Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Shadow on the Crown by Patricia Bracewell

Shadow on the Crown.  Patricia Bracewell. Viking Adult: Penguin Group (USA).  February 2013. 432 pp. pbk. 948 KB – eBook.  ISBN#: 9780143124351. ASIN#: B008EKORX4.

Emma of Normandy was to wait for her arranged marriage until her older sister, Mathilde, had been wed.  Their father and mother, Duke Richard and Dowager Duchess Gunnora, had larger worries with the presence of the Danish King, Swein Forkbeard, docked at the Duke’s winter harbor.  So far Forkbeard had been bought off by the Norman King and King Aethelred II of England.  This will soon change. Spanning a three year period from 1001 to 1004, this is the story of Emma’s marriage to the English King Aethelred II, a man haunted and tortured by the ghost of his dead brother, Edward.  Aethelred is a cruel, hard man who trusts neither man nor woman, believing all to be scavenging for his crown.  His three eldest children have similar hearts of stone, except for Althestan who falls hopelessly in love with Emma but dare not advance beyond one point as he knows his father’s reaction would be ruthlessly fatal.

Another woman of the English Court, Elgiva of Northampton, has her eye on the King of England, not out of lust for his body but for her insatiable craving of power.  She and her maid Groa, a fearsome woman with magical and lethal powers, will betray and kill to gain the ultimate queenly prize.  But the wyrd for Emma and Elgiva is tragic in very different ways that are absolutely mesmerizing.

A seer in the beginning of the novel states that Althestan will win his father’s Offa’s Sword but that the future King of England will be one who has his “hand” in the Queen’s hand.  Althestan has no idea what this means but like his brothers will pay careful watch to see what his own wyrd or fate is to be.

Battles between family, earls, and the Vikings fill these pages with an excitement that provides for a quick, interesting read.  Murder seems a regular method to put aside one’s opponents, the type of killings that cannot be proven.

While the Christian faith is the main religion of England, pagan rites and beliefs lurk in the darkness.  Sin abounds everywhere but it is interesting how the monks and priests of Catholicism have such respect (and fear) from even royalty.  They alone perhaps are advisers who keep the English royalty family of Aethelred from killing each other in their jealous goal for power which they would rashly use if they had it.

Emma, remarkably based on the actual book Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, evolves into a strong, compassionate, fiercely protective and just woman who knows her own strengths and weaknesses and is determined not to allow her new family to change, unless it be stronger. 

Characters interact in an ever-changing plot and customs in which the reader becomes totally engaged.

Shadow on the Crown is wonderful historical fiction.  Highly recommended!

White Dog Fell From The Sky by Eleanor Morse

White Dog Fell From The Sky.  Eleanor Morse. Penguin Group (USA). December 2013. 368 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9780143124436.

It is sheer irony to be reading this novel four days after the great South African leader, Nelson Mandela, has been laid to rest in his hometown in South Africa.  For Eleanor Morse has crafted the story of a white woman, Alice Mendelssohn, and a South African colored man, Isaac Muthethe, who lived through the perilous times in the late 70’s and did so much more than survive.  1976 – It is against the law for a colored person to be outside without a passport; it’s also against the law for them to enter certain stores, use public facilities reserved for white people, or look a white person directly in the eye, let alone to disagree with that person.  It practically is against the law to live.  Now it has become even more dangerous as the secret members of the ANC resistance movement are carrying out their protests against apartheid with violent acts. 

The South African Defense Forces in turn are killing ANC members or those suspected of being involved with the ANC.  So Isaac, after seeing his best friend brutally killed, flees South Africa into neighboring Botswana. There a white dog “with the wisdom of ages” falls out of the sky and becomes Isaac’s devoted companion and guide. Isaac’s future as a medical student seems a dead goal since he is now considered an ANC member though he has never participated in any actions and attended only a couple of meetings.  Isaac finally finds work as a gardener for Alice and learns to do a beautiful job with the help of an elderly gardener who lives nearby Alice’s home.  Isaac’s goal is to save enough money for his sister and brother to go to school and to save his other brother from poverty and living as an outlaw.  Much will happen to all in these pages but Isaac is one very dedicated and persevering proud black man.

Alice, on the other hand, is about to undergo tremendous change as she chooses to leave an unfaithful man.  She will mistrust many men before she finds one to trust and respect as well as love.  They will share a journey in which the unrivaled immensity and unbridled cruelty of the African bush, the latter created by the white colonizers who now believe this ancient land is now their own home.  The descriptions of the scenery and animals in this portion of the novel are nothing short of extraordinarily beautiful and lyrical.

Isaac will undergo a phase in his life that is agonizingly painful to read but which the reader realizes must be told as the realistic truth that existed for far too many during that very violent historical period.  Alice and her friend will ultimately prove to be saviors to both Isaac and his family but to tell that story here would be to deny the reader an amazing, well-researched, intriguing and phenomenal experience!

Eleanor Morse is a literate, intelligent and gifted writer who has gifted the world with a classic work of vivid historical fiction.  Highly, highly recommended!!!!!

The Tudor Conspiracy: A Novel by C. W. Gortner

The Tudor Conspiracy: A Novel.  C. W. Gortner. St. Martin’s Griffin. July 2013. 352 pp.  pbk. ISBN#: 9780312658496.

Mary Tudor and Princess Elizabeth are bitter enemies forevermore.  Mary is now Queen of England and doing everything possible to force her sister to convert from Protestantism to the Roman Catholic faith.  That victory would guarantee England remains a Catholic country and would enable Mary to marry Philip, Prince of Spain.  Imagine how such a union would change the face of history!

