Tuesday, December 27, 2011

An honest cop with an attitude, a young woman in trouble, the mob, the feds, a dash of romance -- a winner!

I enjoy a good detective novel, and B. A. Morton’s “Mrs. Jones” is a gem. Detective Connell is an honest cop with an attitude about authority, a smart mouth and Irish charm.  Lizzie, aka Mrs. Jones is a young British woman in New York City on a mission she doesn’t understand who witnesses a hit-and-run her first day in town. When she and Connell connect with each other and the bad guys, a bought cop and the Feds, well, the story quickly becomes one I couldn’t put down until I’d finished it. I can see that B. A. Morton is going to become one of my favorite crime writers. I do like good crime novels with mouthy detectives.
I can hardly wait for the next one in the series, Molly Brown, which is due out sometime in 2012.
A very definite 5 star read.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Jenin invasion, as the survivors experienced it.

If human rights and justice are important to you, then put “Searching Jenin” on your reading list and study it. I remember the news reports on Israel’s attack on the Jenin refugee camp. It was brutal, it was thorough, and it was presented as justified. Oddly, the experience of the camp’s residents was missing. Here they are not; they form the core of the book, and, as one might expect, they do not make easy reading. Each of the people interviewed during the investigation that Baroud and his team conducted of survivors of the attack is further evidence of what Jonathan Cook calls “Israel’s experiments in human despair”, the subtitle of his book “Disappearing Palestine” (Zed Books, 2008).
Under the guise of seeking out terrorists in the Jenin refugee camp, the IDF, which describes itself as the world’s most moral army, attacked everyone, killing women, children and men indiscriminately. When a woman glanced out her kitchen window, a sniper shot her. A terrorist? Obviously not, and just as obvious, it did not matter to the sniper. She was a Palestinian, an Arab, and that justified any behavior. It is part of Israel’s experiments in human despair. The accounts given by survivors are beyond what any decent human wants to believe, yet they are true. Too many people, in too many places, have given the same testimony. As I read, these words kept scrolling through my mind as I thought about the invading soldiers: “What shitty, shitty people!” I apologize for the indelicacy of my language, but I cannot think of anything better to say. These people are beasts, and more and more people are becoming aware of it. 
The survivors call the attack a massacre, whereas Israelis recall it, not surprisingly, as “a fair battle.” Interesting to note what one of the attackers, a man nicknamed “Kurdi Bear” had to say about his role: “Many people were inside [the] houses we started to demolish. They would come out of the houses we were working on. I didn’t see, with my own eyes, people dying under the blade of the D-9 [bulldozer]. And I didn’t see houses falling down on live people. But if there were any, I wouldn’t care at all” (emphasis added). “A man who has done something, hang him, as far as I am concerned. Even a pregnant woman -- shoot her without mercy, if she has a terrorist behind her. This is way way I thought in Jenin. I answered to no one. I don’t give a damn. The main thing was to  help our soldiers. If I had been given three weeks, I would have  had more fun. That is, if they would let  me tear the whole  camp down. I have no mercy.” The man is a beast and a war criminal. And Israel welcomed him.
“Searching Jenin” is not an easy book to read, but it is a very important one. Ramzy Baroud and his team deserve an award for their work in revealing what happened there.
A definite 5 star read.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Life, love, ghosts, wood spirits and demons in MIchigan’s Upper Peninsula.

When I opened P. D. Allen’s Tales of the Yoopernatural and began reading, I didn’t know who P. D. Allen was or what to expect from him. A few pages later, I was thoroughly fascinated and couldn’t put the book down. I didn’t know what “yoopernatural” was, or who the “Yoopers” were either. In case you don’t, they’re the residents of Michigan’s remote Upper Peninsula (the UP), and these are tales from that neck of the woods.
If you like stories about love, jealousy, small-town rivalry, ghosts, wood spirits,  what it costs when you get the spirits mad at you, demons, spelunking, haunted abandoned mines, old Indian grandmothers and the secret life of trees, you will love P. D. Allen’s “Tales of the Yoopernatural”. Told in a  series of interlocking stories set in Michigan’s remote Upper Peninsula. The last story, about a young Ojibway soldier in Iraq and the Beast of War who follows him there, is both chilling and poignant in its reality and its message.
From knowing nothing about P. D. Allen when I opened this book, I am now a fan, and looking for the next book to enjoy.
P. D. Allen is an exceptionally fine storyteller and writer. Check out his books on amazon.com in paperback and Kindle.
This is a 5 star read.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Israel's experiments in human despair

