Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Red Bandanna - A Life, A Choice, A Legacy by Tom Rinaldi

The Red Bandanna – A Life, A Choice, A Legacy. Tom Rinaldi. Penguin Publishing Group. September 2016. 224 pp. ISBAN#: 9781594206771.   

Welles Crowther was an extraordinary yet ordinary guy!  From September 11, 2001 to today and beyond, he is a true hero!

Tom Rinaldi, an ESPN correspondent, focuses on Welles’s background that led him to the selfless act of rescuing dozens of victims after the planes crashed into the World Trade Towers right up to the minute they fell.  Our hero was fascinated with two areas – being an athlete and a firefighter, the latter like his father.  He was a good student.  Despite his ordinary physical build, he excelled in lacrosse and always wore the red bandanna his father gave him.  Even when he began the job of being a junior associate in a Wall Street firm, he always kept the red bandanna in his pocket or on his desk.  It didn’t matter to him how much he was teased about it’s out of place quality for a businessman.  To Welles, it was his good luck talisman and later became the same for those who wished to honor this heroic character.

Rinaldi takes us through the teen and college years of Welles, with some very funny moments which are so normal for a student who was equally focused on study and fun. 

So what makes a hero?  The upshot is that heroes are ordinary people who move past circumstances of fear and formidable challenge to do what needs to be done, with no thoughts of grandeur or self-serving honor. 

Rinaldi takes us through the moments after the 9/11 attack to the moments when initially no one knew what had become of Welles Crowther.  But little by little, both before and after his body was found, individual recognized his photo and identified him as the guy who had led or carried each person down seventeen floors to the status of a rescued victim.  His parents describe the memorials and eulogies as well as the waving of red bandannas that grew to symbolize the unforgettable act of a true hero!  Tom Rinaldi has crafted an honorable and real memorial of the man to whom so many owed their lives and a tribute to what it means to be a true American in the worst of times! Wonderful book – a forever keeper!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

A Study in Scarlet Woman: First in the Lady Sherlock Series by Sherry Thomas

A Study in Scarlet Women: First in the Lady Sherlock Series. Sherry Thomas. Penguin Publishing Group. October 2016. 336 pp. ISBN#: 9780425281406.  

Charlotte Holmes is a very bright woman who is highly observant of minuscule details that escape the normal person.  She’s determined not to marry and just wants to get some education and become head of a school. That just doesn’t fit in with her Victorian world but she couldn’t care less.  When her father changes his mind and denies her the dream of a future, she causes a scandal and runs away.  Surprisingly, she hasn’t realized her dire situation, even though she thinks about what it means, until she’s almost out of money and can’t get a job because of her scandalous reputation that has quickly spread around London.  Meanwhile, three deaths occur close to her home and her sister and family are blamed, bringing complete ostracism from society.  Charlotte is determined to get to the bottom of the deaths!

Eventually Charlotte, her friend Lord Ingram and Inspector Robert Treadles, take her advice, supposedly given by the “real” Sherlock Holmes, a step at a time and the reader will be shocked at the eventual outcome.  Meanwhile, a new friend who has reached out to Charlotte suggests she advertise her skills of “discernment” and make that her career to earn the money she needs.  Lo and behold, she is stunned by the number of requests she receives, and her sharp-mindedness and intuitive sense guide many a riddle or crime into satisfactory solutions.

What is quite interesting is that solving the death of the three supposedly unrelated characters turns out to be not only clever but a bit anticlimactic.  What keeps the story moving is a budding romance between Charlotte and Lord Ingram, the latter of whom has a few secrets of his own associated with “watching over” Charlotte.  This very much fits in the with the noble Victorian mores of never allowing a woman to be left alone in danger but introduces a few hints of Charlotte missing the boat and thus introducing a wee lack of credibility on her part.

Charlotte is an enigmatic character indeed!  On the one hand, she’s definitely got the “Sherlock” clues in hand; yet she can be incredibly na├»ve about her own circumstances.  Certainly she has a prodigious appetite which she guides only by observing whether she’s coming close to a double chin or more.  One senses that other appetites will develop now that she and Lord Ingram may, should fortune favor them so, become closer. However, that’s a problem that will have to await another novel in the series.

All in all, A Study in Scarlet Women… is a good read that will please may fans of mystery fiction. 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Gifts of Man by S. M. McElligott

The Gifts of Man.  S. M. McElligott. Create Space Independent Publishing Platform. August 2016. 448 pp.  ISBN#: 9781534732179.

We must follow the star! Melchior, Gaspar and Balthazar, known as the three wise men of Biblical fame, received individual messages in their dreams that added to the astrological knowledge.  They came from areas of the Middle East where following Judaism was more of a liability than a blessing.  The Empire of Partha and a war-torn area of what is now Yemen were places where kings vied with each other for power but were helpless against the power of King Herod, himself supported by Roman domination. 