“Nothing is ever as it seems!” is the essence of this plot and Brendan Prescott, spy who once saved one of the sisters, is the protagonist called to the Queen’s presence for specific employment.  His job?  Prove Elizabeth is a traitor; bring evidence that will enable Mary to eliminate her ever-threatening sister.  Court intrigue, rumors and plots fill every page as supposed friends and implacable foes lead and mislead this easily targeted spy.  The reader must pay attention as Brendan seems to serve both sisters with equal determination.  Yes, he is misled at times but learns to become sharper mentally and trust his increasingly correct instincts as to who is really vying for favor.  There are truly no innocents herein!

Private letters, secrets, poison, murder, brutal beatings, threats, sword battles, sexual temptation and more force the reader’s excitement into more intense reading and flipping of these riveting pages.  For C. W. Gortner is a master of the mystery, the spy novel, the adventure story, the intricacies of England’s domestic and international manipulations of history, the obsessive lust for power and revenge, and the foibles that betray even the most careful antagonists!

The subplot of this novel awaits the reader’s pleasure as Brendan searches for his true identity amidst the royalty related to the Tudor sisters.  This quest is no less satisfying and the reader is rooting for Brendan every step of the way.

The author’s brilliance shines clearly in the way his characters seem to move through an emotional gauntlet of fury, confusion, fear, mourning, happiness, and mistrust in a matter of minutes.  One is never sure what will happen in the next second which makes the anticipation even more enticing!  Words cannot properly convey how well-crafted The Tudor Conspiracy… is.  Treat yourself, if you haven’t done so yet, to a brilliant, literate, engaging and exciting read which illuminates the intricacies of this well-known royally entangled historical period and characters!  Stunning!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Far Shore - Love is Salvation - Book Three by Traci L. Slatton

Far Shore: Love is Salvation – Book Three.  Traci L. Slatton. Parvati Press. October 2013. 252 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9780989023276.

“Non-existent scrims of vibration” are the key to the mists now threatening the extinction of mankind anew in this final book of “The After Series” trilogy.  Before they can be eliminated, however, there are human obstacles to overcome.  Ironically, the mists will be part of the solutions to each indomitable force obstructing success.  Each person in this story is developing new powers from the mists’ presence and has to learn to use them for the best of the community. 

Initially, however, Emma, our heroine, makes a very difficult decision, a choice that will affect her entire future and that of the family she has come to love. For now Emma has a singular mission, to heal two friends, one of whom is completely broken by another human. At the same time, the mists are acting strangely, actually surrounding crowds of travelers in the shape of a lasso and many who are touched by the mists are losing their minds.  Emma’s healing powers will evolve in a totally new way, for better or worse yet to tell.

When Emma and Arthur again meet, he shows ambivalent feelings toward Emma for a totally logical reason as well as the suffering he has endured which has left him a very angry man. They share some very feisty dialogue indeed. Alexei, their enemy, as well undergoes a transformation that the reader must decide is credible or not as the plot thickens and Emma’s reactions to him as well are startling.

Emma is quite an anti-clique person, something the reader should note as the plot progresses.  Once she has been part of a rescue or healing event, she remains totally devoted to those who have entered her world.  The unique quality of this final novel is how love plays out in very, very unexpected ways that are notably profound not only for the characters but for those who are forming new Safe Zone communities. Their ability to unite these qualities is the key to the ultimate quest which is, after all is said and done, to conquer the mists!

Far Shore… is a well-crafted finale to a notable sci-fi story.  Traci Slatton doesn’t reduce the story to a simple good guy-bad guy scenario and leaves the reader again with questions about evolving relationships, powers of the mind and spirit, and what it takes to live with each person’s virtues and vices and all the foibles in between.  Science and humans are dynamic, emerging phenomena with whom the reader will engage in intelligent, engaging steps throughout this highly recommended novel!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Blood and Beauty: The Borgias - A Novel by Sarah Dunant

Blood and Beauty: The Borgias – A Novel.  Sarah Dunant.  Random House, Inc. July 2013. 528 pp. hbk. ISBN #: 9781400069297.

Rodrigo Borgia, a noble of Spanish descent, in 1492 wins a majority of votes carefully cultivated among the College of Cardinals, the vote that would mandate the rest of his life be spent as Pope Alexander VI.  Totally besotted with his own children, Juan, Cesare, and Lucrezia, and endeared to his former and present lover, Alexander will spend the remainder of his life manipulating, severing and unifying the bonds of these faithless and troubled children.  One can imagine what it was like to technically not exist as the children of a Pope and yet to live in the opulent lifestyle of what seemed like limitless power of the Borgia clan.

The Borgias have as many enemies as supporters and it’s Alexander’s job to keep his finger on the pulse of the yet to be enacted secret plots.  While this is happening, Juan and Cesare barely tolerate each other and Juan’s amorous escapades are the talk of Rome.  Cesare has received a church position but yearns for the life of a military strategist and campaigner.  Alexander is trying to secure marriage betrothals for his children, all meant to secure the loyalty of both friends and enemies.  For Italy is divided as city-states war with each other, and France has its eye on exploiting the divisions for its own gain.  

A violent death and a serious illness temporarily devastates Alexander and gradually Lucrezia inwardly despises her family for using her as a marital tool and a not very effective one at heading off future conflicts within and outside of Rome.  Revenge must wait while the all-out war Cesare wages for his father occurs.  The outcome is devastating for so many and stifles all doubts of the strength of the Borgia clan, including another female warrior leader formerly respected for her indomitable fierceness and military successes.  Yes, there is blood, beauty, lust, violence, murder, disease and enough verbal altercations to keep the reader rapidly flipping the pages to the very last word. 

