Friday, February 1, 2013

The Alabama Rebel: A Novel of Courage Amid Conflict by R Thomas Roe

The Alabama Rebel: A Novel of Courage Amid Conflict. R. Thomas Roe. Signalman Publishing. October 12, 2012. 286 pp. pbk. ISBN#: 9781935991817.

River Hunter is an unusual character, the son of a Scottish father and Cherokee mother who has been raised to live by Native American Indian or Cherokee morals and values.  His father disappeared when River was a young boy but he knows he was a good man. His mother and sister live with a slave and her son who are treated as equals in their home, a most unusual state in this pre-Civil War times.  River is mocked because he is proud of his Indian heritage and dresses in animal skins that he has sewn into handsome suits.  Moreover, his behavior unnerves those who would normally persecute and malign him because he is so well-mannered and goal oriented.  He values getting ahead and makes careful plans one step at a time to get a college education and eventually attend law school, all of this without any money to support him but with the audacious get-up-and-go plans that help him obtain the finances to obtain his dreams.  River is a superb hunter who never kills for sport and always respects the lives of the animals; his favorite spot seems to be a sacred one where animals observe and even come close to him but never harm him.

Life becomes dramatic when he falls in love with the daughter of a plantation owner in Alabama.  She remains his friend but must marry someone else for reasons to do with the family fortune.  The Civil War then begins with River demonstrating great courage and skills for which he is repeatedly promoted.  The War changes him forever as he has now seen death in its most grisly form and actions that do far from show the noble nature of men.  Later he will marry and become an adopted father to his former love’s son. The actions of victors after the Civil War again show the base nature of men who won the war but not the will to keep things the way they’ve always been.

This novel is a bit of an enigma.  It dramatically succeeds in spite of somewhat stilted language and the fact that River comes across as a character too good and perfect to be credible. At other times the author uses language clearly not of the times in which he is writing.  Yet even with these limitations, The Alabama Rebel is a fine work of historical fiction depicting perilous times in which men and women sought to remain dignified in the midst of terrible prejudice, to get ahead when the lines between prosperity and poverty were huge, and when it was easier to fight than give up political positions that caused suffering for so many human beings of a different race or political party. 

Sonoma Rose by Jennifer Chiaverini

Sonoma Rose.  Jennifer Chiaverini. Penguin Group (USA). January 2013. 432 pp. hbk. ISBN #: 9780452298996.

Rosa Diaz Barclay is riddled with grief and fear, grief for the children she has lost from a mysterious disease and fear for the violent husband who beats her at the slightest whim.  But her troubles are about to become worse, far worse, before they get better.  A woman neighbor, Elizabeth, brings her two quilts and says she found them in a cabin.  One is the quilt that was made by her mother, the mother she had to reject on orders from her husband.  She knows the origin of the other quilt but must remain silent because of the secret it holds that could wind up in her final beating.  All of her fears are for nothing as her husband arrives home while Elizabeth is still there, and he reacts violently again.  This time she is severely hurt and must seek help, not only for herself but for two of her other children who also seem to have this mysterious illness.  Before she leaves, she makes an earth-shaking discovery of what her husband has been storing and quickly realizes its source.  The danger is huge for her as well!

Lars, an old romantic flame, appears at this hour of need and helps her.  Rosa’s husband, John, has gone too far and been arrested for violence and criminal activity.  Lars, Rosa and her children flee and wind up living with and working for a couple who are winemakers, a crime in Prohibition time America.  Federal agents however quickly figure out her connection and also realize she is living there under a false name.  As they continue to investigate and her husband finds out where she is, Lars and Rosa leave again, this time to Sonoma County in California.  Others believe Lars is her husband but no one suspects the real truth about Lars, not even the reader.  Rosa’s story is gradually revealed as her circumstances drive her away from her hometown and its past relationships.

The novel continues with Rosa’s discovery that she is capable of learning about viticulture and buying a vineyard of her own.  The challenges in this business are huge and constant, but Rosa proves to be more than a survivor and creates her own story of success which will blossom only with the end of Prohibition.

This is quite a different turn for Jennifer Chiaverini.  While “quilts” play a small part in the story, they are the motif of creating a new life that surrounds this moving story of turbulence and deep love of many kinds.  A remarkable historical novel!

Thursday, January 31, 2013

My Own Square Inch of Alaska by Sharon Short

My Own Square Inch of Alaska. Sharon Short. Penguin Group (USA). January 2013. 336 pp. hbk. ISBN #: 9780452298767.

