BOOK REVIEW: ‘Vanishing Girls’: A Young Adult Novel That Parents, Older Adults Will Enjoy

 Reviewed by David M. Kinchen

If there’s such a creature as a crossover Young Adult novel — and I believe it’s possible — Lauren Oliver’s “Vanishing Girls” (Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins, 368 pages, $18.99, available in a Kindle edition from can be considered an exemplar.

BOOK REVIEW: 'Vanishing Girls': A Young Adult Novel That Parents, Older Adults Will Enjoy

Oliver writes in a way that readers of Ellen Hopkins will approve — albeit in conventional prose rather than the verse that’s the trademark of Hopkins. I’ve reviewed many of Hopkins’ Y.A. and adult novels and I’ve become a big fan of her crossover appeal. For my reviews, use the search engine on the Huntington News Network home page.

“Vanishing Girls” is a psychological thriller about the nightmare of missing girls. Nine-year-old Madeline Snow has gone missing and the entire Norwalk community is doing everything it can to locate here. Norwalk is a city in Connecticut, on Long Island Sound, only a few miles from the New York state line, but Oliver in this novel  doesn’t identify it as part of any state and combines elements of other coastal cities in a convincing matter. The scenes at the aging FanLand amusement park provide an element of comic relief.

Also gone missing is Dara Warren, 16, who was injured in a car crash. The car was driven by Nicole (Nick) Warren, Dara’s 17-year-old  sister, who escaped without physical injury — but with a world of psychological hurt. As any parent will agree, the day their son or daughter gets a driver’s license is the start of a period of constant worry. It’s much worse in this age of texting  –and Oliver hints that Nick was texting at the time of the accident.

Nick suspects that Dara’s disappearance on her birthday is somehow linked to Madeline Snow’s — and may be further linked to Andre, the manager of a club who appears to be exploiting underage girls in a pornographic manner. More worries for today’s parents! See what I mean about the crossover appeal, which is enhanced when we learn that the parents of Dara and Nick have gone their separate ways.

Well into the novel, the reader it confronted with startling information that changes everything. No, I’m not going to give this spoiler royale away!

“Vanishing Girls” is beautifully written and will hold the attention of young readers as well as older ones. That’s quite an achievement in this era of segmented, targeted book categories.

Lauren Oliver

Lauren Oliver

About the author

Lauren Oliver is the author of the New York Times bestselling YA novels “Before I Fall”, which was published in 2010; “Panic”; and the Delirium trilogy: “Delirium”, “Pandemonium” and “Requiem”, which have been translated into more than thirty languages. She is a 2012 E.B. White Read-Aloud Award nominee for her middle-grade novel “Liesl & Po”, as well as author of the fantasy middle-grade novel “The Spindlers”. “Panic”, published in March 2014, has been optioned by Universal Pictures in a major deal. Her first novel for adults, “Rooms”, was published in late September 2014.  A graduate of the University of Chicago and NYU’s MFA program, Lauren Oliver is also the co-founder of the boutique literary development company Paper Lantern Lit. You can visit her online at


BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy’: Harold Fry & Queenie’s Story Continues

 Reviewed by David M. Kinchen

I’m writing this review of Rachel Joyce’s “The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy” (Random House, 384 pages, $25.00) with one hand tied behind my back.

BOOK REVIEW: 'The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy': Harold Fry & Queenie's Story Continues

Not literally, of course (I’m a touch typist and need both hands!) —  figuratively. Let me explain. Queenie’s story follows Joyce’s best-selling “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.” I haven’t read this book, which puts me at a disadvantage. I’ve ordered a review copy, so my take on Queenie’s story, written as she is a patient in a hospice, with terminal cancer, may be altered when I read Harold’s story. Then again, it might not be changed. Queenie’s story is powerful enough to stand on its own sensibly shod feet.

Random House publicist Jennifer Garza — one of the best in the business, by the way — wrote me:

“When Harold was first published, a few people asked Rachel if she would write a sequel. She assured them that she would not; she felt she had said all she needed to say about Harold and his wife, Maureen. But what about Queenie? Rachel will tell you that one day, out of the blue, Queenie shouted, “Here I am!” In that moment she knew she had to write her story. She could not ignore this character’s voice inside her head. Sequel, prequel or companion novel? The starred Booklist review says it best: “[A] beguiling follow-up… In telling Queenie’s side of the story, Joyce accomplishes the rare feat of endowing her continuing narrative with as much pathos and warmth, wisdom and poignancy as her debut. Harold was beloved by millions; Queenie will be, too.”

All of this introductory material — which many readers may find unnecessary — is important because it puts  my review in context.

I loved Queenie’s story. She’s near the end of her life and writes Harold from the hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed in Northumberland in the far northeast of England — almost 500 miles from where they formerly lived in Kingsbridge, south Devon in the west of the country. She met him 24 years before, she applied for and got a job at the brewery where Harold worked.

