Sunday, December 30, 2012

Come In and Cover Me by Gin Phillips

Come In and Cover Me. Gin Phillips. Penguin Group (USA) Inc. December 2012. 352 pp. ISBN #: 9781594486487.

"I have to believe the pieces can fit together...We owe them that, to tell the truth about them," said archaeologist Ren Taylor.  She and Silas Cooper have met at Crow Creek, an archaeological dig outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico because he's found another piece of an Indian ceramic bowl that he knows she'll want to see.  She is an expert on these artifacts and believes they were all made by one particular Indian girl. It takes time for the reader to understand how Ren knows this is so.  It all has to do with the death of her brother, Scott, when she was just twelve years old.

Ren has a unique gift or curse, depending on your point of view.  She senses the spirits of ghosts, including her brother and gradually as the story unfolds that of two Indian women, one younger and the other older.  As these visions are increasing, Ren and Silas are falling in love. At first it seems so perfect.  But Silas's inability to believe in Ren's gift and her ability to listen and hear the story of these very talented but haunting women, Lynay and Non, unnerves him, slightly souring their relationship.  Sparks of love and arguments begin to fly as each displays weakness to the other.

The dig provides more and more clues to the lives of a "lost" people, their lives paralleling the losses in Ren's life.  There are many ways of dying and this tale is about ability to live perpetually in denial or to embrace the loss and move beyond it to creativity and beauty.  Yes, it even means being able to mourn in order to free the Spirit to fully live.  One has to be vibrantly alive to tell the story of the "lost" ones, and that telling makes even the objects left behind in the passing even more enchanting and gorgeous! Then true love blossoms!

Come In and Cover Me is a unique story of love, death, loss and recovery; indeed it is a story of resurrection evolving out of the healing of love, memories, dreams, visions, and open and honest dialogue.  The story is well-crafted, thoughtful, imaginative, and unforgettable in its gracious unfolding!  Poignant, simply lovely contemporary fiction!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Spirit of the Place by Samuel Shem

The Spirit of the Place. Samuel Shem. Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated. December 2012. 416 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9780425258781.

As a very young boy, Orville Rose senses that he is "a part of something else," a joyous cry that his mother quickly quashes with the stern response, "This is all there is."  Orville runs to his room in tears and basically spends the rest of his life running away.

Now after he has served overseas as a Doctor Without Borders and seen all there is to see of suffering, disease, murder and more, he has fallen in love with an Italian woman, Celestina.  His tranquility is shattered upon receiving a telegram that his mother died and it is two weeks after her death that he arrives at Columbia, a small town bordering the Hudson River in upstate New York.  His mother has stymied her son Orville in two ways: First she leaves him over a million dollars which he gets only after he has lived in Columbia for a year and thirteen days.  Second, she has written letters to Orville which an unknown person is mailing, per her direction, to him, letters which are notes condemning Orville for his failure to care for her adequately which he initially takes as truth and proceeds to fulfill in reality.

Orville falls in love again after Celestina dumps him for a rich man.  As Orville is getting more and more disgusted with his hometown, he meets Miranda and her son Cray, who calls Orville "Orvy."  Miranda is handicapped and after awhile Orville realizes how emotionally handicapped he is as well.  No, this isn't a morbid book but one in which tragedy, irony, and comedy are always flowing, weaving together and insisting on their own separate, special scenes. 

In reality, the tendency for all material objects in Columbia to break parallels the brokenness of its citizens. They are blind to progress and what is best for one's own well-being and therefore tend to veto and despise everything new or modern.  But it takes a whole novel for the diamond in the rough to emerge in both characters and the town in which they live.

You will meet a selfless doctor, a childhood bully turned politician, a woman excelling in her physical beauty and teasing sexuality, a widow terrified to trust in love again, a boy in desperate need of a father, and more characters who immediately grip the reader's interest and don't let go.

The Spirit of the Place is fine, literate contemporary fiction about love between a mother and son, son and lover, mentors and more!  Wonderful, well-written story!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Song for Julia by Charles Sheehan-Miles

A Song for Julia. Charles Sheehan-Miles. Cincinnatus Press. December 2012.  320 pages hbk, pbk and ebook. ISBN#: 9780988273658.

Julia is a Harvard student who lives with a memory that almost destroyed her family and probably ended her father’s career as a foreign service diplomat.  The memories are always there but she tries to live a better life free of tangled relationships because the last one resulted in a broken heart and an aborted baby.  But now Julia meets a punk rock singer, Crank Wilson is a heart-breaker with the ladies but on meeting Julia that slowly changes, more so because Julia is constantly stating she will not see him again.

So what will happen when he meets her family.  For Crank and his father, a Boston cop, and his brother, who has Asperger’s Syndrome – a form of autism, are always at odds.  They try to keep out of fights because these upset his brother who gets out of control when upset.  Crank demonstrates tremendous anger when his mother is even mentioned.  Not a happy family, to say the least!

Julia’s mother is constantly harassing her to behave “properly,” always dropping comments on how much she owes the family because of her past shame. She is a nag, in plain English, and was never present for Julia when she needed her mother the most.  Yes, she made a terrible mistake that affected everyone, but surely there must come a time when the past does not haunt the present and everyone accepts responsibility for what could have been avoided, perhaps.

A Song for Julia is a fine story about the past can distort the present and future so that the main characters are so busy protecting their emotionally wracked persons that they almost lose the joy that could move them forward into a caring, whole relationship.  Secrets are meant to be exposed and the pain of revelation with its multiple causes and effects is worth the cost of speaking truth.  Charles Sheehan-Miles brooks no hypocrisy, excuses, etc. as reasons not to be true to one’s higher nature.  In A Song for Julia, this author crafts a fictional song that is as radical as punk and as an incisive as a healing scalpel to the worst and best in human nature.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Girl in the Wall by Daphne Benedis-Grab

The Girl in the Wall. Daphne Benedis-Grab. Merit Press. YA Fiction. December 2012. 272 pp. pbk.  ISBN # 9781440552700.

Sera made a difficult choice to save a life by telling the truth. Now she’s paying for it day after day after day.  Her peers at school are treating her like “pariah of the year.”  Now her family is insisting she attend the birthday party of her ex-friend, Ariel.  It’s all very uncomfortable until rock star Hudson Winters (real name Hunter Winters) begins to croon a song Sera loves.  The mesmerizing effect of his singing is cut short by the burst of gunfire and then the hell begins!

Two people are died and a group of killers is holding the rest of the party attendees temporarily until they realize the person they really wanted to kill, Ariel, is missing. So begins an awful night of threats, murders, fire, and more while Ariel is hidden in the walls of her home. It’s a place where Sera and she hung out and played when they were much younger.  But now Sera has to make a choice to betray Ariel again or prove her loyalty. The cost of either is huge!

As the night progresses, the remaining youths know there will be no help until well into the next day.  They, therefore, begin to plan on how to attack the killers and at the same time gradually discover who is behind this insane, cold-blooded attack and why. It’s NOT a pretty picture, no matter how one sees the choices and possible outcomes.

