Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Seventh Link: An English Village Cosy Featuring the Colonel by Margaret Mayhew

The Seventh Link: An English Village Cosy Featuring the Colonel.  Margaret Mayhew. Severn House. November 2014. 160 pp.  ISBN#: 9780727884213. 

The Colonel is retired from military service and finding city life distasteful has retired to a country town where everyone knows everyone.  He’s delighted to putter around his house and especially hide out in his man-cave shed where he begins work on a naval model.  He has a nice relationship with his neighbor Naomi who stops by for tea and a chat and he has another neighbor who spends her day harmlessly spying with a pair of German U-Boat military binoculars.  And of course there’s his cat Thursday who is close but finicky companion, amusing and aloof but clearly attached to his beloved Colonel.

Now the Colonel is setting off to visit a friend Geoffrey who with his wife runs a bed and breakfast home in the Village of Buckby, a place of historical interest because from here the Royal Air Force flew off to Europe and Germany where they carried out special operations against Germany.  It coincidentally happens to be a weekend when the Royal Air Force is having a reunion of those who belonged to the same RAF Unit.

Much of Buckby has changed but that doesn’t ruin the reunion which is really a sacred ceremony celebrating the men who were very skilled but also more lucky to survive missions in which one out of three survived.  The men share memories and one of the late arrivals shares a troubling story with a news reporter.  The mystery of that account turns even more intriguing when the teller appears dead and no one can figure out if it’s a murder or just an unfortunate accident.

The ending is quite unusual and the reader is left to draw his or her own conclusions.  The Seventh Link… is a warm and intriguing story briefly told but no less thrilling for the unexpected outcome.  The conflict creeps up on the reader and there are some amusing and unique characters to enhance the mysterious ambiance of the story. Nicely crafted historical fiction, Margaret Mayhew.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Devil's Quota by Tom Avitabile

The Devil’s Quota. Tom Avitabile. The Story Plant. October 2014. 320 pp.  ISBN#: 9781611881929.

A well-known Judge is found dead after having a massive heart attack while in the throes of sexual bliss with a call girl in a seedy building far from his luxurious home.  The only problem is his wife tells Detective Mike DiMaggio that her husband was impotent.  Add to this fact the reality of a sex clinic run by a professional sex counselor Cassandra Cassidy.  It turns out she runs several floors in the building where she offers therapy for high profile customers.  Unfortunately, DiMaggio quickly figures out she is being protected by those same higher-ups, which leads to him being followed.

DiMaggio, however, calculates that losing his job merits his determination to find out who is behind his removal, and that’s where the action and complex nature of this investigation really begins and propels him into action.  It also advances considerably when someone tries to take out Cassidy.  The relationship between the two now changes into something more personal but is complex enough to defy predictability.

The story then switches to a sniper, Master Sergeant Eric Ronson, who is a Special Forces operative serving in Afghanistan.  He has fallen in love with Setara, an Afghan girl, who is connected to international traffickers and thereby leads Ronson into a heap of trouble.  Eventually he and DiMaggio will connect but that’s a spoiler not happening here.  Suffice to say there’s a great deal of killing happening on this end of the story!

Tom Avitabile’s plots are page-turning, gripping read.  The Ronson involvement eventually ties in but seems separate and disconnected at first, but eventually it all ties together to form a seamless plot.  DiMaggio and Cassandra Cassidy are characters with some unique, quirky qualities to their relationship right up to the last page.  Good read for all fans of crime/thriller fiction!

Penguin Classics: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain 2014 edition

Penguin Classics: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  Mark Twain.  Introduction and Notes by R. Ken Rasmussen. Penguin Group (USA). November 2014. 272 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9780143107330.

Penguin has also reissued an edition of the classic novel, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a tale that has more controversy surrounding it than the Tom Sawyer story penned by Mark Twain.   For this is the story of Huck Finn, a young boy who travels with a runaway slave, Jim, for the purpose of obtaining his freedom.

Huck is fleeing his alcoholic father’s abusive ways, a part of the story that may seem like adventure initially when read at a young age but which becomes a journey surrounded by starkly harsh reality.  Huck’s cheery attitude must be a partial fa├žade that covers over a mass of wounded spirit.  At times those wounds leak out in the cruel way he speaks to Jim.  However, living in a stable family environment is not something Huck can stand as proved by his escape from the widow Douglas. He has something of the “wild” in him, perhaps a tad of his father’s spirit or upbringing than we would admit.  Either way, Huck is beholden to no adult, not even Jim, at least not early on in the story; later both change because of the intimate conversations they have on their dangerous journey down the Mississippi River, including getting involved in a family feud, consorting with thieves, pretending to be his old buddy Tom Sawyer, and much more.

Rasmussen has again penned an interesting introduction in which he explores the “bad boy” image Huck seems to have maintained for as long as it existed, the false comparisons with Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, the lack of purpose other than adventure with some morality embedded within the story, and more. 

