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:

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:

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:

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:

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

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:

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:

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:

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:

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:

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: