Official Book Launch

I have BIG news! Our friend Roger, aka Heroically Bad Writer, aka Woebegone But Hopeful, has just published the second book in his series, “Of Patchwork Warriors:  The Precipice Dominions”!

Volume II picks up where Volume I left off, and according to the author … “Arketre (Flaxi) and Karlyn (Kitlin) have been making the best of diversion into a North Eastern princedom, sort of where Estonia is; they are having something of an extended working honeymoon. Trelli is settled in somewhere which might be Italy learning to cope with her powers under the tutelage of the Devoteds a very strong and tight group of women. Although separated three are soon together again wrapped up in a confusion of hidden agendas and one invasion.”

Curiosity piqued yet? Head on over to Amazon, or read Roger’s post here to find out how to get a free copy! And be sure to give Roger a big “congratulations”, for he has put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into this book.

Thanks Roger!!!

Book Review: A Higher Call by Adam Makos

This is a review I wrote more than five years ago, in January 2013.  It was one of the best books by a first-time author I have ever read, and for some odd reason, I awakened this morning with this book on my mind.  When I wrote the review, it received exactly one view, one like on WordPress, though it fared somewhat better on Amazon and GoodReads.  But then, that was 2013 when this blog had only about 30 followers!  So, I decided today would be a good day to re-run this review in hopes that somebody will be intrigued enough to read the book!  (Plus, we all need a little break from all things trumpian.)

Every now and then I cross paths with a book that strikes a chord somewhere deep within me, a book that shares my waking hours and my sleep. This is one of those books, as was Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken. Coincidentally, both tell a true story from World War II … Unbroken tells of Louis Zamperini who survived to tell about his adventures as a US pilot in the Pacific, subsequent capture and imprisonment by the Japanese.  A Higher Call: An Incredible True Story of Combat and Chivalry in the War-Torn Skies of World War II  tells of two pilots, one German and one American who meet high in the skies over Germany on December 20th, 1943. Both of these books will stay with me, I am sure, for a lifetime. A Higher Call grabbed me and simply won’t let go.

December 20, 1943, in the skies over Bremen, Germany. Charlie Brown is the pilot of a B17 bomber, just finishing a raid on an aircraft production facility. His plane has been hit multiple times by German flak. It was missing a rudder and had sustained serious damage to its hydraulic and electrical systems, not to mention that only one engine out of four was functioning at peak, one crew member was dead and several others seriously injured, and now Charlie faces flying through enemy flak to get north of Germany over the North Sea and back to Great Britain, a feat beyond all imaginings. Suddenly from behind he spots a German fighter plane and Charlie knows he and his crew have no chance to survive if the fighter shoots so much as a rock launched from a slingshot at their plane. This edge-of-the-seat action enhances, but does not dominate the story. The pilot in the German Bf109 is Franz Stigler, a man who joined the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) to avenge his brother’s death. One look at the B17 and Stigler knew it didn’t stand a chance. He remembered the words of his former leader and mentor, Gustav Roedel, who had once told Franz, “You score victories, not kills … you shoot at a machine not a man”, and decided in less time than it took the thought to form that he not only couldn’t shoot down that crippled bomber but that he would do everything he could to save the men inside. There were two dangers to this, but Stigler barely registered them. The first, of course, was that the bomber would fire on him first and knock him out of the sky (he didn’t know that the bomber’s guns were frozen, all but the turret gun whose range was so limited that he was never really in any danger from that). But the other, perhaps greater danger was that if the German command ever found out that he had the chance to dispatch this bomber and didn’t, he could be court-martialed and sentenced to death. On Stigler’s mind at that moment in time, however, was how he could keep the crew on this bomber from either being sent to a fiery death by German flak or an icy death in the North Sea. Ultimately, he led them through the German flak and left them over the North Sea with a salute and a prayer that they could stay safe. And it is in this one episode that Franz Stigler became a hero in my book. He would go on to fight some 487 missions in the war and is now in history books as a German flying ace, but for me it was that one act of human kindness, of human compassion, that made him a hero.

