Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Well in Time: A Novel by Suzan Still

Well in Time: A Novel.  Suzan Still. The Story Plant.  January 2015. 400 pp. paperback and e-book. ISBN #: 9781611881844.

Javier Cartena and Calypso Searcy have returned in this sequel to Feast of Smoke and are again deliberately and inadvertently spun into a cycle of violence and divine intervention that keeps spinning and spinning and spinning.  Javier and Calypso, as well as their good friend Hill who is an investigative journalist, are as deeply in love as ever.  But they are not to have any piece due to the prevailing drug cartels thriving in Mexico, one of whom will attack Javier’s ranch.  Javier will stay behind to defend his home and Calypso is about to begin a journey that involves crawling through tube-like caves barely fitting any human being.

In the process of this fantastic journey, stories within stories will be told, like a Russian Matryoshka nesting doll, revealing layers and layers of mystery, myth, legend, all emanating the sacred.  The tales involve communities worshiping the Great Mother, Isis, also known as Mary in Christian circles.  They involve the marriage of Egyptian gods and goddesses and the enmity arising in their children, the efforts of some to squelch the worship of these divine beings in medieval Europe, and so much more. The journey also involves Calypso being saved and threatened by a group known as “The Ghosts,” criminals who are reformed but who use a dangerous drug to get information from those who would eliminate them. All of these stories and events will culminate with a gift to Calypso that is approximately 4,000 years old, a gift bequeathed by the descendant of the Great Mother herself, a piece of jewelry that only a woman can wear and which gifts the wearer with dreams of the future or occurrences in the present in different places.

Well in Time reminded this reviewer of the magical realism novels of great writers like Gabriela Garcia Marquez, Mario Vargas Llosa and Isabella Allende, weaving the sacred and the profane; past, present and future; love and hate, the beauty and the ugly within and without nature and so much more.  Suzan Still is more than a novelist; she’s a literary giant with a gift for beautiful prose, brilliant plotting and revealing characterization that enhances every page of this phenomenally constructed novel.  Kudos to you, Suzan Still – and please, please, please keep writing!

Fiesta of Smoke by Suzan Still

Fiesta of Smoke.  Suzan Still. The Story Plant.  September 2013. 511 pp. paperback and e-book. ISBN #: 9781611881127.

Javier Cartena and Calypso Searcy – two loves that fuel passion for life and revolution in Mexico!  As they describe it, “We hold one another as if arms were a bond that can never be broken.  Until we are only a swirl of ash in this fiesta of smoke, still dancing.”  But this love has a deeper, richer story that makes the reader he or she has entered a magical world covering a span of 50 years. It concerns the above-named two characters and an investigative journalist, Hill, who becomes enamored of Calypso in Paris, France earlier in the 20th century.  After two brief but mesmerizing meetings, Hill knows he is in love but also senses that Calypso, a teacher and writer, is in very deep trouble.  After he finds her home ransacked and destroyed by an unknown marauder, he sets out to find her and his journey takes him to Mexico.
Hill, although a seasoned journalist who can sniff out the most secretive elements of a great journalistic story, finds himself totally unprepared for the scenarios he is about to undergo.  He takes us through stories within stories, one about a wealthy financier who suffers, to the point of insanity, over what his very wealthy family has done to the indigenous people of Mexico.  It is only now that he is dying that he decides to repent beyond the actual physical self-flagellation he practices for his crime.  He wills a huge portion of his fortune to a servant, whose only job will be to see it goes to save the native Mexicans from the repression, oppression and terrible suffering they are experiencing from politicians, administrators, the local police and now the Mexican Army.  This is the story of native men, women and children who have fled murder, rape, and other travesties to unite under Javier and his guerilla troops.  They are starving physically but now are reviving mentally and emotionally under Javier’s guidance.  Javier is no ignorant revolutionary; he has used his education to spend years uniting agricultural workers, truckers, and more community-minded natives, inspiring them to believe that hope is again possible for their deplorable situations.

The magic of this story includes the tales of a Mexican female shaman and others who are all part of this struggle.  The language is beautiful beyond description. Calypso is the life-giving woman whose love enables Javier to continue when plans go awry; her amulet she wears around her neck enables her to sense danger and know things no human could ordinarily no, clearly an object connecting her and therefore the Mexican people to God and the Virgin of Guadalupe who are always present.

Fiesta of Smoke defies words in its intensely gorgeous prose, riveting conflicts, illusive and yet mesmerizing visions and descriptions, passionate scenes of hate and love, misunderstandings, inspiration and so much more.  This is a story that rather than being based on real life was based on a life that inspired a later Mexican revolutionary.  STUNNING, MUST, MUST READ!!!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Thoreau on Wolf Hill: A Henry David Thoreau Mystery by B. B. Oak.

 Thoreau on Wolf Hill: A Henry David Thoreau Mystery. B. B. Oak. Kensington Publishing Corporation. October 2014.. 320 pp.  ISBN#: 9780758290250.

