Broken Promises, by Nick Nichols

Six stars

After having this book recommended to me, I thought I would delve deeper into the legal mind of Nick Nichols. Having previously read one of his short stories, I was sure this would be a great legal drama, sharp and succinct as the reader holds on for dear life. Jack Adams is an Atlanta divorce attorney climbing the ranks of his firm in hopes of making partner by thirty-five. When two important cases fall on his desk, he can all but see the partnership solidified. One case proves challenging, with a woman bound and determined to take her husband to the cleaners for his adulterous ways. The other proves even more mind-boggling and Adams finds himself unsure how to react to the advances made by his client. What begins as simple flirtation soon turns into full-fledged scandal, as Adams is drawn into his client’s web. Learning her true intentions, Adams still finds himself violating ethical boundaries, which could cost him everything. A Bar suspension, a job in jeopardy, and personal ruin begin the downward spiral for Jack Adams, and yet this is not rock bottom. When something happens to his client, all eyes turn to Adams, though he professes that he is not involved. What follows might be the fight for his life, legal and otherwise. A interesting premise for a legal thriller that, unfortunately, does not past muster with this jury of one.

While others have offered much praise for this novel, I felt that Nichols missed the mark. He had all the essential tools in his quiver, but repeatedly fell short. The cast of characters was well constructed and varied, as were their backgrounds. This permitted the story to move forward, albeit limping on certain occasions. The premise was strong and Nichols did succeed in making divorce law something more than a mundane mud-slinging affair (no pun intended), but the way by which the narrative developed and presented the ‘spiral into disarray’ started a process of skimming the water, as if Nichols had much he wanted to address but someone was demanding the manuscript quickly. He rushed through the latter portion of the story and offered only the most superficial of courtroom or legal stories, where I could see much opportunity for dramatic flare. Tepid at best, I am left to wonder if an editor slashed and gutted the essential aspects to his work, as I have seen writing and a narrative exponentially better in his aforementioned short story. Perhaps a switch elsewhere will garner him better results (at least from me), if he is given the chance to flourish with another project.

A decent novel, Mr. Nichols that simply did not get deep enough or explore all the avenues at your disposal. Worry not, we all stumble at times. It is picking one’s self up again that separates the truly great authors from those destined for sub-par status. 

The Lion and the Leopard (The Lion and the Leopard Trilogy #3), by Brian Duncan

Eight stars

In his final instalment of the African trilogy, Brian Duncan gathers the plots from his previous two novels for an exciting finale. During the early part of 1914, there are whispers of an imminent war on the horizon, even on the southernmost part of the African continent. Alan Spaight and his daughters are headed back to their farmland around South Africa, hoping to settle on their land and avoid the conflict. Spaight’s cousin, Martin Russell, is also preparing to use his experience from the Boer War to help craft a strong set of military manoeuvres that could be useful should conflict erupt in the colonial lands across Africa. The winds of war have led the world to turn their eyes on Europe, where the Germans are flexing their muscle, but there are important holdings a continent away that could prove just as important for land acquisition. When war formally begins, the African colonies begin to draw their own battle lines, with German East Africa playing the role of central aggressor against their continental neighbours under the control of Britain, Belgium, and Portugal. While the Spaights and Russells are called into action, others in the area join the Allied forces to repel the Germans. As Duncan elucidates, it becomes a battle where the two European groupings are not the only aggressors, particularly with the addition of thick jungles and numerous bodies of water. Malaria-infected mosquitos attack anyone with a blood source and cripple forces in vast quantities. Additionally, the African locals have had their fill of suppression, turning to shed their oppressive yokes by entering their own midnight battles, predominantly against the British landowners. With strong war themes throughout, Duncan pulls the reader into the middle of the untold story of the African Theatre of the Great War. A powerful novel that educates and entertains in equal measure.

