Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Flight Patterns by Karen White

Flight Patterns. Karen White. Penguin Publishing Group. May 2016. 416 pp.  ISBN#: 9780451470911.  

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, Penguin, who provided this novel in return for an honest review!

The Wolf of Sarajevo by Matthew Palmer

The Wolf of Sarajevo.  Matthew Palmer. Penguin Group (USA). May 2016. 400 pp.  ISBN#: 9780399175015.

Few people remember the horrific Srebrenica massacre but the aftermath of that tragedy continues to haunt an unending conflict among Serbs, Croatians and Bosnians.  Eric Petrosian lost a good friend, Meho Alimerovic, in that war and now he’s back on a mission to find out what the Bosnian leader is up to twenty years after Srebrenica.  Eric is serving at the American Embassy in the Balkans.  He has heard that the Bosnian Serb leader, who had sworn to live and influence his country toward peace, is now back to his old violent acts.  Another war is looming, a continuation of hundreds of years of ethnic hatred.

Why is Zoran Dimitrovic turning to activities that will build and eventually explode in more war and ethnic cleansing?  It turns out that another Mafia connected leader, Marko Barcelona, interested in only money and power, has some evidence that could turn Zoran Dimitrovic from a leader into a prisoner before a war tribunal trial.

Eric is approached by a former lover and now EUO diplomat, Annika Sondergaard, who knows that Eric has connections and in-roads that she can never hope to match.  She begs him to become involved in finding out the reason for Dimitrovic’s change of heart. 

The rest of the story is a historical thriller that probes the history of this conflict and an international thriller as Eric and Annika get closer and closer to the truth of the matter which just might put a halt on more pain and historical tragedy.  For every decent act of these two investigators are other rabid characters who love to kill, who love the hunt for the sake of the violence, and those who love to enter the fray to increase the already simmering tensions waiting for the spark that will inflame the area into new civil war.

Matthew Palmer has his finger on the pulse of Balkan history and a keen understanding of the major personalities literally creating history in this part of Eastern Europe.  The reader has to pay close attention, however, to keep pace with all the different names and which group each belongs to.  Succeeding in that endeavor, the reader will enjoy this fast-paced, somewhat stereotypical, but all too real battle for the future of this part of the world.  Very good historical fiction for sure!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Against a Darkening Sky: A Novel by Lauren B. Davis

Against a Darkening Sky: A Novel.  Lauren B. Davis. ChiZine Publications.  May 2015. 300 pp.  ISBN#: 9781771483186.

Wilona, the only survivor of a plague that destroyed her family, travels to the village of Ad Gefrin where she becomes the apprentice to Touilt, a seithkona or seer/healer.  Many people come to Touilt for her medicine treatments and Wilona learns quickly.  This is King Edwin’s medieval kingdom in a time of great transition with the coming of Christianity.  It is believed that when all convert, the kingdom will prosper as natural progression from belief in the triune God.

Before that occurs, however, we have an account of Wilona’s training which is lovely reading.  In between learning about how nature provides healing properties, we realize how dark, cruel and primitive are the conditions under which these people live.  Touilt sees many visions which the reader may find frightening but which Touilt interprets as life-giving, protective and wise.  Wilona herself has visions of an owl which is to be her guide, totem or daemon.

We next meet Egan, a devout monk whose Christianity is bounded by his own humility or scrupulosity.  His superiors take his bumbling errors in stride at first but then decide his humility reeks of excessive pride.  At the same time they recognize his timid kindness and speech as a great tool to be used in servicing the King’s desire that all come to Christ. 

Wilona and Egan develop an uneasy friendship at first.  When the town villagers come to destroy Touilt’s spirit drawings and figures and physically beat her, Wilona trusts no one.  She believes it is only time that awaits her own torture to force her to convert.  Egan insists otherwise.

The remainder of the novel dwells on changing circumstances that change the people’s certitude about Christianity.  The results of these challenges are riveting as the ending reveals a new way of dealing with how spiritual beliefs fit into the vicissitudes of daily medieval life. 

Very nicely crafted – recommended fantasy historical fiction that challenges adamant religiosity!

Lost and Gone Forever: A Novel of Scotland Yard's Murder Squad by Alex Grecian

Lost and Gone Forever: A Novel of Scotland Yard’s Murder Squad.  Alex Grecian. Penguin Publishing Group (USA). May 2016. 384 pp.  ISBN#: 9780399176104.

Inspector Walter Day was kidnapped and held for one year by a man named “Jack.”  Whatever the latter inflicted upon Day, he no longer has any memory of his previous life.  Now he manages to escape, although he does so with great trepidation as he fears Jack is just around every corner waiting to grab Day and return him to his imprisonment.  Little by little, he inches his way back into society, shaping and selling old cigarette and cigar butts he has reformed into new products.  He even manages to enlist homeless urchins to assist him and pays them for their efforts. 

Day’s old friend, Nevil Hammersmith, a former Sergeant who lost his job over a case that also involved the disappearance of Day, has formed a private investigation agency with two female assistants.  Although he takes on new cases, his obsession is finding Day.  He even hires two bounty hunters to find and eliminate Jack, believing if he is removed Day will reappear.  However, the two chilling bounty hunters are about much more than heeding Hammersmith.  The reader wonders if this “Saucy” Jack is really Jack the Ripper, the killer who was feared by every decent British citizen. 

Even Hattie, Hammersmith’s assistant, gets involved in the missing persons search.  The owner of a brand new, gaudy and innovative department store (new for that time period of the late 1800s) is also involved accidentally and undergoes a dramatic transformation. 