Blood and Beauty is a classic work of historical fiction written in the style of an embellished, thrilling account.  The novel also includes vivid descriptions of the gorgeous art and architecture of Rome, especially within Vatican City.  The unique quality of this story lies in changes wrought by Pope Alexander VI and his Borgia family in an extremely troubled time in Italian history.  Rome at this time was a dirty, dangerous city that slowly evolved into the magnificent cultural and sacred icon.  The author presents the immorality of the Borgias without commentary which this reader finds leads to some interesting reflection on how the Catholic Church operated in the 15th and 16th centuries.  The writing is handled so deftly that one almost unconsciously dismisses the “right/wrong” issues because one is so caught up with the machinations of Alexander and Cesare Borgia, not knowing how each scenario will unfold! 

Sarah Dunant is a superb author of historical fiction.  Blood and Beauty is a memorable, phenomenal account of one of the most notable and infamous families in world history.  Highly, highly recommended – and there is more Borgia impact to come which this reviewer eagerly anticipates!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Roan Rose by Juliet Waldron

Roan Rose.  Juliet Waldron. Books We Love, Ltd. October 2013. 283 pp. 1122 KB. ASIN#: B00FKKAN98.

Roan Rose, born into a hard-working, harsh family, is expected to win her father a large dowry (large for their class, that is) but instead faces a different destiny.  She has been trained to be a healer and midwife at the basic skills level and thereby attracts the attention of the Countess of Warwick.  The Countess takes Rose to be a companion and healer to her daughter, Anne Neville, yes, the daughter to the noble Kingmaker.  The time span of Rose’s story takes the reader through the infamous War of the Roses historical period, the conflict covering every facet of the enmity between the Houses of Lancaster and York.  Anne, who worships her father, immediately adores Rose, thus leading to a life-long friendship with Rose, but not one without some period of strife. 

Richard of Gloucester, the brother of King Edward resides with the Neville family, a usual practice ensuring a royal son is properly trained for royal duties.  His closeness to Anne is obvious but perhaps never to be as royalty must marry royalty to insure political benefits for all concerned.  The endless conflicts between King Edward IV’s natural family versus the Woodville/Rivers family versus the Warwick clan, with each family’s numerous supporters and enemies, are the chief focus of this novel. 

However, there are twists and turns in this story unique to this author’s depiction. Ceremonies are described with minute detail as to appearance, decorations, flora and fauna, ceremonies, lists of notable families in attendance with all of their servants, etc. that are fascinating to follow.  Clarence, King Edward’s brother, is portrayed as the most despicable, evil, drunk and sadistic lout one could possibly imagine.  

Another unique quality is the way the author manages to convey Richard’s supposedly cruel transformation upon claiming the crown after Edward’s death, with the additional mystery of the missing Princes in the Tower and the reasons for betrayers to change sides out of sheer greed or survival.  The word “poignant” is almost an understatement throughout the entire novel.

Readers who love natural homeopathy techniques and medicines will love the extensive descriptions of what flowers and herbs are used for specific illnesses or problems in the 15th Century.

Rose, as well as a good friend, is also depicted as a romantic character in quite a surprising way, one not well-developed in other novels (although others write of Richard’s earlier liaison with Kate Haute).  Rose, Anne, Richard also focus on how their religious souls are in jeopardy as so much of what happens in this novel is sinful or heretical, with a touch of the “old ways” or pagan rituals and beliefs.

A surprising amount of the story concerns the cruel suffering Anne Neville experiences as she is shuffled around as a political tool.  The social issue of woman treated poorly is given fair treatment in these characters and the expediency of male will and actions thoroughly depicted and satirized.  Finally, the atmosphere of the times – rich v. poor status the main division – is clearly delineated but in a way that shows the attitudes of contentment and hatred regarding living, work, health and other conditions.

This reviewer absolutely loved this novel and shortage of space here prevents me from sharing more (plus we don’t want spoilers for those not familiar with this famous historical albeit fictional account), but suffice to say Juliet Waldron is one very talented writer and I look forward to reading more of her books.  Highly, highly recommended, delightful historical fiction!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Shadow in the Flames: Book One of the New Aeneid Cycle by Michael G. Munz

A Shadow in the Flames (The New Aeneid Cycle – Book One).  Michael G. Munz. Smashwords. September 2013. 308 pp. 2983 KB. AISN #: B00D72HVT6. ISBN#: 9781602641044.   

Diomedes lives in the Dirge area of an unnamed futuristic city and works as a freelancer.  Beyond that vague reference, the reader infers that he’s a criminal who does contract work for an unnamed source.  Michael is an old friend who Diomedes takes under his wing after Michael loses his Uncle to a heart attack and then loses the farm he’s lived on all his life.  Michael is not a lightweight but definitely is “learning the ropes” from his friend.  Only now his training is about to jettison into high gear when Diomedes’ apartment explodes and all of his possessions are destroyed in the fire.  To say he’s furious is an understatement and he’s determined to find out who is behind it. Yes, killing is on his mind!

First they hire a shyster named Felix who is capable of discovering secret sources; many pay Felix for his knowledge.  But this is no regular human society.  The characters are living in a dystopian cyber society where parts of the body are machines that can out-perform any human organ by a thousand-fold. 