Though the book centers around the heroic acts of Charlie Brown and Franz Stigler in the air over Germany that day, the event itself actually occupies less than 4% (15 pages out of 368) of the book. Had I realized this in the beginning, I might never have bought the book and that would have been my loss. The bulk of the book follows Stigler’s career and rise as a flying ace throughout the war and it is from this that I, who have nursed a hatred of all things pertaining to the German military almost since my birth, came to realize that not every soldier in Germany was a Nazi and not every soldier in Germany lacked a heart. The Luftwaffe, or German Air Force, in this book is shown to be no less human than any man in the USAF or any other branch of the Allied military. Overwhelmingly, the Luftwaffe were NOT members of the Nazi Party and did NOT support Hitler and his programs. They were simply there to do their jobs and defend their nation and its people. In fact, most were not aware of Hitler’s “Final Solution” (the extermination of Jews) and the death camps until near the end of the war. For the most part Germans, including the Luftwaffe, were as afraid of the SS (Gestapo) as were we.

Many years after the end of the war, both Brown and Stigler wondered what had become of one another. Neither knew the other’s name, yet neither had forgotten that strange encounter in the skies over Germany. Eventually they would have their reunion and become brothers not of shared blood, but of shared life. Notably, though more than seventy years had passed since the end of WWII, once this story became public, Franz Stigler began receiving hate mail, presumably from Germans who felt that he should have blown Charlie and his crew out of the sky. I guess hatred is in no danger of becoming extinct any time soon.

This is Adam Makos’ first published book, though he has been editor of the military magazine Valor, for some fifteen years, and frankly I was intrigued when I read a synopsis of the storyline, but was not expecting great writing from this first-time author. I was wrong. The writing is as seamless and spell-binding as almost any I have read. This is a heart-warming, yet edge-of-the-seat true story that reads like a novel and leaves the reader wanting much more. Sadly, both Charlie Brown and Franz Stigler died in 2008. However there are photos and video clips of their reunion some 50 years later on the author’s website.  If you read no other non-fiction book this year, do yourself a favor and read this one. It will stay in your mind and in your heart for a good long time, maybe forever.

Book Review: I’ll See You Again by Jackie Hance and Janice Kaplan

I am taking a 4-day hiatus from my blog, going camping with a special friend, and will be away from computer and from news of the outside world from Saturday, July 2nd through Tuesday, July 5th.  I have scheduled a few of my “oldies but goodies” and will see you all when i return to the real world (maybe?) on Wednesday, July 6th.  Please don’t go away … I shall return, rested and happy and ready to start ranting once again!  This book review, originally posted in 2013, was published in 4 separate venues and was without a doubt the MOST controversial book review I have ever written!  I still sometimes receive hate mail and comments on Amazon and Goodreads about this review!

I’ll See You Again, by Jackie Hance   Ill see

This is the book that should never have been published. It needed to be written, as I’m sure the writing was a catharsis of sorts to Ms. Hance, but it should never have been published and sold to the general public. Barbara Walters told Ms. Hance she found the book “uplifting”. Ms. Walters is kinder than I am; I found it almost anything but uplifting. Ms. Hance has faced the greatest nightmare that any parent can ever face and my heart goes out to her. I cannot imagine the pain, the devastation she feels every day as she struggles to get through the days of her life without her children. I am sympathetic to her, however this is a book review and as such must honestly appraise the value of the book in question and I find very little to love in this book.

I bought the book after seeing Ms. Hance as a guest on The View a few weeks prior and remembering the Tragedy on the Taconic, as it came to be called almost four years ago, I recalled that when the media circus finally died down, there were a number of unanswered questions left on the table. I was anticipating that Ms. Hance’s book would seek to provide answers to some of those questions. A third of the way into the book, I realized that the only question that was being addressed was “Why me, God?” and, finding little or no value in my reading I set the book aside with no intention of going back to it. However, two weeks later I decided that this was a review I wanted to write and my conscience would not let me write the review without finishing the book, so I did pick it back up.

