“Shadowed by Death” Another Excellent Historical Novel from Mary Adler

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Mary Adler has done it again, sweeping me away to another time and place with this second book of her Oliver Wright mystery series. Like the first one, it’s set in the San Francisco Bay Area in the early 40s, while the country was in the throes of WWII. Again I experienced the culture in that locale during that era as well as the prejudice and suspicion that prevailed against immigrants.

Of course the fact we were at war with some of the counties from which these people hailed, to say nothing of all sorts of intrigue in progress due to the convoluted political situation in Europe, nothing was simple. While the majority of these immigrants came to the USA to escape oppression as well as possible annihilation, it’s not surprising that their motives could be questioned. These interactions and the history behind it, most of which few of us know, made the story that started out as a murder mystery all the more interesting.

The characters were engaging and well-drawn, including Oliver’s awesome German Shepherd, Harley. Relationships are believable and convincingly complex, both interpersonal and familial as well as between ethnic group. The plot is gripping, loaded with historical information, and full of suspense and surprises. Mary Adler is one of my favorite authors with her smooth, imagery-rich style, historical value, and authentic cultural context. All in all, an outstanding read.

You can pick up your copy on Amazon here.

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“The Making of a Healer” by Russell FourEagles

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5stars

I hardly know where to start expressing my impressions of this book. Let’s just say that it is clearly in my list of the Top Ten Most Influential Books I’ve ever read. I was actually sad when I finished it, yet know this is one of the few books that I will read many times.

Probably the most powerful message I received was the highly spiritual nature of indigenous American teachings. Interestingly enough, it comprised everything included in my own beliefs, which I’ve collected from various sources. These include organized religions, my own experiences, scientific research, meditation, as well as the teachings of various yogis and motivational speakers. It was clearly a revelation to find my own belief system, which I’ve assembled over a lifetime, expressed in a single book.

The philosophies expressed are nothing short of profound and beautiful. The respect for Mother Earth and all her creatures, including those of other cultures, is such a powerful concept that has been blatantly ignored by western cultures. Living in harmony is essential to our health and well-being. The concept of the “heart box” where we store and build up the various hurts, disappointments, and traumas of our lifetime rang true. The Oneida Fire Ceremony used to clear those issues is one I’d heard variations of before and it works.

Bottom line, we must live with an attitude of love, not fear. The author’s personal experiences illustrate these principles in a humble and powerful way, from being taught these things by his grandmother, to being a soldier in Vietnam, to becoming an inspired healer.

If you’re looking for some genuine inspiration that dates back hundreds, possibly thousands of years, then read this book. If you need to know what actions you can take to rid yourself of old issues lurking in your subconscious that you want to release, then read this book. If you want a touch of wisdom that has been lost, yet is exactly what the world needs today, then read this book.

I can’t praise it highly enough. If you’re looking for answers, it’s highly likely you will find them here.

You can pick up your copy on Amazon here.

 

“State of Fear” by Michael Crichton

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I always enjoy a good Michael Crichton book. While this one wasn’t my favorite, considering some of his other titles such as Jurassic Park or Timeline, it was nonetheless excellent. This hardback had been sitting on my shelf for literally years; given the book’s copyright is 2004, no telling how many. I live in a house that was once my family’s vacation home, so I have no idea who may have left it here. One day recently, its dust-covered binding caught my eye from its position on the bottom shelf and I decided to read it.

It’s rather amazing how the story and premise really haven’t gone out of date in fifteen years. Essentially, it’s an exposé of the science (or lack thereof) of global warming. We’re still obviously hearing about this today. It has changed names a few times, now currently referred to as “climate change”, but it’s one and the same. Clearly, Crichton was expressing strong, well-substantiated opinions regarding how science and politics are a very bad combination, which he presents in the form of a gripping, conspiracy techno-thriller.

