A war hero and pillar of the community kills the preacher in premeditated cold blood, then he goes home and waits on the porch for the sheriff to arriA war hero and pillar of the community kills the preacher in premeditated cold blood, then he goes home and waits on the porch for the sheriff to arrive. He refuses to explain his motive and offers nothing in his defense. Finally, he walks calmly to the portable electric chair temporarily installed in the courtroom where he was convicted. After the execution, his family and the citizens of the small Mississippi town are baffled.
That is thirty-percent into the book, and the reader is desperate to know what the motive was. Unfortunately, he is going to be disappointed. The second part of The Reckoning is flashbacks to what happened during the war both at home in Mississippi and in the Philippines where Pete Banning was captured by the Japanese and forced onto the Bataan Death March. Here the quality of the story takes a nosedive. The text is riddled with iffy punctuation, factual errors, grammatical errors, contradictions, anachronisms, at least one shift from third person to second person, and virtually zero attention to viewpoint. The author gets into the head of every passing character including Japanese soldiers who the protagonist is fighting, and apparently, the editor didn’t care. This reader found it appalling that a best-selling author who is published by one of the largest publishers in the country produced such a shabby product.
The third part of the story dealt with the repercussions on the family and gradually hints at the motive. I still wanted to know what that motive was, but I was getting concerned that it was going to be disappointing. The obvious explanation, of course, was that the preacher was screwing around with Pete’s wife when he was declared missing and presumed dead. If that had been all there was to it, I was going to throw the Kindle across the room. I won’t divulge it, but I will say this, it was a little better than that, although it simply took too long to arrive. ...more
Eight men and an officer crammed into a twenty-six-foot-long steel box along with the engine and the ammunition set sail across the mud of PasschendaeEight men and an officer crammed into a twenty-six-foot-long steel box along with the engine and the ammunition set sail across the mud of Passchendaele. The battlefield is crisscrossed by trenches, pocked with shell holes, and composed entirely of mud. Captain Richardson initially walks beside the iron behemoth to more effectively guide the land ship to the front to clear German positions in advance of the infantry. That is until he is shot through the flesh of his calf and is forced to join the crew in the sweltering, stinking, suffocating interior of the tank, Fray Bentos. The six-pound guns do well at clearing machine gun nests, and the Vickers machine guns are excellent for repelling infantry, but the monster machine is no match for the mud. Hopelessly mired, the crew continues to menace the enemy even while they bake during the day and freeze through the night. For three days, they fight, lose comrades, suffer dehydration, and dread the lucky artillery shell that might score a direct hit. Even if they were somehow able to retreat to their own lines, would they be gunned down in mistaken identity?
The Iron Fortress is a great telling of a little known aspect of the Great War when tanks were first used in combat. Mr. Thomas has meticulously researched his topic and relates his knowledge with skill. This is a well-paced and very entertaining book. In my opinion, the editing leaves a little to be desired. It does not, however, detract from the enjoyment of the story. ...more
Someone is faxing scandalous gossip to the offices of tabloid publishers and columnists. The targets of the scandal sheet hire former cop, former lawySomeone is faxing scandalous gossip to the offices of tabloid publishers and columnists. The targets of the scandal sheet hire former cop, former lawyer turned private detective, Stone Barrington, to find the culprit. Stone follows all the leads between sheets, gets hit in the head a couple times, and remains unconcerned when his client murders her secretary who leaked the dirt on her. Hit men hired by the aggrieved publisher beat Stone to the guilty parties by minutes, but he arrives in time to shoot the mafia thugs and rescue the girl who was almost raped.
This period piece of crap is part of a series that I’ve been told is wildly popular. It even claims to be a New York Times bestseller. That says much, none of it good, for the reading public. Dirt is amateurishly written and contains factual errors. The hero is barely likable, and the supporting characters vacuous. It is set in New York City in the nineties when cell phones only made phone calls, databases were on CD’s, and we still used fax machines. That part was a little nostalgic. ...more
A manuscript flies from a dangerously driven dump truck on its way to the incinerator. The script lands at the feet of two low-level Hollywood movie pA manuscript flies from a dangerously driven dump truck on its way to the incinerator. The script lands at the feet of two low-level Hollywood movie producers. They find it so remarkable they drive into the Mohave Desert to find the author. He had just died a short time before they arrived.
The rest of the book is the actual screenplay written in the form of a screenplay. It takes place over a hundred years after society has destroyed itself with nuclear and biological war. A group of scientists from New Zealand, which was spared owing to its remoteness, arrive off the coast of Southern California to investigate what might remain of the United States. A somewhat backward and introverted botanist, Alfred Poole, is captured by the few surviving locals who have regressed to a semi-barbaric state. Due to the frequency of birth defects caused by the gamma radiation, reproduction, that is, copulation is strictly prohibited except during an annual Bacchanalian festival during which the newborns with a certain level of deformity are culled.
Ape and Essence is the sequel to Brave New World. The two dystopian commentaries were separated by the Second World War, and more particularly, the atomic bomb. Huxley’s dark view of society has a surprisingly modern tone despite having been written in 1948. The screenplay format is different and gives the reader a very visual perspective of the story. I originally read Ape and Essence more than fifty years ago. At that time, I was a resident of Ohio who knew little of California, so a damning passage was lost on me. I didn’t miss it this time.
