Ben Verdyx, employed in the Vatican’s Secret Archives, is taken from the street, unsure what his captors have in mind. Dr. Angelina Calla, a tour guide in the city, is also taken, from another part of the city, and ushered off to the same mysterious location. It is only when they come face to face that their past connection becomes apparent. Calla was a doctoral student whose expertise in Akkadian, a dead language from Babylonia, and Verdyx is fluent as well, perhaps the only two who can help with the current conundrum that has hit the news. Swiss Guards have been sent to keep Calla and Verdyx contained as a mysterious tablet has been unearthed. Written entirely in Akkadian, the tablet speaks of a number of prophecies set to befall the area, the first of which is the river of blood. While Calla seeks to parse through the rest of the message, she becomes aware that Verdyx seems less surprised by the message. Might he have something to do with all of these goings-on? Meanwhile, the narrative explores a group of men, headed by a Belgian tough-guy, who seem to be plotting a way to bring attention to the vulnerability of the Church and susceptible aspects of the general public. Working together, they may be able to meet their final goal in short order, as long as nothing goes awry. With each hour, more of the prophecies comes to pass, leaving Calla and Verdyx to wonder if the seventh, and ultimate, prophecy will occur, which forebodes great evil. Fox pulls on his vast knowledge of the Vatican and surrounding area to fan the flames and add an element of suspense. Crime thriller lovers who can stomach some religious intrigue will surely enjoy this, particularly if they have raved about Fox’s previous series.

There is nothing like reading a book that seeks to poke even more holes into what has become a teetering foundation. While I respect much of the Catholic Church, many of its solemn aspects have taken a beating, as well as its secrecy. Fox seeks to dispel them and add his own mocking undertone, though respectfully. Calla and Verdyx prove to be two interesting, and yet different, characters. Fox does offer some backstory to them both, revealed at different times in the novel. The Akkadian connection is surely the primary aspect that ties them, but it is their teamwork that seems to work well. I hoped Fox would not turn things too sugary and find that the time they spend together turns romantic and therefore becomes a hero story. The reader can decide what they think about this as the chapters flow. The secondary characters, specifically those who have an ulterior motive, prove to be decent, though I glossed over much of their storyline, finding it weak and less than compelling. The evildoers need not be cackling in the background, but I like to see some bloodthirstiness or diabolical endgame. I found things a little too predictable for me. The story has interesting aspects, though I felt it a little clunky as well. Without giving away too much, while I enjoyed the tablet and prophecies, revealed only by those who can speak this ancient and long-dead language, the flip side left me feeling that things were a little too cat and mouse. Fox has a great premise here and could surely have worked hard to foster a stronger connection with the race to reveal (with his two experts), but it seemed to be more a ‘wait and see, then panic’ situation than ‘try to stop it beforehand’. Again, perhaps I am being overly critical, but I felt the story kept me interested just more than superficially, devoured more because Fox can write and propel things than the content. Will Vatican conspiracists rush to read this book and enjoy the outcome? Perhaps, but I think it is more a social commentary on the direction of religious trust and faith in this time of individual thought. Could a series of plagues be awaiting those who do not trust entirely in the Church? I suppose only time will tell!

Kudos, Mr. Fox, for this entertaining piece. I will surely read more that you write, when that day comes. I like your enthusiasm for all things Vatican and your style does hold a certain allure.

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

The Tower is Full of Ghosts Today (Six Tudor Queens #2.5), by Alison Weir

Eight stars

In this short story that bridges two of the larger novels in Weir’s Six Tudor Queens, the reader is able to focus a little more attention on Anne Boleyn. Jo Maddox is tour guide around the Tower of London whose groups are always complimentary of her knowledge. As a historian, Jo is happy to have found a special guide to provide some of the history of Henry VIII’s second wife, Anne Boleyn. Leading her group towards the Tower, they encounter their guest, whose resemblance and attire parallel Boleyn quite strikingly. As the group follows and learns much of the history of this woman’s final days, Jo continues to see another woman whose dark hair and eyes are also quite like Boleyn. It is said that the Tower holds many ghosts of those slain, but could Anne Boleyn truly be appearing amongst many other tour groups? This is only the first surprise that befalls Jo Maddox. The rest is for the reader to discover herein. Weir does a wonderful job with this extremely short piece, which complements the Six Queens series and keeps fans waiting for the next full-length novel.

When I say that this is a short story, I literally mean ‘short’. A mere seven electronic pages, Weir teases the reader with a narrative that dispels many of the myths attributed to the young queen. Fans of Weir will know that her attention to detail and renowned status as one of the United Kingdom’s preeminent historians has not been offered up lightly. The piece proves entertaining and insightful, weaving fact and fiction onto the printed page. One can only hope that Weir’s full-length novels will captivate the reader as much (teaser chapters for all three full novels find their way as a sort of afterward). While I cannot find any fault with this story, I wanted to take a moment to chastise Amazon (Canada and US) for not getting in synchronicity with their UK counterpart and providing access to these lovely ‘between’ stories. It has taken me a period of real literary gymnastics to get my hands on this one and I cannot see why Weir fans across the Pond are not able to bask in the greatness of these short pieces as easily. Please remedy this soon!

Kudos, Madam Weir, for providing a lovely reprieve from the hectic aspects of life with this piece. Perfect for that morning coffee or evening tea, this story left me wanting more.

