Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Devil's Quota by Tom Avitabile

The Devil’s Quota. Tom Avitabile. The Story Plant. October 2014. 320 pp.  ISBN#: 9781611881929.

A well-known Judge is found dead after having a massive heart attack while in the throes of sexual bliss with a call girl in a seedy building far from his luxurious home.  The only problem is his wife tells Detective Mike DiMaggio that her husband was impotent.  Add to this fact the reality of a sex clinic run by a professional sex counselor Cassandra Cassidy.  It turns out she runs several floors in the building where she offers therapy for high profile customers.  Unfortunately, DiMaggio quickly figures out she is being protected by those same higher-ups, which leads to him being followed.

DiMaggio, however, calculates that losing his job merits his determination to find out who is behind his removal, and that’s where the action and complex nature of this investigation really begins and propels him into action.  It also advances considerably when someone tries to take out Cassidy.  The relationship between the two now changes into something more personal but is complex enough to defy predictability.

The story then switches to a sniper, Master Sergeant Eric Ronson, who is a Special Forces operative serving in Afghanistan.  He has fallen in love with Setara, an Afghan girl, who is connected to international traffickers and thereby leads Ronson into a heap of trouble.  Eventually he and DiMaggio will connect but that’s a spoiler not happening here.  Suffice to say there’s a great deal of killing happening on this end of the story!

Tom Avitabile’s plots are page-turning, gripping read.  The Ronson involvement eventually ties in but seems separate and disconnected at first, but eventually it all ties together to form a seamless plot.  DiMaggio and Cassandra Cassidy are characters with some unique, quirky qualities to their relationship right up to the last page.  Good read for all fans of crime/thriller fiction!

Penguin Classics: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain 2014 edition

Penguin Classics: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  Mark Twain.  Introduction and Notes by R. Ken Rasmussen. Penguin Group (USA). November 2014. 272 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9780143107330.

Penguin has also reissued an edition of the classic novel, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a tale that has more controversy surrounding it than the Tom Sawyer story penned by Mark Twain.   For this is the story of Huck Finn, a young boy who travels with a runaway slave, Jim, for the purpose of obtaining his freedom.

Huck is fleeing his alcoholic father’s abusive ways, a part of the story that may seem like adventure initially when read at a young age but which becomes a journey surrounded by starkly harsh reality.  Huck’s cheery attitude must be a partial fa├žade that covers over a mass of wounded spirit.  At times those wounds leak out in the cruel way he speaks to Jim.  However, living in a stable family environment is not something Huck can stand as proved by his escape from the widow Douglas. He has something of the “wild” in him, perhaps a tad of his father’s spirit or upbringing than we would admit.  Either way, Huck is beholden to no adult, not even Jim, at least not early on in the story; later both change because of the intimate conversations they have on their dangerous journey down the Mississippi River, including getting involved in a family feud, consorting with thieves, pretending to be his old buddy Tom Sawyer, and much more.

Rasmussen has again penned an interesting introduction in which he explores the “bad boy” image Huck seems to have maintained for as long as it existed, the false comparisons with Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, the lack of purpose other than adventure with some morality embedded within the story, and more. 

Huckleberry Finn is a wonderful story about a young adult who shows his simple and unrefined nature over and over in the way he craves but fears danger, his wise nature when he sees through the duplicity of those who claim to care for their slaves (using the “n” word common in that time of history), his own prejudice when he threatens to turn Jim in which would have guaranteed the most brutal punishment possible if not death), and so much more.  They will meet friendly men and women and thieves of every type as they travel downriver.

Reread this new edition and note the genius of Mark Twain who writes stories that can be perceived as just that or with layers of critical satire that forced America to confront its lack of tackling severe problems such as dysfunctional families and parenting, criminal activities pervading every town in America, the acceptable and unacceptable values within the friendships and acquaintances made by Huck, the lack of adult courage that stood out in stark relief through the actions of a young boy, and finally the need to find justice in the most intolerable circumstances of time, without the hindsight of history to help!

This reviewer loves this book and highly recommends it as a first, second or umpteenth read – a TRUE CLASSIC, a MUST READ!

Penguin Classics: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain - 2014 edition

Penguin Classics: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.  Mark Twain.  Introduction and Notes by R. Ken Rasmussen. Penguin Group (USA). November 2014. 272 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9780143107330.

Penguin has reissued an edition of the classic novel, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, a tale that never fails to mesmerize and intrigue its readers.   It’s the story of a young Southern boy who’s a “bad boy” in the day when the only books for boys were moral novels of little adventure and minor character flaws.  Tom Sawyer is really the same type of character but his charismatic personality has more spunk than previous young heroes and he’s so much smarter than his peers that he becomes a model of misbehavior and adventure to them all.

