Saturday, December 31, 2016

Law and Disorder: A Legal Thriller by Mike Papantonio

Law and Disorder: A Legal Thriller.  Mike Papantonio. Select Books. September 2016. 352 pp. ISBN #: 9781590793671.

Like the author, Nicholas “Deke” Deketomis is a skilled trial lawyer and talk radio show host.  The novel opens with a dramatic scene in which a young woman, suing a large pharmaceutical company for allowing the sale of a drug, dies right in front of the court after the Judge’s decision to not allow her story as evidence in a class action lawsuit against the drug company.  Deke’s law firm had six good witnesses to take to trial on this matter but now he’s got five and he’s looking for evidence that will unequivocally burn through the defendant’s “lawyered-up” and powerful strategies to defeat Deke’s lawsuit.

The plot then moves to a seeming sub-plot in which a coach of a woman’s team at a Southern Pentecostal Church receives a letter threatening exposure for sleeping with a minor fifteen-year-old teen.  The alleged perpetrator fakes a suicide hoping to con his wife into forgiveness and prayer, but the Pastor in charge of this church has different plans.  For one thing, this is one of those popular mega-churches making enough money from televised sermons and their in-person weekly services to make them a wealthy business.  The Pastor is also supporting a former Senator who is planning a comeback and who is stupid enough to ignore the fact that he is a tool in the Pastor’s grand strategy for even more success in the political world.

The remainder of the novel is about the machinations of the court, lawyers, Judges with a partisan preference, pharmaceutical companies whose only vision is making money minus caring about patients who die because of their poisoning drugs, and what it takes to achieve success in modifying the choices made by these drug companies.  Illegal methods are deemed perfectly appropriate to obtain pivotal evidence to use against the defendant drug company.  Religious leaders are not above destroying anyone who opposes their glorified status.

Most of what is in this novel reflects the way the law and businesses operate, but some of it goes over the edge with authorial license.  Still we are left with a ripping tale that has enough twists and turns to keep the reader flipping the pages and left with somewhat an education that is both informative and shocking!

Nicely plotted, with spunky, intelligent characters, Law and Disorder… is a terrific read sure to please those who love the legal thriller genre!

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Max's Diamonds: A Novel by Jay Greenfield

Max’s Diamonds: A Novel.  Jay Greenfield. Chickadee Prince Books. May 2016. 344 pp. ISBN #: 9780991327423.

Paul Hartman, his parents and many in their family are refugees from the hell created by Adolf Hitler.  In short, they are Holocaust survivors!  Think you’ve heard it all before!  Stop in your tracks – you haven’t!  Jay Greenfield’s first novel is reality.  The appearance of Paul’s Uncle Max is a life-changing event for Paul.  Two aspects of Uncle Max’s life remain with Paul forever, the numbers etched into Uncle Max’s arm and the diamonds Uncle Max owns and spreads throughout the family.  These items are evidence of the worst kind of evil one can imagine!  They permeate the family with guilt as survivors and victims who deserve more of life’s wealth because of what they have endured.  In between these searing scenes are moments of intense beauty which Paul and his girlfriend, and later wife, find in playing music.  Should one play Wagner, the enemy of the Jews, to show all that Jews survived and are now their own masters? Yes, Wagner, the music that was played when selections were daily made of who was to go to the gas chambers.  The novel is replete with decisions of a like-minded nature!

For Paul, it seems for every few steps he moves ahead in his career and family life he must take multiple steps backwards laced with shared guilt and moral obligations.  As the story progresses, we learn how Max acquired those diamonds in the concentration camp and what he did with them.  Harrowing story, indeed!

Paul becomes a lawyer whose State Supreme Court clerkship becomes compromised because of his family background.  On and on the same stop-and-go scenes follow, eventually causing the failure of two marriages, barriers with relatives because of a deed Paul committed after meeting Max and before Max’s death.  All his relationships become tainted and the reader can empathize with his frustration and desire to get it all healed and behind, if that is possible at all!

Max’s Diamonds… is a startling, riveting work of historical fiction that each reader may never forget.  It’s a thriller spawned by an evil reality of one man but passing on to all the victims tied into that evil man’s existence!
Amazing read that this reviewer highly recommends!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Blind Ambition: The White House Years by John W. Dean

Blind Ambition: The White House Years. John Dean. Open Road Media. December 2016. 480 pp. ISBN#: 9781504041011.  

John Dean felt privileged on being invited to be Richard Nixon and the White House’s legal counsel.  Highly intelligent and skilled, Dean recognized that his main task was building a business in the White House and wrongly assumed he would have all the connections and advice necessary for the job.  He also realized he had spent so much of his life working, he had no meaningful relationships outside of that professional career, so he again wooed and married his old girlfriend, Mo.  It wasn’t long before his surrealistic, high-flying dreams began a slow, odious descent from legal counsel to firefighter, to fellow conspirator, to defender, to criminal and finally to prosecutor.  This then is Dean’s story of Watergate, the ultimate demise of Richard Nixon and many of his staff members who never learned the lesson that power has limits!