During this night Sera discovers that Hudson (Hunter) is a regular guy with his own sad story.  It’s his strength and ideas that help Sera tolerate the intense pressure and plan for a different alternative to the end they all expect.  At the same time, Ariel has the time while in hiding to think about who are her true friends and make a decision that might just save her own life.

The Girl in the Wall punches the reader with its very real brutality and poignancy.  The author knows well how to increase the tension but also make it something compassionate and moving, not just another made for TV drama.  Superbly done, Daphne Benedis-Grab!  YA readers will love this novel, for sure!

Tempestuous by Kim Askew and Amy Helmes

Tempestuous: A Twisted Lit Novel. Kim Askew and Amy Helmes. Merit Press. YA Fiction. December 2012. 256 pp. pbk.  ISBN # 9781440552649.

Miranda Prospero, a once upon a time very popular teen, is working in a corn dog fast food stand to pay off her punishment fine.  What’s the deal?  It turns out Miranda was the dupe of a shyster teen who put together a group of geeks who would write essays for other students and in another incident arrange to have others take the SAT.  Fake IDs, etc. were eventually discovered and the scam turned into a criminal event, with Miranda taking the heat for all of it. 
So here she is in a greasy dump which turns into an all-nighter because she and her teen friends (and enemies) are snowed in and then locked in.  However, as Miranda is known as the “Teflon teen,” she’s initially annoyed but then decides to make the best of it. She’s planning a 17th birthday party for her fellow worker, Ariel.  There aren’t too many customers around and teens being teens, Miranda and her friends decide to hearty-party all night long.

The first problem arises when it turns out that one of the mall kiosks has been robbed; and since the mall is locked down, that means the robber is also still hidden among them.  Add to that the scene in which Miranda gets handcuffed to a guy, Craig, whom she’s not too crazy about.  No, they can’t find a key, so imagine being cuffed all night.  How will she figure out a visit to the lady’s room?

The night gets even crazier with plots and counter-plots, misunderstandings and confessions that might be real and might be plotted for worse scenarios.  Will the criminal be found? Miranda refuses to give in to fear and it is her wacky plans that save the day – or at least hope to!

Tempestuous, a novel again having Shakespearean allusions toward The Tempest, is a funny read that again highlights a Twisted Lit series worth the attention of all teens and young adults!  Nicely done!

Louder Than Words by Laurie Plissner

Louder Than Words. Laurie Plissner. Merit Press. YA Fiction. December 2012. 272 pp. pbk.  ISBN # 9781440556652.

Sasha’s world came to a screeching halt on the night when a devastating accident killed her parents and younger sister.  Sasha can’t remember a thing that happened that night. All she knows is that she’s been unable to speak since that awful night!

A famous psychiatrist who has practiced around the world seems unable to make any progress with Sasha. But now her attention is distracted by a young fellow student she meets.  Ben has the uncanny ability to read the minds of people he is close to in physical space.  It’s unnerving to say the least and yet Ben’s gentle revelations of Sasha’s thoughts begin to make her face what a private hell she’s created for herself by constantly focusing on her inability to communicate. 

The challenge Ben springs on Sasha is quite startling, especially considering that she has totally fallen for him and wants to be treated like a girlfriend.  To Ben, however, Sasha needs to overcome her disability, to totally heal as much as one can in her experience.  Her anger over this ultimatum and the help of Ben’s mother, a woman with her own unique alternative therapy skills, pushes Sasha to a new level.

The clues and memories that return are gradual and then absolutely stunning when it all comes together.  While the end might be considered too neatly tied up, it is very, very real to Sasha and is worth reading to see what finally frees her from her own self-imprisonment and a very real danger!

Louder Than Words is a fast-paced, young adult novel that will rivet readers’ attention to the very last page.  Nicely done, Laurie Plissner!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Chojun: A Novel by Goran Powell

Chojun: A Novel. Goran Powell. Ymaa Publication Center. December 2012. 240 pages. ISBN #: 9781594392535.

Many years ago, thousands of viewers enjoyed the movie character "Miyagi" in "The Karate Kid." But Chojun is the story of the real karate sensei or teacher Chojun Miyagi and his story is a worthy, very human and therefore real account of what it is like to fully engage in karate in and out of extraordinarily difficult times!

Kenichi Ota is the narrator of this tale, a young boy initially who wants to train with Miyagi but is told to practice holding his breath while underwater in the shores of Okinawa in its pre-WWII period.  So he obeys and then begins the phenomenally difficult physical training that reads almost like brutality and yet never daunts the spirit of Kenichi.  He helps build and prepare the training tools and his master grants him just enough conversation and verbal teaching to balance out the pain Kenichi is physically enduring.  It is training for a daunting future!

Then war arrives after the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor, the Second World War.  One way in which this account differs from other historical accounts from a Japanese point of view is that the people of Okinawa realize very quickly that America is a very strong country whose military are slowly but surely edging their victorious way to overcome the soldiers on Okinawa's land.  They believe they are prepared, but Kenichi takes us through the period before, during and after the devastating Battle of Okinawa.  This is not to be missed writing as it exposes the stress upon the physical, mental and spiritual strength and solidity of Okinawans. Characters are uniquely traumatized and struggle to hold onto compassion and sanity when all seems to be journeying toward inevitable death in all areas of one's life.

Chojun: A Novel is superb historical fiction as well as an action-packed account of the complete training in mind and spirit of the sport and art, Karate!!! Wonderful and a must read for anyone who loves karate as well as martial arts, war stories, and human stamina in its best and worst forms!  Amazing! 

Cherokee Talisman by David-Michael Harding

Cherokee Talisman. David-Michael Harding. Q&CY Books. November 2012. 368 pp.  ISBN #: 9780615652535.

This fictional account is written to break the stereotype of the "savage" Native American Indian, in particular two Cherokee leaders.  Totsuhwa, a Cherokee shaman, is first trained by the leader Tsi'yugunsini, "Dragging Canoe" or "Dragon." The Dragon knows that the white man will return numerous times, each time committing the Indian leaders to sell more and more land and leave behind what is useless or unproductive land.  Worse yet, the land the white man is really stealing is not treated with reverence.  In fact, The Cherokee tribe fails to understand how anyone can "own" land that is a gift from God. When agreement fails, stronger weapons and manipulation through the gifts of material goods and alcohol weakens the Indians into confusion and surrender of all they treasure!

This is a sad but necessary tale to be told.  What the reader needs to see is how the "Dragon" mentors Totsuhwa with a constant attitude of care and compassion, urging war only in self-defense.  While Indians are always depicted as "scalping savages," here we learn that the white attackers often scalped, tortured and shot their Indian victims and burned homes and lands of Indians as well.  An endless cycle of violence is perpetuated on both sides.  General Jackson is portrayed in truth as being no friend of Indians whom he saw as an obstacle to westward expansion of American explorers and settlers.

