Sunday, February 26, 2012

An intriguing and spellbinding war story

In 1975, the Soviet Union and Communist China lay aside their differences and form an alliance. Their goal: to take over all of Europe and England. By early summer, 1980, “the combined Communist forces are poised for the initial assault.” From there, the action begins, and it is full-scale war, with all the explosiveness, viciousness and suspense that one expects, especially after an active Resistance movement is organized. Some of the scenes are gut-wrenching.
But the war story isn’t the only story. The other story, the underlying story, is that of the author himself, who discovers the manuscript in an old box file he hasn’t opened in thirty years, and comments on his novel and his editing of it between each chapter. As an author myself, as well as a devourer of books, I found this fascinating, almost like reading a second novel, one the “warp“ and the other the “woof” of the whole. 
What makes this so fascinating and so important is that this is the way we experience life, the warp of life and the woof of memory, interwoven into our daily lives.
My hat is off to Brendan Gisby, the author of several wonderful books,of which this is the latest. You have a gem here Mr. Gisby.

A definite 5 star read. 

"Milkshake" -- a surprising, spellbinding international thriller

On the face of it, “Milkshake” looks like a bucolic novel set in a pleasant rural countryside with dairy farms and tidy villages. But that it definitely isn’t. 

The year is 2002, the story opens with David and Katherine Turner waiting  to board their flight from England to New Zealand, where they have decided to emigrate to get away from the traumas related to the events of the previous September.
Far from the “snoozer” I thought this book would be, I found myself immersed in a fast-pace thriller involving an international plot to turn New Zealand into a slave-labor camp feeding the biofuel needs of one of the world’s “great” powers. Well thought-out, well-plotted and very well written, it kept me engrossed from the first paragraph to the final word. 
What can tiny, isolated New Zealand do to thwart this major power’s hunger? As one of the characters says in the book,"If my people ever find the truth of what's going on here, believe me it's easier for a bee to annoy an eagle than it is for an eagle to annoy a bee." And annoy the eagle they do.
Matt Hammond is definitely a writer to watch.
I give it 5 stars.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

One of the funniest books I've read in a long time

Suzanne Adams’ “Line ‘Em Up!” is a wonderfully comedic novel about a group of Country-Western line dancing-crazed people in England. The characters -- Bill and Gina, Betty and Jack and their daughter Claudine, and all the others -- are right out of a good British sitcom, and Suzanne Adams exploits their foibles and trip-ups like a pro. I’ve seldom laughed so much or so heartily at the antics of the wonderful collection of characters Suzanne Adams has brought together in so amusing a way.
Yet there is a darker element in this book, too, and that is murder. There seems to be a serial killer around, and he (or she) is killing women who have some connection to the dance group. Could it be someone close to the dance group? The question is never answered because the murders are never solved. Does this mean that Ms. Adams has a sequel planned? I hope so, because if there’s a down side to Line ‘Em Up! it’s that readers are left frustrated by not knowing (1) who the killer or killers are, and (2) why murders were introduced without some effort to solve the crimes. Other than that, Line ‘Em Up! is a great read.
I give it 4 stars. It’s available in paperback and Kindle from and 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Write on Wednesdays

Teaser #1 for this week, "Line 'Em Up", by Suzanne Adams.

Every night upon retiring, Bill would lock the key ring with its many charges in his bedside drawer. This, in turn, he locked and double-checked to be quite sure it was secure before he placed the drawer key under his pillow. A spare key for that was always locked in his bureau drawer and a spare for that key was lodged with his mother.
Bill could lose huge chunks of time obsessing over his keys, fingering the keys, clipping and unclipping the ring from his trouser belt-loop, and unwittingly at times, providing others with the unnerving sight of the furry phallus dangling from beneath his jacket. Bill selected belt-loops seemingly at random.

Teaser #2, "Grandfather and the Raven"

"If you ever do that again," Sir Raven said from his perch on grandfather's left shoulder as they walked  home, "please warn me."

"Why is that?"

