Sunday, June 25, 2017

A Decent Woman: A Novel by Eleanor Parker Sapia

A Decent Woman: A Novel. Eleanor Parker Sapia. Libertary Co. February 2015. 270 pp.  ISBN #: 9781620154007. 

Ana Belen Opaku is a midwife in turn of the 20th century Ponce, Puerto Rico (the author uses the old spelling of Porto Rico).  She’s working without a midwife certificate which could make a great deal of trouble.  She’s also illiterate which makes matters worse!  But Ana is a truly remarkable, perceptive, sensitive, skilled and compassionate woman! She delivers children for Serafina and becomes a good friend over time. 

The beauty of this story lies in Ana’s description of her fears and strength during fierce storms and hurricanes; her following African Yoruba spiritual practices and Western religious rites, combined with her skilled application of medicinal plants to facilitate easy births and protect the newborn lives she cherishes.  Folklore from Africa and Cuba make this a multi-layered tale that truly evokes understanding of Puerto Rico’s culture and society.

One of Serafina’s children is born stillborn and because her last child died shortly after birth, she must defend herself against criminal charges.  Ana provides the testimony Serafina needs to be judged innocent and that cements their close relationship forever.

Ana now must deal with the opposition of a local parish priest, Padre Vicente, and a local physician, Dr. Hector Rivera.  Their action pushes Ana to learn to read and obtain her certificate.  Serafina’s husband dies and she later marries a rich man. Ana follows her and their friendship grows even more as Ana’s life dramatically changes.

A Decent Woman... has no huge plot but instead gives the reader a gracefully evolving story of the struggle for women to survive independently in a male-dominated culture, the dignity of women who are treated as possessions meant to serve men, the need for women to share dangerous secrets which may bring trust or betrayal, and most of all the sharing of the beauty of the cycles of life and death.

A remarkable account that is obviously well-researched, understood and conveyed with grace and passion!  Highly recommended!

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Knoll: The Last JFK Conspiracist by Stephen Hillard

Knoll: The Last JFK Conspiracist. Stephen Hillard. SelectBooks. June 2017. 256 pp. ISBN #: 9781590794214.  

Conspiracy theories abound about who was responsible for the assassination of JFK in November 1963 but no definitive answer has ever been publicly acknowledged other than that of Oswald, the supposed assassin.  Stephen Hillard’s novel, however, asserts that the truth is known by many people.  The problem is that each one of these known witnesses or collaborators winds up meeting a deadly end in horrific accidents or by being murdered. 

Now a House of Representative member from Texas vows to discover and expose the truth that will hopefully erase the stained reputation held forever in Dallas, Texas.  Columbus (“Bus”) McIntyre, a prosecutor now must change his plans of running for office when a scandal derails him from his dream.  Remarkably, he’s not that upset about the change in plans.  In fact, he is now about to change his focus dramatically.  One of the great moments of grief in his life concerns the murder of his father, a cop, in 1970. Now he is given a journal written by his father in which his Dad writes, “For what I did in Dallas, they will find me.”  From this moment on, the reader avidly reads every entry of that journal as Bus thinks about each entry and begins to assemble clues, acts that could just as well get him in trouble in which he would follow his father’s footsteps.

Woven into these steps of Bus’s discovery process are chapter in which we learn that NSA not only has all the facts about the assassination but has a woman design a program that combines facts and algorithms to know who is searching for the truth so that they can be eliminated.  It didn’t start out that way but is now a set program that brooks no interference.

Finally, something about the quashing of people associated with the JFK disaster concerns a Mafia leader, now dead for over twenty years, but whose legacy is still continuing the elimination process.  This then is the essence of the story and Bus’s investigative journey. 

There’s quite a bit of steam that entices the reader but the ending is somewhat anticlimactic.   Still, it will get readers of a certain age thinking anew of their memories of this horrific event and hungry to understand precisely what is meant by Carlos Marcello’s dictum, “Omerta is forever.”

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Space Between the Stars by Anne Corlett

The Space Between the Stars. Anne Corlett. Penguin Publishing Group. June 13, 2017. 368 pp. ISBN #: 9780399585111.

99% of the world is dead!  A terrible plague has decimated innumerable planets where human live and all that is left are piles of dust.  Before the plague, Jamie Allenby moved to a quiet planet with that huge space that she so desired after leaving a suffocating, congested Earth.  The reader immediately thinks, “What would I do if I found myself in such a circumstance?”  Jamie initially thinks she’s the only survivor but after a week manages to pick up a signal from out of her planet.  This then is the story of the survivors who find each other, their complex personalities, and their desire to form a new society.  The only problem or problems involve different ideas of what should happen next.