“He says those people up north are very friendly to runaways from Southern California. Won’t give them back even when the government officially asks for them.”
Even after the destruction of civilization and the passage of more than a century, California remained a sanctuary state. ...more
Ethan McAllister was shot in the leg when he and his partner responded to a tip and walked into a murder in progress. But it wasn’t a garden-variety mEthan McAllister was shot in the leg when he and his partner responded to a tip and walked into a murder in progress. But it wasn’t a garden-variety murder. It was a psychotic torture session to be videoed and shown on the dark web. Lexi, a young orphan saved from the street by prostitutes and mentored by the aforementioned murder victim, was a digital wizard who was tracking the killers’ posts online. Her tips to Ethan had been anonymous until he was shot, then she made a clandestine visit to him in the hospital. From that visit was born a rather tentative romance and a mutual effort to catch the diabolical killer.
Digital Velocity exists in two worlds. It is a detective thriller and a steamy romance. The characters are nicely developed, and they are numerous. Ethan has many siblings who protect him and harass him in equal quantities. Reily Garrett’s prose is generously descriptive, which may appeal more to her romance audience than the thriller aficcionados who might find the pace slows in places. The story relies heavily on technology, but it does not burden the reader with jargon or arcane details. There is also a canine component to the story that adds humanity to the characters. The antagonist is deliciously evil—think high tech Hannibal Lecter. ...more
What if a tip to the Secret Service made Oswald’s bullet miss by inches? How would Kennedy have dealt with Castro in the aftermath of the Bay of Pigs?What if a tip to the Secret Service made Oswald’s bullet miss by inches? How would Kennedy have dealt with Castro in the aftermath of the Bay of Pigs? Would Johnson have ever been president? Could we have been spared the ‘Great Society’? These musings are adroitly explored in this intelligent and well-researched alternative history that covers the period from 1963 to 1999. What would the world look like today?
All the Way with JFK is written in first person from the viewpoints of several fictional players. A Marine colonel advises Kennedy on how to deal with Castro. A Texas oilman promotes Barry Goldwater for president. A lobbyist tries to push the Civil Rights Act through Congress. A young Republican woman works on the Goldwater campaign. Each tells a piece of the story in his or her own voice. This is an interesting approach that Mr. Schaefer has made to work very well even though this reader thought the book would have been improved with a few less voices. I found that it took a few paragraphs to remember who was telling the story when a new chapter began. However, it’s the plausibility of the ‘what if’ is what makes this a great read. ...more
Na’amah is different from the others in the village. Her hearing is uniquely acute as is her memory, but she lacks womanly skills such as weaving and Na’amah is different from the others in the village. Her hearing is uniquely acute as is her memory, but she lacks womanly skills such as weaving and spinning. Noah is a bit of an odd duck who lives outside the village where it’s convenient to steal logs from the beavers with which to build boats. He sees Na’amah in the market and smitten by her beauty, so he asks her father for her hand and receives it with the understanding that he will wait three years to take his bride who was young even for those days. Na’amah’s older brother, Tubal, is an abusive bastard who resents the fact that their mother died giving birth to Na’amah.
The one thing Na’amah loves to do is tend the sheep. She often shares the task with her childhood friend, Yanner, who develops a strong desire for her and conspires with Tubal to prevent her from marrying Noah. The plan is if she isn’t a virgin, Noah will reject her, so on the eve of the wedding, Tubal engineers for Yanner to forcibly rape her. For good measure, they also attack Noah and break his leg. Na’amah flees the village and is captured by slave traders before she reaches the sanctuary of the Mother Goddess’s cave.
Noah’s Wife is an engaging story that put me in mind of The Clan of the Cave Bear. As historical fiction, it resonates with verisimilitude and is not a retelling of Genesis. An unusual dynamic among the characters permeates the story in a curious way. The setting and the customs of the people seem real enough. Na’amah is a convincing and likeable character. The prose is clean and flowing if a little flowery for this reader’s taste. Ms. Thorne is fond of using unconventional verbs to describe actions in nature and more metaphors than I prefer. Most readers will find her style lovely and descriptive. There are scenes that I thought went on a little longer than was needed, but it did not diminish my enjoyment of the book. ...more
Zoe is a super spy, which makes her a threat to the plans of an aristocratic family bent on world domination. The plan is to thwart climate change by Zoe is a super spy, which makes her a threat to the plans of an aristocratic family bent on world domination. The plan is to thwart climate change by slashing the human population to a scant fraction of its current level and replacing political leaders with scientists. The attempt to eliminate Zoe didn’t go well because the woman who the conspirators thrashed within an inch of her life was Zoe’s friend, Toni, who was staying in the flat for a few days. When Zoe finds her friend battered, raped, and near death, she called her brother, Michael, who arrived to consult about what should be done. After a disturbingly long discussion, they called an ambulance. Zoe vowed revenge and was assigned by her somewhat hands-off handler, Cairn, to get to the bottom of the scheme. Using a hapless academic, Gavin, as a foil she penetrated the Duke’s ancestral Silsden Estate, which was the headquarters of the monstrous plot. Posing as Gavin’s fiancée, Zoe was lured to the Silsden’s yacht on which she is tasered and left in the sea to drown. How will she save the world?
