Thursday, February 8, 2018

All Systems Down - The Cyber War #1 by Sam Boush

All Systems Down: The Cyber War #1.  Sam Boush. Lakewater Press. February 2018. 284 pp.  ASIN#: B078CXKYQF.

Imagine for a moment that all the electric power in the world gradually and quickly turns off.  Everything! We’ve all occasionally had power outages at home but not everywhere else, including cars, planes, trains, cell towers, etc.  The world is dark and cold.  And forces are about to attack America!

Brendan Chogan is out of work. He was a parking meter attendant and former boxer but automation has forced him out of his job and he’s none too happy.  His interview for a new job goes nowhere and then suddenly his world situation gets so much worse after the power goes out – everywhere!

Cyber war is a problem that many fear will eventually happen on a world-wide scale but few realize what Brendan gradually realizes.  When there is no help to be had and no substitution for heat, water, transportation, protection, etc., then human beings show their best and worst characteristics. 

Small groups begin to form, looking to steal and kill just for the sheer pleasure of it.  Families have only each other and seek to escape away from the highly volatile urban areas.  Nine strangers learn to rely on each other and we never learn the full outcome of this Portland, Oregon area.  It seems there will be more to come of this cyberwar series.

North Korea is behind this masterful hacking job and there’s a story behind the solution, but there are human frailties that almost prevent that from happening.  
Sam Boush is a writer who knows how to craft a completely engaging story that is all too real, given our knowledge (and lack of it) about hacking, cyberwar and international spying.  This goes deeper and the rollercoaster ride herein is highly recommended reading!

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

As Bright as Heaven by Susan Meissner

As Bright as Heaven. Susan Meissner. Penguin Publishing Group. February 2018. 400 pp. ISBN#: 9780399585968.

Pauline, Thomas and their three children move to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania so that they can have a better life.  This opportunity arises out of the kindness and generosity of Thomas’s Uncle, a mortician who is childless and wants to leave his business to Thomas.  Before they came, this family lost a child, Henry, but rather than fearing what lies ahead in taking on the learning of how to prepare dead people for final viewing and burial, Pauline is more than open to the idea and oddly calm.  For she believes Death is a constant spiritual presence in her life since she lost her son and thinks she will hear a message at the right time.

Readers may have heard the famous poem about death having no sting or power, and this comes to mind as the children, Evelyn, Pamela, and Willa, not only adapt to their father’s new job but also want to be a part of it.  They not only follow the lead of their parents but also seem to have an uncanny perception that death is not to be feared.  They are about to be sorely tested!

No spoilers here, but suffice to say that the coming of the Spanish flu epidemic to Philadelphia in 1918 almost defies description but the author deftly presents the overwhelming nature of this catastrophic illness.  The family will suffer more staggering losses but will also gain a child who they adopt after mysterious circumstances, an occurrence that will come full circle years later.

There is a lightness to the way this story is presented that is almost beautiful, hardly a word one would think of in the face of such a disaster for thousands of people.  Each child is obviously so touched by this historical event that it affects their future career choices.  While it might seem contrived at times, Meissner manages to favorably wrap all the loose ends together by the end of the story.

As Bright as Heaven is certainly a memorable novel that highlights character and historical event development – highly recommended historical fiction.

Next Year in Havana: A Novel by Chanel Cleeton

Next Year in Havana: A Novel. Chanel Cleeton. Penguin Publishing Group. February 2018. 400 pp.  ISBN#: 9780399586682.

This novel spans the lives of a well-to-do family who thrive in and love the Cuba of their past in the 1950s and the Miami where they live as exiles in the present.  The Floridian Cubans have recreated their past which they celebrate.  But the love they shared as family is actually all that remains of the real world in present day Havana and its outlying neighborhoods.  This novel takes the reader deeply through both worlds in a transforming story that should be must reading. 

Half of the Perez family fled Cuba in 1967.  Elisa Perez’s granddaughter, Marisol, has now returned to Cuba with her late grandmother’s ashes, accompanied with the instructions for Marisol to scatter Elisa’s ashes “where she thinks best” and a surety that Marisol would know where when the moment came. 