The root of the story, for those who do not know or do not remember, is that on Sunday, July 26, 2009, Ms. Hance’s sister-in-law, Diane Schuler, was driving with the three Hance daughters and her own two children back to New York from a weekend camping trip when she entered the Taconic freeway going the wrong way. She drove nearly two miles at a speed of 85 miles per hour, despite numerous other drivers swerving, flashing their lights, and motioning out car windows to get her attention, until crashing head on with another vehicle, killing eight of the nine people in both vehicles. It was soon determined that Ms. Schuler was extremely intoxicated, with a blood-alcohol level more than twice the legal limit, undigested vodka still in her system, and evidence that she had also been under the influence of illegal drugs (marijuana). Those are the undisputable facts. The investigation into how and why this could have happened has turned up more half-truths, finger-pointing, and blatant lies than it has additional facts. There are numerous lawsuits in the courts today as a result of this accident, a few perhaps legitimate, a few based on more lies and attempts to shift blame and responsibility. It is not my intent to re-hash this pathetic investigation, and I’ll See You Again will not address the real issues at all. If you are interested in the most detailed account, a better choice to read is The Taconic Tragedy: A Son’s Search for the Truth, by Jeanne Bastardi, the wife of a man whose father and brother died in the vehicle Ms. Schuler crashed into.

It is difficult to fairly and honestly review this book. My criteria for judging non-fiction is twofold: is the story worth the telling, and is it written in such a way as to reflect the value of the story. In the case of I’ll See You Again, there is definitely a story worth telling, however Ms. Hance told only a small part of the story and not one that can hold the reader’s interest for an entire 288 pages. It is difficult to review the story without coming across as unsympathetic, however a little self-pity goes a long way and Ms. Hance indulges in nearly 288 pages of it. She feels her own grief deeply and understandably, however throughout she is blind to the grief of anybody else, including her husband and the girls’ grandparents, neighbors, friends and their children. She is constantly angry at her husband, denying him the right to grieve. That they are still together may well qualify Warren Hance for sainthood! To her credit, she did try psychiatric help, but as is typical was treated with drugs instead of genuine grief counseling. And she did try talking to clergy, but was given the same platitudes we all hear rather than any real comfort. In situations like this, truly there are no words that can give actual comfort. The one thing that nobody suggested and it seems to me would have been the first line of attack against the depression that quickly took over her life was to get a job. Hard work and physical activity are really the only cures for depression, whether real or imagined, but rather than consider this, she chose to either spend her days in bed crying (which we are told over and over, ad nauseum) or go shopping and spend money. Her friends, who also qualify for sainthood, dedicated large portions of their lives to being there for Ms. Hance, including changing their lives drastically. One friend cancelled her annual Halloween party in 2009, as she felt it would be too hard for Jackie, but then in 2010 she resumed the party for the sake of her own children, and Jackie was furious, saying “How could Jeannine do this to me?” Really? This is a fully mature adult, nearly a year and a half after the accident, expecting her friends to put their own lives on hold indefinitely. When the story isn’t about how miserable she is and how unfair life has been to her, it is about what a great mother she was. Understandably, I began to not like Jackie Hance very much. The last quarter of the book sees some improvement in her attitude, presumably due to the arrival of a new baby, and she began to be able to see the grief that Warren and others in the family had suffered. We can only hope that the new baby is given the opportunity to grow and thrive in her own patch of light rather than in the shadows of her dead sisters. By the end of the book I was beginning to like Ms. Hance marginally better, but I still believe 288 pages of self-pity does not make for a good read.

