A Coin for a Dream

Coin for a Dream published, copyright and written by Mae Adams.

This volume presents a series of short stories, the first fifteen of them told to the author in her early childhood growing up in Korea. They are simple tales, the significance of some perhaps even a little unusual for the uninitiated to absorb. Included are tales of egg ghosts, water ghosts, angels of death, servants of the underworld, a 9-tailed dragon shape-shifter and its nemesis, a 3-legged dog, also of the monstrous part lion, sheep and unicorn haechi with scales, feathers and horns who actually seek justice by punishing the wicked. Other tales, some provided a little later, detail the legends and folktales along with historical explanations of Korean beginnings, religions and practices. Included are tales of how shamans, these mediums between this and the spirit world are created, fascinating explanations of the differences among the Chinese, Japanese and Korean Dragons, discussions of their zodiac, and more. All of these later features gradually and ultimately fade into and join material of a bio- and autobiographical nature.

Discussion: This is the second book by the author of “Precious Silver Chopsticks” which I had reviewed approximately a year ago and stated “This autobiography/memoir is written by an eighty-four-year-old Korean woman of considerable intelligence, fortitude and an amazing ability to survive and prosper” and concluded: “Certainly a relieving catharsis for the author and a book of considerable interest for a diverse reading public.” Because I had witnessed the conditions and people of  Korea during the U.S. involvement, my conclusion with respect to this second book retains my admiration for the author and personally find considerable material she has provided to be quite interesting. But regrettably and in all honesty, I must narrow the scope of those for whom I believe this book will have appeal. There is much redundancy in her presentation and repetition within the body of the work as well as a considerable amount from her first book. Thus, I strongly recommend this book to readers who are interested in learning more about other people, their history, cultures, religions, activities, habits, individual beliefs, and their personal abilities to adapt and especially as depicted here, to survive. For readers with these interests, the subject matter most assuredly requires a 5*. The rating unfortunately must be reduced by 2 because of matters that judicious editing would have removed, plus the most regrettable fact its level of interest for others than those mentioned; i.e. general readership, probably would not be extensive.

3* 5* story regrettably reduced by 2 as explained in the discussion.

Acts of Faith

ACTS of FAITH, a novel published copyright and written by Martin Elsant.

In this “Part 1 of The Inquisition Trilogy”, an initiating statement by Archibald Bower, Authentic Memories Concerning the Portuguese Inquisition, 1761 reads “An Auto de fe is not so much an Act of Faith, which the words would impart, as of the hypocrisy of Inquisitors, who thus make a mockery of God and man, by abusing the venerable name of religion, and forcing the secular judges to become their butchers.” An author’s note follows explaining that, as a teenager, he had found an account of an undisputed miracle that involved Diego Lopes of Pinanocos at his “auto de fe’ in Coimbra, Portugal, and more than 50 years later actual records of the man’s trial. (Both books referenced as additional reading.) However, a discrepancy existed between the trial records discovered and reported by Bodian and the public perception reported in the Roth book discovered so much earlier. The author’s intent in this book simply is “to add a component of human involvement to a process that they (individuals of the time) believed required only Divine intervention.” The story then introduces the young Portuguese Divinity student Aristides and the other characters of greater or lesser importance as it presents the quite specific procedures initiated and employed by the dominant figures in the Inquisition, as well as the surprising number of those attempting resistance, along with his new ‘element’.

Discussion: This is a fascinating and most informative story that should appeal to a rather diverse population of readers. Historians certainly will find much to learn as will those interested in beliefs of Judaism and of Catholicism of the era. A story of unrequited love is included, as are numerous references to bits of understanding of facts about the anatomy and functions of the human body as well as initial, perhaps surprisingly advanced, thoughts about surgical cleanliness available at the time. Thus, as readily admitted by the author, although tenuous, the tenets upon which certain of his actions are based are technically and scientifically feasible as well as the actions of Jews and Christians in this time of religious chaos arising from greed and ignorance. A most interesting and relative ‘Postscript’ is included as are suggestions for ‘Further Reading’ that history devotees will find extremely helpful. A somewhat unique aspect of this volume that may appeal particularly to readers who do not enjoy ‘cliff hangers’ where the protagonist or similar is left in a precarious position, resolution of which awaits the succeeding book, this first of a trilogy is a ‘stand-alone’ volume. However, sufficiently well done to make the reader anticipate the next in the series.

