Thursday, November 14, 2019

Bread, Bags & Bullies: Surviving the 80's by Steven Manchester

Bread, Bags & Bullies: Surviving the 80’s. Steven Manchester. Luna Bella Press. November 2019. pb, 208 pp.; ASIN: B07YR894QP.

Those who grew up in the 1980’s are going to love this novel which describes the family of Herbie, Wally and Cockroach, three brothers who loved and tormented each other while growing up.  They grow up in a strict family where the rules are definite although somewhat out of the box of today’s norms. Steven Manchester is uniquely talented to capture the essences of a person (or family’s) strengths and weaknesses that is real and without artifice. It’s funny as well!

They’re definitely addicted to the Atari 2600 games with two joystick controllers with red buttons, paddle controllers and black game cartridges.  They love and hate the Combat or Air Sea Battle.  In moments of quiet they confess their deepest fears to each other.  They never miss TV shows such as Knots Landing, Donny and Marie, Tony Orlando and Dawn, the Lawrence Welk Show with the bubbles and corny music, and the always funny Carol Burnett Show. They’re thrilled with the music of Def Leppard, Pink Floyd, REO Speedwagon and Queen.  They know their family is far from The Brady Bunch TV family.  They also know they are poor but don’t worry too much about it.  Instead, one works as a newspaper delivery boy and others can’t wait their appropriate age to do the same.  They can’t wait for high school with the ability to go to concerts, earn money for a dream car like a Camaro, Pontiac Firebird or Trans Am and drag racing.  They’re obvious fans of the Lakers basketball team over the Celtics.  They’re into Motor Trend and Popular Mechanics magazines with an occasional forced foray into reading novels like To Kill a Mockingbird.  Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is an irresistible movie that feeds their young imaginations.  MTV is starting to get rave reviews as well as numerous Billboard Chart idols.

Daily lessons are frequent but the largest one is to stand strong against bullies.  It’s believed that not facing fear will allow that fear to become a monster in one’s life, and so one of the brothers prepares to face one of his most formidable opponents on the school bus.  Mom and Dad are to be heard and obeyed.  The brothers may fight and rag on each other constantly but they are always there for each other in time of need, including when they have physical or emotional challenges.

Steven Manchester’s latest novel is a delightful look back to an age when families could name their challenges and meet them accordingly with love and toughness where appropriate.  Nicely crafted coming of age story, Steven Manchester!

A Bottle of Rum: A Spider John Mystery by Steven Goble

A Bottle of Rum: A Spider John Mystery. Steven Goble. Seventh Street Books.  November 2019. pb, 264 pp.; ISBN: 9781645060031.

Spider John Rush appears in this third pirate novel by Steven Goble.  Spider has had enough of the dangers of pirating, never knowing whether he will be caught, tortured and/or hung.  He longs to return to Nantucket to live with his wife Em and his son Johnny whom he has not seen since he was a baby.  For now he’s sitting in a tavern with his friend Odin when trouble brews.  The owner of the tavern does little work and it’s his wife who carries the burden.  The night when Spider is having a drink is the one in which the owner of the tavern is murdered.  Spider promises to find the killer or killers.  He just can’t seem to escape trouble wherever he goes. For the knife sticking out of the neck of the tavern owner is the one Spider had made and given to his pirate friend Hob.  So now Spider is determined to find Hob as well as the murderer(s).

Spider and Odin are led down a trail of smugglers and attacking knaves to a madhouse being run by some land-lubbered former pirates.  A young woman challenges them and it is clear she is suffering from some form of madness as she’s totally obsessed with death and torture.  Experiments are being conducted on the patients in the madhouse, ones that frequently wind up in the death of those patients.  Is it from poison, amputations or some other evil?  Hints are later given that the experimenter is trying to locate the “soul” of individuals.  The story will develop to the point where Spider and Odin find Hobs but must make a dangerous escape.  The mystery will be solved but not until Spider and Odin have been treated as spies and traitors, thereby earning multiple attacks and wounds that were just as horrible as what they had suffered when out at sea as pirates.  It’s still a hard and dangerous life they are living but they are now seeking justice and mercy out of compassion and not crime.

Spider is at heart a funny, wise and caring individual whose personality is depicted in a way that immediately engages the reader.  One wonders why there’s a touch of evil and insanity in former pirates but recognizes that there are some good souls among them worthy of admiring and rooting for.  Taverns are not only sources of satisfying drinks but also unexpected but probable fights.

A Bottle of Rum is a fascinating tale that puts a new twist on Spider John and his friends and enemies.  Nicely crafted, Steve Goble!

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Gary Gatlin Reluctant Hero: World War II Trilogy Book 1 by Carl F. Haupt

Gary Gatlin Reluctant Hero: World War II Trilogy Book 1. Carl F Haupt. Dudley Court Press. November 2019. pb, 318 pp.; ISBN: 9781940013572.

