The Chef (Caleb Rooney #1), by James Patterson and Max DiLallo

Eight stars

Expanding on their successful BookShot in the same series, James Patterson and Max DiLallo return to New Orleans and the delicious antics of Caleb Rooney. When he is not operating his high-end food truck alongside his ex-wife, Caleb Rooney is working hard for the NOPD. At least he was until he was stripped of his badge after an excessive force complaint. Focussing all his time on the food business, Caleb is still forced to keep a lookout for those who may hold a grudge. When he learns that the FBI’s in town, following up on chatter about a potential terrorist attack, Caleb is sought out by his former chief to work off the radar to help protect the city. The plan appears to be tied to an attack at Mardi Gras, when the city comes to life and the casualty count can be highest. As he begins to investigate, Caleb finds some interesting threads the Feds have overlooked. He’s also been targeted a few times by attacks, in hopes of tossing him off the trail. Undeterred, Caleb works to help foil the plan, but finds that every suspect leads to a dead end. During the investigation, Caleb’s attention is caught by a local competitor’s wife. He knows the dangers, but Caleb find himself unable to resist, which only adds a larger target to his own back. It is only when the Feds discover what has been going on that the trouble really begins, forcing Caleb to choose between his civilian limits and protecting the city he loves. In a powerhouse novel that is just as good as its prequel BookShot, Patterson and DiLallo prove that they are a wonderful team. Recommended to those who enjoy thrillers with a delectable twist—and not of lemon—this is a story not to be dismissed.

I took a gamble on this latest Patterson novel, hoping that it would follow in the footsteps of its prequel. Not only was the writing of a high caliber, but I could not get enough of all the delicious dishes whose mention pepper the narrative. Caleb Rooney is as sharp as the knives used to make his various creations. Able to think on his feet and concoct dishes and plans of attack on his feet, the reader will soon discover that he is a complex and relatable character in equal measure. Like many civilian protagonists in this genre, it is curiosity and gumption that fuels his personal fire and keeps him from letting go, even in the face of adversity. Surrounded by interesting supporting characters, the story develops at a quick pace but never loses its momentum. With great discussion of the setting (New Orleans at Mardi Gras) and great sounding dishes, the story has many points of interest to keep the reader interested. With a mix of short and longer chapters, the story pulls the reader in and offers much throughout its development. I can only hope that Patterson and DiLallo take note of the wonderful writing they have done and help create a series out of this, which may help the former author churn out better novels, rather than the sausage factory of unknown quality that sells simply because of the JP emblazoned across the cover.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and DiLallo, for this great piece of work. I can only hope you see a winner, which is sure to garner the literary equivalent to mass publication Michelin stars.

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

The House Next Door: A BookShot Collection, by James Patterson, Susan DiLallo, Max DiLallo, and Tom Arnold

Eight stars

I have long enjoyed the venture James Patterson undertook, writing short stories with collaborators and calling them BookShots. While some are released as individual publications, Patterson will, at times, combine a few together, as he has done here. Working with Susan DiLallo, Max DiLallo, and Tom Arnold, Patterson has created three pieces that will force the reader to think as they discover the wonders of short pieces and how they can be just as effective as full-length novels. From a mysterious next-door neighbour to the distraught wife of a serial killer, and even communication with life outside of Earth’s atmosphere, Patterson and his collaborators provide much needed entertainment in this busy world of reading.

The House Next Door (with Susan DiLallo)

Laura Sherman lives a less than exciting life, though she has agreed to at least some of the sacrifices it takes to run a household. Her mundane housewife life is interrupted when a man and his son move into the house next door. Vince reaches out by asking that Laura help by driving young Vinny to his soccer practices on a weekly basis. From there, the connection between Laura and Vince grows at an alarming rate. Laura cannot believe that Vince is the man she has long wished her husband, Ned, could be. However, there is something off about Vince and Laura cannot seem to put a finger on it. When things begin going horribly wrong, Laura begins to wonder if she could be the root of all the problems.

The Killer’s Wife (with Max DiLallo)

Detective Andrew McGrath works in the small community of San Luis Obispo, normally quite the bucolic town. However, the disappearance of four teenage girls has rocked the community and left everyone feeling panicked. There is a suspect, local high school vice-principal Michael Pierson, though McGrath cannot act without some concrete evidence. When McGrath and his partner find Pierson luring another teenage girl into his car and catch him as the girl’s drugged body is being dumped, they are sure this is the break they need. Working some background, McGrath connects with Pierson’s wife, Ellen. She is adamant that her husband must be innocent, though McGrath is working the angle, hoping to uncover irrefutable evidence that will ensure this serial killer is put away. McGrath and Ellen soon develop a protective relationship, as she shields her from the press. It is only then that things take a turn and McGrath is able to understand a little more about what is going on, and how they will solve this case.