Vampyres, as they are spelled in this novel, or vampires are very, very real, according to believers like Solomon Whitty; and the key to ridding society of these terrifying creatures lies in chopping out their hearts and more separation of parts of their dead or living bodies, along with some other noxious deeds that are considered mandatory action to end the cycle of murder and violence.

Henry David Thoreau and Dr. Adam Walker are the voices of sanity attempting to discover the murderer of several members of this small Massachusetts town.  But the superstition, driven by irrational fear, looms larger than reason.  The ensuing solutions to this dilemma, exacerbated by the scourge of an epidemic of “galloping consumption, include more violence. 

Add to the mix the fact that Dr. Adam Walker and Julia are doing everything to avoid each other and to be with each other.  For there’s a mystery as to why Julia ran away to France years ago, believing she could never marry the love of her life, Adam.  Here is another mystery waiting to unfold for the reader, along with the unknown reason of why she abandoned her husband in France to resettle in Plumford.  Add another mystery about a small boy with a harelip and a woman who agrees to be Julia’s housekeeper but has some devious ways involving the young boy, Noah to the mix!
B. B. Oak crafts a multilayered mystery that is unpredictable and intriguing, as well as rather ghoulish in several scenes.  The plot thickens without any break and the reader will be enthralled in this story with complex conflicts paralleling the ancient Indian stories of vampires and supernatural powers.  It’s almost ironic that so much horror can riddle this area of New England known for its charming beauty.

 Highly recommended mystery that makes the reader want to read the other Thoreau mysteries!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Cold Cold Heart by Tami Hoag

Cold Cold Heart.  Tami Hoag. Penguin Group USA.  January 2015. 368 pp. paperback and e-book. ISBN #: 9780525954545.

One reads about serial killers with very little information following about their victims.  Tami Hoag breaches that impenetrable wall of silence with this novel.  It’s initially about Dana Nolan, a young woman who was professionally successful as a TV newscaster, a career eagerly followed by man, a woman admired for her numerous skilled deliveries of news of all levels of intensity and importance.  Now she’s the broken visage of news as the result of a horrific experience of abduction, cutting, burning, other torture and rape.  Her serial killer attacker was known as Dr. Holiday and he called her “My Masterpiece” before she moved beyond her broken state to muster up enough strength to end his killing spree.

Post-traumatic stress syndrome never looked so vicious and mind-numbingly intensely painful as it does for Tami.  Not only is she oh so slowly learning to cope with the few memories and feelings that emerge over time but she also has to deal with well-intentioned family and friends who now define her as the serial “victim.”  Dana immediately displays that feisty personality that was a hallmark of her life before this vicious nightmare began. She fights back as she slowly recovers enough to begin to nominally function.

Little by little a memory in particular from before her demise emerges.  It concerns a friend of hers who disappeared and was murdered.  It so becomes her focus that she decides to resurrect her reportorial skills and seek out answers that have haunted her for so long and have been exacerbated by her own experience. This quest is to provide a healing factor in her life, although she knows she will be scarred by her own past forever.  Empathy indeed can be a miraculous, soul-saving exercise.

While the beginning of this crime novel is initially disconcerting, it is well worth the read.  Cold Cold Heart is a riveting, psychological, crime-solving novel that shows Tami Hoag’s skills at their best.  This is a winner for all true fans of crime and thriller fiction!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Organ Takers: A Novel of Surgical Suspense by Richard Van Anderson

The Organ Takers: A Novel of Surgical Suspense. Richard Van Anderson. White Light Press, LLC.  October 2014. 306 pp. paperback and e-book. ISBN #: 9780990759713.

David McBride lost his medical license because of remaining silent about an ethical violation; his silence was deemed to be innocent in one sense but complicit in another.  So now he works as a lab tech, doing surgery on animals for a wretched salary.  His wife has been supportive but she’s beginning to lose patience as David mopes about his error and the loss of his surgical career which he loved, was very good at and which provided him with dreams and plans of a brilliant future.  Add to that the minuscule apartment in a low-class neighborhood and his wife’s announcement of pregnancy and the reader gets the full picture of a distraught couple on the brink of disaster. Then after numerous rejections to reenter medical school and the surgical profession, David gets not one but two offers that will bring financial success and allow him to work again in the field of surgery! The problem is one’s legal and the other one is illegal! The problem one has a caveat of perfect performance and the other a caveat of bribery that could ruin David McBride forever!
David makes a choice that involves performing organ harvests in a surgical suite set up in a ramshackle warehouse in downtown New York.  It supposedly is only for a few months but it turns out to be far worse.  It also turns out that the donors are not willing participants.  So the story begins to spin out of control until David knows he must do something drastic, no matter the cost to his own future.  That choice results in what could be catastrophic consequences to his physical and mental well-being! Or it could be that he is the weapon wreaking revenge for all he lost!

The Organ Takers is exactly what it says in its title – a novel of unbridled surgical suspense that will keep the reader up all night, unable to stop reading this very real criminal and/or medical thriller.  Richard Van Anderson knows exactly where to ramp up the intensity and tone it down so the reader doesn’t come down with a stress-related physical problem.  The black market for organ donations is probably a very real debacle hidden away from the public eye.  Van Anderson raises the issue, demanding why this very noble, life-saving surgical procedure, involving various organs vital for life depends on how much money one can afford to spend to literally “live.’

