Sunday, December 28, 2014

Red Rising: Book 1 of the Red Rising Trilogy by Pierce Brown

Red Rising: Book 1 of the Red Rising Trilogy.  Pierce Brown. Delray Press.  July 2014. 416 pp. hardback, paperback and e-book. ISBN #: 9780345539809.

On the planet of Mars, there are different colors or classes of people living, each with a very specific purpose.  Darrow, the protagonist, is a Red, one of the miners whose job is to work and obtain as many minerals as possible which eventually make the planet livable outside of the enclosed environments conducive to living and breathing in a foreign environment.  His wife is a quiet woman who dares to sing a song in public that will condemn her and Darrow is forced to watch and even participate in her execution.  Her song which symbolizes the Reds’ hope for freedom from their very harsh living conditions will be sung all over the planet despite the efforts of the ruling class to forbid it to be heard ever again.

So begins this very violent, strife-ridden science fiction novel in which Darrow himself escapes, is caught and condemned to die. He, however, will be rescued after his escape from death and transformed through an agonizing process into a superman belonging to another class, the Golds.  The description of his transformation is uncanny and the reader will hold his or her breath at the challenges inherent in each step of this phenomenal process!  One also learns about the functions of the other “colors” of people living in different carefully sectioned areas of Mars.

Now comes a greater challenge!  For Darrow has set his own personal mission, to destroy the Golds and earn freedom for his people in the Red Zone.  For that, Darrow will take on a new name and attend a Gold school where he is taught to be a killer and a master manipulator of whatever strengths and weaknesses appear in his presence.  Only the strong will survive this Darwinian gauntlet and appearances are deceiving in this battle. For the strong are really the pampered and the weak have powers and strategies indicating unusually sharp intelligence, all of which will be needed to emerge victorious from this phase.

Darrow fully engages in the complexities of this phase of his learning and the reader again is flipping the pages to see what happens next.  Each new battle phase is unexpected and therefore more riveting than the previous one.

Red Rising… is superb science fiction that would even make a great movie!  Highly recommended reading for all, especially science fiction fans!

Lyda: A Quest to Find Her Anunnaki Ancestors by Robert E. Bonson

Lyda: A Quest to Find Her Anunnaki Ancestors.  Robert E. Bonson. XLibris.  October 2014. 268 pp. paperback and e-book. ASIN #: B00P0LMYK8.

Lyda is a young, 30 year-old woman whose haunting dreams have led her to believe that she is the descendant of the ancient Anunnaki people, a group of extraterrestrial beings who came to Earth with a well-defined mission.  They would experiment with DNA and actually be responsible for creating men and women, servants who would be able to provide the mine materials the Anunnaki needed on their home planet.  But things go awry in this process and the Anunnaki historically create a flood that destroys most of Earth’s inhabitants at the time. Now Lyda is seeking to discover her background which involves a secret Amulet with supernatural powers from the Anunnaki.

She engages the help of an investigative author, Russell, and his fiancĂ© Carol; a man, Fenton Stonefeather, who has the power to visualize places and objects from far away just by sitting near an envelope with minimal details about the condition in question; a clairvoyant, Clarene Davis; a former detective, Jim Menard; and the couple Alden and Jocelyn, who host this large group who will each contribute something to Lyda’s quest.

Now begins the battle, for there are warring divisions within the Anunnaki.  Two in particular want to find the Amulet and keep it from Lyda; these two have different reasons having to do with the Earth’s over-population and depletion of resources.  One will bring hope but the other unmitigated disaster!

Lyda… is a detailed read that also includes geography and history of the Mesopotamian area of the Middle East as well as the famous Epic of Gilgamesh.  To a large extent it’s based on Sumerian clay tablets that reveal secrets of the Anunnaki.  The essence of the story raises the question of whether or not this super-race of beings from another planet left behind a segment of humans specifically created to carry out Anunnaki plans for the planet and what may be the consequences if these plans fail.

Lyda is fascinating reading, especially for those who enjoy paranormal stories! Nicely done, R. Bonson!

A Year with Geno by Annette Drake

A Year With Geno.  Annette Drake. Baskethound Books.  June 2014. 415 pp. E-Book. ASIN #: B00L5XKU92.

Caroline Taylor has enough troubles with her unreliable ex-husband coming and going when he pleases, constantly disappointing her sons who sense he really doesn’t want to be with them.  His girlfriend makes things even worse.  Now Caroline finds out she’s going to be evicted because her landlord wants to move back into the house.  During her many dead-end attempts to find a decent place to visit she meets Air Force Sgt. Geno who seems to always show up just when she desperately needs help!  Eventually she agrees to rent his basement, with very clear rules so that neither encroaches upon the other’s space. That’s when the subtle passion rings and misunderstandings as well!

Geno’s ex-wife is living with a beer-slugging, crude boar.  While she has glimmers of his true personality, she seems blind or perhaps it’s the old story that she has nowhere else to go and no one else to take care of her. Her treatment of the children she had with Geno is also severely lacking.

No spoilers here.  Suffice to say that Caroline’s bully ex-husband is about to pose a serious challenge to her custody of their boys and Geno’s ex-wife gets dumped by her loser boyfriend only to reappear as a challenge to Caroline’s presence in Geno’s home.  Caroline will survive the bumps in her quest for a peaceful, loving home for her boys in the middle of this Eagle River, Alaskan community.

This is a simple story with a romantic edge constantly being thwarted by misunderstandings and ex-spouses whose sensitivity skills seem primitive, to say the least.

It’s worthy of note to see how the author writes in the voice of a male so well.  Geno is masculine but with an edgy sensitivity that entrances and frustrates Caroline. It takes a fine balance to achieve that mix which adds to the intrigue of this slowly sparking friendship and more.