We. Are. Not. Alone. (with Tom Arnold)

Dr. Robert Barnett may be a washed-up astrophysicist, but he thinks that he’s stumbled onto something. Using some of his own personal technology, Barnett feels that he has recorded communications from out in space, thus proving not only that there is life amongst the stars, but that these beings wish to communicate with Earth. Little does he know, but Barnett may have stumbled upon something with National Security ramifications and he’s now being sought for questioning. Dodging officials at every turn, Barnett must ensure these recorded communications are made public, while government officials seek to detain him and obtain the recordings for themselves, citing a larger security situation. Meanwhile, someone is on a mission of their own, which could drastically change the dynamics of things in the blink of an eye.

As with many of Patterson’s short stories, they can be strong in their delivery or fall miserably flat. The collaborators in this case have helped buoy the stories and created strong pieces that will pull the readers in from the beginning. Both DiLallo pieces pose prologues that offer ‘flash forward’ reveals, though it is how the story arrives there that makes all the differences. Arnold’s piece fell flat for me, which can happen sometimes, even when riding a reading high. Call it a disinterest in space stories or the general lack of thrills, but I was left speeding my way through it, promising myself that I would read and review the collection. With characters who develop across the quick-paced narratives, these stories leave little time for character development, though there is a strong theme of connection between those who grace the pages. Patterson’s overarching theme in this collection would have to be deception, something that finds its way through each of the pieces and leaves the reader wondering what waits around each corner. Wonderfully crafted and delivered, James Patterson has chosen well with this stellar collection of three BookShots. One can hope there are more to come of this caliber.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson, DiLallo, and Arnold, as well as Madam DiLallo. What a great collection of stories to keep the reader occupied for a short time.

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

Stealing Gulfstreams, by James Patterson and Max DiLallo

Eight stars

Some BookShots leave the reader flying high, while others turn what might be an enjoyable experience into a free fall. Teaming up with Max DiLallo, James Patterson takes to the skies with this quick-paced piece about a man and his passion to uphold a family bond through the joys of flight. After witnessing their father perish in a fiery crash, Jack and Cole Flynn vow to keep his name alive. The elder Flynn was an air racer, perhaps one of the most dangerous activities with two wings. Racing through tracks and obstacles, the pilots put it all on the line every time they enter the cockpit. While Jack would like to say he has been able to make his father proud, that elusive first victory has continued to slip through his fingers. Additionally, the cost of fine-tuning a racing plane is nothing short of highway robbery. So, while he is still visited by memories of his father in the form of nightmares, Jack must turn to the other side of the law and steal private jets to make the money he needs to compete. Approached by a powerful gangster who has the act of fleecing the Flynns down to an art, Jack and Cole agree to steal these planes right out of their hangars. When the FBI starts to poke around, Jack must do all he can to divert their attention, at least until he secures enough to compete and leave the life. Staring down the largest heist yet, Jack and Cole must weight their options before things take a nosedive. Is a father’s legacy worth their incarceration? Patterson and DiLallo do well with this piece, which keeps the story moving and the characters believable. BookShot fans will likely push through this in short order, as it has some enjoyable storylines.

It is nice to see a successful collaboration return and find more success. Patterson and DiLallo have worked together before, producing strong results and keeping fans of the BookShot realm pleased with the end result.The story presents Jack Flynn as an ambitious man who wants to finish a task that his father could not, making him proud all these years later. The reader receives a little of Flynn’s backstory, a witness to his father’s fiery crash, as well as the burning desire to compete himself in one of the most death-defying competitions out there. Forced to sell his pride to the highest bidder, Flynn shows his determination, fuelled by an inner passion that will not let up. Adding a handful of strong secondary characters, the story unfolds and permits the reader to discover the support team that Jack has, as well as the one man who could make or break it for him at any moment. The story keeps the reader hooked for most of the arc, slowing down only in places to offer a change of pace. While not as riveting as some of the other pieces I have read, I am impressed that the story kept things moving so well and allowed the reader to remain in the driver’s seat (holding the yoke?) for the journey.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and DiLallo, for another wonderful collaboration. My BookShot binge is going well and you’ve helped to end the first week on a high note!

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