Monday, August 8, 2016

The Black Widow (Gabriel Allon, #16)The Black Widow by Daniel Silva

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Natalie Mizrahi’s Jewish parents were driven from Algeria to France by prejudice. Then they were driven from France, where she had studied medicine, to Israel by terrorism. She learned to speak French, of course, Hebrew, English and Arabic, which made her a perfect choice when master spy and assassin, Gabriel Allon needed a woman to infiltrate ISIS in Syria. The only problem, Natalie wasn’t a spy. Not to worry. Israeli intelligence, known as the Office, was second to none in training assets in a remarkably brief time. In the space of weeks, Natalie Mizrahi, French Jewish doctor, became Leila Hadawi, Muslim jihadi, seeking revenge for her dead lover, Ziad. With the cooperation of French intelligence, Natalie is inserted into a Muslim enclave north of Paris where she works in a hastily organized community clinic. It doesn’t take long for ISIS recruiters to take the bait, and she finds herself carried clandestinely to Syria to receive terrorist training, and to meet her quarry, Saladin. Natalie has a deadline to return to France. Nearing the end, and not having met Saladin, terror attack mastermind, she fears her mission will end in failure. When she finally does meet Saladin, he is near death from wounds received in an American airstrike. Does she use her medical expertise to save him, and maintain her cover, or does she do the world a favor and inject him with an overdose of morphine.

Silva’s Gabriel Allon is a masterwork of character development. Allon entered life to be an artist, but he was recruited at an early age to avenge the killing of Israeli athletes during the Munich Olympics. He excelled at his new avocation, but never completely renounced his artistic genius. Later the stress of assassinations was compounded manifold when he lost his family to a terrorist bomb. After years of running from the pain, he found solace in the love of the much younger Chiara, who was also an employee of the Office. The Allon series hasn’t failed me yet, and I expect it never will. The Black Widow is one of the best. It deals with contemporary issues that are frightfully real. The recent attacks in Europe and America are herein fictionalized in chilling reality. In the light of the pending presidential election, all should read this prescient glimpse of the near future.

As a self-publishing author who tires of the perception by some people that self-published books are full of errors, and traditionally published books are flawless, I’d like to point to three errors that I noted in Black Widow, which is published by Harper-Collins. There is a reference to the scent of bougainvillea, which has no fragrance. The phrase ‘entered her bloodstream like drug from a needle’ appears to be missing the word ‘a’ after ‘like.’ Finally, there is reference to a finch in Washington DC in the winter, which is highly unlikely. Nobody is perfect, so get over it.

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Sunday, August 7, 2016

Bragging Rights

5 Star Review by Dawn Sinclair 

Buckle up guys, you are in for few shocks, an eye-opening, thought provoking adventure but above all a barrel of laughs. Scott Skipper set out to shock us with this one with a story that would be ludicrous if it weren't so scarily close to the current situation in American politics. A red-neck for a president? An audacious glimpse into a future that could be facing the world if one of the angry millions got their hands on such mind-blowing power as the nuclear button (nuclear football as Jim West calls it). Angel, daughter of the most daring president ever, is herself a dare-devil who has lost sight of any boundaries including that of self-preservation. Confronting Putin is child's play for this shapely child-woman turned press-secretary of The White House.

You may laugh...I did. You may scream NO NO NO! I did. But secretly, you will be thankful that someone had the balls to write this cautionary tale. If Scott isn't expecting a call from the FBI any day now, he should. He has crossed some boundaries I would not dare to ...but then Salman Rushdie outlived the threats he faced with his daring books so why not?

Ending was slightly abrupt for me but then Scott Skipper tends to do that. I still give this absolute full marks...for the laughter and for the shocks equally!!!

Dawn is a treasure and a faithful fan. She is also a great writer.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Mind Numbing

DemonicDemonic by Karl J. Morgan
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Mild mannered Bill Watson, accountant, met a new workmate named Mary Stewart at a time when terrorists were bringing nuclear bombs across the Mexican border. The police issued an order to evacuate San Diego before a device detonated, which knowledge is never explained, nor why the terrorists didn’t push the button as soon as the order issued. Nevertheless, Bill and Mary, thrown together when her car breaks down, make it to the Salton sea before they see the mushroom cloud beyond the mountains. About that time they are attacked by a band of terrorists, and Bill, who has been hearing strange voices, transforms into a demon and slays the terrorist and Mary beheads them. Okay, I was ready to brand this the silliest piece of crap I ever encountered, but I had told the Rave Review Book Club that I would review it, so I soldiered onward through one more chapter.