We meet some who are curious about transporting survivors to where they want to go, allowing others to make choices, to be free.  However, we meet a group who believe they, the “upper echelon” of society, should form a new society under their control because they are better in so many ways.  We meet a religious woman who has a horrible secret from the past and is now finding her own survival totally dependent on “God’s will.” 

Jamie’s past lover is one of the leaders who is unable to accept that Jamie no longer loves him and tries to block her escape from this new world order that borders on a “1984” novel scenario.  Violence and blocking anyone from leaving become the norm which some characters manage to elude. 

All the characters have lost other human beings and each reacts differently, yet somehow the focus seems to remain on the present and future.  It takes quite a while before these people realize they must face these losses and what their present and future lives could be in order to truly create a new society.

Another perspective on those in this story is how strongly human desires haven’t changed at all, even considering the disaster all have experienced.

The plot is simple herein, but what holds the reader’s focus is on the static or dynamic evolution that dramatically changes Jaime and a friend she begins to draw closer to, the opportunity to become freer now they cannot take life for granted.
Interesting, recommended post-apocalyptic sci-fi read, indeed!

Monday, June 5, 2017

Cast the First Stone: An Ellie Stone Mystery by James W. Ziskin

Cast the First Stone: An Ellie Stone Mystery #5.  James W. Ziskin. Prometheus Books. June 2017. 290 pp. ISBN #: 9781633882812.

Ellie Stone, a newspaper journalist from the unknown town of New Holland, gets the chance to travel to Hollywood, California to interview Tony Eberle, formerly also of New Holland, who is about to star in his first movie.  Anyone who has met Tony admits he is definite “eye candy” who, if he has the goods on acting, is about to become a big Hollywood star. The problem is – he never showed up the first day of rehearsals.  The fury of both actors and staff is chaotic and Ellie Stone wonders if she’s got a bigger story here than she first thought. 

Ellie is definitely a tireless reporter as she sets about finding the MIA actor, only to find that his producer is also missing and a few days later is found dead.  No spoilers here!  The remainder of the novel focuses on the people who knew Tony and his producer.  At first they’re not willing to help Ellie one iota until she lies and says she knows where he is.  Then they’re all over her to cooperate and Ellie plays this little lie for all it’s worth.

The bottom line is that Hollywood is full of panderers in the 1960s, willing to do anything for a “moment in the sun” of stardom, be it top actor or extra.  There are rare people in this novel who do have good intentions and act with integrity, but they are the exception and not the norm.  The characters of the norm are too busy having a good, no – great time drinking, drugging and having sex with adults and – Oh No!
Ellie makes a clever sleuth and she’s got a wacky, always entertaining sense of humor that at times saves this story from its repetitive cycles of discovery, where Ellie often as to repeat former trips and conversations to get ahead one step at a time.

As an aside, film buffs will love the references and recommendations of actors, actresses, and films from the 1950s and 1960s.

The outcome is not what you expect but does differ from the normal Hollywood story ending!  Nicely crafted mystery, James W. Ziskin!

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Washington Power Play: A Political Thriller by Allan Topol

Washington Power Play: A Political Thriller. Allan Topol. SelectBooks, Inc.. May 2017. 320 pp. ISBN #: 9781590794258.

China is planning a New World Order! A new name for a new attempt to take over both Asia and the United States.  Kelly Cameron, an FBI agent, has just completed a mission that is taken by her superiors to be both a success and a failure, a success in that she was able to stop a terrorist from committing mayhem and murder and a failure in that her killing the terrorist prevented her superiors from interviewing him to discover valuable information.  So is her sudden promotion to join a task force to find a government mole a true reward or something worse?

Kelly’s first task is to get up to speed on China, especially after a sudden attack on Japanese planes by Chinese jets.  Her first connection is with a powerful American lawyer, Andrew Martin, a man who, unknown to Kelly, has questionable ties with China as a delivery boy for secret messages to a Chinese diplomat.  Then there’s Xiang Shen, a former lover, who appears and supposedly wants to reignite their powerful connection.  Kelly’s not buying!  And Xiang has no choice but continue to pursue in order to guarantee his family’s safety back in China. A dilemma indeed!

And what about the head of the task force, General Darrell Cartwright, who desperately wants to run for President of the United States?  He’s not happy with several members of the task force and these snippy debates between the parties which are stopped one step away from being outright combat.  This seems a bit out of proportion to their task which is a clue that indeed something is rotten in Denmark.

Allan Topol knows how to ramp up the tension from the very first page. Although the reader thinks he or she knows where this is going, that’s not quite the obvious plot!  Kelly will risk death, be faced with action to save her kidnapped daughter, and discover there are more disloyal characters than one mole than she ever imagined.