For a book that labels itself a thriller, this one moves very slowly. Tabula Rasa is part of a series, but it offers no back-story to help it stand alone. There are some references to old times in Bosnia, but I never discovered what the Lambeth Group was, whose side they were on, or who they worked for. There are orders from the Prime Minister and mention of SAS training, but the Silsden bad guys also have police on the payroll and tacit protection of the British aristocracy. I remain in the dark about who is fighting whom. Young Gavin flip-flops multiple times, and Zoe vacillates between wanting to sleep with him and wanting to kill him. She even momentarily gets on board with the dastardly plan except for the sticky detail of killing over six billion people. Mr. Bickerstaff’s prose makes no concession to point of view. It comes from the direction of whichever character appears on the scene. I found one case where the viewpoint switched within a single sentence. I hate posting a negative review, but I cannot be false. This was a letdown that went on way too long. ...more
Peter Blood was an Irishman with a medical degree; however, he sailed as a mercenary for the French against the Spanish inCaptain Blood
Peter Blood was an Irishman with a medical degree; however, he sailed as a mercenary for the French against the Spanish in the later seventeenth century. Later, he tended to the wounds of a man involved in the rebellion against King James II of England. For this, he was charged and convicted of treason and sentenced to hang. At the last minute, he was reprieved when James commuted the sentence to indentured servitude in the Caribbean. Blood was bought by a wealthy and well-connected planter on Barbados. The planter, Colonel Bishop, realized that Blood was worth more to him as a doctor than as a sugar cane cutter, so Blood was free to move about the island practicing his craft while Bishop collected the fees. An attack on Bridgetown by Spanish pirates gave Blood and a few other slaves the chance to make their escape by overpowering the scant guard left on the Spanish ship. Just before he made good his escape, he saved Bishop’s beautiful niece, Arabella, from the marauding Spaniards. Blood and his crew proved to be highly effective pirates, and he amassed a small fleet with which he plundered Spanish ships and colonies. His fame spread to England where James II decided to try to recruit him as a privateer, but Colonel Bishop couldn’t let go of his hatred for Blood, and Blood couldn’t let go of his infatuation with Arabella.
I was astounded to learn that Captain Blood was first published in 1921. The style and language are convincingly contemporaneous with the time setting. The story is told as the recounting of journals kept by one of Captain Blood’s lieutenants. I suspect that a modern editor would dismiss it out of hand, but it works quite well. Few books have sent me scurrying for the dictionary like this one. It also has some of the greatest epithets I’ve ever heard. Captain Blood is simply a great old-fashioned pirate tale. I loved it, and yes, in the end, he gets the girl. ...more
Joe has been in the Army for five years. At twenty-two, he is deployed to Afghanistan with a squad of misfits who he loves and hates. The living condiJoe has been in the Army for five years. At twenty-two, he is deployed to Afghanistan with a squad of misfits who he loves and hates. The living conditions are squalid, the Army can do nothing right, the Afghans want them dead, the Afghan police refuse to do anything, and his squad leader is insane. The summers are blisteringly hot, the winters are numbingly cold. The sanitation in camp is deplorable, and outside, it’s worse. Second Squad is sent on endless missions with no point but to stumble onto IEDs or draw the fire of the Taliban. Rules of engagement prevent them from even shooting back. To survive in the intolerable conditions with sleep deprivation and exhaustion, the soldiers steal, fight, brutalize civilians, and cause mayhem. They live on caffeine, nicotine, and sleeping pills. The only common denominator is the unwavering devotion they bear for each other.
The Hooligans of Kandahar belongs on the same shelf as M.A.S.H. and Catch-22. Joe Kassabian has penned a memoir that is raw, raunchy, gritty, profane, and brutally honest. His report of the conditions on the ground in Afghanistan resonates with truth. This paragraph struck me viscerally:
“Unless we captured Mullah Omar himself, nothing we did on the ground would ever really matter. There would always be some other inbred, bomb-making asshole to take the last one’s place. Our only hope was to make it home before one of those guys found his mark.”
Mr. Kassabian’s prose is brutal, solid, and wonderfully readable. It will offend many, but they should read it anyway to experience if only vicariously, the nightmare of all the American and Allied troops who have been deployed in the hellholes of the Middle East. This is more than a great book. Buy it, read it, get used to it. There is a problem out there that needs to be solved. ...more
Jane finds herself playing possum amid the dismembered carcasses on the field after the Battle of Hastings but which Battle of Hastings? A local in peJane finds herself playing possum amid the dismembered carcasses on the field after the Battle of Hastings but which Battle of Hastings? A local in period garb is plundering the dead. When he approaches Jane, she grabs an abandoned bow and threatens to put an arrow through his genitals. As it happens, he is a fellow time traveler from an era farther in the future than Jane’s time. Alex reunites Jane with her team leader Darius, and introduces her to Catherine, a time traveler from yet another period. Each has a unique and conflicting opinion of the outcome of the Battle of Hastings. It seems there is someone tampering with history.