In addition to the issue of excessive self-pity, I am disappointed in this book because the whole issue of the crash and its’ causes has been ignored except for a few brief mentions where Ms. Hance declares nobody had any indication that the sister-in-law, Diane, was an alcoholic and toward the end she graciously tells Diane at the gravesite that she forgives her. There are several lawsuits still pending, so I imagine it was not possible to delve too deeply into facts surrounding Diane’s drug and alcohol addiction, but I cannot accept the denial of the entire family that nobody knew she even drank. Perhaps one day when the lawsuits are settled, somebody will be able to write an honest book about the facts and details surrounding the accident.

I can only justify a one-star rating, as I still believe it should have been written as a journal for Ms. Hance’s personal benefit, and not a published book at nearly $30. Again, my heart goes out to Ms. Hance, but I am writing a book review, not holding a grief counseling session. I cannot in good conscience recommend this book.

Review of Once We Were Brothers by Ronald H. Balson

Once We Were Brothers by Ronald H. Balson

Every now and then a writer’s first novel is worthy of a 5-star rating. Once We Were Brothers by Ronald H. Balson is such a book. Generally speaking, I do not tend to read first works of new authors. Yes, I realize that every author has a first book and that if nobody read their first, there wouldn’t likely be a second, third or fourth and the author would fade into obscurity in a job as a lawyer or taxi-cab driver. Even Charles Dickens had a first book way back when. Still, it generally takes a writer a book or two to find his footing, to be able to write from the heart while, at the same time, pleasing his readers and making them yearn for more.

Set in Chicago in 2004, Once We Were Brothers is the story of Ben Solomon, now an 83 year-old Polish Holocaust survivor. There is, in the city of Chicago in 2004, a well-respected, wealthy man, a generous patron of the arts, named Elliot Rosenzweig. Ben Solomon is convinced that Mr. Rosenzweig is a former Nazi named Otto Piatek and is determined to bring him to justice. He enlists the aid of attorney Catherine Lockhart and her friend, a private investigator, Liam Taggart. Though set in 2004-2005, a large portion of the book is the telling of Ben’s story, set in the years 1933-1945, and this is what makes this book more than just another legal thriller. The details of that period are extremely well-researched (I double-checked several myself) and I was immediately drawn into the story, into the time. Rosenzweig, of course, has a team of highly skilled, highly paid lawyers who will do whatever it takes to protect their client and his reputation, while Ben has only Catherine and Liam. At the outset of the story, Catherine is one of hundreds of attorneys in a large law firm where billable hours rule the day, and she is impatient for Ben to come to the point of his story, doubtful that he has a case at all. But as Ben’s story unravels, we see Catherine change, subtly at first, then ultimately she becomes wholeheartedly determined to give Ben the best she has to give.

What makes this book extraordinary is Ben’s telling of how the Germans took over the Polish town of Zamość where Otto had spent his childhood with Ben and his family, and the metamorphosis of Otto from brother to betrayer. Though I have read many books about World War II and the atrocities of the Nazis, Ben’s story left this reader with the nearly breathless feeling that I was living through that time at this very moment and gave me a nightmare or two in the process.

I do not write reviews with spoilers, as the purpose of my reviews is to entice the reader to pick up the book and read it for him/herself. Suffice it to say that this is undoubtedly one of the best novels I have read in a long time. Most of my other 5-star ratings have been for non-fiction, historical books, but this novel has both entertainment value and social value, historical value. I highly recommend it and hope that if you choose to read it, you will come back here and let me know what you thought of the book. Mr. Balson also has a new novel (his 2nd) out just this week, entitled Saving Sophie: A Novel. I am eager to delve into this one and I hope it will be as excellent as Once We Were Brothers.

Review of Dead Wake by Erik Larson

Almost everybody has heard of the RMS Lusitania, a British passenger ship owned by the Cunard Line that was torpedoed by a German U-boat (submarine) as it neared its destination of Liverpool on May 7th, 1915. Those are the bare facts that we all know. But other “facts” you might believe you know may be only partly true or even myths that have been promulgated throughout the past century. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Lusitania and, as such, we can expect a torrent of books and documentaries on the subject. If you read no other, I highly recommend Erik Larson’s Dead Wake.