Marisol meets Luis, a married man to whom she is attracted, who introduces her to the real Cuba where everyone is equal, equally poor, equally oppressed, and equally fearful of being arrested for criticizing the government of Fidel and then Raoul Castro.  Multiple shocks fill Marisol and the reader as we realize that we don’t have a clue as to what it’s like to live in a Communist regime.  However, that stark reality is juxtaposed with the beauty of Cuba’s shores, flowers, trees and homes and the fierce pride of its people.  Luis is a professional history professor who takes Marisol through the historical background of the people who hope for so much but wait for it in silent patience.  Others are not so patient and the violence is never far from day-to-day living.

In the past life of Cubans, Elisa, who comes from an aristocratic family, meets and falls in love with a Cuban rebel, a man who believes that Fidel is the answer to becoming free of Battista, the former ruler of Cuba.  Elisa struggles fiercely to mesh the spoiled lifestyle she enjoys without thought and the life and death struggle that so many Cubans, including family members, are living to move the country toward what they believe will be a free, democratic society.

The story neither sanctifies nor vilifies the rebels in different generations.  Instead the author deftly allows the reader to observe and reflect on the realities of Cuban life, government and freedom movements, forming one’s own opinions which cannot be avoided.  This is masterful historical fiction in which one gets to know not only the history of Cuba but the strengths and foibles of very human, passionate people who cherish their Cuba.

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

The Great Alone. Kristin Hannah. St. Martin’s Press. February 2018. 448 pp. ISBN #: 9780312577230.

Leni Allbright’s father, Ernt, is a Vietnam War veteran who returns from the war with PTSD that gradually threatens Leni and her mother.  He sees everyone as a threat, can’t keep a job, drinks too much and repeats the cycle of paranoia and violence toward his wife, Cora. 

A dream arises for Ernt, to get away from the influence of government and rich people that smothers the lives of those who yearn to live a free, unencumbered life.  Ernt sees Alaska as the land that can enable the family to start a new life.  From this point onward, we see an amazing juxtaposition of what life could be and what life is.  The reader also yearns for the dream to become reality.  It will do so but not until events escalate to a crescendo of beauty and horror. 

For Lena falls in love with Alaska, its gorgeous scenery depicted in descriptions that make the reader want to live there and its feisty, strong residents who support each other in good and hard times. Ernt seems happy for a brief period of time but then succumbs to his fears. 

No spoilers here but suffice to say that after more brutality than one person can bear, Cora commits a startling act that will change their future forever.  Leni will complete, yet change, the cycle of love, forgiveness and honesty, returning to call Alaska “home.” 

Kristin Hannah is a very talented writer who deserves more public acknowledgment and praise.  The pace of this complicated plot is exquisitely crafted, mixing love for one’s environment with the need to deal with veteran post-war issues that shake and threaten the solidarity of a united community.  Stunning historical fiction that is highly recommended.

Offenbunker: Cold War Spies Face Nuclear Menace by A. G. Russo

Offenbunker: Cold War Spies Face Nuclear Menace. A. G. Russo. Red Skye Press. May 2017. 260 pp. ASIN: BO71ZQN2JQ.

Many of us who lived in the Cold War era remember the years of 1960 and 1961 when America and Russia were engaged in a hot-button contest, threatening the detonation of a nuclear bomb.  Families took protective measures which one could debate would be totally ineffective should such a devastating attack take place.  But few knew about Offenbunker which was a carefully built underground shelter designed to protect the President, Vice-President, Senators, etc. in the event of a nuclear disaster.  While this shelter is being finished, there are spies trying to discover where the bunker is and stay one step ahead of those preparing to attack our nation.

The novel begins with revelation that the spies now operating in divided East and West Berlin are alive and well, that is all of them except our CIA spies who keep getting killed.  Yes, there’s a mole in the house and part of this plot is to discover who it is.  Unfortunately, not all who serve our government have pure motives (no newsflash there).  The fight for promotion is often depicted as a dividing factor among men and women who should be cooperating and not waiting to stab the next person in the back.   

