Thursday, December 4, 2014

Down Solo: A Novel of Suspense by Earl Javorsky

Down Solo: A Novel of Suspense.  Earl Javorsky. The Story Plant. December 2014. 202 pp.  ISBN#: 9781611881769.

Charlie Miner initially has a huge problem – he’s been shot in the head and is deader than dead! Initially he does the float out of the body bit but then he discovers he can reenter his body and get up and walk, talk, touch and feel, and more.  So what’s the problem with the dead guy who’s still able to act like a living person?  He can’t remember who shot him or why?  Enter the crime thriller story that’s more than a mystery!

Charlie little by little begins to remember his past wife.  A former drug addict, he’s still got the urge for more drugs. In the process of getting high he begins to remember he was a private investigator and goes home to sort through his files, most of which are fairly innocent, even mundane, cases involving infidelity, insurance scams, lightweight issues more or less.  But then a name sparks a flicker of a memory – Tanya.  Later on he’ll get a call and recognize the name immediately of his ex-wife who’s about to dump his daughter Mindy on his hands. It’s summertime so he figures he can handle the latter, especially as he loves her dearly!

Now begins a whirlwind of traveling, gunfights, explosions, threats, and unfortunately the abduction of his daughter. He had left her alone while he began to explore the scene that he knew led to his own mortal demise.  It’s more than a scam involving the presence or absence of gold, its link to investment (something like but not quite like a Ponzi scam), one con man ignorant of being conned by another criminal, a guy who’s like a supervising angel, oodles of slowly revealed memories of a former better life that went awry, and so much more. 

If you think this novel is a predictable series of crimes, heroin addicts, violent acts, etc., you’re right – and you’re terribly wrong.  It’s got no moral lesson unless you want to analyze it and impose your own theory or theories.  It’s quite simply a story that could be so very real in this world of con jobs and crime and death! But it’s also like entering the middle of tornado after tornado, being jettisoned into even more desperation and yet attempts to set it all right – for Mindy if for no one else.  You’ll be surprised to see how it all evolves (you did want me to say ends nicely, didn’t you? LOL).  Earl Javorsky is a crime novelist who crafts a story with unique twists and turns and a refreshing change for those who love an unpredictable, even erratic mystery! Quite a novel!

The Firebird’s Feather: A Late Victorian Mystery by Marjorie Eccles

The Firebird’s Feather: A Late Victorian Mystery.  Marjorie Eccles. Severn House Publishers. December 2014. 224 pp. hbk and eBook. ISBN #: 9780727884268.

Eighteen year-old Kitty Challoner is getting ready to come out to upper class society in 1911 London, England.  It’s a vibrant time and place in which to be alive as the London world awaits a new world, women are fighting for the right to vote – a fiercely controversial debate, and politicians are vying for power while decrying the foreign elements taking violent action in the streets of London.  The fear of Bolsheviks is huge as Communism begins to form and spread throughout the world! 

In the midst of this chaotic atmosphere, Kitty’s mother, Lydia, goes out one day with her male companion and is killed by a gunshot wound while riding through Hyde Park.  Kitty is about to enter an investigative stage of her life that will shed her of all innocence and at the same time reveal the forces of power prevailing in post-Victorian London society.

At first the police are suspicious about Lydia’s husband but that quickly changes to their belief that something about her Russian roots is connected to the Bolshevist campaign of violence.  Lydia was fiercely faithful to her Russian roots but what does her death have to do with a missing gun, a real and fake Russian icon with significant mysterious meaning, the formation of Bolshevist newspapers with their inflammatory essays and reports, the life behind her well-behaved male companion, and half of a sketch of a wolf found instead a box decorated with the highly symbolic firebird?

Marjorie Eccles is a wonderful mystery writer who knows exactly where to tone down and ramp up the exhilarating facts and circumstances around this mysterious crime.  The novel gives ample background and ambiance to the prevailing historical realities in London news and in the connection to Russian exiles now residents in England.  The Firebird’s Feather is excellent mystery fiction that twists and turns in unpredictable but exciting ways.  Every page is a leap forward in being educated in history’s social, political and criminal world in London, England and Russia!  Great, short read that this reviewer recommends as a terrific novel!

Friday, November 28, 2014

The Tudor Vendetta: A Novel (The Elizabeth I Spymaster Chronicles) by C. W. Gortner.