A fascinating introduction – don’t skip it at all – compares this novel by the famous Mark Twain to the Harry Potter novel by J. K. Rowling.  Tom and Harry are said to possess the common characteristics as they “struggle against adversity, fight against evil, and are misunderstood but nevertheless emerge triumphantly in the end.” There are other similarities but that awaits the reader’s exploration.

Tom will fall in love with Becky, see a murder, lead a search for treasure, is believed to be dead, and becomes rich but unchanged from the rambunctious boy he has always been.

One may read this novel on many levels, and this new Penguin Classic edition is easy but accurate reading of the novel Mark Twain composed. The first level is that of a simple boy who rebels against the morality-ridden upbringing of Southern families, the necessary but boring elementary school lessons, and the mundane quality of everyday life that was just chores and lessons galore.  Twain on the other hand, was a master of satire, and we may read his tale as a scathing satire of church goers’ hypocrisy (Tom’s Aunt Polly, albeit a good woman at heart), the stereotyping of people in more need of help (albeit unwanted) such as Tom’s friend Huck’s alcoholic father, the false judgments of society based on image rather than actual acts (albeit in secret) as in the cave and treasure incident involving pirates and Injuns.

Reread this new edition and compare it with the thrills, magic and adventures of the Harry Potter stories.  Read it as a girls’ book and not just as the boys’ book it was believed to be years ago.  Read it and enjoy the daily unexpected excitement of friends meeting Tom Sawyer, the “safe bad boy!”

The Spider and the Stone: A Nobel by Glen Craney

The Spider and The Stone: A Novel of Scotland’s Black Douglas. Glen Craney. Brigid’s Fire Press. October 2013. 432 pp.  ISBN#: 9780981648408.  

Scotland in the beginning of the 14th Century is besieged by turmoil that may yet be its total undoing.  Its internal tribes are constantly vying for power and consequently always at war, both verbally and physically.  Add to it that the King of England, Edward Longshanks, is furious at how the Scots are always creating border disputes and battles and he’s now determined to totally break them, humiliate them, and take over the entire country which he owns anyway.  But what he and his weak son do not realize is just how fierce and determined these feisty Scotsmen and women are.  The likes of James Douglas in this novel demonstrate the thorn in the flesh he and his followers are in England’s royal presence.

The novel opens with a brutal scene in which Scottish castles are ruthlessly destroyed. This is quickly followed by the death of a friend of James and soon thereafter the death of William Wallace, a hero revered by all faithful Scots.  Robert the Bruce, however, who swears allegiance to lead Scotland as King seems to waver between his sworn duty and trying to manipulate and cower before Longshanks.  The result is more division as neither side knows where Robert truly lies, yielding more and more dissension.  Jamie, however, is tested over and over but is faithful.  The question is whether or not he will eventually be Scotland’s King.

Early in the novel, James falls in love with Isabelle MacDuff but obstacles after obstacles seem to interfere with their desired union.  It is her family who officiate over the crowning of Scotland’s Kings near the mystical Stone of Destiny, whose eerie scream will only sound when the true King of Scotland touches the stone.

This is a long but thoroughly enjoyable story which holds more intrigue than one could imagine, including the activities of the Knights Templar, those of the repressed pagan Culdee Church, the declaration that inspired other similar official documents for freedom long after this century concluded, and tales within tales of romantic legends and battles that never fail to move the characters hearing or reading about them. Even though there are many names and clans mentioned, it is worth the effort to follow them carefully, in order to fully appreciate this memorable, well-researched, and thoroughly enjoyable work of historical fiction! Great read that is highly recommended!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

An Unseemly Wife by E. B. Moore

An Unseemly Wife.  E. B. Moore. Penguin Group (USA). October 2014. 336 pp.  ISBN#: 9780451469984.

Ruth Holtz loves life as an Amish wife and mother in Pennsylvania but her husband has bigger, practical dreams of having enough land to yield enough crops and farm products for a large, large family.  Ruth also loves the care and cooperation of the Amish community and can’t imagine living without them.  At first Ruth thinks it’s nothing but her husband’s fantasy, so imagine her surprise when Aaron announces they are heading for Idaho.  The novel travels back and forth between their animosity once the decision is made without her input and the immense difficulty of their journey in a home-built Conestoga wagon.  The latter is an adventure in itself!

At first the challenge as they travel is nothing more than a sense of Ruth’s grief at leaving behind family, friends and the Amish community.  But then rainstorms, cold, floods, ice, disease, and trouble with the “English” whom they meet looms larger and larger to the point where Ruth wonders if they will ever finish what seems to be a God-forsaken journey.
During the trip Ruth makes two good friends, Hortense a preacher’s wife and Sadie a tough little woman, and much later other friends who become her new world.  Each new person has his or her own motives and ultimately some turn out faithful and one in particular an unexpected betrayer. Sadly enough there are several huge losses that almost take away Ruth’s survival spirit and make her question God and her prayers to him for so much.