Totsuhwa is a loving, cherished husband of Galegi and devoted father who trains his child to honor the gifts of nature, in one potent scene punishing his child for ignoring the need to return to the earth something in place of what has been taken.  It is written as a fair, reasonable, and poignant exchange that the son never forgets, even though eventually he must learn to live with the white man who will always be far superior in numbers and whose ways will continuously diminish the dignity of the Cherokee and other tribal members. Forgiveness is too late but truth-telling is sorely due in this 21st Century of a people not only driven from homes but almost completely exterminated.

Cherokee Talisman is a well-written, obviously well-researched, and honest novel to a comprehensive treatment of Indian-American relationships, an excellent addition to a more fair treatment of Native American history and the genre of historical fiction.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

The Secret Keeper. Kate Morton. Atria Books. October 2012. 496 pages paperback. Also sold at all e-book retail online sites. ISBN#: 9781439152805.

Author of The Distant Hours, and other bestsellers, Kate Morton again draws the reader into the years around WWII in England where turmoil reigns and the future of the country and personal lives seems so very unsure. It all begins when Laurel Nicholson is sitting in her tree house as a young girl and is debating whether or not to run into the kitchen of her house to get the "birthday knife" the family uses to cut all celebratory cakes. Instead she sees a man approach the house, followed by her mother coming outside, sharing words with the man who seems to know her, and then an action that haunts Laurel up to the time of her recounting this story to the reader.  That scene is never spoken of by Laurel, her mother, or her much younger brother who was also present but dramatically affects their lives. Now Laurel wants to know the truth about the mystery behind the secret and sets to finding out what really happened that life-changing day so long ago!

Now it's time for Laurel's mother, Dorothy's 90th birthday party.  Dorothy is not always so lucid and she occasionally mutters names that none of the family seem to know but which Laurel cannot get her to expand on in conversation. Laurel is a famous actress now and has a hard time doing interviews about her past because of her previous memories. It also turns out her baby brother remembers more than she thinks he does, but she doesn't want to traumatize him by revealing more, at least at first. As she begins to look a bit deeper by tracking down the people or acquaintances of the main players in this mystery, she finds that her mother had a secret life in London during WWII when she was deeply in love with a boy named Jimmy Metcalfe, someone who later became a famous photographer in Europe during the war.  She was also good friends with a woman named Vivien Jenkins.  Somehow something occurred that caused a break in their friendship.  Who was the betrayer and why?  How was that associated with her mother's devastating act seen by Laurel.

Kate Morton portrays war-torn England and the "desperate" nature of relationships with style and gripping tension that immediately snare the reader into rapidly flipping pages to find out the answer to numerous questions.  It's an era many young readers might not relate to yet one that is intriguing for its private wars that mirror the global battles of this second "war to end all wars." Great writing and a riveting historical fiction read!

Hunk for the Holidays by Katie Lane

Hunk for the Holidays. Katie Lane. Grand Central Publishing. September 2012. 352 pp. ISBN#: 9781455522361.

Cassie McPherson come from tough stock, a family who have become successful in commercial building and who watch out for each other, sometimes a bit too much.  Cassie always wanted to be an architect in the family business but need comes first and she's more of a family accountant for the business.  Right now she's extremely ticked off because another company seems to be outbidding her family on jobs and taking away customers.  Her Dad is recovering from a heart attack and she's determined to find out who this upstart guy in this new company in town is.  Her philosophy is to meet the enemy before you figure out how to deal with the competitor!

Before that can happen, however, she has to show up at a company Christmas party and hires an escort who will act like he's her date and current boyfriend as her family also wants to see her settle down and marry, sooner rather than later! That she's not buying at all.  The chemistry between her and her escort, who initially is nameless, is electric and snappy!  Cassie's in "boss" mode mentally but her body is reacting to this "hunk" of a sexy male that seems created to be kissed, etc!

The "Hunk" as well is not used to being bossed around but refuses to reveal who he is; add to it he normally chooses, loves and dumps the ladies he meets but is magnetically struck by this feisty woman.  Little by little, he realizes she's got him thinking about his past affairs and if that's really all he wants out of a relationship.  

So as both readjust their thinking, they begin to get to know each other, that is when they're not hopping into hot, hot, hot bedroom action!  The pain each has known from the loss of a family member begins to wane as they realize what a holiday gift they truly are for each other. No, it's not without some turmoil and some fast aced action about the business, but it's a lovely holiday romance sure to delight romance fans who will be attracted by this sexy cover and not disappointed inside its pages! Hunk for the Holidays is a must romance fiction read for the holidays!

Last Chance Christmas by Hope Ramsay

Last Chance Christmas. Hope Ramsay. Grand Central Publishing. September 2012. 352 pp.  ISBN #: 9780446576079.

Lark Chaikin has just arrived in the small town of Last Chance, South Carolina where she intends to leave her father's ashes on a "Golfing for God" mini-golf course per his last wishes.  She's still grieving and totally shocked when she meets the town's Chief of Police, Stonewall ("Stone") Rhodes. Before he tells her she can't leave the ashes, he makes some comments that indicate she will not at all be welcome in this town since it's believed that her father caused the death of Stone's grandfather.  No, there's no proof but Lark's father left town on the same day Zeke Rhodes died. Stone proceeds to inform her she will have to get permission from the group that now is in control of this mini-golf course.

Lark is obviously upset but determined to honor her father's last wishes. It turns out that won't happen so quickly; in the meantime the town begins to take sides, with some believing the "assumption" about Lark's Dad and others now wondering and questioning what the precise facts are about the rumors that have been accepted as fact for years.  Lark sets her sights on finding out as she knows her father only as the most gentle and kindest of souls.  In the process she and Stone begin to get used to each other and she learns he is grieving still over the loss of his wife.  While they discuss and seek answers for the death of Lark's father, the town matchmakers are also making their future plans for this unsuspecting couple.  Lark isn't interested at all at first as her track record with romance is a bummer and full of trouble.

But there's something reasonable, something soft, something truly manly about Stone that begins to become quite appealing to Lark.  As the romantic side of the plot heats up, the tension heats up as well when the background town plans and characters connected to Zeke Rhodes' death come to light.  

So get ready for some Southern comfort food and hospitality mixed with small town thinking and attitudes that might not be so welcoming - all of which blend into a blooming holiday romance that sifts out the garbage, solves a mystery, and leads to what you can predict between this couple.  However, because the reader knows where the plot is going on the romance side only increases the pleasure from sharing their story.  Very nicely done, Hope Ramsay!

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Wedding Quilt by Jennifer Chiaverini

The Wedding Quilt: An Elm Creek Quilts Novel. Jennifer Chiaverini. Plume Books: Penguin Group USA.  October 2012. 352 pp. Also available at all e-book retailer sites. ISBN #: 9780525952428.

