Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Little Bride - A Novel by Anna Solomon

The Little Bride: A Novel. Anna Solomon. Penguin Group (USA). September 2011. 320 pp. paperback. ISBN #: 9781594485350.

Minna Losk has experienced much suffering by the time she's 16 years old. Her mother abandoned her father and her, and her father lives a tortured life between forgetting and memories that affect Minna until she lives her entire life surviving loss. Things are not much better after her father dies and she is shipped off to relatives and then a family who present as haunting, dysfunctional, and even mentally ill people. Her job is to be a serving girl. But lest one judge too quickly, these are Jewish people who live through the late 1800s pogroms in Odessa and other Russian towns. Waiting to be brutally attacked day after day after day could stretch any one's sanity to the limit!

Then Minna has the opportunity to become an American bride to an unknown man South Dakota. The journey overseas to her new home is fraught with watching people die from seasickness and starvation, with additional violent scenes to scar even the toughest character. It turns out she is about to marry into a home where the first wife has also abandoned the family, finding the wild West far too much for her grand ideas of living in America. Max's two sons, Sam and Jacob, believe Minna can never understand their past life. Their relationship is odd as they are closer in age to Minna and Max is twice her age and a religious Jew whose family believed he was going to become a famous Rabbi someday!

Minna typifies the harsh brutal life of a farmer's wife meant to help eke out a living on unyielding land, with no money to put into bettering a farm that is really not a farm. Suddenly a relationship develops between Minna and one of the sons, and secrets begin to be revealed.

While the plot seems fairly straight and even simplistic or stereotypical, there is nothing of that because of the way in which Anna Solomon takes the reader into Minna's mind, spinning stark and literate reflections with a tortured reality that defies one's idea of how much can be endurable. The Little Bride is a highly literate, uniquely lyrical account about the Jewish immigrant experience in a harsh American frontier that respects no gender, culture, or class. Remarkable novel!

Fallen by Traci L. Slatton

Fallen. Traci L. Slatton. Telemachus Press, LLC. July 2011. 240 pp. paperback. ISBN #: 9781935670896.

The world is coming to an end from the mists, phenomena that eat through metals and flesh, leaving behind a sand-like, formless substance. One woman, however, has survived and with her daughter now travels with seven children. They arrive at a camp led by a mysterious, tough guy named Arthur who has created a safe camp and community where the mists cannot attack, but that does not mean they are safe by any means!

For Arthur possesses the ability to sense when the mists are approaching and is able to raise his arms and make the mists disperse permanently. So why is he is so hard and what secrets does he possess about the mists that he will share with no one. Emma makes a very quick agreement with Arthur in order to ensure the safety of her young charges, but she's clear that means no commitment. Arthur wants that contract to mean she will obey him no matter what, and therein the sparks begin to fly.

Emma lives to love her kids, several of whom have very specific and unusual psychic powers, a reality that seems to be tied to the presence of the devastating mists but one that saves their lives more than once. Arthur and the community members have other known and unknown enemies who can be just as lethal as the power bent on eradicating humanity and even the earth. Another female community has several members with their own gifts and they know something about Arthur that they keep telling her to ask him about; this part of the novel occurs with some annoying frequency but does add to the mystery of it all.

The remainder of the novel concerns the ultimate confrontation between rogue riders, Arthur's former friend and now enemy, Alexei, and some conflicts based on so-called Tesla technology. Science can be a very dangerous subject! Ultimately, a surprising conclusion leaves the reader breathless and yet anticipating a return to the core personal and communal conflicts and chaos in another follow-up novel.

The reader is forced to consider previously stable definitions of time, obedience, psychic powers, science, and most importantly, love. Powers exist, perhaps, that enhance long-ignored mental skills but is the power of memory too strong to allow for new ways of relating and the freedom to explore same without guilt and ignoring the instinctive inclinations of the heart?

Many, many questions arise as one reads this story that defies what can be falsely read as a simplistic story/plot. Traci L. Slatton is a writer to watch closely, including in whatever sequels follow this unique, well-written sci-fi novel!

Promissory Payback by Laurel Dewey

Promissory Payback. Laurel Dewey. The Story Plant. August 2011. 80 pp. paperback. ISBN #: 9781611880076.

Detective Jane Perry is a no-nonsense, gritty investigator who believes a loaded gun is what keeps you both flexible and safe. However, the victim she is about to witness will make her come close to losing her latest meal. Carolyn Handel is a 62 year-old woman found with the word "karma is a b--ch" across her back and her mouth stuffed with a strip of paper in her mouth with the words "Promissory Note" on it, along with a chair clearly placed to be facing the unfortunate but obviously fearful victim. Not pretty at all!

It seems that Carolyn was in the habit of losing people's money, in the recent past several well-meaning friends who had no idea they were being taken in by a scam. But who could it be among the people Detective Perry begins and continues to interrogate as potential perpetrators of this horrific murder? Usually one can predict "who done it" within a relatively short period of time, but this is not the case at all.

Laurel Dewey has spun a short but potent mystery thriller that gradually reveals startling and unsuspected clues evolving into quite a surprising solution that will amaze readers. The perfect crime rarely exists. Here, however, it comes close only because of the links missed behind the planned end of Ms. Handel but quickly ascertained by the sharp, quick-thinking detective.

Very nicely and cleverly done, Ms. Dewey!!!