A Year With Geno is a nice romantic read that will satisfy those who love a good old-fashioned passionately growing fire spiced with some credible family drama!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Flight of the Silvers by Daniel Price

The Flight of the Silvers.  Daniel Price. Blue Rider Press.  February 2014. 608 pp. paperback and e-book. ISBN #: 9780399164989.

A cataclysm beyond imagination is about to occur in America and other places around the globe.  Before it happens, six young people will have different experiences in which they are surrounded by a bubble-like, clear globe that protectively encases them.  Those who are dying around them are unable to penetrate that formidable wall and those inside will have to watch a horrific scene of mayhem and destruction.  They are known as the Silvers and are transported to a small community setting in San Diego in what is known as Altamerica.  Over the next few weeks, they discover they have super-powers with mysterious and frustratingly purposeless repetition. 

One character can run at a speed ten times faster than her former human self.  One receives notes from herself and others about the past, present and future.  One learns to transport himself back to experiences that happened hours past or hours in the future.  Another can create a white structure capable of destroying something in her path but which only operates when she’s angry. On and on it goes.  It takes time for the leaders, or captors, of this community to reveal what they are experiencing and the physicist experiments they are invited to participate in to enhance scientific understanding of the rare phenomenon each is undergoing.  But all isn’t simple and there appears to be people outside of their community who suspect something more devious is being planned.

Add to the mix that history seems to have split down the middle since the middle of the twentieth century so that there are two stories of American history now known.
A grand, brutal, violent, bloody and death-dealing escape happens and the remainder of the story of the Silvers follows their journey across Altamerica as their captors pursue them, now planning destruction rather than scientific experimentation.

The characters Amanda and her sister Hannah, Zach, David, and Mia dominate the tale with other characters, all fueling the constant conflicts threatening to destroy their unified decision to seek the New York community that may help them prevent the future apocalypse that as been predicted.  This dynamic, intense, nerve-wracking and page-turning science fiction novel is the first of a planned trilogy and one which will make true science fiction lovers want to relish over and over, as well as hungrily anticipate the next part of the series.  There’s enough underpinning of quantum physics to make this novel about time and its mysterious elements highly credible and intriguing.

Very nicely crafted, Daniel Price and a winner about credible, fascinating science fiction!

Top Dog: The Story of Marine Hero Lucca by Maria Goodavage

Top Dog: The Story of Marine Hero Lucca.  Maria Goodavage. Penguin Group USA.  October 2014. 320 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9780525954361.

A follow-up book about canine warrior dogs serving in Afghanistan, Top Dog… continues the story with a detailed account of the service of dog handler Sgt. Chris Wilingham and his canine partner, Lucca.  Willingham is a Marine about to  add another phase to his military deployment by working with a German Shepherd-Malinois dog named Lucca.  Before their service, the author describes the intense training Willingham and other dog-handlers underwent in Israel, apparently the place where the wartime human-dog interaction has been mastered when training them to seek, find, defuse or implode IEDs, otherwise known as improvised explosive devices.  A beautiful, fragile and noble chapter describes how each dog handler bonds with the animal they will be working with in such intensely dangerous conditions.  It’s a bond for life, not just one created for a job.  We see how dogs liked Lucca were brilliantly successful, learning to love, trust and implicitly obey their handler’s orders.  We also see how the failures of other dogs would mean the death of dog, handler or both in the volatile conditions they were being trained to encounter and handle.

Lucca and Willingham travel for what will be two tours of Iraq.  The account describes the conditions of each mission, ranging from finding IEDs, finding those who are stealing and hiding weapons for battle, finding those insurgents who are attacking the military bases with mortars at all hours of day and night, and keeping a constant alertness to the presence of traitors and snipers in the most expected and unexpected moments.  The reader experiences the handlers’ pride in their pooches’ loyalty and faithful adherence to the task as hand, as well as the phenomenally intense anxiety-ridden moments constantly looming over every mission and even their “rest” periods when not out on the job. 

The story of Cory Wiens and his dog Cooper is told with sensitivity and nobility; it’s a story every reader will never forget.  The story of the trauma mentally and physically endured by the dog handlers will also remain a powerful memory for the reader.  “War is hell” almost becomes a trite phrase hardly underscoring the strains of those who serve and served in Iraq, as well as the strife experienced by their families back home in America, in this case Willingham’s wife, who assume full care of family life while constantly fearing for the safety of their husbands who serve multiple deployments out of love of country and fellow soldiers. The thoughts and feelings on all sides are ever-present and all too often ever-consuming.

Top Dog: The Story of Marine hero Lucca is an unforgettable read that this reviewer highly, highly recommends.  It’s a story that’s lovely, funny, tragic and so much more.  Every American needs to not only read this book but find a way to honor those actual soldiers and canine warriors and their missions which so perfectly parallel their military service to our country! Wonderful job, Maria Goodavage, and service to our nation!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Down Solo: A Novel of Suspense by Earl Javorsky

Down Solo: A Novel of Suspense.  Earl Javorsky. The Story Plant. December 2014. 202 pp.  ISBN#: 9781611881769.

Charlie Miner initially has a huge problem – he’s been shot in the head and is deader than dead! Initially he does the float out of the body bit but then he discovers he can reenter his body and get up and walk, talk, touch and feel, and more.  So what’s the problem with the dead guy who’s still able to act like a living person?  He can’t remember who shot him or why?  Enter the crime thriller story that’s more than a mystery!

