Back to Life

Back to Life, A Hollywood Historical Mystery Novel, Fig Hollow Publishing, an e-book by Lawrence J. Epstein.

Plot: The story opens in Hollywood, CA on April 20, 1939 when the Nazi Regime was showing its increasing aggression. A killer devises and executes his plan to kill Marthe (Marti) Bevin an immensely popular American film artist who espouses the Nazi cause. The next chapter takes place a day later in Sag Harbor, NY where Charlie Singer’s wife is knifed to death by an unknown assailant just as he is returning to her after saving Katie Walker from drowning. It seems that Katie, a seemingly born loser, unfortunately changed her mind about suicide after jumping off a bridge. From this unusual beginning the tale progresses through a complexly interwoven plot that includes more murders, thought patterns prevalent at the time, numerous characters, long held secrets, and minute details easily overlooked by the reader but of the utmost importance in determining the killer(s). Through it all Charlie and Kati manage to survive and gradually to climb ‘back to life’.

Discussion: This is a mystery story written in a manner somewhat reminiscent of those of the fifties by an author who “is a former English professor” and whose other mystery series is about “a man who struggles to find his moral code and live out a life true to his honest self in a world of deception, temptation, and death.” The protagonist Singer shows much of this same attitude. Thus, many readers will find this book to be appealing, fast paced and with a protagonist who is naively engaging and successful in a totally unfamiliar environment.

4* Fascinatingly well-constructed mystery.

String’s Cross

String’s Cross, Heron Drive Press, a novel copyright 2015 by Guri P. Essen.

Plot: The main theme follows the lives of immigrants Rosa Maria Ambuehl, her siblings, her eventual husband Irving, and their children, espacially String. Rosa’s father was a displaced resident of Switzerland who settled in the orchard dominated section of California. Thus she was raised in a rather pastoral existence while Irv was a German Jew, product of New York City’s Jewish ghetto, the third largest such gathering in the world. Additionally, Rosa was a headstrong anti-Semitic young woman explained in part by the fact that she was a staunch Lutheran and was anti almost everyone not WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant). Irving was an avowed atheist whose two grandfathers were rabbis. He volunteered for WW I, was assigned to Hawaii as a bugler and when discharged from Schofield began his west coast sojourn. From a quite thorough description of the early beginnings of the development of the California citrus area, the author then sets forth a well and rather completely described evolutionary pattern of the early United States as it moves from pre-WW I, through the post war expansion, the ‘flapper’ era, Prohibition, the Great Depression, Pearl Harbor, WW II, the Korean War (earlier referred to as the Korean ‘Police Action’) and beyond. Included are musical compositions of the various times from early 1900 Ta ra ra BOOM de aye, to WW II’s White Cliffs of Dover and then Chattanooga Choo Choo, String of Pearls , Sleepy Lagoon and more by big bands of Harry James; Glen Miller, Artie Shaw and others; early entertainers such as Gloria Swanson and Theda Bara to Jack Benny, Bing Crosby, George Burns; early radio ‘crystal sets’ to TV and programs Mandrake the Magician, Flash Gordon, Dick Tracy with a wrist radio precursor by eight years to an actual model; other inventions such as the Model T by Henry Ford and the camera by George Eastman; and on to the McCarthy Hearings, sentencing of the Rosenbergs to finally silicon valley. Five aberrant chapters, 9, 11, 13, 15 and 17 are labeled First through Last Aside and deal first with the author’s explanation of his relationship with the publisher with respect to finishing the book for medical reasons. The second, third and fourth set forth considerable material with respect to his own life, both personal and with his less than successful entrepreneurial activities and how he was able to cope and adjust. The last a rather extensive presentation of the demise of his father. The book ends with a follow-up of characters included in the narrative.

