Monday, April 20, 2015

The Truth According to Us, by Annie Barrows

The Truth According To Us certainly does not disappoint. Annie Barrows has earned my automatic interest in any book with which she is associated by virtue of having co-authored the delightful and moving epistolary novel, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie SocietyThe Truth According To Us certainly measures up, including a certain amount of charming exchanges of ideas via letter in this book as well.

The story unfolds in Macedonia, West Virginia, as revealed by a twelve year old girl, Willa Romeyn. She and her sister live in the family home with three aunts and a dad who is all charm, though  only occasionally present. The adults are close and love the children dearly, but almost nothing the children "know" about the family history is true, and this is the year that Willa starts to recognize the inconsistencies.

Author Barrows really has an ear for colloquial language and the dialog rings true of the rural folk in 1938 W. Virginia. They are a witty bunch, for all the tension that comes from the Depression small town economics they are living through.  Willa's grandparents had been wealthy back when Grandfather St.Clair Romeyn ran the hosiery manufacturing mill, but that was before Willa's time.  It is still the only manufacturing plant in town and the major employer. Jottie, Willa's 35 year old spinster aunt actually owns the family home now, but sees the wisdom of taking in a boarder when the opportunity comes around.  Willa's dad Felix leaves money occasionally for household needs, but his sources are mysterious and inconsistent.

And it is the boarder who changes everything.  Layla Beck is the daughter of a Senator, a college grad without much ambition that is not social, til her dad cuts off her allowance when she refuses to marry the man dad thinks is a good match.  Forced to get a job, she relies on her uncle, who administers the Writers Project for the US government.  She is to write the Sesquicentennial history of Macedonia as requested by the town council.  She is lovely to behold and immediately catches the eye of Felix Romeyn, Willa's dad.  The attraction is mutual and rouses the animosity of Willa and the anxiety of Jottie, who knows Felix's history with attractive women.

So both Willa and Layla are on quests to find true and accurate history.  Willa has spotted some lies and intends to find out the missing details of the Romeyn family.  Layla learns that good writers have to ask questions and evaluate sources to get to the real history of Macedonia in spite of what the Chamber of Commerce version says. She gets some of her best help from the Romeyn family members and discovers that they are very much a part of the Macedonia story, even if other Macedonians want to recast some significant parts of that history.

An exceedingly well told story of family love, family quirks, romantic love, family secrets, and finally, redemption, forgiveness and hope. A complex assortment of characters the reader will genuinely care about, this story is one you will remember for a long time.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

A Hoarse Half-Human Cheer, by X. J. Kennedy

NetGalley offered this book with fair warning that it might offend the more pious among us; the author himself calls it "an entertainment," but having enjoyed a satire or two in my reading past, I decided to give it a try.

There is definitely a humorous premise:  A struggling Catholic college sees a golden opportunity to strike it rich by accepting thousands of ex GIs into their degree programs in exchange for the government money offered in the GI Bill.  This creates another issue...faculty, but no problem, they hire displaced Europeans at the dock, not quibbling about their qualifications, but assigning them to teach whatever classes the students sign up for. Glauco Vastasi, the Business Manager of St. Cassian of Imola, incidentally with ties to the New Jersey mob, also notices that the government is getting rid of tons of supplies once needed in times of war but now it is merely surplus.  He begins to requisition this stuff ostensibly for use in the classroom, but oh, wait, there may be governments in Central America who could use the guns and ammo, so he begins to market to a receptive audience in third world countries.

That particular college administrator is married, but he shares his campus housing with his live-in girl friend.  She is a veteran with war time history as a nurse, and the mother of a young child who could have been fathered by any one of a number of vets with whom she was stranded on a desert island for a short time. She is beautiful, intelligent, and by the way, a nymphomaniac who wants to share a bed with virtually every man on campus, including the priests.  She teaches Biology.

The protagonists include a student, Moon Gogarty, who is hopelessly "in love" with his teacher, the nymphomaniac, and Douglas Knox, a priest who also coaches the basketball team.  The nympho has her eyes set on the priest.  There is another priest with a strong attraction to young children.  The mob is intent on fixing the basketball games, and someone is trying to eliminate Knox.  The mob? Maybe, but maybe not...

