Friday, March 17, 2017

A Bridge Across the Ocean: A Novel by Susan Meissner

A Bridge Across the Ocean: A Novel.  Susan Meissner. Penguin Publishing Group. March 2017. 384 pp. ISBN #: 9780451476005.

Brette has a gift she fears greatly.  She sees ghosts.  It’s a skill that passes randomly through generations and she worries she could pass it on to her own daughter.  She has learned that if she looks away, she doesn’t have to communicate with each appearance.  But she’s also been warned that there are evil spirits as well as benevolent ones, therefore she should avoid getting involved in any way because it might turn disastrous.  Easier said than done!  She winds up communicating with one, finding out about a 70 year-old tragedy on the Queen Mary and deciding to investigate.  This makes for a wild adventure where she also meets other women who have the same skill or curse, depending on one’s point of view.

Simone Deveraux sees her father and brother murdered during WWII and escapes only to suffer a grievous wrong.  She escapes anew and winds up free and falling in love with a very unlikely man. 

Annaliese Lange marries a brutal Nazi soldier. She however escapes to live with a childhood friend, Katrine.  They suffer a terrible wartime event and Annaliese escapes, taking the name of Katrine who had married an American soldier.  Annaliese wonders how much she will have to pay for the false act she has committed.

These three women are now on the Queen Mary, a ship used both for wartime troops and the brides of American soldiers traveling to America while their spouses are away fighting the war.  Their stories now converge as Brette leads the investigation of the mystery she promised to explore. 

WWII in the 1930s was a period time fraught with disaster and love affairs, mostly the former. It brought out all that is good and all that is ugly in millions of characters.  A Bridge Across the Ocean unites these three women who are decent at heart but have learned about the motives of those who in a flash of a moment act with and without any integrity. 

Sue Meissner writes a fine mystery full of adventure and dynamic characters.  The ghosts are sometimes benign, sometimes horrifyingly malicious!  Enjoy the read!  Nicely done, Ms. Meissner!

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Attending: Medicine, Mindfulness and Humanity by Ronald Epstein, M.D.

Attending: Medicine, Mindfulness and Humanity.  Ronald Epstein, M.D. Scribner. January 2017. 304 pp. ISBN #: 9781501121715.

What is medical practice like when a physician takes the time to tune into the patient, to find out what is going on in mind, body and spirit?  Does a different diagnosis emerge from such sensitivity?  Does the physician experience less stress in a system that is fraught with demands for quality performance at the least possible cost?  Is this type of change necessary when physicians are so trained to churn out diagnoses from lists of diagnostic symptoms and formulas for treatment?

Dr. Ronald Epstein attempts to answer these and other questions.  His central thesis is that doctors who practice mindfulness as part of their practice are less stressed, more effective and more human, like their patients. 

Dr. Epstein describes his experience as a third-year Harvard Medical School student as he watched a surgeon operating on one kidney totally ignore that the other kidney was turning purple and looking engorged with blood.  While that other kidney was within the surgeon’s field of vision, it had no primary concern or focus.  The field was narrow but the surgeon’s focus was narrower.  It may not seem like a big deal but it could have had fatal consequences. 

Perhaps you’ve heard a patient cite symptoms, feelings and questions in one long speech upon first entering a doctor’s office.  How does the doctor handle that barrage and how many items can the physician handle?  What can be ignored out of that list and should it be ignored?  Dr. Epstein handles this answer without condemning doctor or patient and instead focusing on techniques of mindfulness that mean a doctor is more sensitive to everything coming into his medical surround. 
Mindfulness is enhanced with compassion and a state of constant curiosity on the part of the physician.  Numerous medical anecdotes fill the pages as we learn about some of the components of mindfulness.  The stories keep it all interesting as there is a bit much of repetition – perhaps a necessary mode as some may be tempted to pass over these elements of “how” to learn mindfulness and practice the same with patients.

All in all, this is an interesting text for those who are teachers, students, practitioners, or administrators in medicine.  Certainly, Dr. Epstein presents a model of medicine that will fascinate both practitioners and patients.  Nicely done, Dr. Ronald Epstein!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Confessions of Young Nero - A Novel by Margaret George.

The Confessions of Young Nero: A Novel.  Margaret George. Penguin Publishing Group. March 2017. 528 pp. ISBN #: 9780451473387.

Nero is a well-known, infamous character to most readers the mad ruler of Rome!  Margaret George, the renowned historical novelist, has Nero tell the story of his younger years in a way that changes the reader’s perception about how Nero’s personality developed.  The picture isn’t pretty but is certainly amazing at how he managed to survive the traumatic events of his youth!