Yes, most of us personally know or know about someone whose life was saved by an organ transplant or about someone who voluntarily gave life to another human being because of a sacrifice of an organ like the heart, the lung, kidney or other necessary part of the physical body.  The Organ Taker… reminds the reader how control and regulation needs this issue to stop becoming a “rich man’s salvation” and possible for anyone and everyone, with no strings attached.  It also deals with the ethical abuses motivated by greed for money that may exist in far too many places. Superb story that raises as many questions as it answers, Richard Van Anderson!

Golden Son: Book 2 of the Red Rising Trilogy by Pierce Brown

Golden Son: Book 2 of the Red Rising Trilogy.  Pierce Brown.  Random House Publishing House.  January 2015. 4 pp. hardback and e-book. ISBN #: 9780804177603.

In this second novel of the Red Rising trilogy, Darrow has become a member of the ruling Gold people.  His goal is based on the loss of his wife, Eo, who sacrificed her life that her song of freedom might be sung across the planet of Mars by the Reds yearning for freedom and other color segments of this society all serving the Golds.  Unfortunately, Darrow who was so successful in becoming a Gold in the former novel, Red Rising, has now failed his masters.  He has lost an important battle and is considered a failure and therefore is condemned to be an outcast.  As a result of the fact that he killed the brother of one of his former Gold friends, that family now wants nothing less than Darrow’s death!

In his escape Darrow is again thrown into association with the Reds.  While Darrow had been carrying out his previous schooling and battles with the Golds, the Reds were not sitting idle but decide to begin their revolution by specific killings. This in turn has focused attention on their rebels and it has been decided that all Reds must be eliminated.  Augustus, Darrow’s former master, has been manipulated by another foe who deliberately spread rumors and master-minded Darrow’s demise.  Now Darrow has no idea who is friend or foe!

The battles that now rage are literally fought for the future of who will rule Mars fairly or fiercely! Part of the Golds are based on former Roman rulers, even emulating their lost culture into reality on Mars.  Their prowess in battle is no less real and the reader will be flipping the pages as Darrow seeks to stay close to the Son of Ares and use him to free the Reds and destroy the Golds.  He is without old friends and he spends an inordinate amount of time reflecting (or whining, take your pick) about why he is now where he is.  Instead he now has new friends and even a new love! But then chaos, destruction and death by attack loom large in every corner and there’s no time to do anything but do more than survive, be victorious!

Golden Son is even more exciting than its predecessor and is recommended highly for all lovers of great science fiction! 

Gooseberry Island: A Novel by Steven Manchester

Gooseberry Island: A Novel. Steven Manchester. The Story Plant. January 2015. 300 pp.  ISBN#: 9781611881806.

In the perfect story, a man and women fall in love and live happily ever after! But life, in reality, throws its curve ball into every mix and couples need to surmount one or more challenges, to say the least.  David McClain and Lindsey meet on the night before David returns to his Ranger duties in the terribly threatening land of Afghanistan.  Previously, David has survived warfare as he’s very, very good at what he does.  David’s psyche, however, has changed since he fell in love.  In some ways, his relationship with Lindsey is the only hope he experiences in the nightmarish daily activities where fellow soldiers are kill or are killed or wounded.  Somehow now his sensitivity is enhanced and this tour is grossly different!

One of David’s buddies was constantly talking about how he needed to get back to his little daughter and wife who meant the world to him, proven by how often he pulled out their picture before and after a successful mission. But one day the work is interrupted and the buddy loses both his legs from an IED (improvised explosive device) and has a shattered body and psyche.  David’s job is to support his men and so he does on this occasion, only the mind and heart are the last to catch up with the easy platitudes offered to the wounded warrior. 

Eventually David will suffer his own physical trauma, but that is the least of his problems as once he returns to the United States worse follows!  This then is the story Steven Manchester, who actually served in the War in Afghanistan, has always wanted to tell.  For although American citizens have heard the term PTSD frequently, most really don’t have a clue about the horror it is to live with the memories, physical and mental reactions that accompany years of battle. The constant state of alertness required to avoid being killed by a sniper or awaiting IED is not left when one is homeward bound to the good ol’ USA.  Steven would have you read this novel to truly understand what the bang of a muffler or screeching brakes, etc. does to a wounded warrior. It’s a brutal recovery and one in which soldiers like David need constant support and retraining. It’s the test of love to see whether Lindsey will stay away as David commands or find a way to be there for her love in the ongoing nightmare of his life. Gooseberry Island is the perfect idyllic setting for healing to begin!

Steven Manchester tells David’s story realistically but without any extra drama as his story has enough horror in it for a lifetime.  This is the world being experienced by thousands of American soldiers, as well as the story of those Afghans trying to bring freedom and lack of fear to their daily lives.  Stunning read that needs to be read by Americans, no matter what political beliefs are held regarding whether or not we should have been or are serving in this non-stop war raging since 911. A MUST read!