The plot then switches to the Moon where humans are mining all available metals until a freaky discovery is made. Is it man or machine?  One isn’t sure but it definitely looks like a metallic porcupine that in a flash of light leaves behind a strew of dead bodies.  Anything to be learned about it is immediately cut off by the major company running the mining project – and more behind that obvious cover.  It is Marette Clarion who refuses to be shut up and who wants to know precisely what happened in one devastating event to cause the death of so many. So we have two separate searches for information plots with no idea of who is responsible for either scenario.

To say more would be a spoiler.  The plot picks up about to become quite an adventure but one must wade through too many conversations about who knows “something” from the secret sources that remain vague references before you get to a viably moving and developing story.  It’s worth the wait as all the circumlocutory discussions eventually get somewhere.  But there’s no clear-cut final solution to the two parallel plots but enough of a hint to keep the reader wanting more.  Yes, A Shadow in the Flames… is quite a sci-fi tale that becomes riveting toward the middle of the story. 

Thieves and murderers, gangs, vampires, business leaders with far too much power, a journalist, and more fill these pages to provide quite a good read!  Interesting dystopian literature – dark, violent, mysterious, and suspenseful – for those who love the genre!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

One Great Year: A Novel by Tamara Veitch and Rene DeFazio

One Great Year: A Novel. Tamara Veitch and Rene DeFazio. Greenleaf Book Group Press. October 2013. 456 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9781626340237.

Marcus, Theron and Helghul are Emissaries who each handle the looming end of the Golden Age in Atlantis in different ways.  Marcus and Helghul vie for Theron’s love, but Theron refuses to choose one over the other, seeing the good in each.  Marcus inadvertently watches as Helghul enters a pact of Dark Magic that sets them as enemies for thirteen thousand years.  For each of the three, as well as other Emissaries, will be reborn in that role, but only three (not Theron) will remember their past lives due to a potion they drank in their first lifetime.  Their mission, as they leave an Atlantis collapsing into the sea, is to spread Enlightenment, the Oneness of all men, women, and nature.

Marcus’s role as Emissary is often confused by his desperate search for Theron in every lifetime.  Helghul on the other hand fully embraces the mission to bring darkness and destruction in each lifetime, always imprisoning or killing Marcus when he finds him. In some lifetimes, no one finds any of the other pivotal three characters.
So the three are reborn in Bolivia, Greece, Egypt, Mongolia, other European nations, and finally America.  While there they teach thousands of people about the wisdom of the ages, all the while focusing on the key message of the Oneness of all.  In one lifetime they are guided into the hidden Shambala where they are allowed to rest and revitalize their healing energy and powers.  It’s a story of peace, love, and compassion – the dream life all yearn for but are not willing to pursue and pay the price for obtaining such a vision and/or way of life. Finally, in a turbulent, astonishing finale they converge at the Pyramids of Egypt where they will first encounter tests to prove they have retained their Emissary mission and then unite to usher in a new Golden Age.

One Great Year is a first novel of a planned trilogy.  It is obviously superbly researched and much of that learning is provided with a bibliography and links at the end of the novel.  This reviewer loved this novel but wonders how it will be received by the public.  It’s not it’s too long but there is a circular cycle of plot that might be off-putting – good guy born and spreading a positive message followed by another conflict with bad guy.  I would suggest, even at the cost of reducing size, that there be some more meat in what was taught and done in each lifetime (even if it has to be conflict but not the repetitive fight between Marcus and Helghul).  Example – what did Plato teach and how was it received – not blind acceptance but pros and cons included briefly.

Still, all in all, this is a very impressive novel with a very important message that all of us deep down and on the surface know is the ultimate truth.  The authors are to be commended for this Herculean effort and despite its repetitive cycle, it is well worth reading every single page.  Very well done historical/fantasy/ paranormal fiction!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

I'll Be Home for Christmas: A Coming Home Novella by Jessica Scott

I’ll Be Home For Christmas: A Coming Home Novella.  Jessica Scott. Grand Central Publishing. November 2013. 100 pp. e-book ISBN #: 9781455554249.

Sergeant Vic Carponti and his wife Nicole are one very HOT couple.  He covers every stressful situation with jokes and a positive attitude, and Nicole supports him in every minutes because she realizes the horrendous stress of his work when he is in Iraq fighting a war that leaves far too many wounded or dead.  Their romantic life is not only sizzling but creative when they are both together and apart, with the addition of “dirty” letters and videos fueling their insatiable desire for each other. Each has very significant fears, however, that never get displayed, or at least rarely.  How close are they to losing each other?

Off to Iraq Vic Carponti goes, arriving at a scene where IED attacks alternate between constant frequency and dropping off that provokes even more tension as one knows the absence of attacks presages something awful.  Into this mix there are some crude and irritating soldiers of different ranks who seem to delight in demanding conformity, not realizing the need for the Sergeant’s levity in the middle of indescribable tension.  But nothing holds Carponti back, that is until one of his best buddies is seriously injured and has to be flown to Germany for the extensive treatment necessary to save his life. 

When the attacks and Glenn’s injuries loom large, Vic finds himself unable to call Nicole because he fears “losing it.”  Yet he relies on her constant presence by Skype to keep him strong.  They both have friends whose relationships collapse from the inability to handle the constant strain.  They lack the passion Vic and Nicole so clearly have for each other; but Jessica Scott doesn’t make this into a fairy tale.  The dangers and realities of war-time military life are clearly and potently depicted but without becoming maudlin beyond credibility.

Vic will be coming home to Nicole, alive but different from his latest service.  The reader anxiously awaits how each will adjust to their new poignant stressor but will not be disappointed.

Jessica Scott knows how to present the hottest sexy moments and succinctly present the brave moments too often ignored by an American public who have idealistic images of war that are blown apart herein.  Fine, fine balance, Jessica Scott, that is both exhilarating and powerful!!! Very, very nicely crafted!