She was hired as an accountant, traveling with Harold (she didn’t have a driving license) to pubs to check their books. Following the initial  correspondence, she learns that Harold is walking to the hospice with the hope that as long as he keeps walking, Queenie will stay alive. The story of the two goes viral, as one could expect in this age of social media.

Queenie writes lovingly and incisively about the residents and staff of St. Bernardine’s Hospice. With flashbacks to the days in Devon, we learn about the relationship of Queenie and Harold and how they managed to keep their employer Napier satisfied with their job performance — no easy task. Queen found the job through a want ad in a local newspaper. She’s frank about her lack of accounting credentials: she graduated with a degree in classics from Cambridge University.

That leads to another key element in the novel:  David, Harold and Maureen’s teen-age son, who befriends Queenie. Learning that she went to Cambridge, David decides to go there too. I won’t reveal any more because that would spoil the story.

A key part of the Queenie’s story is her beach house and sea garden. There’s a drawing of the house and garden in the front of the book. I loved this part of Queenie’s story of her life.

Rachel Joyce has a winner in “The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy.”

UPDATE: I’ve received my copy of “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry”. I’ve read about 100 pages and it’s marvelous!

Rachel Joyce

Rachel Joyce

About the Author
Rachel Joyce is the author of the Sunday Times and international bestsellers The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and Perfect. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry was short-listed for the Commonwealth Book Prize and long-listed for the Man Booker Prize and has been translated into thirty-six languages. Joyce was awarded the Specsavers National Book Awards New Writer of the Year in 2012. She is also the author of the digital short story A Faraway Smell of Lemon and is the award-winning writer of more than thirty original afternoon plays and classic adaptations for BBC Radio 4. Rachel Joyce lives with her family in Gloucestershire.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Foreign and Domestic’: Jake Mahegan: A.J. Tata’s Answer to Lee Child’s Jack Reacher

Reviewed by David M. Kinchen

Jake Mahegan: Meet Jack Reacher. I hope the two fictional characters like each other because I wouldn’t want to be there if they don’t. The destruction resulting from the clash of the 6-4, 230 pound Mahegan and the 6-5, 250-pound Reacher would be truly epic.

BOOK REVIEW: 'Foreign and Domestic': Jake Mahegan: A.J. Tata's Answer to Lee Child's Jack Reacher

Jack Reacher, of course,  is the iconic creation of best-selling author Lee Child. (For an excellent look at how this former military policeman became a drifter, check out my 2011 review of Child’s “The Affair”:

Chayton “Jake” Mahegan in A.J. Tata’s “Foreign and Domestic” (Pinnacle mass market paperback, an imprint of Kensington Publishing Corp.,  368 pages, $9.99) is a drifter on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, where he was born in the hamlet of Frisco, NC. A year ago, the half Native American (on his father’s side) was a U.S. Army captain who  led a Delta Force team into Afghanistan to capture an American traitor working for the Taliban.

The mission ended in tragedy, with Jake’s best friend, Sgt. Wesley Colgate, dying. The team was infiltrated and decimated by a bomb. An enemy prisoner was killed, leading to Mahegan being dismissed from the army.

He has one high-ranking friend, Maj. Gen. Bob Savage, but the powerful and respected Lt. Gen. Stanley Bream, the army’s inspector general, is his mortal enemy, determined to secure a dishonorable discharge for Mahegan. He outranks Savage — who favors an honorable discharge — by one crucial star.

Haunted by the incident, Mahegan is determined to clear his name. The military wants him to stand down. When the American Taliban — born Adam Wilhoyt in Davenport, Iowa, now known to all who watch his beheading videos on the Internet as Mullah Adnam —  returns to domestic soil,  Jake Mahegan is the only man who knows how to stop him.

When Mahegan, on one of his daily swims, discovers a body, he’s no longer under the radar. He’s a person of interest to the Dare County sheriff and the army, not to mention a host of three-letter agencies: CIA, FBI, DHS, etc.

Naturally, there’s a beautiful woman, mysterious Elizabeth “Lindy” Locklear, the niece of the sheriff. She’s a love interest, but can Jake trust the woman who has been deputized by her uncle. Her uncle soon realizes that Jake is one of the good guys, but where do Lindy’s loyalties lie?

“Foreign and Domestic” — the title comes from the Military Oath of Enlistment: “I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” is a page-turner written by a retired army officer who knows what he’s writing about.

A.J. Tata

A.J. Tata

About the author

Brig. Gen. Anthony J. “Tony” Tata, U.S. Army (Retired), commanded combat units in the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions and the 10th Mountain Division. His last combat tour was in Afghanistan in 2007 where he earned the Combat Action Badge and Bronze Star Medal. He is the author of three critically acclaimed novels, “Sudden Threat”, “Rogue Threat”, and “Hidden Threat”. Tata has been a frequent foreign policy guest commentator on Fox News, CBS News, and The Daily Buzz. NBC’s Today Show featured General Tata’s career transition from the army to education leadership where he has served as the Chief Operations Officer of Washington, DC Public Schools for firebrand Chancellor Michelle Rhee and as the Superintendent of the 16th largest school district in the nation in Wake County/Raleigh, NC.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Three Days to Forever’: Latest Mac Faraday Mystery Brings Together an Existing Lovers in Crime Team, Adds a New One in a Fast-Paced Thriller

Mac Faraday and Archie Monday are getting married in the biggest social event of the season in Lauren Carr’s “Three Days to Forever” (Acorn Book Services, 438 pages, $14.99 print, $0.99 Kindle ebook). There are only three days left in the year and what could possibly go wrong?

