Friday, May 27, 2011

A spooky tale of JFK, racism and politics in November, 1963

A review of Pa Weathery’’s Chickens, by Paul Morris

Your name is SimRarg and you are an interstellar traveler with a job to do. You have been set down in a field near an old farmhouse. Looking at yourself, you discover that the new body The Engineers have given you has black skin. This is not good, as you have landed here before, and you know that in this part of the world –
Louisiana, U.S.A. with its racial segregation, having a black skin is not a good thing. It is November, 1963. You have a job to do, and you had best be about doing it. So you set out for the farmhouse, learning how to move your new body as you go. As you near the farmhouse, a young woman appears; she is holding a shotgun, and she is pointing it at you. An old man slowly joins her on the creaking porch. She swivels her hips and dutifully holds out the shotgun to him.

“Pa,” she says, “guess who’s coming to dinner?”

Depending on your point of view, it only gets better (or worse) from there. After spending the night in Pa Weathery’s barn and being shot at by Pa Weathery, you take off running. You stay away from white people as much as possible, so you get around other black people in the town of Beausoleil. The language chip The Engineers have implanted in your head is excellent, so you have no trouble adapting to the local accent. You are accepted, and you make friends. The only problem you have are two white cops, Lon and Chaney (you have to either be an old movie buff or as old as I am to get the joke in those two names). Time drags on. You have to be in Dallas in time for President Kennedy’s arrival. You head out, accompanied by a boy from Beausoleil named Joshua, and you arrive on time.

This book, Paul Morris’s first novel, is packed with adventure, suspense and surprise. Reading it, I was sure the author was an American with a good rooting in America’s southland. I was amazed to learn that he is not. According to his publisher, “Paul Morris was born in Scotland in 1958. During a long and varied career he has been a writer / producer of radio commercials, a playwright, a puppeteer, a poet, a graphic designer, a cartoonist, a pop promo director, a screenwriter, a feature film director, a chef, a painter and an installation artist.”

Paul Morris is one very talented writer. Pick up a copy of “Pa Weathery’s Chickens” and enjoy yourself. A very strong Five Star read.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

David Cooke's "In the Distance" -- An unforgettable collection that keep me coming back again and again

A review of David Cooke’s In the Distance”, Night Publishing, March 26, 2011.

The poems in this book are the kind one visits time and again, as with old friends, to pick up new nuances of meaning, and the simple enjoyment of memory. They are northern poems with northern landscapes, rhythms and winds; poems that put me in a reflective mood and get me to thinking. I am put in mind of some of my favorite poets: Kenneth White, Mary Oliver, and Naomi Shihab Nye.

Scottish poet Kenneth White says that a poem is the shortest form of short story. The final stanza from David Cooke’s “A House in Mayo” illustrates that point very well:

    Empty houses were scars on the landscape.
Wild seeds blew in to heal them. When people
vanished, the tracks they had made were smothered.
Returning, all I ever found were mine.

The house itself, “So long abandoned … lay caged in the tangle of briars.” A child looks for secrets, returns to find only his own tracks, and takes away memories.

One of my favorite poems in this collection is “Visiting”, which the author wrote in honor of his grandfather.

When once, as a clean-kneed
child from town, I first came
on a visit to your limewashed
house, your two great fists

    impressed me, for they
were ponderous chunks
    of granite, notched
carelessly for fingers

    and which, at your own willed
creation, you had torn
from the heart of the land.
Yes, I knew then how

    you had risen and, separate,
must have kept on walking.
I was almost frightened
to be your friend, but still

    am running so breathlessly
beside you as you stride
onwards, the castle of yourself,
across rough fields

    of thistle and clover.
And the dogs are running
before us, and our laughter
creates again a flawless sky.

There’s a complete story in this poem that gets my imagination soaring. The images of David Cooke’s poems pull me in and bring me back again and again, as all great poetry does.

“In the Distance” is a definite 5 star poetry collection, a “must add” to my bookshelf (most of which, these days, inhabits my Kindle). Paperback or Kindle, add this to your “must have” list, or pick up a copy now. I can’t get enough of it.

