Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Shortest Way Home: A Novel by Juliette Fay

The Shortest Way Home: A Novel. Juliette Fay. Penguin Group USA Inc. October 2012. 416 pp. paperback. ISBN #: 9780143121916.

Sean Doran has been working as a nurse in areas devastated by hurricanes and other natural disasters as well as countries ravaged by poverty, illiteracy, and disease.  But now he seems to be suffering from a massive case of burn-out, complicated by searing back pain that cripples him.  He has no commitments to anyone and knows it.  So he decides to return home to a small Massachusetts town, home where his Aunt Vivvy, his sister Deirdre and his nephew Kevin live.  And it's a visit he dreads!

This family is paralyzed by fear of the unknown, manifest in his mother's death years ago from Huntington disease, a hereditary disease that works fast and furious before it kills.  There's a test to find out if Sean and his sister have the disease but each has opted not to know being more of a sane decision than living knowing one is a walking time bomb.

The first thing Sean has to absorb is that life has progressed for his former friends, both male and female.  He is surrounded by people who have tangible, loving relationships and who love living in that state with its good and bad times.  Sean will slowly begin to form a connection to a former high school sweetheart and a massage therapist who is able to work miracles on his bum back.  Kevin, it turns out, has a sensitivity condition that he has learned to cope with, mainly because there's hardly anyone else who knows he's alive.  It's quite a collection of problems for someone trying to "rest a bit" before packing up to help others in need in some devastated spot in the third world.

The Shortest Way Home is an adult "coming of age" tale, a story where Sean learns to not only serve others but also discovers it's quite different when one discovers love is in the mix, including his long-lost father who reappears after desertion over twenty-five years ago.  Once he learns that in each situation, he is faced with new choices. No, it's not easy but it's told in such a practical, real, and endearing fashion that the reader will have a different type of reading experience, one that elicits hope and care for the characters herein as well as one's own life.  Tender yet funny, sincere yet gritty, this story is beautifully crafted and a delight!

The Street of the Three Beds by Roser Caminals

The Street of the Three Beds. Roser Caminals. Barcelona E-Books. Sold by Amazon Digital Services, Inc. August 2012. 212 pages.  ASIN: B008OPDDVQ .

Maurici Aldabo is a playboy in the beginning of this novel.  His father is a manufacturer who hopes his son will eventually take over the business.  While Maurici does have talent in dealing with their European counterparts in business, he does only what he has to do and spends the rest of his time drinking and carousing with his friends and any ladies he can seduce.  The novel opens with his current dalliance, Rita, announcing that she is pregnant and the reader will be stunned by Maurici's callous yet nervous initial reaction. What a chump!

However, the situation becomes complex with Rita's disappearance and the pages that follow concern Maurici's transformation into a concerned, investigative, upstanding young man.  For this disappearance has shattered Maurici's safe cocoon world, and the results are dangerous but endearing as well as adventuresome.  

Maurici enters what he thinks is a world of prostitutes that perhaps Rita, a seamstress by trade, was secretly engaged in.  As if that weren't bad enough, it turns out that there is something far more sinister happening involving the lives of young woman who are being caught or trapped into a white slave trade business, overseen by the highest officials involved in government and business. Shocking? Not really yet the author deftly alerts the reader through each phase of discovery as to how shocking this is to the average citizen, represented obviously in Maurici Aldabo and perhaps those known all too well to him.

This was a good read with an okay ending.  Although there is much about the gothic style underworld of this story, the story could have just as well taken place in any other large city in any country.  

Colossus - Stone and Steel by David Blixt

Colossus: Stone and Steel. David Blixt. Sordelet Ink Publisher. Sold by Amazon Digital Services, Inc. April 2012. 335 pages.  ASIN: B007XK66KI.

