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!

The Night The Lights Went Out by Karen White

The Night The Lights Went Out.  Karen White. Penguin Publishing Group. April 2017. 416 pp. ISBN #: 9780451488381.

Merilee Talbot Dunlap and her two children are moving to Sweet Apple, Georgia not far from Atlanta.  Merilee is recently divorced and not sure where she wants to settle.  So, she rents a small house behind the home of her landlady, Sugar.  It’s a time of adjustment for all.  Sugar appears to be a tough elderly lady but as the story progresses we find that she has a heart of gold, submerged beneath sarcastic retorts and much grumbling.  For one thing, she’s rough on Merilee’s lack of Southern cooking skills, including how to make real “sweet tea” and make vegetables palatable for children.  Merilee has done fine with her son and daughter and they like Sugar who makes amazing cookies and has a collection of bird books that are an instant hit. 

Now comes the interesting part as soon after Merilee and her children settle into a job and school, respectively, it seems there’s an Internet blogger who knows all about Merilee’s divorce.  That’s a very different blogger from the other blog that points out the humorous side of “Southern” living, and funny it is!

Other characters include a handyman friend of Sugar who volunteers to do all kinds of renovations and house fixing for Merilee and more if she’s willing.  Then there’s Heather, a socialite who controls the charity benefits and school events and artfully takes over every mother’s life, including Merilee.  There’s also Heather’s husband who seems like a regular guy living a very unhappy existence.

No, this isn’t just a snarky Southern satire, although it certainly seems so!  The story progresses as Sugar and Merilee get closer and share the tragedies of their lives.  Just as the bond grows into a beautiful friendship, chaos looms large!  The very end of the novel jumps into a murder, an attempted murder and a mystery revealed that one could never have imagined when first starting this story!

Karen White continues to defy attempts to stereotype her writing.  That’s the beauty of her skills.  Something to appeal to mystery, romance, comedy, and adventure fill each of her novels, something to draw old and new readers alike for a pleasurable experience.

Monday, April 10, 2017

By Any Name by Cynthia Voigt

By Any Name. Cynthia Voigt. Diversion Publishing. April 2017. 296 pp. ISBN #: 9781682303092.

Rida is an orphan who meets Spencer while she is serving in the USO during WWII and he is serving as a naval officer.  They meet at an Officer’s Club Dance.  Rida loves to dance and have a good time.  She is an orphan from California and has no idea of her origins but doesn’t really care. Actually she considers her unknown status as a mandate to speak her mind at all times and to defy what other see as necessary conventions of behavior.  Spencer has one thing on his mind, to divert his constant worry about being killed in this nasty, crazy war.  Rida totally diverts his paranoia and rivets his attention on her startling nature.  This works well and promises for some audacious moments, especially when she informs him she is engaged to four other men.  She admits they all know about each other and don’t mind at all.  Spencer thinks, as a young man of the gentle, upper class Boston aristocracy, that he must make Rida realize the error and danger of her ways.  Of course, he fails miserably and decides the only way to protect her is to marry her.  Theirs is a love affair that truly understands and accepts each other’s nature, his of academic propensities and hers of practical truth and planning for the future.

This then is a unique novel of two characters who complement each other perfectly but who are hardly understood by his Hargrove relatives.  The story is told from the narrative voice of Rida or Mumma (as she is called by all) who supports her husband through his obtaining a Ph.D. in classics and starts her own realty business.  But the gripping essence of Mumma’s story is the way she shocks Spencer’s family and the acquaintances of her daughters with her refreshing truthfulness and unwillingness to conform to dress and social conversation. 

Numerous funny scenes fill these pages in which Mumma shocks all and yet also can perfectly read people’s false veneer to who they are truly are.  In one particular scene, she intuits that a certain teacher is taking advantage of her daughter and sets about eliminating that person before damage can be done. 

Even the end of the novel is mesmerizing as we see how Mumma handles her husband’s life and death and then plans the immediate days after her own death.  The reader knows that her personality will be the subject of days and days of thoughts and conversations among her daughters as they try to figure out just who she was and remain just as befuddled and mournful of her dynamic, astonishing presence!