As always, Erik Larson has deeply researched the subject and his book, which could have come out as a dry stating of facts, reads almost like a novel. Even though we all know the final outcome, I found this account to be fascinating, keeping me up reading well past the time I should have been asleep. Mr. Larson provides humanistic characterizations of both the Lusitania captain, William Thomas Turner, and the commander of U-20, Kapitänleutnant Walther Schwieger. As was the case with A Higher Call by Adam Makos (previously reviewed), we come to see the antagonist as a man, a human being, doing the job he has been ordered to do, rather than a cruel and heartless monster. The sinking of the Lusitania would have a profound effect on the lives of both of these men. We also get to know some of the passengers, some famous, others relatively unknown, but all individuals, human beings, rather than simply passenger #xyz.

Among the myths and half-truths we have come to believe are that the sinking of the Lusitania was what brought America directly into World War I, but as Larson reminds us, the U.S. did not actively engage in the war until two years later, 1917, and that as a result of the decoding of the Zimmerman telegram in which Germany offered to return to Mexico certain lands in the southwest U.S. in exchange for Mexico attacking the U.S. While certainly the sinking of the Lusitania strained relations between the U.S. and Germany, it was not the proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back”. Another is that the ship was hit with two separate torpedoes, while in fact it was the work of a single torpedo that just happened, quite by accident, to strike at the exact right spot to bring the ship down within 18 minutes. And lastly, the reader will learn that which I considered to be the most surprising and scandalous part of the entire episode, which is the involvement of our “allies”, the British, and the role they played, including the fact that it was well within their power and ability to have prevented this catastrophe. But enough said … since the outcome is known, there should be some surprises left for the actual reading of the book, right?

Again, Erik Larson is known as a thorough researcher and excellent, gifted writer of historical non-fiction and in Dead Wake he does not disappoint. I bought the Kindle edition of the book, but wish I had bought the hardcover, as it would make a wonderful addition to my history library.

Review of Storm Front by John Sandford

I had a decided advantage over many when I read this book, which is that it is the first book I have read by this author, so I had no previous experience upon which to draw, no set of expectations nor preconceived notions. (Yes, I am aware that Mr. Sandford is a very popular and prolific author and no, I haven’t been living in a cave for the past decade or so … it’s merely a matter of “so many books, so little time”.) Thus, I was able to actually enjoy this book on its own merit with no point of comparison to his other books. As is my habit, I did not read any reviews until after I finished the book, not wanting my own opinion to be influenced by the opinions of other reviewers. So, I was quite surprised to find that so many fans of Mr. Sandford and his books did not like this one. It was only then that I found this book was a corroborative effort, his first, I believe, and was actually co-authored by Michele Cook, a fact that is not obvious until the acknowledgement page. I am not sure what level of involvement Ms. Cook had, but according to reader’s comments, I suspect it is more than she is credited with. As I mentioned, I believe that my newbie status gave me an advantage and I enjoyed the book, though more as a comedy of errors than as a serious work of mystery, crime-drama, or whatever genre you choose to call it.

The storyline is that Virgil Flowers, one of Sandford’s long-standing characters, is an investigator for the BCA, Minnesota’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, or Minnesota’s version of the FBI. It is also the story of Ma Nobles, a local woman of low morals (think of a cross between Blanche Deveraux, Ellie Mae Clampett and Ma Barker), who is being investigated by Virgil for a scam involving new lumber being artificially aged and sold as old lumber. And then come the more “serious” criminals, as Virgil is tasked with assisting in tracking down an artifact that was discovered in an archeological dig Israel and then stolen by a local clergyman, Reverend Jones. Enter representatives from Mossad, from Hezbollah, a former Turkish army intelligence officer, an Arab, and of course, let us not forget the CIA, who can always be counted on to make an appearance wherever Mossad and Hezbollah intersect. The law enforcement guys are all bungling, but the saving grace is that the criminals are even more so, reminiscent of the bad buys in the Home Alone movies. While there are many guns and several instances where lots of those guns are fired and some even manage to hit people (though most don’t), no body count is racked up, nobody is even seriously injured, and the result is seriously just … funny!