Charlie little by little begins to remember his past wife.  A former drug addict, he’s still got the urge for more drugs. In the process of getting high he begins to remember he was a private investigator and goes home to sort through his files, most of which are fairly innocent, even mundane, cases involving infidelity, insurance scams, lightweight issues more or less.  But then a name sparks a flicker of a memory – Tanya.  Later on he’ll get a call and recognize the name immediately of his ex-wife who’s about to dump his daughter Mindy on his hands. It’s summertime so he figures he can handle the latter, especially as he loves her dearly!

Now begins a whirlwind of traveling, gunfights, explosions, threats, and unfortunately the abduction of his daughter. He had left her alone while he began to explore the scene that he knew led to his own mortal demise.  It’s more than a scam involving the presence or absence of gold, its link to investment (something like but not quite like a Ponzi scam), one con man ignorant of being conned by another criminal, a guy who’s like a supervising angel, oodles of slowly revealed memories of a former better life that went awry, and so much more. 

If you think this novel is a predictable series of crimes, heroin addicts, violent acts, etc., you’re right – and you’re terribly wrong.  It’s got no moral lesson unless you want to analyze it and impose your own theory or theories.  It’s quite simply a story that could be so very real in this world of con jobs and crime and death! But it’s also like entering the middle of tornado after tornado, being jettisoned into even more desperation and yet attempts to set it all right – for Mindy if for no one else.  You’ll be surprised to see how it all evolves (you did want me to say ends nicely, didn’t you? LOL).  Earl Javorsky is a crime novelist who crafts a story with unique twists and turns and a refreshing change for those who love an unpredictable, even erratic mystery! Quite a novel!

The Firebird’s Feather: A Late Victorian Mystery by Marjorie Eccles

The Firebird’s Feather: A Late Victorian Mystery.  Marjorie Eccles. Severn House Publishers. December 2014. 224 pp. hbk and eBook. ISBN #: 9780727884268.

Eighteen year-old Kitty Challoner is getting ready to come out to upper class society in 1911 London, England.  It’s a vibrant time and place in which to be alive as the London world awaits a new world, women are fighting for the right to vote – a fiercely controversial debate, and politicians are vying for power while decrying the foreign elements taking violent action in the streets of London.  The fear of Bolsheviks is huge as Communism begins to form and spread throughout the world! 

In the midst of this chaotic atmosphere, Kitty’s mother, Lydia, goes out one day with her male companion and is killed by a gunshot wound while riding through Hyde Park.  Kitty is about to enter an investigative stage of her life that will shed her of all innocence and at the same time reveal the forces of power prevailing in post-Victorian London society.

At first the police are suspicious about Lydia’s husband but that quickly changes to their belief that something about her Russian roots is connected to the Bolshevist campaign of violence.  Lydia was fiercely faithful to her Russian roots but what does her death have to do with a missing gun, a real and fake Russian icon with significant mysterious meaning, the formation of Bolshevist newspapers with their inflammatory essays and reports, the life behind her well-behaved male companion, and half of a sketch of a wolf found instead a box decorated with the highly symbolic firebird?

Marjorie Eccles is a wonderful mystery writer who knows exactly where to tone down and ramp up the exhilarating facts and circumstances around this mysterious crime.  The novel gives ample background and ambiance to the prevailing historical realities in London news and in the connection to Russian exiles now residents in England.  The Firebird’s Feather is excellent mystery fiction that twists and turns in unpredictable but exciting ways.  Every page is a leap forward in being educated in history’s social, political and criminal world in London, England and Russia!  Great, short read that this reviewer recommends as a terrific novel!

Friday, November 28, 2014

The Tudor Vendetta: A Novel (The Elizabeth I Spymaster Chronicles) by C. W. Gortner.

The Tudor Vendetta: A Novel (The Elizabeth I Spymaster Chronicles).  C. W. Gortner. St. Martin’s Griffin. October 2014. 304 pp.  ISBN#: 9780312658588.

Elizabeth I is now Queen of England and requests the presence of Brendan Prescott.  Brendan is reluctant to return to London because he lied to the woman he loves, Kate, in order to save the life of Elizabeth.  He also knows he will again be facing the extreme animosity of his old nemesis, Lord Robert Dudley, now serving the Queen and perhaps her lover as well.  With the usual barbs and violent encounters, Brendan and Dudley rise to the bait but are quickly silenced by the will of the Queen.  Elizabeth has a job for Brendan, to investigate the disappearance of her lady’s maid, Lady Parry, after she left for her family home in Yorkshire.  One is left wondering why Lord Cecil and Dudley are against Brendan pursuing this quest, but Brendan serves the Queen not only out of loyal service but also as a secret relative of the royal family.  Something is definitely being left unsaid.

From the very first day of his arrival at Yorkshire, Brendan, with Shelton, the man who raised him, meet only secrecy and coldness to the point of rudeness.  To say more would be a spoiler that would ruin a tense, vibrant adventure and mystery. For some very old enemies of Brendan are involved in the disappearance of Lady Parry and the presence of a very young boy Raff  is the central key to a series of lies, attempted murders and actual murders.  Behind it all lies the hate behind the Papists who were so severely persecuted and killed at one time under the rule of Elizabeth’s father, Henry VIII.  Elizabeth herself may be Queen but understands that her security is far from guaranteed as she has as many enemies as she has friends.

Having read the previous Spymaster Chronicles novels, this reviewer states that The Tudor Vendetta  is definitely the best novel in the series.  The author’s  crafting of a complex plot/conflict flows more easily herein and the reader will absolutely be unable to predict how this search for Lady Parry will end and who is behind her disappearance.  Brendan is not only courageous but also displays sensitivities toward those he has hurt.  He learns quickly not to trust even those who claim to be his friends.  For that is the nature of Elizabeth’s court; mistrust rules and one is loyal to royalty as long and only as long as that ruler remains head of State.