Nero’s mother, Agrippina, is a manipulative, intriguing woman who thinks nothing of having her enemies (real or imagined) poisoned or assassinated.  As a young boy, Caligula, the earlier emperor, tries to drown Nero by throwing him in a river but he is saved by a Roman soldier.  Nero is adopted by Claudius thanks again to the influence of Agrippina but is aware that his life is in a precarious position as Claudius’s natural son could also become the next emperor. 

Nero has two memorable tutors, one who introduces him to the glorious art and music of Greece and the other, Seneca, who introduces Nero to the philosophers and great moral teachers in Roman history, as well as the great Roman gods, goddesses, and leaders who will hopefully shape Nero into a moral, intelligent and capable leader.  Nero actually does become a leader who manifests the best of both teachers although it is his infamy that becomes prominent in the historical records of Roman history.

Due to a drug-induced dream (or reality?), Nero dreams of his mother, a haunting scene that leads Nero to forever wonder about his mother’s intentions and whether he possesses her evil nature.  At the same time, Nero is married to a woman he ignores and falls in love with a former slave, now a freed woman.  After Claudius dies, a stunning event as well, Nero becomes Emperor and becomes an intelligent ruler who makes decisions clearly beneficial for his empire.  But Agrippina is now fearful of her son as he trumps her malicious planning, a constant threat which will eventually lead to her own demise.

The Confessions of Young Nero is superb historical fiction.  There are notes in the afterword of this novel that lead the reader to expect a sequel, one which this reviewer avidly awaits!  Read this novel, a wonderful, astute, and fascinating account of an enigmatic, troubled, and haunted ruler shaped by the best and worst Roman influences!

Police At The Station And They Don't Look Friendly (Detective Sean Duffy Series #6) by Adrian McKinty

Police at the Station And They Don’t Look Friendly (Sean Duffy Series #6).  Adrian McKinty. Prometheus Books. March 2017. 319 pp. ISBN #: 9781633882591.

Belfast 1988 – Ireland is a volatile place where IRA, Irish and British conflict constantly erupts. The novel opens with Duffy being into a hidden area where he will be forced to dig his own grave and then die. The scene shifts, however, to a murder scene. Two murders, both committed by crossbows, have been committed and Duffy is called to investigate the second death of a known drug dealer.  Obviously, this is an odd choice of weapons but effective because of the difficulty of tracing the owner or owners.  All he knows is the victim’s wife is a violent mourner, giving grief to anyone and everyone. Add to the mess that it’s hard for Duffy to get cooperation in the Carrickfergus station.  However, he has a job to do and he sets about it with determination, even when it seems he is being blocked at every turn.

Duffy is also in danger of losing his girlfriend Beth and daughter Emma, as Beth hates being in the middle of a violent neighborhood.  There’s a subplot here as she tries to get him to think about moving to a house in the country.  At first he refuses but realizes he will lose her if he doesn’t come around.  Trying to explain to Beth that he is attempting to prove himself at the station, being distrusted as a fenian “peeler” or detective (Irish independence supporter and detective), and is slowly gaining ground in that effort.  Beth doesn’t see that as the essence of a steady, peaceful existence for a family, even though she won’t hear of marriage as a viable option.

The story continues and holds the reader’s avid interest as Duffy and an associate are kidnapped, almost murdered and endures other life-threatening moments and obstacles.  Adam McKinty crafts an excellent crime or detective novel that is challenging, mysterious, and altogether a wild ride with some poignant times in between the task of finding the guilty and bypassing the innocent.  Nicely plotted Adam McKinty!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Windy City Blues: A Novel by Renee Rosen

Windy City Blues: A Novel by Renee Rosen; Penguin Publishing Group. Copyright 2017. pb, 480 pp. ISBN: 9781101991121.  

Leeba Groski, daughter of immigrant Polish Jews, becomes a filer and receptionist for a new record company in Chicago, Illinois, in the post-WWII years.  She’s working for Leonard and Evelyn, mismatched partners who are spotlighting new talent in music specifically catering to colored (word used appropriately for that time) folks.  