Cynthia Voigt’s foray into contemporary adult fiction is delightfully well-crafted.  The plot is simple but the characterization is the central focus that defies any stereotypical pattern.  Nicely done, indeed, Cynthia Voigt!!!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

My Last Lament: A Novel by James William Brown

My Last Lament: A Novel.  James William Brown. Penguin Publishing Group. April 2017. 352 pp. ISBN #: 9780399583414.

Aliki is a young girl when she sees her father shot during WWII; because of this tragedy she is unable to speak for years.  The only noise she can make is that of a Greek lamenter.  This art is more than just wailing and involves putting on the shoes of the dead person and uttering the dirge poems that rise from that person’s ghostly presence.  It might seem to be a bit of far-fetched nonsense but in this story it’s a vibrant part of Greek culture.   Thereafter, Aliki is taken in by a neighbor, Chrysoula and her son Takis, who become main characters in this tale.

Takis is what we now called mentally challenged.  He becomes irate when anyone pays too much attention to Aliki and then commits horrific acts.  As the war continues, German soldiers come into their Greek town and take over homes, food, and everything Greek.  Chrysoula takes a great risk by hiding two Jews, Sophia and Stelios.  Stelios is a character possessing great culture.  He claims that The Iliad is the only novel one might read as it possesses everything one needs in life.  Aliki and Stelios fall in love. There is a wonderful segment in the story where Stelios teaches his protectors everything there is to know about the art of shadow puppetry.  Stelios teaches them how to write these plays, create the appropriate puppets for each story and then teaches them to act out each drama.  This fills many hours that otherwise would have been dwelt on hunger and fear of exposure. However, their town is about to suffer a terrible blow when the Germans discover Stelios hiding. 

The family escapes and the remainder of the story is about their journey to Crete and the establishment of shadow puppetry performances.  Takis is accused of exposing the family and causing much destruction.  However, Aliki is bound to him and feels responsible for protecting him as his family once took her in.  The truth about each horrific event they experience eventually will come out, shocking the reader and making this an unforgettable story.  Despite the repetitive and disorganized quality of some pages, this is a novel reflecting what average, ordinary Greek and Cretan citizens suffered during and after the terror of the Second World War!  Interesting addition to war and historical fiction!

Where the Dead Lie: A Sebastian St. Cyr Novel #12 by C. S. Harris

Where The Dead Lie: A Sebastian St. Cyr Novel #12. C. S. Harris. Penguin Publishing Group. April 2017. 352 pp. ISBN #: 9780451471192.

It’s 1813 and the tastes of some of the upper class in London, England tend to the propensities of the depraved.  When a young, 15-year-old boy is found dead, a rudimentary investigation finds he has been beaten, tortured, raped and then strangled by his killer.  It also turns out that his younger sister is missing, and Viscount Devlin, or Sebastian St. Cyr, is absolutely horrified.  Viscount Devlin is newly married to Honor and they have a child who is going through a stormy teething period.  However, the deep love and contentment Sebastian feels for them make him even more horrified about the fact that so many children, including this latest murder of Benji Thatcher, have been disappearing.  Sebastian knows that this is so because they are poor and of no concern to any of the middle or upper class.  However, Sebastian also knows he and others like him are determined to stop this child trafficking depleting London of its youth.

As Sebastian begins to investigate, he finds one of his relatives engaged to marry someone of a dubious reputation regarding children or teens. The story is horrifying but because the perpetrators are upper class and the victims are poorer than poor their outcome is ignored. 

An interesting subplot provides more fuel for riveting interest, that which concerns Sebastian’s true origins.  The reader feels compelled to pay attention to details about Sebastian’s background, but the truth of the matter defies one’s best efforts at exploring and predicting the truth.

Another interesting side line involves the high trade of pornographic works of literature, the most famous being by the Marquis de Sade of ill repute.  These books are bound in beautiful cover and considered works of art, while the producers of such works ignore the sordid application that such education leads to eventually.

The investigation behind this mystery goes forward in spite of the denial of many characters and eventually threatens the life of  many prime characters!

All in all, this is a sordid story that enables the lives of many poor children to be saved.   Sebastian is clever, practical and yet also idealistic, believing he can and does make a difference in this old mystery!  Nicely crafted, C. S. Harris!