British journalist Jonathan Cook knows his subject intimately. The only Western journalist based in Nazareth, the capital of the Palestinian minority in Israel and married to a Palestinian woman, he experiences Israel’s experiments in human despair on a daily basis. The experience is not a pleasant one, and “Disappearing Palestine” is not an easy book to read. In fact, I found the experience -- though enlightening -- a deeply depressing one. His subtitle -- “Israel’s experiments in human despair” -- is attention-grabbing, biting, and deadly serious. It is also deadly accurate. Israel’s consistent goal has, from before it became a nation in 1948, been to rid Palestine of its Arab residents and claim the whole thing for Jews alone. Here is how the author explains it in his Introduction: “It is my contention that Israel has turned the increasingly confined spaces left to the Palestinians not only into open-air cages but also into laboratories where experiments to encourage Palestinian despair, and ultimately  emigration, are being refined. In fact, these experiments were begun inside Israel, only being ‘exported’ to the occupied territories after their conquest in the 1967 war,” something that is confirmed by Hatim Kanaaneh’s “A Doctor in Galilee: The Life and Struggle of a Palestinian in Israel”. “Without the constraints impose by trying to maintain its image as a Western-style democracy inside its own borders, Israel has been able to develop a more aggressive and transparent form of imprisonment for the Palestinians under occupation. It has ‘industrialized’ Palestinian suffering through curfews, checkpoints, walls, permits and surveillance systems, creating a lucrative ‘homeland security’ industry that has grown in importance since the US began a similar occupation of Iraq. The holding pens in which the Palestinians are kept today are ideal places for testing new methods of urban warfare, crowd control and ghettoization, as well as developing techniques for excluding observers such as journalists and aid workers. The gradual ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians from their homeland, on both sides of today’s Green Line, is likely to take place with few witnesses to record it” (pages 7, 8). Within these enclosed areas, “Palestinians are being deprived of any economic prospects -- even the basic ability to subsist. Their immiseration ... is designed with one end in mind: the encouragement of ‘transfer’, the word Israelis prefer to ‘ethnic cleansing’.” (page 8)
The rest of the book’s 251 pages of text (plus 30 pages of notes) is a detailed description of what goes on in Israel and the Occupied Territories on a daily basis. As the old saying goes, the Devil is in the details, and the details are horrendous. If reading them is like taking an acid bath, imagine what living them every day of your life must be like. There hasn’t been a single Israeli leader who has not been directly complicit in this horror. Nor a single U.S. president -- with the possible exception of Jimmy Carter -- who hasn’t steadfastly supported Israel’s abhorrent behavior, all of it justified in the name of “security needs”. 
There is no excuse at all for supporting Israel in its inhuman treatment of Palestinians and its blatant racism concerning anyone who is not a Jew. This book ought to be required reading for every US Senator and Representative, and anyone running for those offices. The same goes for political leaders in the UK and Europe. That the West continues to condone and outright support Israel in this is a bitter indictment of all of us. 
If you don’t know this book, go to your local book store or one of the online booksellers and buy your copy today. It is an eye-opener, even if you consider yourself knowledgeable on the subject, as I did. I didn’t know the half of it.
A  5 star read. 

Move over, John Rebus, you’ve got company

I like reading police procedural novels, and Alfie Robins’s Reprisal is the best police procedural novel I’ve read in a long time. There is a vicious serial killer making the rounds of northern England’s Kingston-on-Hull (known locally simply as Hull), and Detective Chief Inspector Philip Marlowe and his team have to find him fast. Never mind that the victims are drug addicts, this killer, who administers the final coup de grace by driving a four inch nail into his victim’s skull, gives everyone the chills, and the Superintendent wants him off the streets by yesterday at the latest.  
Reprisal is a classic, bringing to life northern England’s Kingston-on-Hull (known locally simply as Hull) the way Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus novels put Edinburgh on the map.
Move over, John Rebus, you’ve got competition in Hull. 
The UK’s Night Publishing has scored a crime novel coup with this one. My plea to 
Alfie Robins is a simple one: When is the next installment of Marlowe and his harried crew coming out? Hurry up, please. We’re dying out here waiting for it.  
A definite 5 star read.

Monday, December 12, 2011

An enjoyable tale of love and loss

A young war widow still grieving the loss of her husband sits alone in her house when a mammoth winter storm. The power flickers, then goes out. There is a tremendous crash. A massive tree has come crashing through the roof of her sunroom. What is she going to do? Then there is a knock on the door. Should she open it, or ignore it? Fearfully, she opens it, as it could be help. Standing there looking concerned is a very handsome fireman. On their way into the village and shelter, his truck slides into a ditch and he can’t budge it, so they make their way back to her house.
In the hands of a different kind of writer, this could be a horror story, or a maudlin tale of love and romance. In Jessica Degarmo’s capable hands, it is a well-written story about grief, loss, fear of letting go and moving on, and a growing love between Amanda Pickett and fireman Raif Weston. It is also a tale of small-town gossip, rivalry and jealousy.
If you’re looking for an enjoyable read,  pick up a copy of Jessica Degarmo’s The Storm Within. Jessica Degarmo is the kind of writer that can always be counted on to tell a good, well-written story that is a joy to read. 
A definite 4 star read.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A very good trio of short stories by Tom Winton

I like reading short stories, and this trio from best-selling writer Tom Winton are some of the best. Of the trio -- "Movin' On", "The Voice of Willie Morgan" and "Squandered Prayers" -- my personal favorite is "The Voice of Willie Morgan". All three are about family -- troubled families, to be exact -- where tempers flare and alcohol flows (never a good combination; rather like trying to put out a fire by throwing gasoline on it). Yet people do break free and triumph, and sometimes, at least in a son's imagination, a verbally abusive dad who's dead comes through a champ for his son.

