Monday, April 17, 2017

Flight Patterns - Reprint by Karen White

Flight Patterns. Karen White. Berkley Reprint. March 2017. 432 pp.  ISBN#: 9780451470923. 

Georgia Chambers has found pleasure in developing her antiques business, keeping busy in order to keep some very bad memories out of the forefront of her consciousness.  That’s all about to change as James Graf hires her to find a certain tea cup painted with bees to complete a set missing this piece.  Although Georgia is an expert on Limoges china, she also is quite knowledgeable about other fine china, particularly those unique handcrafted types that are extremely valuable.  The piece James describes to her brings back such a powerful memory that she pales and feels like she’s suffocating.  For she knows she must now return to her hometown in Florida to seek this china teacup, and she’s coerced into allowing James to accompany her. 

The time spent in Apalachicola, Florida will be life-changing for the sisters, Georgia and Maisy, their grandmother Birdie, Maisy’s daughter Becky, Grandpa, James and his sister Caroline and other characters from Europe who are part of this intriguing family history.  The story is complex and intense but evolves to the point where the family secrets of each character are revealed, real and imagined wrongdoings are faced and somewhat and then completely forgiven, silence and oblivion are removed once truth is embraced, the finding of journals as well as post cards and honey forces questions to be answered and so much more that is perfectly woven together at just the right pace. 

Every chapter begins with a quote about the life of bees, specifically describing how they interact and their functions at different times of their lives.  These additional lines literally and figuratively foreshadow what follows in each chapter – a charming extra touch!

Karen White is a highly skilled writer whose fiction just keeps getting better and better! If this is your first novel by her, you’re in for a treat!  You’ll probably want to read her other works as well.  For the threads of secrets and memories keep the characters from being stereotypical, the plot is both simple and complex, and the tension is relieved by warm and tender moments in all the right places. 

Wonderful, light (somewhat) fiction that this reviewer highly recommends as a great read at any time of year!  Thanks to the publisher, Berkely, who provided this novel in return for an honest review!

The Night The Lights Went Out by Karen White

The Night The Lights Went Out.  Karen White. Penguin Publishing Group. April 2017. 416 pp. ISBN #: 9780451488381.

Merilee Talbot Dunlap and her two children are moving to Sweet Apple, Georgia not far from Atlanta.  Merilee is recently divorced and not sure where she wants to settle.  So, she rents a small house behind the home of her landlady, Sugar.  It’s a time of adjustment for all.  Sugar appears to be a tough elderly lady but as the story progresses we find that she has a heart of gold, submerged beneath sarcastic retorts and much grumbling.  For one thing, she’s rough on Merilee’s lack of Southern cooking skills, including how to make real “sweet tea” and make vegetables palatable for children.  Merilee has done fine with her son and daughter and they like Sugar who makes amazing cookies and has a collection of bird books that are an instant hit. 

Now comes the interesting part as soon after Merilee and her children settle into a job and school, respectively, it seems there’s an Internet blogger who knows all about Merilee’s divorce.  That’s a very different blogger from the other blog that points out the humorous side of “Southern” living, and funny it is!

Other characters include a handyman friend of Sugar who volunteers to do all kinds of renovations and house fixing for Merilee and more if she’s willing.  Then there’s Heather, a socialite who controls the charity benefits and school events and artfully takes over every mother’s life, including Merilee.  There’s also Heather’s husband who seems like a regular guy living a very unhappy existence.

No, this isn’t just a snarky Southern satire, although it certainly seems so!  The story progresses as Sugar and Merilee get closer and share the tragedies of their lives.  Just as the bond grows into a beautiful friendship, chaos looms large!  The very end of the novel jumps into a murder, an attempted murder and a mystery revealed that one could never have imagined when first starting this story!

Karen White continues to defy attempts to stereotype her writing.  That’s the beauty of her skills.  Something to appeal to mystery, romance, comedy, and adventure fill each of her novels, something to draw old and new readers alike for a pleasurable experience.

Monday, April 10, 2017

By Any Name by Cynthia Voigt

By Any Name. Cynthia Voigt. Diversion Publishing. April 2017. 296 pp. ISBN #: 9781682303092.

Rida is an orphan who meets Spencer while she is serving in the USO during WWII and he is serving as a naval officer.  They meet at an Officer’s Club Dance.  Rida loves to dance and have a good time.  She is an orphan from California and has no idea of her origins but doesn’t really care. Actually she considers her unknown status as a mandate to speak her mind at all times and to defy what other see as necessary conventions of behavior.  Spencer has one thing on his mind, to divert his constant worry about being killed in this nasty, crazy war.  Rida totally diverts his paranoia and rivets his attention on her startling nature.  This works well and promises for some audacious moments, especially when she informs him she is engaged to four other men.  She admits they all know about each other and don’t mind at all.  Spencer thinks, as a young man of the gentle, upper class Boston aristocracy, that he must make Rida realize the error and danger of her ways.  Of course, he fails miserably and decides the only way to protect her is to marry her.  Theirs is a love affair that truly understands and accepts each other’s nature, his of academic propensities and hers of practical truth and planning for the future.