Huckleberry Finn is a wonderful story about a young adult who shows his simple and unrefined nature over and over in the way he craves but fears danger, his wise nature when he sees through the duplicity of those who claim to care for their slaves (using the “n” word common in that time of history), his own prejudice when he threatens to turn Jim in which would have guaranteed the most brutal punishment possible if not death), and so much more.  They will meet friendly men and women and thieves of every type as they travel downriver.

Reread this new edition and note the genius of Mark Twain who writes stories that can be perceived as just that or with layers of critical satire that forced America to confront its lack of tackling severe problems such as dysfunctional families and parenting, criminal activities pervading every town in America, the acceptable and unacceptable values within the friendships and acquaintances made by Huck, the lack of adult courage that stood out in stark relief through the actions of a young boy, and finally the need to find justice in the most intolerable circumstances of time, without the hindsight of history to help!

This reviewer loves this book and highly recommends it as a first, second or umpteenth read – a TRUE CLASSIC, a MUST READ!

Penguin Classics: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain - 2014 edition

Penguin Classics: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.  Mark Twain.  Introduction and Notes by R. Ken Rasmussen. Penguin Group (USA). November 2014. 272 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9780143107330.

Penguin has reissued an edition of the classic novel, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, a tale that never fails to mesmerize and intrigue its readers.   It’s the story of a young Southern boy who’s a “bad boy” in the day when the only books for boys were moral novels of little adventure and minor character flaws.  Tom Sawyer is really the same type of character but his charismatic personality has more spunk than previous young heroes and he’s so much smarter than his peers that he becomes a model of misbehavior and adventure to them all.

A fascinating introduction – don’t skip it at all – compares this novel by the famous Mark Twain to the Harry Potter novel by J. K. Rowling.  Tom and Harry are said to possess the common characteristics as they “struggle against adversity, fight against evil, and are misunderstood but nevertheless emerge triumphantly in the end.” There are other similarities but that awaits the reader’s exploration.

Tom will fall in love with Becky, see a murder, lead a search for treasure, is believed to be dead, and becomes rich but unchanged from the rambunctious boy he has always been.

One may read this novel on many levels, and this new Penguin Classic edition is easy but accurate reading of the novel Mark Twain composed. The first level is that of a simple boy who rebels against the morality-ridden upbringing of Southern families, the necessary but boring elementary school lessons, and the mundane quality of everyday life that was just chores and lessons galore.  Twain on the other hand, was a master of satire, and we may read his tale as a scathing satire of church goers’ hypocrisy (Tom’s Aunt Polly, albeit a good woman at heart), the stereotyping of people in more need of help (albeit unwanted) such as Tom’s friend Huck’s alcoholic father, the false judgments of society based on image rather than actual acts (albeit in secret) as in the cave and treasure incident involving pirates and Injuns.

Reread this new edition and compare it with the thrills, magic and adventures of the Harry Potter stories.  Read it as a girls’ book and not just as the boys’ book it was believed to be years ago.  Read it and enjoy the daily unexpected excitement of friends meeting Tom Sawyer, the “safe bad boy!”

The Spider and the Stone: A Nobel by Glen Craney

The Spider and The Stone: A Novel of Scotland’s Black Douglas. Glen Craney. Brigid’s Fire Press. October 2013. 432 pp.  ISBN#: 9780981648408.  

Scotland in the beginning of the 14th Century is besieged by turmoil that may yet be its total undoing.  Its internal tribes are constantly vying for power and consequently always at war, both verbally and physically.  Add to it that the King of England, Edward Longshanks, is furious at how the Scots are always creating border disputes and battles and he’s now determined to totally break them, humiliate them, and take over the entire country which he owns anyway.  But what he and his weak son do not realize is just how fierce and determined these feisty Scotsmen and women are.  The likes of James Douglas in this novel demonstrate the thorn in the flesh he and his followers are in England’s royal presence.

The novel opens with a brutal scene in which Scottish castles are ruthlessly destroyed. This is quickly followed by the death of a friend of James and soon thereafter the death of William Wallace, a hero revered by all faithful Scots.  Robert the Bruce, however, who swears allegiance to lead Scotland as King seems to waver between his sworn duty and trying to manipulate and cower before Longshanks.  The result is more division as neither side knows where Robert truly lies, yielding more and more dissension.  Jamie, however, is tested over and over but is faithful.  The question is whether or not he will eventually be Scotland’s King.

Early in the novel, James falls in love with Isabelle MacDuff but obstacles after obstacles seem to interfere with their desired union.  It is her family who officiate over the crowning of Scotland’s Kings near the mystical Stone of Destiny, whose eerie scream will only sound when the true King of Scotland touches the stone.

This is a long but thoroughly enjoyable story which holds more intrigue than one could imagine, including the activities of the Knights Templar, those of the repressed pagan Culdee Church, the declaration that inspired other similar official documents for freedom long after this century concluded, and tales within tales of romantic legends and battles that never fail to move the characters hearing or reading about them. Even though there are many names and clans mentioned, it is worth the effort to follow them carefully, in order to fully appreciate this memorable, well-researched, and thoroughly enjoyable work of historical fiction! Great read that is highly recommended!