Thursday, June 30, 2011

Like a good piece of chocolate you can't get enough of.

Teresa Geering is an enchantress, and Shasta Summer is the second of four enchanting fables published by Night Publishing. Here you’ll meet a young girl named Summer who is magically transformed into a beautiful young woman named Shasta, her “eccentric” Aunt May, a fairy queen and her princesses, a magical village named Shasta (I want to go and live there), a young man named Merlin who is imprisoned in a black cat of the same name, love between Shasta and Merlin, time travel, murder, and a sinister presence named Erasmus, the main character in The Eye of Erasmus, the first book of this series (published in June 2010). Every page is enchanting and thoroughly enjoyable.

I find Teresa Geering’s prose as fabulous and mesmerizing as is J. K. Rowling’s: magical, well-told fables that can be read enjoyed by people of any age. I can’t wait for the next to novels in this series to appear so her readers can enjoy them. I know I’m eagerly looking to them. Once you pick one of these books up, you won’t put it down until you’ve read it again and again and again.

A definite five stars

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Tulagi Hotel: First class storytelling at its best

A review of “Tulagi Hotel”, by Heikki Heitala and published by, 12 April 2010. Available in hard cover, paperback and Kindle

Heikki Heitala has written such a fine novel that spans World War Two in the South Pacific to the decade after the war when one of the fighter pilots, Jack McGuire, buys a surplus float plane and returns to the Solomon Islands to find a life for himself. Originally from a Nebraska farm and terribly shy, Jack’s one excitement in life has since boyhood been airplanes and flying. In WWII he goes into military service and becomes a fighter pilot.

There is no Hollywood glamour and action-for-action’s sake in this fine novel. These are real people with real lives and real feelings who live in a real world filled with the pains of growing up as a shy kid on a Nebraska farm, is a nice guy, becomes an ace fighter pilot, tries to find love and fails at it, lives what most of us would think of as an idyllic life on an island in the South Pacific, and like so many men in his position, finds his closest friend and confidant in a bottle of alcohol. Utterly human and likable in spite of themselves, this is a story that, once read, is not forgotten.

Heikki Heitala is a fine writer. I look forward to seeing a next book from him. This is an unqualified 5 star read.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Yellow Rose of Texas

As most people know “The Yellow Rose of Texas” is a famous song that appeared soon after the Battle of San Jacinto during the Texas Revolution. Most people don’t know that the song was written about a young part black woman (the word used back then was “mulatta”) named Emily West (or Emily Morgan) who became famous during the Battle of San Jacinto in which Mexican President Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna was defeated and taken captive. The lyrics most of us are familiar with go as follows: “She’s the sweetest little rosebud,/ That Texas ever knew,/ Her eyes are bright as diamonds,/ They sparkle like the dew,/ You may talk about your Clementine/ and sing of Rosalee,/ But the Yellow Rose of Texas/ is the only girl for me!”

These are the original lyrics, which appeared soon after the Battle of San Jacinto in 1836: “There’s a yellow rose in Texas/ That I am going to see/ No other darky know her/ No one only me/ She cryed so when I left her/ It like to broke my heart/ And if I ever find her/ We nevermore will part. (Chorus): She’s the sweetest rose of color/ This darky ever knew/ Her eyes are bright as/ diamonds/ They sparkle like the dew/ You may talk about dearest May/ and sing of Rosa Lee/ But the yellow rose of Texas/ Beats the belles of Tennessee.”

Shannon Richardson’s takes the known outline of Ms. West’s life and develops it as a novel. What is the “real story” of Emily West’s life? No one knows. But the outlines are there, and these Ms. Richardson develops into a novel that is both interesting and at times harrowing. Emily Richardson comes across as a strong, compassionate young woman who will not be trifled with and who values her relative freedom in Texas.

One of the details that is known about her life that Ms. Richardson is that General Santa Anna captured her and kept her as his servant before the battle in which he was taken captive and his army defeated. Did they have a sexual connection? Knowing his history as a world class womanizer who liked young, sexy women, it is likely. As vain, self-centered and arrogant as he was, I have difficulty imagining her taking any kind of interest in him at all, so I had difficulty imagining her feeling love for him as she does in the novel. As a love interest, I am very skeptical of it, because nowhere in the novel is she depicted as being naïve and available; it just doesn’t work for me.