It all began with a break-in of a psychiatrist’s office to get the psychiatric records of Daniel Ellsberg to smear him and progressed to a larger break-in of the Democratic National Committee offices in the Watergate building in Washington, D.C. in June 1972.  Five men were arrested for the latter break-in and Dean clearly describes the White House interference trying to get these men freed and paid hush money.  It didn’t help that the men were carrying a large amount of cash ultimately found to be connected to the Committee for the Re-election of the President (Nixon).   The remainder of the story concerns the cover-up attempted by Nixon’s henchmen: Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell, Colson, Strachan, Mardian and others.  What made it ten times worse is that everyone was caught in lying about the event, about the money used to hush testimony, about the use of pivotal figures quickly followed by their being discarded, and numerous hours and money spent in trying to deny the truth and basically save butts.

At first Dean’s job seemed to be what he calls being a “firefighter,” putting out the truth before it burst into the public scene via media.  As one reads these pages, it’s hard to deal with the mix of feelings of feeling sorry for these misguided men and then getting angry at the relentless justice that pursues them for their clear, untrammeled guilt.  Dean portrays Richard Nixon as the wily, devious manipulator who plays dumb but is playing each of the characters toward his own end of being acknowledged as innocence.  But he failed to realize that his Presidential staff would slowly unravel in fear of being indicted and eventually jailed; after each implodes, devastating testimony is given that is both convicting and self-serving, including for certain time spans Dean’s own reporting.  While these men were prosecuted and served time in jail, except for Nixon who was forced to resign the Presidency, the truth has been spoken despite attempts at distorting, denying and placing blaming elsewhere.  

Blind Ambition: The White House Years is vital reading for a nation concerned with the abuse of power and the checks and balances systems of government that are intended to stop events like Watergate from happening and/or being kept hidden.  Power has boundaries! Highly recommended reading!

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Con Man of Lagos: A Novel of Espionage by Francesca Salerno

The Con Man of Lagos: A Novel of Espionage.  Francesca Salerno. Amazon Digital Services. October 2016. 577 KB.  ASIN#: B01MAYEND9. 

Francesca Salerno’s second espionage novel takes the reader through the realities of terrorism in the world of Boko Haram, a small but dangerous group affiliated with Al Qaeda.  Boko Haram is located in Africa, and the plot in Lagos involves a Soviet submarine loaded with nuclear tipped missiles that explodes in the waters around Lagos and the surrounding area.  It also concerns their plan to take barrels of sludge-like chemicals siphoned off barrels of gasoline and explode them in an area guaranteed to kill many Nigerians.  Although Nigeria financially prospers from the sale of gas and oil to nations around the world, the terrorists believe Nigeria is a superior country that should gain most the benefits of the gold mine to the world. 

There is very little action in this novel.  However, the essence of its appeal lies in the knowledge of its characters and the expanded knowledge accumulated through the political, military, business and ambassadorial connections.  This is a very different style for an espionage novel but one that works well herein.  You will meet upper officials of Nigeria’s petroleum business, an ambassador from America who is really a CIA operative, an Imam whose connections make him able to make huge amounts of money and use that money for terrorist purposes, a shady employee who carries out the plans of the Imam but who fails to realize the plot involving a far greater risk until it is too late, a Pakistani ambassador who works for the glory of his country although his job in Lagos is a demotion for getting too cozy with the Americans, and more men and women who are astute chess pieces in a game that’s headed for a showdown between the King and Queen.

Another notable feature of this novel is the characters whose idealism and dedication to the betterment of Nigerian interests supersedes the financial greed or fundamentalist spiritual fanaticism threatening the permanent demise of Nigeria and other global powers.  It’s also fascinating to follow the motivations and changing plans of these characters as they coalesce and vie with each other.  Sometimes in the real world, volatile terrorism is thwarted, actually more times than is obvious from the news we view or read every day.  Francesca Salerno has obviously researched her topic well and been to the setting she so aptly describes.  The Con Man of Lagos… is a good read that is recommended for those who like to learn more about this imaginary but all too realistic terror plot!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Days Like These: A Novel by Sue Margolis

Days Like These: A Novel. Sue Margolis. Penguin Publishing Group. December 2016. 368 pp.  ISBN#: 9780451471857. 

Judy Schofield hasn’t been doing well since her husband passed away.  Now, her daughter and husband are hoping to do medical work in Nicaragua and ask Judy or Nana to babysit for the six weeks they will be away.  While her daughter has a lot of anxiety about this arrangement, Judy takes it in stride and agrees to watch her granddaughter and grandson.  Little does she know what she’s in for, despite the fact she raised two children on her own quite fine!
The children are cooperative and sweet for the first twenty-four hours. Then starts the bickering, insulting, and hiding of belongings.  Meals seem to calm things down but what to watch on TV, what toys to play with, what books Nana should read and when, extension of bedtime, and so much more finally get to Judy and she gets it that she’s going to snapping sharply very soon.  Fortunately, she keeps her cool and keeps them from killing each other. 

Meeting the other Moms at the local school is a challenge.  The social satire of this novel is depicted in a funny but real way.  One mother insists on overseeing everything, cornering other mothers into volunteering for the next community fair.
While the plot is rather novel in the first half of the book, the remainder are pretty much what the reader expects.  Yet there is enough cuteness and feistiness in these children to keep the story alive. Just how far can Nana be tortured without losing her cool completely?  And what is it about contemporary kids who are never allowed to be alone without something to do?  How about just “being?”  In one sense, Nana can help her daughter and her grandchildren to realize that life does have a significant purpose and it’s not about social meetings where everyone compares food and clothing or being busy at every waking moment. 