“David Cooke was born in 1953 in Wokingham, Berkshire, although his family comes from the West of Ireland. In 1977, whilst he was an undergraduate at Nottingham University, his poetry gained him a Gregory Award. His poems and reviews have been published widely in the UK, Ireland, and mainland Europe. A collection, 'Brueghel’s Dancers', was published in 1984. After a long silence he has returned to writing. 'In the Distance' reprints work which has long been out of print alongside a generous sampling of previously uncollected work.” — from

Sunday, May 22, 2011

An unforgettable, can't-put-it-down novel by a first rate writer

Sheila Doherty, Philomena (Phil) Maguire and Mary Branagh: you'll remember their names long after you've finished this wonderful first novel by award-winning Irish poet Gerry McCullough.   
Romance, thriller, political intrigue and murder mystery, Belfast Girls  is the story of modern Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic where drugs and drug gangs have infiltrated every level of society as they have everywhere else. 

Sheila, Phil and Mary are the kind of characters that stick in your mind and bring you back for further visits. They just stick with you. I know I'll be back to get to know them better in the weeks and months to come. 

Gerry McCullough is one fine writer. I look forward to her next novel.

A definite 5 star read.

A fascinating paranormal tale of romance, mystery, adventure and love

"I'm a Bringer. It's what I do, and have done since I've existed. I'm here to guide, to make humans feel as comfortable as possible through their ... transition from being alive to just being."

Bringers, who are not human, have only one purpose, and that is to accompany recently deceased humans to the gates of Heaven. This Bringer's name is Lucyna. She's been doing her job for millennia. Everything has gone smoothly until she is sent to bring Max to his eternal home. The problem is Max's son, James, who is devastated by his father's death. "I'm not asking for much," says Max; "Just every now and then check in on him, make sure he's doing okay." It seems like such an innocent request, one that she has been asked thousands of times before and has always gently but firmly refused. But for some reason, this time is different. The difference is Max's son, James. It's not just his emotional devastation; it's a mysterious light that emanates from him that gives her a powerful emotional jolt.

Who is this James, and why, for the first time in her existence, is she so drawn to him? Acceding to Max's request could jeopardize her existence. But she cannot resist the urge to find out who James is and why she is so drawn to him. This is the emotional core of this fascinating tale, and it kept me turning pages until I reached the last word on the last page.

Part mystery, part adventure, part romance and just plain fun, The Bringer is a book you will enjoy and return to. It's a clear 5 Star read.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

This time Israel went too far: "Operation Cast Lead" as a genocidal campaign

A review of “This Time We Went Too Far: Truth & Consequences of the Gaza Invasion”, by Norman Finkelstein, Or Books, Kindle edition, 2011. Hardcover published by Or Books, 2010.

Contents: Foreword, 1/Self-Defense, 2/Their Fear, and Ours, 3/Whitewash, 4/Of Human Shields and Hasbara, 5/Inside Gaza, 6/Ever Fewer Hosannas, Epilogue, Appendix and Notes.

“It’s not that you are to carry out a massacre, but ……” — Israeli commander on the eve of the Gaza invasion (quote located just before the Foreword).

The name given to the attack by the IDF, “Operation Cast Lead,” says it all. When an army casts lead indiscriminately at a population, the underlying purpose is shock and awe, and the result is massacre. No amount of self-justifying verbiage – and there has been plenty of that – can minimize it. From the testimony provided by eyewitnesses and IDF combat soldiers, a massacre is exactly what happened. Followed by a blizzard of justifications, denial, obfuscation and outright lies, all of which Professor Finkelstein carefully documents. Amnesty International called the attack “22 days of death and destruction.” The Israeli government called it justified.

But this time they went too far. Operation Cast Lead was so far over the top and so overwhelming and indiscriminate (they even attacked UN installations) that they caused a tsunami of negative reaction from around the world. Their response? To build a political firewall of propaganda around themselves that had and has a very focused purpose: to seek out, delegitimize and destroy Israel’s critics using every means possible, including character assassination, misinformation, intimidation and destruction of their resources and their organizations. This plan is outlined in detail in a report by Israel’s Reut Institute published in February 2010 following a tsunami of negative response to the Gaza war. The report, which I have read and own a copy of, can be obtained, in PDF format, from  It is well worth a careful read. An article by Ali Abunimah in the February 16, 2010 edition of The Electronic Intifada calls it “Israel’s new strategy: ‘sabotage’ and ‘attack’ the global justice movement.”