 BOOK REVIEW: 'Three Days to Forever': Latest Mac Faraday Mystery Brings Together an Existing Lovers in Crime Team, Adds a New One in a Fast-Paced Thriller

If you’ve read any of Carr’s mysteries, just about everything! (For my reviews of Carr’s novels, enter “Lauren Carr” in the Huntington News Network search engine at the upper right hand side of the home page.)

Carr brings together the Lovers in Crime team of Hancock County, WV Prosecutor Joshua Thornton and his second wife Pennsylvania Homicide Detective Cameron Gates in this mystery with a domestic terrorism plot. Jessica Faraday, Mac Faraday’s daughter from his previous marriage,  and Joshua’s son Murphy Thornton meet cute in a deadly rescue making up a new Lovers in Crime team.

“Three Days to Forever” is the 9th entry in the Mac Faraday series, which takes place in Deep Creek Lake in western Maryland, and which began with “It’s Murder, My Son.”   (my review:

Don’t worry: If you are a newbie to the series, everything is explained, including how the formerly penniless Washington, DC homicide detective becomes a multimillionaire when his birth mother, best-selling author Robin Spencer,  dies and leaves him a fortune, along with the luxury Spencer Inn resort and Spencer Manor. Fortunately for readers, Carr provides a comprehensive front-of-the-book cast of characters, so we don’t have to page back and forth to learn who’s who in Deep Creek Lake and elsewhere in neighboring West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

The military backgrounds of Mac’s half brother David O’Callaghan, the chief of Spencer’s small police force, and that of Joshua Thornton, are key elements in the novel’s  terrorism plot. In the press release accompanying my review copy, Carr issues a disclaimer: “‘Three Days to Forever’ is fiction. It is not the author’s commentary on politics, the media, the military, or Islam. While actual current events have inspired this adventure in mystery and suspense, this fictional work is not meant to point an accusatory finger at anyone in our nation’s government.”

Be that as it may, “Three Days to Forever” is a fast-paced thriller that solidifies Carr’s standing  as a major force in American fiction. As I see it, it’s only a matter of time before Hollywood comes a calling and establishes a franchise involving Mac, Archie, David, Joshua, Cameron, Gnarly the German Shepherd and Irving the Maine Coon Cat and all the rest in a big screen translation of Lauren Carr’s work. Hollywood producers: Are you getting the message? Robert Ludlum and Tom Clancy are both dead and it’s time for a living thriller writer to have her day!

Lauren Carr

Lauren Carr

About the author

Lauren Carr fell in love with mysteries when her mother read Perry Mason to her at bedtime. The first installment in the Joshua Thornton mysteries, A Small Case of Murder was a finalist for the Independent Publisher Book Award.
Carr is also the author of the Mac Faraday Mysteries, which takes place in Deep Creek Lake, Maryland. Released September 2012, “Dead on Ice” introduced a new series entitled Lovers in Crime, which features prosecutor Joshua Thornton with homicide detective Cameron Gates. She lives in Harpers Ferry, WV, where she also runs Acorn Book Services, whose motto is “helping authors publish independently and affordably.”

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Cookie’s Case’: Tug Wyler’s Back and He’s Working Hard to Help His Clients

Reviewed by David M. Kinchen

When I reviewed Andy Siegel’s “Suzy’s Case” back in 2012 (my review: I predicted trial lawyer/malpractice specialist Tug Wyler would return. Tug is back —  in all his glory — in “Cookie’s Case” ( Road, 281 pages, original paperback, $14.99).

BOOK REVIEW: 'Cookie's Case': Tug Wyler's Back and He's Working Hard to Help His Clients

Tug returns with his idiosyncratic rhyming named wife Tyler Wyler and his quirky sons, Brooks and Connor and his daughter, Penelope, who can’t decide on what they want people to call them.

When he arrives at his office in a not-so-fancy stretch of New York City’s Park Avenue from his home in upscale Westchester County he has to deal with his Puerto Rican paralegal Lily, who — as I said in my previous review — “accepts no lip from him.”

Cookie, his newest client, is the most popular performer at Jingles Dance Bonanza. When he’s introduced to Cookie, who dances with a neck brace, Tug suspects there’s a malpractice victim. She had spinal surgery and her doctor may have caused her problems. Her companion, Major, is a doctor who performs regular spinal taps on Cookie.