Can it get any wackier?  Well, yes, but again, if you have a sensitivity toward jokes and mocking of the Catholic church, or about nymphomania or pedophilia, to name a couple of things, this may not be for you.  But if you're down for outrageous humor, no matter the sanctity of the target, this may be just the ticket. Consider yourself warned...

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Deep Storm, by Lincoln Child

The long tedious shift on the deep ocean oil rig is nearly over when the three men in Drilling Control see something they've never seen before. They are keeping tabs on the pipe cleaning equipment when suddenly, the cleaning robots in the pipes thousands of feet below begin sending garbled incomprehensible messages. After cutting the power, they are awed to realize that strange messages are still coming to them through the console, but the one thing they know is that the cleaning robots are not the source of the messages.

Twenty months later, Dr. Peter Crane is summoned with great urgency to the same platform but his assignment is shrouded in secrecy.  He can't help but notice that The Amalgamated Shale employees at headquarters seem rather light on oil rig workers and, rather curiously, weighted more toward technicians and engineers.  Before long he finds out that the job is not on the rig itself; he would work  thousands of feet below in a giant facility sitting on the ocean floor. 

The project is shrouded in secrecy, but the health of many of the workers seems to be deteriorating either physically or psychologically from unknown causes. The project cannot afford for workers to  be sent topside for treatment, so they are providing a medical team below. 

Crane signs all sorts of non-disclosure agreements and then is told, amazingly, that the expectation is  to unearth the mythical kingdom of Atlantis!  But before long, Crane realizes that the truth is much stranger, and perhaps more ominous than that. What's more, there is evidently someone among them that is intent on sabotaging the work before it can be completed. And the mysterious messages are still coming.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Greatest Generation, by Dan Brokaw

Journalist and author Tom Brokaw has amassed the stories of scores of Americans born around 1920 into an age of promise and prosperity. That aura did not extend far into their childhood, however. It was 1929 when the stock market crashed, banks closed and economic collapse seemed to be spreading everywhere. These kids were raised by parents who took care of their families with very little income, and raised kids who were creative, resourceful and knew how to work hard.

By 1940, Americans who looked eastward across the Atlantic saw the tumult caused by German aggression as independent sovereignty crumbled in nation after nation in Europe. It wasn't long before President Roosevelt pushed through a budget to provide for national defense and a bill to activate a peace time draft. But it took a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor to draw America into the War.

Brokaw describes the stories of young farmers who became engineers who could invent airplane parts out of whatever was available, just like they had made tools on the farm; of young men who though wounded in battles far from home, returned to take up their lives where they had left off, building businesses, serving their communities, raising families. He recalls the stories of men who were uncomfortable describing their battlefield feats as heroic, saying they were "just doing their jobs."  Brokaw interviewed women who served capably in and out of the Armed Services as well as husbands and wives who served their country as they honored their commitment to family.

Great stories, one and all, and very timely, as most of these interviews took place in the twilight of the lives of these WWII vets who were there not only on D-Day, but at the 40th anniversary of D-Day, a ceremony Brokaw filmed as a documentary, and where the idea of this book originated. Brokaw was there again in 1994 for the 50th, and by then his idea had crystallized to preserve the stories of these men and women who became "the greatest generation any society has ever produced."

Five Days In Skye, by Carla Laureano

Andrea could not be more disappointed to be stuck for another week in Great Britain.  This is the week her vacation in Tahiti should begin, but her boss in New York insisted that she make one more contact with a potential client.  James MacDonald is a local celebrity with a Celebrity Chef TV show in London, but he is looking to open a hotel and restaurant in his home community of Skye.  That would be Skye, as in Isle of Skye, as in Scotland, but she can't see anything good about it.  Nothing about it sounds like a worthy alternative to Tahiti!

Andrea doesn't watch TV and doesn't recognize MacDonald when she first meets him at a pub in London.  She has gone there to dig up a little information on him before their meeting the next day, where she hopes to land a contract for the hospitality company she works for, and then head back home to New York. He doesn't realize she is the person he is to meet with either, and starts to flirt with her.  It is exactly what she doesn't want to hear, as it was her rejection of an overly aggressive client which just lost her the last contract.  She is sure this surprise assignment is her boss's way of getting even for the loss of that contract. He has made it clear that she had better come home with a big contract in hand.

