Thursday, May 9, 2019

The Lovely and the Lost by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

The Lovely and the Lost.  Jennifer Lynn Barnes. Freeform.  May 2019; pb, 336 pp.; ISBN #: 9781484776209.

Search and rescue work is not for the faint of heart.  But what if one of the searchers has been herself lost and found from the wilderness with no memories of the past except those of fear and loneliness?  Kira Bennett was found by her foster mother, Cady Bennett, who continues carrying on search and rescue missions. Kira’s relationship to her foster parents and siblings is another aspect of this mystery since Kira was found unable to speak and petrified of human beings. Kira participates in their family searches because what else can she do, knowing the terrors of having to live in forests and surviving with skills learned for survival.

One of the delights of this story is getting to know the animals who are part of the search and rescue team, Silver, Saskia, NATO and Dutchess, lovely canines who are dedicated, relentless in finding their quarry, and loving friendliness.  They become part of Kira’s survival in their present search, when glimmers of her own memories threaten her ability to continue with the desperate search for a missing girl.  Their intuition matches her own, having lived in a feral state that bonds them into a natural unit pursing their mission.

Tracking is a careful skill that can be thrown by natural events, accidents and more.  While they continue their search, she meets Gabriel, the son of an abusive Sheriff. Gabriel’s brother is also one of the missing, which adds another twist to the story that keeps the river riveted to the mystery of this family.

Kira will discover aspects of her own past as the search for the mission is accomplished but with more problems than answers.  The Lovely and the Lost is a fine read, albeit sometimes confusing with a too large cast of characters.  Kira’s world seems realistic and mysterious which adds to the mysterious drama of each aspect of this account.  Nicely done, Jennifer Lynn Barnes!

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Park Avenue Summer - A Novel by Renee Rosen

Park Avenue Summer.  Renee Rosen. Penguin Publishing Group.  April 2019; pb, 368 pp.; ISBN #: 9781101991145.

Alice Weiss fulfills her dream by leaving the Midwest to live in New York City.  She has few skills and only one connection, a friend of her mother, who connects Alice to become the secretary of the now legendary Helen Gurley Brown.  At the time of this novel’s account, the magazine Cosmopolitan is massively failing and Helen Gurley Brown is hired to revive it before it dies.  Connected to the Hearst family, Helen gets the job but is expected to fail.  However, no one realizes how vastly talented is this new Editor-in-Chief, no matter how crazy her ideas sound!

Gurley envisions a new post-WWII woman, a woman who can work, have ideas and has unspoken thoughts about sex and fashion that are shocking and elicit rejection from all men and quite a few women as well.  Imagine wondering, at that time in the 1960s, how one could improve one’s sex life, look sexier, stand out as powerful and capable women, and so much more.

Staff on the magazine are quitting by droves and there are those who leak to the public Gurley’s ideas which in one sense gets attention, both negative and positive.  Alice meanwhile learns the hard way not to trust fellow employees, both male and female.  Sex seems to be a tool but Alice is too much of a strong woman, although horrified and intimidated at first, to become part of the manipulative betrayals happening throughout the office.  She herself has apprentice-like skills as a photographer and meets Christopher, who mentors her and never goes beyond a professional and friendly stance, with a hint of something more looming in the future.

When the July issue finally emerges, it has rave sales but Gurley still has to fight to have her ideas for the future emerge unscathed by the Hearst family.

Park Avenue Summer is a delightful read, both for depicting the historical changes happening in a society wanting “more” in the personal and professional worlds.  Nice job, Renee Rosen! 

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

The Great Pretenders by Laura Kalpakian

The Great Pretenders.  Laura Kalpakian. Tirgearr Publishing.  March 2019; Kindle mobi, 283 pp.; ASIN: B07N974NW5.

Roxanne Granville is a spoiled, rich granddaughter of a theatre and movie powerhouse.  Her mother dies in the very beginning of the story and her resentment of her grandfather’s lover is beyond words.  She can’t understand how Denise could replace Julia because Roxanne really has no idea what a love affair with commitment is and how it could change.  Therefore, she announces she will have nothing to do with him until he drops Denise.  His response is laughable, a fairy tale in the land of the rich!

So what does a woman with fame to her name do when not living in a beach home in Malibu?  She has no real skills but isn’t shy on ideas.  She decides to be a book agent, supporting and selling the types of books that are turned into shows and movies.  Roxanne proceeds to do something daring, something that carries the chances for amazing success as well as the chances of looming disaster.

Hundreds of former writers and actors were fired when Joe McCarthy’s Committee for Unamerican Activities was conducting its investigations and congressional testimonials, rooting out anyone and everyone even slightly associated with the Communist Party.  Those who refused to admit involvement with Communism or who refused to name other people involved pleaded the Fifth Amendment.  The results were tragic and devastating!

