Saturday, 28 November 2020

A Poison Tree - J.E. Mayhew - DCI Will Blake Book 1.0

A Poison Tree 
DCI Will Blake Book 1.0
Obolus Books
Zertex Crime
ISBN 9781999840747

This is the third DCI William Blake story I have read and the fourth book by J.E. Mayhew. I have been jumping around a bit. I started with book 2 in this series, then the prequel, and then back to this story. There was some information I knew that if this was your first story, you would not be privy to. But even so each of the stories is strong enough to be read on its own. But I am jumping around again here in the review. Let us ask ‘where to begin’. I am sure that is a question many authors start with, but it is seldom one I start with when reviewing a book. But in this case, I find I must. This series was recommended to me by Alex Smith, author of the DCI Kett books. I had read all the Kett books and was awaiting the next Softley Softley book when Smith mentioned book two in this series, Fearful Symmetry, and gave it a plug. After reading that volume I discovered that the author publishes under two names, much like Smith. One for Adult crime novels, J.E. Mayhew and another for Young Adult and younger readers, Jon Mayhew. And I have now read books under both names. I was glad I gave it a try and after reading 3 of the 5 stories know I will read this series as long as new books are published in it. These books are not as gritty and do not pack as much punch as the Kett novels, but they are still great British crime procedural stories. When I reviewed a Kett story I stated I could see Jamie Bamber as DCI Kett, and while reading this I could not help but picture Karl Urban as DCI Will Blake. Let’s now return our focus to this specific book.

This is book 1 in a series that currently consists of 4 novels and a prequel novella. These stories are tightly packed. This one begins on Wednesday October 23rd and concludes on Thursday October 31st. Or at least that is the last date given in the story. The final chapter is 3 days later after Blake has a hospital stay. 

In this story events from the past come back to haunt. They haunt not only the man who first realizes, but the whole area. DCI Will Blake is on a case. And he is exploring options for his missing mothers’ cat. He is tired and drawn out. But he is also determined to get to the bottom of a case. A dark tale of family and deception. Blake does not have a lot of time, and the events race towards events you will never see coming. 

As the first book in this series and the first crime lit from J.E. Mayhew it is an impressive story. It really draws you in and keeps your attention. The pace is excellent. And the story well crafted. If you like crime procedural novels I am certain you will like enjoy this book and series!

Another great read from J.E Mahew!

Books as J.E. Mayhew:
DCI William Blake Series:
3.0 The Bones of the Dead
4.0 Cruelty Has A Human Heart

Books as Jon Mayhew:
Death Road
The Spybrarian
Have a Go

Monster Odyssey Series:
1.0 The Eye of Neptune
2.0 The Wrath of the Lizard Lord
3.0 The Curse of the Ice Serpent
4.0 The Venom of the Scorpion

Mortlock Series:
1.0 Mortlock
2.0 The Demon Collector
3.0 The Bonehill Curse

Collins Big Cat Series:
The Merchant of Venice: Band 16/Sapphire
Hamlet: Band 18/Pearl
Romeo and Juliet: Band 18/Pearl
Macbeth: Band 18/Pearl

Contributed to:
Beyond the Book: A Collection of Short Stories
Storycraft: How To Teach Creative Writing

Friday, 27 November 2020

Prayer of the Day Prayer for the Courage to be Great

Prayer for the Courage to be Great

Heavenly Father, 
Give me the courage to strive for the highest goals, 
to flee every temptation to be mediocre. 
Enable me to aspire to greatness, as Pier Giorgio did, 
and to open my heart with joy to Your call to holiness. 
Free me from the fear of failure. 
I want to be, Lord, firmly and forever united to You. 
Grant me the graces I ask You through Pier Giorgio's intercession, 
by the merits of Our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Note: This prayer came from the Hozana Prayer group dedicated to Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati.