This then is a unique novel of two characters who complement each other perfectly but who are hardly understood by his Hargrove relatives.  The story is told from the narrative voice of Rida or Mumma (as she is called by all) who supports her husband through his obtaining a Ph.D. in classics and starts her own realty business.  But the gripping essence of Mumma’s story is the way she shocks Spencer’s family and the acquaintances of her daughters with her refreshing truthfulness and unwillingness to conform to dress and social conversation. 

Numerous funny scenes fill these pages in which Mumma shocks all and yet also can perfectly read people’s false veneer to who they are truly are.  In one particular scene, she intuits that a certain teacher is taking advantage of her daughter and sets about eliminating that person before damage can be done. 

Even the end of the novel is mesmerizing as we see how Mumma handles her husband’s life and death and then plans the immediate days after her own death.  The reader knows that her personality will be the subject of days and days of thoughts and conversations among her daughters as they try to figure out just who she was and remain just as befuddled and mournful of her dynamic, astonishing presence!

Cynthia Voigt’s foray into contemporary adult fiction is delightfully well-crafted.  The plot is simple but the characterization is the central focus that defies any stereotypical pattern.  Nicely done, indeed, Cynthia Voigt!!!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

My Last Lament: A Novel by James William Brown

My Last Lament: A Novel.  James William Brown. Penguin Publishing Group. April 2017. 352 pp. ISBN #: 9780399583414.

Aliki is a young girl when she sees her father shot during WWII; because of this tragedy she is unable to speak for years.  The only noise she can make is that of a Greek lamenter.  This art is more than just wailing and involves putting on the shoes of the dead person and uttering the dirge poems that rise from that person’s ghostly presence.  It might seem to be a bit of far-fetched nonsense but in this story it’s a vibrant part of Greek culture.   Thereafter, Aliki is taken in by a neighbor, Chrysoula and her son Takis, who become main characters in this tale.

Takis is what we now called mentally challenged.  He becomes irate when anyone pays too much attention to Aliki and then commits horrific acts.  As the war continues, German soldiers come into their Greek town and take over homes, food, and everything Greek.  Chrysoula takes a great risk by hiding two Jews, Sophia and Stelios.  Stelios is a character possessing great culture.  He claims that The Iliad is the only novel one might read as it possesses everything one needs in life.  Aliki and Stelios fall in love. There is a wonderful segment in the story where Stelios teaches his protectors everything there is to know about the art of shadow puppetry.  Stelios teaches them how to write these plays, create the appropriate puppets for each story and then teaches them to act out each drama.  This fills many hours that otherwise would have been dwelt on hunger and fear of exposure. However, their town is about to suffer a terrible blow when the Germans discover Stelios hiding. 

The family escapes and the remainder of the story is about their journey to Crete and the establishment of shadow puppetry performances.  Takis is accused of exposing the family and causing much destruction.  However, Aliki is bound to him and feels responsible for protecting him as his family once took her in.  The truth about each horrific event they experience eventually will come out, shocking the reader and making this an unforgettable story.  Despite the repetitive and disorganized quality of some pages, this is a novel reflecting what average, ordinary Greek and Cretan citizens suffered during and after the terror of the Second World War!  Interesting addition to war and historical fiction!

Where the Dead Lie: A Sebastian St. Cyr Novel #12 by C. S. Harris

Where The Dead Lie: A Sebastian St. Cyr Novel #12. C. S. Harris. Penguin Publishing Group. April 2017. 352 pp. ISBN #: 9780451471192.

It’s 1813 and the tastes of some of the upper class in London, England tend to the propensities of the depraved.  When a young, 15-year-old boy is found dead, a rudimentary investigation finds he has been beaten, tortured, raped and then strangled by his killer.  It also turns out that his younger sister is missing, and Viscount Devlin, or Sebastian St. Cyr, is absolutely horrified.  Viscount Devlin is newly married to Honor and they have a child who is going through a stormy teething period.  However, the deep love and contentment Sebastian feels for them make him even more horrified about the fact that so many children, including this latest murder of Benji Thatcher, have been disappearing.  Sebastian knows that this is so because they are poor and of no concern to any of the middle or upper class.  However, Sebastian also knows he and others like him are determined to stop this child trafficking depleting London of its youth.

As Sebastian begins to investigate, he finds one of his relatives engaged to marry someone of a dubious reputation regarding children or teens. The story is horrifying but because the perpetrators are upper class and the victims are poorer than poor their outcome is ignored. 

An interesting subplot provides more fuel for riveting interest, that which concerns Sebastian’s true origins.  The reader feels compelled to pay attention to details about Sebastian’s background, but the truth of the matter defies one’s best efforts at exploring and predicting the truth.

Another interesting side line involves the high trade of pornographic works of literature, the most famous being by the Marquis de Sade of ill repute.  These books are bound in beautiful cover and considered works of art, while the producers of such works ignore the sordid application that such education leads to eventually.

The investigation behind this mystery goes forward in spite of the denial of many characters and eventually threatens the life of  many prime characters!