Those Gary Catlin begins his life as the son of a Utah farmer, in a family that grows and sells product fruit.  Upon reaching his teen years, he accompanies his father to learn more about how to grow better apples.  During this time he learns more about agriculture, learns to fluently speak and write Japanese and meets a young Japanese-American woman for whom he has feelings but is unable to pursue because of other business agenda he wants to master before making a family commitment.

This is the story of his wild sea journey to Formosa where he hopes to learn more about modern apple pruning techniques.  During this time he is kidnapped by Formosan brigands, saves one of them from death, becomes their friend and then he is rescued from the Japanese soldiers who believe he is a spy.  On that escape he escapes death several times and actually is responsible for bombing a Japanese ship, a formidable task given the onset of WWII between America and Japan as well as Germany.  He meets several British spies during this time, all quietly carrying out their service. 

The essence of this book is about dedication and commitment no matter how difficult the civilian or military task to which one is assigned.  Gary Catlin is an honest man of integrity who gives his all to whatever he does and moves beyond that mode to help those who are unjustly persecuted and are suffering.  The author depicts a man whose heroism is in living true to decent human values.  In the course of these scenes, Gary makes dear friends for life and dramatically changes the world both in America and overseas.  This reviewer found this novel to be adventurous, mysterious, dangerous and real; I think readers will join me in looking forward to further books in this planned trilogy.

Finely crafted, Carl F. Haupt.  Highly recommended reading!

Firewall: An Emma Streat Mystery by Eugenia Lovett West

Firewall: An Emma Streat Mystery. Eugenia Lovett West. Spark Press.  November 2019. pb, 352 pp.; ISBN: 9781684630103.

Emma Streat is no stranger to mysteries and solving international and domestic crime.  Her husband was killed in the first case she later got involved in.  Now the threat is a bunch of criminals involved in international cyberterrorism.  This story begins when her elderly godmother is blackmailed, gives in to the demand but then sets out to find who is the blackmailer. She may be elderly but she’s a feisty lady who is no slouch and Emma shares many of the same attitudes and determination!

Her involvement will force Emma to bond with an ex-lover and other secret agents.  She will be compelled to travel to France, Italy, Ireland and Geneva, Switzerland.  In each place, more attempts at kidnapping will occur, some with horrendous attacks causing multiple deaths.  The flair of each character involves twists and turns that are unexpected.  Criminals may be multiple smart people but there are always miniscule mistakes they did not foresee which expose them to capture.

The bottom line of this mystery concerns multiple attempts to bribe wealthy individuals followed by the laundering of criminal monies.  All of this costs big money that must be moved around by other criminal types and the criminal plot just keep growing more convoluted and complex, with Emma moving forward on her best instincts, both with and without legal protection. Violence and death will occur to many involved, both planned and accidental.  She’s obviously a woman who thrives on following her instincts and love for adventure.  Her children are in college and now she has taken up what seems to be a new career, being a sleuth who’s very good at listening to people, observing them and following her gut instincts in a process that is breath-taking and nerve-wracking, a double whammy package that keeps the reader reading rapidly, flipping the pages and wanting both a solution and yet also not wanting it all to end.

Ms. West has remarkable talent and skills to make this a nail-biting, satisfying international mystery.  Readers are guaranteed to remember this read and to want more of the same in the near future!

Flying Alone: A Memoir by Beth Ruggerio York

Flying Alone: A Memoir. Beth Ruggerio York. FSB Associates. December 2019. pb, 246 pp.; ISBN: 978173399609.

Once flying got into Beth Ruggerio’s blood as a teen, she was totally hooked.  At first she was sidelined with a brutal diagnosis of multiple sclerosis.  But with medication she was able to make a plan to get into flying.  It wasn’t to be through the Navy training she had initially planned but she decided to would take lessons and earn and licenses through the hours she put in flying and the tests she would have to take along the way.  This is as much an adventure story as it is a memoir for Beth’s way was far from easy and fraught with numerous examples of dangerous events which became life or death challenges to overcome.

Beth finds a flying instructor who also becomes her boyfriend.  However, as Beth puts it, Flying is number one for Steve and everything else comes after that.  Steve is a great instructor but is not too beg on building up a person’s ego. He pushes her as hard as he does himself.  But she learns to handle every difficulty, even to the point where it begins to impair her mental health.  She flies in poor visibility, in storms, with mechanical plane problems and more.  She also doesn’t work for the employers who place employees’ needs and well-being on a priority list.  She even works for a company that is flying dangerous material and newspapers that top over the weight limit.  While she is doing all this, some of the friends and acquaintances she has met die in brutal accidents that should never have happened.