Perfect Timing: A Novel by Laura Spinella

Perfect Timing: A Novel.  Laura Spinella. Penguin Group (USA). November 2013. 384 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9780425267301.

Isabel Lang’s best friend is Aidan Roycroft, a musically talented heart-throb whose reputation is definitely pegged as “love ‘em and leave ‘em.”  As a matter of fact in the beginning of this tale, Aidan has just dumped a girl in the most public fashion possible and received an rsvp of a huge smack in the face.  The reader then follows the story to the background of Isabel and Aidan’s friendship occurring at a time when they really trusted, needed and always hung out with each other. The story of their families is far from endearing, actually making it easier for them to depend on each other and only on each other. It was a safe world, as long as Isabel reminded herself that she was never going to be like “them,” meaning those Aidan had left like so much debris being thrown away.

Now, just when Isabel and Aidan are beginning to see each other with new eyes, a violent event happens, an act is totally twisted by the perpetrator, and the couple are forced to flee to Las Vegas.  No, the story doesn’t end happily ever after at this point.  Instead Isabel becomes one of “them,” but not because of Aidan’s choice at all.  So, as a strong woman Isabel sets her sights on a new future, one without Aidan.

Isabel, seven years later, is running a radio station that’s about to undergo a revolutionary change, given the fierce competition for listeners with Internet and satellite radio being top or prime musical sites.  Isabel is forced to come up with a pivotal change, a command performance that will move her station’s prime status to the top. Everything has a cost and Isabel is about to pay big time!

To say more would spoil a neat story that is credible, sincere, stunning and passionate.  Justice is served in some cases, although late in the offering for several people in Isabel and Aidan's lives! Yessss!  Laura Spinella has created a tale that is replete with a good plot, some unusual twists and turns, and a sexy, flawed but totally attractive male character whose heart has always been fiercely held in the heart of one solid but unsure gal.  Nicely done, Laura Spinella!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Celebration House by Annette Drake

Celebration House.  Annette Drake. Tirgearr Publishing.  November 2013. 156 pp., 1469 KB. ASIN No.: B00E9DXK3I.

Carrie Hanson is dying, but you’d never know it as she moves to Lexington, Missouri from Seattle, Washington after having received a heart transplant.  The new heart isn’t working so well but she’s determined to stay in Missouri where she is planning to purchase an old 19th Century mansion in desperate need of repairs, in fact it needs to be totally remodeled.  When Carrie arrives at Stratton House, not only does she find it in such need of repair that she wonders if she can afford it but she also discovers that it’s haunted.  For Carrie has a most unusual skill of being able to see, hear and talk with ghosts.  If you’re looking for the usual “ghost scares the dickens out of residents” story, forget it!!!  Carrie meets Colonel Stratton who is a curmudgeon owner who thinks he can frighten Carrie out of living at “his” home. No spoilers here!

This is the story of Carrie’s dream come true, despite the fierce disapproval of her sister in Seattle and the initial obstacles of her new home.  Add to the characters a sexy guy, Major Stewart, a former Civil War soldier, who falls in love with Carrie but is unable to do anything about it.  And we can add to the mix that Carrie will be joined by a friend who will help her in the tough period of this remodeling project, a friend who carries her own stilted love past but who just may meet someone who is everything she ever dreamed of, which is all for the better.

Carrie wants Stratton House to be a place where people can live the best days of their life, whether that be a wedding, birthday party, celebration of a great event, etc.  In the process, Carrie meets other ghostly creatures, who learn to love her and she them and they help her to achieve her dream, allowing Stratton House to truly become the historical mansion it was meant to be and teaching its visitors to respect and honor the place they are enjoying for one or a few days.  The reader comes to care for all of them and is glad for the encounter!

Carrie was a cardiac nurse before she received her own transplant, so she knows what’s happening.  And once again, no, you can’t possibly predict what is going to happen at the end of this lovely novel – ha!

Enjoy every page of this delightful, romantic, poignant, funny and special novel.  Annette Drake is a very talented writer who knows how to tell a charming yet intriguing story and compliment of compliments, never overdoes it and so it’s all phenomenally credible! Highly recommended!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

No Dawn For Men: A Novel of Ian Fleming, JRR Tolien and Nazi Germany by James LePore and Carlos Davis

No Dawn for Men: A Novel of Ian Fleming, J.R.R. Tolkien and Nazi Germany.  James LePore and Carlos Davis. The Story Plant. December 2013. 272 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 978161188073.

On the fields of battle during WWI, two men meet, one a wounded soldier lying under a dying horse and the other a good man stopping to help but unable to do so.  Years later in 1938 in Nazi Germany the son of the wounded soldier, Ian Fleming, meets with the notable author of The Hobbit, Professor Tolkien, to seek an artifact that Adolph Hitler intends to use for his usual nefarious purposes.  This cannot happen as it could mean the end of the world as we now know it.  And so the thriller begins; but remember, what is a thrilling read to us is a matter of life and death to Fleming, Tolkien, Professor Shroeder and his daughter Billy and MI-6 Agent Arlen Cavanagh. Can the dead be brought back to life? Who must die to prove that reality?

Tolkien is approached by his former student, Cavanagh, who asks him to interpret a Satanic invocation for raising the dead.  Within days, he has agreed to head to Berlin in the early days preceding WWII.  Hitler has placed his henchmen in place before he begins his master plan of conquering Europe with a formidable military force.  Hitler’s Aryan policies are beginning to be implemented, with a special hatred toward Jews and dwarfs during the telling of this story.  What exactly do the SS men who are following Shroeder everywhere want from him.  Shroeder knows of an amulet and parchment with a secret spell; he’s actually seen that it works but that it will kill whoever attempts to use it, so powerful is its mystical force.  The Germans want it as well and have given Shroeder three days to find it and turn it over or else!