I am currently reading another, older, of Sandford’s books, as I don’t believe, based on the reviews I have read of Storm Front, that it is representative of his works. I suspect that if I had read several before I read Storm Front, I, too, would have found it disappointing, but as it was my first, I found it to be quite entertaining and a welcome relief from recent studies of the Holocaust in Italy! That said, while the book is humorous, it is almost tiringly so at some point, and the reader finds himself shaking his head and thinking “oh come on, REALLY?” The characters, while fun and funky, are not credible in the least. The storyline is unlikely, but then again, I thought that was intentional. If you are looking for a quick and quirky read, by all means pick this one up, but it you are a long-term fan of Sandford’s works, you would probably be better off passing it by.

Review of Improbable Heroes by Carl L. Steinhouse (2005)

Italy lost fewer Jews to the Holocaust than most other nations and this excellent book tells the fascinating story of those who were saved, and some who weren’t, but most importantly, of the brave men and women who were responsible for saving so many. In October, 1943, the Nazis executed a mass roundup and deportation of Jews in Rome. Prior to that, Mussolini had, despite Hitler’s attempts to convince him otherwise, shown no particular animosity toward Jews and in fact, Italy had been seen as a safe haven for Jews fleeing from Nazi persecution in other countries. By the end of the war, Italy had lost only 7,500 of its 44,500 Jews to the Holocaust, or 17%. Only three countries (Bulgaria, Finland and Denmark) had lost a lesser percentage. Certainly 7,500 is 7,500 too many, but looking at it another way, 83% of all Jews living in Italy at the time of the Holocaust survived, and that is nothing to sneeze at. Why was Italy more successful in protecting its Jews than so many other nations? Since this is a book review, I cannot go into all the reasons nor cover the history of Italy in World War II, but I will mention a few other good books to read if you’re interested. This book is not that broad in scope, nor does it seek to be, however it offers good insight into at least a partial explanation of how so many Jews were saved.

Improbable Heroes is nonfiction with a large cast of characters which, thankfully, the author lists at the very beginning. I read the Kindle version and if I have a complaint, it is that the X-ray feature is not available for this book, however thanks to the author’s cast of characters, I was able to easily refer back to it, and I did so multiple times in trying to keep them all straight. The majority of the people in the book were real, but out of necessity, the author included a few of the victims whose names remain unknown, but their stories have been recorded in history, and has given them fictional names. Mr. Steinhouse clearly notes which those are and, where possible, the names of the actual people or compilations of people he believes they may represent.

Almost 70 years after the end of World War II, there is still a great amount of conflict surrounding the actions of Pope Pius XII and the Roman Catholic Church during the Holocaust. Some say the Pope could have done much more to protest Hitler’s widespread attempt to eradicate an entire race of people, while others praise him for his efforts on behalf of saving so many Jews. While that conflict is not the subject of this book, some discussion of it is essential to an understanding of the time, place and people involved, and Improbable Heroes does an excellent job of giving us what we need to know without veering off topic. To avoid the discussion completely would have been much like discussing the Olympic Games without mentioning athletes. What is clear is that members of the Catholic Church in Rome played a huge role in saving some 37,000 Jews and it is unimaginable that this was done without at the very least passive agreement by the Pope. However, the topic of this book is, as the title suggests, the men and women, “ordinary people … Italian citizens, lay people, sisters, nuns, friars, bishops, cardinals and priests, who, at great risk to themselves, saved so many Jews.” (Steinhouse, 2005)

This is a book of hope, of triumph, of humanity, a book of so many heartwarming stories amidst the darkness and evil that was the Holocaust. It is wonderfully written with continuity and well-developed descriptions of place and time, of characters we shall never know but wish we could. Hats off to the author and I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of this period.