All in all, this is a sordid story that enables the lives of many poor children to be saved.   Sebastian is clever, practical and yet also idealistic, believing he can and does make a difference in this old mystery!  Nicely crafted, C. S. Harris!

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Sub Rosa: The O.S.S and American Espionage by Stewart Alsop and Thomas Braden

Sub Rosa: The O.S.S. and American Espionage. Stewart Alsop and Thomas Braden. Open Road Media. June 2016. 237 pp. ISBN #: 9781480446014.

The O.S.S. was the spy agency that enabled many of the victories in WWII in Europe and the Far East.  This is the story of how the institution began, its creation by William J. Donovan, its policies and practices.  Learning from the British, Donovan realized what was needed and set about picking prime candidates to supervise the practices of resistance, find and communicate information about planned attacks, and spread propaganda to frequently spread false information that would cause the Germans and Japanese to change their plans of attack.  

A lively account of a certain spy, “Billy,” provides the reader with the mystery behind each mission.  Every spy had certain reasons for his or her total dedication to the cause and Billy was no different.  Without giving away the entire story, suffice to say that at certain times, leaders were uncertain as to whether Billy spied on the right side or even was a double agent.  Communication often faltered or was delayed because of unforeseen circumstances and this was the case with Billy who manages to complete his job and return unscathed and confident, leaving his superiors with an increased understanding about all the obstacles that could and did arise in each delicate circumstance. 

We read about how many of these men and women lost their lives and the realization is stark in learning about the relentless and formidable dangers ever-present for those who succeeded and failed.  The latter are honored as much as those who succeeded.

Many more Operations are described and the OSS was placed under the Army but the records of these notable operations was kept and has provided much material for those carry out similar roles in different conflicts and wars.  More notes are added such as the fact that the information from OSS – 60 per cent to be precise – enabled the eventual invasion of Southern France that led to the end of the war.  The reality is that OSS members were deeply tied to the military events that changed the course of what might have been a German and Japanese takeover of the world.  This weapon of warfare, OSS, is still being evaluated and appreciated in diverse ways. 

Stewart Alsop and Thomas Baden have described a wartime group that was more than worth the money spent, recounted actions that were worthy of decoration but more often were silently allowed to pass into the annals of history but are now being noted for their intelligence in both peace and war.  Nicely done and recommended reading!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

A Dozen Truths: 12 Works of Fiction by Editors Lou Aronica and Aaron Brown

A Dozen Truths: 12 Works of Fiction. Lou Aronica (editor) and Aaron Brown (editor). The Story Plant. March 2017. 230 pp. ISBN #: 9781611882513.

Truth is redeeming but may not always lead a person where he or she imagined.  The short stories within these pages, three of which won first short story awards, deal with perceptions of reality that startle the reader.  The collection begins with “Join” by Eric Andersson in which a young man’s grief over his pet which becomes obsessive voices in his head that haunt his days and nights, increasing on an evening that should have been a break from his seclusion to join his long-neglected friends.  The end of the story has a shockingly eerie, Ray Bradbury quality that is unforgettable.  In Marcia Gloster’s “Losing Will,” a young woman knows her boss is a “lady’s man” who hits on every woman who works for him only this is not just a love ‘em and lose ‘em scenario; payback is probable and darn uncomfortable (tongue in cheek). 

“Howard and Pablo” by Earl Javorsky pulls two of the most incomparable characters together – Howard Hughes and Pablo Casals.  Hughes is rich enough to get whatever he wants and he wants the passionate music of Casals, but neither is ready for what emerges from the initial demand.  In “Ollie” by Carmen Siegers, what gives that a child is more upset about the cat who has disappeared than the fact that the parents announce they are getting divorced?

My favorite story, “Lost” by Steven Manchester, is from the novel Ashes about two estranged brothers who travel together on a long trip and truly get to know each other in ways they never knew.  It’s funny, poignant and life-changing!

Many of these stories seem to be about “loss,” losing which is part of every life, but often being of our own making rather than arbitrary events.  It’s about affecting events rather than only being a victim of events.  This reviewer can truly say that all of these writers have great skill.  The reader is also provided with introductory sections to each story where one reads the biography, related works and thoughts about the thoughts behind each story.

Great contemporary fiction that this reviewer highly recommends! 

Friday, March 17, 2017

A Bridge Across the Ocean: A Novel by Susan Meissner

A Bridge Across the Ocean: A Novel.  Susan Meissner. Penguin Publishing Group. March 2017. 384 pp. ISBN #: 9780451476005.

Brette has a gift she fears greatly.  She sees ghosts.  It’s a skill that passes randomly through generations and she worries she could pass it on to her own daughter.  She has learned that if she looks away, she doesn’t have to communicate with each appearance.  But she’s also been warned that there are evil spirits as well as benevolent ones, therefore she should avoid getting involved in any way because it might turn disastrous.  Easier said than done!  She winds up communicating with one, finding out about a 70 year-old tragedy on the Queen Mary and deciding to investigate.  This makes for a wild adventure where she also meets other women who have the same skill or curse, depending on one’s point of view.