Throughout the novel Tug Wyler is dogged by an young African-American man named Robert Killroy, who has a job as process server. Robert, who lives with his grandmother, is also a client who was injured when a van struck him. Robert is relentless in his attempt to serve Tug with papers from a dry cleaner who ruined one of Tug’s suits.

Andy Siegel’s prose rings true and readers will quickly bond with Tug Wyler, who takes cases that are unusual and complex. If you long for the wit and humor of the late, great Donald E. Westlake (1933-2008), you should enjoy Andy Siegel’s memorable Tug Wyler.

Andy Siegel

Andy Siegel

About Author Andy Siegel (in his own words)

“When a guy’s been practicing law in New York City for over twenty years and is about to publish his first novel, you don’t look at him and think, ‘Hey, at Great Neck North High School on Long Island, they kept him in remedial reading through eleventh grade.’ But it’s true. There I was, meeting three times a week with about five other students in a classroom with a solid wooden door and a tiny window set up high to prevent nosy kids from sneaking a peek. The only problem was that, by junior year, everybody else was tall enough to look in.

“Being seen there never bothered me, though. If one of my buddies tapped on the window to catch my attention, making a stupid face, I merely held up my bag of Doritos, sipped my ice-cold Coke and pointed to the TV remote I was holding. Then, before turning back to the screen, I’d flash him a big grin.

“In fact, I should have been out of there sooner. But I was in no hurry to say good-bye to those deep, comfy chairs and fully stocked vending machines, the only ones in the building. As I sat there happily munching chips, it never once occurred to me I might one day publish a novel. What a crazy idea.

“But all things turn out to be connected — even if you don’t always understand right away why or how they are. From that classroom came my earliest identification with the underdog. Okay, I had great deal more confidence than the rest of the kids sitting around me — and none of their other problems — but I’d been one of them. I knew what it felt like to be on the wrong side of the door.

“Justice is something you shouldn’t have to compete for . . . but it is.

“After I graduated from law school [Brooklyn Law School, JD 1985 — after earning his bachelor’s degree from Tulane in 1985] and began practicing, I quickly realized it was the little guys of this world, the small fry, the ordinary joes who don’t know how to stand up for themselves, who most engaged — and needed — my legal expertise and my fighting spirit.

“So how did Tug Wyler come into being? He was undoubtedly hanging around, shadowing my daily life for a long time; I just didn’t know it. But here’s the short version: one morning, on the train into the city from Westchester–where I live with my wife, three kids, three dogs and an upstairs cat–the idea of him just appeared in my head. I don’t know from where. But there he was.

“Unable to shake the spell he cast, I began to write, each morning when I got on Metro North, what’s now become ‘Suzy’s Case’. But I was doing it only to amuse myself. I sure didn’t read courtroom mysteries or legal thrillers; as far as I was concerned, I was living them.

“It’s common to diss malpractice and personal injury lawyers. Ambulance chasers, they call us. Me, I see it differently. As far as I’m concerned, we’re the Robin Hoods of the profession, righting wrongs with every bit the same commitment he had to putting those culpable, most often the rich and powerful, in their place.

“Anyone, in an instant, can become a victim. Even you.

“The rush to cover up genuine wrongs of the sort that lie at the heart of ‘Suzy’s Case’ — and the other Tug Wyler adventures I intend to write — happens continually out there in the real world. Believe me, fiction doesn’t know the half of it. What keeps me going into my office without fail each morning is my compulsion to make the system work for the injured victim when the big insurance companies vigorously resist such an outcome. It isn’t easy, but it’s what I do, and I love it.

“I should add, it’s no secret I enjoy joking around and have what some might even call a warped sense of humor. But though my methods may appear like smart-aleck comedy to my adversary or to the fellow in the robe with the gavel, my frequently unconventional approach is critical to helping me stay sane, dealing as I do on a daily basis with one set of catastrophic circumstances after another. One thing is certain: no one opposing me is ever able to anticipate all the angles I might spring in the course of a legal brawl.

“For Tug Wyler readers, I promise the same mix: a rule-bending high-tension conflict during the course of which you’ll laugh in spite of yourself . . . while never knowing what’s going to happen next. Like me, Tug’s the kind of street-smart push-it-to-the-limit lawyer you’d want on your side when the worst has happened.”

His website:

OP-ED: How Obama Manages the PR for the ISIS Crisis

Joseph J. Honick

Joseph J. Honick

 By Joseph J. Honick

As America’s role in the ISIS crisis takes shape under the command of President Barack Obama, it is useful to examine carefully its implications and how its public relations are and have been handled.

Among other things, it helps to compare this effort with how his predecessor George W. Bush worked his way up to the Iraqi invasion.    This time there are even broader implications, given the changed politics that have brought Mr. Obama into such close relationships with Arab countries and the conundrum created by Messrs Boehner and McConnell in doing an end run inviting Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to address Congress without the usual involvement of the President as a matter of courtesy and formality.