Review of The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult

This is a story within a story within a story. In this book, many questions are asked, still more are implied, yet few are answered, mainly because some questions quite simply have no answers. You will either love or hate this book; there will be no middle ground. But either way, it will make you think about things in ways that you may never have thought about them before; you will ask yourself tough questions that you may never have asked before. That is Jodi Picoult’s trademark. The questions are important questions, questions about forgiveness, redemption, retribution and conscience.

The story, then, is a modern-day tale of a young woman, Sage, and an old man, Josef, she scarred by her recent past, he by his distant past. The old man has lived in this small town in New Hampshire for more than sixty years and is well-liked, a retired school teacher, former kids’ coach, “everyone’s adoptive, cuddly grandfather”. Not long into their friendship, the old man asks Sage to help him die. There is a catch, though … she must forgive him for his past before he dies. His past as an officer in the Third Reich, a Nazi, a participant in the killing of more than six million Jews during the Holocaust in World War II. That is the story within the story. And then there is the story within the story within the story, which follows a young Jewish girl from a town in Poland through the labor camps and ultimately through Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen.

It is important to make the distinction that this is not, per se, a book about the Holocaust, but about the question of forgiveness. The Holocaust, the most heinous crime in modern history, is simply the background, but as such it gives this book significant historical value it could not have otherwise achieved. Is it possible to forgive someone for an act that was not committed directly against you, or must forgiveness come directly from the victim? If that is the case, can there ever be forgiveness for murder or wrongful death? Are there some acts that cannot possibly be forgiven? Are there varying degrees of guilt? Are there levels of guilt and an imaginary “line in the sand” where forgiveness is no longer possible? For example, everyone may agree that killing six million Jews is unforgiveable. Would a lesser number be easier to forgive? Say, three million? Or how about a half-million? Or was killing just one Jew unforgiveable? If that is the case, how does that differ from any other killing? Is there a difference between actually being the person to commit the act, being an accessory to the act, being an observer and not trying to stop the act? So many questions, so few answers. These and others kept me awake pondering for hours during the time I was reading this book and I concluded that if there are answers to these questions, I do not know what they are.

The Storyteller is an excellent book, one of the few works of fiction to which I will give a five-star rating. There is conflict, both internal and external, the major characters are well-drawn and highly believable, and there are enough plot twists and turns to keep the reader guessing about some things until the final pages. Oh yes, and there is just a bit of romance thrown in for good measure, though that part seemed a bit contrived to me. If you are looking for some light summer reading, put this book down now and move on. It is anything but light reading. However if you are looking for something to challenge your mind and cause you to search your own soul, question your own beliefs and values, please do yourself a favor and read this book! I would like to add here that I do not recommend The Storyteller for most children under about the age of seventeen, as there are some fairly graphic descriptions.

Disclaimer: I am an independent, unpaid reviewer. My reviews are entirely my own works and I only review books that I have actually read. I welcome all comments, whether you agree or disagree with me, however, inappropriate content in comments is not acceptable and will be removed.

Review of Tell Me by Lisa Jackson

Review of Tell Me by Lisa Jackson

Some twenty years ago, Blondell O’Henry and her three children were in a cabin near Savannah, Georgia, when the unthinkable happened, leaving Blondell’s oldest daughter, Amity, dead, her other two children seriously wounded and Blondell herself serving a life sentence in prison. Blondell claims there was an intruder who broke into the cabin, shot the children and Blondell herself, however the police were never able to confirm the existence of such an intruder and the testimony of Blondell’s young son, Niall that his mother had shot him sent her to prison. Now, however, Niall is recanting his statement, saying he was coerced and being only eight years old at the time, having been shot in the throat and his sister killed before his eyes, he was certainly in no condition to resist any such coercion. Since the evidence was insufficient to convict without Niall’s testimony, unless the State of Georgia can find new evidence, Blondell will soon be set free. Enter Pierce Reed and his partner Sylvie Morrisette, detectives with the Savannah PD. Also enter our main character, Nikki Gillette, part-time reporter, part-time author of two previous true crime books, not to mention Reed’s fiancée. Nikki was friends with the murdered Amity, the cabin in which the crime took place belonged to her family; her uncle was the defense attorney and her father the judge in the case, so she has more than a passing interest and she intends to find out what really happened and sees it as an opportunity for her third book. The relational connections certainly don’t end there, but to tell any more would be to spoil the story for you. I would only advise that as you begin the book, you start a family-tree sort of document so you can keep this all straight!