One thing that really irritates me as a reader is when an author doesn’t do his or her homework as far as research is concerned. When I encounter scientific inaccuracies in a story they are a major turnoff. They throw me out of the story immediately and scream “amateur” on the part of the author, who clearly didn’t respect his readers enough to do the research. No one can ever accuse Crichton of this faux pas. This book took three years to research and, believe it or not, has twenty pages worth of bibliographic material as well as footnotes to scientific journals throughout that are real. I’m afraid that few readers appreciate that as much as I do, which is a shame.

Even though this book has been around for a decade and a half, it’s still worth reading. I suspect that little has changed scientifically. It should be read with an open mind, considering all sides. Crichton’s opinions regarding the volatile mix of science and politics are definitely worth noting; nothing has changed there, either. I, for one, have grown weary of everything being about money and corporate profits.

I want to point out that I am not “Red” or “Blue” in a political sense, but rather some shade of purple; there are elements of both platforms with which I agree. I don’t believe in blatant handouts at the expense of hardworking people, but I also believe in treating Mother Earth and all her creatures with respect. I also believe people’s health and well-being are more important than greedy corporate giants who place whomever they want in political office with their campaign contributions to assure maximum profits.

I love a novel that not only entertains, but informs and educates the reader, something Crichton did in spades. I am so sorry he is no longer with us, turning out these well-written, well-researched page-turners. I suppose in some ways this story is overshadowed by the issues it exposes, making some conversations a bit pedantic. However, 20 pages of bibliography deserves considerable respect. This is a very thought-provoking story that highlights an issue that is as relevant today as it was in 2004. Whichever side of the argument you may espouse, you should read it. The bibliographic material–count it, 20 pages worth–speaks for itself.

Nano Surveillance by Mark Donovan

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This story was well-developed as far as the conspiracy thriller plot and technology were concerned. The author clearly knows his stuff about a variety of topics including flying and surveillance technology where the details enhanced the story’s credibility and imagery. While this expands into the realm of science fiction (at least for now) it was believable, which is required of good fiction–even fantasy needs to be believable to work.

The political intrigue was right out of the headlines and well developed as well, but leans heavily toward the conservative, so bear that in mind, too. In other words, if you lean to the left you probably won’t like it, period. The plot is loaded with suspense, kept moving, and would make an excellent action movie.

However, there were a few things that kept it from being great, primarily the desperate need for editing. The story demonstrated imagination and knowledge of technology,  but strong writing skills are necessary to engage the reader. I found the lack of flow made it awkward, even  painful to read. While, to the author’s credit, there were only one or two typos, there was far too much reliance on prepositional phrases. There were also numerous instances of homonym misuse and incorrect punctuation, particularly in the dialog. When the style (or lack thereof) throws the reader out of the story on a regular basis, it’s distracting as well as disappointing.

I want to stress there was nothing grammatically “wrong” with the writing. It simply didn’t employ the complex sentence structure that demonstrates strong writing skills. If it had, this thriller could have been a five-star read; as it stands, I’d give it three stars. In other words, by investing in editorial help or some advanced writing classes, this author could produce an outstanding story, perhaps even a best seller.

A Sad Commentary on American History

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Anyone who thinks they know American history needs to read this book. Those who don’t understand why the white men are hated also need to read it. In a nutshell, it’s a testimonial of exploitation, lies, and aggression, which has been the norm on the part of supposed “civilized” nations for millennia. Seeing indigenous people as inferior, savages, and uncivilized based on their lifestyle and thus treating them no better than animals has a sordid and long history.

This book chronicles the treatment of the Indigenous Americans from the first contact by the Pilgrims in the 1600s through the 20th century. The lies and aggression are nothing short of shameful and an embarrassment to any honest person. Those of us who grew up playing “cowboys and Indians” and watching similar TV shows were not seeing things as they really are.

In most cases, the Indigenous Americans only wanted peace. Some had the foresight to see the problems that were coming. They saw the land as sacred, given to them by The Great Spirit, and they treated Mother Earth with respect and gratitude. They may not have had the white man’s technology, but their societal norms were often far more advanced than “civilized” nations. The wholesale slaughter and exploitation of these people in the name of Christianity is a national disgrace.

