Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Threshing Circle by Neil Grimmett

The Threshing Circle.  Neil Grimmett. Lake Union Publishing. May 2015.  352 pp. Paperback and E-Book. ISBN#: 9781477829332. 

Warning – if raunchy language or scenes with graphic violence offend you, this is NOT the book for you.  However, if you love a story taut with tension and also enjoying a different culture, this is a novel that will grip your attention and thrill you with the excitement about a beautiful island, Crete, and the dark, violent plot about to enfold.

In 1942 in Crete a young English woman named Marianna, who is part of the resistance movement,  is caught by Germans. When they raid her home and see the red silk undergarment, that was originally part of a German parachute, she is executed while her child screams as she watches her mother die.  The child is taken away but it is actually a rescue as she is ultimately returned to her home in England. 

Two years later a young couple, Patrick and Eleni, Marianna’s daughter, come to ferret out the truth and they too disappear.

Thus begins a tale of honor, courage and revenge.  The search for these missing figures is carried on by Kirsty a widow from Scotland and a village elder, Barba Yiorgos.  The authorities refuse to offer any information and when opposed take on a different tone with the investigators.  The bottom line, however, is that every participant winds up suspecting other characters and so the pages fly by, enticing the reader to believe he or she can figure out the few clues but in reality the secrets and plots offer stories within stories.

Greek culture, architecture, food and more are celebrated here.  One admires the feisty honor code of these people even while cringing at the stark brutality that results from violation of this code. The Threshing Circle would make a superb movie as it is so easy to visualize the intriguing characters and events that remain thrilling on every page.  Terrific novel!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Decision: Praire State Friends (Book One) by Wanda E. Brunstetter

The Decision: Prairie State Friends (Book One).  Wanda E. Brunstetter. Barbour Publishing Incorporated. March 2015. 320 pp.  ISBN#: 9781616260880.

Jonah Miller and Elaine Shrock are in love; and while no verbal proposal has been made, each understands they will wed in the future. At least that’s the way it was planned in their minds until Elaine’s grandfather passed away after making Elaine promise she would take care of her grandmother in the future.  Elaine takes that promise very, very seriously even while she is doing her own mourning for this Amish family man whom she adored, a real father to her in her orphan status after losing her own parents. 

The tension begins when first Elaine’s grandmother insists on being independent, even though it is clear after a while that something is physically and mentally wrong with her.  Jonah is trying as best he can, while he is running his own business and working very hard, to offer help to the Shrock family.  But even though these characters are Amish and living in an atmosphere of mutual support and care based on Biblical principles, stubbornness and denial begin to rule the day. 

This then covers the remainder of the story, with small problems growing rapidly into large ones, when decisions are made that cannot be taken back, and when one realizes that costs are higher when caring for a loved one in need.  How does one live through such a tempestuous time without becoming bitter and angry? In addition, the imminent and constantly stressful moments from dealing with a loved one with dementia are so very important, more important than the Amish community that directs the daily lives of every community member.  This is a growing universal problem that Wanda Brunstetter addresses and depicts with graceful but gritty style. 

There is a lovely, calm tone throughout this novel that actually communicates peace to the reader.  This is because these people live by the spirit of the laws they obey and their worship which they share.  

In a world that is more and more chaotic, The Decision is a lovey way to step aside and relish how faith endures and bolsters the ups and downs of every man and woman’s live.  Lovely contemporary and inspirational fiction!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

I Am Radar by Reif Larsen

I Am Radar.  Reif Larsen. Penguin Group (USA). February 2015. 672 pp.  ISBN#: 9781594206160.

A doctor waits for the head of a baby to appear as the new life of two anxious parents.  In one second the electricity is out and hospital generators aren’t working.  The father, Kermin, pulls out a flashlight and he watches the baby comes out, covered with a white plastic-like covering.  The tension increases with the sight when the baby is cleaned; the child is as black as a Nubian native.  The usual questions are gently hinted at but the mother has not had any relationships with anyone but her husband Kermin. 

Charlene also has an unusual after-effect; all she can smell are noxious odors, a phenomenon that gradually diminishes but still leaves her with unpleasant olfactory experiences.  Her life is dedicated to finding out how and why her son was born like this, her son whom his father calls Radar after the old TV show M*A*S*H.  Kermin believes his son will have special powers.

Radar does indeed to be a unique character. After being subjected to an experiment that is nothing short of a failure, the Radar in the remainder of the story travels throughout the world with a group of puppeteers, a group who try to create work in areas where extreme wars and other terrible events have left residents with nothing.  Radar is now the color of beige and therefore more acceptable to everyone they meet.  The puppeteer use complicated science, technology and quantum physics to create robots but they wind up very hurt from an explosion while working with nuclear matter.  The quantum physics is very complicated but is simple for Radar who has the ability to read radio messages just by putting his hands on the transmitter. 