Thursday, 26 November 2020

The Sentinel - Lee and Andrew Child - Jack Reacher Book 25

The Sentinel
Jack Reacher Book 25
Lee Child
Andrew Child (Andrew Grant)
Penguin Random House Canada
ISBN 9780593295144
eISBN 9781984818478

Last year I read the 24 previous Jack Reacher novels, and also the Jack Reacher short stories, novellas and crossovers. In fact, I had to make sure I read other books in between. So it was a long wait of almost a year for this volume to be released. And then this one ended up being something very different. It appears that Lee Child is passing the Reacher baton to his younger brother. Lee is 14 years Andre’s senior. And Andrew is a well-respected author in his own under his name Andrew Grant. This one is in some ways different and in others very much like a Reacher novel. This story does not give any real indication where it falls in the Reacher story arc. Some novels give a clear indication of which came before or which came after. But this one seems to float out there alone. 

In some ways this story feels like Persuader, Reacher is in the wrong place at the wrong time. There is a long preamble set in Nashville. The Nashville incident could make an interesting story in and off itself. But Reacher leaves town and ends up on the hunt for coffee. He witnesses what he recognizes as a set up for an obduction. And that the intended victim is completely oblivious. Reacher sticking to his moral code steps in and turns events around. And soon he finds himself in a strange situation. Trying to protect a computer geek. Deal with an undercover agent. Determine who is really the bad guys and what they are really after. All in a town that has all it’s computer systems locked down with ransom ware. And everyone in town thinking the guy Reacher saved is if not at fault directly responsible for the situation the town is in. There are also implications about the security of elections. 

And of course the novel released just weeks before the US general election in 2020. The story moved along at a brisk pace. I could not tell which parts were written by Lee and which by Andrew. The story flowed well. Some interesting twists. And some history lessons. Overall a very good read. 

On a side note I can’t wait to see what Diane Capri does in her Hunt for Reacher series. How will Otto and Gaspar debrief the characters from this story. 

The Reacher novels were originally great reads during my commute to work. They were excellent for my ride on the bus. But since it is 2020 and I now work full time from home, this story was read on a day off, over a few mugs of coffee, in part sitting on the porch in the sun on an unusually warm fall day. The Reacher novels are entertaining, usually fast paced and always interesting. This is a good read in a great series, and one of my favorites. I look forward to what the brothers will come up with together next, or what direction Andrew will take the character.  

Books by Lee Child:
Jack Reacher Books Publishing Order:

Killing Floor
Die Trying
The Visitor /Running Blind
Echo Burning
Without Fail
The Enemy
One Shot
The Hard Way
Bad Luck and Trouble
Nothing to Lose
Gone Tomorrow
61 Hours
Worth Dying For
The Affair
A Wanted Man
Never Go Back
Make Me
Night School
The Midnight Line
Past Tense
Blue Moon

The Sentinel

Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Unstable Felicity - Cat Hodge - A Christmas Novella

Unstable Felicity
A Christmas Novella
Cat Hodge
ISBN 9781735851303

I picked this book up on a recommendation. I must admit the story took my by surprise. In many ways while reading it, it reminded me of If You Can Get It by Brendan Hodge. Who happens to be the authors’ husband. And it seems to be a family of authors as the authors sister-in-law is Rosamund Hodge, whose Bright Smoke, Cold Fire is already in ‘my to be read pile’. But as mentioned the story took me by surprise. This is a wonderful novella. The beginning of the description of the novel starts with:

“Home is the last place Jill O'Leary wants to be for the holidays, but that's exactly where she's going.”

And I am sure many of us can relate to that sentiment. Prior to my own marriage I only returned home every other year for Christmas. A little family time can often go a long way. And for Jill she has spent years avoiding the family, the family home, and the family business all in an attempt to get away from her controlling unstable mother. But duty has guilted her into a trip home over the holidays. He mother Regina needs her home to straighten out the books to save the family business, and sort out her late fathers investments. 

But what will happen to Jill a high-power accountant from LA back in small town Ohio. Soon she in entangled in family business, Christmas parade, baking, white elephant gift exchange and more. Confrontations with an ex-boyfriend, a tall dark stranger. And help from an unexpected quarter. Just when Jill thinks things cannot get any worse, they do. Time and time again. And it all comes to a head on a story Christmas eve. 

