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!

Thursday, March 14, 2019

American Princess: A Novel of First Daughter Alice Roosevelt


American Princess: A Novel of First Daughter Alice Roosevelt. Stephanie Marie Thornton. Penguin Publishing Group.  March 2019; hb and eBook, 448 pp.; ISBN: 9780451490902.


Alice Roosevelt, the first daughter of President Teddy Roosevelt, describes her story as a “precious lifetime of memories, mistakes, and triumphs…valiantly and strenuously lived.” Alice’s words are an apt description for this vivacious, saucy, iconoclastic, intelligent, and romantic woman who became as famous as her father.

Alice’s childhood was probably what we called normal but was filled with sadness as her biological mother had died a few days after her birth and the Roosevelt family were not known for expressing effusive feelings.  All Alice wanted was her father and stepmother’s love and approval which never seemed to appear.  Later, Alice would realize why.

Teddy Roosevelt again appears as a man who loved living life on the edge (like his daughter) and never sat still.  Thoroughly entrenched in the domestic and foreign policies and strategies of his time, he obtains the love of Americans and becomes their President, taking up their causes and justice with fierce energy and determination.  Alice, however, felt “provincial” and even compares herself to her cousin, Eleanor; a sense of rivalry between the cousins lasts for years.  Eleanor is depicted not only as a social justice reformer but also as someone whose political actions had irrevocably negative results.  Every page take the reader through the notable moments of American history, including Alice’s role in facilitating a peace treat between Russia and Japan, coping with WWI, the Depression, WWII and the highlights ranging up to 1970.

In her teens and twenties, Alice relishes breaking rules and appalling proper society with her friends Cissy and Maggie, also known as the “Three Graces” but whom Alice called the “Three Hoydens.”  A trip overseas to Asia becomes one of the most memorable events of her life, including a remarkable audience with Chinese Empress Dowager Cixi, who gave Alice her beloved dog, Manchu.  Her relationship with husband Nick Longthorne is deftly presented with its ups and downs, no small wonder when one realizes what kind of family Nick married into. Later, secret romances seem to rule their lives, but pain will eventually make this dynamic couple realize that consequences are not necessarily short-term.

American Princess… is superb, exciting, and skillfully crafted historical fiction that will remain one of the most comprehensive fictional biographies of the Roosevelt family. 

This reviewer was delighted to meet Alice and will never forget her unique, delightful story.  Enjoy a fabulous read!

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The Sins of the Sire - Dark HIghland Passions #1 by Emily Royal


The Sins of the Sire (Dark Highland Passions #1). Emily Royal. Tirgearr Publishing.  March 2019; Kindle mobi, 283 pp.; ASIN: B07N974NW5.

Elyssa De Montford is married to a violent beast!  He delights in fulfilling his lust and his enjoyment of hurting women.  His goal is to obey the rule of Longshanks or Edward I, to conquer the attacking Highlanders who are headed by William Wallace.  Elyssa meanwhile regrets and relishes the memory of freeing her family’s enemy, Tavish MacLean.  Though enemy, she could not ignore the physique and look that elicited lust that demanded to be satisfied!

Now Tavish MacLean has been captured again!  He agonizes on two memories, one that of his sister, Flora, who was raped and murdered by a Lord.  Tavish has promised revenge on that act which figuratively destroyed his family.  His other memory is of his enemy he describes as “an enemy on the field; my captor; torturer; the man who delivered me from death; my comrade in battle and finally my brother.”  Tavis was not destroyed by the latter as his captor used Tavish in battles “to the death” and made money from these conquests.

Later in the tale, Tavish will capture Elyssa.  His task is to punish her family by impregnating her so that her family will be enraged by her carrying a Scottish bastard.  However, the passion between them literally and figuratively becomes unbearable. 

No spoilers here but suffice to say that this is a story full of phenomenal passion and violence.  It seems these elements are the reason for being for all the characters.  Despite their best planning secrets will unfold that seem to rule the day but only a hero like Tavish can meet with determination and well-developed skills.  He’s every woman’s dream of Highlander lust!

Enjoy, fans of true romance fiction!  Emily Royal knows how to present and pace the sensual tension that cyclically flows!