Duncan tells a wonderful story with true African flavour, pulled from his own experiences over many decades. Readers who are familiar with the previous two books will understand the richness of the narrative and feel right at home as the story moves from jungle battles to war room strategy sessions. With a number of strong central characters, Duncan is able to weave a masterful tale of the horrors of war alongside the wonders of the African subcontinent and its vast array of wildlife. War-based plots fill most of the narrative, from plotting, fighting, and casualties, but there is also a strong sense of character interconnectedness and development with emotional growth and even romantic encounters. Peppering both English and local African dialects throughout brings another realistic aspect to the story, which is full of symbolism as Duncan develops another avenue of the novel’s rich flavour. Readers who are familiar with another African author’s ‘Courtney’ and ‘Ballantyne’ series will find much enjoyment in this novel (as well as the other two in this trilogy). Those who have a piqued curiosity with the region and its history may also enjoy these well-researched books. 

Kudos, Mr. Duncan for developing this wonderful collection of historical novels. I am pleased to have been pointed in the direction of your novels and would recommend them to any reader with a keen interest in Africa.

The Likeness (Dublin Murder Squad #2), by Tana French

Nine stars

After being stunned by Tana French’s opening novel, I was equally impressed with the second instalment of the Dublin Murder Squad. After being severely emotionally scarred during Operation Vestal, in which a young girl was murdered, Cassie Maddox left the Squad for the more structured world of Domestic Violence. After receiving a frantic call from Squad Detective (and current boyfriend) Sam O’Neill, she agrees to meet him at the scene of his latest case; perhaps her first mistake. Cassie arrives to discover a murder victim who bears a striking resemblance to her, with identification listing the victim as Lexie Madison. This startles Maddox and takes her back to days working Undercover, where Maddox used the same name. With no leads, O’Neill hatches a plan alongside Frank Mackey, Maddox’s handler from those days working Undercover, wanting to place Maddox back into the life of Lexie Maddox. Their long-shot hope, to lure the killer back out of the shadows, while also allowing Maddox to gather intel from the four roommates with whom Madison shared a house. Maddox re-establishes herself as an undercover plant, testing her skills as attempts to fit into a life she never knew. To smooth over obvious gaps in what Maddox is able to ascertain about this new Lexie Madison, she heads into the house armed solely with a sketchy backstory of amnesia and the recent stabbing. As Mackey and O’Neill push her, a few motives for the attack come to the surface, though Maddox is unable to substantiate any of them. Could the killer be in plain sight, fraternizing with Maddox on a daily basis, or does an ancient grudge held by the townspeople help to fuel a hatred strong enough to kill? Maddox has a limited time to find the truth before being discovered and the killer slips away. Told with as much deliberate pacing as the previous novel, French shows that she was not a one-hit wonder. Perfect for those who seek a less than conventional murder mystery and police procedural. 

I am still in awe that it took me so long to discover Tana French and her brilliant series. After pulling Adam ‘Rob’ Ryan into the spotlight throughout the opening novel, French turns to his (former) partner and best friend, using both her backstory and previous work in Undercover to develop this equally gripping story. Peppering the narrative with mentions of Ryan, French keeps him at arm’s length and away from making even the briefest of appearances. While some readers might have found the idea of a ‘lookalike’ entirely dubious for this or any other novel, French has a reason for pushing this idea, discussed below. French uses this ‘swap out’ to develop the struggles that Cassie Maddox had playing this faux character, as any undercover plant would while trying to hone in on what happened to the victim. The characters presented throughout the novel help to bring life and action to the plot, while also showing the strains of undercover work during the building of a watertight case against a handful of suspects. The latter portion of the explores the idea of imposters, which might explain the aforementioned use of the lookalike situation. French examines both the imposters angle that individuals use to fool others (a la Jekyll and Hyde), where a person takes on a false persona for their own benefit. Alternatively, there is the imposter that one plays against themselves, trying to pretend that they fit into another socio-economic bracket or general caste. Both are damaging and yet useful in one’s daily life. I would venture to say there is not a single reader who can completely divorce themselves from these situations in their own lives. French explores this theme extensively throughout the narrative, arguing that they appear on a regular basis, even if we cannot decipher them independently. Perhaps her greatest quality of French’s writing is her style of slow narrative momentum to stretch the story out while keeping the reader’s attention throughout. A stunning novel that is sure to garner scores of new fans for Tana French and provide much fodder for discussion. 

Kudos, Madam French for keeping me hooked as I delve deeper into the Dublin Murder Squad. I cannot wait to find out what you have in store with your third novel. 

