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.

Tap Sapiens

Tap Sapiens (Reign of Sapiens’ Evil [R.O.S.E.] Book 1) published, copyright and written by Robin T. T. Poon.

This post-apocalyptic, Sci-Fi opens with young Brandi Perry travelling on a bus through sections of the countryside varying from complete destruction and ruin, small towns with inhabitants living on a barely above starvation level, areas of obvious wealth and plenty, and finally arriving at the army’s station where she is to be inducted into the armed services. After the usual examinations, issue of clothing, etc. she is assigned to a barracks with other new inductees. After ‘lights out’ she finds herself to be overcome with restlessness and quietly moves to the door, exits and wanders throughout much of the area including the officer’s building. Here she has an almost disastrous encounter with two officers, one of which is the commanding general. She returns to her own building where she is greeted by her immediate bunk mate. Gradually, the reader discovers that Brandi’s reason for joining the army is to somehow destroy the stranglehold it has upon the populace through the inequality dictated by the Supremo and enforced by his army. Death and destruction not only are continuing but actually increasing quite rapidly. She discovers that her bunk mate has suffered greatly, as have others whom she gradually begins gathering to her in a small group. After boot training, assignments are made and she finds that she has been promoted to 2nd Lieutenant and moved to another building where she now has only one other roommate. This person, also having been poorly treated by the army, but continuing because of the needs of her family, becomes convinced of Brandi’s sincerity, and joins her group. From this point, the activity escalates as more about Sapiens becomes apparent and with Brandi developing a problem because of a growing attachment to the equally affected general who allowed her to retreat to her own barracks that first night when she wandered into the officers’ quarters.

Discussion; the author has set forth a complicated tale of revolt against tyranny complicated by introduction of romance. It moves along relatively well, is peopled with interesting characters and generally should appeal to those who like dystrophic tales with an emotional component. A number of characters are unaccounted for, bits of early history are injected in a somewhat ‘startling’ manner and other minor features no doubt will disappear as the author continues to mature.

4* dystrophic tale; surprising developments and a bit of romance.

Cache, Cache

Caché, Caché ISBN: 9781948046930 Telemachus Press copyright and written by Peggy A, Edelheit.

As the story opens, Sarah just has been confronted with her husband of twenty years, David’s demise. Sarah, had been a young woman fearful of being hurt emotionally, who had shied away from any extended relationship with men except for one. Blake, a young MD with whom she had established a close relationship in which each seemingly reveled in a companionable, brother-sister type association of just being with and sharing each other and their thoughts. Admittedly upon rare occasions, a romantic thought might open in her mind, but afraid of the possibility of in some manner spoiling the enjoyable association, it quickly was exterminated. Blake, worked in older and established physician David’s research laboratory and introduced the two upon an occasion when they met. David, although 20 years older than Sarah, was handsome, physically fit and enjoyed daring motorcycle trips as well as other often similar activities. The attraction was almost instantaneous and they married shortly thereafter without her even offering a hint to Blake with whom she normally discussed everything. Shortly after this marriage and although never previously demonstrating sustained interest in any woman, Blake married Jennifer, a lovely young photographer who was in rapidly rising demand because of her expertise. Blake and Sarah’s close platonic relationship continued with no apparent disruption and with apparent complete acceptance as such by their respective spouses and the two families continued an enjoyable relationship. As time progressed, each made great advances in their endeavors. Demands for David’s lectures and consultations soared worldwide; Sarah’s books were tremendously successful; Jenifer’s photographic skills called for extensive travel; Blake, with a surprising ability to draw and paint and the constant urging of Sarah, switched from medicine and became an artist renowned for his work that demonstrated incredible sensitivity. Regrettably, Jennifer passed away after a few years and Sarah aided his gradual acceptance. Now, she was in a similar position but even worse because of thoughts generated from David’s parting words and action. Just before dying, David had given Sarah a key and told her that his death now would release them both. Of course Sarah was shocked. Not only was she experiencing extreme inability to deal with his death, but also was deeply concerned and drawn to the mystery. Her widely ranging thoughts went immediately to David’s recurring periods of withdrawal. They were brief and their pleasant way of life would quickly return. But then, she remembered that he had insisted that she go to Florida alone to clean out and close down their condominium there. Her many thoughts and struggles are laid bare for the reader to follow as she debates whether to move forward and attempt to solve the mystery or just ignore it and attempt to find closure without additional stress.