Author Carla Laureano introduces us to two successful and attractive people who are nevertheless wounded and defensive because of  broken relationships in their past.  Both are instantly attracted to one another, but they experience conflict all along the way, mostly from fear of becoming vulnerable and thus open to the pain each has experienced previously.  This is an absorbing romance written from a Christian perspective.  Laureano slowly unwraps the secrets of the past, and in the meantime, is great at building the electricity between Andrea and James, while James makes it his mission to make her fall in love with the beautiful countryside, the lochs, and the villages, which are all vividly described by the author.

And if you haven't noticed yet, this is an American woman, a handsome, self assured man of Scotland, and his nickname is could this miss!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Fluency, by Jennifer Foehner Wells


Publisher: Blue Bedlam Science Fiction (June 18, 2014)
ISBN: 978-0990479826
Category: Science Fiction: Space Opera, First Contact, Action-Adventure, Alien, Romance
Tour Date: March 2-April 30, 2015 Available in: Print and e-book, 373 Pages

NASA discovered the alien ship lurking in the asteroid belt in the 1960s. They kept the Target under intense surveillance for decades, letting the public believe they were exploring the solar system, while they worked feverishly to refine the technology needed to reach it.
The ship itself remained silent, drifting.
Dr. Jane Holloway is content documenting nearly-extinct languages and had never contemplated becoming an astronaut. But when NASA recruits her to join a team of military scientists for an expedition to the Target, it’s an adventure she can’t refuse.
The ship isn’t vacant, as they presumed.
A disembodied voice rumbles inside Jane’s head, "You are home."
Jane fights the growing doubts of her colleagues as she attempts to decipher what the alien wants from her. As the derelict ship devolves into chaos and the crew gets cut off from their escape route, Jane must decide if she can trust the alien’s help to survive.

My Review:

Science fiction, yes, but Fluency is fast paced, a mystery with well-developed characters, which makes the extraordinary premise seem all too believable. It is a really well told story.

Jane Holloway is a linguist who has done a lot of field work and has a gift for learning languages. She would not be likely to describe herself first as a scientist, and certainly not as an astronaut. But NASA seeks her out precisely because of her extraordinary facility with languages.

The public doesn't know, of course, but NASA has been aware of a huge space ship hovering relatively near Mars since the 60's with no apparent activity detected for decades. Our technology has finally developed to the point that we can send a team to check it out. Jane's role, should they meet sentient beings on board, is to learn their language so that communication might be established.

Commander Walsh leads the group of 6 astronauts, but the protocol is that Jane would take the leadership if and when they meet other beings. Uncannily, as they approach the massive ship, lights come on to guide their relatively tiny craft to the docking station. The 10 months of claustrophobic togetherness is over, but the tension takes on a new tone as Walsh insists on retaining command, even when Jane is communicating with an intelligent being on the ship.  The thing is, they see no one and the communication is telepathic.

Jane believes the being she is communicating with is good and helpful; Walsh is just as convinced she is being brainwashed.  Jane learns far more about civilizations throughout the galaxy, and most troubling, that Planet Earth is in grave danger. The adventure has just begun.

Praise for 'Fluency':

"Author Jennifer Wells' writing genius comes from her vast knowledge of the highly technical subject matter and her ability to put the reader in the middle of it without losing him/her in technical jargon while creating characters that seem completely natural and believable."- Jean Fisher for Independent Publisher News

"With her first novel, Jennifer Wells adds a fresh voice to the sci-fi genre and distinguishes herself as an author to watch." -Theresa Kay, author of Broken Skies

"One of the runaway sci-fi hits on Amazon this year has been Jennifer Foehner Wells’ space thriller Fluency and quite frankly it’s a welcome addition to the genre. Fluency moves at a breakneck pace in a very cinematic fashion, the narrative mostly linear with some minor flashbacks to fill in gaps in the back story. Wells does a fine job of dealing with the technical side of proceedings without resorting to complicated jargon (I know I know, some geeks love the jargon but not this one!) The human technology is believable and the alien technology while advanced, is also impressively practical.