To be sure, the ISIS gang ironically has helped the President by their horrific array of beheadings of captives and other actions that could not be ignored on the international level.   But his approaches also have raised questions.

Given that Americans were not only worn down by two long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we became doubtful and if not fearful of anything that would send our men and women once more into combat, not to mention the potential billions if not trillions that it could all cost.

So , to organize the effort,  Mr Obama decided on enlisting what he called “coalition” partners among nations  threatened by the ISIS actions, neighbors to places where the roving bands of warriors are attacking,  seemingly with enough success to call for fast international coordinated action.

To gain support publicly, the President also recruited Retired Marine Corps General  John R. Allen, a well decorated and praised officer who not only amassed 38 years of standup service but demonstrated sound command talents and a public image that could not be easily challenged. General Allen, who had refused the top NATO spot, has been traveling as the President’s spokesperson, appearing fairly frequently on all television networks and being interviewed for print media.  His role appears to be not only to lend credibility to the campaign but also to oversee rebuilding of Iraq armed forces where ISIS is attacking with some success and threatening more.

While the idea of the “coalitions” would seem not only to reduce America’s load in the campaign by spreading the responsibility among friendly nations, Americans don’t really know what has been promised to gain these enlistees.  More than that, we don’t know what was offered once the expected anti-ISIS campaign is hopefully and successfully completed,  something that presidential spokespersons and the commander-in-chief himself have estimated to take as much as three years, with the fiscal costs totally yet to be estimated, since the United States  would be the  leader of the coalition campaign.

Here are just a few of the questions media are beginning to ask of the Administration:
1.      First and foremost, just what is the makeup of this so-called “coalition” and what was promised by the United States to gain such involvement?
2. Why was one of the Middle East’s foremost military power, Israel, not enlisted, or more  precisely: rejected as part of the coalition?
3. Why does it require such a massive international array of power to undertake a war on something called ISIS that allegedly has no governmental backing, financing and other usual necessities to conduct a war?
4. When the war against ISIS is over and hopefully successful, and having engaged enemies of Israel as members of the so-called “coalition”, what have we promised to those nations at that time?
5. What will be the fiscal and manpower cost for this enterprise that puts our reputation way out on the line?
 There are of course other questions, but media seem to be cooperating even as the President’s political foes are critical that he may not be acting strongly enough, fast enough or strategically enough. But it’s the picture of the American president having to juggle his suddenly warm and enveloping relationships with Arab powers that offer some concerns even as distance between him and Israel widen almost by the minute.

It is significant that a CNN poll indicated an overwhelming public demand for the President to act strongly while many assert he is not acting strongly enough.  Having indicated he would ask Congress for its backing of war powers for him, it would seem he can act and soon…with virtually no one from the media or elsewhere even asking the questions previously noted until it may be too late.

In the end, the President will get the political and PR backing he wants, and we will go back to war.  In a previous article, I asked if and when it occurred, whose side would defend.  Given that the Commander-in-Chief has essentially laid waste his relations with Israel, what does that portend as the enemies of the Jewish state are the key “allies” in the ISIS crisis, and none of the questions posed earlier have even been resolved?

* * *
Honick is president of GMA International Ltd with offices on Bainbridge Island, WA.  He is an international consultant to business and writes on a variety of public affairs issues.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Killers of the King: The Men Who Dared to Execute Charles I’: The Extremes of Revenge in 17th Century England

Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
Before you tackle Charles Spencer’s “Killers of the King: The Men Who Dared to Execute Charles I” (Bloomsbury Press, 352 pages, photo inserts, notes, index, $30.00) you might want to see if you can handle the gruesome parts of this tale of the search for and disposition of the men who were involved in the beheading of England’s King Charles I on Jan. 30, 1649.
BOOK REVIEW: 'Killers of the King: The Men Who Dared to Execute Charles I': The Extremes of Revenge in 17th Century England

Spencer, brother of the late Princess Diana, and a master of eloquent, evocative prose, describes the process of hanging, drawing and quartering in the book, but he also laid it out (no pun intended) in an interview with the Canadian magazine Macleans:

“Spencer describes the punishment airily, almost brightly. “You were dragged through the streets of London, hanged until you were unconscious, woken up, castrated, gutted, your guts were burnt in front of you while you were alive and at some point in all of that, you died of shock or blood loss. You’d then have your head cut off and stuck in the place of your crime and your body was quartered and sent to different parts of the kingdom as a deterrent. It was, I’d imagine, a fairly unpleasant way to go.””

From a Canadian journalist’s interview with Spencer
Maclean’s Oct. 11, 2014

It’s hard to imagine any other animal creating such a sadistic way of destroying a fellow creature’s life, but in my eighth decade on earth, I’m rarely surprised at any horror emanating from the most flawed species on the planet — human beings.

When Americans  talk of civil war, what took place between 1861 and 1865 was actually a sectional war between the states. The South didn’t want to rule the entire country: They wanted to create their own independent country. In 17th century England, the Civil Wars were actually that: Overthrowing one regime — the Stuarts under Charles I — and the establishment of a republic of sorts under Oliver Cromwell. To many, Cromwell’s creation, which ended in 1660 with the Restoration of the Stuarts under Charles II, the son of the overthrown king, wasn’t much better than the regime it replaced.