The mystery will be solved but one must journey through several harrowing scenes and a very handy, albeit somewhat contrived, resolution for all characters that should greatly please lovers of the crime/thriller genre.  This reviewer has not read the previous books in the series, but that doesn’t matter as this is a fine stand-alone mystery that will probably draw readers to read the other novels as well.  Nicely crafted, Alex Grecian!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Thing Is by Kathleen Gerard

The Thing Is.  Kathleen Gerard. Red Adept Publishing. December 2015. 276 pp.  ISBN#: 9781940215587.

Meredith Mancuso is fiercely grieving as her fiancĂ© has passed away.  She used to be a successful novelist whose romances and stories were and are best sellers that it seems everyone knows. But Meredith has become a recluse and is ignoring calls from her agent and publisher because she’s just so bogged down in sadness.  It’s more than grieving; it’s rock solid depression.  That is until her accountant, CPA, numbers driven sister, Monica, rings her door – or actually is banging on the door like she’s going to break it down if Meredith doesn’t open up.  Before Meredith can blink her eyes, Monica is pushing a furry dog into her arms – a Yorkshire terrier called yes, Prozac!

This then is the story of Meredith’s baby-sitting venture with Prozac whom she is constantly trying to get rid of but whose attachment slowly but surely grows immensely – albeit pushed by bribery, threats of imprisonment for doggie abuse, and other hilarious scenes that are sheer delightful reading! 

For Prozac is a “Spirit Guide Dog,” that is one who is sensitive to the moods and feelings of wounded folks and able to heal them with his vibrant, loving presence.  He has a weekly schedule – he actually belongs to Meredith’s aunt who is recovering from surgery - of visiting but I won’t spoil that but let you discover the craziness of each spot they visit.    Of course, Meredith doesn’t really realize that she’s a tough project for Prozac but he gives her a healthy dose of her own stubborn rejection which is absolutely hysterical. 

The Thing Is has no linear plot; it just happens.  While that might trouble some readers, it is actually pleasant to just “go with it” along with Meredith and Prozac.  It’s a nice, light read that you’ll want to re-read just to enjoy the laughs all over again! Nicely done, K. Gerard!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Havana File: Book Six of the Shake Davis Series by Dale A. Dye

Havana File: Book Six of the Shake Davis Series.  Dale A. Dye. Warriors Publishing Group. May 2016. 304 pp.  ISBN#: 9781504037099.

Shake Davis is a retired U. S. Marine gunner.  Once a Marine, always a Marine; and when another Marine is in trouble, he or she is never left alone.  So even though Shake is planning on building a wood shed in Texas with his wife where he can design and build pieces associated with the military, he is shaken to hear that a former buddy and fellow warrior may have been killed in Cuba.  The story takes place in contemporary America where the government is considering having an open and unrestricted relationship with the Cuban government.  Shake and other Marines are clearly against this policy because they know that the Cuban government has the support of Russia in establishing secret communications between Al Qaeda and ISIS terrorists throughout the world as well as from Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

It turns out that Shake’s buddy’s body was just a cover and a bad one at that.  Not to give away the story, but Shake and a bunch of fellow Marines are sure their buddy is alive and set about making a plan to rescue him.  At the same time, this rescue is vital because they will then have proof of Cuba’s duplicitous plans for terrorists and America. 

It’s rare to have a plot that is so contemporaneous.  It’s only in the last six months that this policy change with Cuba has begun and still has far to go before anything solid is set in stone.  The realistic picture Dale Dye depicts might be read by those who are part of this decision-making scenario; it certainly opens another side of the debate that needs attention!  Other than that, this is an action-filled, adventurous read about some very spunky characters whose military skills ramp up the action considerably!  Enjoyable, intense read!

I Let You Go: A Novel by Clare Mackintosh

I Let You Go: A Novel.  Clare Mackintosh. Sphere Publishing. May 2015. 371 pp.  ISBN#: 9780751554151.

Jenna and Jacob, mother and son, are so very close.  Jenna delights in her son’s zest for living, and despite a failed marriage Jenna devotes her life to her son.  She’s always so careful with him when they are out until one day she lets go of his hand and Jacob is violently hit by a car who then veers away and leaves the scene of the crime.  Words cannot convey the depth of Jenna’s grief at that moment and in the days that follow but this author conveys the awfulness of that moment with great skill.  Jenna’s life literally comes to a halt with that moment and although the police immediately try to find the hit and run driver, they are unsuccessful. 

With that last vestige of hope, Jenna decides she has to get away from their home and that street with its traumatic memories.  But one can’t run away from memories!  Jenna picks up her life and few belongings and escapes to a small Welsh seashore town where she finds a home far from people.  Unknown to her, Investigator Ray Stevens and his team are determined not to stop looking, although the media and police are moving on to more current tragedies. 

Meanwhile Jenna meets Patrick Mathews who finds her engaging but who also senses her ambivalence about any kind of relationship. He’s got his own story as well.  When Ray Stevens begins to get a sense of who the killer might be, the story takes some wild twists and turns and the reader is totally unprepared for the shocking ending. 

It’s hard to call this book a “thriller,” especially with so mind-numbing a topic as the death of a 5 year-old child but this story evolves into just that name of psychological thriller.  The pain and tension are so intense it’s like the reader has become part of these characters’ lives.  Read this heart-ripping, romantic (yes, a wee bit of that midway) and satisfying mystery.  Amazing first novel, Clare Mackintosh!!! Highly recommended!