"Because if you do it without warning me, I might drop a load down your back. It was so loud I nearly fell off the lamp post," he laughed. "You scared the wits out of that poor guy."

"That's not all I scared out of him," grandfather replied, smiling.

"True," laughed Sir Raven. "I'll bet his insides  haven't been that clean since he first came out of the egg."

"George Polley has created another timeless character that enters into a fantastical relationship with a raven. Or is the raven the timeless character? George entices the reader to view this usual relationship from within. The raven has much to teach all of us. These stories are beautiful, thoughtful, and wonderfully crafted."  -- Barry North, Seattle


Sunday, February 12, 2012

A ghostly tale of mystery, intrigue, murder and eccentric royals.

If you enjoy ghost stories, you will enjoy this one by Tim Roux, a masterfully told tale about a reluctant psychic named Paul Lambert, a ghost named Alice,  assorted other ghosts, and a chateau inhabited by an eccentric British Earl (the Earl of Affligem), his family, a mob of hangers-on and the chateaux’s original royal family, who do not enjoy the crowd and all their noise at all. And if all this isn’t enough to hold your interest, there is also a serial killer to catch
It’s Alice who is the most interesting ghost, because she falls in love with Paul (very frustrating for both)and badly wants to expose her killer. And this is where Roux does something very, very interesting: Alice, you see, is the young French woman Alice Picard in Tim Roux’s novel Little Fingers, who elopes with Mary to Spain and never returns. I’ve wondered whatever happened to Alice, and now I know. The chief suspect for her murderer is, she says, her ill-tempered and abusive father who was enraged at her because she had taken up with Mary. But Alice isn’t the only character from Little Fingers that shows up here. Retired police inspector John is also here.
If you’re looking for a ghost story that’s packed with ghosts and drama, pick this one up, take it home, and enjoy it.
One final comment: I’m not convinced that most of the characters in the novel aren’t really ghosts. That’s a mystery for you to solve.
An easy 5 star read. 

Saturday, February 11, 2012

A gem of a movie, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

When I first read Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo a couple of years or so ago, one of the first thoughts I had was what a great movie it would make. All the right ingredients were there: Fast-paced thriller, family drama, a deeply scarred young woman (Lisbeth Salander), a brilliant and flawed investigative reporter (Mikael Blomkvist). But what really intrigued me was what a movie might do with Lisbeth Salander, whom official society has labeled incompetent and in need of a guardian. 
I was right about its movie potential. Directed by David Fincher from a screenplay by Steven Zaillian, a dark ambient soundtrack by Trent Raznor and Atticus Ross and starring Daniel Craig & Rooney Mara in the roles of Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander, the movie is an absolute gem. The music pulses, throbs, seduces and, in the final song, “Is your love strong enough”, expresses the ache in Lisbeth’s heart for someone whose love is strong enough to love her, and does it in a way that will bring tears to your eyes as it did mine.
Some people have said the movie is better than the book. Though they are quite different, I don’t agree that the movie is better. What Steven Zaillian’s screenplay does is pull the core drama of Larsson’s massive novel and condenses it into a dramatic masterpiece that takes two hours and thirty-eight minutes to watch. The novel is far more complex and massive than the story that revolves around the Vanger family.
I would love to see a movie of Lisbeth’s story as it is told in the second and third books of Larsson’s millennium trilogy, The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest. Lisbeth Salander is one of the strongest and most intriguing women in fiction; definitely not one you want to get on the wrong side of.
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is a definite 5 star movie. I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t show up among this year’s Oscar nominees. If you haven't  yet seen it, do. And do not leave until all of the credits have scrolled through, because the final song, "Is your love strong enough" is such a perfect finale, connected to the heart of that last poignant scene when Lisbeth throws away her gift to Mikael that it will bring tears to your eyes as it did mine.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Israel, 'an outpost of civilization against barbarism'

