Thursday, October 10, 2013

Isabella: Braveheart of France by Colin Falconer

Isabella: Braveheart of France.  Colin Falconer. Cool Gus Publishing. September 2013. 220 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9781621250913.

Isabella, Princess of France, is ordered by her father, King Philip IV, to obey and serve her husband no matter what the circumstances. For she represents France and any opposition would only provoke the insidious hostilities between England and France that have existed for centuries.  Isabella is being married to King Edward II so that he can acquire Gascony as an English territory, for no other reason; add to that Isabella is only twelve years old when she marries Edward. But that is the least of her problems.  For she yearns desperately for Edward to love her and all he does is ignore her, at least initially.  Then with time, Edward discovers this young girl is far from a child in her political thinking and advice; in fact, she is astutely wise, observant and careful.  Edward begins to value her as a counselor, yet it will be a long time before he considers her in a physical way.  The obstacle is Edward’s great love, Piers Gaveston, and what a passion they share!

The nobles of England are totally disgusted by the King’s behavior and believe he gets all his advice from Gaveston.  The drama intensifies as English coffers decline and civil war seems looming as well as other wars.  The result is absolutely astounding with a new form of government rising, one that should be a system of checks and balances between the King and his nobles but in fact is otherwise.  The outcome for Gaveston is devastating, despite Isabella’s advice that could best be summed up as “patience and caution.”

Edward then chooses another advisor who is as ruthless as one could possibly be, all for the sake of building up the economy for England – and himself – and lashing out at those who had hurt Edward so deeply with their treachery.  He is the Despenser, who is also capable of destroying the loving relationship that Edward and Isabella had formed for a very short time, one which bore fruit in a royal Prince.  Again, civil war is threatened over the cruelties that Despenser hands out and Isabella barely escapes becoming his next victim.  Where she goes and how she manages to out-maneuver Edward and the Despenser is riveting reading.  What Edward has really been doing is even more stunning, and the resolution of this intensifying conflict leaves the reader gaping and yet also laughing at the irony of it all.

Isabella: Braveheart of France is a gripping read because Colin Falconer is a master at creating an intriguing story filled with enough adventure, verbal sparring, ghastly punishments, secret plotting, and so much more that keep the reader furiously flipping the pages.  The history is accurate with subtle interpretations in fictional form to add just the right touch to a period of English history too often overlooked!  This is phenomenal historical fiction that is highly recommended.  Once you read Colin Falconer, you’ll want to read everything he has ever written as well as what he will craft in the future!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

This Is Rage: A Novel of Silicon Valley and Other Madness by Ken Goldstein

This is Rage: A Novel of Silicon Valley and Other Madness.  Ken Goldstein. The Story Plant. October 2013. 530 pp. ISBN #: 9781611880717.

Once upon a time employers and employees believed they were working as a dedicated team.  Each depended on and was loyal to the other in good and bad financial times.  But somehow the plot went awry when profits, sales, stock values, mergers, and executive privilege replaced the security of united effort.  Now lives are so much dross when the schemes for more money prevail!  Sound like a fairy tale, a piece of contemporary fiction?  It is and it isn’t – welcome to the world of Silicon Valley, a world of madness gone even more awry than anyone could believe possible!

The real story starts out with an evening’s party attended by Silicon valley owners, investors, and underlings close to the top.  The talk is all about profit margins, a potential merger, and more, talks headed by those who think they know it all about how to make companies profit and manipulate publicity so that the stock market follows their lead.  But all of that is about to implode as two kidnappers arrive, inadvertently kill one man and kidnap two owners of a smaller company that is on the down side of being productive and therefore financially viable.  The ransom is at first money which is totally rejected by the financiers and the FBI, whose one reluctant agent has been assigned the task of freeing the victims.  But upon realizing this, the victims contrive a plan to actually benefit the kidnappers financially and free all concerned.

Enter Kimo Balthazar, a renegade talk show host who’s been fired multiple times from multiple stations, a host who can’t find another station to employ him.  He now turns into an Internet talk show host and picks up on the kidnapping story and the real dope on how Silicon Valley CEOs operate.  Interviews with these higher-ups and even a female Congresswoman follow in which their desperate attempts to manipulate the public as usual fail miserably, resulting in a massive walkout of Silicon Valley employees.  These are men and women who are sick and tired of never being able to communicate with the executives, who know they will be let go with future mergers, who know they are expendable and are demanding change – NOW!

While the plot contains ample financial lingo that might be beyond most reader’s intellectual acumen, this information and the descriptions that are provided to educate the reader don’t detract from a tense, intelligent, realistic and frightening series of events that rivet the reader on every page. No, you can’t predict where it’s going initially but it’s worth every page read to see the surprising outcome, a Bill of Rights for the “little man and woman” in the intensifying battle for decent consideration and truth.  One might add, the battle, as well as the outcome, are a microcosm for much of what goes on in many different avenues of corporate America!

Ken Goldstein knows his facts and also is a skillful writer who has written a novel that deserves the attention of business, government, workers, employers, CEOs – everyone that keeps the economic wheel of America moving for supposedly the benefit of all! Outstanding business and thriller fiction! Highly recommended!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Traveling Light: A Novel by Andrea Thalasinos

Traveling Light: A Novel.  Andrea Thalasinos. Tom Doherty Associates LLC. July 2013. 213 pp. ISBN #: 978076533025.

