Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Grandpa Wasn't Crazy After All

Nick couldn’t believe his luck when a hot blond came onto him. When something seems too good to be true, it usually isn’t. Holly had a motive—she was being manipulated by her psycho sister, Hanna. Holly and Hanna’s father worked with Nick’s grandpa on an underground bunker in the days of President Kennedy when the world teetered on the brink of Armageddon. Both men were silenced by the government, but not before her father leaked to Hanna the fact of a fortune in gold bullion hidden in the secret tunnels. Nick’s grandpa was supposed to have drawn a map of where the gold was stashed, and Hanna was determined to get it no matter who she had to kill, including her sister and Nick.

Underground is a fast-paced story with a compelling plot and excellent character development. Mr. Chaus’ prose is smooth and flowing. The historical references are on the mark, and the technology is accurate. The reader will vividly visualize the scenes. Underground is a quick read, and one you won’t want to set aside.


Saturday, September 24, 2016


Rum, the lash and sodomy, according to Jim’s father, that was all there was to the Australian navy. Nevertheless, Jim found himself in the engine room of a destroyer about to be rammed amidships by the aircraft carrier Melbourne. The impact throws Jim so violently that it breaks his leg. The ship is split in two and the stern is sinking with the propellers in the air. Jim’s mate, Charlie, carries him to a lifeboat, and returns to rescue the hated petty officer still trapped in the engine room. The stern sinks before Charlie can return to the deck. When released from the hospital, Jim goes to console Charlie’s wife, Big Red. There he meets Jenny who is also lending comfort to the widow and new mother. After much dithering, the government convenes a Royal Investigation into the loss of eighty-two men under the command of Drunken Duncan, captain of the lost destroyer. Jenny’s younger brother is trying to evade the draft, and her mother is campaigning against Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War. Jim is nominated to officer training school, and eventually finds himself combatting underwater saboteurs in the Mekong River where he is forced to garrote a teenaged Viet Cong soldier attaching limpet mines to the hull of a ship.

This complex story is propelled by Mr. Regan’s intimate knowledge of all things relating to the Australian navy. Written in Australian English, the American reader will enjoy the quirky terminology, and occasionally be forced to consult reference material for a definition. My sketchy description above only touches on a fraction of the story. Although 91,000 words—not quite epic length—WTF is an epic tale that is based on true events. Not being conversant with Vietnam era Australian history, I cannot say which things are true and which are not, but the weight of the narration is certainly convincing. This is one of the best books I’ve read in a very long time. Do yourself a favor, read it. It’s also a bargain. John Regan should raise his price.

I am unable to do as much for this writer as I would like. WTF was free at Smashwords when I downloaded it. It is $1.99 now and Smashwords won't let me review it unless I buy a copy. (I shouldn't be such a miser). It isn't available on Amazon US, so Goodreads can't find it. I did review it on Amazon AU. Your bet to buy a copy is Smashwords.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Sound and the FuryThe Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A dysfunctional Mississippi family has a black family of six for servants. The story begins in the voice of Benjy, formerly Maury, who is a thirty-three-year-old babbling idiot, mute and unable to care for himself. Everyone except his parents agree that he should be in the insane asylum. Next, Quentin assumes the narration. He is away at Harvard, but his ability to articulate is no better than Benjy’s. Finally, a third person narrator tells the story of angry Jason, who is working to support his hypochondriac mother, wanton niece, also called Quentin, and of course, the six black servants, who are treated little differently than slaves. It is, however, the matriarch of the black family, Dilsey, who keeps things together. There was also Caddy, who may, or may not have committed incest with her brother, Quentin. I’m vague on this because Caddy, who was a major player when Benjy told the tale in his psychotic jabbering, dropped out of the story except for fleeting and imprecise references. And that’s the whole story.

When I last went looking for reading material, I thought I should broaden my literary scope, so decided to try Faulkner for the first time. He being one of the foremost American writers, I expected something on par with Hemingway. Little did I expect a story that makes Tom Robbins’ hopped-up prose sound conventional, and rivals Lewis Carroll for craziness. Great swaths of The Sound and the Fury are completely lacking punctuation and capitalization, and huge sections are the mind-stream of madmen. It is so complicated, that I never really assimilated who all the characters were. The business of there being a male and female Quentin wasn’t clear to me until the last chapter, when female Quentin takes off with a showman in a travelling carnival, but what became of male Quentin remained unclear. There is no conventional plot or story line that builds tension until the main character either triumphs or dies as in most novels. Many things are left unresolved, like the question of the supposed incest. I have a hard time not thinking that those pundits who acclaim this as great literature are the same folk who refused to stand and say, “The emperor has no clothes.” If I had written this, you’d laugh at me.


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Saturday, September 3, 2016

The Buried GiantThe Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

In the days when Britons were menaced by ogres, dragons, pixies and Saxons, a mysterious malady descends across the land robbing all of their memories. An elderly couple, Axl and Beatrice, cudgel their besotted brains to remember things that happened only a short time ago. On a morning when Beatrice slumbered late, Axl forces the memory of their estranged son to the forefront of his mind. He recalls that they intended to make a journey to visit him in the village where he took refuge after some familial conflict. Along the way, they acquire the company of an ogre slaying Saxon warrior, a geriatric dragon slaying knight of King Arthur’s court and a Saxon boy with a dragon’s bite on his belly. Beatrice has a mysterious pain and is advised to seek the counsel of a wise monk. En route to the mountaintop monastery, they encounter a bereaved woman who is sworn to torment a duplicitous boatman for separating her from her beloved husband. The couple should be advised to be wary of taking boat rides from strangers. In the end, no one will be found to be as they seem, and no one lives happily ever after.

The reader should be advised that this is a very dense book. Why then did I read it? Well, it was required reading for the La Verne Writers’ Group. My problem is primarily the pace, which is glacial, and is made so mainly by the dialogue. No character can open his mouth without embarking on a Hamlet-like soliloquy. On they drone, and repeat themselves to infinity. My other problem is the multitudinous viewpoints and tenses. We are treated to storytelling by a first person narrator, third person viewpoints from various characters’ heads and first person ‘reveries’ by characters, particularly the knight who rambles garrulously for way too many pages, and he spends a great deal of time talking to his horse. I’ve told all this in the foul light of my opinion. If you like that kind of thing, Buried Giant is for you. Apparently, somebody likes it, because Kazuo Ishiguro is a bestselling author. As I age, I am forced to say more frequently, “I just don’t get it.”

It may seem mean spirited, but I'm not going to link to this book. After what I said, do you really want to buy a copy?

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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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