A group of teachers steal radioactive material with the notion of creating something new as an artistic presentation. Different stories follow in Bosnia and Cambodia involving chaos and violence, but they do connect with the general theme later on in the story.  This novel at times reads like a complicated science article written by physicist academics.  The best advice is just to go with it, even when it makes very little sense at all; this reviewer is not sure whether this makes a difference to the reader but it is what it is.

Are Radar and other characters’ paths one of healing, pure science exploration or something more philosophical, psychological or social?  How is Radar’s epilepsy connected to his uncanny ability to understand radio transmissions? Does his suffering truly lead to his understanding about love who he really is?  I am Radar is a complex work of science fiction that truly stretches the imagination with its disconnected parts that in some ways unite and in others just seem like another round of dystopian fiction with free-floating ideas and attempt to form a new, coherent reality.  Interesting science fiction about difference and exploring new visions of the universe in the future!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Secret Life of Violet Grant: A Novel by Beatriz Williams

The Secret Life of Violet Grant: A Novel.  Beatriz Williams. Penguin Group (USA). May 5, 2015. 528 pp.  ISBN#: 9780425274842.

Vivian Schuyler has graduated from college and now has a job at the competitive Metropolitan magazine, much to the chagrin of her family who wish she would be more concerned about finding a husband, a wealthy husband by preference.  She’s bored in her new job as she’s not taken as a serious writer.  All that is about to change when a package is delivered that will change her life forever.  Add to that the fact that a gorgeous hunk of a guy, Dr. Paul, and Vivian inadvertently crash into each other, beginning a tumultuous, sexy relationship as fraught with complexities as the material in the valise of that unexpected package.

Violet Schuyler Grant was a young, na├»ve girl whom Dr. Walter Grant quickly wooed.  Violet was a brilliant scientist who got her first recognition from Walter.  Overwhelmed with gratefulness, she easily fell into his arms.  But something is wrong, at least to the perceptive reader, for Walter is a control freak and it appears that Violet is groomed to satisfy his unending sexual appetites.  It also seems it is she who is doing all the pivotal scientific work for which her husband gets credit.  Meanwhile, Violet and Walter are living in Europe, with her family having little to see and therefore little to comment upon.

Meanwhile, WWI is looming for Violet and it is 1964 for Vivian who now sets about to explore her Aunt Violet’s disappearance.  All that is known about the latter is the fact it was reported in the news that she killed her husband and escaped with her lover, to where no one knows. 

This then is the story of Vivian whose lover makes a devil’s deal for money and abandons his great love for another woman.  It’s also the story of spies, double agents, and killers who attempt to change the course of history at the onset of World War I.  The beginning of the novel proceeds at a slow rate but jettisons to riveting plots and counter-plots as the story progresses. 

The pages reveal an explicit diary documenting the insatiable appetites of one character while a young British army captain turns out to be so much more than any character in the story anticipated.  If you love mystery, intrigue, spies, murder, chaos, cheating lovers, and so much more, this is your next best springtime or summer read!  Beatriz Williams never disappoints with her deft plotting, twists and turns, and hearty, hot romance.  This is her best novel to date!!! Highly recommended!

Tiffany Girl: A Novel by Deeanne Gist

Tiffany Girl: A Novel.  Deeanne Gist. Howard Books. May 2015. 544 pp.  ISBN#: 9781451692440.

Flossie Jayne is the “New Woman” behind this story of the artist and entrepreneur, Louis Tiffany, whose first major project was creating stained glass religious windows for the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893.  The glassworkers working on his project go on strike and Tiffany has no choice but to hire woman to do the cutting, pasting and other chores that are part of fashioning the project windows.  Thus begins a fascinating novel in which Jayne is one of the chosen, a dream for her who loves colors and designs beyond life itself and will do anything to help Tiffany complete this project. 

While she’s working she has chosen to live in a family style boarding house where the residents share meals and conversation.  Jayne is a wonderful addition as it is she who turns what were formerly stilted greetings and curt remarks into this ‘family” style.  She creates dinner cards with questions to draw out conversation, quickly organizes skating outings, and more.  But one of the residents, Reed, is a bit of a curmudgeon who hates the idea of the “New Woman” who wants to be independent, self-sufficient for salary and career, and more.  This is also their story as Jayne little by little, and I do mean little, softens Reed who is really nothing more than a man hurt by the past.  However, he plays the part well but also plays it stupidly as he projects his animosity into creating short stories that are serialized into the local paper.