Besides the actual slaughters, their children were often taken away, essentially kidnapped, and sent to boarding schools where their native culture was derided while they were indoctrinated with supposedly white civilization’s values. Their women were often sterilized without their knowledge. There is no doubt the intent was genocide.

If you think things have changed today, think again. Power and control by those with selfish and evil intent still prevails. Corporate power subdues the rights of individuals. Nothing has changed.

I cried more reading this book than any novel. It’s a very sad commentary on the foundation of the United States. These Native Americans were highly intelligent, moral individuals. In the vast majority of cases, they were only aggressive when they’d had enough of being lied to and could see the government’s intent was their annihilation.

Read it. More people need their eyes opened to the truth that is our history and how it relates to what’s going on today.

Today’s Writing Tip

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Another remedy for “writer’s block” is to read a book about writing. I recently read “Emotional Beats” by author Nicholas Rossis. While it didn’t necessarily help move my story forward, it gave me a plethora of ideas for polishing what I already had. In the process of doing that, I got back my momentum and was able to move forward with the story.

This book particularly focuses on capturing emotion. This is where “showing” and not “telling” really counts. If you have trouble with this, which can be particularly challenging for new writers, I highly recommend Rossis’ book. There’s also an excellent section on analogies as well as a few parts that are loaded with useful synonyms for over-used words like walking.

You can find it on Amazon here.

“Somewhere Between” by Patty Wiseman: Historical Novel with a Paranormal Twist

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This historical novel with a paranormal-whodunnit twist was well-written and had numerous fascinating plot entanglements. The characters were well-drawn and vivid with enough suspense in the story action to keep you turning the pages, wondering who did what and how it would turn out.  I loved the gutsy protagonist, Phebe, whose curiosity was insatiable and tended to get her into trouble as she tried to figure out the secrets behind the Powell family, by whom she’d been hired as a governess for their three lively children.

The “ghost in the attic” was great, eerie enough to be convincing as a ghost and duly mysterious as well. The other household staff members–the cook, butler, and ever the stable boy–were key to the story as some tried to protect the family’s many secrets and how Edmund’s ghost fit into it all. I don’t like creepy, scary type books, but this one was a comfortable bedtime read with it’s suspense directed more at the mystery of how the various characters were connected. All families have their share of secrets, and this one had a plethora of them, many of which were scandalous in the time in which the story takes place but less so, perhaps even considered normal, today.

This is a pleasant, easy read and glimpse of a different time. The cover is fabulous and fits the story perfectly.

Pick up your copy on Amazon here.

“Flipping” by Eichin Chang-Lim: An Unforgettable Story in a Class by Itself

5stars

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5stars

This is, by far, one of the greatest books I’ve read in a long time. I’ve read numerous “good” books that I thoroughly enjoyed and awarded 5-stars, but this one went so far beyond that as to stand out in a class by itself. It truly is, as its subtitle states, “An Uplifting Novel of Love.” I wish there were a category above 5-stars because it deserves to be in that class. And that is why you see 10 stars above!

The story encompasses the multi-generational saga of two families whose destinies eventually become intertwined. It starts out in Taiwan where a young couple in love defy family wishes and flee to the United States, where they work hard “flipping” houses in California at a time when such an endeavor was very profitable.

Change scenes to another family who, as they prepare to welcome their first child into the world, wind up in a situation where they adopt the child of a woman who had been a Chinese foreign exchange student in their home years before. While the first couple defied tradition and family, this young girl honors it and gives up her “mistake” to the family she knows will give her child a loving home, after which she returns to her homeland, her secret intact. The couple’s natural born daughter, Christa, and adopted daughter, Jadelynne, are six months apart in age, and very different, yet close, loving sisters.

The developmental stages of the two toddlers contrast sharply, leading the parents to discover that their natural child, Christa, is deaf.  They proceed to get her a cochlear implant, which uses electronics to simulate the nerve and replicate hearing.