The Tudor Vendetta is credible, exciting historical fiction that this reviewer highly recommends!

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Tiger Queens: The Women of Genghis Khan by Stephanie Thornton

The Tiger Queens: The Women of Genghis Khan.  Stephanie Thornton. Penguin Group (USA). November 2014. 496 pp.  ISBN#: 9780451417800.

This is the story of four phenomenal women who bore the title “Khatun” for many days filled with unimaginable difficulties and tremendously joyful days!  Charismatic women who were eventually respected by many, they earned their way to that title by initiating actions and support for both friend and foe. 

Borte is the woman who is betrothed to the man who eventually became known as Genghis Khan but must wait many years for him to return to honor his betrothal promise.  In that time she meets Jamuka, the blood brother of Temujin (Genghis’s original name) and the passionate spark that flares between them will be the initial fire that eventually leads to the fulfillment of a devastating prophecy.  Honor indeed is not always rewarded, as future pages prove!  As a slave woman, Borte has to earn the respect of her new tribe’s shaman and her husband’s family.  She does so much better than that and earns the reader’s respect as she is gradually transformed from a woman who can command obedience to a woman and prophet who commands respect and even worship.

Alaqai should have been born a man for as the daughter of Genghis and Borte she would rather be learning spear-throwing, horseback riding and war tactics than playing with doll figures and learning how to sew and cook.  However, she is also very skilled at what she does and so quickly earns the admiration of fellow warriors.  Her victories on the plains of battle bring great joy that doesn’t, however, hide the pain behind her inability to have a child because she is spurned by her husband.  Here as well a gentle soul who loves Alaqai must wait in order to honor his vow of loyalty to his lord.  Treaties are quickly made and just as quickly broken for advantage.  Survival of the fittest is the mantra of the steppes and these feisty, courageous but also cruel men and women. 

Fatima is forced to watch as her precious Persian homeland is burned to the ground, its men and women tortured and killed or carried away in slavery.   She vows revenge on Alaqai who was the head of the forces responsible for the death of Fatima’s husband and child.  However, Torogene, the great Khan’s sister, takes a liking to Fatima and claims her as a slave.  Over time both women will truly experience the truth of what loyalty means even when complete agreement is impossible to attain. Both will also experience shocking consequences as a result of their avowed faithfulness to each other.

Finally, Sorkhokhtani is truly the peacemaker of all of these women.  Her gentle, graceful approach in many ways fools those who fail to perceive her acute perception.  When the great Khan died, his kingdom began its slow descent into destruction by the stupidity and drunkenness of his sons.  While the great Khan was humble and proud in all the correct ways, his sons allow their power to distort their thinking into perverse cruelty, inaction and self-aggrandizing battles.  Now Sorkhokhtani plots to have her sons, Mongke and Kublai, eventually respectively assume the role of “Great Khan.”

This is a thoroughly thrilling novel that sits right up there at the top with Conn Iggulden and Alex Rutherford’s account of Genghis Khan and his sons’ rivalry for his position.  The summary above belies the power and beauty in the descriptions on page after page of this mesmerizing story, revealing the glory of female woman in Mongolia and beyond. The plot seems simple; yet the characterization of each of these four dynamic woman is unique, setting the stage for history to unfold as it will (or won’t) and a constant thrill to follow.   The reader gets to share the starkly ugly and stunningly beautiful characters and environment around each lady.  History indeed comes alive in exciting, intriguing ways herein – relish every page as this reviewer did – this is MUST historical fiction reading!

What the Lady Wants: A Novel of Marshall Field and the Gilded Age by Renee Rosen

What the Lady Wants: A Novel of Marshall Field and the Gilded Age.  Renee Rosen. Penguin Group (USA). November 2014. 448 pp.  ISBN#: 9780451466716.

1871 Chicago – Delia Spencer is attending a ball and is fascinated by the men she sees examining the ladies, that is until she meets Marshall Field.  He’s an older man who exhibits all the graceful, polite but kind traits that attract an impressionable young lady just stepping out into the finest of society.  Delia is a very intelligent lady when it comes to appreciating the finest of fashions in clothes, interior decoration in any home, architecture, art, and more.  But all of that comes to a screeching halt when the same night as the ball the Great Fire of Chicago breaks out.  Delia, her family, and all of the City of Chicago are doing the best they can to stay ahead of the fire until they manage to get far from the City. It’s not just a fire – it’s a disaster that destroys all the major businesses of Delia’s family’s friends and acquaintances. It will be rebuilt.  The process symbolizes the upcoming life Delia and Marshall will share until 1906.

No, they will not marry yet for Marshall is married to Nannie, a hypochondriac woman whose only consolation is her laudanum that makes her even sicker and furiously jealous as well.  For it’s clear that Marshall and Delia share a spark that will grow into a friendship and later passionate love, a relationship few spouses ever achieve.  Marshall is just as married to his work and the reader will be fascinated as he rebuilds his lost business, beginning on the day after the fire.  He will argue with his partner for many years until Delia encourages him to strike out on his own.  She becomes pivotal in helping him to choose styles and designs for everything in his store, from clothing to jewelry to home products and more.  Later she will help him create a home away from home for all the ladies who live in and visit Chicago.  These pages are absolutely riveting and delightful, sure to be loved by anyone with a flair for beauty in one’s personal appearance or home.  Nothing, I repeat, nothing is left out or repeated; utterly spectacular!