In the Woods (Dublin Murder Squad #1), by Tana French

Nine stars

After much waiting and some significant ‘biblio’ peer pressure, I have finally decided to take the plunge into the world of Tana French and the Dublin Murder Squad. In the summer of 1984, three children went missing in the woods on the outskirts of Dublin. When authorities arrived, they found one boy, Adam ‘Rob’ Ryan, delirious and unsure what had happened to him. The other two were presumed dead, their bodies never found. Flashing forward two decades, Ryan has recreated himself, using his middle name, and finds himself working as a Homicide detective in Dublin. Partnered with his best friend, Cassie Maddox, they are used to the most gruesome of scenes. When Ryan and Maddox are called to an archeological dig site, they discover the body of twelve year-old Katy Devlin, buried under a ceremonial headstone. This sparks many disturbing memories for Ryan, as it is the exact location of his childhood trauma. While beginning to amass clues in the Devilin murder, Ryan is forced to revisit his past, told in a number of developing flashbacks. He tries to make sense what happened to his two best friends as he remembers the news they shared leading up to that summer afternoon. The deeper Ryan and Maddox dig into the possible motives for the crime, the more suspects they unearth who might harbour the necessary grudge to kill young Katy. Could the murder investigation hold the key to solving the crime from that long ago summer night? Ryan struggles to come to terms with this while also balancing the burden of having no means of helping the two people he loved the most. Simultaneously, his personal interactions with Maddox open paths of confusion and animosity that may be irreparable. French makes her debut in stunning fashion, sure to impress all those who enjoy a police procedural of the highest order.

While I have heard much of Tana French in the last few months, I had been inundated with new series in my 2016 reading journey that I was not sure I ought to add another collection to my list. However, the series held a few unique aspects, one of which was its setting in Ireland, a place I hold close to my heart. After allowing myself to try at least one novel, I discovered that French tells a story that proves as gripping as some of the great European series I have discovered in the past couple of years. The Rob Ryan character is both gripping and baffling, which caught my attention from the start. His work on the Homicide Squad and the struggles tied to his youth proved to be a thread throughout the story and remained relevant until the final pages. While French takes her time in the story’s progression, the drawn out development is done in such an effective way that the reader forgets the pace at which the story matures. The plot is both straightforward and convoluted, as the reader encounters twists and dead ends as they relate to motives for the crime. Strains between the characters help bridge portions of the investigation narrative, but might surge into being central plot lines for subsequent novels. French takes on a great deal in her debut piece but comes out of the experience firmly rooting herself in the genre by providing a unique flavour. I am eager to lose myself in her subsequent novels, which I hope are just as riveting.

Kudos, Madam French for blowing my mind and creating an instant fan out of me. I cannot wait to rush into the second novel, hoping that Ryan and the rest of the gang prove equally as compelling.

Deep Cover Jack (Hunt for Reacher #7), by Diane Capri

Seven stars

In her latest Hunt for Reacher novel, Diane Capri adds a new layer to the ongoing chase scenario that keeps the protagonists one small step behind their intended target. FBI Special Agents Gaspar and Otto continue their search for Jack Reacher, sent to Houston to follow-up on another lead. It appears that former DEA and ATF Agent Susan Duffy has been seen with Reacher over the past three weeks and might be able to shed some light on his whereabouts, or reveal his location, inadvertently. While in Houston, Gaspar and Otto learn that Duffy is on indeterminate leave and no one is willing to share anything concrete with them. Duffy’s apartment appears to have been emptied and her most recent partner is also highly defensive when it comes to sharing anything. Upon learning that she might have returned to Abbott Cove, a small community in Maine, Gaspar and Otto rush across the country in order to follow a trace that might lead to Reacher or provide some concrete leads. Within the confines of a large compound in the Abbott Cove area, a man by the name of the Diplomat is entertaining a number of rich men whose criminal capabilities are piqued by a new weapon on the market; one that can obliterate from such a distance that it is virtually undetectable. While following up leads in Abbot Cove, Gaspar and Otto learn that Duffy might be in the area, though she has gone missing after trying to locate another of her colleagues. All signs point to the aforementioned compound, where rumour has it women were being kept for an international human trafficking ring. The collective who seek to find and free Duffy must work together to remove her from harm’s way, which might permit essential clues about the whereabouts of the ever-elusive Jack Reacher. All this while the Diplomat seeks to sell his most lucrative weapon to date to the highest bidder and keep his trafficking ring intact. Succinct but full of drama, Capri knows how to lure the reader in and keep them interested until the next cliffhanger. 