Days Like These: A Novel is a lovely story that warms the heart while it keeps a few darts of adrenaline floating in the reader’s heart and brain.  Judy meets people who embrace life.  There should be more to come, but who knows the long-lasting effects of this one perfect day! Nicely put together, Sue Margolis!

Sunday, December 4, 2016

When All The Girls Have Gone by Jayne Ann Krentz

When All The Girls Have Gone.  Jayne Ann Krentz. Penguin Publishing Group. November 2016. 352 pp. ISBN #: 9780399174490.

Charlotte Sawyer’s stepsister Jocelyn is away on a no-contact retreat far from home.  But that need to know basis becomes very important when Charlotte finds out that Jocelyn’s good friend, Louise, has not overdosed on drugs but instead has been murdered.  All of a sudden, Jocelyn has disappeared and it turns out she left her retreat after the first night.  Charlotte is now afraid for her sister’s well-being. 

It turns out that several women had formed what was an investment group.  A cousin of the murdered woman hires Max, a private eye investigator who lost his previous job because it went all wrong.  It’s clear Max is the hero of this story as his investigative skills are immediately obvious.  He finally gets out of Charlotte that Jocelyn had a troubled past and they wonder if this is involved, even though Jocelyn had been clean of drugs and rough living for many years.

No spoilers here – readers will be shocked when they find out that one’s past follows one for years and has consequences, some of which one can involve more than an obvious victim and perpetrator of crime.  These women all know there is more than meets the eye than people know about their “investment” group but now realize they are in some very deep trouble that is beyond their control.

Other deaths will happen and families will become more involved, even Max’s family.  A secondary part of the story involves how Max and Charlotte work closely together and a romance appears to be in the making, along with some cute humor. 

While the plot is serious, there’s an easy flow to the story that stops it from being oppressive.  Even the humor that is intermixed helps cut down the fear that Charlotte and these women feel – and rightfully so!  All in all, When All The Girls Have Gone is a nice read and seems to end as if there is more to come in a sequel.  For those who love crime fiction and mysteries, you’ll be pleased with this contemporary, dramatic novel!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Victoria by Daisy Goodwin

Victoria.  Daisy Goodwin. St. Martin’s Press. November 2016. 416 pp.  ISBN#: 9781250045461.

Daisy Goodwin wrote the novel, Victoria, while she was writing the screenplay of the PBS series due to be shown beginning in January 2017.  It is also ironic that it follows the biography of Victoria by Julia Baird almost simultaneously being published.  The novel about Victoria, however, is confined to the time between Victoria first becoming Queen of England at the age of 19 up to the time when she marries Albert in the early nineteenth century.  This is a very young Victoria, whose deepest consolations vacillate between her little dog Dash and the Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne or William Lamb.  So anxious is she to shed the advice of her domineering mother and her mother’s lover, Sir John Conroy, that Queen Victoria flounders, making many huge mistakes but somehow making up for them with her gracious ways.  Lord Melbourne clearly was the ruler’s right-hand man.

Although Victoria has received an education in history and other appropriate subjects for her role, she displays a child-like ignorance of many of the issues of pivotal importance in her kingdom.  So, we see how rebellion in Ireland, the protests of the Chartists, and other “situations” required Lord Melbourne’s guiding hand; but this is true of every day.   At the same time we see her kinder nature evident in those rebels who escaped hanging because of the Queen’s merciful nature. 

Queen Victoria’s reputation is almost permanently ruined when she makes a very bad judgment about one of her ladies-in-waiting.  Thus the Queen has her first taste of the people’s favor dramatically turning, along with the realization that she rules with the approval (or not) of her subjects.

Many more fascinating scenes fill the pages of this notable novel soon to be seen in film.  Read it to the vicissitudes of how this young woman grew into the noble, intelligent and wise ruler of Great Britain for sixty-three years.  Daisy Goodwin has once again captured the essence of an age, royalty, and the world surrounding royalty!  This reviewer eagerly anticipates the film version of this notable historical novel!

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Victoria: The Queen: An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Ruled an Empire by Julia Baird

Victoria: The Queen: An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Ruled an Empire.  Julia Baird. Random House Publishing Group. November 2016. 752 pp.  ISBN#: 9781400069880.

Victoria the Queen, from the moment she was born, defied tradition.  She lived during an age when women were possessions of their husbands and thought to be dim-witted enough to need a man’s decisions, protection and directions in order to survive, let alone be called successful.  But Victoria also grew up to live in an age when warfare took away men and women began to envision a future of meaning and interesting living.  So Julia Baird’s biography of this intriguing young woman, devoted wife and lover, and formidable Queen is riveting reading indeed!

To begin with, Victoria’s mother is a domineering creature whose eye is on the prize of royalty but who believes she will be Regent who will control all of England.  Through those frustrating years, Victoria sets to learn all she can about the kingdom she knows she will eventually inherit.  This provides some rowdy, contentious scenes but as we later learn, Victoria is built of sturdier mettle than even her mother realizes. 

Upon marriage, Victoria turns into a workhorse but one who is perhaps overly amenable to her counselor, the Prime Minister, who is really more of a father figure than subject of the Queen.  This troublesome relationship ends with her marriage to Prince Albert, who little by little assumes Victoria’s duties as she is so busy carrying, birthing and raising nine of her children.  Yet somehow Victoria keeps hold on a certain amount of ruling until that becomes total upon Prince Albert’s death.  Victoria seems to have suffered from recurring bouts of melancholia, aggravated immensely by her husband and some of her children’s deaths. 