The characters are well written. The story has a few surprising twists. The prose is well written and it kept me reading. I could hardly put it down. It is a quick read but honestly, one that will leave you thinking. The book is at times funny and at times it has penetrating insight into the human condition. A story both dark and funny. A story of dysfunction and healing in mixed parts.  It was a great read and I know I will pick up anything else Hodge publishes. 

A great read for a quiet afternoon with a large cup of coffee or tea.

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2020 Catholic Reading Plan

Tuesday, 24 November 2020

The Final Boss - Dustin Brady - Trapped in a Video Game Book 5

The Final Boss
Trapped in a Video Game Book 5
Dustin Brady
Jesse Brady (Illustrator)
Andrews McMeel Publishing
ISBN 9781449495732
eISBN 9781524852238

The end of the line! This story and series has run it’s course. Dustin Brady has wrapped it up in this fifth and final book. And what a fitting title for a series of books about video games. These books were an interesting exploration of video games, fads, trends, and styles of play. There was also a volume that focused on retro style games and game play. And yet the books were great fun to read. My son read the 5 of them to me over a few months. We had picked up the first book in this series, Trapped in a Video Game, after my son started reading it with his cousins. They read every night before bed and he was hooked after the first few chapters. We picked up the eBook as soon as we were home, and my son devoured it. And now we have finished the whole serries. It has left my son at a bit of a loss for what to read next. And I have a feeling we might end up returning to this series soon and rereading it. 

This is the fifth and final installment in this series. And there has been no indications that the series will expand beyond the five books, unlike Adam’s Hitchhiker Trilogy.  We were late to the game, in that the whole series has already been released before we started it. That just meant we can read them all back to back. Without having to wait for the next volume to release. 

This is a story about friendship, about video games, and about survival. In this one the video game elements have changed. The friends have been sucked back into a computer world, the Rubenverse, and it is truly a battle of life and death for all humans. That is a lot to put on some young guys shoulders. And soon the two are fighting their way through world after world. Some fun and some very much not so. They must learn and adapt in each new environment. And soon the two are at odds with each other about how to proceed. And there might be a very high price to pay for their conflict. Can friendship survive when you are trying to do whatever it takes to win.

The story draws you in and really keeps your attention. It is interesting seeing the mix of cutting-edge technology and how both kids and adults interact with it. The story is very well written. The characters after 4 stories is like visiting old friends. And it ends with a surprising twist after finally meeting the real Final Boss and not just holograms of him.

It is a great read in an excellent conclusion to the series. Our family gives it top marks and highly recommends the whole series!

Books by Dustin Brady:
Superhero for a Day

Trapped in a Video Game Series:
Trapped in a Video Game
The Invisible Invasion
Robots Revolt
Return to Doom Island
The Final Boss

Leila & Nugget Series:
Who Stole Mr. T?
Bark at the Park
The Case with no Clues

Life Lessons Series:
A Marathon Is Really Long When You Have to Pee
Black Friday Is for Suckers
Dogs Ain't Dumb
How to Tell Off a Telemarketer

Escape from a Video Game Series:
The Secret of Phantom Island

Monday, 23 November 2020

This Is the Church - Katie Warner and Meg Whalen

This Is the Church
Katie Warner
Meg Whalen (Illustrator) 
TAN Books
eISBN 9781505117950

This was the third  Katie Warner book we have read. A few years ago we read Cloud of Witnesses: A Child's First Book of Saints and loved it. Earlier this year we read, Lily Lolek, Future Saint, and really enjoyed it. Both my daughter and I enjoyed this book. She read it to me two days in a row. And than she shared it with her friends down the street. It is a great read, and we will continue to track down other works from Katie to read. The description of this volume is:

“The most beautiful way to introduce your little one to the incredible story of salvation history! This is the Church will dazzle you with its detailed, stained-glass illustrations and tempt you to countless readings with its rhythmic story.