This series has always been an interesting one for me, as I am an avid Jack Reacher fan. While Capri’s series is concentrated in a very small window of time and each books feeds immediately after the end of its predecessor, the stories remain fresh and highly entertaining. With plots that focus on finding Reacher, things generally spiral from the intended mission and a new mystery emerges. Using a few central characters and an ever-changing collection of those in a supporting role (a la each Reacher tale), Capri is able to keep the reader interested and curious about what is yet to come. Gaspar and Otto have grown in the short chronological period of the novels, with Capri adding new layers to keep the reader connected to them during each mission. I remain interested in the evolution of the series, though the nomadic Reacher character proves to be my greatest interest. 

Kudos, Madam Capri for a sensible addition to the series. Even if Reacher remains one step ahead, you are able to develop your characters effectively. 

Danny the Champion of the World, by Roald Dahl

Nine stars 

Dahl continues with his wonderful children’s stories, telling one that has a realistic flavour to it, sure to appeal to the masses. After the death of his mother as an infant, Danny is left to live with his father. Together, they forge a bond so close that no one can come between them. Living in a small caravan out back of the service station he owns, William raises Danny the best he can. One night, Danny wakes to find his father is not in the upper bunk bed and panics, but soon locates him strolling up the pathway. After intense questioning, Danny learns that his father has been out poaching pheasants, something that many of the poorer men have been known to do on the large estate of a pompous owner. Danny is enamoured at the possibility that they can do this together, but is cautioned against it, as it is a highly dangerous and illegal affair. When Danny cannot find his father a second time, he goes out looking, only to discover that things are tied up in proverbial knots. Sharing an idea for the pheasant catching, Danny finds a way to get in on the act. What follows is a treacherous scheme that could fail at any moment, or reap rewards for many. Perhaps my favourite story to date in this re-reading adventure, Dahl dazzles and impresses at the same time.

I vaguely remember my father reading me this story when I was young, which helped fuel my desire to try it again for myself. The ease with which the story flows is surely one of its greatest assets, alongside some great characters and a plot that is as believable as it is relatable to at least some children. Able to convey a wonderful story in short order, Dahl continues to show how he earned the title of masterful children’s author of the 20th century. With a peppering mention of some other stories in his quiver (BFG, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), Dahl bridges a connection for his young readers, with just a touch of self-promotion. Short chapters foster a great adult-child joint experience and one can only hope that readers for decades to come will continue to be dazzled by the work Dahl made popular in my own youth. Rest assured, I will soon bring these stories out for my own son.

Kudos, Mr. Dahl for continuing to impress with your fluid prose. I love that warm feeling your books always impart. 

Chitty Chitty Bank Bang Over the Moon (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang #4), by Frank Cottrell Boyce

Eight stars

  The excitement continues in this final instalment of the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang series, as Frank Cottrell Boyce pushes the reader to their limits. Stuck in 1966 without a vehicle, the Tootings have little hope of retrieving Chitty Chitty Bang Bang from Tiny Jack and Nanny. Mr. Tooting surmises that their only hope will be to locate Commander Pott and the rest of the family, who could destroy the original vehicle, thereby keeping it from ever having fallen into the hands of nefarious villains. They locate the Commander as he rushes away in the original car, but before they have time to contemplate their options, the Tootings discover that the clock tower of the Houses of Westminster (yes, the one holding Big Ben) has been turned into a makeshift aircraft, circling the earth. Subsequent events help the reader to realise that the Commander and Mrs. Pott are aboard the tower, along with Baby Harry. Teaming up with Jeremy and Jemima Pott, the Tootings soon discover that Commander Pott is trying to reach out to them to explain the dastardly plan Tiny Jack has put into motion. With a revamped 1960s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the Tootings and Pott children work together and head out for the North Pole, only to be caught in yet another web laid for them by Nanny. It is at this point that Tiny Jack reveals all; that he has hopes of taking Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to the moon to add to his cause célèbre. Through a series of dastardly games and revelations the Tootings and Potts must work together to turn the tides, or Tiny Jack and Nanny will add another layer to their growing legacy of infamy, leaving the world unable to stop them and Chitty firmly in their grasp. The fastest and most complex of all the stories, Cottrell Boyce leaves little time for the reader to catch their breath before delivering the final punch!