The remaining, many years of Victoria’s rule are rife with friction and deep love from other men, Disraeli on the positive side and Gladstone a fearsome opponent, just two examples.  Victoria had very strong opinions and this at times led her to support conflicts with gruesome consequences and ignore events that turned out to be momentous, history-changing conflicts. Her determination to control her children produced both love and discord that literally also affected the future course of European history. As Victoria’s kingdom expands into India and Africa, so does her responsibility and love for these lands.

More than all the above, this is the life story of a very down to earth, proud, strong and weak, faithful, loyal, dependent and independent enigma of a woman who ruled the Kingdom of England for almost as long as the present Queen Elizabeth.  You will experience all possible thoughts and emotions while experiencing all of the vicissitudes of this remarkable and worthy Queen of a magnificent empire!  Julia Baird has crafted an exceedingly well-researched (notes, glossary and bibliography are included), intriguing biography that tells the truth in all its failures, successes and in-between moments that constitute the life of royalty.  Highly recommended historical biography!!! Wonderful!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Waiting Room: Love Is More Ferocious Than Terror by Leah Kaminsky

The Waiting Room: Love is More Ferocious Than Terror. Leah Kaminsky. Harper Collins Publishers. November 2016. 320 pp.  ISBN#: 9780062490476.

Children of Holocaust survivors carry a heavy burden!  Dina is living in Haifa, Israel, with her husband.  She’s expecting a child but wonders how her looming fear regarding the warning of an expected terrorist attack by Palestinians will affect her child.  She’s originally from Australia but came to Israel when she visited and found that she felt at home in a way she never had before.  But time has passed and terrorism is a constant nemesis which allows no one to relax – ever!

Add to the mix that her dead mother visits Dina all the time, correcting her behavior, throwing out Jewish maxims, leaking her melancholy mood into the very fiber of Dina’s being.  At first Dina is silent, since she knows that her mother’s memories are never absent, a condition normal for survivors of those awful camps at Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen.  Dina’s father was silent but by the end of the novel he too will come to share his story.

The result?  Dina is constantly exhausted and not just from her pregnancy.  Her practice as a doctor is filled with severely and moderately sick people, hypochondriacs needing attention (more survivor guilt), and occasional outbursts of hatred toward Arabs, children, etc.  Dina’s focus lately is an overwhelming need to get away – anywhere, anytime, anyplace!  She and her husband are becoming more and more estranged every day and the only reason she doesn’t return to Australia is she doesn’t believe she can take her child away from its father.

Despite all the doom and gloom above, Dina’s got a feisty sense of humor which manifests in almost every situation she finds herself.  However, it usually never passes the thinking stage. The remainder of the story involves the individual stories of her parents, a secret about their family that Dina never imagined, and Dina’s reconciliation with the past and present.  It’s a long, dark, funny, and beautiful journey!

So many novels have been crafted about the Holocaust and its survivors, but Leah Kaminsky has created a unique story about growing from survival which hits the reader as endearingly realistic!  This is a fine, fine work of historical fiction that should be must reading not only for adults but also young adults and/or high school students. 

It is said that history is repeated if one does not learn from it – Leah Kaminsky has given us a character who travels a long journey toward ending a destructive cycle and reentering life.  L’Chaim!

Ray and Joan: The Man Who Made the McDonald's Fortune and the Woman Who Gave It All Away by Lisa Napoli

Ray and Joan: The Man Who Made the McDonald’s Fortune and the Woman Who Gave It All Away. Lisa Napoli. Penguin Publishing Group. November 2016. 368 pp. ISBN#: 9781101984956. 

Ray Kroc, the founder of the world-wide famous McDonald stores, began with little money but a large imagination.  Lisa Napoli has given the reader a fascinating look at how this mega-business began.  Not only were the ideas waiting to be born by Ray and other entrepreneurs but also the machines that facilitated the delivery of “fast food” within minutes of being ordered.  So, we learn how hamburger presses, French fry cutters, and mixers to make multiple shakes at a time were made.  We hear how company policy was made on how franchise owners would all operate the McDonald stores the same way, including the precise timing for making hamburgers, fries, soda and shakes.  No one could deviate with his or her own version of what was better depending on geographic areas.  Ray’s first and second wives wanted quick success but grew increasingly frustrated at the ups and downs of this process, financially as well as technologically.  His third wife changed his life completely and added the final touch to a dream come true!

Joan Kroc, on the other hand, saw her poor, younger years as ones that would shape the rest of her life but certainly not in the way that most people would expect.  Joan had few talents except for a dazzling, sexy voice.  She was also quite beautiful and took care of her appearance carefully for the rest of her life.  Her empathy with people who were trying to make a living with the lowest minimal wage made her a gift giver whom some called overly generous and others called crazy.

Crazy or not, the reader is uplifted at the way Joan tipped tax drivers and waiters/ waitresses, founded and supported the McDonald’s House institution for families with children suffering from cancer, and it just goes on and on with National Public Radio receiving a shockingly large ($200,000,000) donation, as well as other donations to zoos around the world and a radio station, et al.