Delia marries a man who has inherited money but has little else that he loves, other than his horses that he raises.  Arthur has a penchant that is totally unacceptable in the late 1800s; he and Delia will come to an agreement but one that is never wholly acceptable to either of them, one that will bring as much tragedy as it does satisfaction. Marshall is there for her through many shocking scenes that the reader will never forget.  His debacle with workers demonstrating and fighting for better pay, rights and other benefits is depicted with all of its passionate conflict and tension that is most likely precisely as it was in the famous Haymarket riots.

What the Lady Wants… is superb historical fiction that this reviewer loved and was so disappointed when it ended.  It has everything within it, fashion, mystery, crime, labor disputes, social refinement and snobbery, family support and opposition, tragedy and stunning success.  A MUST read and guaranteed to be a best seller!  A KEEPER!!! Exquisitely written, Renee Rosen!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

404 by J. G. Sandom

404.  J. G. Sandom. Cornucopia Press.  November 2014. 331 pp. paperback and e-book. ISBN #: 9780985695484.

John Decker, a cryptanalyst forensic examiner, is working at the National Counter-Terrorism Center when some violent, strange occurrences begin throughout America.  Right before they begin, a number of crimes happen where the perpetrator is caught on camera and to Decker looks like his old Arab nemesis who was thought to be dead, El Aqrab.  Decker and his family soon become the target and indeed messages seem to be luring Decker into danger and at the same time are compelling him to discovery the mystery behind Aqrab’s reappearance. 

Two planes collide; a nuclear reactor has a disastrous shutdown of its most protective technology; the government’s defense system is easily hacked, and more disasters affecting thousands of Americans lead this country to the brink of physical, political and financial disaster. 

Decker is drawn to receive the help of a Chinese computer expert, Xin Liu (known to all as Lulu).  At the same time Decker’s career is in jeopardy as it is beginning to look like there’s a mole in his department and it looks like it’s him.  This is another mystery as there is a period of his life involving his first encounter with Aqrab when something happened to him that he doesn’t remember.  He actually wonders if he’s going mad.  Lulu helps him to pursue the answers to his multiple questions as his personal life parallels the national disasters growing larger and larger by the minute!  Lulu’s a funky, unpredictable character, is an evolving wonder of a character who easily matches the skills of any expert on computers and martial arts as well!

This novel addresses the well-known, but little understood by the average person, issues of cyber-hacking and cyber-terrorism.  For those who are computer buffs, you’ll be in your glory as there are explanations galore about the technology of hacking and how the Internet keeps systems flowing or breaking throughout the world.  For those not as computer savvy as the experts, there’s enough riveting action and nail-biting intensity with each new level added to the complex plot to keep you flipping the pages and reading faster than you can imagine!

This reviewer has been reviewing J. G. Sandom’s novels over the years and must say this is his BEST story yet.  The most harrowing part of it all is that it’s REAL and we may be closer to this story’s coming to pass than we ever imagined!  It’s not a game at all!  404 is a best-selling crime thriller that is sure to please any reader who loves a great story with layers of depth and thrills.  It would also make one heck of a movie!  Congratulations, J. G. Sandom!  404 is a gem of a read!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Resting Place: A Graveside Diary by Pamela Little

The Resting Place: A Graveside Diary.  Pamela Little. Soul Custody Press. November 2014. 143 pp.  ISBN#: 9780990784807.

Pamela Little wrote this memoir to put her life in perspective.  Since she was young and suffered from bipolar disease, as well as suffering an abusive trauma in her youth, she’s had an obsession with death.  She’s not afraid of it but finds herself drawn to it.  She therefore decides to begin a journal which she mainly writes only when visiting a cemetery, where she has bought her own plot which she plans to share only with her mother someday.  Initially, it’s the only place she truly feels at peace!

Don’t write off Pamela’s background, for this memoir is replete with gems about living that few people take the time to ponder and appreciate!

A great deal of the account takes place as the author attempts to write through her chemical changes that put her into either a manic or depressive state, exacerbated with panic attacks.  But it is in those places where she sees what has weakened her relationship with her family and acquaintances and what she could possibly do to strengthen them instead of giving in to the compulsions that turn destructive if acted upon.  One doesn’t have to be bipolar to recognize how normal and prevalent these situations are in every family.

The close relationship she shares about her mother and daughters is what fuels her continuous writing of this journal with the goal of being more obsessed with living than dying.  She does just that.  For example, choosing not to give in to binge eating when in the depressed phase of her illness actually allows her freedom and space to grasp what is bothering her behind the surface manifestation of illness.  Choosing to write one’s obituary frees one to realize an opportunity to actually put into practice what few of us actually do, rather than wait until after a loved one’s death when one writes of words, feelings, and thoughts that were never actually shared with a loved one while alive.

Most of all, this account is about realizing how responsible we each are for our own lives, leaving out the blame game that only serves to distort reality!

Cherishing and loving life as it manifests in people, places and events are what fuel the unique quality of this memoir.  It’s a rare and special gift for any and all readers, one to relish and even share with our own families, friends and acquaintances.  Thank you for sharing this account, Pamela Little!

The Thursday Night Club - A Tale of Christmas Spirit - a Novella by Steven Manchester

The Thursday Night Club – A Tale of Christmas Spirit – a novella.  Steven Manchester. The Story Plant. November 2014. 64 pp.  ISBN#: 9781611882032.

Izzy and Ava host a weekly Thursday Night Club get-together with Jessie Cabral, Ava, Randy and Kevin.  They’re College Senior students who work hard at their studies and play just as hard, goofy friends who love nothing better than a good prank on each other, harmless fun that lightens their work load. Some have risen from poverty and are paying their tuition by the skin of their teeth but they don’t focus much on the hardship part of it all.  They are loyal to each other and beyond that focusing on meeting the directions of their various professors.  One professor in particular is a philosophy teacher who is highly demanding but how isn’t specified.  Jessie Cabral is probably the only remarkable student among them, preferring to be out on the streets doing something kind for someone in need but never flaunting it in anyone’s face. 