The business collapses and a fluke accident enables Leonard and his brother to open a new music production company (the Chess brothers).  Leeba or Leah as she renames herself very slowly evolves into a fine writer for blues musicians.  Red Dupree (Jimmy Rogers in real life), a young black man, has come to Chicago to make his mark as an electric guitarist initially and then to write and have his music produced.   Acknowledged as a superb guitarist, he fails to get a contract for his own compositions.  However, after tremendous struggles, he gets hired as a band member for the notable “Muddy Waters,” and their music takes off.  Leah, Leonard and Phil make new friends and business contacts whom they will sign on as future “blues” stars.  

However, the equally dominant story behind the music concerns the virulent storm created by the fiery love, romance and marriage of Red Dupree and Leah.  They become part of the Freedom Riders movement and ultimately the Civil Rights Movement created by Dr. Martin Luther King.  

The majority of this fine novel contains a constant tension lowered at just the right moments with the magic of creating and playing music, as well as the passionate love and troubles of Red and Leah. 

Out of the suffering of racial prejudice arises a vibrant “sound” that changed the course of American history! Finely crafted historical fiction, Renee Rosen!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Everything Belongs to Us: A Novel by Yoojin Grace Wuertz

Everything Belongs to Us: A Novel.  Yoojin Grace Wuertz. Random House Publishing Group. February 2017. 368 pp. ISBN #: 9780812998542.

Two girls and two boys experience personal and national change in 1978 Seoul, South Korea.  Jisun and Namin couldn’t possibly be more different.  Jisun comes from an important family in business and she has easy access to money and all the privilege that comes with her father’s power.  Namin comes from a poor family, is studying to become a doctor so that her family will eventually be free from poverty.  The country is now in a campaign to work hard and make the country prosper economically.  That means all must conform to the long hours of work for meager wages; the novel opens with a group of women protesting these conditions.  However, in a random moment of rebellious action, they strip themselves of blouses and bras, not realizing their act removes them from the role of honest protest and instead earns them a scandalous repetition.  Jisun’s father attempts to have guards watch her every moment but that attempt fails to stop her doing what she wants.  What she’s not prepared for is how other protestors now scorn her for her privileged status after she was removed from jail while others had to undergo penalties and social ostracism.  Namin at first is delighted to become a friend of Jisun but their relationship evolves with Namin’s realization about status and the personal cost of privilege.

Jisun and Namin then meet Samin and his mentor, Juno.  We first meet Samin being forced to carry out ridiculous actions for Juno who has a sadistic streak.  Juno knows everyone who is important in the elite group called The Club and initially Samin would do anything to gain entry to this esteemed circle.  However, Samin gradually also evolves, through his encounters with Namin, to an independent thinker. 

The plot is simple but the way Wuertz depicts the emerging personalities of these four characters is exquisite and mesmerizing.  Their lives clearly parallel the changes South Korea is experiencing as it moves from a dictatorship to a form of social democracy.  These characters experience questions about personal desires and independence that must find a place within a society that clearly prizes working together for the common good.  At the same time, wealth is not a guarantee of security and these characters as well must find a vision and place within that same society to live a meaningful life per the new standards and vision.

Everything Belongs to Us… is compelling historical fiction that this reviewer highly recommends!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Gunmetal Gray - A Gray Man Novel by Mark Greaney

Gunmetal Gray: Gray Man Series #6.  Mark Greaney. Penguin Publishing Group. February 2017. 512pp.  ISBN#: 9780425282854.

The Gray Man is not an agent to be trifled with, for sure!  He’s been out of action for a while but now has been called on a very, very dangerous mission.  A visit to Hong Kong and connections by some Chinese agents immediately alerts him to the fact that the Communists are very much interested in and desiring to control his new assignment.  He finds his friend, Donald Fitzroy, being held in captivity after failing to capture Fan Jiang, a master computer hacker.  The job is now Court Gentry’s mission. 

Fan Jiang is not just any hacker.  He is a computer genius able to break into government programs and go even deeper, to figure out how hackers get in and figure out to hack the hackers’ program.  The rest of the novel plays out the chase to capture Fan Jiang and includes Court Gentry’s relationship with the head of a Russian spy mission bent on the same goal of capturing Fan Jiang.
Court Gentry is a brilliant tactician and warrior who can destroy any number of the enemy threatening his life and limbs.  Thus fierce, brutal, decimating battles follow, causing the reader to feel the intense stress despite innately knowing the outcome.  There is a growing romance and growing costs in each step of the war for this is an outcome that will affect the governments of America, China, Vietnam, and Russia.

All in all, for those who love the international spy thriller, this is adventure and mystery at its best!  Nicely crafted, Mark Greaney, with some twists and turns that even the most knowledgeable fans won’t predict!