Santa Anna, on the other hand, is portrayed pretty much as he is in history: as pompous, vainglorious, cruel, vindictive, untrustworthy and at times incredibly stupid in his military decisions (the Battle of San Jacinto being one of the most prominent of his errors in judgment). Ms. Richardson takes one liberty with his history that doesn’t work because I’ve never been able to find any evidence for it, and that is that he was born in New York near West Point, was half Indian, that he ran away to Mexico to avoid persecution for a killing and was adopted by the couple whom history records as his parents. It’s an interesting story, but just not necessary, especially when it contradicts history and isn’t necessary to the story anyway, since he lived in exile on Staten Island for a time when he was seventy-four.

As a novel, I found The Yellow Rose of Texas an interesting and a pretty enjoyable read except for the few caveats I’ve mentioned above. I think her Blood Moon: The Casino Murders, which I recently reviewed, a much better book.

My rating of Yellow Rose is a strong ***.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

"To End all Wars" -- a true story about a journey through Hell and back

I found this book by accident. While doing research for my novel about a Tokyo artist who was getting married in Princeton in the summer of 1961 at Princeton University’s Chapel, I found that Ernest Gordon was Dean and that he had written a book about his experience as a POW of the Japanese in Thailand. In many ways his experience paralleled the artist’s, as he had survived the Tokyo firebombings of 1945. Another connection is that both men advocate forgiveness and compassion towards one’s enemies. So I chose Reverend Gordon to perform the wedding for Seiji and his fiancée, whose father was a Princeton University professor. And I bought and read his book. It is very worthwhile read.

If you’ve been in combat, suffer from Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or know someone who does, Ernest Gordon’s “To End All Wars” is a book I heartily recommend. Though it makes for some searing reading, it is one of the most uplifting books on the subject that I have read.

“Selfishness, hatred, jealousy and greed [are] all anti-life”, he writes and “Love, self-sacrifice, mercy and creative faith … [are] the essence of life, turning mere existence into living in its truest sense” (page viii).

Ernest Gordon was a Captain in the 93rd Highlanders when he and some companions were captured at sea and taken to the infamous River Kwai, where thousands of men died building a railroad for the Japanese. The inhumanity of the experience is painful to read, and much, much worse to have lived through. Many of the men he knew had their humanity stripped from them and began treating one another in as beastly a fashion as they were treated. Conditions were appalling: starvation, diseases like beriberi, diphtheria, cholera, malaria, amoebic dysentery, malnutrition and a host of other ailments were rampant. As the prisoners lost hope, they lost their humanity.

And then something happened: the men began, one by one, to wake up and help each other. Almost at death’s door, two men – Dusty Miller and Dinty Moore – volunteered to nurse Gordon back to health. Serving others began to spread, the men began getting their self-respect back, and the mood (but not the conditions) began to radically change. In one especially ugly scene, a Japanese guard berates a group of prisoners for losing a shovel. When no one confesses, he threatens to shoot them all. One young soldier steps forward and says “I did it.” The guard flew into a rage and beat the soldier to death, “stopping only when he was exhausted.” “The men of the work detail picked up their comrade’s body, shouldered their tools and marched back to camp. When the tools were counted again at the guard-house no shovel was missing... “As this story was told, admiration for the [soldier] transcended hatred for the Japanese guard” (page 102). The prisoners won the day because they kept their self-respect and their dignity.

It is beyond high time that we put the foolishness and horror of war behind us and stop honoring it as we do. There are no clear winners in a war because the fallout is so damaging. Love, compassion, respect and treating one another as we would like to be treated is far more effective. “In the case of the Japanese, the effect on the perpetrators was to render them callous to man’s individual inhumanity to man. in the case of the West, the effect on the perpetrators was also that of initiating an ignoble callousness to human suffering” (page 49). I couldn’t agree more.

I rate this book an unqualified *****read.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Unforgettable poems

I like the kind of poetry that draws me in, engages me and keeps me coming back again and again. Michelle Young writes that kind of poetry: Surprising, passionate, tender and in a poem about postpartum depression, as bleak as a desert of ice. I've never in my life read a poem as effective as Post Natal, even from women I've known who have suffered from it. I am chilled, but feel compassion, which is what such a poem should bring out in a reader.

Her poem The Relinquishment is the kind of poem that gets you thinking; "Dead Dogs and Dragons" is a wonderfully magical poem about childhood and memory; Let It Be a song about growing old and coming home to a recently empty house after a beloved spouse spouse has died; Blackpool Beach a moving poem about a young mother and her two sons, one of them severely handicapped.