The author imagines the lives of these three men in their day-to-day existence.  One finally gets the approval he needs from his King to be an ambassador to find this new “King” only after a plague decimates his city and Gaspar survives that same disease.  One acquires a female traveling companion who entire family has been murdered by marauding bandits common throughout the Middle East.  They find intense hate, suspicion and love during their long journey.  A visit to King Herod to tell him of their great news produces an ambiguous response but the flattery that follows is the precursor to dire warnings. 

So many lush and sparse descriptions follow of traveling through cities and deserts that the reader is drawn into thinking and feeling part of their journey.  The climax of this journey, not surprisingly, is when they finally meet the newborn child whom they all believe is to be the Messiah.  Their gifts of frankincense, myrrh and gold, while the most precious of offerings, seem minor beside their joy at seeing and holding this blessed babe. Gaspar receives an unexpected but life-saving healing from being in the presence of the long-awaited Savior by Jews throughout the world.  Differences are ironed out and marriages follow. Later on after they have returned to their native land, they hear of the life of Jesus, the Messiah, from Thomas, one of the famous apostles.  The three wise men, however, know that their lives were totally transformed by their journey and their brief meeting with the true gift to man.

This novel is obviously very well-researched and beautifully crafted, so much so that this reviewer was sorry when it ended.  A glossary and maps are added to enhance the reader’s experience. Ms. McElligott is a very talented writer whose novel will be a gift to those who read it.  Highly recommended historical and Biblical historical fiction!

Find Her (Detective D. D. Warren #8) by Lisa Gardner

Find Her (Detective D. D. Warren #8).  Lisa Gardner. Penguin Publishing Group. October 2016. 416 pp.  ISBN#: 9780525954576.

Harrowing! That will be the outstanding descriptive word that remains in the reader’s mind long after reading this ordeal that lasted 492 days for one kidnapped woman!  The story begins from the narrative voice of an unnamed person who is locked in a coffin, who struggles to find a point of escape, whose panic threatens an attack cutting off breath, and on…and on…and on. 

Pages later we learn the victim’s name is Flora.  She has survived!  Now the account switches back and forth between what precisely Flora endured and her passionate interest in other woman who have experienced similar situations.  In fact, her entire room is wallpapered with news accounts of kidnapping, rape and murdered woman. 

Flora’s family fear what she has become.  Even the one man she trusts, Samuel Keans who is a specialist in survivors of extensive abuse, is watching and listening carefully as he wonders if she has become a vigilante against all who commit these type of crimes or if there’s another secret agenda Flora is following.

Detective D. D. Warren is now investigating a case where a woman turns on her abuser and he succumbs after a gruesome attack. When the police arrive, the woman is more concerned about other victims and seems to know the psychological profile of both abuser and victim better than the detective does.  At the same time, she goes out to bars, drinks too much, and puts herself in a position where any unsavory character spots and targets her. 

Now Flora disappears and we learn her mission.  Given Flora’s scarred mental and emotional condition, which we have from her in-depth description of far too many of those days she was captive, we know something awful is about to happen.

In recent years, news media have covered stories of victims who were kidnapped and abused, but this is the first time we have access to a well-researched, factually connected account of what it’s like to be a victim in this situation.  So this is not only a horrific story but it’s even more engaging because we learn how connected to reality it really is.  It’s hard to imagine such monstrous events but Lisa Gardner does a superb job in depicting same in daily, torturing detail.  It’s a necessary tale that must be told!

Sunday, October 9, 2016

1492: A Novel of Christopher Columbus, the Spanish Inquisition, and a World at the Turning Point by Newton Forhlich

1492: A Novel of Christopher Columbus, the Spanish Inquisition, and a World at the Turning Point. Newton Frohlich. Blue Bird Press. October 2016. 408 pp. ISBN#: 9780996048453.   

Whether you’re a fan of history presented precisely as it was or more engaged with a revisionist or reinterpreted depiction of history, you will be fascinated by this story of the forces impressing upon Queen Isabella of Spain, Christopher Columbus or Cristoforo Colombo as he is called herein, the infamous Torquemada who headed the Inquisition, the Santangel banking family and the Arab rulers vying for ways to hold onto Spain and other European areas.

It’s a terrible time for Columbus to be seeking funds for his plan to travel the seas on a new route to discover new lands with new treasure.  He’s got one foot in Christianity as a converted Jew and one foot in the old Jewish world of his origins.  For Isabella is convinced that it is the presence of Jews that is bringing a curse upon her nation and so is conducting a campaign to arrest, torture and kill all Jews, even the converted ones whom she believes are actually still conducting their Jewish customs in secret.  Rewards are dispensed for those who spy and report on secret Jews and this in turn sets off a flurry of “mob mentality” behavior where jealousy spawns reporting of Jewishness so that lands and monies may be claimed as a reward. 

Muslim leaders attack Spain with astonishing brutality and lack of mercy.  However, Arab leaders do not trust each other and even begin to fight against each other.  This lack of unity will prove to be their undoing in spite of random victories.  The decimation of the Jewish population is believed to be a sign of victory over the Muslims and indeed one wonders how the two are tied together, if at all.