Now Roxanne, who deeply feels for these talented but now unemployable writers, begins to sponsor their written works under the names of anonymous, unknown writers.  Anyone with half a brain knows this but stays silent; Roxanne is admired for her guts and/or stupidity in proceeding with this plan.  Will it work out for all involved?

Then Roxanne goes one step ahead with trouble and falls in love with an African-American guy, Terrence Dexter during a time when Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks are protesting openly about the Jim Crow laws in vogue.  Roxanne grows up fast when she sees in Terrence how black people live with daily prejudice, laws and abuse based on racial discrimination. 

In the end of this fictional account, one may say that differences between characters reach a semi-satisfactory resolution but definitely not the solution all are hoping to attain.  Roxanne comes across as a spunky, daring woman but her cleverness remains hidden below the surface.  Only when life’s circumstances become beyond her control does the reader begin to appreciate Roxanne’s true life-changing stamina in many notable ways.

The Great Pretenders is a remarkable story describing turbulent historical times and how these difficulties were met by Hollywood and feisty, challenging characters!  Good read!!!

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Law and Addiction: A Legal Thriller by Mike Papantonio

Law and Addiction: A Legal Thriller. Mike Papantonio. Waterside Productions.  April 2019. pb, 312 hp.; ISBN: 9781939116468.

Opioid addiction has become a national crisis!  More cases of overdose fill the news on a weekly basis.  Police regularly carry and administer Narcan for overdosing addicts.  Meanwhile, as Mike Papantonio has so carefully and deftly delineated in this fictional account of reality, attempts to deal with the problem on a local and national basis continue, attempts to stem a raging flood of addiction and death.

Jake Rutledge is a new lawyer who lost his twin brother to this horrifying disease.  Jake and Blake had a favorite term they used with each other about having each other’s back.  Now Jake is determined to carry out his promise because of his grievous loss.  Having no money and no connections isn’t exactly a wild card in legally pursuing the sources and markets that are part of the mass distribution system of selling opioids.  However, Jake’s got guts and high-caliber intelligence to get his search going. So he begins by suing two companies that sell massive amounts of drugs to little known small towns in and around what is known as “Zombieland.” 

He then connects to a highly successful lawyer with a dynamic record of experience in suing Fortune 500 companies.  They begin by suing companies who have made a killing (literally and figuratively) in West Virginia and Ohio.  Readers will be riveted to the course of each court phase and the wiliness of Jake and Deke, his attorney second chair, in challenging big shot attorneys.

Readers, however, won’t be ready for the methods used to suppress and then shut Jake up.  No spoilers here.  Suffice to say, Jake meets Blake’s former girlfriend who is now addicted to Oxycontin and helps her through her gritty efforts to withdraw from her addiction.  He himself is about to undergo empathic thoughts and feelings after hoodlum attempts to bribe his efforts fail.

The reader also meets several characters who deal and distribute drugs, individuals who are caught innocently in the dragon net of illegality and can’t get out to survive!  

All in all, the reader can anticipate the ending but that’s only after brutality and other machinations have all failed to stymie Jake’s efforts.  Mike Papantonio has penned a necessary legal thriller that everyone should read.  The question readers are left with is “Where do we go from here?”  Highly recommended contemporary fiction!

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

The Editor by Steven Rowley

The Editor. Steven Rowley. G. P. Putnam Sons.  April 2019; hb and eBook, 320 pp.; ISBN: 9780525537960 and ASIN: B07FC2J8ZW

Francis is an insecure stereotypical new writer who has written and just sold his first novel.  He has been assigned an editor at Doubleday, the publishing firm that just bought his novel.  What he does with that editor will determine whether his novel is published or lays dormant.  What follows is an oh so normal but poignant story, a gift in James’s life. 

Imagine the surprise when James meets Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis or “Mrs. Onassis” as she invites him to call her.  Down-to-earth, practical and inspiring, she leads James to rewrite the end of his novel which both know is incomplete.  This involves James having to explore the depths of his relationship with his mother and father.  The family is known for skirting around important issues, replacing truth with sarcasm and edgy humor.

While this is occurring, Mrs. Onassis invites James to her summer home where they explore the title Ithaca, its meaning and the journey that is yet to be finished.  They share meals, drinks and funny moments.  Jacquie treasures her privacy and never goes beyond snippets about her past, all of which are poignant reminders of what she has endured.  The reader picks up her implications that she just wanted to be normal and not a continuous fixture of American fascination.  However, since that is a fantasy, she does what she can to maintain a regular life as an editor (of fourteen years).  Her fascination and admiration for his novel lies in the recognition “as familiar truth, but also as wisdom you’re hearing voiced in a new and articulate way.” 

Francis’s lover, Daniel, seems oddly less supportive of Francis’ efforts but does the best he can.  Mark, an assistant of Mrs. Onassis, is helpful but also one step short of coming onto Francis.  Who is Francis?  A man aching to be seen in truth by his family and lover.