Of All Things is a book that will remain high on my reading list for a long time to come. Available in paperback and Kindle.

A very solid 5 Star book.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

An incredible blockbuster of a novel

I have just finished reading the most incredible novel. Georgia Daniels' The Wilful Daughter is lyrically written in a dramatic style that pulled me into the story, and so moving in places that I couldn't read because I couldn't see the page. Few books have had such a powerful effect on me. I felt that I was there, seated in William Brown’s home with his wife Bira, his five daughters and his son William (“Willie” to his youngest sister June), experiencing the power and forcefulness of his personality, his wife’s quiet forcefulness and the utter frustration of his five daughters who want lives of their own but must obey their father’s designs for creating happy lives for them. In William Brown’s house, it is William Brown’s way or the highway, and everyone knows it, including June and her crippled brother Willie.

Set in 1920s Atlanta, The Willful Daughter is the story of a black man’s triumph over poverty through hard work, good planning, will and the determination to create a safe, genteel life for his family by providing well for them and controlling their destiny. In 1920s Atlanta, that was no small feat. No one dares stand in his way or challenge him, and no one does … except for June, his youngest, most beautiful and willful child, who is at least as stubborn, willful and single-minded as her father. At six foot six and massively muscular, he is a force to be reckoned with; described as tiny, June seems an unequal match. Does she best him? You’ll have to read this unforgettable book to find out.

This is a blockbuster of a novel, so good that I see it as a major motion picture and on everyone’s Best Seller list. Available in Kindle. I’ve already put in a request to the publisher to bring out a paperback edition. This will be one of my all-time favorite books.

My rating: *****

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

An outstanding new novel by an outstanding writer

Nigel Lampard is a very good writer, and Pooh Bridge is a very, very good book. Billed as a murder mystery, it is also much more than that: it is a story of love lost, love born and intrigue that takes place in England, Germany, Brunei and back to England. In its richness it reminds me of some of the best of John le Carré and Hakan Nesser. I expect to see a lot more from Nigel Lampard; he is really that good.

And now about the book. Marine engineer Richard Blythe has recently lost his wife to cancer. Grief-stricken, he quits his job, sends his teenaged twins Isabelle (Bella) and David off to their boarding school, has his wife’s parents look after his house, and sets off trekking through Derbyshire’s woods to grieve his tremendous loss and recover a sense of who he is and what he wants to do with his life.

Other than being a loving father, Richard Blythe is lost. And then he stumbles over the body of a young Asian woman in the underbrush and it gets interesting. “She was lying in the undergrowth, just off a well-trodden track. If I hadn’t decided to walk that particular track, in that particular wood, I would never have found her.”

Life sometimes has a way of doubling-down on troubles. The police, of course, have suspicions. And from there the story gets very interesting.

“Pooh Bridge” is a book with a cast of characters that I won’t soon forget. I look forward to the next from Nigel Lampard. He has written thirteen novels, so I don’t expect it will be too long before the next one appears. This one is slated to become an easy best-seller. Available in paperback and Kindle.

Rating – a ***** read

Monday, June 13, 2011

Magical Poems and Legendary Tales

A review of Olivia Wells: “Stories and Poems in the Moment”. Night Publishing, June 2011.

“We are human beings,” writes Olivia Wells, “not human doings, and in every way we are made up of many colours, some dark, some light, some demanding, some gentle.

The dark and demanding are necessary for us to take action and the gentle and spiritual are for nurturing.

When we accept all that we are, then we can accept all that is in others.”

So begins a wonderful journey through simple, legend-like stories and beautiful, compassionate poetry like Take a Leaf

Take a leaf,

from the heart of a friend,

it is there to share with you

spend it wisely,

the love that it brings

is valid for time long

and a day.

Measure it and you will see

That it reaches beyond the


and slips between your fingers

if you let it go.

Be gentle ..

it is intended

just for you.

There are also darker poems like “Mirror Me”, “Reflections on Alzheimer’s and Autism” and “Ode to a Son”:

Your demonic death

washed my soul in deep sorrow,

and yet, there is hope,

for you.

Now the child wraith can bloom

In gentle fields of soft sun,

and grow in the light of love

that I send to you.

Knowing that the life you lived

though short was a lesson

to be learned

the hard way.