We meet them one Thursday night when they bet $.75 each to see who can play the funniest prank, specifying that such a plan is not to cause harm or hurt anyone else’s feelings. The game is on and they all do a great job which the reader will be sure to chuckle at.  But the laughs are soon to end dramatically when a tragedy strikes one of their group.  It will change their lives forever and many, many other lives because of what follows!
“Pay it forward” is a phrase that has been put into action over the last few years, but what this group agrees to do following the tragedy they are now living with will far exceed that temporary phase.  They will make another bet to see who can do the greatest good to another human being but they must remain anonymous. 

What follows is inventive, spontaneous, and a true blessing to each recipient of the deeds these students initiate.  To tell all would be a spoiler unworthy of this Christmas gift given to us by Steven Manchester.  One little hint – would you donate part of your body to give life to another – while you are alive?

The Thursday Night Read… is not only a perfect  holiday read but also one for every day of the year and years to follow.  A great read, may it inspire others to live a life with “purpose.”

The Job: Fox and O'Hare Series #3 by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

The Job: Fox and O’Hare Series #3.  Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg. Bantam Books. November 2014. 320 pp.  ISBN#: 9780804179898.  

FBI Agent Kate O’Hare conned a major con, Nicolas Fox, in order to capture him.  But the criminal con was so good the FBI released him to help catch other criminals they couldn’t catch without his help.  Oh, by the way, no one is supposed to know that later bit about releasing him!

Kate supposedly despises Fox but she has to admit with humorous reluctance of course, that he is good at what he does, very, very good!!!

In this latest Fox and O’Hare series, Kate O’Hare and Fox travel through America, Europe and elsewhere in order to figure out two things.  The first is what con is posing as Fox in order to steal famous art works and the second is the major drug cartel leader who yearns for more and more treasure and has the means and ways to make that happen with ease!

The story involves a hidden treasure (duh, or something like that), a female bodyguard who’s almost pathological, a Portuguese enforcer, a pirate, a special effects creator and director, and a retired Special Forces father, and more crazy, fun, chaotic characters who are part of this lunatic plot to capture or con the major con master!
The plot is simple but what makes this latest Evanovich novel delightful is the way cons con other cons and the humor and delight they get in discussing and carrying out these events.  It’s even better than Bonnie and Clyde! It’s a MUST read!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Proxima by Stephen Baxter

Proxima.  Stephen Baxter. Roc/Penguin Group (USA). November 2014. 480 pp.  ISBN#: 9780451467706.

Proxima Centauri is a red dwarf star far, far from the planets of Earth, the Moon, Mars, Mercury and all the other planets so familiar to present day Earthlings.  The year is 2166 and laser beams of energy developed from kernel engineering can hurl a spaceship into different galaxies.  Phases of history on Earth have passed, including a period of purging intelligent scientists who supposedly committed “crimes” (though never specified); and now there is an intellectual war about who will control the forces of energy with amazing potential for not only space travel but also creating new colonies on distant planets. 

Yuri and Mardina were both forced to become colonists on Proxima or Per Adua as it is otherwise called.  Their fellow inhabitants were initially a larger group; but uncontrolled feelings, thoughts and deeds caused several violent scenes in which many were murdered, leaving finally only Yuri and Mardina as survivors. There are other colonists somewhere on the planet but they were dumped in places far away and the chances of their meeting each other are slim indeed!  For now Yuri, Mardina and a specialized robot ColU explore their new world.  It appears that its living inhabitants are plant-like creatures, with a hidden eye, who are always busy building other plant-like structures and creating structures like dams to move or close water sources.  Even the water contains bacterial life that is impossible to define by earth standards.  However, thanks to the genius of ColU the species learn to live with each other, their only major problem the solar flares that could kill them if exposed.

Over a long period of time Mardina sets up a plan whereby she and Yuri will have children.  Mardina refuses to believe no one will ever come to rescue them but Yuri thinks differently. 

At the same time other subplots are happening that involve the battle over these super-kernels.  Who obtains them and controls them can rule not only the earth but also other planets in the cosmos and beyond. 

Eventually other settlers will join Yuri and Mardina and their lives will be irrevocably changed by a change coming to Proxima that will mandate their moving elsewhere.  The “Hatch” will take them where they never dreamed of going; this is the discovery of a lifetime that totally shifts the plot of this novel.

Proxima is brilliant science fiction, the best this reviewer has read in more years than will be admitted.  It’s hard science fiction with a complex plot interlaced with real scientific explanations that are intelligently delivered and best of all highly readable and comprehensible to the average non-scientist reader.  It depicts a world where inhabitants resemble nothing encountered in earth’s experience and yet doesn’t come across as silly but highly credible, exciting and intriguing reality.  For any reader who has the slightest interest in science fiction, this is your must read for the year; and for those who have never experienced the “other world vicissitudes of life on other planets,” this is the greatest introduction to the world of science fiction you will ever find!  Highly, highly recommended, a truly wonderful work of science fiction that ranks up there with the masters of the genre!

Singing to a Bulldog: From “Happy Days” to Hollywood Director, and the Unlikely Mentor Who Got Me There by Anson Williams

Singing to a Bulldog: From “Happy Days” to Hollywood Director, and the Unlikely Mentor Who Got Me There.  Anson Williams. The Reader’s Digest Association, Inc. November 2014. 176 pp.  ISBN#: 9781621452256.

