Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Sixth Station by Linda Stasi

The Sixth Station.  Linda Stasi. Forge Books.  January 2013. 368 pp. hbk. ISBN #: 9780765334275.

Alessandra Russo is a smart, sassy journalist who loses jobs because of her cynical, snide comments; but she’s a true journalist who will do anything for a story, anything!  But her life in search of the award-winning story is about to go ballistic!

Alessandro gets pulled into the middle of a crowd of thousands awaiting the arrival of Demiel ben Yusef for his trial.  For he is accused of being a terrorist responsible for the murder and horrific suffering of people around where bombs have changed the life of millions.  Some think him a demon; others revere him as the “Son of the Son of God.”  As he steps out of the van, he sees Alessandra and leaves her with something that turns her into an instant celebrity, but reporters see her as an accomplice or a nutty follower.  Either way, they think Alessandra knows something that could contribute one way or another to a guilty or innocent verdict. Yusef himself, once he has been seated for the trial, refuses to defend himself.  On the way out of the first day’s proceedings, he quietly passes a verbal message to Alessandra.  Now she’s in big trouble for she’s a hunted woman and even more so after her editor completely rewrites her article, leading to a fight and her being fired!  Worse, she has to go somewhere other than home because she is no longer safe!

The story progresses with a priest, former CIA agent, another older priest, and many more characters all sent by “them” or an organization seeking a relic that could prove Yusef really is a divine human.  For it seems that thirty-three years ago, some cloned Yusef from the actual blood of Jesus Christ.  Now, there is a search for DNA evidence plus a relic that could change the world and prove Yusef’s innocence, allowing him to “save the world.”  The journey takes Alessandra through Italy, France, Turkey, and other places in hair-raising scenes as someone else from an opposition group is out to find the relic first and/or kill her. The plot races along, as the reader attempts to follow hair-raising, tension-filled, illuminating but frightening scenes.  It’s like being on the most terrifying roller-coaster ride of your life!

All in all, however, this novel is an enigma.  The involvement of terrorists, the Catholic Church, mad scientists, Mary the Mother of God, the Templars, the Cathars, (considered a heretic sect of Catholicism at the time), upscale technology used for cloning, murder, and blackouts and more after a while truly stretches the plot so far as to seem less than credible, but this is fiction, right?

Since Dan Brown started this type of fiction, there have been many spin-offs of the “quest” for the Holy One, and this story goes one step further.  Alessandra spins back and forth from atheism, agnosticism, and awed belief like a spinning top that makes one truly, truly wonder how she became the “Chosen One.”  Dreams, groups bowing down before her, etc. clash wildly with her constantly sarcastic comments or thoughts.  The ending is surprising and one wonders if all this questing just crashed out of fatigue from the frenetic pace carried over 300 pages or if there will be a sequel to tie all the loose ends together. Hmmm…

If you love adventure, a good mystery, some historical connection, some religious inspiration, this is your next read for sure!  Inspiration – not – too much busyness and craziness that stretches the certainty of even those filled with unshakable faith!  You can’t stop reading, in spite of it all and for that, Lisa Stasi deserves some kudos and some “downers” before she writes a sequel!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

When She Came Home by Drusilla Campbell

When She Came Home. Drusilla Campbell. Grand Central Publishing. April 2013. 336 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9781455510351.

Frankie Byrne Tennyson is the daughter of a retired Marine Brigadier General and her life as well as the General’s wife have been all-military.  There’s no room for weakness and Frankie is out for a challenge from family and her husband when she is so stunned by 911 and the death of children on the planes that were attacked that she decides to enlist to do battle in Afghanistan or wherever required.  Her father, however, makes sure she is not put in harm’s way after her initial training.  Later however she signs up for another tour and does get to serve in Iraq, even if her job is only to create a new school rather than do battle.  But she is witness to unspeakable things which will later come up in as certain facts and issues come to the public light. 
When Frankie returns, she’s definitely not the same person she was, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and that her going and returning have also seriously affected her daughter, Glory.  The latter has questions galore, none of which Frankie wants to answer as she is definitely in need of professional help herself. But the General’s family have been well-trained as “perfect” Marines.  That basically means that psychological help is off limits as it would, if exposed, put an indelible mark on one’s career chart and worse than that display an inability to cope. 

The father’s secret is, however, that at one time he was coping no better than his daughter.  All of these characters must move through their days displaying more and more dysfunction until there will be no denial of the need for help.   It’s either that or someone will be bearing the brunt of the unconscious raging and invisible battle wounds everyone is denying.

This is such a timely issue that must not be covered over or denied, and Drusilla Campbell handles the problem with all its nuances and direct consequences with aplomb and admirable grace.  Rather than the expected maudlin quality, Frankie and her family are the epitome of what thousands of individuals and families are experiencing after returning from one or several tours of military service in Iraq or Afghanistan.  Kudos to you Ms. Campbell for writing a realistic novel about what unfortunately is today not one iota of fiction!  While it may gloss the surface of the issue, it’s definitely worth the read!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Bristol House: A Novel by Beverly Swerling

Bristol House: A Novel. Beverly Swerling. Viking Adult. April 2013. 416 pp. hbk. ISBN #: 9780670025930.

Annie Kendall’s academic historian career has been at a standstill for ten years when she’s offered the chance of a lifetime, or so she sees it.  She is hired by Weinraub, the head of the Shalom Foundation, to travel to London and find secret treasures hidden by Giacomo the Lombard, also known as the Jew of Holbern.  These treasures are connected to the ancient Second Temple of Jerusalem.  But there’s a heaviness and threatening attitude from Weinraub that bothers Annie but not enough initially to stop her from taking the job.  She’ll have free room and board and she has three months to complete what is really an impossible task.  So it begins!

The first unsettling aspect of this job is that after her landlady leaves Annie begins hearing chanting and visually senses the presence of a monk in her temporary home.  She has this uncanny ability to sit down immediately after seeing something and drawing it precisely as if it were a posing model.  So imagine her shock when she meets a researcher and TV personality, Geoff Harris, who is writing a book about what he believes to be a looming disaster that will occur in Israel; Geoff looks exactly like the monk haunting her home.  Their relationship forms slowly; Annie is a recovering alcoholic and so doesn’t expect anyone to believe her actual experience of her haunted dwelling.  But Geoff is a fine judge of truthful or sham characters and comes to believe that Annie is conveying reality, including later scenes of hearing music, seeing things written on the misty bathroom mirror and much, much more.

Somehow Annie and Geoff, along with Geoff’s dying mother and another Rabbi, come to see that the Jew of Holbern’s hidden treasures are linked to the Catholic Church and a secret sect known as the True Obedience of Avignon, tracing back to the time of a terrible schism in the Church about who was the “real” Pope.  Are these relics connected with Judaism or Christianity? What seems to be pointing to the Middle East leads them on a long journey of finding clues accompanied by the actual account told by the Jew of Holbern and the monk of Avignon who are connected in ways the reader could never imagine!

Bristol House… is a terrific mystery, thriller, fantasy and/or work of historical fiction.  If you love a complicated puzzle or a great mystery, this is the book for you. The clues move along slowly but then the pace picks up and the reader has to pay careful attention to piece it all together as the tension grows and grows. If you love historical fiction, this is a book that suggests how fanaticism regarding history can become so delusional that it poses a dire threat to the present on a global scale.  All in all, a fine novel that deserves much attention, rave reviews, and best seller status! This reader hated for the story to end – I want to know more about Annie and Geoff and what adventures their future holds! Congratulations Beverly Swerling!