An Unseemly Wife is a lovely and tough story that never fails to keep the reader totally engaged.  The reader wants so much for Ruth and the author satisfies, while never giving up honesty as in Aaron’s stubborn will regarding the future.  In some external ways, Ruth is a stereotypical woman of the time, but the author makes the internal thoughts and feelings of Ruth uniquely real and fascinating as this woman changes from a compliant, meek woman to a strong, even tough, woman, manifesting the strength necessary to live a fruitful life in the American West.  Her and her family’s journey with its losses and triumphs is symbolic of so many who became part of the westward expansion of America’s borders.  E. B. Moore depicts it so well and gives the reader a wonderful read in the process!

Each Shining Hour: A Novel of Watervalley by Jeff High

Each Shining Hour: A Novel of Watervalley - Book #2. Jeff High.  NAL Trade.  October 2014. 432 pp.  ISBN#: 9780451419279.

Luke is the local doctor in Watervalley, a lovely town in Tennessee.  He arrived with a three year contract which guaranteed his medical school loan would be paid off. For that trade off, he gave up his dream of doing medical research and working in a large city; but the time he’s lived here has endeared him to the locals and them to him.  Now we welcome some new and old characters in this second book of the series plus an addition to the plot of a complex mystery.

Connie is Luke’s housekeeper/cook/confidante.  Her sister, Estelle, arrives with huge plans to open a bakery in a historic, beautiful building but there’s a mystery and several secrets associated with this place.  It’s also said to be haunted as a terrible crime occurred right outside this place, involving the owner Oscar Fox and another man.  Both murdered each other but no one really knows what sparked the deadly finale of their lives.  Luke becomes fascinated by this mystery and sets out to learn more, with the assistance of his on-and-off-again girlfriend, Christine, and an older man who’s become a trusted friend, John.  There are those who fight Luke on every turn but “a diamond” is the first clue to begin an intriguing search for the exposure of secrets and the truth to emerge.

Meanwhile, Luke gets a new nurse and continues working his medical magic on the people of Watervalley.  His bedside manner is phenomenal; and he never hides the truth but always conveys it with sensitivity and compassion. 

Estelle’s bakery dreams get thrown off for a brief time and the characters exhibit great humor and skills in getting past this huge obstacle.  The “bad guys” do get theirs, you know (tongue in cheek indeed)!

Jeff High has improved his writing in this second Watervalley novel.  The plot has just enough homey dialogue, genteel romance, brutal crime, intriguing mystery and an overall sense of reality in small-town living that never stops being endearing and gripping enough to make one want to keep reading without stopping!  Very nicely crafted, Jeff High!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Other Stories by Washington Irving - Penguin Classics

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Other Stories.  Washington Irving.  Edited and Noted by Elizabeth Bradley. Penguin Group (USA). September 2014. 400 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9780143107538.

animated book trailer

Sleepy Hollow, located in the Hudson River Valley of New York State, carries a familiar ambience of what Irving described as “The whole neighborhood abounds with local tales, haunted spots, and twilight superstitions…and the nightmare, with her whole nine fold, seems to make it the favorite scene of her gambols.” Such exquisite writing immerses the reader into the atmosphere Irving was so talented in creating in the well-known stories of “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” from which the above quote emanates.  These have become classic tales of New York literature and history that still thrill every reader.

But just as much as the mystical, bloody, haunted qualities are rife in those two short stories, so too beautiful, literate and profoundly memorable descriptions are everywhere in the other segments in this collection within [The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.]  Read of Irving’s lovely appreciation of nature in upstate Sleepy Hollow. 

Or perhaps read of the irony of Irving’s visit to Stratford-on-Avon, home of the playwright William Shakespeare, as he views the ordinary material possessions in Shakespeare’s home through the prism of the abundant words and scenes created by this brilliant author, all of which have remained in Irving’s mind and which color his every perception during this memorable trip. 

Appreciate also the irony with which he describes settings and behavior of individuals who have rather large egos – while never directly criticizing them, Irving satirizes with his comic descriptions, as in “Christmas Eve,” where he describes a British officer who had been wounded but could talk French and Italian, draw landscapes, sing very tolerably, dance divinely; but above all he had been wounded at Waterloo – “…what girl of seventeen, well read in poetry and romance, could resist such a mirror of chivalry and perfection!”  Love it!

On and on the talented author Washington Irving describes the vicissitudes of life in America and England throughout this collection.  His purpose, he claimed, was to not only plumb the depths of the relatively new American experience but to visit the places in England that were the historical and cultural sources that would enrich those who came to create an American experience.  While the latter was new, Irving acknowledged one could not deny the formidable influence of the past – and so he presents it in all its glory, tomfoolery, and wonderful fame!

This is a worthy collection to keep and relish frequently over and over; it truly is a series of phenomenal travel and fictional writings by one of the earliest masters of literary fame in America.  Highly recommended reading!