Simone Deveraux sees her father and brother murdered during WWII and escapes only to suffer a grievous wrong.  She escapes anew and winds up free and falling in love with a very unlikely man. 

Annaliese Lange marries a brutal Nazi soldier. She however escapes to live with a childhood friend, Katrine.  They suffer a terrible wartime event and Annaliese escapes, taking the name of Katrine who had married an American soldier.  Annaliese wonders how much she will have to pay for the false act she has committed.

These three women are now on the Queen Mary, a ship used both for wartime troops and the brides of American soldiers traveling to America while their spouses are away fighting the war.  Their stories now converge as Brette leads the investigation of the mystery she promised to explore. 

WWII in the 1930s was a period time fraught with disaster and love affairs, mostly the former. It brought out all that is good and all that is ugly in millions of characters.  A Bridge Across the Ocean unites these three women who are decent at heart but have learned about the motives of those who in a flash of a moment act with and without any integrity. 

Sue Meissner writes a fine mystery full of adventure and dynamic characters.  The ghosts are sometimes benign, sometimes horrifyingly malicious!  Enjoy the read!  Nicely done, Ms. Meissner!

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Attending: Medicine, Mindfulness and Humanity by Ronald Epstein, M.D.

Attending: Medicine, Mindfulness and Humanity.  Ronald Epstein, M.D. Scribner. January 2017. 304 pp. ISBN #: 9781501121715.

What is medical practice like when a physician takes the time to tune into the patient, to find out what is going on in mind, body and spirit?  Does a different diagnosis emerge from such sensitivity?  Does the physician experience less stress in a system that is fraught with demands for quality performance at the least possible cost?  Is this type of change necessary when physicians are so trained to churn out diagnoses from lists of diagnostic symptoms and formulas for treatment?

Dr. Ronald Epstein attempts to answer these and other questions.  His central thesis is that doctors who practice mindfulness as part of their practice are less stressed, more effective and more human, like their patients. 

Dr. Epstein describes his experience as a third-year Harvard Medical School student as he watched a surgeon operating on one kidney totally ignore that the other kidney was turning purple and looking engorged with blood.  While that other kidney was within the surgeon’s field of vision, it had no primary concern or focus.  The field was narrow but the surgeon’s focus was narrower.  It may not seem like a big deal but it could have had fatal consequences. 

Perhaps you’ve heard a patient cite symptoms, feelings and questions in one long speech upon first entering a doctor’s office.  How does the doctor handle that barrage and how many items can the physician handle?  What can be ignored out of that list and should it be ignored?  Dr. Epstein handles this answer without condemning doctor or patient and instead focusing on techniques of mindfulness that mean a doctor is more sensitive to everything coming into his medical surround. 
Mindfulness is enhanced with compassion and a state of constant curiosity on the part of the physician.  Numerous medical anecdotes fill the pages as we learn about some of the components of mindfulness.  The stories keep it all interesting as there is a bit much of repetition – perhaps a necessary mode as some may be tempted to pass over these elements of “how” to learn mindfulness and practice the same with patients.

All in all, this is an interesting text for those who are teachers, students, practitioners, or administrators in medicine.  Certainly, Dr. Epstein presents a model of medicine that will fascinate both practitioners and patients.  Nicely done, Dr. Ronald Epstein!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Confessions of Young Nero - A Novel by Margaret George.

The Confessions of Young Nero: A Novel.  Margaret George. Penguin Publishing Group. March 2017. 528 pp. ISBN #: 9780451473387.

Nero is a well-known, infamous character to most readers the mad ruler of Rome!  Margaret George, the renowned historical novelist, has Nero tell the story of his younger years in a way that changes the reader’s perception about how Nero’s personality developed.  The picture isn’t pretty but is certainly amazing at how he managed to survive the traumatic events of his youth!

Nero’s mother, Agrippina, is a manipulative, intriguing woman who thinks nothing of having her enemies (real or imagined) poisoned or assassinated.  As a young boy, Caligula, the earlier emperor, tries to drown Nero by throwing him in a river but he is saved by a Roman soldier.  Nero is adopted by Claudius thanks again to the influence of Agrippina but is aware that his life is in a precarious position as Claudius’s natural son could also become the next emperor. 

Nero has two memorable tutors, one who introduces him to the glorious art and music of Greece and the other, Seneca, who introduces Nero to the philosophers and great moral teachers in Roman history, as well as the great Roman gods, goddesses, and leaders who will hopefully shape Nero into a moral, intelligent and capable leader.  Nero actually does become a leader who manifests the best of both teachers although it is his infamy that becomes prominent in the historical records of Roman history.

Due to a drug-induced dream (or reality?), Nero dreams of his mother, a haunting scene that leads Nero to forever wonder about his mother’s intentions and whether he possesses her evil nature.  At the same time, Nero is married to a woman he ignores and falls in love with a former slave, now a freed woman.  After Claudius dies, a stunning event as well, Nero becomes Emperor and becomes an intelligent ruler who makes decisions clearly beneficial for his empire.  But Agrippina is now fearful of her son as he trumps her malicious planning, a constant threat which will eventually lead to her own demise.