Donna Lane is a young girl with a vivid dream of becoming a notable designer, a field she ardently loves.  Yet she also feels bound to stay home in a small Ohio town with her father, who seems oblivious to everything and everyone and her brother, Will. All seems relatively normal aside from living without the guiding hand of a loving mother.  Will is obsessed with a TV Show focusing on its hero, Sergeant Striker, and is determined to collect enough cereal box tops to win ownership of “one square inch of Alaska” and a trip there with his hero.

Life has other plans in a sense. Will becomes very, very ill.  Donna is determined for him to have his one big wish granted but finds out that the Alaska game is a big fat scam. However, that doesn’t deter her and she decides to take Will to Alaska and get him his one square inch.  The rest of the novel is about their harrowing trip where strangers assist them after falling in love with their dream wish, all of this as Will is becoming weaker and weaker.

An ordinary tale told with extraordinary skill, My Own Square Inch of Alaska is about the special qualities of a brother-sister relationship. It’s also about the hope that must endure no matter what devastating realities occur, whether that be the disappointments from crooked liars who promise large and deliver small or nothing or from the battle between hope and despair in the face of terminal illness – the fact that one is not dying but is fully living until one dies – a phenomenon we often forget applies to all.

Tenderly and humorously told, this is a novel to be cherished by all readers who love any genre!  Well done, Ms. Short!

Here I Go Again by Jen Lancaster

Here I Go Again. Jen Lancaster. Penguin Group (USA). January 2013. 320 pp. hbk. ISBN#: 9780451236722.

Lissy Ryder, the gal who had it all, is within a few days shorn of all her glorious toys and relationships. A graduate of a Chicago high school, she came from money, married money, and knew all the right people. Now, she’s just discovered that her mega-buck membership to a gym where only successful, notable people work out is canceled, her credit card is capped, her husband wants a divorce and no one has any sympathy for her at all.  Why? Quite simply, she’s a notorious –itch; place whatever negative prefix on the word fits best!!!

When you have nothing and have no skills to go anywhere with, in spite of thinking she’s the best PR person in town, what does a girl do?  Fortunately, she has an acquaintance who rescues her in the form of a magical formula drink that enables her to return to the past, a Back to the Future scenario in which she hopes to redo the past.  But is it possible for someone, who has insulted or wounded almost everyone she knew who was decent or who knew only other successful people who have no time for losers, to do it all over and recreate a new future?  Lissy is desperate and has nothing to lose, so she decides to give it a whirl!

But changing the past doesn’t promise precise consequences as Lissy discovers.  In her journey that is so funny, albeit silly at times, and yet so sad, Lissy sets about with purpose but learns more about herself than she does anyone else.  It’s a thin line between humorous retort and just plain nastiness.  The balance is just right, even if the end seems rather contrived and stretches credibility quite a bit!

In our day where so much importance is put on money, material possessions, reputation and connections, Here I Go Again, is light satire with a potent message that doesn’t get lost in the magical journey of “green wheat juice!”  Cute story!


Author of the month
Blog Post
February marks the beginning of an exciting time for our authors here at The Story Plant. Each month, for the next nine months, we are going to feature an author with deep discounts on their books. For February, our featured author is James LePore. Author of several national best selling books, Jim is looking forward to connecting with readers in new and exciting ways.
Throughout the entire month, we will be featuring Jim and his books in a different way. We’ve partnered with all of our online retailers to price down the digital editions of his novels. Sons and Princes will be priced at $0.99 for the month, while A World I Never Made, Blood of my Brother, and Gods and Fathers will all be priced at $2.99. On February 12, we are excited to bring to you Jim’s newest work, The Fifth Man. This book returns us to the world of Chris Massi first created in Sons and Princes.
In addition to offering you Jim’s books at lower prices, we are also going to be featuring Jim throughout our social media channels. We’ll be posting Q&A’s he’s answered, as well as blog posts he’s written here on our blog. We are also very excited to host our very first Twitter author chat!  The first will be held on Feb. 8 at 12:00pm EST. We will hold a second chat that day at 3:00pm EST. These chats will allow you to ask Jim anything that you want about his writing habits, his inspirations, or what he likes to do on the weekends. Make sure you’re following us on Facebook and Twitter as we’ll be sure to post reminders and important information about these chats.
This is an exciting time for The Story Plant as we expand our reach and make our authors more accessible than ever. We hope you will continue to enjoy the stories our authors bring forth and continue to help us grow.
Happy reading!