This a great story with something for everyone.  Plenty of descriptions of the art Jayne and Tiffany create as well as the processes involved fill the pages, and Gist is perfect in depicting the beauty and difficulty of each task.  Then there’s a not-so-budding and budding romance that slowly evolves which makes a great story in itself.  And then there is the consideration of what would happen if the “New Woman’ becomes the norm – would society be forevermore changed in a positive or negative way?

Very nice historical fiction which this reviewer thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommends!

The House of Hawthorne: A Novel by Erika Robuck

The House of Hawthorne: A Novel.  Erika Robuck. Penguin Group (USA). May  2015. 416 pp.  ISBN#: 9780451418913.

Sophy Peabody is an accomplished artist who suffers from viciously painful headaches, especially after she has exerted great effort in creating a beautiful painting.  She is raised with her sister to believe that great female artists should not marry because marriage is a demanding role that will deplete her of all the energy she will need to grow even greater as an artist, a push and pull tension that Sophy will actually struggle with for years.  On a trip to Cuba where she falls in love, she realizes that she can be passionate and still remain as totally invested in her art as is possible. But she also discovers that people can be so dearly loving and blindly evil; so she flees that beautiful country she had come to love with its lush natural scenes and hospitable families.

Upon her return to New England, she meets the dark but sensitive writer, Nathaniel Hawthorne.  The magnetic passion drawing them together is instantaneous and after a delayed wait they marry. They finally settle down into their own home after trying to live at Brook Farm, the Transcendental, agricultural community.  While they agreed with the principals of such a life, they were not up to the hard work of farming.  They are artists who must write and paint.  This is their love story which grows and grows with tender but fierce commitment over the years. 

They endure much suffering during their lives, including the family illnesses and deaths and the dreadful American Civil War.  They, however, are privileged to be able to afford to travel to England, Portugal and Italy, all of which they write about.  Sophy is a life force to Nathaniel, whose dark moods have both genetic and historical roots in his ancestor’s perfidious judgment in Salem, Massachusetts during the brutal witch hunt that condemned so many innocent people. 

The House of Hawthorne… is remarkable and beautiful historical fiction.  The characters are uniquely drawn and their perspective on art, marriage, parenting, slavery, and more compel the reader’s attention and excitement.  Nothing is predictable and everything is unique for this perceptive and endearing couple who create a beautiful tapestry out of the vicissitudes of life and death!  Highly recommended!

Saturday, May 2, 2015

A Small Indiscretion: A Novel by Jan Ellison

A Small Indiscretion: A Novel.  Jan Ellison. Random House Publishing Group. January 2015. 336 pp.  ISBN#: 9780812995442.

Annie Black is writing to her son who has just been seriously injured in a life-threatening car accident.  As the story unfolds we realize that her “confession” has changed her whole world.  She and her husband Jonathan have separated but are forced into close proximity with Robbie as they wait for his body to heal while he remains in a medically induced coma. And what happened to Emme, who was driving the car at the time of the accident but who has disappeared?

The story is told in letter form and fluctuates between the present in California and Annie’s past in her twenties while she was living in London.  There she falls into a relationship with her boss and then with her boss’s wife’s lover.  It’s a triangular love fest that is not only appreciated by all involved but which supposedly adds zest to the lovers’ trysts.  While the reader is struck with the incredulity of the whole situation, Jan Ellison manages to do more than pull it off as the tone remains almost removed, observing characters from afar and inserting a sense of almost surrealistic wonder that it is all evolving as it does!

Meanwhile, we are also watching Jonathan and Annie’s brief interactions.  They had a twenty year close, relaxed and deeply bonded relationship.  Now we see some occasional hints of closeness and wonder where it will all go. Does the “confession” mean twenty years of closeness is wiped out?

This is more than a coming of age story but is a story about realizing what one would keep as memories to do again and what was not worth wrecking a future?  More than that it really isn’t to be judged – it was what it was and is what it is in the present; that’s not loosely stated. It’s what the author is coming to realize as the story progresses; how her husband handles it comes late in the story although not as explicitly detailed. It also concerns imagining Annie’s role as a wife and mother in the present, with a poignant, almost searing, realization of what one takes so much for granted in the normal day-to-day patterns of life.

Whether or not one believes the exposed memories Annie divulges, there is a remarkable literary and frequently surrealistic quality to these letters that draws in the reader to keep turning the pages, wondering where this story is going – or not!

Nicely crafted, Jan Ellison!