Tuesday, June 23, 2015

A Week at the Lake: A Novel by Wendy Wax

A Week at the Lake: A Novel.  Wendy Wax. Penguin Group (USA). June 2015. 432 pp.  ISBN#: 9780425274477.

Wendy Wax is back and better than before!  The story takes place amid the frenetic lifestyle of New York City and then moves to the gorgeous, summer vacation site of Lake George in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State.  But before we get to the blissful vacation, we learn a little bit about each of the three women who were once best friends and who spent many, many summers enjoying each other’s company at the Lake George home of Emma Michaels.  Mackenzie Hayes and Serena Stockton are wondering why they have not been invited to Emma’s home for five years. All of their families are into acting in one way or another, but the plot that is about to unfold will take more stamina and guts than has ever been performed on stage.

A terrible accident is about to happen and Mackenzie and Serena are determined to be there for Zoe, Emma’s daughter, for as long as she needs their support.  Emma’s family appears as well, which jettisons these friends into delightful, comic, bittersweet scenes as the reality of the situation brings out the best and worst in everyone.  Meanwhile, Mackenzie whose husband is off in California for a possible work-related job, feels alone and second fiddle to Adam’s goals.  Serena, a famous actress in a very well-known animated TV show, has a reputation for dating married men but faces her own challenge in the midst of the prevailing chaos.  Off they all go to Lake George – eventually!

Secrets and truthful feelings emerge as they spend more and more time with each other.  The rest is a shocker that could make or break the best of friendships.  Amid the beauty, unexpected revelations and attempts at healing arrive certain characters who have the opportunity to make the threesome bond more deeply. The question is how to adjust to all these changes that are happening at rapid-fire moments and how to truly enjoy each other and the surrounding, tranquil environment around them.  Add a feisty foreign aide to the comedy of it all!

Wendy Wax gets better and better at plotting great summer reads!  The plot has just enough reality to bring credibility to the story and adds some unique scenes that keep the reader fascinated. Fans will be very pleased and more with this latest novel about changing relationships and new readers will have a fine read of a very talented author!  Lovely, delightful and heartily recommended contemporary fiction!!!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Touched With Fire: Based on the True Story of Ellen Craft by Christopher Datta

Touched With Fire: Based on the True Story of Ellen Craft.  Christopher Datta. CreateSpace Publishing. June 2015. 398 pp.  ISBN#: 9781490498836.

Ellie is a white woman of African-American and white descent.  But all that matters in her Georgia home is that she remember her place as a slave.  Her white father never admits her forced himself on her mother and never feels he has any duty to acknowledge his daughter, let alone treat her decently as any father should. She is constantly threatened by the leering looks of her half-sister’s husband, a minister and more men without any morals.

This is the world of Southern slavery.  One may decry the dozens of conversations Ellie is forced to listen to while serving dinner or some other visitor, dialogue that is repetitive with the notion of keeping slaves in their place and either beating them violently or selling them if they get out of line. What is so despicable to read was the accepted way of life in the pre-Civil War lives of the South.  Revisionist history has no place in this story that is actually based on a real slave.  This is the story of Ellie and Will, William Craft, Ellie’s husband.

Ellie and Will dared to do what few slaves would ever do and I can’t recall ever reading a story like this one.  For Ellie with her very white appearance disguises herself as a man, the owner of Will, and their goal is to find freedom in Philadelphia.  To tell more would ruin an amazingly bold and courageous story!

Suffice to say that they travel but soon realize they cannot make it for a legal reason they had not anticipated.  So when war breaks out between the North and South, Will must return to the South and Ellie joins the Union Army, determined to fight her way back to Will and hopefully to freedom for both of them. 

Christopher Datta crafts a fine story in which Ellie shows not only grit and perseverance but also reveals her terrible fears.  Her skill and her insistence of thinking like a man defy our expectations and enable her to survive so many tension-ridden challenges that one can’t stop turning the pages to find out what happens next. The love she and Will share is lovely to read, a love in which both treat each other respectfully and passionately as equals. This is fine, fine historical fiction and is highly recommended for all ages.  It would make one amazing movie as well!   

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Strangler Vine: A Novel by M. J. Carter

The Strangler Vine: A Novel.  M. J. Carter. G. P. Putnam’s Sons. March 2015. 384 pp.  ISBN#: 9780399171673.

India in 1837 is a very frightening place.  William Avery is an intelligent person but uses his brains to gamble and drink too much. The result?  He’s seriously in debt and in no position to turn down any command he is ordered to obey in his position as a soldier working for the East India Company.  The natives are dependent on the British for jobs but it is very clear they are not bonding very well.  Avery’s possessions are gradually being stolen and his friend Frank who seems so calm, collected and focused is about to experience a disaster.  Avery cannot believe what he hears about Frank later on because Frank seemed so perfect.