Ray and Joan… is fascinating reading sure to please all readers! Very nicely presented Lisa Napoli!

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Semi-Scripted: A Wanderlove Novel #2 by Amanda Heger

Semi-Scripted: A Wanderlove Novel #2. Amanda Heger. Diversion Publishing. November 2016. 224 pp.  ISBN#: 9781686303030.

Marisol Gutierrez is a nurse come to Los Angeles, in her mother’s place, to win a grant for their failing medical practice.  Marisol’s nervous about the interview to come but decides she will fill the waiting time by going to her favorite game show.  When approaching the site, Marisol sees a bunch of strange characters such as a man wearing nothing but a dirty diaper, characters covered in multi-colored glitter and makeup.  No entry for this show and not surprising given the oddities trying to gain entry.

Marisol wanders away and is immediately accosted by a guy named Evan who is inviting her into what the reader learns is a failing game show.  All those strange people dressed and made up weirdly are also waiting.  Evan is an intern on the show and he knows they are a breath away from being canceled.  So his job is to recruit guests who will be invited to come onstage and become part of the show. However, the guest has no idea what will happen but has to agree anyway.  The upshot after a comic wait is that Marisol’s playing of the part in the game is a winner and boosts the ratings above the normally dismal number.  So now the game show owner says they are away from the danger zone but on a probationary status, one week at a time.

Marisol, meanwhile, has bigger things on her mind.  Her interview for the grant is horrendous and now it turns out she has to give a presentation to the Board, proving her quest for the grant is more worthy than that of the other applicants.  Marisol’s in a panic and so is Evan.  For Marisol is not ready for the presentation and Evan has been told to get Marisol back or the show’s a goner.

The remainder of the novel takes up these two quandaries, with Evan and Marisol being more and more drawn to each other with many funny moments included. Amanda Heger has written a comic, contemporary novel that leads the reader through a light, crazy and dramatic journey in Los Angeles, California where anything can happen – and does!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Faithful: A Novel by Alice Hoffman

Faithful: A Novel. Alice Hoffman. Simon and Schuster. November 2016. 272 pp. ISBN#: 9781476799209. 

A car accident happens in a flash, and Shelby is severely injured.  She will recover from these physical wounds but mentally and emotionally she is devastated because her friend, Helene, who was a passenger now lies in a permanent coma.  While over a period of time, visitors arrive to visit Helene and are healed of incurable ailments, Shelby can’t bring herself to visit Helene for the miracle of restoring a devastated sense of self-worth.  Shelby repeatedly says, “I am nothing,” a short sentence that makes her parents and friends cringe.  Little by little, Shelby becomes a recluse in the basement of her home, her own worst enemy, a young teen unable to forgive herself.

Although Shelby lives in a perpetual state of despair, the reader gets gimmers of some spunk still occasionally rising to the surface.  This, then, is the story of her recovery, inch by inch, step by step.  As part of her self-imposed penance, Shelby has shaven her head and lost a tremendous amount of weight, making her appear almost ghost-like.  The reader is almost as desperate as Shelby and wonders if there’s any chance of hope for Shelby or Helene.  Ironically, Helene’s mother finds purpose in her daughter’s unspoken mission, to heal and make other persons whole.  For Shelby it will, surprisingly, be dogs who contribute to Shelby’s awakening!

At first Shelby identifies with homeless people she meets but is astounded at the hostility and rejection she experiences, that is until she meets Ben.  He’s the first person who is frank with her at all times, telling her how her appearance and attitude are horrible.  But because it’s done with honesty and without cruelty, a glimmer of the truth he speaks begins to sink past Shelby’s self-hardened exterior.  Little by little, Shelby will develop an interest in healing animals, thinking perhaps she should become a veterinarian.  She’ll also make some huge mistakes in love but will learn to accept these weaknesses gradually.  One can’t forgive the large catastrophes without learning to let go of the small errors.

Alice Hoffman’s writing has certainly evolved over the years.  Thoughts and feelings are explored in the depiction of her characters.  Instead of pointless and self-destructive words and deeds, Shelby explores the reality of those around her.  What looks like love frequently is dependency interlaced with denial.  There’s a fine line between the experiences of guilt, self-recrimination, and self-pity.  So many layers of thought and feeling are depicted, definitely Hoffman’s gift to explore and express.  This novel is fine, fine reading which this reviewer highly recommends! Stunning, dynamic contemporary fiction!

Hard to Die by Andra Watkins

Hard to Die.  Andra Watkins. Word Hermit Press. November 2016. 264 pp. ISBN #: 9780990859376.

Theodosia Burr Alston, the daughter of Aaron Burr, is fiercely defensive of her father, believing others led him astray and that even others allowed his duel with Alexander Hamilton and his trial over supposedly being a traitor to label him as an infamous character. 

It’s now 1950 and Theodosia is having a hard time accepting that she is dead and between worlds.  She has been given a mission, which she has to figure out herself with the occasional hints of a “Guardian.”  She has already failed four times and will have thirteen times to get it right.  If she doesn’t get it right, she will be forced to remain forever in this limbo of an existence.  So she’s a divided character.  Part of her wants to know the mission and complete it and the larger part of her wants to kill General Wilkinson, Aaron Burr’s partner at one time in planning an invasion of Mexico.  But now General Wilkinson has a different role, one which is rather confusing to the reader at times.