Sarah's daughter, Caroline, and her fiance are soon to arrive at the family home at Elm Creed Manor, a place famous for "quilting camp" sessions, where they will be married.  Caroline wants a wedding quilt but isn't sure whether she's getting one.  For Sarah, both the wedding and the request bring back scores and scores of memories, most of them heart-warming and funny.  As she waits for her daughter, she remembers having to go to the hospital right before a nasty snowstorm and the stories her Mom and friends told about how they met.  No, it wasn't all that easy as Sarah knows from having to have a C-section for Caroline and her twin.  But Sarah's thoughts and memories gradually reveal a very special gift that's not easy but makes for a strong, caring mother and friend.  She knows when to let go, without laying on any guilt trips or otherwise - quite unique for both a mother and friend!!! It's why she's so cherished!

This novel is replete with so many numerous stories but I will only mention briefly about two that struck me.  One was about two characters who date for a while and then split up.  What shock when the friend of the female in the relationship begins to date the ex-boyfriend and eventually marries him.  Quite a hurdle to overcome but Jennifer Chiaverini crafts the story so realistically yet so graciously that the reader feels so much tension and at the same time sympathy and curiosity as to how this will all turn out.

The second story of note you must read for yourself but it is about quilters in the Civil War who made, sold, and gave away quilts to raise money for the Union.  The descriptions of how they worked in the names of heroes serving during this time will move any but the hardest of hearts. This section is actually based on historical fact and is all the more intriguing for the telling.

Quilting is an exquisite art as the reader comes to appreciate while reading this story.  It's colorful  and skillful, but most of all it's a form of storytelling in itself, a new realization that comes also while reading.  Jennifer Chiaverini is a master storyteller who knows her crafts (writing and quilting, as well as history of the arts) and expresses it in such an endearing,  enjoyable manner that you will want to read more of the Elm Creek Quilts novels.  Delightful and worthy of broad exposure to readers everywhere!  You'll also want to visit her website to see some fun samples and other goodies:  Well-done, indeed, Ms. Chiaverini!!!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Performance Anomalies by Victor Robert Lee

Performance Anomalies. Victor Robert Lee. Perimeter Six Publisher. December 2012. 290 pp., hbk, ISBN #: 9781938409226.

CONO is the perfect wheeler and dealer. He's a loner who's got several girls he cares for but no attachments stopping him from globe-trotting to each new, dangerous job.  The story begins when he gets an early morning telephone call in Istanbul, Turkey, that a woman, Xiao Lin, is being held captive in Kazakhstan.  He sets out to rescue her, only to be sucked into a business deal that will involve bidders for oil-rich Kazakhstan.  Xiao Lin is kidnapped again, to make sure he doesn't back out of the deal and to assure he will be successful.  He knows there's something way out of the ordinary about this job but his feelings for Xiao Lin keep him proceeding according to the plans he's been given.

There's plenty of blood, guts and gore for the addicted spy thriller fans and an added piece to the mystery that involves getting uranium for nuclear weapons.  As the story develops, CONO makes plenty of enemies, including the Chinese who will do anything to get what they want and a jihadist whose mission and goals CONO understands but is not willing to assist.  What CONO sees as just a business deal for money is to others power that is far-reaching beyond oil-rich fields.  The reader has to be sharp with the number of names and places that appear without a moment's notice in this fast-paced thriller, but it's well worth the effort.  

Performance Anomalies is a roller-coaster ride through a relatively unknown part of the world to most Westerners but it is all the more real because it bears so much factual basis that could just be happening today or in the near future.  CONO is a cool, highly skilled dealer and killer when he has to be who does the job so well that the political future of Kazakhstan changes because of his action.  Neatly done, Victor Robert Lee!

Cathedral Windows: A Someday Quilts Mystery by Clare O'Donohue

Cathedral Windows - A Someday Quilts Mystery. Clare O'Donohue. Penguin Special from Plume Books (Penguin Group USA).  November 2012.  80pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9781101615843.

Nell's grandmother taught her by example, not to be drawn to material things but to give when things are needed and to give freely.  All in all, it's better to give than to receive; but she's finding that the latest project is fraught with trouble.  First there are the children whom she is teaching to make a quilt in order to sell it to raise money for the Fire Department their small town shares with nearby Morrison in upstate Hudson Valley in New York State.  The kids are psyched to get into sewing nine inch square patches for the quilt but almost get into a huge fight when they can't share the remaining colored patches. Then the teacher disappears and doesn't seem too thrilled when he returns!

Charlie is the new teacher whom the kids love and see as a hero.  He's actually a veteran recently returned from serving in the military in Afghanistan.  He has a great deal of adjusting to do and the rest of the town assumes he's "strange" or "weird" because he's obviously been through hell in the war, when the reality is they know absolutely nothing about him.  Their suspicion only grows when his home burns down and neighbors are quick to assume it was arson committed by Charlie in his current "state," whatever that may be defined as. However, Nell decides she will stand up for him and she does just that, discovering in the process the love he had for the "Cathedral Window" quilt from his grandmother.

Cathedral Windows might be a very short novel, but it's tightly plotted and well-written as a result. It would make a lovely holiday gift or just a lovely read for anyone who enjoys a mystery with caring, compassionate, and realistic characters.  Very nicely done, Ms. O'Donohue!

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Dalai Lama's Cat: A Novel by David Michie

The Dalai Lama's Cat: A Novel. David Michie. Hay House, Inc.,  October 2012, 240 pp., ISBN #: 9781401940584.

Ah, this is the life!!! Originally dumped in the street by unkind hooligans, this unkempt is meant to be sold into an even harsher life but instead is rescued by the Dalai Lama's Assistant.  Now, he is HHC or "His Holiness's Cat" or Snow Lion...or some other embarrassing but funny names acquired as vital lessons in the path of holiness!

Consider the fact of pride as "being" one of the favorites of this revered holy man, the Dalai Lama.  A French chef who owns a very popular restaurant near the actual home of the Dalai Lama wears the symbols of his Buddhist initiation on his physical person and has them draped all over his restaurant.  In a gently amusing way, he is gradually led to see that outer signs and associations matter not at all; the Dalai Lama always voices these lessons near to HHC with a chuckle and a pet.  Meanwhile, HHC manages to keep his revered seat in the restaurant as HHC! You have to laugh and not just read the truth but feel it all in your own bones! Outstanding technique!

So this book continues with visitor after visitor and numerous scenes where HHC mistakes the changes happening around him, always told in a wry, funny way endearing this cat and the Dalai Lama to the reader for the truth and blessing shared!

Outstanding and so well done, more please, David Michie!  This is "real" spirituality!

A Highlander for Christmas by Paula Quinn

A Highlander for Christmas. Paula Quinn. Grand Central Publishing.  October 2012. 80 pp.  ISBN #: 9781455523757.

Finlay Grant is determined to wed the love of his life. As he is a super-handsome bard of the MacGregor clan and a charmer to be sure, the task seems simple. Yet history is a major obstacle because the family of Leslie Harrison considers him and his family "enemies" of England.  So he is first warned off her and Leslie is told she is betrothed to another, an arrangement that both repulses her and yet is complicated because it involves the future safety and well-being of her own mother. This is decision of the heart complicated by two different types of love, neither one to be treated lightly!