The Confessions of Young Nero is superb historical fiction.  There are notes in the afterword of this novel that lead the reader to expect a sequel, one which this reviewer avidly awaits!  Read this novel, a wonderful, astute, and fascinating account of an enigmatic, troubled, and haunted ruler shaped by the best and worst Roman influences!

Police At The Station And They Don't Look Friendly (Detective Sean Duffy Series #6) by Adrian McKinty

Police at the Station And They Don’t Look Friendly (Sean Duffy Series #6).  Adrian McKinty. Prometheus Books. March 2017. 319 pp. ISBN #: 9781633882591.

Belfast 1988 – Ireland is a volatile place where IRA, Irish and British conflict constantly erupts. The novel opens with Duffy being into a hidden area where he will be forced to dig his own grave and then die. The scene shifts, however, to a murder scene. Two murders, both committed by crossbows, have been committed and Duffy is called to investigate the second death of a known drug dealer.  Obviously, this is an odd choice of weapons but effective because of the difficulty of tracing the owner or owners.  All he knows is the victim’s wife is a violent mourner, giving grief to anyone and everyone. Add to the mess that it’s hard for Duffy to get cooperation in the Carrickfergus station.  However, he has a job to do and he sets about it with determination, even when it seems he is being blocked at every turn.

Duffy is also in danger of losing his girlfriend Beth and daughter Emma, as Beth hates being in the middle of a violent neighborhood.  There’s a subplot here as she tries to get him to think about moving to a house in the country.  At first he refuses but realizes he will lose her if he doesn’t come around.  Trying to explain to Beth that he is attempting to prove himself at the station, being distrusted as a fenian “peeler” or detective (Irish independence supporter and detective), and is slowly gaining ground in that effort.  Beth doesn’t see that as the essence of a steady, peaceful existence for a family, even though she won’t hear of marriage as a viable option.

The story continues and holds the reader’s avid interest as Duffy and an associate are kidnapped, almost murdered and endures other life-threatening moments and obstacles.  Adam McKinty crafts an excellent crime or detective novel that is challenging, mysterious, and altogether a wild ride with some poignant times in between the task of finding the guilty and bypassing the innocent.  Nicely plotted Adam McKinty!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Windy City Blues: A Novel by Renee Rosen

Windy City Blues: A Novel by Renee Rosen; Penguin Publishing Group. Copyright 2017. pb, 480 pp. ISBN: 9781101991121.  

Leeba Groski, daughter of immigrant Polish Jews, becomes a filer and receptionist for a new record company in Chicago, Illinois, in the post-WWII years.  She’s working for Leonard and Evelyn, mismatched partners who are spotlighting new talent in music specifically catering to colored (word used appropriately for that time) folks.  

The business collapses and a fluke accident enables Leonard and his brother to open a new music production company (the Chess brothers).  Leeba or Leah as she renames herself very slowly evolves into a fine writer for blues musicians.  Red Dupree (Jimmy Rogers in real life), a young black man, has come to Chicago to make his mark as an electric guitarist initially and then to write and have his music produced.   Acknowledged as a superb guitarist, he fails to get a contract for his own compositions.  However, after tremendous struggles, he gets hired as a band member for the notable “Muddy Waters,” and their music takes off.  Leah, Leonard and Phil make new friends and business contacts whom they will sign on as future “blues” stars.  

However, the equally dominant story behind the music concerns the virulent storm created by the fiery love, romance and marriage of Red Dupree and Leah.  They become part of the Freedom Riders movement and ultimately the Civil Rights Movement created by Dr. Martin Luther King.  

The majority of this fine novel contains a constant tension lowered at just the right moments with the magic of creating and playing music, as well as the passionate love and troubles of Red and Leah. 

Out of the suffering of racial prejudice arises a vibrant “sound” that changed the course of American history! Finely crafted historical fiction, Renee Rosen!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Everything Belongs to Us: A Novel by Yoojin Grace Wuertz

Everything Belongs to Us: A Novel.  Yoojin Grace Wuertz. Random House Publishing Group. February 2017. 368 pp. ISBN #: 9780812998542.

Two girls and two boys experience personal and national change in 1978 Seoul, South Korea.  Jisun and Namin couldn’t possibly be more different.  Jisun comes from an important family in business and she has easy access to money and all the privilege that comes with her father’s power.  Namin comes from a poor family, is studying to become a doctor so that her family will eventually be free from poverty.  The country is now in a campaign to work hard and make the country prosper economically.  That means all must conform to the long hours of work for meager wages; the novel opens with a group of women protesting these conditions.  However, in a random moment of rebellious action, they strip themselves of blouses and bras, not realizing their act removes them from the role of honest protest and instead earns them a scandalous repetition.  Jisun’s father attempts to have guards watch her every moment but that attempt fails to stop her doing what she wants.  What she’s not prepared for is how other protestors now scorn her for her privileged status after she was removed from jail while others had to undergo penalties and social ostracism.  Namin at first is delighted to become a friend of Jisun but their relationship evolves with Namin’s realization about status and the personal cost of privilege.