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

Bored of the Rings: A Parody of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, by Henry Beard and Douglas Kenney

Six stars

In selecting a literary parody for a recent book challenge, I found myself struggling a great deal. Not one to turn to the classics, I wanted to select a novel that may accentuate a book I read and did not entirely enjoy, while also not choose a parody that had been flogged to death. Turning to this piece by Henry Beard and Douglas Kenney, I felt that I might be in good hands. I will be the first to admit, Tolkien is not for me. Please, gasp now and shun me as you go to fetch all the rotten eggs and tomatoes you can carry. I read the Lord of the Rings trilogy with gritted teeth when asked to do so by someone and found myself celebrating the end. So, in choosing this parody, I hoped to open my eyes up and be able to laugh at some of the silliness of the highly-successful three box set that it seems everyone has read and enjoyed. Beard and Kenney open with the admission that they are not trying to fill the shoes that Tolkien left, but prefer to write something satirical for their own amusement. With that, I entered the world of Lower Middle-Earth. The story centres around Dildo (how poignant a name) and his nephew, Frito, who are sent on a mission by the illustrious wizard, Goodgulf. Along the way, they encounter numerous heroes and villains, all of whom possess monikers of present-day items or concepts and whose bumbling presents a true Hobbit-esque adventure. Lower Middle-Earth is in danger of being enslaved by Sorhed, though Frito has been handed a less than flashy ring to help protect him. As this (thankfully) short quest continues, fans of the original series will find parallels and new differences to make them laugh, though I suspect that a dislike of the foundational books left me rolling my eyes and injecting only the odd snicker at some one-liners. I choose not to recount much of the narrative, as the book seems to have continued on that fantasy-based adventure and did not modernise it enough for me to have a strong handle on things. Still, I am sure that many will love this book, both those who are Tolkien fans and others who enjoy a good parody. Deemed the ‘parody that laid the groundwork for this literary genre’, Beard and Kenney have done much with this and surely some collective will find it amusing.

One might ask “why would you ever read this book?”. To that person, I can strongly assert that I am not entirely sure. Perhaps I needed a quick parody, or even something that could light my spirits. Surely I would not want to touch a satire of a book I have not read, in case there are narrative parallels whose humour is lost on those who do not know the original story. Still, I struggled and praised whatever Being there is when it was all said and done. Beard and Kenney do a wonderful job with name changes and modernising things in that regard, from the various creatures that Frito encounters through to the songs that are embedded throughout. I can admit that these were well-crafted and I did chuckle, if only out of eye-rolling dismissal. The story seems to be similar, though not entirely true to the Tolkien original, though its brevity is surely a godsend in the long run. There will be those who applaud the story and others who spit in the direction of this satire, but I will step back and let that literary war commence as I check another category off on my reading challenge. Onwards to something more my style…

Kudos, Messrs. Beard and Kennedy, as you have surely stirred up the pot. I hope you have received many wonderful comments on your work and that others find the glory you can expect in reviews. It simply was not for me.

This book fulfills Equinox I (A Book for All Seasons) Book Challenge for Topic #5: A Book That is a Spoof of a Literary Classic

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

The Heretic’s Treasure (Ben Hope #4), by Scott Mariani

Seven stars

Mariani brings Ben Hope back for his fourth full-length adventure, constantly reinventing this highly energetic protagonist. Having been through a number of professions in his short life, Ben Hope still wants to hang up his adventure goggles in some form. However, in the world of Kidnap & Ransom, there is never a shortage of work. Seeing an opportunity, Hope purchases some land in France and opens up his own training facility. With things running smoothly, Hope receives a call from Colonel Harry Paxton, a former colleague, who has a mission for him; find his son’s murderers. Eminent Egyptologist, Morgan Paxton, has been working to uncover the ‘Akhenaten Project' in Cairo, the most mysterious project of his life. While torn, Hope cannot help but remember the elder Paxton’s sacrifice when he was a young soldier and agrees to investigate. However, Hope is also drawn to Colonel Paxton’s much-younger wife, Zara. The attraction seems mutual and Hope forges into Egypt to find the killers and bring some balance to the Paxton family. What begins as a simple mission of redemption soon turns much darker than expected. A double-cross fuelled with Hope’s thinking with his heart pushes him deeper into the Egypt mystery than he pledged. Hope finds himself bouncing around various geographic locations to follow the trail of the Akhenaten Project, culminating in a showdown with a cutthroat terrorist in war-torn Africa. What follows could significantly change the political climate around the world. Who was Pharaoh Akhenaten and how did his secret leave him branded a heretic by those of his era? Mariani keeps the story fresh and the thrills continuous in this Ben Hope story that will have readers curious until the very end. Recommended to series fans and those who need a summer jolt for their reading lists.

Mariani continues to create his Ben Hope character, offering something unique in each of the novels to date. Here, with Hope trying to balance between ‘former warrior’ and ‘fully retired’, Mariani places his protagonist in a spot to explore the teaching role, as if he wanted to pass along his knowledge for the next generation. Of course, that is foiled and keeps him in the game. Interestingly enough, Hope also suffers only briefly with the loss of his wife and turns his eyes (and heart) towards a new interest, though she is surely off limits in the early stages of this book. Mariani continues to portray Hope as a man able to sow many proverbial oats and who has to keep an oak door as the women seek to beat it down. However, this banter between Hope and the lady friends he keeps shows a more tender side to the man who is happy to cut a throat in the line of duty. Turning to the story itself, I found myself, again, less than drawn to the overall idea, though Mariani keeps the reader guessing with all the travel and some of the head butting scenes. One can only hope this lull in the plot does not become a new normal, though with many books yet to go in the series, one can surmise that this is but a brief dial-down. While Egypt has much to offer historically, with scores of mysteries intertwined within its centuries of undiscovered stories, I found this to be less electrifying as I might have liked. Ben Hope has much to offer and the early chapters showed a great deal of intriguing storytelling, but the full-impact story lost me at some points. Again, as mentioned above, there may be a lull here or I might just be a little off my game.