So Finn does something that won't ignore the hazards of either plight.  No, no spoilers here!  You must read this short but passionately tension-ridden tale to discover that there are ways around some historical, familial debacles that are more than worth the struggles and some familial or clan rifts are just "old habits" that need to be broken!

A Highlander for Christmas is a delightful holiday tale that is both fierce adventure story and lovely romance exemplifying the celebration of love under the season's holly and mistletoe! Thrilling and charming!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Lincoln Conspiracy: A Novel by Timothy L. O'Brien

The Lincoln Conspiracy: A Novel. Timothy L. O'Brien. Random House Publishing Group. 2012; 368 pp. hardback; ISBN #: 9780345496775.

Temple McFadden is a Washington Police Detective with a lame leg but a feisty spirit.  His story begins with a trip to the train station to pick up a package, a trip that will help him earn some well-needed money.  What he witnesses instead is a suspicious murder and his reaction is to grab a package secreted on the victim’s body.  Here begins super trouble for Temple, his wife Fiona, and numerous other characters who will be chased, brutally attacked and escape death numerous times.

Why?  It turns out the package Temple grabbed is Mary Todd Lincoln’s diary and it contains secrets and hints of a conspiracy which would explain why Booth shot Lincoln and more! Was assassination the main goal?  What exactly was the reason for Lincoln’s death if not the Civil War and the emancipation of slaves?  Who were the most powerful men in Lincoln’s Cabinet and in Washington and what were their designs as well as actions mean to succeed no matter what the consequence?

In addition to the slowly enfolding plot which includes a secret code and more shoot-out close calls – perhaps a bit too much, O’Brien introduces the readers to the ambience of the time through such scenes as medical conditions for those wounded warriors of the Civil War.  We discover the primitive but successful treatments that saved and also ended lives.  We also meet men loyal to Lincoln who worked for him or his Cabinet members but who had sideline plans for becoming wealthy after the Civil War ended.  And there are the African-Americans who were loyal to the Union and now assist Temple in his drive to discover the truth, even more so after they are brutally treated in the most demeaning fashion possible.  Their protection and belief in Temple is ennobling, to say the least, and inspiringly credible.

Mary Todd Lincoln is portrayed in a most unexpected way which one may learn on doing research about her but which doesn’t prepare the reader for the self-absorbed, whining, suspicious and fearful woman who has more comfort from an unexpected source, one that stirs the reader to compassion.

Whether or not you buy the final answers, The Lincoln Conspiracy is an interesting, action-packed story, giving the reader a fine sense of the culture, divisions, and political realities of Abraham Lincoln’s world!  A worthy political thriller or conspiracy theory centered on an assassination without closure to this day!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Lavender Road: London at War by Helen Carey

Lavender Road. Helen Carey. TSAP Books. Sold by all e-book retailers.  November 2011. 384 pp. E-book: 712 kb. 

Most war stories hit on a major love story and major battle scenes.  Helen Carey has tapped into the very fiber of English life in the days preceding the bombing of England during WWII and during the actual bombing.  The story centers on several families who have all the ups and downs of real life but who forge on with that gritty, strong English attitude.  They appear together but bleed internally like every human being.

We begin with Jen Carter who wants to be an actress but has no training, just a high school drama at which the audience clearly connected to her very special acting and singing skills.  Plus she's a great mimic.  But home life is far from serene and she spends most of her time at home fighting with her mother, that is until she meets an Irish hunk of guy, Sean.  Jen needs to be needed so does anything to make Sean happy, including sleeping with him anywhere and everywhere.  But after numerous rejections and one very dangerous scene, opportunities open for Jen and she begins to find herself and think more of others unlike before.  The hardships of war and pulling together in everyone's need cannot help but change Jen! And her mother breaks out of a very narrow world to become an actually very pleasant and interesting woman!

There's a rich girl who wants to meet a guy and be loved but finds only teases or nice guys who don't want to mar her "virgin" status. Or her father, who is so stuck in tradition that he drives away everyone he encounters.  Perhaps you'd better like the man who can't fight in the war because of a weak physical condition but who does something so heroic it makes others look like cowards.  There are also two elderly sisters who have trained and costumed famous actors and are far from stereotypical "little ol' ladies."  Another handsome guy in the Royal Air Force tells everyone he's a pilot when in fact he's a spy for England undertaking highly dangerous missions, ones that make him grow old before his time.

Lavender Road is rich in so many diverse ways.  It's a bit slow at times in the beginning but picks up a pace like wild fire about a quarter-way through and absolutely delightful. We read how women sought roles in the war that changed their images of themselves and made them better people for it, although it shook up the home territory.  We see prejudice rear its ugly head against those who had escaped the slaughter of Hitler.  There's so much more than what is contained in this review.  Lavender Road is great historical fiction - a lovely slice of life in the East End of London during a very, very dangerous time! Kudos to Helen Carey for a job so well-done!

P. S. This reviewer's mother lived through the bombing of England in another city and so knows how very accurate the history is herein!  Brought back memories of Mom's stories, funny and harrowing!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

In The Pleasure Groove by John Taylor

In The Pleasure Groove: Love, Death and Duran Duran. John Taylor. Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated. October 2012. 304 pages, hardback. ISBN #: 978052598000.

John Taylor covers a large span of music evolution in this autobiography of his life and that of Duran Duran, the rock group in which he still performs.  It is that diverse, evolving story that speaks volumes for the success he has achieved.  Yes, the audience may change, but the "real" audience has evolved with his talent and musical styles over the years.

Taylor knows how to grab an audience. Right from the beginning, the reader is charged from the opening account of a concert performance in which the song "Tel Aviv" was played and Taylor confesses to being scared out of his mind at the almost animal atmosphere of the screaming, violent crowd.  How does one play and what is it about the music that creates such a wild response to the group's music?

We are then led back even further to the very start of his life, through his education, interest in music at first without any thought about actually becoming a rock star, and more.  The terrific part of this next section is that he chronicles how the music evolved from simple chord music on acoustic guitar through the time of the Beatles through to rock punk rock...., etc. For those who are older, it will bring back some great memories; for those who are younger, it might make them curious to check out the "older" music.

Then comes the beginning Duran, Duran, playing as introductory music for other more famous singers and bands....then comes evolving success.  Plenty of unknown and fascinating details follow about different and better instruments that were used, as well as how the other band members adapted, left, and joined, leading up to the present band members.  There's a very riveting section on how drugs and booze almost blew the whole success chance out the window and a very painful part of how it broke him down. Fortunately, it didn't end there...

Absolutely great biography about a singer, composer, producer and band leader who clearly is "passionate" beyond belief about his art.  Read it and enjoy the music you will hear and the interesting guy you will come to know so much better as you read!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Sweet Tooth: A Novel by Ian McEwan

Sweet Tooth: A Novel. Ian McEwan. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. November 2012. 320 pp. hardback. ISBN #: 9780385536820.