The writings of Xavier Mountstuart on India had so entranced Avery that he decided to serve in India but the writings and the reality don’t quite match.  Now Mountstuart seems to have gone “native,” meaning he’s living like an Indian and causing trouble wherever he appears.  It’s Avery’s job to serve Jeremiah Blake, who is a secret political agent supposedly retired, in their quest to find Mountstuart.  India is described on this journey in all of its ugliness and enchanting beauty.  The weather is described as fairly intolerable as it’s excruciatingly hot and rainy since it’s the monsoon season.  I couldn’t help thinking I was reading descriptions that vie Joseph Conrad’s writing – that dark, mysterious atmosphere that seems to pass from dangerous, life-threatening trails to momentary periods of relative safety but in which one cannot relax for fear of the unknown suddenly appearing to end life. 

The characters are mysterious as well.  Jeremiah has gone native in more ways than one as he knows the terrain through which they travel and after some definitely antagonistic skirmishes with Avery he actually comes to like Avery.  For Avery is really not stupid but more like a bumbling fool, who seems to get into every possible danger on the trip up north.  Avery finally learns to let go of his “British arrogance” stance with Jeremiah and trust him.  They gradually become friends.

Readers will meet a group of natives called Thugs who kill for ritual sacrifice purposes. We are told they will not kill any British person because they are an unworthy and disgusting bunch and not worthy of their sacred rites.  Who are they really and are they a threat to Avery and Jeremiah?  The reader will not be able to put this down because it’s so riveting in unique ways.

M. J. Carter is a master writer who knows how to populate a story with unusual characters, an unpredictable fierce plot, and enough indirect and ironic satire to condemn the entire East India Company although the reader isn’t sure about that until well into the complex plot.

Fine, fine novel that is highly recommended historical fiction!  It would make quite a unique movie!

The Fixer: A Novel by Joseph Finder

The Fixer: A Novel.  Joseph Finder. Penguin Group (USA). June 2015. 384 pp.  ISBN#: 9780525954613.

Rick Hoffman started out as a sharp guy with a great investigative reporter job, a great fiance and plenty of money linked to his job.  It bought him access to search out crime and scandal wherever it existed.  But now his fortune is in reverse mode with no job, no fiance and no money, just a dilapidated home sorely in need of a makeover in order to be sold.  His Dad was a lawyer who is now a resident in a nursing home as a result of a massive stroke that pretty much ended not only his job but any way to communicate with Rick, or anyone else for that matter.

So Rick is out of money and the owner of several maxed out credit cards. Hardly a paragon of success!  However, while talking about renovations with his neighbor, they are wrecking an upstairs wall and come upon a stack of packages.  Rick has discovered way over a million dollars of cash.  He thinks his neighbor has seen him trying to hide it but isn’t sure.  So the story really begins with several problems.  Where is he to hide all this money?  Where did all this money come from?

All of Rick’s sleuth skills are now in play.  Talking to people who knew his father’s work life and connections, he quickly discovers his Dad was what is known as a “bag man.” For those not into the criminal world, that’s a person who pays off certain public and privately important people to get “the job” done, usually an illegal or secret job that must never be exposed to public scrutiny.

The tension mounts as it’s clear the owner or owners of that money know Rick’s got the money and are going to do anything to get it back. That includes some very violent scenes that up the tension-riddled moments and Rick barely escapes up to a point.

The Fixer is connected to a scandal once known as Boston’s “Big Dig” project.  Payoffs aren’t news to most alert consumers and citizens in contemporary times.  What is never business as usual concerns the extent to which some important or powerful people will go to make sure that payoff plans become finished business.  It’s up to Rick to finish the job!  

Fairly simple plot but plenty of action  plus a little bit of sexy romance for those that love criminal fiction!

Saturday, June 6, 2015

The Brotherhood (The Tadhg Sullivan Series Book 2) by Daithi Kavanagh

The Brotherhood (The Tadhg Sullivan Series Book 2).  Daithi Kavanagh. Tirgearr Publishing. May 2015. 236 pp. e-book. ASIN #: B00USBGLJU.  

Tadhg Sullivan is feeling down and out.  He’s been transferred to Clare from Dublin after causing a ruckus with the Minister of Justice and other officials. He’s got an obvious problem with binge drinking and his girlfriend, Helen Carty, journalist has walked out on him.  But now his services are required as the superb investigator he is.  A year ago a young girl was abducted and has never been found and now another girl has disappeared.  Tadhg is told he’s on the case but given dire warnings he’s not to cause trouble with this case.  But trouble seems to shadow Tadhg wherever he goes, mainly because he brooks no nonsense or interference in his sleuthing.  But he won’t be able to do this one alone and the stakes are so much larger than he could ever imagine.