Anson Williams, better known as “Potsie” on the wildly popular show “Happy Days,” here tells a simple but compelling story about how he rose to success.  His mentor turns out to be an African-American janitor named Willie Turner who drank too much but who had a fount of wisdom in sayings that Anson sprinkles liberally throughout his story.  For these snippets alone, the story is worth the read, as well as the author’s ability to control his own actions, reactions, thoughts and feelings so as to allow these wise words to rule his life.  Simplistic? No, Anson comes across as sincere and humble about it all!

Anson Williams lacked direction and had taken low-paying jobs until certain opportunities came his way, combined with Willie’s words such as, “All good boy. Don’t gets in dey way of yerself. Go wit yer feelins.” Those moments of coincidence, miracles, or whatever one wishes to call them combined with his obvious talent, as he describes in an imitation of someone else that got him his first acting job.  Upwards he travels as he meets the fellow actors he came to respect and love, Henry Winkler, Don Most and Ron Howard.  Later he’ll be well on the way to stardom when he meets President Ford’s daughter, Sammy Davis, Jr., Bill Cosby and so many more famous actors and actresses.  It is noteworthy that he acknowledges those famous people as those who fit in with Willie’s humble sayings and those who were quite full of themselves and therefore not worthy of more than comment.

Further into his career, after years of Potsie and “Happy Days” fame, Anson goes on to be inspired to direct his own films and shows, and develop what is known as product development and promotion business which is just as fascinating on its own.
Singing to a Bulldog… is a light, pleasant read that spans the career of Anson Williams.  It’s a life free of the usual “love ‘em, hate ‘em” news reporting so rampant in the current media. It tells a straightforward, interesting, funny and inspiring story that readers will be sure to admire and enjoy!  Thanks for sharing, Mr. Williams – this one will go down as a terrific book about an important segment in the entertainment industry! Nicely crafted!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Finding the Dragon Lady: The Mystery of Vietnam's Madame Nhu by Monique Brinson Demery

Finding the Dragon Lady: The Mystery of Vietnam’s Madame Nhu.  Monique Brinson Demery. Public Affairs Publisher. October 2014. 280 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9781610392815.

The story of Madame Nhu begins with her life as an upcoming bride living in a Vietnam laced with French dominion and influence.  She is about to marry a man who will eventually become the Prime Minister of Vietnam, the man who will wield the real power behind President Ngo Dinh Diem as nations and revolutionary groups vie for power, prestige, and style in Vietnam.  For now Tran Le Xuan, Nhu’s name in her youth), is excited about her marriage and upcoming family status.  But intrigue is omnipresent and Nhu’s life seems like it is unraveling as she initially fails to beget children and her husband seems more entwined with his secret trips and missions than he is with his young bride. 

At the same time, we learn how North Vietnamese leaders are seeking to combine their rising power with French administration.  The French will fall eventually and Tran will learn how the poor and suffering live when she is forced to flee with her family as the Communists from the North approach South Vietnam.  From that point on, Madame Nhu reaches deep inside to let her immense strength confront all obstacles in her path.  The story continues with American advisers coming to court her husband and Diem will take over after a coup.  Madame Nhu’s notoriety grows as she declares her love of power and prestige and comes across as cold and heartless toward the people she is supposed to serve. Indeed the rule of her family and Diem is correctly labeled as repressive, though these rulers always claimed the treatment was to safeguard their people. Her callous remarks about the burning Buddhist monk serve as the vicious, cold benchmark of her future years.  Until her husband and Diem are assassinated, she will court power and use her sexy, slim body and charm to keep South Vietnam free. 

One aspect that is always clear in this account is how mixed the advice and help from the USA was.  American estimation of the rising threat of Ho Chi Minh always seems inaccurate and forthcoming help was the same; the replies of Madame Nhu and the South Vietnam government was partially responsible as they feared a foreign takeover by the Communists, French (again!) or even the Americans if the truth were to be admitted.

Madame Nhu goes into seclusion when she barely manages to escape to America and remains there for over 30 years before her story is told by the author of this account.  In order to gain all the information in this book, the author had to play a cat-and-mouse game with Madame Nhu in which the author would be fed bits and pieces of little known information but never wholesale openness and trust.  Madame Nhu, we learn, had reason to fear the vengeance of many who considered her responsible for thousands of deaths, losses and disasters that befell the Vietnamese people.

The story never loses the sense of intrigue, mystery, and exposure of truth and thus is a superb nonfiction account of a pivotal time in global history that affected the lives of millions to the present day.  Finely crafted account of this very famous lady’s journey through the vicissitudes of Vietnamese and American history!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Hello From the Gillespies: A Novel by Monica McInerney

Hello from the Gillespies: A Novel.  Monica McInerney. Penguin Group (USA). November 2014. 624 pp.  ISBN#: 9780451466723.

Every year Angela Gillespie sends out a friendly, chatty Christmas letter for the holidays.  She fills it with bits and pieces of her perfect life in the Australian outback, a life she never dreamed she would spend most of her life in when she was a young woman living in England.  But here she is; only this year she gets more of her recent, severe headaches when thinking about what she should include as her year’s news.  A good friend Joan tells her to write the way things really are, to “let it rip.”  So all of a sudden, rather than bursting into tears, she takes her friend’s advice and really does write all about her dysfunctional family, from her neglectful, unromantic husband who barely talks to her, through her girls who have great dreams about careers but have really lousy relationships with boyfriends or are depressed, all the way to her youngest son Ig who spends his life chattering away, like he’s bonkers, to his imaginary friend.  Happy Holidays!