Israel made it even more difficult for itself when, several weeks later it attacked the Mavi Marmara, one of the boats in a peace flotilla headed for Gaza, killing a number of the people on board. Again, the Israeli government justified it and launched a massive propaganda campaign of justification. But even the Reut Institute said they had gone too far.

Israel is very good at being its own worst enemy. Instead of trying to partner with Palestine’s indigenous Arab population and build a nation together, they set about vigorously uprooting and attacking them, a process that continues in both Gaza, the West Bank and within Israel itself. “Under the guise of what is called the ‘peace process’,” Professor Finkelstein writes, “Israel has effectively annexed wide swaths of the West Bank and shredded the social fabric of life there and in the Gaza Strip.” All, of course, justified whilst thumbing its collective nose at world opinion and the UN. Again, all carefully documented by Professor Finkelstein and others … and justified and denied by the Israeli government.

Israel justifies its behavior on the grounds of “security”, but the question that arises in reading this and other books on the subject raises this significant question: Would Israel have any security problems had they treated Palestine’s indigenous population as respected partners? Would they have any security problems today if they treated Palestinians with respect instead of contempt? I very much doubt it.

“This Time We Went Too Far” is a book that I recommend and have as part of my library. It is not, however, at all popular with those for whom Israel can do no wrong. Read it with an open mind. I give it 4 stars.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

"Pinpoint" -- an extraordinary novel by an a remarkable new writer

Strangeways Prison, Manchester, England (September 1994). “I’ve represented many murderers and am often surprised at how normal they appear. But this one is different. As he walks into the interview room he stops dead. His mouth drops open.  His eyes bulge. His elbows clamp to his sides as though a knife has plunged into his back. And he looks straight at me unlike most who bow their heads until I say something to make them feel at east, and who look past me when they tell me their stories. Not this one.”

Sam Smith is the name of this psychopathic killer, or is it? Could he be …? “There’s an almost imperceptible smile on his face. That smile. And those eyes. I grip the desk. I can’t breathe. My skin turns cold, clammy. My fingers tingle. A fragment of long forgotten memory skitters through my head then vanishes …” Who is he? No, it can’t be … but can it? Is he?

So begins this haunting, magnificently written tale of murder, intrigue, mystery, childhood sexual abuse, loss, survival and love. Solicitor Julia Grant’s job is to defend this psychopathic killer of young women. And she must find out who he really is because she is haunted. A widow with a six year old daughter, she has a busy, complicated life. Detective Chief Inspector Paul Moxon is there to help her. But she has to go it alone.

Pinpoint is one wonderful book, Julia Grant is one of the most memorable characters I’ve encountered, and Sheila Mary Taylor is one fine writer. I’m sure we'll be enjoying her books for many years to come. She has the kind of story-telling talent that not only has wide appeal; it lasts, like a good Agatha Christie tale. Even the title “Pinpoint” is shrouded in mystery.

This one is a clear five star book.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

A memorable story that you’ll want to read again and again

“I once believed soft, warm, beautiful things could never flourish in an environment of hard concrete and cold, dark bricks. In a tough paycheck-to-paycheck, hard-luck place with a name like Flushing, life’s finer things appeared only in dreams.”

So begins Tom Winton’s fine novel about a young high school student named Dean Cassidy, whose negative philosophy and grinding, dysfunctional family life appears both intransigent and rapidly headed downhill. I thought: “Can a story this gloomy be anything other than a really depressing read?” Yes it can, especially in Tom Winton’s capable hands. It’s a page-turner that I couldn’t put down.

Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty in Dean Cassidy’s young life that could easily sink his future – a clinically depressed mother, a crappy apartment in an old building, a frustrated father, alcohol, drugs – you name it … except that this kid just refuses to give up.

Then along comes Theresa, the dream of any hormonally charged, young man. She sees and homes in like a laser on his inner strength. How can these two lovers possibly make it with all the odds they face? Will they make it? If they do, what will their life be like? If they don’t, then what?

Do they make it and live happily together forever? You’ll have to read the book to find out. Does Dean achieve his great dream of being a writer? Does he have the stamina and the guts to stay at it, come what may? Again, you’ll have to read the book to find out. But here’s a clue: Everyone reviewing the book on gives it a 5-star thumbs up. That’s 19 people as of a moment ago, not including me. With my vote, that’s 20. Not surprising at all. I can’t wait to read his next novel.