On August 18, 1648, with no relief from the siege in sight, the royalist garrison holding Colchester Castle surrendered and Oliver Cromwell’s army firmly ended the rule of Charles I of England. To send a clear message to the fallen monarch, the rebels executed four of the senior officers captured at the castle. Yet still, the king refused to accept he had lost the war. As France and other allies mobilized in support of Charles, a tribunal was hastily gathered and a death sentence was passed. On January 30, 1649, the King of England was executed.

“The Killers of the King” is Spencer’s  account of the fifty-nine regicides, the men who signed Charles I’s death warrant.

Recounting a little-known corner of British history, Spencer explores what happened when the Restoration arrived. From George Downing, the chief plotter, (Downing Street, where the prime minister lives, is named for him) to Richard Ingoldsby, who claimed he was forced to sign his name by his cousin Oliver Cromwell, and from those who returned to the monarchist cause and betrayed their fellow regicides to those that fled the country in an attempt to escape their punishment, Spencer examines the long-lasting, far-reaching consequences not only for those who signed the warrant, but also for those who were present at the trial and for England itself.

The long arm of revenge reached out to Holland, where many of the regicides fled to, Switzerland, a  refuge for puritans under the Calvinist rule of Geneva, and the colonies of New England, where one of the most intriguing searches for two men, Whalley and Goffe, involved New Haven, a separate colony before it was merged into Connecticut.

The old saying about people getting the government they deserve is appropriate when discussing the British Royal families. I don’t think anyone deserved the Stuarts, with the possible exception of King James I. Both Charles I and his dissolute son Charles II were miserable excuses for rulers, in my reading of English history — and my opinion. For all the talk about the Tudors, I don’t think they were much better. Royal families tend to be parasites on the body politic — a harsh view, but one I think is realistic.

Charles Spencer is often tabloid fodder, but with his latest book, “The Killers of the King,” he demonstrates that he’s a historian of substance. It’s a thoroughly sourced, very readable (if you can stand the descriptions of barbaric executions!) page-turner.

Charles Spencer

Charles Spencer

About the author

Charles Spencer, born in 1964,  is the bestselling author of ‘Killers of the King’, and of ‘Blenheim: Battle for Europe’. He worked for 10 years as a foreign reporter for NBC News. He lives with his third wife,  Canadian philanthropist Karen Gordon, in Althorp, Northamptonshire.  He was educated at Eton and Magdalen College, Oxford University.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Shadows Over Paradise’: A Ghostwriter Confronts Her Client’s Past — and Her Own

A  successful ghostwriter, Jenni Clark is used to dealing with the demons of the past in crafting memoirs for her clients. When she meets Vincent Tregear at a friend’s wedding and he learns of her profession in Isabel Wolff’s “Shadows Over Paradise” (Bantam trade paperback original, 384 pages, $15.00) he asks if she would be willing to work with his 79-year-old mother to write her memoirs.

BOOK REVIEW: 'Shadows Over Paradise': A Ghostwriter Confronts Her Client's Past -- and Her Own

When Jenni learns that the widowed Klara Tregear lives in the Cornwall village of Polvarth, she hesitates…Polvarth and Jenni have a history. But the challenge of working with a Dutch woman who was interned by the Japanese on Java during World War II is enough to tip the balance toward accepting the commission.

She travels to Cornwall by train from her home in London, a home she shares with schoolteacher Rick. Their relationship is seriously troubled over children: Rick wants them, Jenni doesn’t. Maybe absence will help the relationship; in any case, the idea of creating the memoirs of a woman who survived a brutal internment in the then Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia, is more than enough to overcome her fears.

The two women bond as Jenni settles into Klara’s guest cottage, part of the property she owns that includes a 120-acre farm.  Klara grew up on a rubber plantation owned by her father on Java. It was an idyllic life that was turned upside down when the Japanese invaded the Dutch colony in 1942. The occupiers rounded up all the Europeans and put them in concentration camps. The natives were exempted for the most part as part of Japan’s Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere program, but many mixed race people are interned along with the Europeans.

The privations endured by young Klara, her mother and her brother Peter are extreme.  Klara’s father is separated from the family,  in a separate camp for men. The internees are treated with contempt by the Japanese camp commander, a sadist who ended up being executed at the war crimes tribunals after the war. Disease and starvation were common and the internees were moved seemingly arbitrarily from camp to camp, with each one being worse.

When Klara finally tells Jenni the fate of her brother Peter, the ghostwriter is forced to confront her own demons. No, I won’t reveal this spoiler of spoilers in a beautifully written novel.

If you liked Jamie Ford’s novels — “Songs of Willow Frost” and “Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet” (link to my reviews: I’m guessing you’ll like “Shadows over Paradise.”  Ford and Wolff deal with war and remembrance, to borrow a phrase from the great American writer Herman Wouk, who is still alive at the age of 99.