Kudos, Mr. Mariani for advancing the Ben Hope character in new directions. There is surely much to be found in this man and his life in the numerous novels to come.

Dunkirk: Retreat from the Brink of Destruction, by Lt. Col. Ewan Butler and Major J. Selby Bradford (M.B.E., M.C.)

Six stars

First and foremost, thank you to Sapere Books for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Resurrecting a piece first published in 1950, this digital version allows the reader to connect with Lt. Col. Ewan Butler and Major J. Selby Bradford (M.B.E., M.C.) in their recounting of events leading up to and the hands-on activities during Dunkirk, an important military campaign in the early part of the Second World War. Told from the perspective of members of the British Expeditionary Force (B.E.F.), Butler and Bradford seek to recollect some of their memories so that the importance of Dunkirk is not lost on subsequent generations. The authors begin recounting their recollections of the B.E.F. as it traversed the French and Belgian territories, speaking less of the impeding German approach, but rather the soldier’s interactions with citizens in the various towns along the way. At times drawing parallels between the hospitality offered during the Great War and this conflict, the authors make mention of how welcoming the entire process appeared to be, though the looming defeat of the Belgian forces was never far from from narrative. The winter of 1939, which flowed into early 1940, led to a build-up of military conflict, with France becoming the new battlefield. Butler and Bradford recount the incoming Nazi armies and Air Force regiments targeting France and littering propaganda along the countryside. It seemed somewhat effective in leaving segments of the popular ill at ease about the Allied movement, even as the B.E.F. sought to support their French brethren. By the time military campaigns were in full swing, Dunkirk became the battlefield central to the Allied-Axis clash, at least as can be deciphered from the book’s narrative. An important early battle in the Second World War, Dunkirk proved a litmus test for both Nazi and B.E.F. soldiers, indicative of what would be a drawn-out war. Members of the B.E.F. offered their all (at times including their lives) to stave off the Nazi march to overtake Europe. Interesting in its approach, this is a short primer on the military morale in the region during 1939-40. The curious and attentive reader should be able to pluck out some interesting factoids and it is for those individuals that this book will surely be of greatest interest.

This is an interesting piece for the reader, on numerous levels. First, it was purposely written ten years after events to allow some time for history to settle. The authors explain this at the outset, in hopes of having a sobering view of events, rather than writing in the heat of the moment. Secondly, the book is a digitalized copy of the text from 1950, allowing yet another generation of readers to enjoy this piece with ease. On this note, I must admit that the language and delivery does not appear as dated as I might have expected for sixty-seven year gap from the original publication. The test of time has surely stood with this piece, allowing curious readers to feel completely at ease. The third area of interest is how one might label this piece of writing. It is not fictional (even though it has some dialogue at various points), and it is not entirely historical in its presentation. It is also not a journal-based storytelling of events for the reader to digest. Instead, it stands as a loose and somewhat entertaining narrative that pulls on memories, even if they are somewhat clouded by close to ten years’ delay. Historians may decry this as being a jaded account and surely it is a personal perspective told by two members of the B.E.F. However, I would not call this propaganda in the least. Let me be the first to admit that I was not entirely drawn to this piece, perhaps because it was not as hardcore historical as I might have liked, but I can respect this publication for what it is. I agreed to read this for the publisher and think that many might have a great fascination with this first-hand account. It just was not for me, at least at this point in time. I am sure there will be other pieces that will pull me in, but surely the publisher, keen on reissuing a piece from 1950, cannot be held accountable for the content of this piece. Anyone who has a great deal of interest in soldier accounts of war-time battles might find this a stellar piece and for them, I recommend this piece.

Kudos, Lt. Col. Butler and Major Bradford for your frank account of the events surrounding the British Expeditionary Force in the early period of the Second World War. I will pass the title along to others, who can laud your praises even more than I have been able to in this review.  

Camino Island, by John Grisham 

Seven stars

Back with another new novel, John Grisham seeks to expand his horizons with a story free of much legalese, but with the slightest hint of some criminal activity. A heist at one of Princeton’s libraries puts a number of original F. Scott Fitzgerald’s manuscripts in the hands of some career criminals. Quick-acting FBI agents are able to scoop up two of the five, but the others are still in hiding, along with the manuscripts. When one is rumoured to have surfaced at a small book shop on Camino Island, the FBI’s Rare Asset Recovery Unit pegs Bruce Kabel as being involved and plan keep an eye on his bookselling operation. Meanwhile, Mercer Mann is approached by a private security firm to help with the reacquisition of the manuscripts under the guise of writing her next novel. Mercer has struggled with her craft and is not sure she wants to play sleuth, particularly if it means returning to Camino Island, where she spent many summers with her grandmother. Taking a risk, Mercer agrees to open some old wounds and pretends to be writing, while surrounding herself with the local writing community. Slowly, Mercer begins building bridges with Bruce Kabel, in hopes of learning more about the manuscripts. However, as she grows closer to an answer, Mercer may have second thoughts of toppling all she has built in a short period of time. With millions of dollars on the line, Mercer must decide what is most important to her. Grisham shows that he has talent to pen novels that keep lawyers and the law outside of the narrative. Sure to appeal to a different group of readers, the story offers some interesting insight into the craft of writing the next ‘great novel’. 