We next meet a West Point Cadet, Richard Cox, who used to be a spy against the Russians.  Now “George” is forcing him to return to the spy business and Richard wants no part of it.  George tells Richard that he will die if he doesn’t return.  It seems there’s a spy who has been caught and some vital information is on the loose about nuclear weapons.  Remember 1950 was a time of virulent anti-Communistic opinion.  The plot gets murky, however, when the reader is not sure if George is on the sides of the Americans or Russians at odd moments here and there toward the latter part of the novel. 

Some other historical figures enter the fray as Theodosia and Richard get closer and the forces against them are oppressively close and threatening.  All the historical characters in this novel have a good side and an evil side, and the reader must keep flipping the pages rapidly as the author does such a great job in mixing up the conclusions readers want to shape from the very first page.  That takes talent, indeed!

How many times can one die?  Does goodness guarantee one will win the challenges that rapidly and forcefully impress Theodosia and Richard?  Will these life-threatening scenes end in the separation of Richard and Theodosia who are getting ever closer?  Good story, Andra Watkins! 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Breathe in Grace: A Zev Evans Novella by James LePore

Breathe in Grace – A Zev Evans Novella. James LePore. The Story Plant. June 2016. 96 pp.  ISBN#: 9781943486922.

Zev Evans is a fixer, a tender man who aims to help the “down and out” by doing whatever is needed at any moment.  The enigmatic part that makes this novella phenomenal thriller is that sometimes Zev operates alone, shooting victims in the forehead fast than they can lift their guns. Sometimes he calls on his “friends” to set up meetings or get information needed to complete his complicated task. 

The action quickly starts when coming out of a piano recital, Zev sees an Arab-looking man smack a young woman so hard in the fact that she almost falls over.  The man having the appearance of an Arab has nothing to do with Zev’s fury; it’s seeing someone supposedly strong abuse a woman. 

At one time Zev was a Marine but was honorably discharged for taking out another Marine, who wasn’t the good guy everybody claimed he was but was probably actually a traitor.  Seeing injustice makes Zev crazy; he’s got these “wild horses” in his head that he can only control with drugs that assist the effects of the plate in his head. 

To say more would spoil an amazing story but suffice to say that Zev and his friends tap into what this Arab is secretly doing.  Let’s just say that young woman isn’t the first to be severely harmed and the Arab’s got bigger plans going involving a very complicated and dire issue.  Yes, Zev will finish the task he’s obsessed with but the reader will be flipping the pages rapidly with all the surprise twists and turns that pump up the plot to its final, satisfying climax.  Despite his furious temper, Zev is a highly intelligent and gentle guy whose personality is totally embraced by the reader by the very last page, which by the way will make you want to read more about this unique, vigilante style “fixer.”  Stay tuned – a prequel will follow very soon.  

Nicely plotted, James LePore, with your talented touch!

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Red Bandanna - A Life, A Choice, A Legacy by Tom Rinaldi

The Red Bandanna – A Life, A Choice, A Legacy. Tom Rinaldi. Penguin Publishing Group. September 2016. 224 pp. ISBAN#: 9781594206771.   

Welles Crowther was an extraordinary yet ordinary guy!  From September 11, 2001 to today and beyond, he is a true hero!

Tom Rinaldi, an ESPN correspondent, focuses on Welles’s background that led him to the selfless act of rescuing dozens of victims after the planes crashed into the World Trade Towers right up to the minute they fell.  Our hero was fascinated with two areas – being an athlete and a firefighter, the latter like his father.  He was a good student.  Despite his ordinary physical build, he excelled in lacrosse and always wore the red bandanna his father gave him.  Even when he began the job of being a junior associate in a Wall Street firm, he always kept the red bandanna in his pocket or on his desk.  It didn’t matter to him how much he was teased about it’s out of place quality for a businessman.  To Welles, it was his good luck talisman and later became the same for those who wished to honor this heroic character.

Rinaldi takes us through the teen and college years of Welles, with some very funny moments which are so normal for a student who was equally focused on study and fun. 

So what makes a hero?  The upshot is that heroes are ordinary people who move past circumstances of fear and formidable challenge to do what needs to be done, with no thoughts of grandeur or self-serving honor. 

Rinaldi takes us through the moments after the 9/11 attack to the moments when initially no one knew what had become of Welles Crowther.  But little by little, both before and after his body was found, individual recognized his photo and identified him as the guy who had led or carried each person down seventeen floors to the status of a rescued victim.  His parents describe the memorials and eulogies as well as the waving of red bandannas that grew to symbolize the unforgettable act of a true hero!  Tom Rinaldi has crafted an honorable and real memorial of the man to whom so many owed their lives and a tribute to what it means to be a true American in the worst of times! Wonderful book – a forever keeper!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

A Study in Scarlet Woman: First in the Lady Sherlock Series by Sherry Thomas

A Study in Scarlet Women: First in the Lady Sherlock Series. Sherry Thomas. Penguin Publishing Group. October 2016. 336 pp. ISBN#: 9780425281406.  

Charlotte Holmes is a very bright woman who is highly observant of minuscule details that escape the normal person.  She’s determined not to marry and just wants to get some education and become head of a school. That just doesn’t fit in with her Victorian world but she couldn’t care less.  When her father changes his mind and denies her the dream of a future, she causes a scandal and runs away.  Surprisingly, she hasn’t realized her dire situation, even though she thinks about what it means, until she’s almost out of money and can’t get a job because of her scandalous reputation that has quickly spread around London.  Meanwhile, three deaths occur close to her home and her sister and family are blamed, bringing complete ostracism from society.  Charlotte is determined to get to the bottom of the deaths!