Discussion: First, this is an extremely well written book from the standpoint of description. The characters are complete, the theme well followed, the individual ‘eras’ well depicted, the examples set forth make recall easy for knowledgeable readers and provide superb new material for those not acquainted with the times depicted. The interjection of the author’s autobiographical data is somewhat startling and its continuation in advancing chapters a bit disconcerting. However, he does provide a most pertinent reason at the very beginning of his story. He quotes Saul Bellow quoting Alberto Moravia: “Every novel is some kind of higher autobiography” and follows with the fact that his relay of the usual disclaimer: “This is a work of fiction…” and follows with: “That legal caution attended to, you should be told that almost everything ever written is fiction” and proceeds to explain why. So, albeit it slightly annoying to this reviewer, it is totally an acceptable practice. As such, most readers will find a fascinatingly presented phase of American History. I believe I should be remiss, however, if a caveat were not included with respect to the detailed presentation of diagnosis and treatment procedures for prostate cancer, similar, but slightly less detailed for breast cancer and similar for the final approach and ultimate demise of a parent. For this reader, such material adds a depressing element and really, for any reader, adds nothing to the main historical theme.

3* 5* Well-presented period of history; believe caveat required, as described.

When Courage was the Essence

When Courage was the Essence ISBN: 9781544878119, Create Space Publishing, an e-book by Emilio Iodice.

In these “Lessons from History” the author states “This work is designed for educational purposes only and has been prepared with this in mind.” It is “to provide information and motivation to our readers.” After an unusually extensive disclaimer, the book moves to a provision by several knowledgeable individuals of a lengthy list and description of requirements needed by a leader for him/her to successfully reach that elevated position, and that “the fundamental quality that unites them is courage”. There follows a description of the multiple problems facing today’s world and why this need has become so pressing. The author next organizes the actual “Lessons” along “political courage, personal and professional and spiritual lines” and provides extensive coverage of individuals ranging from Julius Caesar to Abraham Lincoln, Teddy, Franklin Delano and Eleonore Roosevelt, and numerous others from an older political pool. From a newer group, persons such as Martin Luther King, Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Regan, Hillary Clinton, George H. W. Bush to name a few. Personal and professional a host of characters, not the least of which are individuals such as Oprah Winfrey and legendary baseball players Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Jackie Robinson. To represent the personal group early slavery escapee Harriet Tubman, Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl who was shot for her adherence to educational pursuits and the stories of several immigrants. The last story offered is a ‘homey’ referral is to the courage shown by the character portrayed by Jimmy Stewart in the motion picture “What a Wonderful Life”.

Discussion: This book certainly meets the author’s desired goal of being designed for educational purposes only. However, in this reader’s opinion, it goes even beyond his intended purpose. Quite literally, it is a profusely footnoted and referenced, scholarly prepared document by a person eminently qualified for the task. This reader did find that adjusting to masses of references within the body of the text was somewhat difficult until finally adjusting. Still, the production fits its desired goal in that it is written in a relatively light, fast-moving manner that will retain the interest of young persons. Parenthetically, older readers who may remember many of the individuals presented, no doubt will enjoy reminiscing as they follow the details. The author admirably has included the blemish on FDR’s otherwise remarkable record with his refusal to attack the supply lines and/or concentration camp furnaces of Auschwitz and others. Regrettably, he has not done as well with Hillary Clinton. And PLEASE do NOT attach any political inferences to the following. The following comments are included strictly in accord with the author’s desired goal of a “book designed for educational purposes only” – specifically “to provide information and motivation to our readers.” Thus, he nicely describes the gracious letter she penned after suffering her defeat, which parenthetically in the light of activity since, has made it appear rather as the mandatory letter required in such situations. The author further speaks of Hillary’s appearance before Congress with respect to the Bengasi Incident and describes how admirably she handled herself when facing a Congressional Hearing. Regrettably, he has not described a glaring fallacy as he had FDR. He failed to add her startling answer to questions about the death of the Ambassador and three other Americans by a mob attacking the U.S. Embassy. Her most shocking answer, “What difference does it make?” would seem to be at a monstrous level of insensitivity that few would expect to be acceptable as a fitting response expected from a leader. Think – Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King.

4* Credibly written book for designated audience and beyond.

Our Eternal Curse, ANOTHER TRIBE

Our Eternal Curse, ANOTHER TRIBE, A historical, mystery war story e-book by Simon Rumney.