When an innocuous guy known as J.C. begs a ride to Las Vegas with Bill and Mary, who are on their way to Montana to find Bill’s family, insists that Bill meet his father, I began to see where this might be going. J.C.’s father, Dom Emmanuel, rents a penthouse above the Bellagio—a hundred miles above the Bellagio. At this point the story devolves into parallel universes, dimensional portals, doppelgangers, shapeshifters and myriads of monsters called enforcers.

Demonic is a dark fantasy with a strong cosmological component that is set against a theological theme exploring the nature of God. I would rate it higher if I were into that. I am not, so this read was somewhat painful for me, although I pushed through to the end. The rationale of the multiple universes is thoughtfully constructed and the convolutions mind-twisting. Each character has hundreds of iterations, each universe has variations that make it hard to keep track of where we are, except for the mega-evil universe where Bill has assumed the role of the demonic Gaius Claudius Caesar who intends to crucify the entire population. Since the characters have so many incarnations, it is impossible to know which one we are following. Their names even change inexplicably—hell, everything is inexplicable in this book. Bill’s wife started as Audrey, but switched to Arlene about half way through, and I never did understand if that was intentional, or a mistake. One more quirk that baffles me. The first chapter seems to be part of another story. It ends with a character named Sam getting shot, but we never see Sam again. The writing is solid, if not really outstanding, but there are a dizzying number of viewpoint shifts, some quite jarring. Mr. Morgan’s book is a unique piece of work. If you don’t have a problem with characters flying through space and dispatching hordes of monsters and demons with mystical weapons, Demonic might be for you.

97630 words
Price $3.99

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Saturday, June 18, 2016

A Life Embattled

Finding Billy BattlesFinding Billy Battles by Ronald Yates
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

William Battles grew up fatherless in Lawrence, Kansas. At an early age he embarked on a career in journalism, which took him to Dodge City where he fell in with the likes of Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson. A chance encounter with a family of desperados earned him the enmity of one Nate Bledsoe for the accidental killing of his mother. Bledsoe and his gang haunt Billy Battles with murderous intent. After marrying and having a daughter, Battles’ familial bliss is unsettled by the blood feud with Bledsoe, culminating in a shootout at the homestead at Battles Gap, Kansas. The aftermath and subsequent adversity drive the tortured Battles to escape his past by fleeing to the Orient.

This first installment of the life and times of Billy Battles, supposedly based on his own journals, is a first class tale of the late nineteenth century. The setting is convincing and clearly well researched. The historical characters speak in true to life voices and well-known events, such as the shootout at the OK Corral, are related with the verisimilitude of a firsthand account. The prose is also excellent as one would expect since the author tells us he is a professor of journalism. Therefore, this reader finds it baffling—nay, inconceivable—that the editorial style is so unorthodox. Having multiple speakers within the same paragraph caused much confusion. Mr. Yates must also hold a PhD in colloquialisms. Nowhere will you find more old-fashioned words and sayings as in Finding Billy Battles. Despite these peculiarities, it is quite a good story, although occasionally slowed by a slight excess of detail.

$5.99 Amazon $6.99 Smashwords (I don't get the price difference)
126,430 Words

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Thursday, June 16, 2016

Complicit Or Inept

When the American President testily asks what difference using the term “radical Islam” would make, he is either showing ignorance or inability to address the problem This lends credence to Donald Trump’s assertion that he is either inept or complicit, and Hillary Clinton has no place to be incensed about it. Failure to define the enemy is expressing an unwillingness to conduct the war, and Obama is certainly unwilling to conduct war, which is tantamount to saying he is willing to accept the continued loss of American civilians on domestic soil. That is treason and dereliction of duty. He is clearly not defending America from threats foreign and domestic.

Instead of declaring with presidential vigor that radical Islam must be eradicated at home and abroad, he preaches his tired sermon on gun control ignoring the imbalance of deaths caused by weapons other than guns. In the same breath, he and others assert that an immigration ban would not have prevented the massacre at Orlando because Mateen was born in the United States. Only a supremely myopic creature could fail to see that if the ban included Omar Mateen’s parents, the crisis would have been handily averted. I hear sceptics saying that the elder Mateens arrived before the issue of radical Islam became critical. Au contraire, the first World Trade Center attack was in 1993. I am unable to find the date of Saddique Mateen’s arrival in the U.S., however, since he has said that he supports the Taliban, it was never too late to deport him. If by chance Omar Mateen was born after his father’s ideology became known, let me remind that the theory of the anchor baby is custom, not law, and as usual, our dithering Congress is unable to address it.