As it turns out, Christa has a natural talent and love for gymnastics. This is her sanctuary and escape, her determination taking her to great heights of achievement in competitions, and providing another perspective on “flipping.” The girls grow, eventually in high school, sharing friends, in particular a young man named Wynson. Who just happens to be the son of the couple we met in part one.

I don’t want to get into spoiler territory, so will stop there. The strength and beauty of this story lies in the underlying currents of love throughout and how it helps the various characters deal with the adversity in their lives and ultimately drive their decisions. And I must say, in this story, that’s Adversity, with a capital “A”. Yet the characters confront and ultimately prevail over the many unfortunate circumstances thrust their way.

The characters in this story were so well-developed as to virtually come alive. The prose was smooth, beckoning you into the story without undue distraction, showing the exceptionally strong writing skills of the author. This feat is one often unattained by even experienced authors, but considering that English is the author’s second language is absolutely mind-boggling!

Another dimension that made this story so real is the incredible amount of research involved regarding both the medical issues as well as the particulars of gymnastics competitions. These details provided authenticity, making it read more like a biography than a novel. Such facts were integrated in such a way as to increase the story’s credibility, but never slowed it down or felt cumbersome. The clever title is the coup de grace of this incredible story.

I found this story nothing short of a masterpiece demonstrating exceptional writing skill, creativity, impeccable character and plot development, as well as research. It has already won one award, but I hope the author submits this great story to the various other contest venues available, because it is deserving of additional honors which I know it can win effortlessly.

If you want to see what an exceptional, unforgettable story is all about, don’t miss it. In a word: Wow!

I was fortunate enough to be gifted a copy of this book, which in no way influenced my review. I would buy this book in a heartbeat. You can pick up a copy on Amazon here.

 

 

Review of “Half Life” by Scott Skipper

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The premise of this story is that a brutal earthquake and tsunami, similar to what happened to Japan a few years back, strikes California, causing a meltdown at a decommissioned nuclear plant. Due to various political stalemates, the fuel rods had been left on-site rather than being transported to a permanent storage location, causing considerable havoc as radiation saturates the populated area around Los Angeles. The credibility of such an occurrence is so high, that I can’t help but wonder how much of this book will turn out to be prophetic.

The story takes place during a gubernatorial election year and the political issues associated with this disaster are paramount. One thing potential readers need to know about Scott’s books is that they are extremely political incorrect. If telling it like it is bothers you, then don’t even try reading one of his books. It will just piss you off, you’ll miss the entire point, and then you’ll give him an abysmal review, which will be totally undeserved. Why? Because his books are well written, witty, boast clever plots, are populated with convincing characters, and don’t shy away from some of the political issues in the news today. Personally, I find them hilarious, albeit painfully true.

This complex tale not only covers the political and conspiratorial aspects of such a preventable catastrophe, but its impact on the main characters, the agendas of those running for political office, and those trying to clean up the mess. The technical details were absolutely outstanding. As a science geek myself, I ate them up, because I’m one of those weird types who loves to see science tightly woven into a plot. It lends authenticity, and when well done, is instructional. Obviously, he did his homework researching such a mess and what it would take to clean it up.

Scott Skipper is one of my favorite authors, especially his “Alien Affairs” series, which I love. This story isn’t quite as enchanting and took a while to get rolling. The “travel-log” chapters near the beginning moved pretty slowly, even though I could understand he was trying to demonstrate the frustration and complexity of Eric and Jamie’s convoluted  trip home, which required a jaunt through Mexico to skirt the “hot zone” left by the power plant meltdown. If you get stuck somewhere in Mexico, somewhere around Guadalajara, skip ahead–you won’t miss much and the rest of the story is well-worth it.

About a third of the way through the story it really took off in typical Scott Skipper style with the sarcastic humor and snarky characters I love. One secretary, Enid, served as great comic relief with her British slang and often racist and bigoted remarks. This story would make a fantastic movie, the main problem being that the political leanings of those in Hollywood wouldn’t touch this story if they were wearing a hazmat suit and wielding an insulated barge pole.