I have long been a fan of John Grisham and his novels, having cut my teeth on his legal thrillers throughout the years. This story differs greatly from those and serves a completely different purpose. While the legal thrillers are usually quite sharp-edged, this book shows a much smoother edge to Grisham’s writing. The characters offer an interesting mix, giving the reader a great sampling of both mannerisms and characteristics that complement one another at times and clash at moments to offer some dramatic flavour to the story. One might say that the characters are a lot softer than Grisham usually presents, but the genre might play into that, alongside the intended audience. The plot and setting are also a much softer, transitioning from the rough and tumble heist at the beginning to the oceanfront setting of Florida, where the breeze and sand denote a more peaceful place for the book to develop. One also has a feel of more romance and emotional discovery in this book, where the reader is subjected to Mercer’s inner turmoil and portions of her self-discovery as she grows closer to the man she is supposed to betray. Its structure also left me a little baffled, choosing ‘chapters’ in what are surely part divisions and then chopping up the chapters into enumerated pieces, clearly of the usual chapter variety. I will admit that the book was well-crafted and kept the story moving forward, but I feel it tapped too much into sentimentality and the development of the author’s process than gritty legal battles and a dark exploration of the criminal element, which better suits Grisham as an author and my enjoyment of his stories. This book will surely create a stir, both good and bad, for the vast number of Grisham fans. I am happy to have offered my five Canadian cents and will watch as things transpire. 

Kudos, Mr. Grisham for another interesting novel. While it was not my favourite, your versatility shines through by penning this piece. I am eager to see how it is received.

Two From the Heart, by James Patterson (with Emily Raymond, Frank Constantini, and Brian Sitts)

Seven stars

It remains a gamble when a reader picks up something by James Patterson. Will it be a decent read or something that has been cobbled together to make a little pocket change? This pair of short stories seems to show some of Patterson’s great work and warms the heart in that sentimental and calming way.

Tell Me Your Best Story (with Emily Raymond):

Anne McWilliams has chosen to isolate herself on a sparsely populated island around North Carolina after a messy divorce. When a tropical storm hits, it destroys her most valued possessions: her home and the darkroom she used to develop her film. Seeing this as a potential sign, Anne packs up and decides that she is going to take a long and meandering road trip across the country, in search of the ‘best stories’ that people have to offer. She’ll write them down, add some photographs, and publish it for all to see. A wonderful idea as she sets off to see family and friends, but her final destination might be one that she least expected. While Anne has been so busy gathering stories, she forgets that she, too, has a story to tell. Hers is full of peaks and valleys, but in the end, it is heartwarming to see how far she has come in the past two decades.

Write Me a Life (with Frank Costantini and Brian Sitts):

During one of his periods of writer’s block, Damian Crane receives a truly unusual visitor. Tech-genius and billionaire, Tyler Bron, has an offer that Crane cannot refuse. Write him up a new life to contrast with the one he currently lives. Crane receives total control of how it will play out and will be rewarded handsomely if it can be executed smoothly. Bumbling to comprehend the task, Crane begins work on this new life for Bron, setting him down in the desert lands of Nada. It is there that Bron encounters an interesting collection of townsfolk and a complete divorce from his tech-heavy lifestyle. Bron must return to his roots and try to interact naturally, all while Crane continues to compose this story from his own ideas. As the piece progresses, Bron makes a few significant connections and learns the power of hard work, seeing its rewards in the eyes of those around him.

I was pleased to have taken the time for these two stories, which warmed the heart on this rainy day. Patterson has chosen well as he joined forces with these three other authors. I am always fickle when it comes to Patterson’s work and while this was not set in the genre I would not normally read, I did give it a try. “Tell Me…” had moments of sugary writing and I had to try not to roll my eyes, but then again, I steer away from Raymond’s romance work for the most part. “Write Me…” turned into something I found somewhat confusing, as the narrative turned into reality and yet was still coming from the pen of Damian Crane. I likely missed something while driving and streaming the audio, but the premise was worth the time spent. The characters were decent in their portrayal and fit nicely into the storylines. I would recommend it to anyone who needs some lighter reading for an afternoon or those who need it to bridge into something else, as I had happen to me.

Kudos, Mr. Patterson et al. for this interesting pair of stories. I can see much promise in these collaborative efforts and know BookShots are a wonderful way to leap into the fray, Messrs. Constantine and Sitts! Madam Raymond has already dazzled many with her efforts.

Environmentally Friendly: A Short Story, by Eliza Zanbaka

Six stars

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

Army veteran, Sargeant Major Bushnell, has escaped from a psychiatric facility and is on a rampage. Armed with a cache of weapons, he has his eye set on a specific target, but not one of the ‘garden’ variety. As the LAPD scramble to catch Bushnell, one of their own must try to reason with the vet before any more blood is shed. Sargeant Schaefer feels that he can make a connection with Bushnell, but must get inside his head before something rash occurs. The ultimate victim, Mother Nature, hangs in the balance and only Schaefer can stop the madness. Trouble is, he may not want to do anything at all. An interesting short story from Zanbaka that fills a coffee break period and leaves the reader wondering about the entire environmental lobby.

When asked to read Zanbaka’s short piece, I felt I did not have anything to lose. While I tend to find author solicited work on Goodreads to be less than provocative, Zanbaka presented a decent story. Veiled in a winding narrative and offering more subtle nuance than might have been helpful for me first thing in the morning, I was left waiting for a cataclysmic event to end the story. While this did not happen, the pace did keep me turning pages until the very end. After closing the book, I was forced to wonder… does it all really matter after all? To open this path of inquiry, Zanbaka has an interesting way of presenting his work, one that might work well for some readers. I count myself in the middle, still unsure what I think.

Kudos, Mr. Zanbaka for your efforts. I see some of my ‘Goodreads’ friends have already sifted through this and I hope more take the time to do so, if only to open their minds to a new way of thinking.