5* Historical fiction engagingly presented for reasons described.

The Unconquered

The Unconquered, “Originally published 2018 as Heart of the Dragon – The Oracle Current version is Edition 2 Printed by Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing.” Copyright and written by Peter Man.

This book is unusual from several different aspects, thus actually requiring a somewhat different (and lengthy) review format. It is sub-titled Children of the Divine Fire, Romance of the Flower Kingdom, Book One and is a novel but also described as “An Epic Drama across the Galactic Stage Spanning the History of Human Civilization including that of mysterious CHINA.” It also is assumed that Jim Brown who participates actively in a China-themed “writers group,” participated in some manner in that he “came to notice and appreciate the mind and work of Peter Man, who has now graciously accepted our invitation to join TGP’s stable of affiliated writers.” Several glowing reviews describing the book’s imagery – art history, world geography, mythology, literature, sci-fi, action, militarism, mystery, thriller follow; then a preface; Table of Contents containing an Author’s Note; 52 chapters; “Why you should write reviews”, “Image Licenses” and “Acknowledgements.” A dedication follows “to Charlie Man Dunn because he may one day want to learn the meaning of being Chinese” while the numerous ‘Acknowledgements’ are issued with respect to individuals who in one way or another affected the author sufficiently to evoke an intense interest in China and its world relationships or would be so affected; then follow “Examples of approximate Putonghua (Mandarin) pronunciation using English spelling”; and ultimately, arriving at Chapter 1 which has the interesting title “Everything is a Lie” which informs the reader that he/she is about to be introduced “directly into the crux and climax of the unlikely, unfortunate, and unfathomable events that befell upon one ordinary and unexceptional girl by the name of Victoria Solana.” The story begins to unfold when Victoria as a small child had been given to Michael and Angela, a couple who had moved to Canada because of trouble in their own country, by David (Chinese who didn’t look Chinese) for her protection. Here she develops into a pleasant young girl with magnificent intellect seemingly as a result of exceedingly good training. Suddenly, her parents are killed in an orchestrated attack by a huge truck while she survives and again is rescued by David. He informs her that the two of them now “were facing a very powerful enemy that’ll use every evil tool at their disposal, including lies and illusions. In real life, fraud, deceit, and malice are usually mingled with truth and sincerity.” He then explains that he is using a “VR Gamebox” that “will help convince you that there is another reality….basically a lying device to teach you about the truth. It’s a Paradox and an oxymoron. But you’ll decide what is real. Think of me as your guide and mentor.” “We enjoy unfettered freedom of expression which includes the freedom to lie, the freedom to slur, the freedom to insult, and the freedom to use the basest profanities in the Holy of Holies. Lies pervade the air we breathe …”  “This is the brave new world we live in – the Land of Lies.” “I’m training you to fight the final battle. We need you to win” From here the story follows Veronica as she learns of her strange heritage that reaches back through centuries in China and why it is so important for her to survive.

Discussion: The author here has exhibited the mental abilities and extensive knowledge that have called forth the lavish praise mentioned above. He is eclectic as well as appearing to provide, almost to a lexicon degree, a history of China. The quantity of material alone regarding China’s centuries-long history is enthralling in its range from the similarity of the causes of the trek begun by 86,000 peasants that ended with 8100 to that of the American Indians’ Trail of Tears, to presenting further material with respect to the duplistic part played by Chiang Kai-shek. Additionally, the basic plot is intriguing and the multi-genre approach excellent. Thus, as stated, as a historical treatise, this book is most illuminating and the fictional plot is unique enough to provide great interest. It is only in the presentation of this latter, that this reviewer encounters disappointment. It gradually assumes a level more appropriate for young adults but again only partially. It is granted that we are reading a story, one of whose genres is fantasy. However, the credibly acceptable characters first presented gradually move further into fantasy until eventually being ‘swallowed-up’ within this fairyland and fading away to a point where we are informed that any questions raised “my friend, is another story.” Granted, this analysis obviously depends upon highly individualistic evaluation and may be that of this reader alone. If totally a personal conclusion, this reviewer offers most regrettable and sincere apologies, and suggests that each reader may need to make his/her own personal evaluation.

3* 5* eclectic with fascinating Chinese history; -2 Most difficult to review/interpret.