The Battles of Hastings is a clever and intelligent novella. Ms. Bennion has an advanced understanding of the theory of the multiverse or parallel universes. Being a multiverse fan myself, I was delighted by this little tale of tinkering with the past. It is extremely well written and offers some of the science behind the real possibility of time travel. Do yourself a favor, spend an afternoon with Duke William at Hastings in 1066. ...more
The Nazis had a plan to put a huge mirror in orbit that could focus sunlight on military targets and boil ocean water to generate electricity in peaceThe Nazis had a plan to put a huge mirror in orbit that could focus sunlight on military targets and boil ocean water to generate electricity in peaceful times. During the war, the Nazis also had plans for a space plane that they intended to use to bomb New York. In the fifties, the British had a space program that they abandoned. The US Army planned to build a base on the moon and keep a permanent detachment of soldiers there. Their launch site was to be on Christmas Island. The Soviets’ premier rocket designers worked from a forced labor camp. The Japanese had a space program. There was an American proposal to create a spacesuit that would allow stricken astronauts to parachute from orbit. As a precautionary measure for the Apollo moon landing, a design was proposed for stranded astronauts to blast off the moon’s surface in a rocket-powered chair.
Paul Drye recounts over fifty space flight schemes that worked, failed, or were laughed off the drawing board. All of the spacefaring nations and some that you never expected to fall into that category are represented here. False Steps is an intriguing collection of space trivia that will fascinate space enthusiasts, engineers, and nerds in general. The remarkable depth of research the author has done is nothing less than astounding. I was delighted to learn that on a proposed long-term mission to Venus, astronauts were to be allowed to take two kilograms of movies and one and a half kilograms of recorded music. Using kilos as a unit of measure for music and movies had not previously occurred to me; although, in retrospect, I can think of plenty of music that ought to be judged in kilograms. Mr. Drye’s writing style is crisp and clear if necessarily burdened by acronyms and initials—he is, after all, recounting military and governmental jargon. False Steps captivated me from start to finish. Anyone interested in space and technology will love it. ...more
Franny’s husband, Harry, died a slow, miserable death from cancer. Then her mother, Isla, sank into the sad morass of dementia and had to be put into Franny’s husband, Harry, died a slow, miserable death from cancer. Then her mother, Isla, sank into the sad morass of dementia and had to be put into an assisted living center. It was not a happy task. At the same time, the lives of Franny’s twin daughters, Emma and Jani, are upset by a flurry of troubling pregnancies. Jani is expecting her third child and fears complications. Jenny, a distant acquaintance, arrives at Emma’s house and announces that she and her husband of two days need a place to stay. He splits before she knows that she is expecting. Alice, Jani’s nanny, realizes that she is pregnant and doesn’t know where the father is. While all these stressful events are unfolding, Fanny is being courted, maybe seduced is a better word, by her boss, Bryan. Emma and Jani are aghast, but none of them know that Bryan is damaged goods. Could it possibly end well?
Tamara Miller is the queen of family drama. She brilliantly draws the reader into the landscape and time period of her stories, and, of course, into the joy and heartaches of her characters’ lives—Decisions having more heartaches than joys. Ms. Miller’s prose is clean and flowing. She illustrates her scenes with slices of real-life—kids squealing around the Christmas tree, the thrill of an illicit kiss, or the terror of contemplating an illegal abortion. Decisions is the fifth volume in her Family Forever series. She says it’s the last. We can hope that’s not true. ...more
As Europe plunges toward war, German agents manipulate competing political factions in Mexico to draw Washington’s attention to its southern border. KAs Europe plunges toward war, German agents manipulate competing political factions in Mexico to draw Washington’s attention to its southern border. Kansas sand cutter, William Fitzroy Raglan Battles, who spent the first half century of his life fighting outlaws in the American west, rebels in the Philippines and in Vietnam, settled into a life of peace and harmony in Chicago with his second wife, Katharina. However, in Billy Battles’ life, adversity always arises. A phone call from his old friend and commanding officer, General Funston, lured him and Katharina to Veracruz on a mission to mingle with the German community in the hope of gaining intelligence regarding Germany’s meddling. The pair, being both German speakers, soon had knowledge of the Kaiser’s plan to arm the Mexican rebels in the north under Carranza, Villa, Zapata, and Obregón. They also unwittingly thwarted the delivery of a submarine load of gold and silver bars.
Villa’s incursions into the United States drew Billy back to the border, and he even joined Pershing’s expedition into Mexico in search of the rebel general. In the meantime, war erupted in Europe, and the neutral U.S. was unable to return the interdicted gold and silver to its rightful owner. General Funston entrusted Billy with the task of stashing it in a secret bunker on a nascent military base in New Mexico. Only Funston and Billy had a key.
Billy’s gallivanting around Mexico did not sit well with Katharina. To placate her, the pair made some trips around the country, since Europe was off limits. They renewed acquaintances with the likes of Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp. Remember that I said adversity always arises? On a short idyll to Michigan, Billy’s lifelong nemesis, the notorious Bledsoe clan, made a play for vengeance that had a life-shattering impact on Billy. His retaliation forced him to flee to Southeast Asia once again where he spent many years putting his life back together.