Through this unique picture book, which is destined to become a classic found in all Catholic homes, you and your little one will fall more deeply in love with Jesus Christ, Our Savior and King, who died and then rose and founded a Church, the Catholic Church, to share God’s love with the world.

If you’re already a fan of Katie Warner and Meg Whalen’s beautiful children’s books, this one will not disappoint . . . and is likely to become your new favorite.”

The book is good but did not impress as much as Warner’s earlier works we have read. The illustrations are intriguing. Mostly greyscale, with a splash of colour or colored stained glass. The story of salvation told through the art of the windows. The illustrations are wonderful. They illustrations are very different than any other book I have read with any of my three children. This book is below my daughter’s reading level. She read it easily. 

It is a good book to add to the family or church library. And even though written in verse it packs a lot of information into a few lines on each page. A good book we can easily recommend.

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2020 Catholic Reading Plan!

Books by Katie Warner:
Head & Heart: Becoming Spiritual Leaders for Your Family
Gaze Upon Jesus: Experiencing Christ's Childhood through the Eyes of Women
A Grandparent Who Prays: A Journal to Guide You in Praying for Your Grandchildren
A Parent Who Prays: A Journal to Guide You in Praying for Your Children

A Sponsor Who Prays: A Journal to Guide You in Praying for Your Confirmand
A Godparent Who Prays: A Journal to Guide You in Praying for Your Godchild

For Children:
I Went to Mass: What did I See?
Cloud of Witnesses: A Child's First Book of Saints

Lily Lolek, Future Saint
Let Us Pray: A Child's First Book of Prayers 
The Word of the Lord: A Child's First Scripture Verses 
Kiddie Cat: A Child's First Catechism Lesson 
Father Ben Gets Ready for Mass 
This is the Church


Saturday, 21 November 2020

Thomas Becket Defender of the Church - Father John S. Hogan

Thomas Becket: 
Defender of the Church
ISBN 9781681925820
eISBN 9781681925837

This is the sixth volume from Father john Hogan that I have read. And it is the second of his on Thomas Becket, the first was Devotions to St Thomas Becket, which was an excellent read. In fact, I have given this book and then other five I have read by Father Hogan 5/5 stars. And each time I find out about a new volume I eagerly await the release. This is bar far the longest book that Father Hogan has written. The print edition comes in at 544 pages. It is the length of all his previous works combined. It was through Hogan’s writings in the Saints of the Isles series and his work A Book of Martyrs: Devotions to the Martyrs of England, Scotland and Wales, that I started taking a look at English saints. Due to bias instilled by Irish and Scottish grandparents I never even really considered the English saints. Now that is not to say that I was completely unaware of them, and especially Becket. But I never had an interest in learning about them. Father Hogan’s works played a major roll in that. And this book goes much deeper than any I have read on an English saint. The description of the volume is: 

“Thomas Becket: Defender of the Church reintroduces this enigmatic saint and invites us to consider his background, his influences, his progress in ambition and office, and his personal struggle for holiness. This biography reveals the relevance Thomas's life and struggle have to our own day. As secularism seeks to destroy faith, Catholics can turn to Saint Thomas for help. His is the story of every Christian; though the time and circumstances may differ, the struggle remains the same. Nine hundred years after his death, Saint Thomas Becket remains a man and a saint for our times.”

And the chapters are:

Part I: Ambition’s Servant 
1. The Ship 
2. A Boy from London 
3. Our Friend Richer 
4. The Anarchy 
5. Paris 
6. Return of the Wastrel 
7. Theobald 
8. Archiepiscopal Servant 
9. Peace 
10. Archdeacon 

Part II: The King’s Servant 
11. Henry 
12. Royal Chancellor 
13. The Trappings of Power 
14. Master and Servant 
15. Thomas the Warrior 
16. Thomas of Canterbury 

Part III: The Church’s Servant 
17. Of Scepters and Croziers 
18. Anselm 
19. Father 
20. Zeal 
21. Alexander 
22. Woodstock 
23. The Council at Westminster 
24. A Very Public Quarrel 
25. The Clarendon Affair 
26. The Darkest Hour 
27. Crisis at Northampton 
28. The Archbishop Goes to War 
29. Exile Part 