The Tudor Vendetta: A Novel (The Elizabeth I Spymaster Chronicles).  C. W. Gortner. St. Martin’s Griffin. October 2014. 304 pp.  ISBN#: 9780312658588.

Elizabeth I is now Queen of England and requests the presence of Brendan Prescott.  Brendan is reluctant to return to London because he lied to the woman he loves, Kate, in order to save the life of Elizabeth.  He also knows he will again be facing the extreme animosity of his old nemesis, Lord Robert Dudley, now serving the Queen and perhaps her lover as well.  With the usual barbs and violent encounters, Brendan and Dudley rise to the bait but are quickly silenced by the will of the Queen.  Elizabeth has a job for Brendan, to investigate the disappearance of her lady’s maid, Lady Parry, after she left for her family home in Yorkshire.  One is left wondering why Lord Cecil and Dudley are against Brendan pursuing this quest, but Brendan serves the Queen not only out of loyal service but also as a secret relative of the royal family.  Something is definitely being left unsaid.

From the very first day of his arrival at Yorkshire, Brendan, with Shelton, the man who raised him, meet only secrecy and coldness to the point of rudeness.  To say more would be a spoiler that would ruin a tense, vibrant adventure and mystery. For some very old enemies of Brendan are involved in the disappearance of Lady Parry and the presence of a very young boy Raff  is the central key to a series of lies, attempted murders and actual murders.  Behind it all lies the hate behind the Papists who were so severely persecuted and killed at one time under the rule of Elizabeth’s father, Henry VIII.  Elizabeth herself may be Queen but understands that her security is far from guaranteed as she has as many enemies as she has friends.

Having read the previous Spymaster Chronicles novels, this reviewer states that The Tudor Vendetta  is definitely the best novel in the series.  The author’s  crafting of a complex plot/conflict flows more easily herein and the reader will absolutely be unable to predict how this search for Lady Parry will end and who is behind her disappearance.  Brendan is not only courageous but also displays sensitivities toward those he has hurt.  He learns quickly not to trust even those who claim to be his friends.  For that is the nature of Elizabeth’s court; mistrust rules and one is loyal to royalty as long and only as long as that ruler remains head of State.

The Tudor Vendetta is credible, exciting historical fiction that this reviewer highly recommends!

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Tiger Queens: The Women of Genghis Khan by Stephanie Thornton

The Tiger Queens: The Women of Genghis Khan.  Stephanie Thornton. Penguin Group (USA). November 2014. 496 pp.  ISBN#: 9780451417800.

This is the story of four phenomenal women who bore the title “Khatun” for many days filled with unimaginable difficulties and tremendously joyful days!  Charismatic women who were eventually respected by many, they earned their way to that title by initiating actions and support for both friend and foe. 

Borte is the woman who is betrothed to the man who eventually became known as Genghis Khan but must wait many years for him to return to honor his betrothal promise.  In that time she meets Jamuka, the blood brother of Temujin (Genghis’s original name) and the passionate spark that flares between them will be the initial fire that eventually leads to the fulfillment of a devastating prophecy.  Honor indeed is not always rewarded, as future pages prove!  As a slave woman, Borte has to earn the respect of her new tribe’s shaman and her husband’s family.  She does so much better than that and earns the reader’s respect as she is gradually transformed from a woman who can command obedience to a woman and prophet who commands respect and even worship.

Alaqai should have been born a man for as the daughter of Genghis and Borte she would rather be learning spear-throwing, horseback riding and war tactics than playing with doll figures and learning how to sew and cook.  However, she is also very skilled at what she does and so quickly earns the admiration of fellow warriors.  Her victories on the plains of battle bring great joy that doesn’t, however, hide the pain behind her inability to have a child because she is spurned by her husband.  Here as well a gentle soul who loves Alaqai must wait in order to honor his vow of loyalty to his lord.  Treaties are quickly made and just as quickly broken for advantage.  Survival of the fittest is the mantra of the steppes and these feisty, courageous but also cruel men and women. 