In 1972 the Cold War was still making British government and citizens very nervous. Communists were the enemy and subversion of their message was the job of the British Secret Service.  This part of the war, however, would not be carried out with killing machines of guns and bombs but through the fiction and non-fiction messages that famous and not so famous authors would pen and circulate widely in professional and non-professional places. No limitation would be placed on their literary efforts and published works.  Propaganda need not be overt!

Serena Frome is a former Cambridge student who briefly carries on an affair with a professor who once worked for the British intelligence agency - M5.  That agency was often at odds with its sister group M6.  In a stunning series of planned events, Serena's lover drops her but guarantees her a job in M5.  While there, she is slowly eased into a job of getting a "new" author to write a novel. The story could be about anything and will be funded by the government.  As he becomes more well-known, more will happen.  Little does Serena realizes her reaction to this writer will be so passionate and little does she realize how jealous her immediate boss will be by her vehement connection. What her new friend pens is far more harrowing and upsetting to Serena.

Sweet Tooth is quite simply an amazing novel about the multiple ways in which smart people maintain an innocent, blind attitude toward what so obviously lacks credibility.  Every single character in this story shares that naive mental and emotional stance.  Patriotism and passion are stunningly manifest in flagrant stupidity.  Upon finishing this novel, should the reader say, "Oh, I wouldn't think like that; I wouldn't miss those clues. I don't hold beliefs like these characters?"  Probably not because we are so inundated with our own contemporary propaganda that few truly analyze, critique, and speak out against what is really quite harmful distortion.

Sweet Tooth is a well-written novel that should be read by as many people as possible.  Its satiric message is so necessary.  This tendency to become star-struck by intelligence and "shared secrets" should be a warning bell if we would see government shaped by the people and not the reverse.  Congratulations, Ian McEwan, for a vital novel, a must read for people of all nations!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Daughters of Fire by Tom Peek

Daughters of Fire. Tom Peek. Koa Books. October 2012. 496 pp. Available in paperback and e-book formats. ISBN #: 9780982165621.

Contemporary Hawaii has been taken over by politicians and businessmen seeking profit at any cost.  Native Hawaiians have been marginalized and cast aside, sometimes by omission or ignoring and sometimes by commission of violent crimes. But there is a magic, mysticism, and beauty of this state that elicits wonder, awe, and passionate defense.  Maile is a such a Hawaiian, an educated anthropologist who keeps in touch with everything going on. She quietly notes and at times assists those native Hawaiians who will demonstrate and do whatever they can to keep their land pure and true to its spiritual identity and destiny!

So the reader watches with fascination as she meets a non-Hawaiian white Australian astronomer doing research.  He is at first a detached observer here for his scientific exploratory job but slowly is entranced with Maile and with her land.  His initial attitude is representative of those who live for a material world and are blind to the awesome ambience of this gorgeous island.  Even the volcanic craters that have a temperament of their own, believed to indicate the support or punitive anger of the divine Pele.

Add to that a super resort is being built on what is believed to be sacred native land that was stolen from true Hawaiians. It's worth millions and its growth is supported by politicians all the way to Washington.  However, it is also built on a volcano that recently has been predicted to be slowly rising.  It poses a major financial crisis for the builders, owners, and even the Hawaiian rebels who will demonstrate to try to stop this abomination from opening.

A young man accidentally happens upon a strange murder, several Hawaiian men hurling a desperate, screaming, crying man into a volcanic crater.  On and on the violence goes, a symbol of betrayal, and a symbol of the immense power of the Hawaiian "mafia."  

There is so much more in this vivid, panoramic view of so many disparate sides vying for power and ownership, all with different motives and all using acceptable and illegal means to attain their goal.

Daughters of Fire in a way takes of where Hawaii by James Michener ended.  It's an emotional, terrifying, and inspiring look at this land that has moved so many to its paradise atmosphere and possibilities.  Notable fiction!

What Are You Looking At? by Will Gompertz

What Are You Looking At? The Surprising, Shocking, and Sometimes Strange Story of 150 Years of Modern Art. Will Gompertz. Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated. October 2012. 432 pp. hardcover. ISBN #: 9780525952671.

Here is a comprehensive, readable book for those ranging from art lovers who those looking at modern art and thinking, "I don't have a clue to what this is!"  

Beginning with a short overview of how art as investment increases for both living and dead artists, the author begins with the story of how Marcel Duchamp rocked the art world with his "Fountain," a urinal turned upside down with some drilled holes.  The point?  What do you see?  The artist would say to keep looking and then the layers of meaning may unfold for the viewer - or - perhaps it's just a urinal which elicits a variety of responses from the viewer.  Is Gustave Courbet's "The Origin of the World" pornography or much more than its surface physicality? These flagrantly different  conceptions are comic yet also a window into the world of contemplation and artistic creation that spans 150 years, that which is called "modern art."

The text then covers multiple schools of art, beginning with pre-Impressionism and Impressionism which is much more than many viewers perceive of as "just dots" and really convey the first time artists wanted to paint outdoors, carefully watching how light and shade created beauty in nature's everyday scenes.  It also describes how the artists of this period risked so much and even started their own schools to rival the prevailing "Academy" system, speaking for the passion of creativity that they felt deserved a larger, appreciative audience.

So this story continues with coverage of Cezanne, Primitivism, Fauvism, Cubism, Futurism, Suprematism, Constructivism, Neo-Plasticism, Dadaism, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, Conceptualism, Minimalism, Post-Modernism, and Art Now.  Making art three-dimensional on a flat surface, variations of color expressing how one views reality with more vivid colors creating emotional appeal, art with two simple colors that viewed long enough brought the viewer's unconscious into the perception, and so much more.

What Are You Looking At?... is a fascinating, intelligently written, very readable look into similarities, differences, and new concepts in the modern artistic world quite frequently seen at the Museum of Modern Art as well as other museums and galleries throughout the world.  It's a must read for every person who wants to understand and appreciate great art!  Superb and highly recommended!!!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Insurgent: Book 2 of America's Future by Charles Sheehan-Miles

Insurgent: Book 2 of America's Future. Charles Sheehan-Miles. Cincinnatus Press. October 2012. 470 pp. paperback and e-book formats. ISBN #: 9780979411496.

Revolution has ripped apart America, continuing the rebellion begun in Republic: A Novel of America's Future. The people have spoken and civil war devastated America's cities. 

Valerie Murphy's father has been executed for his part in promoting violence and seceding from the American government.  She has been imprisoned and brutalized so much she is obviously suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.  Her friend, Al Clark, is now appointed Governor of West Virginia, a monumental job of putting basic services into action and restoring the shattered economy.  But the war isn't over!

An unknown group of warriors in West Virginia is still killing military personnel and shooting down helicopters approaching the area.  Corporal Jim Turville watches his friends die, falls in love, and tries to figure out who can be trusted in this blatantly volatile area.  The violence goes on and on and on!