"The description of Israel as 'the only democracy in the Middle East' has been received wisdom in the Wes for decades. The idea of Israel as 'one of us', a home for Western values in a region of religious extremism and political instability, is voiced and understood by politicians, journalists, analysts,and the general public... [T]he conception of Israel's status as regionally anomalous -- a liberal,  parliamentary democracy -- remains unshaken. When President Barack Obama can call Israel a 'small nation' in a 'tough neighbourhood', remarkably little has chained since Theodor Herzl, the father of political Zionism, wrote in 1896 that a jewish state in Palestine would be 'an outpost of civilization against barbarism' (from the Introduction).
Yet, as Ben White so ably demonstrates, nothing could be further from the truth. From the beginning, when European Zionists first began to enter it, Palestine was considered an "empty" land. In 1902, Max Nordau, co-founder of the World Zionist Organization, wrote that Zionists desired "to irrigate with their sweat and to till with their hands a country that is today a desert, until it again becomes the blooming garden it once was." Nothing could have been further from on the ground reality. Palestine was full of productive farms, busy cities and thriving trade. Seeing the land as "empty" "was not a  matter of ignorance of the Arab population but a question of European chauvinism." "Palestine at the time of first Zionist settlement was not empty of people, but of people deemed worthy by Europeans of controlling their own country." This was not traditional European (and by extension, American) chauvinistic conquest: when you desire something, go in and take it, the natives be damned. With that in mind, literally anything is permissible. 
This is not the narrative I grew up with, which depicted Israel as a brave nation surrounded by bitter enemies who wished to erase it from the earth, and the Israeli people and their leaders as heroic defenders of democracy and human rights. As Ben White ably shows, little could be further from the truth. 

Citing Israel's own laws and policies, White shows that, from the beginning, Israel has treated Palestinians -- including its own Palestinian citizens -- as if they are invisible and, as invisible, have no rights. Citing chapter and verse from Israeli laws and policies, he shows how Palestinians are discriminated against in every way imaginable, and I am not exaggerating in saying that. In the Occupied Territories and Gaza, it is worse and is much more publicized. Within Israel itself, it really isn't any better. In the Galilee and the Negev, Palestinians are pushed aside, their homes demolished in Israel's push to "Judaize" the areas -- culturally "drown" the Negev and Galilee with Jewish residents; in the Occupied Territories they are called "settlers" -- in order to support Israel's as a Jewish state.

The problem with this is that it negates Israel's claim of being a democracy, as it is not a state of all its citizens. (Legally, non-Jews are second-class citizens.) Far from the paradise it is presented as being, reality shows Israel an aggressive, openly racist, and increasingly paranoid nation that defends itself by creating more oppressive laws and violent behavior toward Palestinians in Israel itself and in the Occupied Territories. Israel is, and has been, a contradiction of Herzl's contention that a Jewish nation in Palestine would be "an outpost of civilization against barbarism". What Israel has come to resemble is barbarism itself. 
White's book has already garnered charges of "anti-Semitism" and White charged with being an "anti-Semite", a charge routinely made against all critics of Israel. Israeli journalist Yaniv Halili, for instance, claims the book "presents a blatant anti-Israel approach". It doesn't at all. What it does, and does thoroughly, is cite the sources, which are unimpeachable. Palestinians in Israel may not be a comfortable book to read, but it is an important one, a necessary antidote to all the propaganda and alarmist accusations of anti-Semitism. What Ben White has done, and done very well in this book is reveal the chauvinism and cruelty of the modern State of Israel in all its ugliness.  
A final note: It seems to me that Israel's behavior towards the Palestinian people, which it justifies in terms of "security needs", is itself anti-Semitic for the simple reason that it ignores and denies the brutal behavior that is common knowledge everywhere. In justifying behavior that decent people regard as reprehensible, Israel paints a negative picture of what Jewish people and their culture are like. And that is offensive and wrong.  

If Israel really wishes to rid the world of anti-Semitism and enjoy life as a respected member of the world community of nations, then it must change its behavior. Accusing people who point it  out of anti-Semitism only makes the problem worse.
A 5 star review.