From the ‘chronojuster’ to Count Zborowski and even into the world of lost-cities, the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang series has taken the reader through time, space, and into the far-reaching crevices of the heart. When I started the series as a buddy read, I was not sure I would be pulled in, but had agreed to something a little light-hearted. Now that we have reached the end, it is as if I am slightly deflated that this zooming vehicle of multiple permutations has finally left for good. As with the previous sequels, Cottrell Boyce pulls together many of the exciting characters and storylines to keep the reader hooked on what is going on. This story is surely the most complex and action-filled, as it deals with time and space travels, as well as trying to tie off all the loose ends laid out in past books. There is a sense of finality that will allow the reader some semblance of peace, though the door remains open just a little to the possible return of Chitty and some of the characters. From the Pott Family through to the Tootings, both Ian Fleming and Frank Cottrell Boyce have laid the groundwork for a wonderful children’s series that can be enjoyed by readers of all ages. I thoroughly enjoyed all four books and would recommend it to anyone, either as a solo, group, or buddy read.
Kudos, Mr. Cottrell Boyce for taking up the series and allowing a new generation of readers to explore the magic of all things Chitty!

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the Race Against Time (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang #3), by Frank Cottrell Boyce

Eight stars

As I continue to explore the adventures of this most exciting vehicle, I have come to see why young readers the world over would be drawn to this series. Frank Cottrell Boyce offers up a cute and informative piece that will surely last the test of time. Picking up where the previous story ended, the Tootings find themselves in an epoch of which they are not familiar, with a Tyrannosaurus Rex breathing down their necks. Apparently, the ‘chronojuster’ has the capacity to toss Chitty Chitty Bang Bang through time, an added layer of excitement for the Tootings. When Mr. Tooting is able to manoeuvre the family away from the meat-eaters and into a more current period, they find themselves in the heart of the early 1920s New York City, where Chitty’s famed creator, Count Zborowski, greets them warmly and challenges them to race in his newly perfected Chitty Chitty Bang Bang II. After some finagling and fine-tuning of the original Chitty, the Tootings take along a young racing enthusiast in hopes that the chronojuster will help propel them to more adventures. Their ultimate goal, to find the Pott family, original owners of Chitty, so that they might erase any remnant of Chitty’s creation. Why get rid of such a handy vehicle, you might ask? Super villains Tiny Jack and Nanny are still on the hunt for Chitty, hoping to add her to their collection to undertake dastardly plans. The Tootings bounce around time, in search of the Potts Family and trying to dodge all that time travel can toss their way. After a makeover in the Amazon, Chitty is ready to face anything that might be placed before her, taking the Tootings along for the ride of their lives. However, Nanny’s spun a web and cannot help but hope to snag Chitty before all is said and done. A wonderful continuation of this series that enthrals young and mature readers alike.

Starting this series as a buddy read, I was so pleased with it presentation that I chose to continue reading all the newer adventures left for young readers. Cottrell Boyce continues to dazzle readers with the adventures of a newer family while keeping the memories of Ian Fleming’s original theme in the forefront of the narrative. A time-travel theme allows for a new round of delightful characters, all of whom add to the fast-paced narrative. Cottrell Boyce presents an interest story, working on a new angle to keep readers curious and free from being able to predict what is to come. While geared to the young reader, the story plays out in such a way that it is not overly cheesy and a more mature (read: adult) reader can equally enjoy the journey through time. I am eager to see what comes next in the Chitty series and will keep these books in mind for when my son is a little older.