Jisun and Namin then meet Samin and his mentor, Juno.  We first meet Samin being forced to carry out ridiculous actions for Juno who has a sadistic streak.  Juno knows everyone who is important in the elite group called The Club and initially Samin would do anything to gain entry to this esteemed circle.  However, Samin gradually also evolves, through his encounters with Namin, to an independent thinker. 

The plot is simple but the way Wuertz depicts the emerging personalities of these four characters is exquisite and mesmerizing.  Their lives clearly parallel the changes South Korea is experiencing as it moves from a dictatorship to a form of social democracy.  These characters experience questions about personal desires and independence that must find a place within a society that clearly prizes working together for the common good.  At the same time, wealth is not a guarantee of security and these characters as well must find a vision and place within that same society to live a meaningful life per the new standards and vision.

Everything Belongs to Us… is compelling historical fiction that this reviewer highly recommends!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Gunmetal Gray - A Gray Man Novel by Mark Greaney

Gunmetal Gray: Gray Man Series #6.  Mark Greaney. Penguin Publishing Group. February 2017. 512pp.  ISBN#: 9780425282854.

The Gray Man is not an agent to be trifled with, for sure!  He’s been out of action for a while but now has been called on a very, very dangerous mission.  A visit to Hong Kong and connections by some Chinese agents immediately alerts him to the fact that the Communists are very much interested in and desiring to control his new assignment.  He finds his friend, Donald Fitzroy, being held in captivity after failing to capture Fan Jiang, a master computer hacker.  The job is now Court Gentry’s mission. 

Fan Jiang is not just any hacker.  He is a computer genius able to break into government programs and go even deeper, to figure out how hackers get in and figure out to hack the hackers’ program.  The rest of the novel plays out the chase to capture Fan Jiang and includes Court Gentry’s relationship with the head of a Russian spy mission bent on the same goal of capturing Fan Jiang.
Court Gentry is a brilliant tactician and warrior who can destroy any number of the enemy threatening his life and limbs.  Thus fierce, brutal, decimating battles follow, causing the reader to feel the intense stress despite innately knowing the outcome.  There is a growing romance and growing costs in each step of the war for this is an outcome that will affect the governments of America, China, Vietnam, and Russia.

All in all, for those who love the international spy thriller, this is adventure and mystery at its best!  Nicely crafted, Mark Greaney, with some twists and turns that even the most knowledgeable fans won’t predict!

Ashes by Steven Manchester

Ashes. Steven Manchester. The Story Plant. February 2017. 272 pp. ISBN#: 9781611882421.  

Two brothers, Jake and Tom Prendergast, who couldn’t possibly be more different, are about to take a life-transforming journey!  But first we meet them individually.  When we first meet Jake, he’s giving a “scared straight” speech to a bunch of juvenile delinquents.  The reader wants to think it’s all a bit of a stretch, but it doesn’t take long before we know he’s speaking about what he’s seen as a security officer in an adult prison.  No, it’s definitely not pretty!

Tom is a college professor who is annoyed to find out his father has died. The reader wonders immediately about what has elicited such disdain! 

Both brothers are called to their father’s lawyer’s office, only to hear the father is leaving them an envelope they may not open until they travel cross-country to spread his ashes.  If they refuse, they get nothing.  But then nothing is what their father always gave them, nothing but grief that is.

The journey is bittersweet indeed as Jake and Tom insult each other through half of the journey while they reminisce about their brutal father who wasn’t just happy at beating them but had to see blood to make him happy. Sadist extraordinaire!  But then the continuous clashes start to slightly alter as they find themselves reminiscing about their childhood and then later about their experiences as husbands and fathers. 

These interspersed tender moments begin to open the brothers toward each other, along with some very funny scenes as Tom gawks at his brother’s humongous appetite and Jake gapes at Tom’s snooty tastes in food and wine. There’s a lovely ending which the reader must experience without a spoiler and which almost makes one want to read it all over again!

Steven Manchester is great at presenting a simple plot but his real gift is on depicting the variations of temperament in characters in such a wonderfully moving manner.  One gets to know and love his characters no matter what the ups and downs of the conflict between them.

Finely crafted contemporary fiction once again, Steven Manchester – a MUST read that deserves the widest possible audience!

I See You by Claire Mackintosh

I See You.  Claire Mackintosh. Penguin Publishing Group. February 2017. 384 pp. ISBN #: 9781101988299.

Zoe Walker is traveling on the crowded London subway when he sees a photograph in the newspaper that looks just like her.  It’s a creepy feeling, indeed, as she has no connection with the website.  She shows it to her family and they think the picture is her but might not be as it has a grainy quality.  Meanwhile she’s dealing with her family, particularly a partner who thinks her son should pay rent and contribute to the family finances as he’s 22 years old and other minor issues. 

We are then introduced to Kelly, a detective demoted to a police officer who has a bad work history that she is trying to overcome by proving herself in her new job.  Her biggest problem is that she tends to react on instinct and that’s not always the brightest or safest way to perform.  Assaulting an alleged criminal is a no-no that has left Kelly with a hot-head reputation.