Plot: After a quote: “Racism is a virus that can only be spread by us”, the story opens with the battle being fought at Shiloh in April 1863, a fact that was of no importance to Julii because “she had not yet met Captain Robert Calhoun, the man who would teach her the white man’s language.” And “She was blissfully unaware that each step (she was taking) was taking her closer and closer to unimaginable heartache…” as she followed the path she had been following almost every morning as a papoose on her mother’s back or on foot, almost every morning of her eighteen years. She is one of the last members of the small Koasati tribe banished by the parent tribe and the Cherokee Nation to a hidden valley known as “a bad spirit place” in Tennessee. Julii’s grandparents were the original inhabitants banished because they had persisted in marriage against all dictates. The small sub-tribe had avoided the American government’s “trail of tears” that had banished all Indians from the eastern states because they literally had not been known to exist. While walking, Julii hears unusual thunder-like sounds with no clouds in the sky and when she arrives at the creek she sees a pink man in unusual clothes who has fallen from his horse with his broken leg caught in the stirrup – none of which she understands, but releases him, gives him water and finally is able to get him to her village where she nurses him not only for the leg but additionally a severe and infected head wound. During his recovery, the reader discovers that she is an extremely intelligent person with remarkable powers of learning and assimilation, and although as a Southerner and racially biased, he still manages to teach her a considerable amount of English. Upon his recovery, she accompanies him back to Atlanta. On the trip he becomes enamored and they indulge in heavy sexual activity. Upon arrival, she is treated as other non-whites, he is court-martialed for deserting his command at Shiloh, her testimony is unacceptable because the prosecutor says she is lying about the short time she had been able to learn the language, there are no Indians left in the eastern states, and besides she is an Indian and no better than the other non-white residents. He is convicted and she is abandoned only to be saved by an Italian Count who detests the manner in which the white population treats anyone not of their color. Also as the largest supplier of armament for the Confederacy through his modern fleet of steam blockade runners, no one interferes with him. He believes and then discovers, that she actually is a reincarnation of a member of his family going back to the pre-Roman era and the story evolves as Julii continues to learn and with her tremendous intellect becomes involved not only in strengthening his business, but for revenge devises a plan to defeat the Confederacy. Ultimately she obtains her revenge on the abominably racist southerners while dishearteningly discovering that many of the Northern Union officers are no better and she pays a highly significant price for her actions.

Discussion: The story moves very slowly and simplistically through the early stages of the book, but eventually gains momentum to provide an interesting tale of realism intermingled with fantasy, revenge, reincarnation and retribution mostly incorporated in the historical settings of Atlanta and Savannah during the Civil War. It provides fascinating recall of similarities in historically relevant mistaken war maneuvers and sets forth interesting conjecture on the loss of Vicksburg and of Sherman’s famous/infamous March to the Sea. And finally to sum up the author’s intent, from this reviewer’s perspective, is to provide a story that not only strongly censors racism but also weaves the tale of a young woman who is destined to endure: “Life was never supposed to be something predictable and safe or “normal”. Life is a series of uncontrollable and unfinished events. Longing for the day when everything returns to normal was simply a vain hope. Normal was chaos and the only way to find happiness within chaos was to accept it. To surrender to it, to live amongst it. To let it take its course. To allow events to be unfinished.”

Conclusion: A slowly developing tale providing multiple emotions that can, or cannot, be embraced, and at a level determined by, the reader. A caveat MUST be offered for individuals who find accepted verbalization of the day too offensive as it is presented by the author.

3* Slowly developing emotional tale requiring caveat described.

Vanished in Berlin

Vanished in Berlin ISBN: 9781507669709, Libertine Press (2015) by Gry Finsnes.

Plot: Norway has been invaded by Nazi Germany. Young Norwegian Ellen Langno whose studies in Vienna have brought her almost to concert ready status is enamored of young composer/violinist German citizen Fredrick Koll who had come to Norway to be with her. He has disappeared. Even though the countries are at war, Ellen obtains permission to return to Vienna to finish her studies with her Jewish teacher and simultaneously to attempt to ascertain what has happened to Frederick. She becomes reacquainted with Paul, a part-time member of the old group of art students that ‘hung out together’. He was a businessman but with a quite commendable sketching ability and now was a Nazi officer who offers to help her. Eventually, he finds a list detailing that her love had been drafted into the Navy and was a member of the crew of a submarine that had been sunk. Numerous complications ensue because she now must make numerous decisions. She believes that she may be pregnant with Fredrick’s child; she must see his mother in Berlin, and Paul proposes marriage. Before and during these various happenings, the story resorts to numerous flashbacks of the time before her return to Vienna when Fredrick had followed her back to Norway. Included are the many required moves and subterfuge strategies employed to avoid the invasion forces so as not to be forced into the army to fight the Norwegians and simultaneously problems with her family and friends who were distrustful of him because of his nationality. Eventually, the story proceeds to a point where she asks Paul for time to recover from her loss and the story moves on in a rapidly developing manner to a conclusion that provides an ideal base for the second book in the series.