The year is 66 A.D. Rome rules over Israel but it isn't a peaceful coexistence between Romans and Jews.  There are Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, and other rebels who think that their brief skirmishes against their enemy will go unnoticed and naively be successful in ousting the Roman soldiers.  In the middle of this critical situation live Judah and Asher, two mason brothers, the former a physically muscular man and the latter an academic type who has actually studied in Rome and returned for a secret reason he at first will not reveal to anyone. He returns severely bruised and broken.

Right before Asher's return, Judah finds himself inadvertently involved with a violent fight with Roman soldiers.  It is his first brush with men outside his trade, some who are natural soldiers, others who are priests, former slaves, generals, and more.  Their success in severely decimating the Roman soldiers makes them momentarily drunk with victory until they realize that the act of taking a Roman Eagle standard guarantees that Rome must respond.  So they begin to prepare for what seems like the end of Israel.  Judah is hailed as a Jewish general, even though this hardly deems him more worthy for the hand of the woman he adores, Deborah.

The rest of the novel covers the planning for the great war and the first representative battle at Jotapata.  Here there are parallel scenes depicted of the leaders and the brilliance or devastation of these plans in each skirmish.  What is unique about the story is the refusal of Blixt to fall into stereotypical characterization.  Military campaign strategy is discussed and tried in between the quoting of poetry or the explanation of the complex Jewish faith and its beliefs and sects.  Academic excellence is as revered as battle skills.  The need for different levels of society to not only interact but cooperate is painstakingly described, with the private thoughts and feelings of every side adding to the tense and relaxed dialogue that is never repetitive or tedious, never stodgy but instead an adventuresome and informative read.

David Blixt is definitely a master of creating vibrant, credible, exciting, and accurate historical fiction.  His style is not only easy to read but also immensely engaging; the reader will be unable to stop reading once he or she begins any novel by this very talented writer.  Colossus is no exception and thankfully will be followed by another novel continuing the critical days that will perhaps be Israel's last stand against the Roman Eagle!  Stunning, David Blixt!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Midwife of Hope River: a Novel of an American Midwife by Patricia Harman

The Midwife of Hope River: A Novel of an American Midwife. Patricia Harman. William Morrow Paperbacks: An Imprint of Harper Collins. August 2012. 400 pages. ISBN #: 9780062198891.

Patience Murphy lives an isolated but adrenaline-kicking lifestyle.  At any time of the day or night, a person might knock on her door or a car pull up into her yard, seeking her very new skills as a midwife to help deliver a baby.  Sometimes everything goes oh so smoothly and yet there's always tension even until that last second when a baby emerges from his or her mother and is found to be healthy and whole when there is equal joy! But frequently, for various reasons, the baby has turned in utero and Patience has a huge challenge to deliver the baby, saving both the baby and its mother's life.  Pay comes in very, very small bills but more likely in the form of food or wood for a fire.  

For the Depression is looming over the entire nation and even the mines in West Virginia have closed or are very close to closing. Patience has wound up in this little country town because she fears the cops are after her, a story that gradually emerges throughout the entire novel.  

A neighboring veterinarian is the first to help Patience albeit after quite a bit of gruffness. But he later turns out to be more than a rough character and becomes a caring friend.  So what's the drama herein?  Could it be the delivering of animal young 'uns as well as human babies?  Could it be when a fierce ice storm glazes the area through which Patience must travel for another birth? Perhaps it's the husband who violently abuses his wife or anyone close enough to his rage?

There are several stories within this obvious surface story.  But the reader finds Patience to be an honest, straight-forward, caring woman who has picked the perfect profession for her and luckily for her patients. Unions and racism are volatile subjects to discuss or be a part of.  Patience, however, is a rebel for the most sincere reasons one would be a viable rebel; she cares more for people, their families, their finances that help them survive, etc. more than greed for more material possessions and more than the hate that turns cowards (KKK) into would-be killers!

The Midwife of Hope River is about second chances and rising above the smallness of those locked in "old time" ways and means! It's about sticking together and needing each other in a truly whole, community style. Nicely done, Ms. Harman!