The Princess Diarist (Memoir #3), by Carrie Fisher

Seven stars

In the final of her short memoirs, Carrie Fisher turns her focus onto the inevitable Star Wars franchise and her memories from being on the set in 1976. As the book opens, Fisher lists a number of memorable occurrences from the year, all of which made the filming of a low-budget space fantasy film pale in comparison, or so it would seem. While she does not mention it explicitly, years of excessive drug use and electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) surely scrambled some of the memories and would make them less than pristine. However, Fisher mentions discovering the diary she kept while working on set, which jogged her memory enough to explore many of the events from that spring. While she was the daughter of the famous duo, Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, Carrie was still forced to go through the rigours of auditioning for roles and emerge with less than stellar results in the early days. She began her cinematic life with a small role in Shampoo, a film written and starring Warren Beatty. Fisher recounts a fairly odd interaction when she, as a mere seventeen year-old, was ogled by Beatty as he decided if she ought to go bra-less on set for her one scene. From there, it was trying to sell herself for either the role of Princess Leia in Star Wars or Carrie in the eponymous film based on the Stephen King novel. George Lucas, a seemingly mute troll, saw much potential in Fisher playing Leia and so began the journey. What some have come to find as the most revealing portion of the memoir (and to which Fisher admits she waited forty years to share) is an extensive discussion about off-screen interactions between Fisher and Harrison Ford. Feeling that four decades is enough time to have held back and fearing the affair could be smeared if revealed after her death (does anyone else notice the coincidence?), Fisher discusses a kiss in the back of a production car between Ford (thirty-four) and herself (nineteen), that led to a weekend of sheet wrinkling passion and was repeated throughout filming. Fisher wrestles with admitting that Ford was married and eventually surmises that it was likely more loneliness than a true connection between them, which is further substantiated when Fisher adds a collection of her diary entries that shows the infatuation she had for Ford. These entries from her teenaged self are offset with a collection of sentiments having fermented for four decades, which makes what happened in 1976 seem less scandalous to the reader. Fisher ends the memoir with some memories of trying to ‘sell’ this film that seemed to be doing so in its own and begins what became a massive science fiction franchise, alongside the rollout of trying to keep her stardom alive alongside interactions with many a quirky fan. An interesting, though very topic-specific, final memoir in the Carrie Fisher collection, the reader can bask in much of its raw honesty alongside a number of humorous anecdotes.  

I suppose I would call myself a fan of the Star Wars films, though I am by no means one of the hardcore variety. I did find some of these behind the scenes stories to be highly entertaining and did enjoy Fisher’s take on her interactions with Harrison Ford, though do not feel it was either as scandalous or as significant as some might find. While it was insightful to learn that Fisher felt so strongly for her co-star, there came a time when the actual journal entries became too much. It became all to apparent that Ford and Fisher were on different planes (might I say ‘galaxies’ and not have a symphony of eyebrow raises?), where the young Leia was awestruck by the suave Solo. These entries were well presented, though they soon became filled with poor poetry and supersaturated in angst. I digress, but a large portion of this piece focussed on that interaction and the fallout of their (love) affair. Fisher’s insights have me wanting to learn more about the backstories of Star Wars production, perhaps away from the sexual escapades of its prime actors, though Fisher does keep things discrete and professional while not denying the feelings she had at the time and recollections of them all these years later. Throughout all three pieces, I have come to realise that Fisher is a wonderful wordsmith, delivering humour and passion with so many verbal alternatives that the reader will see that this high-school dropout surely learned a great deal in the School of Life. Perhaps more of a tell-all than past memoirs, Fisher offers more seriousness than her usual humour in this instalment, unfortunately the last.

Kudos, Madam Fisher, for all the honesty that you explored in this final collection of memories. You will be missed and your name will forever rest in the minds of many as Princess Leia, though one can hope the moniker of ejaculatory assistant fades in time.

Shockaholic (Memoir #2), by Carrie Fisher

Seven stars

In the second of her short memoirs, Carrie Fisher returns with more anecdotes and funny stories that come from her life. Again, Fisher opens with the disclaimer that she underwent electro-convulsive therapy (ECT), which erased some of her past memories. She explores ECT a little more for the reader, both its origins in pre-WWII Italy and her own experiences with the treatment. ECT remains, as Fisher describes it, as a last-ditch effort to rid the mind of those looming clouds of depression, where psychotherapy has not worked and medication would only increase the ever-present fog. Fisher considers it a ‘blast of the cement walls of the brain’, which does a marvellous job while leaving some memory loss as a byproduct. Fisher also explored a number of personal struggles that befell her throughout life, especially those she did not discuss in Wishful Drinking. Due to her depression and the traumatic experience of losing a close friend, Fisher turned back to drugs and became unable to properly raise her daughter, Billie. This strained their relationship to the point that Fisher found herself in that horrible cycle of self-medicating to ease the pain of causing her daughter increased angst. Further chapters explore an extremely frank and acerbic exchange with Senator Edward Kennedy in the mid-80s while on a blind date with another member of Congress. The banter proved highly amusing, though Fisher recounts that she was not sure what to make of this man. Fisher also had a close relationship with Michael Jackson and spends much time defending him and offering a personal plea that Jackson was not the pedophile that many made him out to be, while acknowledging his relationship with children was anything but mainstream. I am not entirely convinced, but that is for another review on a entirely separate day. With Elizabeth Taylor as a close friend to Jackson and also one of Fisher’s former step-mothers, the memoir does come full circle to discuss Eddie Fisher and the relationship he had with his daughter. Sometime strained and inevitable quite irregular, Carrie Fisher does open up and speak honesty of the man, adding her own degree of heartfelt sentiment. Another interesting piece that offers more stories outside of the famed Star Wars tales, Fisher entertains readers looking for a little humour and insight without the weighty narrative of a substantial memoir or autobiography.

