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!

The Truth and Nothing But Lies by Cheri Vause

The Truth and Nothing But Lies. Cheri Vause. GWL Publishing. May 2014. 329 pp., e-book. ASIN#: B00KAKA90G.

FBI Agent Grant Greene is a disillusioned detective who is on the verge of quitting when he’s assigned, after his father pull strings to get him leverage on a case that could catapult his career beyond its present inertia, to a case involving the bombing of an abortion clinic in Astoria, Oregon. A reporter, Hector Rodriguez, is hot on this case as it might bring him the kind of public recognition to advance his journalistic position as well. 
Dr. Sanjay Kumar is supposedly the object of pro-life activists, yet something doesn’t seem quite right about the predictability of such a profile even beyond the fact that he botches more abortions than the ones he performs successfully. Ruined lives are more the norm of what he leaves behind him, physically, mentally and emotionally.

Then the bombing of other clinics and the mysterious disappearance of one of the doctor’s clients, Lara, brings the plaintiff deeper with involvement of the CIA and other nefarious characters into the mix.

Add to that some attempted shootings and the fact that no one seems to be able to provide actual evidence makes Greene realize that something larger than anti-abortion supporters is running these events, as well as the fact that the bombings occur when no one is present in the clinics to be hurt.

No spoilers here! But be assured, not a page turns but something new and intensely dangerous is occurring in this mystery/thriller novel based on actual events.  Abortion is a highly charged issue and those who take one side or the other feel very strongly about the strength of position which translates to some deep pockets involved here that have political as well as moral motivations.

Cheri Vause has written a riveting novel about the violence and terror behind an issue that has divided and still divides Americans to this day.  Nicely constructed, Ms. Vause!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Penguin Book of Witches - Edited by Katherine Howe.

The Penguin Book of Witches.  Edited by Katherine Howe.  Penguin Group (USA). September 2014. 480 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9780143106180.

"The first witchcraft act in England was passed in 1542, and the last anti witchcraft statute was not officially repealed until 1736." This important quote indicates that over 200 years of witchcraft accusations, investigations, trials, and punishments of being thrown in stocks, ducked in water, exorcised, or suffering jail and death that fell on far too many men and women in England and America.  Witchcraft was the definitive focus of hyperbolic, potent fury as clearly shown in this collection of stories, arguments, and accounts, usually with dire consequences.

There’s no clear-cut evidence that witchcraft was a denomination or united group, as it was later to become; but it was clear that superstition raged during the above cited period and its combination with the strange behavior of certain individuals, meticulously described as evidence in warrants, examinations or depositions of the characters presented in this text make for fascinating reading.  The fact that some like the slave-maid Tituba in Salem, Massachusetts gathered children with her to celebrate some voodoo practices surely did not help matters and many readers will be familiar with the outcome because of their familiarity with the play, “The Crucible,” by Arthur Miller. 

One particular selection was refreshing in that George Gifford, a Puritan minister in Essex, England in 1593, attempts to assert some reason into what he describes as the “greed, anger, fear and hate” which are the motives behind all witch accusations.  His response is to wage spiritual warfare against those motives in one’s own heart and to wage spiritual warfare against actual behavior one perceives may or may not be witchery.  It is the Devil, he said, that “seduces ignorant men.”

On the other hand, King James I’s “Daemonologue” is an attempt to show his superior knowledge of theology and intellectual analysis as he wrote about whether witches were real and the type of people whom one should watch as possible practitioners of witchcraft.  He hoped in this way to cement his leadership over the Church and demonstrate his intellectual and spiritual prowess to other leaders around the world.  It reads indeed like any other accusation and imitation of other catalogued lists of witching behavior.

Readers will be either truly thrilled or horrified by each account in this notable collection of cows who were sickened or died, children who exhibited strange behavior or illness, crops that began to fail with no observable reason, spinning bodies, individuals supposedly unable to say the name of God or Jesus Christ, and so many more tales told.  Entertaining as this may be, it is even more horrifying to realize that those accused of these acts were tortured and killed for the same; even more damning is the fact that surrounding neighbors lived in dire fear that they would be accused next.  An atmosphere of suspicion and superstition laid the groundwork for a terrifying two hundred year period of historical and magical folklore gone awry!

A highly readable, mesmerizing collection that is great reading and provides enough diversity around the topic to keep the reader engaged on every page!