IV: Servant of Christ 
30. Pontigny 
31. Vézelay 
32. The Legates 
33. The Two Kings 
34. Ad Honorem Dei 
35. Patience and Impatience 
36. Montmartre 
37. The Crown Affair 
38. Return 
39. Christmas 
40. Alfege 
41. Vespers 
42. The Saint and the Penitent 
43. A Solitary End Epilogue

Arca Sancti Thomae 
Select Bibliography

This book is a deep read. It goes into the history, politics and theology involved in these events. It does not whitewash Becket. It presents a very clear well researched and honest biography of this saint. A saint that we could use much in these times. There is more depth in the material in this volume than many books I have read about specific saints. 

Becket was a man who changed, he changed because of God, and chose to try and live a holier life. He wanted his actions to live up to his calling. The extent of his piety and devotion only came to light after his martyrdom. And his cult has remained strong. 

His example is one all of us can try to emulate. To have our actions live up to our theology. To have a quiet, devotional, piety, that many may not see. To live for God, no matter the cost. And to be honest the church could use more bishops, archbishops, and cardinals like Thomas. Especially in the days and times we find ourselves in. 

This is an excellent biography, and wonderful example of hagiography. It nether aggrandizes or whitewashes. It presents a man who was much aware of his own faults, especially as time went on. But also, a man who tried to make amends. A man who love d God, loved his flock, and did everything he could for them. 

I think this is a book that any Catholic, any Christian would benefit from reading. It is masterfully written. I am sure you will be challenged in your faith. So, I strongly encourage you to pick it up and give it a try! 

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2020 Catholic Reading Plan!

Reviews of other books about Thomas Becket:
Devotions to St Thomas Becket - John S. Hogan

Friday, 20 November 2020

Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas - Natasha Yim and Grace Zong

Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas
Grace Zong (Illustrator)
ISBN 9780545820332
eISBN 9781607347293

My youngest daughter is nuts about Pandas. She collects Panada stuffies, she has Pandas on her bed covers. She had done at least 3 school projects on Pandas. She just cannot get enough of them. This year they need to pick their school library books from the computer and reserve them. This was one of the first library books she has had since the 2020 Pandemic began. And she had mixed feelings about it. Normally if any book has Pandas in it, it is usually 5/5 stars, occasionally 4/5 but this one only garnered 2 from her. As she approaches her 10th birthday, she is becoming a harder judge.

She brought this and another Panda book home from school. She read this one to me second. And She asked a lot of questions as reading it. She said she liked the ending but did not like most of the book. Goldy Luck was supposed to be nice and have luck. She appears to have neither through most of the book. She trashes the neighbour’s apartment. In the end she does make amends. 
I thought it was an interesting variation on the theme. The story stays true to the original, and yet is culturally adjusted. The illustrations are well done, and fun to look at while reading the story. We settled on a 3 rating, 2 from my daughter and 4 from me. 

Books by Natasha Yim: 
Mulan's Lunar New Year
The Rock Maiden: A Chinese Tale of Love and Loyalty
Cixi: "The Dragon Empress"
Sacajawea of the Shoshone
Otto's Rainy Day
Luna's Yum Yum Dim Sum

Thursday, 19 November 2020

Mr Grimhurst's Treasure And Other Ghost Stories - Jon Mayhew - Mortlock

Mr Grimhurst's Treasure And Other Ghost Stories
Obolus Books

I picked this up after reading some of Jon’s adult crime fiction published under the name J.E. Mayhew. This and some of the other stories marketed for  Young Adult and younger readers published as Jon Mayhew were intriguing. This is a collection of short stories that ties to one of Mayhew’s trilogies, the Mortlock series. The description of this collection is:

“If a dead man asked you to carry out one final favour for him, would you? How would you stop a demon from causing trouble in your local pub? Is it always clear who is the ghost and who isn't?