While I had little interest in her two novels, veiled memoirs of sorts, I find when Fisher steps out and tells the stories about her own life, they hold more impact for the reader. Less a tell-all than a means to give the reader a better understanding of her life, Fisher uses humour and the bluntness that she was in a drug-addled state for much of these years to recount poignant vignettes that made her the woman she became. Perhaps one to be someone centric and drop names throughout, Fisher does not appear to do this for the sake of fame, but to better explain some of her views on the Hollywood and New York communities. Not hiding behind her famous parents, but also not using them as a crutch to excuse her behaviour, Fisher offers readers a ‘behind the curtain’ look at the world she lived. Told with honesty and candour, the reader cannot help but appreciate her efforts between laughing at the antics that appear on the printed page.

Kudos, Madam Fisher for not trying to candy-coat things for the reader or those with whom you have crossed paths over the years.

Wishful Drinking (Memoir #1), by Carrie Fisher

Seven stars

Turning to the first of her short memoirs, I was faced with some of Carrie Fisher’s most interesting sentiments and humorous anecdotes detailing a life about which I knew very little. Fisher adds as an opening disclaimer that she underwent electro-convulsive therapy (ECT), which erased some of her past memories, so things within these pages might not be as clear or succinct as their actual occurrences. Born in the worst possible situation, the offspring of two Hollywood stars, Carrie Fisher found herself in the middle of the most complex family tree imaginable. With Eddie Fisher (an apparently famous crooner of the 1950s) and Debbie Reynolds (famous Hollywood starlet at a young age) as parents, Fisher was forced to live in their blinding glory and make a name for herself. However, as with many star-studded couples, her parents moved on to bigger and better things, leaving her as a child of divorce. Does she use this excuse to explain away her decision to turn to drugs and alcohol? Not at all, or at least no more than any other child. Fisher tells of a life both in Los Angeles and New York, following her mother along her successful but fading career before she ended up on the set of Star Wars at nineteen and carving out a name for herself. This single character (Princess Leia) has permeated Fisher’s very being and she was forever unable to shake its presence. Pulling out some stories about her interactions with George Lucas to explain why wearing a bra on set would not make scientific sense, her brief marriage to Paul Simon, and eventually marrying a man who got her pregnant and eventually announced that he was gay, Fisher takes the reader through a whirlwind tour of some of her most memorable moments, all surrounding an ever-increasing dependence on pills, psychiatrists, and flashes of fame. An interesting smattering of thoughts and memories, instilled with enough humour to leave the reader feeling this is an extended comedy dialogue, Fisher presents something to tide the reader over between larger and more substantial reading assignments. Funny for what it is, but not a stellar piece for those seeking an in-depth exploration of Carrie Fisher’s life.

Some might wonder why I am reading Carrie Fisher after I panned her two novels so recently. I knew what I was getting into with this book and it delivered precisely what I expected. While I might have preferred something more linear, I found myself interested in all the adventures, follies, and downright stupidity that crossed Fisher’s path. I knew her only as Princess Leia (though I was not one to plaster posters upon my wall) and so all of this proved both intriguing and even a little entertaining. Fisher does not try to gussy up her writing or her stories. They are precisely as she remembers them, though she does remind the reader of her ECT throughout the piece, which acts as a means to understand some of the more random commentaries found herein. Engaging and even a little provocative, Fisher serves her purpose by presenting this piece, the first in what became a series. We shall see what else comes to pass as the Force flows through me for the other two memoir-ish publications.

Kudos, Madam Fisher for entertaining and intriguing me. A nice appetizer before I delve into a month of hard-going biographies

The Christmas Mystery (Detective Luc Moncrief #2): A BookShot, by James Patterson and Richard DiLallo

Seven stars

In this follow-up BookShot, Patterson and DiLallo bring Detective Luc Moncrief back to work alongside Katherine “K.” Burke on the streets of New York. While their assignments vary, from undercover shoppers in Bloomingdale’s to stakeouts waiting for the next “chalk drop” in the dingy streets of the city, Moncrief and Burke are always ready for a new adventure. News comes down the line that there is an art gallery that has been stiffing its patrons, selling them knock-offs at prices for which the original masterpieces might sell. Moncrief uses his connections in the art world to peer deeper into this, with Burke happy to play along, doing so more effectively than anyone might imagine. When one of New York’s finest, Ramona Driver Dunlop (Baby D to her fans), is murdered, Moncrief and Burke begin investigating, soon learning that she, too, has been a victim of forgers. While the case plays out, Moncrief receives a call from Paris with some sad news. In an attempt to support him, and on the insistence that they both take some time off after the murder investigation, Burke accompanies Moncrief to Paris. There, much is made of the news and Moncrief tries to unwrap the mystery of his feelings for K. Burke in the City of Love. Could Burke and Moncrief have Christmas chemistry? A BookShot that rebounds, at least partially, from the previous let-down in the series. This is a quick read and should keep any reader occupied long enough to digest such a large and festive meal before breaking out the sweets.