Tadhg quickly knows who has abducted the girl but he’s having a hard time getting into the alleged perpetrator’s home because the Minister of Justice and other higher-ups are protecting the criminal probably hiding the girl.  So what does one do when bureaucracy blocks the way?  Create a new plan.  Once he has implemented his plan and rescued the girl, as well as arrested the homeowner, his troubles are only just beginning. 

Now begins a spiral of violent scenes in which it becomes clear that there is a high-powered group called The Brotherhood, a cult into conducting ritual sacrifices never clearly delineated.  However, what is immediately clear is they are very professional in eliminating anyone who poses a threat or could expose them.  They also make it clear that Tadhg is on their constant radar and go after him and also someone very dear to him.  Tadhg will have to rely on a CIA friend and a member of the IRA, no friend to anyone but essential as far as knowing what it takes to take down the enemy.  The list of those involved is long and some are not only trying to disappear from Tadhg but also their own Brotherhood.

The Brotherhood… is superb crime/adventure fiction. Daithi Kavanagh has crafted a wild, tension-riddled plot that will keep the reader flipping the pages and unable to put down the novel.  While the characters may be stereotypical, the story line certainly isn’t and is riveting, well-paced, thrilling fiction. 

Great writing, Daithi Kavanagh!

Girl Underwater: A Novel by Claire Kells

Girl Underwater: A Novel.  Claire Kells. Dutton. March 2015. 304 pp.  ISBN#: 9780525954934.

Avery Delacorte is an accomplished swimmer, a 19 year-old young woman who has excelled in her sport beyond high school into college.  Still, she’s a typical gal when it comes to romance and Colin Shea, a college friend, has always encouraged her to move beyond her current level of competition.  So far she has refused but that is all about to change.

On her flight home to Colorado, she realizes that the plane she’s on is about to crash land in the Rocky Mountains area.  Five members of the flight initially survive, Avery, Colin and three young boys.  In the beginning, it doesn’t seem so bad as the group eat the remainder of the snacks they find, attempting to build a type of hut to survive the bitterly cold and snowy weather they know will come soon, and so on.  But the tough part of their journey is yet to come.

No spoilers here but suffice to say when they are finally rescued, they aren’t together.  All have serious physical injuries and the post-traumatic syndrome they each suffer is very real.  Claire Kells has got it down pat the way she depicts Avery’s long road back to a semblance of normalcy.  At times she tries to convince everyone she’s fine and at other times she’s still physically falling apart and trying to deal with a secret she shares with no one.  She will eventually meet up with Colin and several secrets will come out and their relationship will be very different from what it was before their nightmare crash.

Girl Underwater… is a superb contemporary novel about surviving and a love that defies description because of what it has endured.  It is said that the young are resilient which in this novel is true but only after each survivor tells his or her story and shares the process of healing and growing into a new life in which one moves on but will never forget the most traumatic, definitive crisis one could ever experience.

Fine writing, Claire Kells, and highly recommended for readers of all ages!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

At the Corner of King Street by Mary Ellen Taylor

At the Corner of King Street. Mary Ellen Taylor. Berkley Books Trade Paperback Original. May 2015. 252 pp.  ISBN#: 9780425278253. 

Addie Morgan’s family is cursed!  Her mother and sister suffer from a mental illness which seems to be a bipolar disorder.  The question is whether or not this is truly a family curse or a genetic predisposition for the females in the female to inherit this debilitating disease.  This is a story about how this disease affects the woman afflicted by it and the effect it has on family.  It’s a rollercoaster ride to be sure, and Addie has spent the last seven years escaping from it after she and her sister were in a terrible accident.

Addie has found a new life away from Alexandria, Virginia where she has fallen in love with a man whom she adores and has gone from grape picker to manager of her partner’s winery business, a profession she has also come to love.  All in all her life is presently serene, with occasional memories that she immediately rejects in spite of their haunting quality.

The moments’ bliss is broken, however, when she receives four telephone calls from her sister, Janet.  Unknown to Addie, Janet had disappeared from her husband and son’s life and has now reappeared in dire straits.  It turns out she’s pregnant, about to deliver a baby and has not been taking her medications for a very long time.  Needless to say, she’s psychologically as unstable as possible.  Addie’s Aunt Grace calls for Addie to come to the rescue.

This is the story that will keep any reader riveted to the page as Addie returns to deal with a very ill sister, an Aunt who is feeling her age and more, and a newborn who is possibly the crankiest baby in the planet except when in Addie’s arms. Oh, there’s a family salvage business to be rescued from bankruptcy as well! What about her lover who knows absolutely nothing about her family life? Secrets sometimes do more harm than good, don’t they? Is there truly a secret curse on the Morgan family?

Addie is torn between staying and leaving but the reader must follow the story to see how Addie’s entire world is changing in unpredictable, challenging ways that are so very credible.  This honestly doesn’t read like fiction but more like a memoir about the ravages of mental illness and the growth and sacrifice it demands from all involved.

Outstanding story! Fine contemporary fiction, indeed!