I think “Shadows Over Paradise” would make an outstanding book club selection. It has a Random House Reader’s Guide to aid in the discussion. Pick up a copy and see what I mean.

Isabel Wolff

Isabel Wolff

About the author

Isabel Wolff’s ten bestselling novels are published worldwide. ‘Ghostwritten’, set in present day Cornwall and on wartime Java, was published in the UK in March 2014 and will be published in the US in February 2015 as ‘Shadows Over Paradise’. ‘The Very Picture of You’ was published in the UK and the US in October 2011. ‘A Vintage Affair’, was an ‘Best of 2009’ title and was shortlisted by the American Library Association for their Reading List awards (Women’s Fiction). Isabel lives in west London with her children, younger step-son and cocker spaniel puppy. Become a Facebook fan of Isabel’s, follow her on Twitter or visit

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Marriage Game’: Queen Elizabeth I Really Kept Her Subjects Guessing About Marriage

It doesn’t surprise me in the least that Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603) was conflicted in the extreme about the idea of marriage. All she had to do was reflect on the fate of her mother, Anne Boleyn, as well as other wives of her father, King Henry VIII.

BOOK REVIEW: 'The Marriage Game': Queen Elizabeth I Really Kept Her Subjects Guessing About Marriage

In an entrancing novel, “The Marriage Game: A Novel of Queen Elizabeth I” (Ballantine Books, 416 pages, $26.00, also available in a $10.99 Kindle edition from, Alison Weir shows how from her coronation in 1558 and for many years after, Elizabeth promised to marry and provide an heir to the throne.

She discussed marriage with her counselors and parliamentary leaders, often going so far as to sign marriage contracts with several European royals. All the while she maintained a not-so-secret relationship with Robert Dudley (1532-1588), a handsome married man, whom she named Master of Horse and later created the title Earl of Leicester for him.

Weir shows how the young monarch — she was only 25 when she was crowned — realized that given the custom of the time — when husbands were absolute bosses of their wives — she would be under the rule of her husband should she marry. She wanted to be the sole ruler, with England as her “husband”, and feared the complications of childbirth at a time when many women died giving birth.

When Robert’s wife, the former Amy Robards, is found dead after a fall on the stairs, marriage to Robert — if that was Elizabeth’s desire — is permanently sidetracked. Amy was suffering from breast cancer and modern medical experts tell how it weakens bones, making falls almost inevitable.  Weir provides this information in a helpful author’s note at the end of the book.

Despite the scandal, and accusations that Robert had his wife murdered, Elizabeth and Robert manage to navigate the choppy political, economic, and religious waters around them. But the greatest obstacle to marriage between the Queen and her true love may come not from outside forces, but from within: The Virgin Queen’s well founded fear and doubt about marriage.

If you’re fascinated by a period of English history when the country was threatened by Mary Queen of Scots, who wanted the throne of England,  and Spain — the book includes the year of the defeat of the Spanish Armada, 1588 — you’ll find “The Marriage Game” a delight. Weir manages to weave actual history and the imagined kind together seamlessly.

Alison Weir

Alison Weir

About the Author

Alison Weir, born in London in 1951,  is the New York Times bestselling author of several historical biographies, including Mary Boleyn, The Lady in the Tower, Mistress of the Monarchy, Henry VIII, Eleanor of Aquitaine, The Life of Elizabeth I, and The Six Wives of Henry VIII, and the novels A Dangerous Inheritance, Captive Queen, The Lady Elizabeth, and Innocent Traitor. She lives in Surrey, England, with her husband. Her websites:  and

BOOK REVIEW: ‘God’s Bankers’: Exhaustive Look at Money and Power in Vatican City

Reviewed by David M. Kinchen

“You can’t run the Church on Hail Marys” — Archbishop Paul Marcinkus, (1922-2006) former head of the Vatican Bank

Cicero, IL-born Paul Marcinkus, a central figure in Gerald Posner’s “God’s Bankers: A History of Money and Power at the Vatican” (Simon & Schuster, 752 pages, photographic inserts, notes, bibliography, index, $32.00) practiced what he preached at one of the world’s most opaque financial institution, the  Istituto per le Opere di Religione (IOR), also known as the Vatican Bank, from 1971 to 1989.

BOOK REVIEW: 'God's Bankers': Exhaustive Look at Money and Power in Vatican City

The 6-foot 3 inch Lithuanian American also doubled as a bodyguard/interpreter for several popes. He certainly stood out among the mostly diminutive denizens of  one of the world’s smallest countries. Despite having no financial experience he managed to hang on to his job, writes Posner, who spent nine years researching and writing this book. The exhaustive research — including several details revealed for the first time — shows, as does the gripping narrative that is stranger than fiction.

Speaking of fiction, Posner describes how some of the events, including the murder of Italian banker Roberto Calvi in London in 1982, were dramatized in Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather. Part III” in 1990. (Page 363).