Paula Makaikis is a smart woman who has earned a Ph.D. and is now working at the Center for Immigrant Studies at NYU.  She doesn’t really fit in with her colleagues who view her as in charge and yet odd.  It’s fall and she’s feeling uneasy, restless, unable to concentrate on her work, and in obvious need of something she just can’t grasp.  She’s also married to a brilliant astrophysicist who just happens to be a messy hoarder.  So deep is his problem that Paula sleeps on a ratty couch at night because of all the boxes and notes on the side of the bed where she should be sleeping as his wife of ten years.  Yes, once upon a time there was a brief initial fling of romance but now it’s an occasional Sunday afternoon coupling that seems more of a chore than anything – Paula’s description of it is quite blunt but laced with sadness and frustration.

One phone call dramatically changes it all for Paula.  An old Greek friend, Theos, has become so ill it seems he is about to expire, and Paula’s friend, “Heavenly,” asks Paul to translate, neither knowing who this stranger is until Paula gets to the hospital.  The one thing Theos can mutter is the word, “Fotis,” a Greek word for “light.” It turns out it’s Theos’ dog who is now Paula’s new mate, one she has much to learn about but who quickly becomes significantly attached to!  She can’t bring him home because her husband, Roger, wouldn’t stand for it. So she decides to take an eight week leave of absence from work and heads out of New York City to visit an old mentor friend.  The journey will be life-changing.

Before she arrives at her destination, she sees an ad for a job helping someone take care of birds.  Intrigued, she calls for the job and is interviewed and accepted, with some unspoken reservations by Rick, her boss.  Paula quickly falls in love with the area where she’s temporarily living close to the Canadian border.  It turns out Rick owns a wild-life rehabilitation center where he takes in injured animals.  Here Paula falls in love with injured eagles, foxes, and other animals.  Her endearing Greek phrases she utters to these suffering animals calms them during their most discomfiting treatments and examinations.  She gets to know the owner of the local IGA grocery store and Rick quickly recognizes her tremendous skill as his assistant.
Then Paula’s mother, Elena, comes to visit and her own journey in this small town is one of healing and awakened joy.  Elena shares a stunning secret with Paula that further changes her vision of the past and future.  A trip back to New York to honestly assess the situation with Roger provides all she needs for the future.

Traveling Light: A Novel is a beautiful story about facing the truth, what can be accepted and what cannot be endured, how important it is to follow one’s true career, and a natural love and respect for nature that is more important than any intellectual endeavor.  There’s something for everyone’s life journey, something worth passion and commitment.  Sometimes one has to let go to truly live!

Lovely, beautiful, and honest contemporary fiction.  Nicely done, indeed, Andrea Thalasinos!  Highly recommend this novel for those who love a good story about what really matters!

The Universe Doesn't Do Second Chances by Sean-Paul Thomas

The Universe Doesn’t Do Second Chances.  Sean-Paul Thomas. Tirgearr Publishing. September 2013. 248 pp. Available in e-book format.  ISBN #: 9781301590612.

The unnamed narrator of our story spends the initial pages ranting about what a loser he is with women.  He has lots of things he plans to say but never says them.  He admires two particular women on a plane, both of whom he describes as very attractive, sexy gals but he seems paralyzed to act on his best intentions.  Then things change quite dramatically.  As the plane plunges the narrator to his death, he’s not doing the “life in a flash” routine but thinking about all those regrets about women he failed to embrace wholly.

No death descriptions follow, just a surrealistic awakening in a daze as Liam, our narrator, begins to describe a lovely story about a woman named Alexandra whom Liam meets on a bus. Is it real, a dream, a fantasy? You the reader must decide.  Liam is on his game with Alexandra.  Yes, he almost blows this chance as well but finally in a fortuitous moment they connect and Liam describes how he woos her.  First they travel to all the loveliest, historic, and cultural places in Edinburgh, Scotland that make the reader want to visit there because of Liam’s short but intriguing descriptions.  Their conversation is witty, sarcastic, intellectual, sad, and finally endearing. They’ve both made their mistakes in love and both have enough differences to spark the interest of the other.  This budding relationship goes where we think it will and then something occurs that the reader may think inevitable, contrived, or excruciating – depending on one’s own propensities and beliefs about true, undying love!

We then read about one of Liam’s first real teenage love, Sarah.  We share their wild, daring adventures as Sarah is a feisty, tomboyish girl who thinks nothing of scaring the daylights out of Liam, looking out for worms and other creatures, discovering a stash of wine, enjoying a playful yet titillating kiss, and more.  But the stories that they share are sad indeed in between the child-like scenes. The balance is perfect and quite memorable!  After they lose each other through a violent battle involving Sarah’s father, they meet again later and part.

We all learn to love; it’s not an innate skill that automatically blossoms!  It’s mixed with the ups and downs of gritty life and to be eagerly anticipated and embraced at each opportunity that appears. This is Sean-Paul Thomas’s motif told in roller-coaster fashion at times and others like a smooth, graceful ride down a Viennese canal, true romance!  But who’s to say what’s true and what’s all wrong?  This unusual novel will entertain you but also leave you reflecting about your own love journeys that didn’t happen but happened.  It’s a reflection on making sense out of what seems impossible – it’s love!

Very nicely crafted contemporary fiction, Sean-Paul Thomas!