May I thank you, and wish

that this song of love

will follow your every step

to a new place.

The stories, written like legends, are pure magic. “Silk, Ruby, Ebony, and Clover”, “Lao Tsu and the Tears”, and Doorinna the Snake Dragon are but three of them, each one the kind of story children will devour again and again and again.

I can’t really say enough about this wonderful little book. It is a gem.

A clear ***** read that will be a favorite for generations.

Gritty poems and prose from a fine poet

Joe Hakim is a poet, writer and performer from Hull, England. The title of this collection of stories and poems refers to a black hole into which all light vanishes and none escapes. Hull is like that, “a place without hope for so long - even for those working all hours against impossibly dangerous odds - that it has become somewhere which tolerates what would be considered as a failed life anywhere else” (Night Publishing).

We see this in his poem “at withersea”:

When I was a boy this place

felt like the other side of the


I would spend hours hurling

pebbles at the tide and

overturning rocks to find

crabs hiding from the sun,

and then I would run

into the ea. The beaches

would be packed with families,

but now everything is empty.

Shops and cafes are ancient


and the kids are all on heroin.

Cracked plaster and peeling


is everywhere, houses falling

into disrepair and no one cares.

Like cliffs slowly

falling into the sea, something

crumbles inside me as I watch


waves break sadly against the


a ghost of childhood

laid to rest at last.

Joe Hakim writes gritty poems about life as the poet wanders through his days and nights, everything swathed in shades of grey and dirty black, “wine-stained towels and / sweat shop t-shirts”, moving from place to place as his circumstances change, surviving as best he can a life that has been hard on him.

Joe Hakim, like Paul Perry and Charles Bukowski, is a poet of the dark places, the disjointed life of alcohol and mind-altering drugs that advertise an “expanded reality” but leave one with a bleak sense of reality that caves in on itself just as a black hole does.

“No Light / Might Escape” is an honest book in presenting what life lived in a black hole is like, where one’s lifestyle is surviving rather than living, and where one’s outlook on life is bleak. From my own personal experience, living in that black hole is no fun because it is so terribly limiting, futile and deadly. Leaving it thirty-two years ago broadened my horizons further than I ever thought I could see.

I plan to spend more time with Joe Hakim’s work. It’s a *****.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Blood Moon's Stormi Rose: A woman and a cop who is not to be trifled with

If you like complex, well-written mysteries with strong female characters and a strong and compassionate male lead, you will definitely like this one by best-selling Shannon Richardson (“Deadly Deception”). The new face and the only woman on the team in rural on the Ute Reservation in Ignacio, Colorado, Stormi Rose has a lot to overcome, including her feelings for her boss, Westin Ironcloud.

To complicate matters further, she is the only non-Indian “super-cop” on the team, which means she not only works for Westin Ironcloud, she works for the tribal Division of Gaming, a white woman arresting Indians at the tribe’s casino.

And then people begin to die. Who is killing them, and why? There are several people who make good candidates; it’s finding the culprit that’s the hard part. And finding him (or her) is Stormi’s job.

I hope “Blood Moon” is only the first of a series of novels about Stormi Rose and her boss Westin Ironcloud. I like the people, the setting, and Shannon Richardson’s writing.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

A fun, inspiring, hair-raising and sometimes hilarious adventure tale

Imagine this –

You’re 31 years old, single, an elementary school teacher in England, and you’ve always wanted to do something to contribute to a charity. You’re also an amateur bicycle enthusiast. So what do you do? You set out to bicycle from England to the southern tip of India by way of Germany, the Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgystan, a snip of southwest China, Pakistan and on into India to its very southmost tip. All by bicycle. Alone. Hmmm. “You’ve gone too far this time Sir!” sounded like a very apt title to me, so I downloaded the book and read it.

Danny Bent is not only a very fine writer, he’s a great raconteur, is at times hysterically funny, and he likes people. Some of the trip is gut-wrenching (in more ways than one), sometimes hilarious, sometimes Monty Pythonesque, and sometimes tear-inducing. All-in-all, it adds up to one of the finest, most enjoyable adventure tales I’ve read in years.

Not surprising at all that, with 50,000 copies downloaded, it’s now an official best-seller on Kindle. For a very enjoyable and unforgettable read, buy “You’ve gone too far this time Sir!” and read it, in either paperback or Kindle.

It’s a ***** read if there ever was one.