This is certainly a fun, interesting mystery/suspense novel, which Jackson is known for producing and the plot contains enough twists, turns, and nail-biting sequences to keep us awake far into the night. What I liked about the book: the suspense-filled, chilling plot complete with a few red herrings tossed in just for fun, and for the most part I liked the relationship between Nikki and Pierce, though at times it seemed single-dimensional and strained. What I didn’t like about the book, however, was the number of characters and the fact that they were not well-drawn enough to keep them straight. This is one of those books that should really have a character mapping or list of characters at the beginning. Fortunately, I was reading it on my Kindle, so I had access to the X-ray feature which I used frequently to remind myself who was who, but if I had been reading the hardback copy I’m sure it would already be dog-eared from flipping back and forth. Many of the characters also lacked credibility, which I think is probably a result of just having too many characters on the periphery of the action.

I am of the belief that the best suspense novels are those that, when it is finally revealed whodunit, you smack yourself in the head and say, “darn, I sure didn’t see that one!” This is one of those books. Tell Me has just the right blend of dark and light, of suspense, humor and romance, a trademark of Lisa Jackson and her work. All-in-all, it was a pretty good read, though I don’t recommend it for bedside reading if you really need to get to sleep tonight.

Review of Daddy’s Gone A Hunting by Mary Higgins Clark

Mary Higgins Clark has become known as the “Queen of Suspense” in the years since her first novel, Where Are the Children (1975) and for good reason. Her suspense/mystery books are reminiscent of Agatha Christie with plot twists and turns, multiple red herrings, and a dramatic conclusion that the reader comes to understand only in the last pages of the book. Her novels for the last decade or so have focused on the uncanny sleuthing skills of Alvirah Meehan and her husband Willy and did not have the same edge as her earlier works. Daddy’s Gone A Hunting, however, is more of a return to her earlier style and was a quick, easy and suspenseful read with just the right mix of suspense, loveable and hate-able characters, plot twists and humor. My only complaint, if in fact I have one, is that there are so many characters that it becomes difficult to remember who’s who. Since I read the Kindle version, I must say the x-ray feature would have been of great benefit in this case, but unfortunately was not available for this book.

The story begins with a deadly explosion in the furniture warehouse of the Connelly family of New York, known for their high quality reproductions of fine antique furniture. Injured in the explosion is daughter Kate Connelly and dead is Gus Schmidt, a long-time employee who was bitter over having been fired five years earlier. Kate had called Gus, asking him to meet her at the warehouse in the wee hours of the morning, and now Kate is in a coma and Gus is dead; suspicion naturally falls on these two who cannot tell what actually happened. This is also the story of lawyer Mark Sloan from Chicago, his mother, and his sister Tracey who disappeared 28 years prior when she went to New York to pursue her dream of an acting career. And it is the story of a man named Clyde, a hero, a decorated Vietnam Vet who came home emotionally damaged after the war and left his family for a life on the streets. Their lives all convene in this tale of greed and subterfuge with just a little romance folded into the mix.

The book is fun, fairly non-violent for a mystery and appropriate for any age group from teens to seniors. While I have also enjoyed Ms. Clark’s aforementioned series with Alvirah and Willy, this was a welcome switch back to her earlier style which led me to be a fan of her writing decades ago. Don’t be put off by my 3-star rating … those who follow my reviews know that I only give 4 or 5 star ratings to books I believe have significant social value, are destined to become classics, or are among the best books I’ve ever read.