“The Orlando killer, one of the San Bernardino killers, the Fort Hood killer, they were all U.S. citizens,” Obama said. “Are we going to start treating all Muslim Americans differently? Are we going to start subjecting them to special surveillance? Are we going to start discriminating [against] them because of their faith?” This is the ultimate “well, duh,” question. When we last fought a war with the determination to win, we interned American citizens of Japanese descent and we surveilled citizens of German decent. Not only did we win the war, but also we suffered few acts of sabotage, and as far as I can determine, no loss of civilian life within the territory of the continental United States.

Columnist, Charles Krauthammer said in response to the proposed ban on Muslims, “We don’t have an immigration problem.” I usually support the learned Mr. Krauthammer, but I insist that we definitely have an immigration problem, and have for a very long time. Aside from the boldfaced fact that we have too many people in the first place, the FBI maintains that they failed to prevent the Orlando attack because they don’t have enough resources—this despite the fact that Mateen caught their attention twice. To my unsophisticated thinking, being acquainted with a suicide bomber is grounds to make the ‘no-fly list’ and get blacklisted by the Department of Justice from buying firearms. We don’t need more laws, we need to enforce them.

In the face of that admitted, or is it feigned lack of resources, only a politician could find the wisdom in opposing the immigration ban. Note that I did not qualify the type of immigration ban. At this time in our country’s history, we no longer need immigration. Whether the lack of resources is real or disingenuous, decrying a ban on Muslims is irresponsible, because clearly, we aren’t willing to deal with the Islamic problem. Paul Ryan claims the idea un-American. The man doesn’t see that every ill-advised remark of this sort is a vote for Hillary Clinton who, Bernie Sanders aside, may be the only person on earth less qualified to be president than Barack Obama.

Image credit: Google Street View

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Stellar Depravity

UnpronounceableUnpronounceable by Susan diRende
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Rose Delancy is a loser from New Jersey. She tells us this herself. When the human race made contact with an alien species, but can’t find a suitable candidate to be our ambassador, Rose puts her name into a lottery in the hope of getting a thousand lightyears away from her older sister, Alice. After the blob-like aliens reject a dozen or so diplomates, they take a liking to Rose. To her credit she decides to spare the planet with the unpronounceable name from the all defiling human race who want to stash nuclear weapons on Unpronounceable to avoid compliance with an arms ban treaty. Her plan is to turn Unpronounceable into a spa for the ultra-rich so the power brokers on Earth will protect it from being overrun.

Unpronounceable is irreverent, quirky, twisted and depraved. Susan diRende tells Rose’s tale in raw Jersey dialect, which is occasionally difficult for a non-Jersey speaker to follow. This is a story that is not only about contact with bizarre alien beings, but dysfunctional human families and corrupt earthly politicians. If you take a pinch of Scott Adams, add a touch of Tom Robbins and get the late Gilda Radner to play Rose, you might have an idea what Unpronounceable is all about.

$5.99 (It's a little overpriced)

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Thursday, June 9, 2016

The dawn of a failed ideology in a teacup.

Russian Revolution: A History From Beginning to End (October Revolution, Russian Civil War, Nicholas II, Bolshevik, 1917. Lenin) (One Hour History Revolution Book 3)Russian Revolution: A History From Beginning to End (October Revolution, Russian Civil War, Nicholas II, Bolshevik, 1917. Lenin) by Henry Freeman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This concise examination of the roots of the Soviet Union to its demise is a sixty minute lesson in how not to organize society. From the brutality of czarist rule, through the cancer of Marx and Engels, Rasputin, Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin, Russian Revolution recounts the most egregiously misguided social experiment in modern times. The story of how the Soviet Union was born in the murder of Czar Nicholas II and his family is told here in simple, and intentionally brief terms. This is history in highlights. We are spared ponderous detail and given the facts in clear digestible bites. For the reader who cringes at history, Henry Freeman’s insight is a painless way to learn how the world came to look like it does today. Read it and consider your politics.

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