Fatima is forced to watch as her precious Persian homeland is burned to the ground, its men and women tortured and killed or carried away in slavery.   She vows revenge on Alaqai who was the head of the forces responsible for the death of Fatima’s husband and child.  However, Torogene, the great Khan’s sister, takes a liking to Fatima and claims her as a slave.  Over time both women will truly experience the truth of what loyalty means even when complete agreement is impossible to attain. Both will also experience shocking consequences as a result of their avowed faithfulness to each other.

Finally, Sorkhokhtani is truly the peacemaker of all of these women.  Her gentle, graceful approach in many ways fools those who fail to perceive her acute perception.  When the great Khan died, his kingdom began its slow descent into destruction by the stupidity and drunkenness of his sons.  While the great Khan was humble and proud in all the correct ways, his sons allow their power to distort their thinking into perverse cruelty, inaction and self-aggrandizing battles.  Now Sorkhokhtani plots to have her sons, Mongke and Kublai, eventually respectively assume the role of “Great Khan.”

This is a thoroughly thrilling novel that sits right up there at the top with Conn Iggulden and Alex Rutherford’s account of Genghis Khan and his sons’ rivalry for his position.  The summary above belies the power and beauty in the descriptions on page after page of this mesmerizing story, revealing the glory of female woman in Mongolia and beyond. The plot seems simple; yet the characterization of each of these four dynamic woman is unique, setting the stage for history to unfold as it will (or won’t) and a constant thrill to follow.   The reader gets to share the starkly ugly and stunningly beautiful characters and environment around each lady.  History indeed comes alive in exciting, intriguing ways herein – relish every page as this reviewer did – this is MUST historical fiction reading!

What the Lady Wants: A Novel of Marshall Field and the Gilded Age by Renee Rosen

What the Lady Wants: A Novel of Marshall Field and the Gilded Age.  Renee Rosen. Penguin Group (USA). November 2014. 448 pp.  ISBN#: 9780451466716.

1871 Chicago – Delia Spencer is attending a ball and is fascinated by the men she sees examining the ladies, that is until she meets Marshall Field.  He’s an older man who exhibits all the graceful, polite but kind traits that attract an impressionable young lady just stepping out into the finest of society.  Delia is a very intelligent lady when it comes to appreciating the finest of fashions in clothes, interior decoration in any home, architecture, art, and more.  But all of that comes to a screeching halt when the same night as the ball the Great Fire of Chicago breaks out.  Delia, her family, and all of the City of Chicago are doing the best they can to stay ahead of the fire until they manage to get far from the City. It’s not just a fire – it’s a disaster that destroys all the major businesses of Delia’s family’s friends and acquaintances. It will be rebuilt.  The process symbolizes the upcoming life Delia and Marshall will share until 1906.

No, they will not marry yet for Marshall is married to Nannie, a hypochondriac woman whose only consolation is her laudanum that makes her even sicker and furiously jealous as well.  For it’s clear that Marshall and Delia share a spark that will grow into a friendship and later passionate love, a relationship few spouses ever achieve.  Marshall is just as married to his work and the reader will be fascinated as he rebuilds his lost business, beginning on the day after the fire.  He will argue with his partner for many years until Delia encourages him to strike out on his own.  She becomes pivotal in helping him to choose styles and designs for everything in his store, from clothing to jewelry to home products and more.  Later she will help him create a home away from home for all the ladies who live in and visit Chicago.  These pages are absolutely riveting and delightful, sure to be loved by anyone with a flair for beauty in one’s personal appearance or home.  Nothing, I repeat, nothing is left out or repeated; utterly spectacular!

Delia marries a man who has inherited money but has little else that he loves, other than his horses that he raises.  Arthur has a penchant that is totally unacceptable in the late 1800s; he and Delia will come to an agreement but one that is never wholly acceptable to either of them, one that will bring as much tragedy as it does satisfaction. Marshall is there for her through many shocking scenes that the reader will never forget.  His debacle with workers demonstrating and fighting for better pay, rights and other benefits is depicted with all of its passionate conflict and tension that is most likely precisely as it was in the famous Haymarket riots.