Murder on the Ile Sordou: Verlaque and Bonnet Series #4 by M. L. Longworth.

Murder on the Ile Sordou: Verlaque and Bonnet Series #4.  M. L. Longworth. Viking Penguin Group (USA). September 2014. 320 pp.  ISBN#: 9780143125549.

Maxime and Catherine Le Bon have invested everything they had and borrowed everywhere they can to create a lovely hotel resort on the Ile Sordou, a lovely island off the coast of Marseilles, France, on the Mediterranean Sea. Interestingly, the author reminds the reader that the Ile is the place where author Alexandre Dumas placed his novel, The Count of Monte Cristo. Business, however, for the owners of our present luxury resort isn’t great at all, a fact which troubles them immensely; but for now they are occupied with providing a wonderful experience for their present guests. Some of the owner’s employees are here because they have found a perfect job in a gorgeously beautiful place and others see it as a stepping stone to greater service in a more well-known hotel in one of the major French cities. Some of the Ile’s inhabitants are strange folk who provide food to the hotel and provide an aura of mystery to the area.   And then there is the motley crew of guests who have arrived to relax and enjoy the Ile’s beaches, boats and unique meals presented by a creative and talented chef!

We meet Judge Antoine Verlaque (Aix-en-Provence’s examining magistrate) and his sexy girlfriend, law professor Marine Bonnet.  Their only desire is to enjoy each other without any reference to their legal work.  They meet Eric Mannier, former teacher and poet, on the boat traveling to the Isle.  Mannier normally is rather reserved and while on the Ile seems totally focused on writing his poetry as the days progress, much to the wonder of his fellow guests. Shirley and Bill Hobbs are Americans visitors who are obsessed with luxury and design but are friendly and unassuming to all.  Alain Denis is a former famous film star now reduced to making dog food commercials appears with his “Botox” wife, Emmanuelle, and his son Brice who seems like a very angry young man.

The remainder of the story moves from the characters getting to know each other, gossiping as they get to know each other better, and then being minutely examined after one of them is found dead on a nearby beach, shot up close in the forehead.  It reads like an Agatha Christie mystery novel, for sure, and is creatively and carefully plotted, drawing the reader deeper and deeper into the attempt to solve the murder mystery before the police do so.  And no, you probably won’t be able to do so either, but that won’t stop you from trying as the author elicits your obsession with the solution to this unforeseen crime!

Very nicely plotted with a perfect medley of characters and intrigue added to the mix!  Well done fourth mystery in this Verlaque and Bonnet series!

The Bloodbound by Erin Lindsey

The Bloodbound.  Erin Lindsey. Ace Books. September 2014. 368 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9780425272688.

Lady Alix Black is one of the King Erik White’s noble soldiers who disobeys orders during the major Battle of Boswyck and saves the King’s life.  For that deed he appoints her his personal protector and head of his personal guard.  It’s a tough job given his stubbornness and frustrated moods due to his leg injury from that same initial battle against the Oridians.  In this first fantasy novel of a planned series, the King learns that his brother, Tomald, is a traitor and is behind the new battle.  The reason for this traitorous behavior seems rather silly, but it turns out there is more than meets the eye. Still, having one’s own brother turn against one and try to claim the Kingship for his own is a tough nut for King Erik to swallow.  Add to that that Alix’s brother, Riga, has disappeared while out on a scouting mission for the King. 

Initially the King decides to allow others outside his immediate circle to believe he was killed in order to see just how far his brother will go and what alliances that brother will make in his quest for the crown.  We also learn that Alix has a lover, a fellow scout named Liam, whom she will never be allowed to marry because of his lower class status.  We learn of the mysterious power in the bloodbound swords only the nobility are allowed to carry and use in battle and later what the Oridians will do to counteract that extraordinary power, creating their own genetically perversions called “thralls.”

To say more would be a spoiler, so suffice to say that the reader is quickly rooting for the King, Alix and those who will loyally do anything to protect their King and restore his power.  The battles, led by the “Priest” and his forces, are fierce and betrayal abounds along with multiple surprises and discoveries.  Alix is a perfect heroine, being fierce and tough in battle with enough kindness and compassion to appeal to every reader.

Fans will find themselves eagerly looking forward to the next sequel to this fantasy novel.  Well-written, Erin Lindsey!