Tom Winton is a fine writer. If  you haven't read one of his novels -- "Beyond Nostalgia" and "The Last American Martyr" -- pick of a copy of them for a Holiday read. Both are available in paperback and Kindle.

"The Voice of Willie Morgan" is a definite 5 Star read.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Murder, village intrigue, pedophilia -- WHO is the villain?

“Little Fingers” is a truly remarkable novel. Opening as the main character Julia Blackburn is being interviewed by police Inspector John Frampton. “There is a serial killer out there. He is living in that brain of yours as an unrecognised memory, a shadowy computation, and he must be stopped.” Inspector Frampton is a doggedly patient man who must get at the truth and stop the killings going on in the village of Hanburgh. Julia is the most recent person to have seen recently murdered Tom Willows. He is determined to tease the truth from Julia’s mind. Who is this mysterious woman? He persists doggedly forward. “That is what makes you a policeman,” she says; “You have the mind of a drill bit.”
Life in the little village of Hanburgh was relatively tranquil until Julia Blackburn arrived and rented one of the largest houses in town. Who is she and what does she want from the people here?
There is Mary, Julia’s friend and lover; Mary Knightly, wife of George and adopted daughter of Dr. Beringer, local physician and pedophile. There is Samantha, whom Mary Knightly calls “a bastard daughter of a whore”. Not to be outdone, Samantha calls Mary Knightly “a jumped up little poisonous turd.” No love lost there. There is Brenda, waitress at the local pub, a fund of knowledge about everything going on in Hanburgh. Who is Julia Blackburn, and what is she doing here? It isn’t until late in the novel that we find out who the killer is, and why. The killer’s purpose? To exact revenge on the people who made or her life miserable when she lived in Hanburgh. But ... who is the killer? At one point in her interrogation with Inspector Frampton, Julia asks :”If I am the fall guy, who is the murderer?”
Julia belabors the Inspector’s ears with philosophical asides. “We do such trivial things with all that intelligence we have been lavished with. We could work towards a better world, towards making even the smallest of differences, and we waste our time worrying whether somebody of no importance likes us or not.” “We are not balanced. We go from peaceful intentions in peacetime to murderous ones in war. We are easily provoked to hatred by the simplest of cynical exploiters. We fall for the same trick a thousand times without recognising it... You would think that we would  have reached satiety with all that we cram our homes with and later take to the dump. Apparently not. Rather than counsel ourselves that enough is enough, we carry on accelerating our desires, and cheering on people whose only intent is to profit from them. We may be decent, but we are certainly stupid.”
Rather than distracting from the story, these monologues add to the picture of Julia’s mind. Is she ...? You’ll have to read the novel to find out. It’s a remarkable piece of fiction that you won’t soon forget. I certainly won’t.
A clear 5 star read.

Available in paperback and Kindle.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Romance, sex, obsession and adventure

A long novel, Alexandra Sophia’s “Lover From an Icy Sea” is also a mesmerizing one. About a love affair between the stunning (and wealthy) fashion magazine editor Daneka Sorenson and photographer Kit Addison, it is much, much more than that. It is about a deeply damaged woman, obsession (“And now, he realized, he’d fallen in love, deeply in love, obsessively in love, with an illusion.”), sexual addiction and tragedy. From early in the story I saw Daneka as a deeply disturbed individual -- her excessive need to be in control, the obsessiveness of her sexual appetites, her obsessive cleaning, her rapid mood swings, her need to be in constant motion, moments of tenderness that she would rapidly move away from -- these were nightmarish.  Yet I couldn’t stop reading.
Alexandra Sophia’s prose is mesmerizing, whether describing sexual scenes or a beautiful seascape, where “tiny waves broke in muted applause along the shore, sending up their silver spray like handfuls of pocket change.”  

Near Daneka's cottage on a Danish island in the Baltic Sea there is a description of a forest scene that is one of the most exquisite pieces of writing I have ever come across. “In a clearing of not much more than two or three body lengths in any direction, a bed of velvet-soft moss -- pure Polytrichum -- tiptoed  up to a sheer and jagged granite wall Here and there in the moss carpet tiny poppied peeked through. Map lichen -- Rhizocarpon geographicum -- spotted the granite wall like forests made for Lilliputians. Water dropped down the face of the wall and dripped into a tiny pool. Kit looked into the pool to gauge its depth, but couldn’t discern a bottom. The water was blacker than any black he’d ever known. Emerald green bridal gowns of liverwort -- Conocephalum conicum -- covered trunks of trees surrounding the clearing, while their branches wrestled in wraiths of  Isotherciium stoloniferum, the color and texture of lime-green lace.” Every time I read that passage, I can smell that place and feel its coolness because, enchantingly, I am there.
“Lover From an Icy Sea” is an amazing novel in so many ways. Like life itself, it is also a deeply disturbing one.
A definite 5 star read.