While the first novel in this series gave ample build-up of the reasons leading to this American demise, Insurgent 2 has little to offer on the reasons and goals of the war.  It's as if death and destruction have been looming for far longer than this particular problem.  Personal freedoms are now forfeit and there seems no end to the madness! It is more potent because of the lack of reason or logic.  It is more devastating than the original Civil War because of the advanced firearm power available in this conflict!

Insurgent is the second of six planned novels.  This novel doesn't pose any "glory" scenes of war; it's hell and the reader should be deeply troubled about the reality that just could happen when people have had enough of poverty, lies, deception, mismanagement of the economy, and more - the same problems that are plaguing far too many people in America at this time.  The reader must decide how much this conflict resembles the random, erratic, and chilling brutality also exhibited in Iran, Afghanistan, and other hot spots throughout the Middle East.

Devastating to read, this is a necessary microscopic canvas of possible outcomes for the future of America! Potent stuff, Charles Sheehan-Miles!!!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard Von Bingen by Mary Sharratt

Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard Von Bingen. Mary Sharratt. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. October 2012. 288 pp. ISBN # 9780547567846.

This is as disturbing a story as it is inspiring!  At the age of 8 years old, in order to win dowries for Hildegard's sisters, her mother "tithes" her to a monk's monastery to become an anchorite.  That means that she and another young girl will be placed in two rooms that are completely walled in except for a small grille through which their spiritual advisor can speak to them and through which food and drink of the coarsest nature will be passed at mealtimes.  Jutta with whom Hildegard is imprisoned is pious beyond what one would ever expect in such a young girl, wearing a hair shirt one-piece garment and ultimately a metal belt with thorn-like prongs that she wears around her waist under her gown that already makes her bleed.  

A young monk, Volmar, befriends Hildegard, supplying her with books on medicinal herbs and providing her with paper and books from which she learns to read and write.  She is comforted by the mystical visions she has of The Blessed Virgin Mary, who appears in different forms but always with holy messages. The visions, however, are always accompanied by a form of illness, be it dizziness or headaches.  Jutta eventually dies and now the real life of Hildegard begins. She has a definite gift of hearing beautiful music and divine verses that will eventually make her famous throughout the world. Life is so so painful with constant conflict from the Abbot and other monks.

Eventually she will win the support of other clergy. Other women will join her and soon she will found her own convent and move through relationships that show her clearly how worldly and sinfully proud she really is!  But then her saintly behavior and words of healing wisdom begin to attract pilgrims.  After her first very tough lessons, Hildegard must grow up and realize that "balance" is mandatory; favoritism and uniqueness is heresy, a sign of a traitor, even a sign perhaps of the devil working in her life!

Mary Sharratt paints a portrait of a woman whose emotions and thoughts are the epitome of saintly behavior and attitude and at the same time frail with undeveloped pride and selfishness.  What else could a woman do who was shut away from the world for thirty years - an inconceivable tortured time, at least to this reviewer.  Every step forward to greater holiness is fraught with temptation and even abuse.  It's not pretty at all and yet Hildegard learns that service to others is more important than her own temporal desires.  Mary Sharratt has fashioned a novel that is riddled with problems that make the reader ask innumerable questions and offers few responses except for those trustworthy souls sharing her journey.  What a remarkable novel. Hildegard is a historical work of fiction that may leave you with more questions than answers.  The line between insanity and saintly behavior, thought, and feeling is thin indeed!  Stunning fiction!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Purple Shroud:A Novel of Empress Theodora by Stella Duffy

The Purple Shroud: A Novel of Empress Theodora. Stella Duffy. Penguin Group (USA). September 2012. 416 pp. ISBN #: 9780143122258.

Continuing the life of Theodora, Empress of Constantinople in the 6th Century, from Theodora, Actress, Empress, Whore, Stella Duffy offers the reader an inside look into leading a court and world riddled with constant change!  Theodora never sought her present position, but out of love of Justinian she is determined to do her part to assist him in every possible way.  This is a world where they rule at the people's pleasure and suddenly the people are not pleased, beginning a spate of time called the "Nika" in which the people riot, burn, kill and more.  In this horrific period, Theodora loses her best friend, Sophia, and also loses her sense of trust in the people.  For the rest of her life, she will rule with intrigue and power, using the people as they (honestly admitted) use her!

The next challenge to royalty is one that brooks no favors or sabotage, the plague, a more than formidable, terrifying disease that literally kills thousands per day.  Justinian is not spared and suffers terribly yet survives because of the care of physicians who understand newer techniques of healing from the Middle East. Theodora's persistent care, even under great risk of contracting the dreaded disease, is astounding and poignant!

The vicissitudes of ruling an empire could not be better portrayed as we, the readers, read about the plots, challenges, betrayals, loyalties, and so so much more as August and Augusta (Justinian and Theodora) are motivated only by the best possible service for their country.  Narses, Belisarius, the Cappadocian, as well as innumerable other powerful court woman reveal the essence of true support and fickle self-opportunism.  The issues are both political and religious, but in reality power-plays direct what is publicly known and unknown. Theodora, however, is one very savvy ruler and misses nothing as her supporters assist in thwarting plots that would destroy the throne, if not the country.

Stella Duffy displays an amazing sense of each conflict in a unique manner and most of all in a graceful style that is like an Eastern dance, seductive, vividly active, enigmatic, and romantic.  Because of her deft creation, we know Theodora in two novels as the intelligent, spiritual, political, comic, sexy, romantic, brutally frank, retaliating (never directly) and uniting leader.  The descriptions of art and architecture, churches, food, dress, and more are stylistic and epitomize the rulers' and peoples' love of beauty. 

The above is just a glimmer of the many scenes that truly honor "Theou doron" ("Gift of God") within these pages.  Beautifully told, this novel is a MUST read!!! So, so well crafted, Stella Duffy!!!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A New Language for Life: Happy No Matter What by Louis Koster

A New Language for Life: Happy No Matter What. Louis Koster. Morgan James Publishing. October 2012. 232 pp. ISBN No. 9781614483533.

Imagine for a moment if you were less affected, less stressed out, by the inner and external voices describing some past or present failure on the part of anyone or even you!  It might be an external failure and it might be an inner weakness.  Louis Koster has written a book in which he states it’s a choice to confirm these lies in speech and thought, thereby cementing their disastrous outcomes and perpetuating a similar run into the future.  Or what about if you could come to a point where you truly knew there is nothing to fear but fear itself?  Louis Koster proposes some credible strategies that he claims will lead you to precisely what he claims in the title – a new language that guarantees happiness and peace at all times.  He insists - Break the cycle and live a new language for life!

Koster initially describes the course of his own life as a person who had some noble objectives in becoming a med student, goals that were eventually shattered by the farce he knew he was living.  Recognizing the farce and unable to forgive himself for rejecting society’s expectations, he set off for Europe where he began a momentous inner journey that would change his life forever.  The rest of this book outlines what he learned and tested with time and challenges along the way while he was doing outstanding medical work to the needy throughout the world.