Since I think the story could use a bit of tightening of those early travel-log chapters and would like to see a more sophisticated cover worthy of what is really a great story, I can’t quite give this story five starts, but certainly 4.5. Just be warned, if you’re easily offended, don’t even bother, unless you’re open-minded enough to recognize the many truths embedded in this thought-provoking, cautionary tale.

You can pick up a copy on Amazon here.

5-stars for “The Anesthesia Game” by Rea Nolan Martin

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5stars

This amazing story revolves around a terminally ill fifteen year-old girl, Sydney; her clinically depressed mother, Mitsy; her somewhat-flakey-but-well-meaning aunt, Hannah; and a somewhat fallen-from-grace mystic, Pandora, who has succumbed to indulgence in some substances that compromise her many talents. The story’s viewpoint rotates by chapter from woman to woman, and I must say that I almost didn’t make it past Chapter 1 where I met Hannah, since she was such a piece of work I wasn’t sure I could handle an entire book about this self-centered, dysfunctional woman.

We all know that there’s nothing more boring than perfect people, especially in a novel, but sometimes they can be so flawed that you just want to slap them upside the head. Fortunately, I usually give a book three chapters to grab me, and I’m glad I persevered, because it got better and better after that.

Nonetheless, the dysfunctionality of this group was rather extreme, though I suppose credible; there are plenty of people out there that are that messed up. The only thing that keeps Mitsy sane as she deals with her daughter’s horrible illness is her phone consultations with Pandora, a psychic who’s really out there, but that’s what makes her good at what she does. Being in touch with other dimensions and the etheric plane is what defines a psychic’s value. Hannah, however, thinks she’s a fraud, a complete unbeliever in such hocus-pocus.

Everyone’s life in the story revolves around Sydney, a feisty, wonderful teenager with some horrible disease the name of which they refuse to say or even think, though the implications are that it’s leukemia. When Sydney goes in for treatments, she plays the “anesthesia game”, where she asks Hannah to mention a place for her to “visit” while she’s unconscious, then come back and report what she finds.

However, as it turns out, these are not hallucinations or dreams, but excursions to another place and time during which these women were also connected, though this is not obvious to her.  At some time or another, all of them have the same dream, though the only one who comprehends its significance is Pandora. The entanglement of these four women throughout the ages has involved repeated tragedies and problems, which have again manifested in their current lifetime. Pandora believes it’s her mission to heal the root cause, once and for all, through identifying the problem at the energy level.

The main story targets whether or not Pandora would succeed in healing Sydney, but there were subplots galore. These characters were not only 3-dimensional, but possible 4 or 5, given the full scope of the story. Each has a distinct personality, the imagery vivid enough that I could easily imagine what each looked like, to say nothing of the glorious vistas describing the various settings in Connecticut, Virginia, and the Lake Tahoe area.

There’s a heavy dose of mysticism, which is why I loved it. The author did an outstanding job capturing Pandora’s spiritual connections to this other world with all its metaphysical characteristics. As someone who has similar beliefs with regard to who and what we are, including the fact that we’ve all lived multiple lifetimes, I was thoroughly sucked in and enchanted. Like Pandora, I believe that our physical bodies, spirits, and minds are intertwined at a mystical energy level that touches on the world of quantum physics. As a physicist, I loved the particle/wave duality references. Good job!

Readers of the same mindset as Hannah who aren’t into the paranormal may do a lot of eye-rolling at these mystical elements, but I ate it up. These are obviously the types who gave this great story poor reviews. Undoubtedly, it had too much depth for the casual reader.

This story took me on a magical journey that was part soap opera and part fantasy adventure, of which I loved every moment–at least once I got past the somewhat awkward introduction to Hannah. Of course this is only my opinion, but I think I would have started the story with Sydney, since in many respects she was the central character and built a lot more reader sympathy off the bat than her crazy aunt. But the good news is that she and Mitsy shaped up considerably by the mind-bending end of the story.

I’ll definitely be looking at other novels by this author. She really nailed it.