Kudos, Mr. Cottrell Boyce for keeping the series fun as well as informative for the reader. While you have taken oven from Ian Fleming, I am confident that his estate is well-pleased with what you’ve been able to do.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang #2), by Frank Cottrell Boyce

Eight stars

Having begun this series with the Ian Fleming classic, I thought it a good idea to continue on, under the guidance of Frank Cottrell Boyce. Moving the story into the present day, the young reader is introduced to the Tooting Family, with a mom and dad, as well as Lucy, Jeremy, and baby Harry. When Mr. Tooting announces that he has major news, he shares that he’s been sacked from his job, which means the family is without a vehicle. Noting the crossroad in their lives, Mr. and Mrs. Tooting agree to take the family on the adventure of a lifetime, but will need a vehicle to match. After they secure a camper van, the Tootings are almost ready to go, but Mr. Tooting takes Jeremy with him to the local scrap yard to find a few items that might be useful to ensure the camper van is ready for all its adventures. There, the duo discover an old Zborowski engine, a famous racing vehicle from the 1920s. Mr. Tooting has grand ideas and turns the camper van into a speeding monstrosity, while Jeremy is unsure what to expect. When the family is ready to head out, they begin the journey towards Paris, where Mrs. Tooting has always fancied going. Their trip takes a turn when the camper van sprouts wings and begins to sail through the air. Panicked and unsure what is going on, the Tootings hold on for dear life until they find themselves atop the Eiffel Tower. The authorities and local media outlets scramble for an explanation, which leads to a mysterious phone call and the subsequent renaming of the camper van to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, a name the Tootings think quite odd, but who are they to protest. From there, Chitty takes the family over to the Sphinx and more adventures. However, super villain Tiny Jack has been watching the Tootings and their vehicle, with a plot of his own and a fiendish assistant named Nanny. What will come of the Tootings and is there more to these vacation destinations than meets the eye? Cottrell Boyce pulls his readers in and does Fleming great justice with this sequel, where the adventure never seems to let up.

It was a buddy read that had me begin this series, but I am pleased that I took the time to delve in, as the adventures are wonderful. Cottrell Boyce ties the previous novel to this one in a masterful manner, offering breadcrumbs to the attentive reader, while entertaining those who may be new to the series. A new collection of characters keeps the story going and offers a wonderful new realm of adventures. With just the right amount of evil villain to keep young readers curious and yet not petrified, Cottrell Boyce delivers a jam-packed adventure that one can only hope will continue with the next in the series. Paced perfect and with a peppering of corny storylines, this is the perfect tale for a young reader with a taste for the adventurous.

Kudos, Mr. Cottrell Boyce for working along the Fleming framework and keeping children enthused as they are educated about the ins and out of motors in all their forms.

The House Husband: A BookShot, by James Patterson and Duane Swierczynski

Eight stars

With a new author pairing, Patterson brings Duane Swierczynski into the BookShot mix to show off his abilities, and what a debut venture this has become. There is a killer about, targeting families whose strains outweigh the connection they have together. What makes it all the more mysterious is that said killer by night is a house husband, most bland, during the day. When Teaghan Beaumont returns to the Homicide Squad after having her first child, everything seems out of whack; her partner is acting off and her fellow detectives handle her with kid gloves. However, when Beaumont and her partner respond to the scene of a potential familicide, she cannot help feel chilled to the bone. While trying to juggle her job and a six-week old baby, Beaumont’s mind is always racing, yet tired as ever. Doing a little work on her own, Beaumont soon realises that there have been other such crimes while she’s been away, all chalked up to strain within a family unit. But, when another such event occurs, Beaumont is sure there is a killer on the loose, setting the scene and trying to deter the authorities. What she discovers next will not only blow the case wide open, but no one will see it coming, even the reader. A wonderful story to appeal to those BookShot fans who seek a gem and have toughed it out with less than stellar pieces in the past.

As I have mentioned many times before, BookShots are truly a gamble to the avid reader. Short enough that anything disappointing has not wasted too long of the reader’s time, but fast-paced at times that the reader can devour a few in one afternoon. Patterson’s introduction of Swierczynski into the family proves to be a wonderful addition and has offered new hope for fans of this short story grouping. With little time to waste, Patterson and Swierczynski develop strong characters and a story that is second to none. Short chapters force the reader to grab on and get hooked or drop everything as the plot moves at an alarming pace. A few key twists within the story act as major pivot points and the reader is left to wonder what’s just happened, hopefully in a good way. I do hope to see Swierczynski again soon in either BookShot or full novel format, as he surely has a mind for this sort of piece.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Swierczynski on a wonderful piece. I can only hope there are more BookShots to come from this entertaining duo.