Thursday, January 16, 2014

Curse the Moon: Atcho Rises by Lee Jackson

Curse the Moon: Atcho Rises.  Lee Jackson. Stonewall Publishers, LLC. December 2013. 328 pp. ISBN#: 9780989802574.

Atcho, a former West Point graduate, appears in a gruesome opening scene where a Russian captain is holding a gun to Atcho’s daughter’s head, while his soldier goons are kicking and beating the daylights out of Atcho.  The brutal KGB agent informs Atcho that he owns him and so it will appear until the very end of this international spy thriller that moves between Cuba, Russia and the United States. 

Atcho’s fury, plus his obvious well-trained background, compels the reader to follow him during the famous (or infamous depending on one’s point of view) Bay of Pigs disaster.  For Cuban dissidents have much gusto to stage a resistance fight with the aid of American military assistance; but it will as we already know go up in smoke due to poor training of Cubans and lackluster, discombobulated American assistance. However, Atcho forms special relationships with some very brave and ardent rebels and he is known for his over-the-top bravery in that devastating skirmish. The result is thousands of Cubans will die as a lesson to the world staged by Castro and thousands more will be imprisoned in Cuban prisons with the most brutally horrific conditions.

Eventually Atcho learns his daughter is in America and plans to escape the prison.  He is caught and will serve the next nineteen years of his life in three different prisons.  All of a sudden, however, the Russian officer is manipulating Atcho’s life again.  The rest of the novel is so surprising at every turn that this reviewer couldn’t stop reading – no spoiler here.  Fear over losing his daughter is the key to controlling Atcho as he is ordered to prepare for a very special mission.  It is only when he realizes that he’s still a virtual prisoner that he decides to take his own, and his daughter’s, destiny into his own hands.  Every page is well worth the read!

Lee Jackson has obviously researched his subject well as he places the battles in Cuba at all the correct places and also depicts the divided nature of Cuban people who for the most part let Castro rule tyrannically without much resistance at all.  It’s also obvious that this was more a competition between Russia and the USA.  Indeed the mole in this story is a willing tool for both sides.  The depiction of West Point is spot on, especially with all of its changes in the 1970s.  So much of Atcho’s behavior is not only protective for his daughter but also a result of being a prisoner for so many years, often spending as much as eight months in solitary confinement in a space where one could neither sit, stand nor lie with any comfort at tall. 

Lee Jackson writes in the style of the early and notable Robert Ludlum or Ken Follett.  The story is action-packed, riveting, adrenaline-pumping reading that is sure to make this a best-seller.  The moon can be friend or enemy and Atcho clearly knows the difference! Superb historical thriller!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Mrs. Lincoln's Rival: A Novel by Jennifer Chiaverini

Mrs. Lincoln’s Rival: A Novel. Jennifer Chiaverini. January 2014. Dutton Adult: Penguin Group (USA). 432  pp. hbk. ISBN #: 9780525459287.

Kate Chase, daughter of Samuel P. Chase, serves as her father’s personal assistant and hostess in the mid-1850’s tumultuous political world.  He has one huge ambition, to be the President of the United States, but is dwarfed in his obvious formidable skills by other rivals with far greater rhetorical talent and ability to woo both politicians and voters.  Refusing to be daunted by each succeeding disappointment, Kate stands by his side as he pursues his senatorial and then Secretary of the Treasury posts under President Abraham Lincoln.  Although the title alludes to an intense rivalry with the President’s wife, the undercurrents of that reality are not the highlights of this fascinating look into the step-by-step progression of abolitionists toward a brutally divisive and destructive Civil War!

More so than in her previous novel about the Lincoln years, Chiaverini does a better job here of plotting the early disasters at Bull Run and other famous historic sites of the war.  While Kate’s father is scrambling to expand the country’s debt in order to finance the war, Kate spends her time wheeling and dealing with anyone of influence to support the war and the goal of emancipation for slaves throughout the nation. The clear differences in strategy between her father and Secretary of State Seward often cloud the President’s goals for the future; the President, however, sees the needs of the nation as a higher focus than their petty political squabbles.

Kate is wooed by William Sprague, Governor, military commander, and then Senator of Rhode Island.  While her passions are ignited by this fair, successful and commanding presence, there is something about him that makes her hesitate.  Kate’s public persona increases with the melancholy aspects of her private life; she is obviously seen as a gracious, politically savvy woman who has made a significant impact on Washington.

This reader was intrigued by a remarkable split between how intelligent this woman could be yet impetuous and na├»ve in her romantic life.  Her devotion to her father’s career obviously supersedes any thoughts about a future as a private citizen and wife.  When the role of most women was confined to the home and parties, Kate Chase Sprague clearly serves as a model of an early feminist who could truly also be labeled an astute politician whose skills altered the face of American history. 
Mrs. Lincoln’s Rival is compelling historical fiction that is highly recommended!

A Measure of Blood: A Richard Christie Novel by Kathleen George

A Measure of Blood: A Richard Christie Novel. Kathleen George. Road. January 2014. 400 pp.  ISBN#: 9781480445606.

Matt is a young boy who has seen what no child should ever have to see, the death of his mother by murder.  He’s now obsessed with who killed her and who is his father.  There are no other living relatives and so it’s a toss of the dice whether Matt will be taken into the custody of Child Protective Services or whether a nearby couple, who have long yearned for an adopted child, will temporarily take Matt in as a foster child.  Richard Christie’s heart is tied up in this case as he searches for the murderer, tries to do the best for Matt, and remembers the fact that he has no idea where his own father is. 

Matt has a great memory and little by little remembers the conversation or argument between the man who was with his mother right before she died and the type of car that the man was leaning on.  He’s very much into computers and video games, and they are his sole consolation for a while at least.  But then Matt overhears other conversations and learns that the police know who his real father is, and he wonders why his father wouldn’t want to know or be connected with him.  It’s almost too much to handle! His search becomes an obsession!

Meanwhile, another man believes Matt is his son and gradually also becomes obsessed with getting to know him and have a father-son relationship. To say more would be to spoil the plot replete with multiple twists and turns. The reader knows who each character really is but in no way can predict what will happen as two men vie for possession of Matt as a son, a couple gets to be loving parents, and some relationships become confused and then clarified among the detectives trying to solve this crime and another crime to follow.

Kathleen George has crafted a heart-rending mystery or crime story that has the reader rooting for Matt and some other characters at every turn of the pages.  There’s no repetition in this novel which so often spoils a good story and the characters are unusually engaged in the outcome for this grieving, confused child!  While there are some background pieces told throughout the tale, there’s no overdose of psychology or psychiatry which adds even more to the credibility of the guy who has caused all this mayhem.  Finely done, Kathleen George!!!