A terrible accident happens which is quickly resolved over several days; however, while she is dealing with that, her husband (without reading it) actually presses the send button for the Christmas letter to over a hundred family and friends. Oh, my God! Imagine Angela’s thoughts and feelings when she discovers what beloved hubby has done! And more how he feels when he realizes what was in the letter about himself and one of their nastier relatives!  In plain and simple English, this is the straw that broke the camel’s back and the bubbling, boiling pot overflows with an amazingly large bevy of previously unshared feelings and words!

Add to that the fact that the girls have lost their jobs and are returning home, expecting a monetary handout that might not be so forthcoming.  This then is the story of a family that finally is compelled to begin listening to each other, becoming sensitive to each other’s thoughts and feelings as well as words, in all becoming a real, mature adult family.  The process is riveting, totally engaging and absolutely delightful!

Hello from the Gillespies… is a thrilling read about which readers can say, “Oh yeah, that’s how it is in my crazy family and world!”  It’s a refreshing look at a normal Australian (is definitely universal) family that evolves through blood, sweat, tears and eventually hugs and kisses.  Highly recommended!!!!!

The Story of Fester Cat: How One Remarkable Cat Changed Two Men's Lives by Paul Magrs

The Story of Fester Cat: How One Remarkable Cat Changed Two Men’s Lives.  Paul Magyrs. Penguin Group (USA). November 2014. 304 pp.  ISBN#: 9780425275047.

Fester was a neighborhood outdoor cat for most of his life.  He was considered cool and full of wisdom on how to survive on the streets.  We meet several of his friends and acquaintances, most of them hairy mats of messy fur, skeletons showing, missing teeth, fleas and showing battle scars from their rough skirmishes on the streets!  Then all of a sudden life begins to change when one of his friends gets adopted by a human family that is moving far away from Manchester and at the same time Fester meets Paul and Jeremy!

What a change for good old Fester!  At first it’s a funny bit of culture shock as he certainly isn’t used to being cared for so well and they have to get used to his occasional dumps (they call it accidents, ha, ha!) until they get sharp and get him a kitty litter, which of course he treats like a special throne where he drops his sacred gifts for his loving owners!

Little by little owners and Fester establish their favorite spots, a companionship that grows deeply upon these gay men who discover a different kind of love present in their lives.  There are many funny moments such as when Fester is introduced to a fancy patronizing friend of his owners or when they take him for his “beauty” appointment (a la vet).  Little by little Fester’s health is restored as much as possible!  He’s now a permanent fixture in their lives and it’s a lovely, lovely relationship they share with the reader as Fester explains his owners’ individual and collective habits and idiosyncrasies.

It’s been a long time since a book made me both laugh and cry, but this one did it all and more!  It’s a tender, humorous, startling, agonizing and precious memoir that every cat lover absolutely must read and everyone else as well!  Marley, move over – this is the reverse story but every step of the way to the end is delightful, engaging and so, so memorable!  I’m writing this as one of my own two beloved felines is butting my head for a bit of cuddlin’ which means I have to stop typing but not before I state I will never stop remembering this superb feline memoir! Kudos and thank you, Paul Magyrs for sharing this gift from your lives!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Killing Patton: The Strange Death of World War II's Most Audacious General by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard

Killing Patton: The Strange Death of World War II’s Most Audacious General.  Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard. Henry Holt and Company. September 2014. 368 pp.  ISBN#: 9780805096682.

Let me state from the outset this reviewer has absolutely no interest in examining this book for political purposes!  Instead, this reviewer’s father served in the U. S. Army under General Patton and had tremendous respect for his person and leadership. Thus, this reviewer’s fascination grew to desire to know more about this man who was loved and hated by so many in military and civilian circles!  While other books have been read about Patton, this is not a comparison or contrast review; rather it’s a stand-alone objective review of a book about a truly great man whose actions changed the course of WWII in Europe.

O’Reilly and Dugard pose the theory that General Patton was killed because he was too outspoken and considered dangerous to others vying for power and vying to create a European order after WWII that would favor certain countries over other countries.  There is actually very little evidence for this so-called murder other than the accounts of those present at the time and reports that mysteriously seem to have disappeared or gone missing, with very little response from those who should have known about those documents.  Whatever happened, the story of this anti-Patton plot makes for fascinating reading!

Some background is given to the backgrounds of Patton, Churchill, Roosevelt, Lenin, Stalin and other world leaders who were pivotal during the coming Second World War!  The authors examine these characters with what they know will fascinate readers – just enough personal and political information to whet the appetite for more – some of it unnecessary but which builds the “story” being presented.

The authors tell the story of WWII battles led by Patton and that is also mesmerizing reading because it is also an intimate look at the political and military leaders making the decisions about the war.  We read about how Patton arrived in France and moved through that country into Southern Germany.  There a huge competitive campaign emerged in which Patton desired to be the first to reach Bastogne and later Berlin, a competition with Britain’s Montgomery that grew fierce indeed! 

Patton’s verbal gaffes were amusing, inflammatory, truthful, lies, and totally destructive to policy, depending on who was the target of those comments and who was fitting them into or rejecting them into American military and political goals.

In many ways, this book reads like a novel. One has to remind one’s self that this is the account of a real General whose life was almost larger than life for those who served under him or with him and whom one could accurately call a “shaper of history.”  Some have decried this account for leaving out certain facts about Patton’s attitudes toward Jews and political predictions or attitudes.  The reader must judge those accusers after examining what they know and don’t know about Patton and differing written accounts – fiction or non-fiction.  The best?  The worst?  Somewhere in between?  That’s for others to argue.

This reviewer highly recommends Killing Patton as a great read about the man, the war, the assassination theory and one account of a pivotal period in world history!