Ron Yates did me the great honor of allowing me to do a pre-release read of this final chapter in the incredible life of Billy Battles. Mr. Yates does extensive research, has a keen grasp of history, and is a world-class storyteller. He is also a professor of Kansas-speak. The colloquialisms and Kansas jargon Ron Yates puts into the mouths of his characters will amaze and delight. The Lost Years is a stand-alone book. There is plenty of backstory to keep the first-time reader current on how we got to where we are; however, I would urge readers approaching this book to go back and buy volumes one and two as well. This trilogy is a long strange trip, and you don’t want to miss any of it. ...more
Justine’s estranged husband raped and tortured her daughter by a previous marriage. Jesse was drawn into the matter through a chance encounter. Trent,Justine’s estranged husband raped and tortured her daughter by a previous marriage. Jesse was drawn into the matter through a chance encounter. Trent, the rapist, also took obscene photographs of his victim after the violation. Justine is adamant about recovering the pictures and convinces Jesse to help her break into and search the house. Before beginning the search for the obscene prints, Justine sneaks upstairs to verify that Trent is out of town as he said he would be. She discovers his body.
Blood and Blackmail is a well-crafted and clever mystery. The courtroom scene is especially well done with convincing legal procedures and norms. The characters are the best part of this book. They are superbly developed with unique voices. You are going to love Vanessa, she demonstrates the author’s brilliance. I will qualify that by saying that the characters tend to speak in lengthy monologues rather than the fragments most people use. There are a few other events that stretch credulity, but what is credulity for, if not to be stretched? Mr. Trianor’s prose is strong, smooth flowing, and grammatically accurate. The format of Blood and Blackmail is slightly unorthodox, however. It shifts from first to third person, and the police interview scenes are written like a court report or a script where the speaker is labeled before the dialogue begins. I cannot say that my enjoyment of the book was very much, if at all, diminished by this. I have high praise for Robert Trainor, and I look forward to reading more of his plentiful works. ...more
Teenaged twin sisters, Emma and Jani, have after-school jobs and boyfriends who do not merit the approval of the twin’s parents. What could be more noTeenaged twin sisters, Emma and Jani, have after-school jobs and boyfriends who do not merit the approval of the twin’s parents. What could be more normal? There was a little ripple on the calm surface when Emma took a call from her ex-boyfriend informing her that Brad, for whom Emma dumped Frankie, happened to be engaged. That is eventually resolved to Emma’s satisfaction, and she soon accepts an engagement ring from Brad. The next crisis comes when Jani finds Nate passed out from smoking dope and learns that he deals pot on the side. Nate regains her affection, and they decide to elope to Las Vegas, but he has no money. Parents, Harry and Franny, disapprove of both young men but are savvy enough to know that they are no match for two strong-willed young women. So for the sake of economy, they agree, reluctantly, to a double wedding, which has to be accelerated due to the little matter of a pregnancy. Marital bliss does not last long.
Tamara Miller writes with a conversational style about the places where she has spent her whole life. She breathes honesty into her characters through the familiarity of having known them. These family dramas have a delightful truthfulness. They are stories everyone will recognize. The pace holds the reader’s attention, and the prose is genuine. Young Lovers is a candid glimpse into the lives of ordinary people and how life was in the transition from the nineteen fifties to the sixties. It is a solid, stand-alone sequel; however, readers will benefit from reading Tamara Miller’s first book in the Family Forever series, In the Beginning. Young Lovers has this reader’s wholehearted endorsement. It stirred many memories. ...more
Dmitri Kantemir was an 18th century Moldavian prince who was aligned with the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. The duplicitous Ottomans demanded increasiDmitri Kantemir was an 18th century Moldavian prince who was aligned with the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. The duplicitous Ottomans demanded increasingly usurious tribute, so Kantemir decided to join with Peter the Great of Russia to vanquish the treacherous Mohammedans. Unfortunately they lost. The Kantemirs were forced to flee to Russia where Peter declared Dmitri a Russian prince and bestowed a lavish estate, including 70,000 serfs, upon him. Not bad for losing the battle.
Iron Blood, which is what Kantemir means, is an interesting historical fiction told from the perspective of a descendant who went on a lengthy quest to discover the truth of her ancestry. Princess Eleonora Borisovna Kantemir’s father was a member of the anti-Communist resistance and was captured by the Germans during World War II. Eleonora was born in Germany, but the family moved to Connecticut in the fifties when she was a young girl. Her father lived his life looking over his shoulder for the KGB.
This is a fascinating story, unfortunately, the writing is rather poor. I heard the princess speak to the California Writers’ Club. Her English is flawless, but it did not transfer to Iron Blood very well. If I were Ms. Kantemir, I’d shoot my editor. ...more
The US federal government is dysfunctional. (What else is new?) Separatist groups form in New England, the Deep South, Minnesota, the West, and on theThe US federal government is dysfunctional. (What else is new?) Separatist groups form in New England, the Deep South, Minnesota, the West, and on the Texas-Louisiana border there is a strange thing called the Independent Nation of Milam. Former president, Richard Jackson, has twin sons, Andrew and Thaddeus. Richard is the leader of the Southern Territory, he is suffering from cancer, and he has a right wing agenda. Thaddeus is a liberal who runs away to Alaska where he lives off the grid as a survivalist. The former director of the CIA launches something called Broken Protocol, which prompts the recall of Agent Lozen Kyway from France. She is dispatched to Alaska to guard Thaddeus and take him to the Federal North Pole, which is the splinter group in Minnesota. The Federal North Pole is big into a mysterious alternate energy source and some strange device everyone has to wear on their wrists. The Southern Territory is determined to take Washington DC. The New North is determined to stop them. The Federal North Pole wants Thaddeus to be their diplomat in negotiating an alignment with the New North. We don’t know anything about the Independent Nation of Milam or the western region.