The next day Zoe sees a different woman’s picture in the same classified ad section and wonders what’s going on.  As time passes, we also have italicized messages from a voyeur who is taking pictures of women with a very set purpose; the messages are creepy and make the reader tense with anticipation of some crime soon to be committed.

So, the plot moves forward alternating between the mundane, everyday thrills and tussles of life and these photos of different women appearing in the daily newspaper.
Suspicions begin to form around Zoe’s acquaintances, even those who have been very good to Zoe and her family.  No spoilers here.  Suffice to say that the last portion of the novel is stunning as we discover who is behind these pictures – and a murder – and why.

Claire Mackintosh has crafted an interesting mystery that bounces between some boredom over the simple family discussions and the chilling fear elicited over who is clearly a dangerous stalker!  Nicely done, Ms. Mackintosh!

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

My Not So Perfect Life: A Novel by Sophie Kinsella

My Not So Perfect Life: A Novel.  Sophie Kinsella. Bantam Press/The Dial Press. February 2017. 448 pp. ISBN #: 9780812998269.

Katie Brenner is living the dream!  She’s escaped her small-town Somerset life, dumped her accent, and is living in London in a flat she shares with two other workers.  She’s working for a chic London company which specializes in unique marketing strategies.  Her boss, Demeter, is a genius in branding products, even if she is a hyped up, selfish and demanding woman whose key interest, outside of her skilled choices of advertising, is being the first to do whatever is trending in food, clothing, etc. 

Initially, Katie is hired as a research assistant, putting survey data into a computer, hardly a blip on Demeter’s interest screen. Katie, who is now calling herself “Cat” is starting to yearn for more.  She’s got what she thinks are some brilliant design and advertising schemes and wants the chance to become acknowledged as someone worth encouraging to become an integral part of Cooper Clemmow, a famed company.

She then accidentally meets Alex and he shares with her some wacky adult toys (no, not sexual).  As time passes, Katie and Alex become close but this goes nowhere fast as a dramatic error happens at Clemmow and Katie is fired.  No, this isn’t a downer, although Katie is deeply upset.  Katie’s such a spunky character that she takes it in stride and returns to live in Somerset with her caring Dad.  He and his new wife has opened a country resort.  Lo and behold, who should arrive as guest but Demeter, her husband and her children.  And not too long after, Alex appears but not to woo Katie.  Before his arrival, Katie sees another side of Demeter which throws her plan to spike some revenge on her.  Alex has the same plan and the remainder of the novel brings some surprises and shows Katie maturing and making some startling choices!

Sophie Kinsella has done a marvelous job in creating this feisty character, Katie.  The plot is simple but there are enough snarky, funny moments to lighten the plot and give the reader a delightful experience.  Smart, humorous and satirical look at fame and fortune, laced with a bucket of old-fashioned, spot-on values. Nicely crafted, Sophie Kinsella!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Assassins by Mike Bond

Assassins.  Mike Bond. Mandevilla Press. December 2016. 502 pp. ASIN #: B01MTW71F6.   

Our main character opens the action by parachuting into Afghanistan with his peers, but the landing is a difficult one indeed.  At the beginning of thirty years of fighting, the soldier falls victim to multiple shreds of shrapnel lodged in his skull and one of his peers is wounded in the leg.  Their job was to serve as aides to defeat the Russians, to get them out of Afghanistan.  But little by little the reader learns about the real issues behind the constant war occurring in Afghanistan, Pakistan and other Middle Eastern countries.  For Afghani lords don’t trust each other and even go to war against each other in their endless power plays.  There’s no trust between American soldiers or mercenaries and the Afghanis being helped.  Weapons are exchanged for the trafficking of opium.  It’s a brutal existence and death looms large in every stage of any operation.

As the story progresses, the plot thickens and we realize that the American government is being played.  For Arabs take American money and military support while at the same time hedging their bets with supporting terrorist lords.  For anyone sharp about global news, this isn’t news but reading out it plays out in action is starkly shocking. Americans fighting over there take orders and don’t spend much time analyzing the political sides.  One wonders what their motivation is to make friends with those who are both friends and enemies, who put up with insults of Muslims who see any American friend or foe as an infidel or enemy.

This novel covers thirty years (no spoilers here) from the early years to 911 to the evolution of terrorism into ISIS.  The action is rivetingly present on every page.  It’s an education in Middle East strife and at the same time a thrilling read in which tension never relaxes.  It’s so real it’s almost overwhelming!  It is what is really happening.  Assassins is Mike Bond’s best novel!  Well-researched, complicated, surreal yet real, this is a story (it is fiction, after all) that will sear the reader’s memory long after the last page is turned! Highly recommended, well-crafted fiction that tells the vivid story of an endless war!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

K Street: A Kay Hamilton Novel #3 by M. A. Lawson

K Street: A Kay Hamilton Novel #3.  M. A. Lawson. Penguin Publishing Group. January 2017. 304 pp. ISBN #: 9780399573842.