Billie, Schroeder’s daughter, seems oblivious to the looming threat.  She is a straight-forward character, it seems, who says she hates the Nazis but is also actually dating a German soldier.  She quite simply doesn’t realize the inherent danger of her father’s invitation to Berlin to cooperate with the German leaders.  When she meets Arlen Cavanagh, it seems she is so blasĂ© about everything that no one suspects she could be anything other than tremendous to her scholarly father, Schroeder.

A harrowing tale begins with the necessity of escaping Germany, but this journey is not going to be an easy one and there are dangers lurking in and around every corner of their meager existence. Horrific bestial moments serve as entertainment for German officers; a symbol of the terror they are to carry out in country after country across Europe!  Oh yes, the reader can predict to a certain degree on the effect of this now hidden artifact and how an escape will probably occur; but the ending is so, so, so stunning that it will leave you dazed for minutes, perhaps even hours.  No Dawn for Men again proves James LePore to be a superb crafter of thriller novels.  The action is relentless, the characters are stereotypical but move at all the right times and places, increasing the tension to a degree with no appropriate descriptive word but most assuredly there and very, very real!  Also recommended for lovers of historical fiction authors and those who perhaps could not speak of the wrongdoing behind them but certainly have decided not to let that travesty happen again! Highly, highly recommended! 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Saving Paradise by Mike Bond

Saving Paradise. Mike Bond.  Mandevilla Press. November 2013. 302 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9781627040013.

Pono Hawkins is a Special Forces veteran of Afghanistan who has seen too much war and too much mindless brutality.  He’s a guy who seems programmed to correct wrongs when he sees them.  That hasn’t always been a wise thing to do; in fact it also earned him some prison time both inside and outside the military.  So he spends his days surfing and relishing every moment of this land, Hawaii, he loves so, so intensely!  He also teaches other vets how to surf, a form of therapy that takes them into a healing space they desperately need after having served in Afghanistan and Iraq over the past decade and more. He makes some money because of his surfing dog, Mojo. That’s all about to come to a squeaking halt!

Pono hates the tourist areas of Honolulu as well as the way the “haoles” or white Americans and Europeans have raped the land of Hawaii, imprisoned its native people in back-breaking labor for little pay, and taken their land for the sake of profit or “big business.”  That intense dislike quickly increases when Pono finds a dead woman on the edge of the surf not far from a well-known hotel.  Now, because of his criminal record, he’s not exactly getting much information from the local police.  Add to the mystery that a coroner’s report that initially said the victim died from drowning in a rather unique way, considering where she was found, has now been retracted.  Anyone with a connection to the police is mum about this serious retraction of significant evidence. Pono can’t let go; he becomes fanatic about finding the real killer. 

Wind-powered is supposed to be one of the natural resources that can lead to the creation of energy.  It’s supposed to be one of the “green” energy forms that people can feel good about using.  However, it turns out that it’s not so green and leaves behind enough side effects that are inhospitable to this already depleted earth to sink a ship  It also costs a fortune to set up but not because the wind costs money to transform into energy; it turns out that politicians and business executors are in the loop for the profits and if it means the displacement of Hawaiian natives, not a great loss – so be it!  The reader also gets a bit of an education about the pros and cons of this latest energy-producing fad! Add a gang to the creep list and some women about whom the reader will wind up mentally quibbling since they seem innocent yet know quite a bit about the murdered journalist, Sylvia Gordon. 

Pono moves to the top of the hit list due to his continuous inquiries and his insistence on using the enemies’ employees as sources or connections.  Just when it seems that there’s hardly anything left to plunder in Hawaii, a group of greedy entrepreneurs will stop short of nothing, including murder, to make sure their Wind-Powered Energy project succeeds.  But they fail to understand the passionate love the native Hawaiians have for their land and the determination they have to make sure this energy nightmare never happens. Intense clashes will arise in different ways that turn into a real nail-biter thriller.

Mike Bond knows Hawaii and human nature just as well. So it’s the heavy-hitters against a Special Forces Vet – quite the challenge!

Saving Paradise  is one heck of a crime novel/thriller and highly recommended!  It’s a keeper!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Songs of Three Islands: A Memoir by Millicent Monks

Songs of Three Islands: A Memoir.  Millicent Monks. Easton Studio Press LLC. October 2013. 264 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9781935212447.

Three islands provided homes for generations of the Carnegie family: Cumberland Island off the coast of Florida, Crescent Island near Maine, and the North Island near the Canadian border.  These islands also serve as the metaphors and symbols of the singular world of madness plaguing the women in this notable family.  The islands hold myriad nightmarish voices emerging from the unconscious and merging with the so often harsh reality of the consciousness of these family members.  Millicent Monk wrote this memoir to bring this world to light, to remove the stigma of mental illness, to be a guide for those who have no access to mental health in their illness or for their families.  To discover that what one feels, thinks, says and does that is so irrational and creates such indescribable havoc in families is life-giving in a way that will be pure salvation for those who read this painful, poignant but incredibly important account.