The Chaos of Change is the first book in a trilogy. In the opinion of this reader, each installment of a series should be a stand-alone story. Chaos ends in chaos with no satisfying conclusion. The plot in general is rather disjointed. Many things happen that apparently do nothing to advance the story. We never learned what the function is of the wrist devices in the Federal North Pole, and their new energy source has a byproduct that is some kind of high-tech club, which seems pointless because everybody else has guns and rocket launchers. The prose is solid enough. J.T. Riggin uses some unusual word pairings that sometimes work and sometimes don’t, like ‘dipping’ into a stairwell. The characters are well enough developed, but some of them aren’t particularly likeable. In a story of this sort, one would expect there to be an agenda—support of liberalism or conservatism—but I couldn’t determine which way it leans. Maybe it doesn’t lean. I couldn’t be sure of that either. I dislike leaving unfavorable reviews, and I would not write this one if I weren’t obligated by the rules of the Rave Review Book Club to write reviews of members’ books. I hope Mr. Riggen can be philosophical about this. ...more
An illegitimate, homosexual, left-handed, genius who could also paint. That describes Leonardo in broad strokes. He pitched himself to patrons as a miAn illegitimate, homosexual, left-handed, genius who could also paint. That describes Leonardo in broad strokes. He pitched himself to patrons as a military engineer, hydrologist, architect, and city planner. Painting was an afterthought. Ultimately, he supported and amused himself as a designer of stage sets. At various times he was patronized by a Medici, a Borgia, and a pope. He was notorious for accepting commissions, then never finishing them. He hauled the Mona Lisa around with him for fourteen years and died without delivering it to Lisa’s husband who commissioned it. To perfect his ability to paint figures with precision, he dissected dozens of human cadavers, horses, and the odd pig, which he vivisected to study the beating of the heart. He made numerous discoveries that were centuries ahead of their time, including the function of heart valves, the function of the retina, and the lift mechanism of birds’ wings. Perhaps the most bizarre study on which he embarked was to learn the nature of a woodpecker’s tongue. He wore foppish clothes of outlandish colors, kept pretty boys, and practiced vegetarianism. The scholarly journals that he prepared ran to thousands of pages, but he never published anything.
Walter Isaacson, who previously wrote biographies of Steve Jobs and Einstein, obviously travelled the world to research da Vinci. His credentials gained him access to remarkably arcane bits of information on this unique character from the time of Columbus. Isaacson delves into the quest for lost masterpieces, the intricacies of Leonardo’s genius, and workings of his studios, where students often contributed to his paintings and churned endless copies of them. This book is perhaps a little long and occasionally dense with detail, but it is the end all and be all of Leonardo da Vinci. ...more
Hitman, Donovan Creed, finds the billion dollars in his Swiss bank account missing, and his wife tries to kill him. To add insult to injury, a mobsterHitman, Donovan Creed, finds the billion dollars in his Swiss bank account missing, and his wife tries to kill him. To add insult to injury, a mobster offers him $1500 to kill a dog that bit him. Eventually, the president’s chief of staff offers him eight million to kidnap president’s daughter. Well, a guy has to make a living, so he takes the job, only to discover that this has been in works for years, and a veritable troop of look-alikes and body doubles are on the government’s payroll. Creed’s overly complex plan evaporates when the president’s daughter voluntarily lets herself be kidnapped.
Okay, it’s a silly story. Now, I’m not one to criticize a silly story. I may have been guilty of writing one or two myself. The President’s Daughter, however, is a bit much. Creed and his partner, Callie, have sex with and kill everyone they meet. The body count is astronomical, and I only recall disposing of two bodies, yet no one seems too concerned to arrest them. The wackiness aside, this book has some issues that don’t appeal to me. It bounces back and forth from past tense to present tense, and it shifts viewpoints from first person narration by the main character to third person narration by unimportant characters. It has its bright moments and a few flashes of humor. Mr. Locke is not shy about claiming some pretty impressive credentials, including million-seller status. This is apparently true. That worries me about the nature of the reading public, but I can’t fault his success. ...more
I reread “A Brief History of Time” every few years thinking that, if I read it enough, I’ll understand it. Originally published in 1988, this 2017 ediI reread “A Brief History of Time” every few years thinking that, if I read it enough, I’ll understand it. Originally published in 1988, this 2017 edition is wonderfully updated by Stephen Hawking himself, who is the longest surviving victim of Lou Gehrig’s disease. Since the original publication, Hawking and others have determined that the prospect of a big crunch at the end of the universe is highly unlikely. That revelation, and others, makes it fascinating to explore the progress that has been made in cosmology and quantum physics in twenty years. Evaporating black holes, gravity waves, the multiverse, and the uncertainty principle; these mind-bending concepts, and many more, are laid bare by Hawking’s straightforward explanations. Straightforward? Well, all things are relative, including time and gravity. Hawking does speak plainly and with humor, but my eyes glaze and my brain hurts every time he says “…the sum over all possible histories.” Nevertheless, this is a book to read and reread by all thinking persons....more
Young, middle class Venezuelans study to get ahead in life in a country blessed with the largest oil reserve in the western hemisphere. Their future lYoung, middle class Venezuelans study to get ahead in life in a country blessed with the largest oil reserve in the western hemisphere. Their future looks bright until socialism rears its ugly head. Hugo Chávez rises to the presidency. The once prosperous nation is plunged overnight into a state of famine, crime, and corruption. The streets are plagued with robbery, stabbings, and shootings. Property is seized and given to Chávez supporters. Finally, the small clique of school friends hatch a plot to assassinate the president.