The Santangel family has Jewish origins but are so necessary to the financial health of the Spanish kingdom that more attention is paid to the family’s remarkable skills in investment and savings.  One son in particular doesn’t understand this and so he becomes a viable threat to the family and therefore kingdom’s prosperity.

Christopher Columbus’ wife, Filipa, brings him contacts and connections that will eventually finance his famous journey to the New World.  Although he will become a rich man, he cannot deny his Jewish background enhanced by his friendship with Beatriz.  It’s a thin line between the two worlds but one Colombo masters and which parallels the lives of far too many conversos in 15th Century Spain.

Newton Frohlich has crafted a dynamic, exciting, tension-filled novel about this paramount period of European history, a frenetic journey that was to shape not only the time covered in this novel but the future of Europe and the New World.  Well done, indeed, and highly recommended historical fiction!

A Most Extraordinary Pursuit by Juliana Gray

A Most Extraordinary Pursuit. Juliana Gray. Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Book. October 2016. 400 pp.  ISBN#: 9780425277072.

Emmeline Truelove has been the secretary/personal assistant to the Duke of Olympia.  Upon his untimely death, Truelove is assigned to travel with Lord Silverton to find the missing son, Max Haywood, the new heir to the former Duke’s title, lands and monies.  Emmeline is staggered that she would be asked to complete such a task since her previous duties didn’t encompass sleuthing in the slightest way.  But she’s intelligent enough to do it.  Truelove as a character is enigmatic.  One minute she’s fully invested in her “proper” behavior and thinking and at other times she displays a wit and intuitive intelligence to provide meaningful clues and spunkiness of character. 

Lord Silverton, on the other hand, is well-known as a promiscuous rake, vacillating between being a caring, sensitive man and a teaser who seems to be looking for more than Truelove is willing to even hint at giving.  Indeed, it turns out that Lord Silverton is a genuine sleuth and that’s a very good thing as he and Truelove will experience danger many times during the course of their travel to Knossos in Cyprus and beyond. 

Interwoven in the story lies a part of the myth of the Minotaur and the Labyrinth with a romantic spin only gradually revealed, scenes which enhance the very, very slowly evolving romance between Truelove and Silverton.

Add to the story that Queen Victoria and Emmeline’s father, who are both deceased, keep appearing to Emmeline, the former warning her she should never have accepted this job and the latter giving her sharp looks that could mean a million different things. Emmeline believes the appearances of both characters are delusions that she should ignore, or should she really pretend they are not real?

The archeological artifacts that have been discovered by Max and other peers seem to have a mystery about them as well.  Are they real or fake?  Why does one in particular seem to depict a character holding what any modern person would call a camera?  What are the secrets about why Max shipped his discoveries back home through someone being paid a great deal?  Are these shipments legal?  Honestly acquired for “The Institute” back home?

A Most Extraordinary Pursuit is an interesting novel replete with many twists and turns, sometimes presented with an annoying complexity and confusion and at other times with a natural style of mystery that enhances the reader’s interest and engagement.  The reader must decide whether the characters are truly credible.  Mythology is said to be a rational explanation for behavior and events that are totally inexplicable.  The same could be said for the plot of this challenging novel.  Interestingly crafted historical fiction, Juliana Gray!

The Flower Arrangement: A Novel by Ella Griffin

The Flower Arrangement: A Novel. Ella Griffin. Penguin Publishing Group. October 2016. 352 pp.  ISBN#: 9781101989739.

Blossom and Grow is the name of the lovely Dublin flower shop Lara Gray opens after losing her baby six months into her pregnancy.  In one sense it enables her to bury her grief in work she loves, but in the true essence of this story it connects her to emotions in the customers who come into her shop to buy a single or multiple flowers for each special occasion.  That might be love, sorrow, forgiveness, joy, celebration of a landmark day, etc.  But Lara is so good at it that no one will buy unless she is in attendance as she seems to possess the perfect word, phrase or comment for the moment’s need.

Lara’s Dad was mother and father to her and now he has one concern as he lies in hospital dying.  He wants Lara to have another baby.  After experiencing a healing moment while delivering flowers to a new mother, she is able to promise him she will try.  However, after he dies, Lara’s conversation with her husband, Michael, leads to a shocking revelation that sends Lara whirling with grief on several levels. 

Her brother Phil, who has always been her biggest supporter, fills in and speaks truth at just the right time. He has his own story intertwined with his sister’s chronicle which at first seems unrelated but is actually part of this novel’s essence of being true to one’s self.

The Flower Arrangement… is a relaxing, satisfying read.  It doesn’t matter whether the reader loves, hates, or couldn’t care either way about the numerous varieties of flowers.  It’s about the rightness of certain flowers expressing the mood of the past, present and future for each person entering Lara’s world of beauty and peace. Honesty, loneliness, grief, bereavement, truth and wisdom fill these pages with wisdom transcending the simplest of plots or characterization.  Nicely crafted and recommended reading!