Millicent Monks first offers the world of her mother, Lucy Carnegie, a woman who seemed to slowly go mad. Yes, she heard voices and believed fanatically in germs destroying her children, but she was also the victim of harsh verbal and even physical abuse from her husband who appeared convivial and charming to everyone else.  The reader is not sure which is worse, watching the descent of Lucy into madness to the point where she has to be committed to a hospital or the way the author tries to cope with it, turning off every thought and feeling, knowing that if she thinks or feels too much about it all she will surely go mad herself. But such a solution isn’t a cure at all but only a different road into the world of mental illness that increases with time; underneath the total lack of feeling is indescribable hurt and anger that cannot help but leak out initially and then more forcefully later on. As she puts it so well, “What could be crueler, to live on this earth and not be able to feel loved or love oneself?” Fortunately, Millicent Monks has experienced her own precious years of difficult but healing therapy.

The author also recounts the crises experienced with her own battle with cancer and her daughter’s borderline personality disorder.  It sounds so simple to name a disease but it is very practical the way Ms. Monks describes learning to care and let go or not care at the same time in order not to be consumed by this major problem.

To say more would be to spoil a very special read, a memoir of beautiful descriptions of the islands juxtaposed with the miasma of mental disease threatening to leash its “murderous rage” upon any and all.  What is more important is that this memoir is not just a litany of suffering but a tribute to the strength required and manifested by family members, including the author’s loving husband Bobby, doctors, and other mental health practitioners, as well as friends and other family members.  In a world that often spends far too much time lamenting disasters resulting from mental illness in the news, here is a book of hope, a plea to identify and help those in need of treatment and love before any looming crises emerge.  Wonderful memoir worthy of its brave, sensitive and uniquely special author! Highly recommended!

Masks by E. C. Blake

Masks.  E. C. Blake. DAW: Penguin Group USA.  November 2013. 304 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9780756407599.

Enter the Autarch, the Supreme Ruler of Aygrima, who in the first few pages uses magic to destroy a female opponent.  But destroying his enemies is not the ultimate goal; it is the goal from the moment opposition rears its rebellious head.  So how easy in this high tech, future society to create a specific mask for each man, woman and child, one that a “Watcher” can look at and immediately detect disloyalty or at least suspicion of betrayal. 

And so it continues. We now enter the home of Mara Holdfast, daughter of the Master Maskmaker.  Mara has worked with her father and been allowed to learn the basic skills of fashioning each mask but will not be allowed to learn the Magic behind each mask until her own masking ceremony.  She is very excited about it until she sees a definitely suspicious pattern in her father and mother as her ceremony date on her birthday approaches. She knows that she has lied when tested for her ability to be one who has the “gift” of magic, a terrible crime that could be the undoing of her and her family. Add to that the foreshadowing when she visits the area near the town’s gates where criminals are crucified.  It’s not specifically defined why they are killed but every citizen knows it has to do with being a rebel or criminal against the all-powerful Autarch!
Be shocked on the long-awaited day when her masking ceremony turns into a total disaster; and but for a woman with the gift of healing Mara would be horrifically scarred for life.  Instead she is healed and taken away by the Watchers, first to a prison and then to those who will transport her to a mining camp for prisoners.  But her arrival there is forestalled by rescuers who have captured her for their own purposes.
The goal is to stop the Autarch from continuing his Mask policy, as the latest, more-developed Masks are changing people’s personalities after they are masked, producing robotic, trance-like people who would never be able to even think about the possibility of rebelling.  There are many heroes within this story who will do all they can to ensure that the reign of Autarch is destroyed as soon as possible. The scenes are tense, life and death struggles all too frequently, and sometimes one isn’t quite sure who are more evil, the Autarch or his Watchers and guards.  There are children being used for the Autarch’s final solution to the Masks, with devastating consequences that leave any reader with half a heart furious!

Masks seems to be the first of a series to come and is well-written science or paranormal fiction.  It’s credible, exciting, complex and mysterious enough to keep the reader avidly flipping the pages!  Great writing, E. C. Blake – highly recommended sci-fi fiction!

Christmas At The Beach - A Ten Beach Road Novella by Wendy Wax

Christmas at the Beach (A Ten Beach Road Novella).  Wendy Wax. Penguin Group USA.  October 2013. 52 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9781101625965.

One year ago a group of family, friends and acquaintances joined together to renovate an old historical beach house, Bella Flora.  Madeline Singer, Avery Lawford, and Nicole Grant agreed to a reality-style filming of their efforts, showing their marvelous talents and skills in full force as they took a broken down, almost ready to be demolished home into its full beauty and strengths as a model historical home worthy of its old but gorgeous Florida beach house status.  That process wasn’t pretty all the time and betrayals and secrets almost destroyed them each emotionally, as well as financially.  Secrets galore threatened as well and here we are a year later in actual and fictional time gradually learning there are still more shocking secrets to shatter the serene Christmas atmosphere.  But first there are celebrations for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to be held, with eating, drinking and chatting as the original characters and other relatives gather for their last holiday at Bella Flora.

Kyra, Madeleine’s daughter, is first surrounded by the paparazzi at the airport and in a funny scene escapes their voracious quest for just one picture, and another, and another.  It’s not very long after her arrival at the beachfront mansion that a huge, absolutely huge gift arrives from the father of her son, Daniel Deranian, who is already married, with the most horrific virago of a wife one could ever imagine. 

Add to that the awareness dawning on Kyra that all is not well between her parents and a later discovery on who has finally bought the redone beauty, Bella Flora, and you begin to get the picture that this is a family that seems to be defined by constant “drama” although not everyone takes it that way.

Still, they find time each evening to have a celebratory drink and offering of what’s good in their worlds which is heartwarming at times and simply lovely at others.
It also turns out that they will begin a new renovation next year somewhere in the Florida Keys, The House on Mermaid Point – something to definitely look forward to reading and sharing!