Discussion: The author states “I have done my best to keep to the facts of the Second World War …” and “The plot is entirely fictive, but all of the historical dates and background of the war are correct as far as I know. Many of the events which the main characters go through actually happened during the siege and occupation of Norway.” She also points “…to a few of the more unusual facts and explain.” Included in the list was the interesting: “The Germans gave crystal meth to fighting soldiers.” This is the third of this author’s books read by this reviewer and from this perspective it perhaps may best be described by paraphrasing part of my remarks about the earlier read of the author’s Stones Don’t Speak. Ellen is an attractive, self-centered woman accustomed to attention (here as a performer) being thrust into a totally unfamiliar and distasteful situation to which she has little desire or inclination to attempt to adjust until the situation leaves little alternative, and then her reaction may not always be the wisest. Nor is that of her lover who is sadly lost in the situation. The conclusion or summary, however, is identical.

Summary: The story provides an appealing tale centered on a particularly disturbing time and place in history and in a location seldom visited by authors.

4* Engaging, somewhat suspenseful tale of a time/place seldom recalled.

The Law of Moses

The Law of Moses, Sam’s Story, a novel written and copyright by Kwen D. Griffeth.

Plot: Samuel Moses Cardiff joyfully returns from teacher’s college anxious to see his family and especially his father, the local minister and school teacher in Elmira, N. Y. He is met by the family but informed that his beloved dad had passed away. A letter had been sent to him which for some inexplicable reason he never received. He is heartbroken, but with his plans to get a teaching job and marry Patsy, the girl of his dreams, he begins to adjust. Then he receives another blow. His mother asks him to join the forming military regiment that is being raised to fight the Civil War. She explains that his younger brother Luke has enlisted and she believes he cannot survive without Sam’s help. She firmly believes that nothing will happen to him, but does not have the same belief with respect to his younger brother. Under duress, Sam acquiesces but makes plans to marry his beloved Patsy upon his return. The two boys leave and are engaged in sporadic fighting including the vicious battle of Antietam. During a short interim bivouac, Sam receives a letter that Patsy has been killed by a spooked horse and almost directly thereafter Luke is killed in an unexpected attack. Sam attempts to shoot himself but is stopped by his Irish Sargent Major who tells him that it is a sin to commit suicide. At that moment Sam vows never again to allow himself to get close enough to anyone so as again to be so devastated. The tale then begins to unfold as he becomes a sheriff and deadly gunman who repeatedly takes on almost impossible odds praying to be killed so as not to continue the mental anguish that never leaves. As time advances he meets a number of interesting characters, he recalls his father’s almost forgotten admonition “Be the man you were meant to be, not just the man you become”, and a most compelling scenario develops leading to a captivating result.

Discussion: The author has provided a story that, although placed in a western setting, should not be dismissed as simply an offering in the ‘Western’ or ‘historical’ genre per se. The time frame makes a perfect setting for the activity and readers’ of either of these genres will thoroughly enjoy this book because the author is knowledgeable of the Era, the terrain, the battles and with the weaponry employed. The story reaches to far greater depths, however. This is a book that looks at a person with a condition that can evolve in anyone with active combat experience in any war. In WW I it was termed ‘Shell Shock’, Today it is called PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the author has quite admirably set forth a captivatingly written novel depicting such a person and his struggles at recovery.

Conclusion: A well-written novel that may be enjoyed by those few remaining readers who still love ‘westerns’, those who enjoy ‘historicals’ and perhaps even more importantly, it is most pertinent to the tastes of today’s more sophisticated readers is the engrossing description of one person’s activity dealing with a condition quite widely existing today to a greater or lesser extent in many veterans.

5* Fascinating, well-written story enjoyable for lovers of several genres and most pertinent today.