K Street in Washington, D.C. is renowned as the home of lobbyists of special corporations, business groups and companies representing special interest.  Their job is to influence the course of American policy through the Senate and House of Representatives.  However, on the same street is one group that carries out activities that the President wants done secretly, and so the group exists with absolutely no connection to any member of government.  The novel opens with a killing job that goes awry.  When it’s all over, two of the attackers are dead as well as Callahan, the head of this secret group, landing in the hospital in critical condition and another of his employees dead.  Kay Hamilton had been going to meet with Callahan to let him know she was quitting as his worker; instead she walked into a barrage of bullets flying and dead bodies everywhere.  Before he goes into a coma, he whispers a letter to Kay, which immediately sets her in a specific direction to find the thieves and murderers.

Kay is determined to find out who is behind this attack.  No spoilers here.  Suffice to say that the people in charge of this mayhem are just as determined not to be found.  The question is twofold: should Callahan and Hamilton be allowed to live or can they remain alive and harmless regarding a higher mission, the passing of military secrets to a foreign government? 

Kay Hamilton was originally fired from her DEA job for doing things her way instead of following rules and protocol.  She’s no different here as she refuses to carry out someone else’s narrowly-defined investigation.  The result is a satisfying romp with constant surprises, tension, deaths, and answers slowly revealed.  Kay Hamilton is an intelligent, street-savvy investigator who gets the job done and keeps the reader guessing through the entire process!

K Street.. is a great read and will thrill all those who love adventure and a great mystery!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Guests on South Battery by Karen White

The Guests on South Battery.  Karen White. Penguin Publishing Group. January 2017. 352 pp. ISBN #: 9780451475237.

Melanie Trenholm is returning to work after being home following the birth of her twins.  She’s a successful real estate seller and her husband, Jack, is a successful author.  They live in an old house in Charleston, South Carolina; in fact most of the homes in their area are historical, “old” homes.  Melanie has a gift that she can see the dead and for some reason while she was pregnant she lost that ability.  But now it’s back full steam ahead, beginning with someone trying to communicate with her by telephone even though there’s no voice on the other end when she answers the phone.  Now some people who have helped her fix up parts of her home in need of desperate changes find that underneath her back yard are questionable artifacts.  It seems her house is starting to resemble the proverbial “money pit” with constant surprises.

Returning to work, Melanie meets Jayne, who wants to sell a house she inherited and buy a new home that is ultra-modern.  She also finds out that Jayne is looking for a job as a nanny and she’s a perfect match for Melanie as they’re both rather anal about schedules and ways to take care of children.  Of course, there has to be a problem and it’s that disastrous things happen whenever Jayne is around.  When Melanie visits the house Jayne wants to sell, mysterious events start happening like a talking doll, ringing bells in a home with no electricity, objects being thrown, etc. 

The story continues with the mystery obviously being who had lived there beside the woman who left the house to Jayne and what were the turbulent relationships that caused this house to be haunted.  Of course, the reader knows the mystery will be solved, but that doesn’t stop the constant thrills, shocks and threats that continue non-stop throughout the whole story. 

There’s another sub-plot about an author who stole a plot from one of Jack’s novels.  Add to that Jack has had writer’s block ever since Jayne was hired to nanny the couple’s children.

All in all, this is a grand thriller and exciting read for those who love the genre and others as well. The plot is somewhat stereotypical but told in a way that generates and holds interest quite constantly.  Nicely crafted, Karen White!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

A Perilous Undertaking: Veronica Speedwell Novel #2 by Deanna Raybourne

A Perilous Undertaking: Veronica Speedwell Novel #2. Deanna Raybourn. Penguin Publishing Group. January 2017. 352 pp.  ISBN#: 9780451476159.

Victoria Speedwell is a sharp lepidopterist who is back again to solve a new mystery with her natural historian/taxidermist buddy, Stoker.  When Victoria is invited to a woman’s club that is like men’s clubs of the Victorian era in 1887, a place where women’s intelligence and interest in just about anything are allowed to shine and be shared.  Victoria meets a formidable member, Lady Sundridge, who brings Victoria into a quiet room where she is scrutinized and queried by another woman.  Victoria takes very little time to figure out that she is being addressed by a member of royalty.  Now Lady Sundridge had already begged Victoria to assist in solving the mystery of the murder of a woman named Artemesia, the lover of a famous society art patron, Miles Ramsforth who is to be hanged for the murder in only two days. Not too much pressure! Add to the fact that Victoria she will meet her own father if she succeeds.  Both sides of this quest have very different, unknown motives in resolving these mysteries with success!

Stoker and Victoria discover the more sordid side of royalty in a secret sex society and other mysterious places and people.  As usual, Victoria receives a secret communication that threatens her life is he insists on continuing her investigation of the circumstances surrounding Artemisia’s death. 

No spoiler’s here – we soon discover there are plenty of suspects who might have committed the murder.  We also meet several high society and royal personages who are a part of the decadence so characteristic of this historical time.  Add to that the mystery behind Victoria and Stoker’s relationship which seems slightly hot, growing hotter but never actually getting there, a frustrating conundrum for readers!

A Perilous Undertaking is a satisfying read that starts off slowly but gradually picks up momentum with plenty of twists and turns all the way to the surprising final page!  Nicely done, Deanna Raybourn!