Now one of these characters is assigned to be in charge of security in the bunker deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.  Quite a bit of historical information is dumped in between the chapters which some may find annoying but which are actually highly relevant to the plot and intensity of the time.  The atmosphere of these times is perfectly conveyed when every second counted and could be the difference between life and death for millions of Americans.

Oh, by the way, the bunker also holds a nuclear missile to be launched the minute American government officials realize a Russian missile is on its way. 

The characters herein are very realistic, albeit somewhat stereotypical.  You will find yourself heartily disliking one in particular and anxiously awaiting his demise. 

Fine international terror novel with plenty of action, trust, betrayal, pulse-racing changes! Nicely done historical fiction!

Tracy's Choices by Max Elliot Anderson

Tracy’s Choices. Max Elliot Anderson. TBCN Inc. December 2017. 194 pp. ISBN: 9780938447177. YA Nonfiction.

Most of Max Anderson’s novels are light-weight with some tension mixed in throughout, nothing that a young adult can’t handle.  This is NOT one of those books. Yet this is a MUST READ story.  The story takes place many years ago but is as relevant today as it was years ago.  Tracy starts taking drugs the way most people do, some pot, hash, a few pills, and then leading to hard core heroin, crack etc. addiction.  Everyone who becomes addicted says the same thing, “A little bit won’t hurt. I won’t get hooked.” Wrong!

Tracy’s story is heart-wrenching, devastating and overwhelming yet inspiring.  This is the slow path to hell, starting with drugs and progressing through theft, prostitution, numerous arrests, pregnancy, crime and more crime, and ultimately AIDS.  The author places facts about each of these parts of the journey in factual summaries in between the summaries in case one is tempted to say, “No way.”

One is drawn deeper into the account as one feels Tracy’s agony in wanting to escape this horrific journey yet continually cannot escape the desperate hunger for more drugs and more drugs and more drugs. 

Tracy is fortunate enough to be arrested by Lt. Jim Mays who is able to lead Tracy to embrace Christianity and be embraced by this Christian supportive family who accept her with her addiction, disease, lies and truth of her condition.  One needs not be a Christian to realize how desperate Tracy needed some help.

Read the rest yourself! Experience the ups and downs and the indescribable ending that you will never forget!  This is a nonfiction story based on an actual young woman’s life!!!! Words cannot convey the depth of intensity and importance of this message which should be part of every middle school, high school and college curriculum! Highly recommended, necessary reading!

Scanners by Max Elliot Anderson

Scanners. Max Elliot Anderson. TBCN Inc. December 2017. 160 pp. ISBN: 9780938447115. YA Fiction.

We walk into a grocery store, supermarket, clothing store, book store, etc.  We buy an item or items and pay after the bar code is scanned for each item.  We never think twice about how that happens or how it can be misused for criminal purposes.  This is Alex Peterman’s story about how he solves a crime happening in Gilbert’s Grocery Store, owned by Alex’s father.  For several weeks his father has discovered that thousands of dollars are missing each week, particularly on weekends.

Alex and his friends Noah Bates and Tim Price, who also work in the store set about trying to find out who is stealing massive amounts of money.  They also have a project going on at school.  While watching the normal activities in the store, they decide to research the bar codes on every product and also the background of tattoos as one of the deliverers of groceries sports an unusual tattoo.

The story is fairly, evenly paced but picks up when the boys notice some shady events.  Some of it is very funny as the boys in their boredom play some harmless but crazy games in the store’s aisles. 

When they see one particular man sneaking around and looking very suspicious, they think they have their criminal.  Imagine their surprise when they attend a regional food convention and see the same character lurking around.

No spoilers here – keep reading and discover just how bar codes can be used for wrongdoing and how the boys capture the criminals in a dangerous but exciting manner.

Fun read with plenty of suspense and a few good laughs mixed in between the mystery!