Eventually Charlotte, her friend Lord Ingram and Inspector Robert Treadles, take her advice, supposedly given by the “real” Sherlock Holmes, a step at a time and the reader will be shocked at the eventual outcome.  Meanwhile, a new friend who has reached out to Charlotte suggests she advertise her skills of “discernment” and make that her career to earn the money she needs.  Lo and behold, she is stunned by the number of requests she receives, and her sharp-mindedness and intuitive sense guide many a riddle or crime into satisfactory solutions.

What is quite interesting is that solving the death of the three supposedly unrelated characters turns out to be not only clever but a bit anticlimactic.  What keeps the story moving is a budding romance between Charlotte and Lord Ingram, the latter of whom has a few secrets of his own associated with “watching over” Charlotte.  This very much fits in the with the noble Victorian mores of never allowing a woman to be left alone in danger but introduces a few hints of Charlotte missing the boat and thus introducing a wee lack of credibility on her part.

Charlotte is an enigmatic character indeed!  On the one hand, she’s definitely got the “Sherlock” clues in hand; yet she can be incredibly na├»ve about her own circumstances.  Certainly she has a prodigious appetite which she guides only by observing whether she’s coming close to a double chin or more.  One senses that other appetites will develop now that she and Lord Ingram may, should fortune favor them so, become closer. However, that’s a problem that will have to await another novel in the series.

All in all, A Study in Scarlet Women… is a good read that will please may fans of mystery fiction. 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Gifts of Man by S. M. McElligott

The Gifts of Man.  S. M. McElligott. Create Space Independent Publishing Platform. August 2016. 448 pp.  ISBN#: 9781534732179.

We must follow the star! Melchior, Gaspar and Balthazar, known as the three wise men of Biblical fame, received individual messages in their dreams that added to the astrological knowledge.  They came from areas of the Middle East where following Judaism was more of a liability than a blessing.  The Empire of Partha and a war-torn area of what is now Yemen were places where kings vied with each other for power but were helpless against the power of King Herod, himself supported by Roman domination. 

The author imagines the lives of these three men in their day-to-day existence.  One finally gets the approval he needs from his King to be an ambassador to find this new “King” only after a plague decimates his city and Gaspar survives that same disease.  One acquires a female traveling companion who entire family has been murdered by marauding bandits common throughout the Middle East.  They find intense hate, suspicion and love during their long journey.  A visit to King Herod to tell him of their great news produces an ambiguous response but the flattery that follows is the precursor to dire warnings. 

So many lush and sparse descriptions follow of traveling through cities and deserts that the reader is drawn into thinking and feeling part of their journey.  The climax of this journey, not surprisingly, is when they finally meet the newborn child whom they all believe is to be the Messiah.  Their gifts of frankincense, myrrh and gold, while the most precious of offerings, seem minor beside their joy at seeing and holding this blessed babe. Gaspar receives an unexpected but life-saving healing from being in the presence of the long-awaited Savior by Jews throughout the world.  Differences are ironed out and marriages follow. Later on after they have returned to their native land, they hear of the life of Jesus, the Messiah, from Thomas, one of the famous apostles.  The three wise men, however, know that their lives were totally transformed by their journey and their brief meeting with the true gift to man.

This novel is obviously very well-researched and beautifully crafted, so much so that this reviewer was sorry when it ended.  A glossary and maps are added to enhance the reader’s experience. Ms. McElligott is a very talented writer whose novel will be a gift to those who read it.  Highly recommended historical and Biblical historical fiction!

Find Her (Detective D. D. Warren #8) by Lisa Gardner

Find Her (Detective D. D. Warren #8).  Lisa Gardner. Penguin Publishing Group. October 2016. 416 pp.  ISBN#: 9780525954576.

Harrowing! That will be the outstanding descriptive word that remains in the reader’s mind long after reading this ordeal that lasted 492 days for one kidnapped woman!  The story begins from the narrative voice of an unnamed person who is locked in a coffin, who struggles to find a point of escape, whose panic threatens an attack cutting off breath, and on…and on…and on. 

Pages later we learn the victim’s name is Flora.  She has survived!  Now the account switches back and forth between what precisely Flora endured and her passionate interest in other woman who have experienced similar situations.  In fact, her entire room is wallpapered with news accounts of kidnapping, rape and murdered woman. 

Flora’s family fear what she has become.  Even the one man she trusts, Samuel Keans who is a specialist in survivors of extensive abuse, is watching and listening carefully as he wonders if she has become a vigilante against all who commit these type of crimes or if there’s another secret agenda Flora is following.

Detective D. D. Warren is now investigating a case where a woman turns on her abuser and he succumbs after a gruesome attack. When the police arrive, the woman is more concerned about other victims and seems to know the psychological profile of both abuser and victim better than the detective does.  At the same time, she goes out to bars, drinks too much, and puts herself in a position where any unsavory character spots and targets her. 

Now Flora disappears and we learn her mission.  Given Flora’s scarred mental and emotional condition, which we have from her in-depth description of far too many of those days she was captive, we know something awful is about to happen.