What the Lady Wants… is superb historical fiction that this reviewer loved and was so disappointed when it ended.  It has everything within it, fashion, mystery, crime, labor disputes, social refinement and snobbery, family support and opposition, tragedy and stunning success.  A MUST read and guaranteed to be a best seller!  A KEEPER!!! Exquisitely written, Renee Rosen!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

404 by J. G. Sandom

404.  J. G. Sandom. Cornucopia Press.  November 2014. 331 pp. paperback and e-book. ISBN #: 9780985695484.

John Decker, a cryptanalyst forensic examiner, is working at the National Counter-Terrorism Center when some violent, strange occurrences begin throughout America.  Right before they begin, a number of crimes happen where the perpetrator is caught on camera and to Decker looks like his old Arab nemesis who was thought to be dead, El Aqrab.  Decker and his family soon become the target and indeed messages seem to be luring Decker into danger and at the same time are compelling him to discovery the mystery behind Aqrab’s reappearance. 

Two planes collide; a nuclear reactor has a disastrous shutdown of its most protective technology; the government’s defense system is easily hacked, and more disasters affecting thousands of Americans lead this country to the brink of physical, political and financial disaster. 

Decker is drawn to receive the help of a Chinese computer expert, Xin Liu (known to all as Lulu).  At the same time Decker’s career is in jeopardy as it is beginning to look like there’s a mole in his department and it looks like it’s him.  This is another mystery as there is a period of his life involving his first encounter with Aqrab when something happened to him that he doesn’t remember.  He actually wonders if he’s going mad.  Lulu helps him to pursue the answers to his multiple questions as his personal life parallels the national disasters growing larger and larger by the minute!  Lulu’s a funky, unpredictable character, is an evolving wonder of a character who easily matches the skills of any expert on computers and martial arts as well!

This novel addresses the well-known, but little understood by the average person, issues of cyber-hacking and cyber-terrorism.  For those who are computer buffs, you’ll be in your glory as there are explanations galore about the technology of hacking and how the Internet keeps systems flowing or breaking throughout the world.  For those not as computer savvy as the experts, there’s enough riveting action and nail-biting intensity with each new level added to the complex plot to keep you flipping the pages and reading faster than you can imagine!

This reviewer has been reviewing J. G. Sandom’s novels over the years and must say this is his BEST story yet.  The most harrowing part of it all is that it’s REAL and we may be closer to this story’s coming to pass than we ever imagined!  It’s not a game at all!  404 is a best-selling crime thriller that is sure to please any reader who loves a great story with layers of depth and thrills.  It would also make one heck of a movie!  Congratulations, J. G. Sandom!  404 is a gem of a read!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Resting Place: A Graveside Diary by Pamela Little

The Resting Place: A Graveside Diary.  Pamela Little. Soul Custody Press. November 2014. 143 pp.  ISBN#: 9780990784807.

Pamela Little wrote this memoir to put her life in perspective.  Since she was young and suffered from bipolar disease, as well as suffering an abusive trauma in her youth, she’s had an obsession with death.  She’s not afraid of it but finds herself drawn to it.  She therefore decides to begin a journal which she mainly writes only when visiting a cemetery, where she has bought her own plot which she plans to share only with her mother someday.  Initially, it’s the only place she truly feels at peace!

Don’t write off Pamela’s background, for this memoir is replete with gems about living that few people take the time to ponder and appreciate!

A great deal of the account takes place as the author attempts to write through her chemical changes that put her into either a manic or depressive state, exacerbated with panic attacks.  But it is in those places where she sees what has weakened her relationship with her family and acquaintances and what she could possibly do to strengthen them instead of giving in to the compulsions that turn destructive if acted upon.  One doesn’t have to be bipolar to recognize how normal and prevalent these situations are in every family.

The close relationship she shares about her mother and daughters is what fuels her continuous writing of this journal with the goal of being more obsessed with living than dying.  She does just that.  For example, choosing not to give in to binge eating when in the depressed phase of her illness actually allows her freedom and space to grasp what is bothering her behind the surface manifestation of illness.  Choosing to write one’s obituary frees one to realize an opportunity to actually put into practice what few of us actually do, rather than wait until after a loved one’s death when one writes of words, feelings, and thoughts that were never actually shared with a loved one while alive.

Most of all, this account is about realizing how responsible we each are for our own lives, leaving out the blame game that only serves to distort reality!

Cherishing and loving life as it manifests in people, places and events are what fuel the unique quality of this memoir.  It’s a rare and special gift for any and all readers, one to relish and even share with our own families, friends and acquaintances.  Thank you for sharing this account, Pamela Little!