While the strong female character has become a bit of a cliché in sci-fi over the past few years, it’s worth noting that many of these female characters have been written by men. What makes Fluency so refreshing is that Holloway’s character develops in a much more believable fashion given her circumstances. Sure she has to eventually toughen up and fight, but she’s much more than that. She’s a brilliant mind faced with a life-changing event and not just her life but the entire planet’s and her decisions will have monumental consequences. Her ability to focus is paramount and though it may seem she is being manipulated at times, she quickly takes control of her relationship with Ei’Brai. As the story reaches its gripping conclusion it also lays the groundwork for an exciting continuation of this rapidly unfolding saga. Littered with plenty of nods and winks to classic sci-fi and some clever pop culture references, Fluency is a thrilling, bumpy ride that rarely falters and firmly cements Jennifer Foehner Wells’ standing in the indie scene as an innovative and refreshing new voice in modern sci-fi."- Eamon Ambrose, Eamo The Geek

"A book that is just as appealing to women as it is to men. I’ll admit, I saw the beautiful cover and thought it was going to be old-school, hardcore sci-fi with lots of technobabble and women in service roles rather than command ones. By the time we got into space I was hooked, and only got more engrossed the further I went.

There’s no flab in this book. It starts out strongly and each scene is carefully considered in how it develops the characters and advances the plot. The pitch rises gradually until leveling off at the end, just as it should.

The prose is straightforward and lets the reading just flow. Dialogue made sense and there weren’t too many narrative sequences. Again, Jennifer Foehner Wells has taken care in crafting a balance of elements. This is a pretty special book. It’s a modern take on sci-fi, and has a lot to offer. There’s a light romantic subplot, a first-contact scenario, and a high-stakes situation that seems unclear, then clear, then unclear again. This story isn’t predictable and it doesn’t rely on any timeworn tropes. Fluency is something new in fiction, and that always excites the hell out of me."-Zen, Women of Badassery

About Jennifer Foehner Wells:Jennifer Foehner Wells

Jennifer Foehner Wells lives an alternately chaotic and fairly bucolic existence in Indiana with two boisterous little boys, a supportive husband, a mildly unhinged Labrador retriever, and three adorable pet rats as housemates.

Having studied biology, Jen's possessed with a keen interest in science and technology. She's 100% geek and proud of it.

FLUENCY was Jen’s debut. It spent weeks in the Kindle Top 100, going as high as number 4. It remains prominent in several Science Fiction categories. It has garnered 848 five star reviews, to date.


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Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Morgenstern Project, by David Khara, translated from French by Sophie Weiner

This fast paced adventure/thriller reunites Israeli Mossad agent Eytan Morgenstern with Jeremy Corbin and his wife Jacqueline in a most unexpected way.  The Consortium, a shadowy but powerful international group, has it's corporate eye on Eytan, and realizes the only way to get to him is through the people who are most important to him.

Though Corbin and Jackie were key players in the earlier novel by Khara called The Blieberg Project, the recently married couple has no plans to continue the thrilling but high risk life that defines Eytan, but when they are threatened with injury, kidnapping, or worse, the only hope is working together to stymie the evil intentions of the Consortium.  The Consortium has existed in the shadows for decades, slowly gathering more and more power, and a wider sphere of influence.  They existed before the Nazis came into existence, but had wielded power and influence through the Nazi party, and were clever enough to create escape routes for many of their members, who disappeared just before the German defeat occurred.

Eytan himself is a victim of Nazi experimentation who escaped as a child after having many experiments done on him with the purpose of finding out how to alter the human body to create virtually superhuman warriors.  The irony that their most successful subject was a 10 year old Jewish boy did not escape the Nazis and they sent teams out to intercept and kill him. Chronologically his age belied his appearance, which already was that of a strong adult male. And even 50 years later, his appearance is that of a 30 year old giant of a man in his prime.

The story moves back and forth from Eytan's childhood, if one can call it that, to the present day, when the Consortium is still trying to capture him and continue to use him as a guinea pig.  But now they have expanded their repertoire to include powerful prosthetics which can empower soldiers to even greater feats of strength than their natural limbs are capable of.  And those experiments have progressed much farther down a dark path than one could have guessed.  Is it already too late to save mankind?

And Eytan is still methodically searching for and eliminating the former Nazis who seemingly have escaped punishment in spite of the monstrous evil they perpetrated on their fellow man. 

This exciting thriller is full of espionage, spying, subterfuge, and enough history to qualify as an historical novel of the WW II era.  Publication is scheduled for early April, 2015. I received an e-copy from NetGalley in exchange for a review.