The Thin Gray Line

The Thin Gray Line ISBN: 9781098740139 assumed published, copyright and written by Michael Kenneth Smith.

This is a story of the Civil War between the states of the newly expanding democracy. The protagonist, Luke Pettigrew was little more than a boy when he is forced to leave his home on a hardscrabble farm in Tennessee by his seemingly uncaring father. He joins the confederate Army, is severely injured and attempts to make it home, when Clyde, a trader, finds him struggling, lifts him into his wagon and gives him a ride to his burned-out home a short distance from his own. Worried about him, he returns to find Luke passed out, takes him to his home where, with Joanie his wife’s help, he removes the partially destroyed leg above the knee because any medical help is at least 50 miles away and he won’t be able to make it alive. As he begins to recover, Clyde’s young sons Timmy and Tommy start asking him questions and he tells them his story. Luke had been assigned to the Ambulance Corps where he had met Col. Bedford Forrest, had performed heroically in battle, had fought at Shiloh, had joined Jeb Stuart where his horse had been shot from under him resulting in the badly injured leg that had required amputation. From this initial activity, Luke continues an interesting and quite serendipitous journey through the war-torn south as he engages in numerous activities dictated by the time and his abilities – care of the wounded as well as amputees specifically, a group with communicable disease, racial concerns, impact of the war on social relationships and more. The characters include several important and even notorious figures of the time as well as a number of fictional heritage.

Discussion: Although presented as a most interesting fictional tale with appealing characters, the author has set forth a fascinating history of some of the first and little known successful attempts made to supply functional artificial limbs to amputees. A man by the name of James Hanger initiated the procedures and lived until 1919 but his company continues today “as a world-wide leader in the development and manufacture of prosthetic devices with branches around the world. During WW I, the company received contracts from the U.K. and France and vaulted them to the top of their field where they remain today.” The only unfortunate aspects of the story are the manner in which the proof readers have let the author down and just a passing but haunting thought of what happened to Luke’s ‘long-sustaining true love’.

5* Heart-warming Civil War tale providing interesting historical details.

Into the Woods

Into the Woods, a 16th century mystery novel assumed published copyright and written by Josh Soule.

The book opens with Chapter Zero where a “beast, no longer interested at clawing its way through the door to devour the family dwelling inside, but rather the townsmen who had just fired his musket… it did not slink through the trees… The beast was no longer afraid, no longer timid; it no longer would hide from the people of this town. The monster would not stop until it had its fill of death…A deep rumble escaped the beast’s throat as it skulked its way down the dirt path toward the town square.” A prologue follows that apparently begins recounting events that preceded this occurrence by three months; i.e. March 3, 1590. The reader is introduced to John who has left Paris where he had been studying art, to return to Carn, a small town on a trade route that is home to farmers and tradesmen. He has no family, was raised by Michael, the town priest who also was responsible for Thomas and Henry who were in similar circumstances. They were inseparable as children and often played close to and occasionally ‘on a dare’ entered the huge forest that began at the town’s edge. Their ‘acts of bravery’ occasioned by the rumors of its being inhabited by a creature that supposedly could change from human to beast. As the friends are reunited upon John’s return, more information is provided about them. Henry is married with small children and seemingly possessed of some lung problem; Thomas is a very large man, a hunter as well as owner of a farm on the outskirts of the village and a real ‘loner’; John again lives in the church with Michael, is the intellectual of the threesome and often approached by town residents for help. As time progresses, reports of cattle being killed in a horribly destructive manner surface and the three friends decide they must investigate for the safety of the town. Thomas and Henry are constantly at odds on the method to be followed and John acts as arbiter. On one attempt they are attacked by a rabid bear and manage to kill it without being infected. However, John is brutally mauled with broken ribs and more, but does recover. The town celebrates the heroes and believes all is well and life activities continue normally until sometime later another attack occurs. The tale’s description of the time and activities leading to this and the subsequent events comprise the remainder of the story.