Washington Power Play… is a fine political thriller with plenty of passion, debate, threats of violence and actual physical combat to keep the reader flipping the pages of this fast-paced, international power play plot!  Nicely done, Allan Topol, and definitely recommended reading!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Strange Times: Richard III in the 21st Century Book 3 by Joan Szechtman

·         Strange Times: Richard III in the 21st Century Book 3. Joan Szechtman. Amazon Digital Services LLC. May 2017. 169 pp.  ASIN: B071NMQBJS.  
Some background history is vital to understanding this account: A famous quote from William Colyngbourne refers to a rat, a cat and a dog who served under a hog.  The rat and the cat, Richard Ratcliffe and William Catesby respectively, are dead. The dog refers to the only survivor, Francis Lovell, who survived. This all occurred in the 1480s, and obviously, the hog, Richard III, who supposedly died when defeated by Henry Tudor, has borne a terrible reputation through the centuries.  He is labeled a tyrant and a murderer of the Princes of the previous King.  However, in the 21st Century, his reputation has undergone a complete revision and now the real Richard III is living in America.  In the previous two books in this series, he participated in clearing his name, although there are still descendants who want him captured and killed! Richard now longs to tie up one loose end.  Lovell, the dog who was truly a loyal servant to Richard, fought against Henry VII at the famous Battle of Stoke Field.  When we meet him, he’s hiding in a basement vault, fearful of capture and death.  Richard’s obsession in finding Lovell is understandable and serves as the beginning of this intriguing story.

Richard is running for a political office in Oregon but unforeseen circumstances block any further progress in that venture.  He and his wife, Sarah, are involved with a company that has built a time machine.  This is the story of two figures who accidentally get exchanged in the 15th and 21st Century.  Adrian Strange is a colleague who appears to monitor the progress on the time machine; he seems overbearing and suspicious about everything.  Because of this machine, he will be transformed in more ways than one although Richard and Sarah will have no idea what Strange is experiencing after he accidentally steps into the active time machine.   In trying to get him back, Richard and Sarah wind up bringing Francis Lovell into this future time.  What a disaster!

Obviously, Richard realizes things must return to the way they were but that plan is not so easily accomplished.  The important issue throughout this entire novel concerns what happens when individuals are transported to the past? How much of history can be changed, and should it be changed?  Would Francis Lovell have survived?  Were the Princes truly killed or did they survive and their descendants as well?  How will the past change Adrian Strange if he returns to the present?

Joan Szechtman has crafted a story with several mysteries running through the overall plot which keep the reader riveted to the story.  Most knowledgeable readers are rooting for Richard in whatever he plans and does but even the best laid plans go awry.  This author clearly knows her topic, with all its twists and turns, and carries the reader through all of them with thrilling skill!  Highly recommended historical fiction!

Monday, April 17, 2017

Flight Patterns - Reprint by Karen White

Flight Patterns. Karen White. Berkley Reprint. March 2017. 432 pp.  ISBN#: 9780451470923. 

Georgia Chambers has found pleasure in developing her antiques business, keeping busy in order to keep some very bad memories out of the forefront of her consciousness.  That’s all about to change as James Graf hires her to find a certain tea cup painted with bees to complete a set missing this piece.  Although Georgia is an expert on Limoges china, she also is quite knowledgeable about other fine china, particularly those unique handcrafted types that are extremely valuable.  The piece James describes to her brings back such a powerful memory that she pales and feels like she’s suffocating.  For she knows she must now return to her hometown in Florida to seek this china teacup, and she’s coerced into allowing James to accompany her. 

The time spent in Apalachicola, Florida will be life-changing for the sisters, Georgia and Maisy, their grandmother Birdie, Maisy’s daughter Becky, Grandpa, James and his sister Caroline and other characters from Europe who are part of this intriguing family history.  The story is complex and intense but evolves to the point where the family secrets of each character are revealed, real and imagined wrongdoings are faced and somewhat and then completely forgiven, silence and oblivion are removed once truth is embraced, the finding of journals as well as post cards and honey forces questions to be answered and so much more that is perfectly woven together at just the right pace. 

Every chapter begins with a quote about the life of bees, specifically describing how they interact and their functions at different times of their lives.  These additional lines literally and figuratively foreshadow what follows in each chapter – a charming extra touch!

Karen White is a highly skilled writer whose fiction just keeps getting better and better! If this is your first novel by her, you’re in for a treat!  You’ll probably want to read her other works as well.  For the threads of secrets and memories keep the characters from being stereotypical, the plot is both simple and complex, and the tension is relieved by warm and tender moments in all the right places. 

Wonderful, light (somewhat) fiction that this reviewer highly recommends as a great read at any time of year!  Thanks to the publisher, Berkely, who provided this novel in return for an honest review!