High Treason tells a tale of life in modern Venezuela that resonates everywhere. The impact that one poisonous leader can have on a country should open the eyes of all who vote. Chávez’ twisted ideology turned a free and prosperous nation into a communistic cesspool where no one is safe, and no one has enough to eat except the ruling elite. Ambard and Mondragón are both Venezuelan. They write with voice of authority from the safety of the United States. This is a very important book. It should be read and taken to heart by all who value their way of life. As an added bonus, it’s free. ...more
James was a bomber pilot with twenty-plus missions over Germany. He was good at his job and was picked to lead the raid on Dresden in February, 1945. James was a bomber pilot with twenty-plus missions over Germany. He was good at his job and was picked to lead the raid on Dresden in February, 1945. As he circled the target, pinpointing the places undamaged so other bombers could drop their loads wherever there were no flames. At the end of the mission, James makes it home safely, but not undamaged. Although due some leave, he is tasked with one more mission—a milk run over Denmark in the daylight—one more mission and then free time to spend with Colleen. But the unthinkable happens.
The firebombing of Dresden was one of the most controversial raids perpetrated by the Allies during World War II. The wanton barbarism of annihilating an ancient city with no strategic value has been bemoaned ever since that day in 1945 when it was reduced to ashes. RJ Curtis has done a magnificent job of telling the story through the eyes of a participant. The emotional impact on the character, James, is told with great skill, and the subsequent tragedy that befell him is also related masterfully. There is additionally the viewpoint of young boy who survived the firestorm, and in a strange twist of fate, has an impact on James life years later. A Soul Burned is a fine piece of historical fiction. ...more
Two MIT nerds, while being handled—that is coerced—by the CIA develop software that scans images of Earth, made by the Kepler Deep Space Telescope, foTwo MIT nerds, while being handled—that is coerced—by the CIA develop software that scans images of Earth, made by the Kepler Deep Space Telescope, for deposits of precious metals. They are unable to debug the software and are frustrated for a couple of years. Then Jack Drago finds a debugging algorithm that was developed at Harvard. It solves the problem and he is able to print a plot of an area in the Bolivian Alto Plano showing deposits of gold, silver, uranium, and something else. The CIA immediately pulls the plug on their operation. Jack is warned of his eminent arrest by girlfriend Hanna, who is head of campus security. Jack and his cohort, Frannie, AKA Francis, are determined to go to Bolivia to discover what this anomaly might be, and to prevent the CIA from seizing it.
That’s where this story unravels. The artifact is of extraterrestrial origin, and in fact the US military already has one that was discovered in Egypt during the First World War. They don’t know what it is or what to do with it. The reader never discovers why it’s a threat to mankind. However, the indigenous Bolivians know of it and revere it as something to be protected. The thing is just a little too bizarre and inexplicable be taken seriously. When the action starts, the story devolves into poor dialogue and improbable events by characters who aren’t very believable. I realize there is a reason we call this fiction, but one needs a shred of plausibility. It is as if this book were written by two people. The first half is concise and logical with good prose solid technology. Then something happens. This reader was severely let down by the second half of the book. And the ending? Well, I don’t know what the ending was, but it wasn’t very satisfying. ...more
An Afghanistan veteran and charter boat captain based in Key West is approached by a group of Cuban Americans with a proposition. The Cuban Thaw allowAn Afghanistan veteran and charter boat captain based in Key West is approached by a group of Cuban Americans with a proposition. The Cuban Thaw allows American tourists to visit the Communist island in groups as long as they adhere to State Department guidelines and are under the scrutiny of Cuban minders. The Cuban Americans want Mac to join a tour group from Yale and go to Cuba with a stunningly beautiful Cubana, Sara. The plan is for Mac and Sara to slip away from the group and recover sixty-three million dollars that was hidden in a cave at the time of Castro’s revolution. Entering Mac’s boat in a fishing tournament in the waters made famous by Hemingway provides the means for them to escape with the loot. If he succeeds, Mac’s share will be three million. Unfortunately just about everything they told him is a lie.
Nelson DeMille’s main characters are unfailingly witty, tough, profane, and irreverent. That’s Mac. One suspects they are an extension of DeMille. At least I hope so. This first person narrative is classic DeMille with plenty of sarcasm and biting social commentary. It is, however, a little slower than this writer’s other works. The escape scene is a real nail-biter, but in getting there, DeMille seems a little off his game. Now, I maintain that there is no such thing as bad Nelson DeMille, but I would not call this the apex his bibliography. The Cuban Affair is a good read. Parts of it are a great read. ...more
Yellowstone Park is a magical place, more magical than we thought. When a young girl appears among the geysers, alone and helpless, she is immediatelyYellowstone Park is a magical place, more magical than we thought. When a young girl appears among the geysers, alone and helpless, she is immediately adopted by a bison cow and Old Faithful, and they name Flower of the Steam Basin. Trust me. This is where you must suspend incredulity. In the microcosm of the park, all things are personified. All things possess great wisdom and speak in parables teaching the girl morality and spirituality. She communes with all the spirits of the wilderness, delights in running with the herds of bison, and cavorting in the eruptions of the geysers. She lives in the chasm of Old Faithful where the spirit of the geyser teaches her about all things, including the people who visit daily. When the rumor of a girl dancing aloft in the hot mineral spray begins to circulate, there comes trouble to paradise.