Discussion: This book’s most unusual and especially intriguing dedication provides a compelling basis for post-reading thought. It is to “every pastor, priest, or any other religious leader – no matter where you live or what title you go by it is a very challenging task to care for the masses as your own family – the severity and complication of this cannot be fully compared to the symbolism in this book. The physical, spiritual, and emotional toll you have taken upon yourself cannot go unnoticed. Thank you.” The tale itself explores the existence of a mental attitude to protect another individual from some feature/condition/action. Frequently such activity may appear to be helpful, but conversely it may provide grossly detrimental results. In accord with the author’s expressed beliefs, the tale examines this attitude. With respect to the mechanics of presentation, the story itself projects the period and its physical and mental patterns moderately well. The characters, although not as well ‘fleshed-out’ as they could be, are adequate. *SPOILER ALERT*! Their movement within individual scenes occasionally leave gaps that require the reader to fill, or ignore, and for the pragmatist, some of John’s post bear activity is most difficult to accept as are occasional activities of others.

3* 5* Post-read thought stimulant; -2 spoiler alert re: presentation, at end of discussion.

What Makes America Great

What Makes AMERICA GREAT ISBN: 0781950540716 Toplink Publishing copyright and written by Bob Dowell,

The author obviously is disturbed about the chaotic situation that presently exists within the country. Thus, he sets forth to examine a number of factors pertaining to the early development of America that he believes have been effective in attaining its greatness. His modus operandi first includes introductory remarks with respect to freedom from slavery and the gradual advancement of blacks to greater stature in the country and the part played by Martin Luther King. Lincoln and the Civil War, followed by the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments are included. By extension he proceeds to include women’s rights, the 19th amendment and the lesser known effort provided by Elizabeth Cady Stanton on its behalf at the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848. He then proceeds to look closely at the earliest influences on the country’s establishment and growth. First is examined the establishment of the Jamestown Colony in 1607 and that of the Pilgrims in 1620 and the religious leaders responsible in these early days. Subsequently he expands upon his main religiously based contention and provides interesting material little, if not un-known, to most citizens of this country. He discusses “The Day of Doom” reputedly a ‘best seller’ book extending from its date of publication (1662) until its replacement by Ben Franklin’s “The Way to wealth” in 1778. The former concentrated on man’s sins. The latter, no doubt influenced by Ben’s parental puritanical upbringing, also espoused the religious bases, but added practical aspects, and later published his list of proverbs on how one should handle temperance, order, resolution, frugality, etc. The author however did offer another thought on the subject. He briefly discusses Historian Frederick Jackson Turner (1861-1932) who presented the “Frontier Thesis” that described America’s greatness stemming from an individualistic, self-reliant, democratic American spirit.

Discussion: The author’s book no doubt was initiated by the deep chasm that exists today among those who espouse Trump’s “Make America Great Again”, those adhering to the mantra that “America Never Was that Great” and the others who are between. And it is granted, the author concentrates on biblical teaching and thoughts. As such, he has presented an interesting case that for America to reach its former stage of greatness, it must return to the precepts set forth by the first settlers. It further is understood unfortunately, that reference to God and the principles set forth here and by these people are distasteful today to many. But from this reader’s perspective, let us for the moment look at a very practical account of this subject. Specifically, let’s just return a few years to look at the basics of American thought held by the often referred to as the Greatest Generation. The one that survived the Great Depression that began in 1929 and then were faced with WW II as well. A few years ago I reviewed a book entitled Bluejacket published by Radioman 1st Class, John A. Hutchinson USN. He described his service which was served mostly aboard a destroyer, but also with time aground in Guadalcanal and participation in numerous major battles from Guadalcanal to the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay. Among his other statements, he says: “We Hope to be remembered as the products of a different country and society from what the United States of America has become in the last fifty years. Products of a far more disciplined society with rather rigid moral and social standards to which everyone was expected to conform given how society chastened and disciplined offenders. The way of the transgressor was hard. We were taught individual responsibility, that evil is due to character flaws in the individual and not to the shortcomings of society.” The WW II veteran author also went on to say, “We were taught to depend on God, to persevere in adversity, and to take care of ourselves and our families, and not to depend on society or government to look after us.” AND in explanation of some of his highly specific statements: “…while I hold strong moral, ethical, and religious beliefs, I am a very private man who usually keeps these tenets within. I feel that my relationship with my Maker is just between Him and me.” Also quite interestingly and appropriately, an adage became prevalent during that war that has been repeated by many people during each ensuing conflict by those actively engaged – “There are no atheists in Fox Holes.”

Summary: Interesting, well-presented historical approach to the subject that may not be well-received by a number of readers, but surely must be given considerable thought

5* Interesting, well-presented, only slightly lacking, historical approach to the subject.