Eventually Beth winds up in counseling and taking anti-depression medication and realizes she will die if this pattern continues. She therefore works her way into commercial pilot work and then returns to school to do Chinese translation work.  Her story is riveting, harrowing and a whole message of wisdom and caution about the choices one makes for achieving one’s dreams.  The costs may be larger than the dream.  Interestingly, the challenges are also about personal victories that shape an individual with or without the assistance of others.  There are also some scenes that point out the changes in the airline industry from male to female employees.  All in all, this is a fascinating memoir full of unrelenting tension, insecurity and triumphs that will leave readers thinking and asking questions about choices and decisions.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Love is Blind: The Rapture of Brodie Moncur by William Boyd

Love is Blind: The Rapture of Brodie Moncur. William Boyd. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.  October 2019. pb, 384 pp.; ISBN: 9780525655268.

Falling in love is so much more than just physical lust.  Brodie Moncur becomes a highly killed and popular piano tuner.  His past is fraught with the unexplained hatred by his father who considers Brodie a blackguard and many other curse words.  But due to the financial support of a beloved neighbor, Brodie is able to get a decent education and a successful job with a company that produces Channon pianos. 

For now, Brodie is tuning the piano of a performer Kilbarron and accompanying him on his tour of performances.  Kilbarron is known as “the Irish Liszt.”  His partner is Lida or Lika Blum and Brodie falls completely in love with her on their first meeting.  This is a passion that is beyond words and it’s not long before she responds in the same way.  So grows Brodie’s reliance on the family for employment and on his soaring passion for Lika. 

Brodie in the middle of his soaring success suffers a frightening consumption attack which will haunt him for the rest of his life and force him to take convalescent breaks to restore his health to a semblance of normalcy.  Eventually he is forced out of the Channon company but finds another concert pianist to accompany on tours.  During these years Brodie and Lika meet in secret at hotels and elsewhere throughout Europe.  So proceeds the path of “the cuckold, the lover and the mistress” although there is a surprise later added about these relationships.

The title of the novel refers to Lika’s statement that Brodie’s idea of love is blind, that he only sees the good in her and not the negative.  But isn’t that frequently so in all love relationships?  They will eventually be separated because of a secret fact unknown to Brodie but his reflections and descriptions of their love and union are so realistic and the European scenes so beautifully described that the reader feels a part of the whole story, including the evils trying to destroy Brodie’s success. 

The life of Brodie Moncur is indeed a rapture despite all the conflicts that beset him.  This is a lovely historical work of fiction that truly reveals the beauty of the late 19th and early 20th Century Europe and two of its characters who parallel that beauty and passion! Remarkable and realistic story!

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

The Art of Theft: Lady Sherlock #4 by Sherry Thomas

The Art of Theft: Lady Sherlock #4. Sherry Thomas. Penguin Publishing Group. Copyright 2019. Pb. 304 pp.; ISBN: 9780451492470

Lady Charlotte, a/k/a Lady Sherlock, has a new mystery to solve which involves adventure and romance.  A Maharani from India visits Lady Charlotte and at first decides she will not allow Lady Charlotte to help her because the Indian royalty does not believe Sherlock exists.  Over a brief time, however, after the visits of Lord  Ingram (who yearns for Charlotte as a lover) and Mr. Marbleton, who wants to court Livia, Livia’s sister, the plot is revealed.  It turns out the Maharani has a weak son who rules but has made a serious mistake that if revealed could make them lose the support of the ruling British. 

The questions are many.  What written secrets are hidden in the back of a painting about to be auctioned and perhaps sold at a ball being held in Paris, France.  The Maharani’s son had contacts with Prussia in which the latter promised to militarily help against the British.  But what’s on the papers is in code.  Her son is now in ill health due to this international communication gone nowhere and these paper machinations may be very dangerous if recovered by the wrong people.

Nevertheless, Lady Charlotte, with the help of Lord Ingram, Mr. Marbleton, and Livia set out to recover the papers.  This involves learning more about the price of art, those who attend the ball and will auction after much eating and drinking.  Does such partying increase the value and worth of famous and valuable paintings? 

Of course, danger lurks in their pursuit.  Lord Ingram and Mr. Marbleton are almost drowned in the grounds of the site of the castle where the ball will be held.  Meanwhile, romantic ideas increase as the characters discover what their intended lovers are really like in peaceful and chaotic times. It all proceeds even to the very cliff-hanger style ending which leaves the reader anxious to read more of this group’s daring adventures and hope that these romantic plans will become serious.  For those who love a good mystery with lots of riddles and threats, this is your next read. Although this is the fourth novel in a series, it’s also an enticing stand-alone novel. Nicely crafted, indeed, Sherry Thomas!  More please!