What does this involve? It basically focuses on recognizing that “I” am the source of everything I say, think or do.  I choose to believe in a certain outlook and that choice can mean working at “being” or working at “misery.”  Tough choice?  Yet it seems to actually be so since so few make it.  It means one can trust that life is good even in the middle of events that seem the exact opposite of that goodness. This point is the crux of the author’s story for here is when all well-intentioned choices meet the crucible of reality.  Yet the author finds just as much joy in his new lifestyle (mentally and emotionally) that the reader can definitely sense in its appealing invitation.

There is much, much more in this book that one should read slowly and meditatively, stopping to ponder each page rather than rushing through it like a thriller.  This is a thriller in a sense that far exceeds the fleeting ups and downs of adrenaline-pumping highs that evolve from a life directed by others.  Again, imagine a thrilling but serene life in you are the source of being living a life that is indeed good and fulfilling, without the drama!  Highly recommended!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Happily Ever Madder: Misadventures of a Mad Fat Girl by Stephanie McAfee

Happily Ever Madder: Misadventures of a Mad Fat Girl. Stephanie McAfee. New American Library Trade Paperback Original. November 2012. 352 pp. ISBN #: 9780451238054.

Ace Jones, a Southern artist from Bugtussle, Mississippi.  The name of her hometown matches her funny, feisty nature.  Now she has just opened her first art gallery in Pelican Grove and is so nervous that her first speech on opening night is a disaster, a hodgepodge of embarrassingly inane comments.  What it does earn her is the absolute scorn of the town's biggest charity donor, at least in rumor if not in actual donations.  Ace, however, has promised herself she will control her tendency to fight and utter comments that could wreck her reputation in five seconds or less. Oh yes, Ace is one sassy lady for sure!

Mrs. Lenore Kennashaw seems to have decided she will ruin Ace's life. Her attempts are foiled, however, by Ace's initially tame responses.  Mrs. Kennashaw's cronies, however, are so fearful of losing the spotlight they share, they give in and treat Ace like an "outsider," something that shames her and makes her wonder if she's really made a terrible, terrible decision to come to this town.  She is finally engaged to Mason, the love of her life since forever and sticks it all out for their sake.  Will they survive and how?  Quite simply really! Ace declares war and the fun begins!

Happily, Ace meets a group of friends who are as crazy as she is.  Their plot to reveal a secret of their enemy thrills them and the reader but with unforeseen results.  As Ace's friends meet lovers and make future plans, Ace's uncertainty grows.  She's homesick for Mississippi but really is just unsure and needs space, even though she and Mason still love each other dearly.

This is a funny, tender story about growing up, using humor as one's stabilizer and security - until it goes too far.  It's also a gentle satire about smallness of spirit in towns (and not just the South) where everyone knows everyone else and a social order rules that can make or break a person or persons.  But most of all, it's comic and light, a great read, depicting a character almost every reader can fall for, love, feel sorry for, sympathize and even empathize with.  This reviewer hopes we'll hear more about Ace in the future! Nicely done, Ms. McAfee!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Wandering Falcon - A Novel by Jamil Ahmad

The Wandering Falcon: A Novel. Jamil Ahmad. Riverhead Trade Paperback. October 2012. 256 pp. ISBN #: 9781594486166.

Put aside the stereotypical depictions of people from Afghanistan and Pakistan. Whether or not you believe what you hear from media, perhaps and probably there are a huge host of peoples who have lives that are different from you and me and yet in some ways they are just like us.  Jamil Ahmad has written a novel in which he introduces us to men and women who live by a code of honor that is as powerful as any law in Western society.  They seek to profit as businessmen.  They exhibit a cleverness in making treaties that is remarkable. They demonstrate passion and love of country and family/tribe. Their story is clear, honest, heart-rending, and difficult in a society that is just beginning to offer the chance of living beyond the cusp of poverty!

Here you will meet the "subedar" who will not violate tribal rules and laws but will offer shelter and food for a couple who are being hunted for violating an honor code. That simple act of mercy results in five years more of life for the parents and the birth of a boy who will rise to be a well-respected leader, Tor Baz, trained by wise and practical mentors.

Consider the behavior of Sardor Karim Khan Kharot who for years has guided people in and out of the borders of Afghanistan and Pakistan, respected by all until progress arrives and there is no job.  The respect he loses with this job is the ubiquitous state of the elderly who no longer find purpose once they are no longer employed.  We are rooting for him on every page.

Read about how different tribes and groups were pulled hither and yon by the Germans and British, leaving these native men wondering how to choose the right side and in a sense rise above living like tools of the occupiers. And what about woman sold to save their family from total starvation and the way they come to love, as well as yield, to their new spouse and family?

There is so much in this brief but potent and poignant novel.  What a refreshing, revealing canvas of characters lies herein, a work of art that will leave readers deeply moved and greatly informed of a whole slice of life that has for too long been hidden in darkness.  Jamil Ahmad is a master of words who has gifted the world with a unique group of literate stories.  This is award-winning writing and a must read for those who would like exposure to a larger picture of life in the Mideast countries of Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan. Splendid!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Just Remember to Breathe by Charles Sheehan-Miles

Just Remember to Breathe. Charles Sheehan-Miles. Cincinnatus Press. November 2012. 290 pages - paperback. ISBN #: 9780988273608.

Alex and Dylan had what seemed to be a promising love affair while they were both foreign exchange students in Israel a long time ago.  The stint in Israel ended and each went their separate ways, believing they'd had a good thing but that it might not continue.  However, they stayed in touch until one day Dylan sees something that absolutely devastates him.  He totally switches off email and Facebook and joins the Army.  There the tragic sequence of events escalates when he and friends run over a bomb in Afghanistan, one that kills his good friend and shatters his leg in multiple spots. But the inner wounds are far deeper than that!

Chance throws Dylan and Alex together at Columbia University, where they are forced together in a work-study program for a drunken professor seeking research for another book. It's quite clear they still are absolutely mad over each other, but they agree to a set of "Rules" in order to keep their work life together separate from their past relationship.  Rules, it is said, remember, are made to be broken!

To say more would spoil a poignant story of love surviving trauma of the highest order.  For Dylan has a past haunting his present behavior, a past he doesn't ever want to repeat or inflict on a loved one.  Add to that the tremendous fury and guilt resulting from his Afghanistan time and what we clearly know to be post-traumatic depression and more.

In spite of the heavy background and tension-ridden scenes, this is a novel of hope and forgiveness.  The theme of healing and wholeness is stronger than the wreckage of war, stronger than the havoc of family misunderstandings.  The characters get stronger.  No naive scenes fill these pages; sheer cusp-cutting dialogue cuts through the nonsense, avoiding annoying repetition and insisting on change rather than pity.  The romance is hot and honest as well!

It's a refreshing, necessary point of view that we need to hear more of in this decade when soldiers are returning from single or multiple tours of duty, some to be treated in a similar manner and others to be ignored.  Kudos to you, Charles Sheehan-Miles, for taking on this topic and creating a novel that should be read by a wide audience!!! Just Remember to Breathe is a must read!