Discussion:  This book’s author, already successful in her Samantha Jamison Mysteries, appears to have progressed further in her maturation as a thoughtful author. She has quite poignantly pictured the plight of a character faced with the death of a loved one with whom she has shared the vicissitudes of life for many years. The multiple thoughts and processes through which such an individual would progress demonstrate a remarkable understanding. She also has added additional levels to her plots. There is the obviously disturbing one of mystery that in itself would generate many conflicting thoughts and questions. But even more appealingly, this is a person who has carried a repressed fear of rejection that constantly would shade many, if not most of her life’s activities. Would she be able to face this long-held fear and perhaps conquer it?

In summary, this volume is a mystery in more than the usual sense and in some ways a departure, or perhaps an interesting extension to the theme of the author’s already successful novels. It depends not only on finding the object that the key will open, but additionally on attempting to discover if she ever will be able to discover in her introspective meanderings the cause for her psychologically directed misunderstanding and/or simple avoidance of the many ‘signs’ and thoughts which had been apparent but ignored through the years.

5* Mystery/romance; interesting author’s growth to another level.

Slater’s Tempest

Slater’s Tempest assumed published, copyright and written by T. J. Jones.

This 3rd book in the Slater Mystery series follows former Navy Seal, now PI Eric Slater, as he and his ‘working for her license’ love Maggie embark upon solving another mystery. This one is in the Florida Keys where the much loved daughter of an exceedingly wealthy tycoon supposedly died when hurricane Irma tore through the area in 2017. It was believed that Isla the daughter, had taken her beloved dead mother’s boat, the Caroline, out trying to save it by sailing it to safety. Slater is contacted by the tycoon when he receives in the mail a neckless that his purportedly dead daughter never removed. Slater and Maggie, with aid from Jasmine, his young ward who is eighteen, brash, overconfident with a mind of her own, but really a most intelligent and nice young person who enjoys ‘pushing his buttons’. It seems that the old man has ALS with a remaining 3 -5 year life span. He now was struggling with numerous additional complications arising from his less than exemplary life style. After being cleared of killing his first wife with whom he had been totally in love, but both had ‘messed-up’, he had married a beautiful younger woman. Seemingly, his money was not important because she really cared for this much older man as a result of her own early problems. His daughter Isla, close to the new wife’s age, did not equate well with her and for that matter believed her father did kill her mother. He had a brother who was intelligent and a part owner of his company, but actually was a ‘playboy type’ individual interested only in the money, not the company. The caretaker for his mansion actually was a brilliant engineer who helped develop many of Dunbar’s products. This man’s longtime live-in Asian friend/wife (?) who serves as the mansion’s cook also had some strange type of relationship with the owner’s family. Then there is a local PI who works as a barman at his son’s local tavern and whose other son is a recluse growing marijuana. Still others are entangled in the very complicated plot that even includes a ghost of Eli, an old sailor in some manner associated with the dead wife and/or the house. All in all, an interestingly involved tale including mystery, romance, humor, many psychological overtones and even a touch of the occult that the author ultimately is able to untangle.

5* Well-written, addition to the seemingly popular developing series.

The French Orphan

The French Orphan, first published 2012, 2nd Edition 2013, e-book assumed published, copyright and written by Michael Stole.