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Sub Rosa: The O.S.S and American Espionage by Stewart Alsop and Thomas Braden

Sub Rosa: The O.S.S. and American Espionage. Stewart Alsop and Thomas Braden. Open Road Media. June 2016. 237 pp. ISBN #: 9781480446014.

The O.S.S. was the spy agency that enabled many of the victories in WWII in Europe and the Far East.  This is the story of how the institution began, its creation by William J. Donovan, its policies and practices.  Learning from the British, Donovan realized what was needed and set about picking prime candidates to supervise the practices of resistance, find and communicate information about planned attacks, and spread propaganda to frequently spread false information that would cause the Germans and Japanese to change their plans of attack.  

A lively account of a certain spy, “Billy,” provides the reader with the mystery behind each mission.  Every spy had certain reasons for his or her total dedication to the cause and Billy was no different.  Without giving away the entire story, suffice to say that at certain times, leaders were uncertain as to whether Billy spied on the right side or even was a double agent.  Communication often faltered or was delayed because of unforeseen circumstances and this was the case with Billy who manages to complete his job and return unscathed and confident, leaving his superiors with an increased understanding about all the obstacles that could and did arise in each delicate circumstance. 

We read about how many of these men and women lost their lives and the realization is stark in learning about the relentless and formidable dangers ever-present for those who succeeded and failed.  The latter are honored as much as those who succeeded.

Many more Operations are described and the OSS was placed under the Army but the records of these notable operations was kept and has provided much material for those carry out similar roles in different conflicts and wars.  More notes are added such as the fact that the information from OSS – 60 per cent to be precise – enabled the eventual invasion of Southern France that led to the end of the war.  The reality is that OSS members were deeply tied to the military events that changed the course of what might have been a German and Japanese takeover of the world.  This weapon of warfare, OSS, is still being evaluated and appreciated in diverse ways. 

Stewart Alsop and Thomas Baden have described a wartime group that was more than worth the money spent, recounted actions that were worthy of decoration but more often were silently allowed to pass into the annals of history but are now being noted for their intelligence in both peace and war.  Nicely done and recommended reading!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

A Dozen Truths: 12 Works of Fiction by Editors Lou Aronica and Aaron Brown

A Dozen Truths: 12 Works of Fiction. Lou Aronica (editor) and Aaron Brown (editor). The Story Plant. March 2017. 230 pp. ISBN #: 9781611882513.

Truth is redeeming but may not always lead a person where he or she imagined.  The short stories within these pages, three of which won first short story awards, deal with perceptions of reality that startle the reader.  The collection begins with “Join” by Eric Andersson in which a young man’s grief over his pet which becomes obsessive voices in his head that haunt his days and nights, increasing on an evening that should have been a break from his seclusion to join his long-neglected friends.  The end of the story has a shockingly eerie, Ray Bradbury quality that is unforgettable.  In Marcia Gloster’s “Losing Will,” a young woman knows her boss is a “lady’s man” who hits on every woman who works for him only this is not just a love ‘em and lose ‘em scenario; payback is probable and darn uncomfortable (tongue in cheek). 

“Howard and Pablo” by Earl Javorsky pulls two of the most incomparable characters together – Howard Hughes and Pablo Casals.  Hughes is rich enough to get whatever he wants and he wants the passionate music of Casals, but neither is ready for what emerges from the initial demand.  In “Ollie” by Carmen Siegers, what gives that a child is more upset about the cat who has disappeared than the fact that the parents announce they are getting divorced?

My favorite story, “Lost” by Steven Manchester, is from the novel Ashes about two estranged brothers who travel together on a long trip and truly get to know each other in ways they never knew.  It’s funny, poignant and life-changing!

Many of these stories seem to be about “loss,” losing which is part of every life, but often being of our own making rather than arbitrary events.  It’s about affecting events rather than only being a victim of events.  This reviewer can truly say that all of these writers have great skill.  The reader is also provided with introductory sections to each story where one reads the biography, related works and thoughts about the thoughts behind each story.

Great contemporary fiction that this reviewer highly recommends!