I told you that you had to suspend incredulity. You also have to be a little patient. The beginning of this book is dedicated to animism, something akin to native spirituality. It consists mainly of the above-mentioned parables, and is written in a flowery prose that is almost Biblical in its near poetic construction. The characters speak in multi-paragraph monologues. Some readers will revel in the joy of language, others less so, but by and by, human beings sneak into the story. That’s when the trouble starts. This book was departure for me. I generally go for something earthier, but I enjoyed The Geyser Girl of Yellowstone Park, and I recommend it for those who aren’t discouraged by what I said in the first paragraph of this review. One could see Geyser Girl being produced by Walt Disney, although as it is written, it is not a children’s story. ...more
Every sort of derangement possible. This anthology contains the good, the less good, and the incomprehensible. The Box Under the Bed has something forEvery sort of derangement possible. This anthology contains the good, the less good, and the incomprehensible. The Box Under the Bed has something for everybody. Perfect seasonal reading. Here lies mayhem, hauntings, and madness. Truly a diverse collection. Since one of the authors has a name similar to mine, I shouldn’t play favorites....more
The whole world knows that Malala is the Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban because she campaigned for girls’ education. I Am Mala The whole world knows that Malala is the Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban because she campaigned for girls’ education. I Am Malala is much more than recounting that gruesome event. It is a frank and accurate history of Pakistan, especially the Swat region and the Pashtun tribe. She is brutally honest about the barbarism of her people, particularly concerning the subjugation of women who are denied an education and forced to confine themselves to home and travel only with a husband or male relative. They often practice arranged marriages and sell daughters as brides to settle family blood feuds. Malala also reveals in vivid terms the dysfunction and duplicity of Pakistan’s government and army who, while claiming allegiance to the US and accepting billions of dollars, aided and abetted Osama bin Laden.
All this is very interesting and on the mark. Because Pakistan is supposedly an ally, we seldom hear the truth about this ruthless, backstabbing, hypocritical nation of tribal barbarians who possess nuclear weapons. We can see video of Taliban in Afghanistan herding women into soccer stadiums and shooting them in the head, or stoning women on the street. What we don’t see are videos of the same atrocities in Pakistan. Malala describes these outrages in an almost offhand tone and never once considers that the root cause of the problem is Islam. Despite her ordeal and having become a world-renowned proponent for educational reform, she faithfully accepts the repression of women, keeps the scarf on her head, and claims to want nothing more than to return to the Swat valley where her attempted assassin has become leader of the local Taliban. She tells about, when visiting Mecca, her mother bought a new burqa for the occasion. It can’t be both ways. One is either subjugated or not. She even sugar coats parts of the Quran, once stating that Mohamed “migrated” from Mecca to Medina. History tells us that the Meccans had had enough of him and ran his ass out of town.
I have to say that I am glad I read I Am Malala, but I can’t say that I ever warmed to the person. I also think that this book isn’t particularly well edited. How much the co-author contributed, I can’t say. The voice sounds genuinely Malala’s, but there are some places where a native English speaker might have suggested changes. It also bothered me that in her gushing admiration for Obama, she claimed that he rose from a struggling family. Struggling how? Is being raised by affluent white grandparents struggling? It’s a remarkable story that shines a light on a global crisis, but I’m not sure Malala Yousafzai actually sees the crisis. ...more
Mike was a venture capitalist with a plan to destroy Tuscany, so he started in the hole on the likeability index. He took his wife and young daughter Mike was a venture capitalist with a plan to destroy Tuscany, so he started in the hole on the likeability index. He took his wife and young daughter to Italy for a vacation before settling into the business of plundering the fabled countryside. He fell on the wrong side of his wife, Mattie, and she went home in a huff. To make things worse, his local contact and business partner was hospitalized with heart trouble. Alberto tells him not to worry, that he will appoint an associate to help cement the deals. That associate happens to be the most beautiful young woman in Italy. This can only end badly.
Reading Poggibonsi, which is the name of the town on which Mike intends to do a hostile takeover, takes faith and patience. Until we meet the succulent Julietta, there’s not much happening. The first person narrative is burdened with excessive detail. There are some diversions to third person, which may have been a better choice of voices. Mike’s assistant, Samantha, is an endearing character who, in addition to being infatuated with Mike, is Mattie’s best friend. This is a complicated dynamic within the plot. Mike redeems himself from time to time with some insightful observations about the nature of life. The ending is fairly predictable and lingers longer than this reader thought it should. The meat of this story is Julietta, and that part is done extremely well. She has beauty, brains, and she knows how to go about getting what she wants. What’s not to like about that? ...more