In recent years, news media have covered stories of victims who were kidnapped and abused, but this is the first time we have access to a well-researched, factually connected account of what it’s like to be a victim in this situation.  So this is not only a horrific story but it’s even more engaging because we learn how connected to reality it really is.  It’s hard to imagine such monstrous events but Lisa Gardner does a superb job in depicting same in daily, torturing detail.  It’s a necessary tale that must be told!

Sunday, October 9, 2016

1492: A Novel of Christopher Columbus, the Spanish Inquisition, and a World at the Turning Point by Newton Forhlich

1492: A Novel of Christopher Columbus, the Spanish Inquisition, and a World at the Turning Point. Newton Frohlich. Blue Bird Press. October 2016. 408 pp. ISBN#: 9780996048453.   

Whether you’re a fan of history presented precisely as it was or more engaged with a revisionist or reinterpreted depiction of history, you will be fascinated by this story of the forces impressing upon Queen Isabella of Spain, Christopher Columbus or Cristoforo Colombo as he is called herein, the infamous Torquemada who headed the Inquisition, the Santangel banking family and the Arab rulers vying for ways to hold onto Spain and other European areas.

It’s a terrible time for Columbus to be seeking funds for his plan to travel the seas on a new route to discover new lands with new treasure.  He’s got one foot in Christianity as a converted Jew and one foot in the old Jewish world of his origins.  For Isabella is convinced that it is the presence of Jews that is bringing a curse upon her nation and so is conducting a campaign to arrest, torture and kill all Jews, even the converted ones whom she believes are actually still conducting their Jewish customs in secret.  Rewards are dispensed for those who spy and report on secret Jews and this in turn sets off a flurry of “mob mentality” behavior where jealousy spawns reporting of Jewishness so that lands and monies may be claimed as a reward. 

Muslim leaders attack Spain with astonishing brutality and lack of mercy.  However, Arab leaders do not trust each other and even begin to fight against each other.  This lack of unity will prove to be their undoing in spite of random victories.  The decimation of the Jewish population is believed to be a sign of victory over the Muslims and indeed one wonders how the two are tied together, if at all.

The Santangel family has Jewish origins but are so necessary to the financial health of the Spanish kingdom that more attention is paid to the family’s remarkable skills in investment and savings.  One son in particular doesn’t understand this and so he becomes a viable threat to the family and therefore kingdom’s prosperity.

Christopher Columbus’ wife, Filipa, brings him contacts and connections that will eventually finance his famous journey to the New World.  Although he will become a rich man, he cannot deny his Jewish background enhanced by his friendship with Beatriz.  It’s a thin line between the two worlds but one Colombo masters and which parallels the lives of far too many conversos in 15th Century Spain.

Newton Frohlich has crafted a dynamic, exciting, tension-filled novel about this paramount period of European history, a frenetic journey that was to shape not only the time covered in this novel but the future of Europe and the New World.  Well done, indeed, and highly recommended historical fiction!

A Most Extraordinary Pursuit by Juliana Gray

A Most Extraordinary Pursuit. Juliana Gray. Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Book. October 2016. 400 pp.  ISBN#: 9780425277072.

Emmeline Truelove has been the secretary/personal assistant to the Duke of Olympia.  Upon his untimely death, Truelove is assigned to travel with Lord Silverton to find the missing son, Max Haywood, the new heir to the former Duke’s title, lands and monies.  Emmeline is staggered that she would be asked to complete such a task since her previous duties didn’t encompass sleuthing in the slightest way.  But she’s intelligent enough to do it.  Truelove as a character is enigmatic.  One minute she’s fully invested in her “proper” behavior and thinking and at other times she displays a wit and intuitive intelligence to provide meaningful clues and spunkiness of character. 

Lord Silverton, on the other hand, is well-known as a promiscuous rake, vacillating between being a caring, sensitive man and a teaser who seems to be looking for more than Truelove is willing to even hint at giving.  Indeed, it turns out that Lord Silverton is a genuine sleuth and that’s a very good thing as he and Truelove will experience danger many times during the course of their travel to Knossos in Cyprus and beyond. 

Interwoven in the story lies a part of the myth of the Minotaur and the Labyrinth with a romantic spin only gradually revealed, scenes which enhance the very, very slowly evolving romance between Truelove and Silverton.

Add to the story that Queen Victoria and Emmeline’s father, who are both deceased, keep appearing to Emmeline, the former warning her she should never have accepted this job and the latter giving her sharp looks that could mean a million different things. Emmeline believes the appearances of both characters are delusions that she should ignore, or should she really pretend they are not real?

The archeological artifacts that have been discovered by Max and other peers seem to have a mystery about them as well.  Are they real or fake?  Why does one in particular seem to depict a character holding what any modern person would call a camera?  What are the secrets about why Max shipped his discoveries back home through someone being paid a great deal?  Are these shipments legal?  Honestly acquired for “The Institute” back home?

A Most Extraordinary Pursuit is an interesting novel replete with many twists and turns, sometimes presented with an annoying complexity and confusion and at other times with a natural style of mystery that enhances the reader’s interest and engagement.  The reader must decide whether the characters are truly credible.  Mythology is said to be a rational explanation for behavior and events that are totally inexplicable.  The same could be said for the plot of this challenging novel.  Interestingly crafted historical fiction, Juliana Gray!