Just about every account I’ve read about the Vatican Bank and the numerous financial scandals in Italy leads off with the death of Robert Calvi in 1982 at Blackfriars Bridge in London — and Posner’s book  is no exception.

Calvi (April 13, 1920 – June 17, 1982) was an Italian banker, often  dubbed “God’s Banker” by the press because of his close association with the Holy See.  Calvi was Chairman of Banco Ambrosiano in Milan — named after the city’s patron saint, Ambrose — which collapsed in one of modern Italy’s biggest political and financial scandals. His death in London in June 1982 is a source of enduring controversy and was ruled a murder after two coroner’s inquests and an independent investigation. In Rome, in June 2007, five people were acquitted of the murder.

Claims have been made that factors in Calvi’s death were the Vatican Bank, Banco Ambrosiano’s main shareholder; the Mafia, which may have used Banco Ambrosiano for money laundering; and the Propaganda Due or P2 clandestine Masonic Lodge.

Speaking of talking out of both sides of your mouth, the Roman Catholic Church does that in spades regarding Freemasonry. Becoming a mason would normally result in excommunication for any Catholic, especially in Italy. On the other hand, P2 was a “shadow government” that included many prominent Italians, The lodge had among its members prominent journalists, members of parliament, industrialists, and military leaders—including Silvio Berlusconi, who later became Prime Minister of Italy; the Savoy pretender to the Italian throne Victor Emmanuel; and the heads of all three Italian intelligence services (at the time SISDE, SISMI and CESIS).

“God’s Bankers” traces the political intrigue and inner workings of the Catholic Church, especially about the church’s accumulation of wealth and its byzantine entanglements with financial markets across the world. At one point, the bank was in the top 10 of money laundering institutions.

Posner presents a shocking account of money and power in perhaps the most influential organization in the history of the world.

Don’t be intimidated by the size of this book: it contains enough material for a dozen thriller movies. Poisoned business titans;  faked kidnappings; murdered prosecutors; mysterious deaths of private investigators, and questionable suicides; a carnival of characters from Popes and cardinals, financiers and mobsters, kings and prime ministers; and a set of moral and political circumstances that clarify not only the church’s aims and ambitions, but reflect the larger dilemmas of the world’s more recent history. Not the least among the dilemmas facing the Church is the role of the Vatican in financing Nazis moving to South America and the Middle East through the so-called “ratlines.”

The scandal over priests molesting children, almost exclusively boys: It’s in here, Chapter 31, pages 395 ff. Clueless as to public relations and crisis management, the Church blamed the sexual abuse story on the media, moving priests from diocese to diocese like pieces on a chessboard. Posner tells the story of Jason Berry, writing in a small circulation weekly in Louisiana — after his story was turned down by larger publications like Rolling Stone — exposing molestation by priests in Cajun Louisiana. Berry’s story, later published in book form, was too explosive to stay hidden.

At the end of the book Posner examines the reforms to the bank, wondering if Pope Francis can succeed where all his predecessors failed: to overcome the resistance to change in the Vatican’s Machiavellian inner court and to rein in the excesses of its seemingly uncontrollable financial quagmire. Part thriller, part financial tell-all, this book shows with extraordinary precision how the Vatican has evolved from a foundation of faith to a corporation of extreme wealth and power.

Gold stolen by the Nazis, including from the teeth of Holocaust victims: It’s discussed by Posner. Much of the gold, including wedding rings from Gypsies — Roma — murdered in the death camps,  ended up in the Vatican Bank and at a famous shrine in Portugal.

For those who say Posner is an anti-Catholic writer, he retorts that his mother was Roman Catholic and he was educated by Jesuits.

Regardless of your views about the Catholic Church and the abuses of religion in general, “God’s Bankers” should be read by everyone who wants to understand another version of Lord Acton’s saying about the corruption of power. “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Gerald Posner

Gerald Posner
Photo by Dale Stine

About the author

Gerald Posner was born in 1954 in San Francisco, the only child of Jerry and Gloria Posner, native San Franciscans. His father was a labor union official. His father was Jewish and his mother was Roman Catholic. Posner was educated at St. Ignatius College Preparatory (1972), the University of California, Berkeley, (B.A.), (1975), and University of California, Hastings College of the Law (J.D.), (1978). He worked for law firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore until 1980.  Of counsel to the law firm he founded, Posner and Ferrara, he is now a full time journalist and author.
He is the Chief Investigative Reporter for the Daily Beast (www.thedailybeast/author/gerald-posner). In the past, he was a freelance writer on investigative issues for several news magazines, and a regular contributor to NBC, the History Channel, CNN, FOX News, CBS, and MSNBC. A member of the National Advisory Board of the National Writers Union, Posner is also a member of the Authors Guild, PEN, The Committee to Protect Journalists, and Phi Beta Kappa. He lives in Miami Beach with his wife, author, Trisha Posner, who works on all his projects (