As with any BookShot, there is a gamble and a balance in trying to make it all work. Patterson and DiLallo offer up a decent story, though it is a little light on the mystery and drama, while plunging a little deeper into the personal sentiments of Detective Luc Moncrief. I found the crime-based portion of the story to be somewhat predictable and less than captivating, though perhaps this was a cover the authors had for eating up page counts before delving into the Paris angle and final BookShot in the series. I am curious to see how things will resolve themselves, on both sides of the Pond, and to see if this mini-series can end with a bang rather than a dreary collection of angst-filled sentiments by Moncrief towards Burke. Perhaps I am too used to the quick pace of a Patterson mystery, but this set of characters seems locked into something bridled, even in their banter with one another. There are moments of excitement, for sure, but it is as if Patterson and DiLallo are holding back, from what I have seen in each of them previously. One can hope that the pep is back, for this team has churned out some successful stories before.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and DiLallo for soldiering on, though I can only hope you have something riveting to complete the BookShot trilogy. Moncrief has potential and seems to have some NYPD tendencies. Show them off or ship him back!

Chaos (Kay Scarpetta #24), by Patricia Cornwell

Seven stars

Having reached the impressive milestone of twenty-four Kay Scarpetta novels, Cornwell takes readers on another journey into the fast-paced life of this popular medical examiner. While attending a seminar in Cambridge, Scarpetta is told of a complaint called into the police for disturbing the peace, apparently involving an argument she had with her assistant. Detailed information knowable only to someone who was close at hand, Scarpetta is baffled as to who might be lurking in the shadows and what the rationale could be for such a false report. She is left to think back on the odd messages received from one ‘Tailend Charlie’, a cyber bully that has both her and her techie niece, Lucy, completely baffled. While dining with her husband, FBI Agent Benton Wesley, both receive calls that pull them away from their date and to handle leads in their respective jobs; Wesley a heightened terror alert for the Boston area and Scarpetta to attend the scene of a potential homicide. Scarpetta is met by longtime friend and colleague, Pete Marino outside the restaurant, where they begin piecing together the narrative. After receiving an odd call from INTERPOL, Marino is told of the homicide of Elisa Vandersteel, who works in England. What does not make sense is the fact that INTERPOL was tipped off and took an active interest before the local police have investigated and liaised. Marino and Scarpetta head to the scene, where twin girls apparently found Vandersteel, though they are less than clear in their statements. Racing against the clock, Scarpetta is still hoping to welcome her sister who is flying in from Florida, but has had to pass that along to Lucy. Tailend Charlie continues to send messages, some in Italian, offering shreds of information from Scarpetta’s past that only one or two people could know. During the examination of Elisa’s body, there appears to be signs of an electrical shock that knocked her from riding and Scarpetta realises that she met the young woman earlier in the day. Trying to synthesise what might be going, Scarpetta deduces there might have been a shock from a lightning strike, though the night was free of any cloud cover. With no firm leads, Scarpetta receives a call that her mentor has died after a freak accident, which derails her already fractured concentration. Things continue to take many twisted turns, leaving Scarpetta to have strong memories of her long-time nemesis, Carrie Grethen. How does all this fit together and could someone else be targeting Scarpetta in an attempt to impress Grethen with a degree of psychopathic tendencies? All builds up to a grand finale, where Scarpetta and Wesley come to terms with the series of events that have plagued them, only to leave readers with a stunning revelation that will change the scope of the Scarpetta series for the foreseeable future. An interesting instalment to the series that might leave regulars scratching their heads or tossing the novel down in frustration. 

In a twist of fate, I have read and reviewed a number of series whose length opens the discussion about the usefulness of character longevity. While Kay Scarpetta is a character whose day to day activity is not physically taxing to the point of running her body ragged, series followers will have seen her go through many transformations, both in personal life and the workplace. A character that goes through so much change is sure to become somewhat stagnant without an author at the helm who can rejuvenate the backstory and keep things moving forward. Cornwell has done well with Scarpetta and has kept her from becoming too aged or even losing the lustre of her abilities. However, the writing in his novel showed that the case at hand played second fiddle to an ongoing flashback narrative and one that forced regular readers to pound their heads into the wall. I have always found that if a reader chooses to parachute into the middle of a series, they should leave confused and without a strong connection to the protagonist. However, Cornwell spent so much time rehashing the entire backstory of Dr.Kay Scarpetta and how each character tied to her, back to the early days, that I was left to ask, ‘when will be focus on the case?’. The case was present, though took closer to 70% of the novel to have the esteemed doctor arrive on the scene. Then, in an interesting spin, the entire case, investigation and determination of what happened flowed down like an information avalanche in order to tie things off. Fearing I might offer too much, I must also say that while the key characters were as strong and present as always, the constant reappearance of Carrie Grethen makes me feel as if Scarpetta wanted to tie every case she works to Grethen and all over evildoers must, in some way, be pawns in her game of chess. It gets tiresome and led me to beg Cornwell to have someone cut Grethen’s throat once and for all, watching her bleed out before dropping her in a vat of acid. Kill her once and for all… let’s find new case and new villains with no ties to anyone else. Let Lucy focus her attention elsewhere, have Scarpetta not look over her shoulder… and let the bodies be tied to actual cases that attract the reader’s attention, not something tech-based that pushes the parameters of reality. While Kay Scarpetta does not track down terrorists or have her life threatened as she is beaten up and captured in some Uzbek cave, her time as an effective character might have come to an end at twenty-four novels. Ok, I’ll push the soapbox away and hush now, or at least until the next annual release of Cornwell’s Scarpetta. 

Kudos, Madam Cornwell for another interesting addition to the Scarpetta series. I hope others will see some of what I do and this helps shape your approach to future publications.

