Sunday, May 29, 2016

Many Curious Voices

The Wheelman: How the Slave Robert Smalls Stole a Warship and Became KingThe Wheelman: How the Slave Robert Smalls Stole a Warship and Became King by Marshall Evans
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Robert Smalls worked as a wheelman on coastal vessels with his pay going to his master. One day in the midst of the Civil War he and a crew of conspiratorial slaves, including their families, stole the Planter from under the noses of the Confederate sentries and took it out of Charleston Harbor, past Fort Sumter. Smalls tricked the gunners in Sumter by sounding the coded signals that convinced them he was the rightful pilot of the vessel. He steamed straight to the Union blockade and surrendered the Planter. For this he was made a captain and later a general in the Union Army. He participated in numerous battles, and after the war, became the de facto king of Beaufort County. His accolades include convincing Lincoln to allow black soldiers into the Union Army, serving in the South Carolina legislature, the federal House and Senate and organizing a Negro band in the quaint town of Beaufort.

The Wheelman is told in vignettes by a long series of storytellers, including a modern day narrator with a huge load of excess baggage. This is a fascinating historical novel that delves into the evils of Reconstruction, Jim Crow, twentieth century racism and close, personal racial attitudes. It also confronts internecine crises—suicides and mental illness. Mr. Evans has written a novel that relates an historical event with intimate knowledge of the setting and the attitudes of the players. He interweaves modern places and events with murky connections to the past. This is brilliantly done. I applaud this book, and in my mind’s eye, I saw every scene. It is a masterful work. In addition, for the first time in many months, I have read a book, whether self-published or traditionally published, in which I saw not one error.

Price $4.99
69410 words

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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

A Life Transformed

Buried AppearancesBuried Appearances by D.E. Haggerty
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Growing up in a Dutch enclave in Michigan, Skylar endures the stigma of her grandfather’s Nazi collaboration. The pressure coming from the community drives her mother to abandon her as an infant, which pushes her father to drunkenness and eventually suicide. Ten years after the death of the grandmother who raised her, a letter arrives from Holland. Unable to read Dutch, she takes it to a friend of her late grandmother who not only translates it, but tells Skylar a remarkable piece of information that cast a new light on the wartime deeds of her infamous grandfather. Not only is it possible that her ancestor was innocent of the calumny heaped upon him, but orphaned Skylar may have cousins living in Holland. Since she was out of work anyway, she decides to use some of her inheritance to finance her quest for the truth and her family. What she uncovers in Holland changes her life.

D.E. Haggerty tells this story through the voice of Skylar Dewitt, foul-mouthed misfit and deeply troubled young woman with abandonment issues, and that voice is irresistible. Her candor and insight endears her to the reader from the opening sentence. Ms. Haggerty’s knowledge of wartime Holland lends truth and realism to Skylar’s search for an answer to her family’s burden. History fans as well as genealogy researchers especially will hang of every word, even those words that are somewhat obscene. With a lightning pace and plenty of twists, Buried Appearances is a fantastic read.

Plus it's a bargain at $.99
73,420 words

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Saturday, May 14, 2016

Lives Entertwined

EnemiesEnemies by Richard Whitten Barnes
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Absentmindedly, Brian MacLennan left a bundle of sketches, that he drew during the Great War, in a hotel lobby. J├╝rgen Stern, in Canada on business, discovers those sketches and get quite a shock. Fifty years earlier he had taken one of them from the body of a Canadian soldier who he had killed in France. Apparently their lives had crossed paths more than once. The memories return of the mud, the vermin, the mindless killing, the deprivation and the mangled bodies, but the drawing he holds in hands makes him determined to meet his former enemy.

Richard Barnes has written more than a war story. Enemies is a story of redemption. It vividly recounts the horrors and futility of the First World War from the viewpoints of a young Canadian and German soldier. Then it takes an anecdote that the reader may think is merely filler, and turns it into a remarkable turn of events that restores honor to man wronged after fifty years.

Price $3.99
67,480 Words

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Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Conspiracy Is No Longer a Theory

Hard Drive: A Family's Fight Against Three CountriesHard Drive: A Family's Fight Against Three Countries by Mary Todd

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


A young American working in Singapore for a local high tech company, one doing business with China, was found hanging from the bathroom door by his girlfriend in June of 2012. Shane Todd was a PhD, specializing in cutting edge semi-conductors, specifically gallium nitride overlay on silicon, which is the future of communications and weapons guidance. Wuawei is a Chinese company associated with the Chinese government and military, and is doing business with IME, who employed Shane Todd. Veeco is an American company that manufactures state of the art machinery for overlaying gallium nitride. This sensitive piece of equipment can only be exported under a strict licensing agreement whereby the buyer promises not to use it for military purposes. IME sent Shane to receive training on the MOCVD machine because he was an American citizen, and Veeco, with a wink and a nod, can and did reveal formulas to him that IME could not obtain. The transaction was so shady that Shane had to copy the ‘recipes’ by hand. It dawned on him that what he was doing likely compromised American security, and he decided to leave IME. When he gave notice his boss urged him to stay with the company longer, to which he reluctantly agreed. During that time he secured a job in the United States, but he told his family that he feared his life was in danger. After the discovery of his body, the police ruled the death a suicide and closed the case. When his parents arrived in Singapore to claim the body, the investigating officer read to them a description of the crime scene that defied belief. Upon investigating, they realized that the official account was total nonsense; however, during their examination of Shane’s apartment, they discovered an external hard drive that subsequently shined a sinister light on a multinational conspiracy. No one who became familiar with this case disbelieved it was anything but murder, that is except the Singapore police, the coroner, the American Embassy, the FBI, the Department of Justice under Eric Holder and the State Department under Hillary Clinton and John Kerry.

Did I mention this is a true story? Mary Todd is the mother of Shane Todd, Christina Villegas is his cousin, together they have compiled a superbly written chronicle of the blatant cover-up of a heinous crime likely committed at the behest of one or more governments, and not only obfuscated by the authorities in Singapore, but with the complicity of the Obama administration. During her quest for justice, Mary Todd was told bluntly by a U.S. Congressman that, yes, there should be a Congressional investigation, but there would never be one, because “Wuawei has a lobbyist on every corner in Washington.” During the ordeal her computer was hacked, then Shane’s hard drive and transcripts of the coroner’s inquiry were stolen from her home. The Financial Times and 48 Hours, among other news outlets, have covered this story. Hard Drive reads like the very best spy thriller. What a pity it isn’t fiction. Every American needs to read this book, and to do so before they vote.

Post Script to this review: I just replied to a discussion on LinkedIn and was appalled to see an ad for Wuawei on the sidebar. Why must we insist on handing our country to belligerent foreigners?

Price: $9.99

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