Five chilling, companion short stories to the popular Mortlock series, featuring characters from Mortlock, The Demon Collector and The Bonehill Curse. Careful! They'll keep you awake at night!”

And the stories are:

Mr Grimhurst’s Treasure
The Maiden Aunt
Jacob Carr and the Devil
Ashes to Ashes
Return to the Erato

Often when I read a collection of stories one stands out as the best, and sometimes one the least enjoyed. Neither of those happened this time. All 5 stories are excellent stories and display a keen writing craft. I picked this up and read it the week before Halloween, and they were great reads over a large mug of tea on a cold and rainy Saturday night. Each of the tales was entertaining. And 2 took me completely by surprise. I loved Return to the Erato. And even though I figured out The Maiden Aunt, it is an excellent piece.

This collection is five very well written tales. They have inspired me to pick up the first book in the trilogy that they are from. They were great fun to read and I highly recommend the collection.

Books as J.E. Mayhew:
DCI William Blake Series:
3.0 The Bones of the Dead
4.0 Cruelty Has A Human Heart

Books as Jon Mayhew:
Death Road
The Spybrarian
Have a Go

Monster Odyssey Series:
1.0 The Eye of Neptune
2.0 The Wrath of the Lizard Lord
3.0 The Curse of the Ice Serpent
4.0 The Venom of the Scorpion

Mortlock Series:
1.0 Mortlock
2.0 The Demon Collector
3.0 The Bonehill Curse

Collins Big Cat Series:
The Merchant of Venice: Band 16/Sapphire
Hamlet: Band 18/Pearl
Romeo and Juliet: Band 18/Pearl
Macbeth: Band 18/Pearl

Contributed to:
Beyond the Book: A Collection of Short Stories
Storycraft: How To Teach Creative Writing

Wednesday, 18 November 2020

Thank You, Mr. Panda - Steve Antony - Mr. Panda Book 3

Thank You, Mr. Panda
Mr. Panda Book 3
ISBN 9781338158366
eISBN 9781338184952

My youngest daughter is nuts about Pandas. She collects Panada stuffies, she has Pandas on her bed covers. She had done at least 3 school projects on Pandas. She just cannot get enough of them. This year they need to pick their school library books from the computer and reserve them. This was one of the first library books she has had since the 2020 Pandemic began. And she really liked it. Once she found out it was part of a series, she wanted to get them all. The eBooks are a bit pricy, so she will see if the library has more of them.

She really like this book. She thought it was funny that all the other animals except for the elephant got clothing that did not fit. For it is the ‘thought that counts’. She laughed the most when Mr. Panda gave giant underwear to the meerkat. She also thought it was funny that the elephant got doughnuts. She also noticed that one of the covers of a different book in the series had Mr. Panda holding a box of doughnuts. 

She really enjoyed the illustrations. She loved the patterns on the cloths and how it looked like the doughnuts. But she wondered why the Panda was frowning the whole time. 

It is a fun book. It is also well below her current reading level. But because it was a Panda book, she had to read it. She enjoyed it and wants to read the rest of the series. 

I try and have my children read to me every day. In part to instill the habit and in part to help them progress in their reading. This book was too easy for my daughter but she enjoyed it, and read 4 chapters in her middle grade book after reading this. It is a fun read and looks like an interesting series. I checked the list of books read that I have going back to before when I had children and we have not read anything else written or illustrated by Steve Anthony, but there are a few other than this series that I am interested in taking a look at. 

Books by Steve Anthony:
Mr Panda Series:
Please, Mr. Panda
I’ll Wait, Mr. Panda
Good Night, Mr. Panda
We Love You, Mr. Panda
Mr. Panda’s Feelings
Mr. Panda’s Colours

The Queen’s Book Series:
The Queen’s Handbag
The Queen’s Hat
The Queen’s Present
The Queen’s Lift Off

Other Books:
You Can
Betty Goes Bananas
Green Lizards vs Red Rectangles
The Queen’s Handbag
When I Grow Up
Monster in the Hood
Betty Goes Bananas in her Pajamas
Green Lizards and Red Rectangles and the Blue Ball