Woman of God, by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro

Seven stars

The Patterson-Paetro partnership returns with a one-off novel that seeks to explore faith, religion, and the strength in both that one woman possesses in the modern world. Brigid Fitzgerald has been working in South Sudan, serving as a doctor and trauma surgeon in a war-torn corner of the country. After the medical facility is attacked by guerillas, many are slaughtered, including the local priest and Brigid’s mentor. As she struggles to come to terms with this, Brigid, too, is attacked and left for dead. She sees a collection of visions and is left to wonder if she is communicating with God. Brigid wakes in an Amsterdam hospital and learns that she has been brought back from death and from thereon in has an odd and strengthened communication with God, from visions to complete conversations. As Brigid’s life progresses, she continues to have a strong connection to God and uses this relationship to shape the lives of those around her. Tragedy offsets triumph and Brigid learns that God’s decisions are not always pleasant, though there is surely a larger plan to which she is not always privy. After forging a friendship with Father James Aubrey, they weather a scandalous event and find that the Roman Catholic Church remains rooted in its archaic ways. Platonic ties soon turn romantic and Brigid works with Aubrey to create the Jesus Mary and Joseph (JMJ) Movement; a church seeking to modernise some Roman Catholic views as they relate to worship and those who are welcome in the flock. Of course, traditionalists rage against such blasphemy, though Brigid and Aubrey refuse to stop preaching. After a blessed marriage and birth of a daughter Aubrey and Brigid face yet more tragedy, enough to turn anyone from God. Brigid is now head of a movement, one that seeks compassion and openness, while there are still those out there seeking to rid the world of her proselytising. The rumbles of the JMJ Movement continue, with churches popping up all over the world, and leads to an audience with His Holiness, Pope Gregory XVII. What follows is a powerful narrative that turns the foundations of modern Catholicism on its head. An interesting read for those with open minds and seeking to explore the parameters of individual faith.

The premise of the novel is surely grounded in something other than most Patterson fans might expect. While crime and legal dramas have filled bookshelves, there is a softer and more wholesome story found within the pages of this novel. What Patterson and Paetro seek to offer the reader is an exploration of one woman’s faith and struggles that surround it, while also examining the delight that can come from such a connection. One might also say that the authors are depicting Brigid as a modern-day Job, testing her faith with innumerable hurdles as the chapters progress. While the argument towards strength of faith is key, there is also a strong undertone that remains highly critical of the Roman Catholic Church and its principles. All this develops and digresses throughout, complete with a Conclave that emerges with Brigid on the lips of many cardinals. Putting aside the ignored rules and regulations surrounding this, the soft and dramatic events leading up to this are meant to touch the heart of the reader, while pushing them towards hoping that Brigid can shepherd in change. Using a plethora of strong characters, the authors develop a strong protagonist that sees the story take many twists before its ultimate set of revelations. While the story is strong for its messaging, I found it hokey and even melodramatic in spots, with a narrative that gets gushy and eve smarmy. However, it does what it seeks to do, push women and the Church to the forefront, while also allowing the fairer sex to hold the reins during numerous crises of faith. For that, Patterson and Paetro cannot be faulted. Well-crafted for those who want a break from Patterson’s tepid writing, which exemplifies that Paetro is able to save yet another story from ruin. 

Kudos, Mr. Patterson and Madam Paetro for this book that touches the heart and soul of many. While I was not moved to speak out, I enjoyed some of the less than subtle attacks on the Holy See’s arcane views. 

Genesis (Dominus #0.5), by Tom Fox

Six stars

Fox presents readers with this interesting prequel to his full-length work, diving into conspiracies as they relate to the Catholic Church and the Vatican. After receiving reports of small donations going missing at a tiny parish church in Rome, Polizia di Stato assigns Agent Gabriella Fierro to investigate. Unsure of the importance of a few misallocated euros, Fierro nonetheless begins looking into the small parish and its priest, Father Alberto Agostini. Unbeknownst to Fierro, a former acquaintance has been dispatched to investigate as well, former priest turned journalist Alexander Trecchio. He appears at the church, creating a stir for Fierro, though neither is able to locate Agostini, who made an appointment with them both. Reluctantly working together, Fierro and Trecchio discover that many of the missing funds have a similar alphanumeric code build into their transactions, one that refers to something prevalent in the Scriptures; GENESIS. As they try to track down Agostini, the narrative offer a glimpse into a scene where a man is being tortured for information and another where a Cardinal in Venezuela is targeted for his views within the Vatican, both seemingly part of a larger issue that might tie-in to the funds. What is Genesis and how does using a small church in Rome to funnel monies play into the larger plan? Fierro and Trecchio must speak with Agostini to get some answers before the conspiracy has a chance to grow. However, those in positions of authority can sometimes lay their own traps within shell games, all in an effort to distract from a larger plan. Fox lays out this short story nicely to hint at what is to come and how Genesis might only be the beginning of a plot more sinister than anyone could have imagined. A quick read that piques at least some interest in the reader.

While I am always up for a good Vatican conspiracy thriller, presentation and layout are a must. Fox has the foundation for a great story to captivate the reader, but the way in which the story is told lessens that delivery. While there are some good characters, each with their own backstories and a connection between the two protagonists that is not fully explored, the narratives bounces from past to present to closer past and back to the present again, all in such a way that the reader is left somewhat confused and perhaps slightly irritated. Additionally, the resolution of the Genesis plot seems too basic or swift, though there is surely something afoot that arises in the final chapter of the novel. One can hope that Fox will use a full novel to explore more as it relates to the inner workings of this cabal and how their power could topple the upper echelons of the Vatican, adding politics to an already veiled system of power. There is potential here and the patient reader might just be rewarded, should they stick around a while longer.

Decent work, Mr. Fox. I am pleased to see some potential here and hope that it flourishes into something greater with this next novel.