There are poignant secrets that gradually are revealed which dramatically change the writer’s life with his mother and help him to recognize and admire her truth as a person.  It’s described as an erupting volcano, a healing end to his finally finished story.

The ending of this novel, in which readers fall in love with James, his family and Jacquie, is so sad as he honors the marvelous journey he has made with the loving support of his friend and editor. 

Remarkable, powerful, endearing historical fiction that readers will remember forever!  Lovely, simple yet profound writing that makes this reviewer want to read more from this skilled writer! Highly recommended!

Sunday, March 17, 2019

A Dangerous Collaboration: A Veronica Speedwell Mystery (Series #4) by Deanna Raybourn

A Dangerous Collaboration: A Veronica Speedwell Mystery (Series #4). Deanna Raybourn. Penguin Publishing Group.  March 2019; hb and eBook, 336 pp.; ISBN: 9780451490711.

Veronica Speedwell and her friend Stoker are off on another adventure.  This time they are initially split as Veronica is invited to travel to an island off the coast of Cornwall. Stoke’s brother, Tiberius, justifies her visit by saying Veronica is his fiancĂ©e.  High tension exists between Veronica and Stoker as both are facing their romantic feelings for each other and Veronica is unsure how such a romance would conflict with her long-held independent stance in moving through the world – whether that be mundane or adventurous with exploration.  Veronica is going to the island of the Romilley family, ostensibly to obtain a unique insect, the glasswing butterfly.

It turns out that Stoker shows up after having conjured an invitation.  Long before we meet the members of the Romilley family, there are words and an atmosphere foreshadowing something mysterious and tense.  It turns out they have been invited to help Lord Malcolm’s mystery – the disappearance of his wife hours after their wedding.  It turns out a bag belonging to the bride is all that remains. 

The plot pivots from secrets to clues in cycles – a poison garden, a woman with “the sight” who spreads her uncomfortable hints without permission, secret hide-a-way spots throughout the host’s home, the tumultuous sea adjoining the Romilley mansion, some curmudgeon characters to spice up the frequent verbal sparring, and so much more.  As usual, the author drops just enough clues at just the right spots to keep the river riveted from the first to the last page.

The descriptions of the meals will have readers drooling and heading for food, just a minor addition that deftly eases the tension between the increasingly hostile guesses and dialogue.  Every family member and even the “help” has a motive for causing harm to the missing bride.  Add to that some revelations between Stoker and Tiberius that are some part of the main mystery but become a sub-plot for Stoker, Tiberius and Veronica.

Again, A Dangerous Collaboration… is a delightful mystery that will satisfy every fan of the genre.  It’s a can’t put down book that will make readers want to also read the other three novels of the Veronica Speedwell Series.  Delightful, well-crafted writing from a highly skilled artist, Deanna Raybourn!

The Island of Sea Women - A Novel by Lisa See

The Island of Sea Women: A Novel. Lisa Scribner. Scribner.  Published in 2019; pb. 384 pp.; ISBN #: 9781501154850.

Two friends spend their lives loving and hating each other, being haunted by the mistakes affecting them and their haenyeo community.  They are women divers who have learned to dive without the use of diving masks, oxygen or any other supportive equipment.  They rely on learning to breathe in vital air and breathe out the song of sumbisori, air let out with a unique sound for each woman. 

They live on Jeju Island off the southern coast of Korea, a land they believe was created by the Shaman Goddesses, creating a land of lava rocks, cones and walls.  The residents have created a matriarchal society loved by each resident.  Their story is a celebration of life!

Young-Sook has tremendous respect for her mother who is Chief of the haenyeo in one of the local communities until she dies in an accident while diving. Another young woman has another accident that changes her life forever.  Their work guarantees survival, especially in the troublesome times that soon follow.  Jeju Island residents are the subjects of the Japanese Army who have invaded the country and mandated laws of behavior, inflicting death on many for the slightest infraction of rules. 

Mi-ja is the daughter of a Japanese collaborator.  This reputation haunts her for her entire life.  Even though Young-Sook’s mother takes her in with kindness and teachers her to be a haenyeo, Young Sook’s grandmother despises her and will never trust her, a belief that will literally become part of Mi-ja’s choices during one of the most tragic, devastating moments of the story.  Young Sook marries the love of her life but Mi-ja marries a man who is evil personified, an act none will understand until it is too late and after too much betrayal and damage.  An uprising called the 4.3 incident instigates the death of thousands. The deaths to three members of Young-Sook’s family are tragically depicted, all because of Mi-ja’s response to a request begged by her best friend.

The love between these two women will stay strong, although readers will for a time doubt the primitive and passionate aspects of that love.  Scientists and sociologists will make this community a subject of lengthy study and amazed respect!  It is the children of these women who will clarify truth for them and the readers.  These pages commemorate a truly unique and amazing story that readers will never forget!  This is astonishing historical fiction, a must read for all!