The plot centers around a young, penniless orphan enrolled in a theological school in Reims whose mission was to indoctrinate sons of nobles into the ways of the church. For some unapparent reason he becomes close friends with Armand, a handsome popular fellow student. As time evolves, the reader discovers that Pierre actually is the son of a man who had been the Marquis de Beauvoir, but confusion existed because he had married an Englishwoman who was not catholic (at this time of extreme religious animosity). Further complications evolved from the fact that Pierre’s father’s older brother who was dominated by his son Henri, was deeply in debt and jeopardized most of his remaining estates by taking one heavier loan to pay his pressing debts. Cardinal Richelieu was involved in his usual clandestine manner to attempt to gain all of these properties. Henri, a vicious person to whom life meant nothing if the individual stood in his way, wanted the Marquis title with the monies and estates attached. As the action unfolds, the reader learns that Armand’s father had been a dear friend of Pierre’s father and actually had enrolled him in the school hoping the two boys would become friends. As may be determined from these few sentences, the plot is quite as complicated as the old manner in which English and French Family titles were held and dealt with by reigning Kings and the impossibly powerful Cardinal Richelieu of France. The situation was further roiled by the fact that the French King was particularly more attracted to young males than to members of the distaff side, but also was still much attached to his sister who was the reigning Queen of England. Pierre and Armand sneak away from the school and the resulting action intensifies. It is replete with espionage, betrayal, distrust, deceit, feats of bravery and love interests by characters acting the appropriate parts, all leading to only a degree of closure that requires the now involved reader to await the next volume to ascertain further knowledge of whether all will end satisfactorily for Pierre and his lovely amour.

Discussion: This is an interesting tale that is nicely paced and peopled by characters who should appeal to readers who have a tendency to enjoy a plot embracing a protagonist whose serendipity overcomes all odds so that seemingly he eventually will accomplish his goals and live happily with his true love. The author seems well-versed in the muddled history of the period, and aware of the ill-fated Knights Templar and the long standing rumors about their ultimate ending. If the prospective reader is a historical fiction aficionado, is one who enjoys the type of story described, and doesn’t mind having to wait for the action to continue, this book definitely is for you.

3* 5* Well-plotted/written/characterized historical tale; -2 as described.

A Spell of Murder

A spell of Murder ISBN: 9781838880958 Bookouture, London copyright and written by Kennedy Kerr.

The story follows the activities of two local but very modern witches as they attempt to solve a murder that appears to involve some manner of witchcraft. Their home belonged to their parents in the small town of  Lost Maiden’s Loch, named for the small lake in Scotland which had gained its name from  a young maiden who mysteriously had drowned in its waters. The sisters’ parents had been quite knowledgeable of the dark arts, even purportedly have taught the subject. The two young presumed witches are thirty-year-old Temerity Love, owner and proprietress of Love’s Curiosities and her 2-year-older sister Tilda, each quite accomplished in different most unusual subjects. Temerity was the proprietress of a small antique shop, Love’s Curiosities, in their home, but more importantly was a world renowned clairvoyant who had the gift of psychometry or psychic provenance that allowed her to gain extensive history of an item merely by touching and/or holding it – a talent of immeasurable importance in the antique and collectors’ world. Tilda was an authority, verifier and dealer in rare books as well as an Herbalist. Thus, their designation. The plot involves a number of prominent characters living in the town as well as the Laird, his home, wife and former wives, his sons, two of his old mansion’s remaining staff members, the town’s police officer, his quite newly arrived replacement along with Temerity and Tilda and their unusual knowledge as they attempt to unravel the mystery surrounding the death of a relatively newly arrived school teacher.

Discussion: As aptly explained by the author, this is a tale about “a little Scottish village alongside one of those strange, sometimes enormous lochs. A gossipy, cozy village where, sometimes, strange things happen and two local witches are on hand to investigate…” This reader found the description basically to be quite accurate and, for the most part, the story enjoyable. The only detracting features were insertion of ‘Americanisms’ in an otherwise Scottish tale and a sense that the charming picture developed in the book’s earlier chapters would have continued unabated if a little more judicious editing had been employed in the last third of the volume.

3* Charming mystery tale with slight caveat.