Christmas at the Beach is a lovely story about a typical yet unique family gathering together to share, bicker, love and heal – like most families wind up doing at holiday time!  Great Read!!!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A Wicked Design: A Belinda Lawrence Mystery - Book Five by Brian Kavanagh

A Wicked Design: A Belinda Lawrence Mystery (Book Five). Brian Kavanagh. Fontaine Press. September 2013. 192 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9781925086065.

Belinda Lawrence receives a shocking telephone call from her mother. A former lover and successful architect, Brad Delaney, he had a meeting with Belinda’s fiancĂ© Mark Sallinger the night before Brad was murdered.  Belinda, however, has no idea of this meeting.  All she knows is Brad was found in a local river, with his hands tied behind his back, and stones on his body to weigh him down.  While she clearly had moved on past Brad, she was determined to find out who killed him.   Her mother had secret designs that she would eventually marry Brad and thereby stay in Australia where her Mom could eventually share life with grandchildren.

At the funeral Belinda is convinced something is odd about this death.  Brad’s brother, a Socialist fanatic, says he’s sad about his death but at the same time says there wasn’t much love lost between them, citing “materialism” as the reason for his dislike of his brother.  Then there are other guests who are obviously important politicians.  It turns out that Brad was working on a special project for the city’s Parliament House and had found something worth a fortune that was to be part of the new Dome on the building.  Now, he’s gone, however, there are many, many people interested in finding out what he found in order to profit from it in various ways.

The treasure Brad found has not only monetary value beyond belief but also is highly symbolic of the party holding power at the time.  Belinda’s best friend, Hazel Whitby, is her usual sexy self and uses those romantic ploys to distract doormen and the like while Belinda goes sleuthing.  There’s a talkative Major, some antique dealers, a professor and more who all seem innocent with their words but whose body language belies their supposed disinterest in finding this treasure and historical artifact.

Brad is not the only one who will die and even Mark Sallinger comes under the radar as a suspicious “person of interest,” who was determined that Brad would never enter Belinda’s life again beyond that of an acquaintance. No, you can’t figure out “who done it” no matter how you try as Brian Kavanagh knows how to throw wrenches into the plot exactly when one thinks the mystery is about to be solved.  It also seems there’s a historical party war going on that is pitting democracy against a more socialist leaning reminiscent of fascist governments ruling before, during and after WWII.  Belinda’s life will be seriously threatened before the mystery is solved and the ending is quite shocking and not even close to what the reader thinks will solve the political and criminal mystery!

Each novel by Brian Kavanagh gets better and better, but A Wicked Design… is certainly the best of all his works.  Intense, complex plots with unpredictable characters interact so that the reader will have to read this novel in one or two sittings, as it’s very, very hard to put down once it’s started.  There’s also a nice touch of history and its symbolic value in government that’s informative and intriguing as well!

All in all - very nicely done, Brian Kavanagh!  

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Entertainer: Movies, Magic and My Father's Twentieth Century by Margaret Talbot

The Entertainer: Movies, Magic and My Father’s Twentieth Century.  Margaret Talbot. Penguin Group USA.  November 2013. 432 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9781594631887.

The Entertainer… covers a large swatch of twentieth century entertainment as history and also a biography of the author’s father, Lyle Talbot.  It’s quite obvious that Margaret was deeply fond of her father, although her grandmother didn’t quite like the influence he had on his daughter.  But the tales she heard from her Dad clearly fascinated her and made her realize that the history of entertaining was one to share with the world because of its unique evolution over time and with the additional development of new technologies so rapidly  occurring during the 20th Century.

To begin with the reader is introduced to the world of the “story” as her father shared events and characters galore in his long career; he was already sixty when his daughter was born.  This is the world we learn began with side shows, circuses, traveling stage shows, hypnotists with real and criminal skills, silent screen movies, “talkies,” big screen movies, and so much more until one gets the full picture that just also includes America’s development.  An interesting part that is sometimes unrecognized is how much small rural towns contributed to the spread of entertainment, whether it was good or bad.  The monotony of life led to a demand for such entertainment which also served as morality plays, stories in which common people could identify with similar characters, and just downright plain silliness to lighten the financial and work burdens of most Americans. At times the entertainment was quite bawdy and probably should have been banned but wasn’t as there was little preoccupation with ratings in the 1920s and 1930s and even later.

Then we read about Lyle Talbot’s career which spanned every type of possible acting from gangsters and romance stories to cowboy tales and more.  Lyle Talbot never really made it big in the sense of his own performance but certainly worked with the “big” names in the industry, from Mae West to Clark Gable and more.  He also acted in well-known TV serials and actually performed in Hollywood and New York great shows, including Lincoln Center. A multitude of famous and not so well-known films are listed with leading and minor actors and actresses.

Margaret Talbot prefers to focus more on the varying talents of her father and other actors and actresses.  While she glosses over the difficulties of such a lifestyle, including her father’s weakness for less than savory women and absence because of constant traveling that goes with the job, she does create in the reader the sense that acting skills had to change as well as the means by which entertainment was offered.  She tells some funny stories about how her father flubbed certain performances such as when he was supposed to feign a punch on another character but wound up knocking him out and more like this account.

This is a book for any person with even the faintest interest in entertainment, whether that be in pre-movie entertainment, movies, TV movies and serial shows, and the theater.  All in all, Margaret Talbot has offered a panoramic history and depiction that should be required reading for everyone in the industry and those who love the same for all the reasons so obvious in Margaret Talbot’s tribute to one of the greatest industries in the world!