Breaking Free

Breaking Free, ISBN: 9789493056145 Amsterdam Publishers. Good to Go, Part 1 copyright and written by Jeffrey Vonk.

The author has provided a quite unusual travelogue that begins in Switzerland and ends in an Afterword that brings this native of Holland to Chicago, IL on an impulsive decision. Between these points of ‘advanced civilization’, his journey takes him through parts of Russia, China, Tibet, Nepal, India, African Gambia, Jordan, Syria and Kurdistan. Perhaps even more intriguingly most of his journey was conducted singly on a Chinese built motorcycle, on foot and even horseback with occasional local bus and invited rides on trucks, vans and unusual personal transportation. His sleeping accommodations were at the least expensive hotels and/or hostels, personal homes and frequently ‘hopefully acceptable’ shelters in abandoned buildings or even the open air where he could pitch a shelter, or perhaps not. Conditions encountered for the most part were extensively primitive. Quantities of food and water frequently were low and even dangerously missing for periods of time. Quantities available were purchased if possible, or provided for one reason or another by many kind people he encountered.

Discussion: This is a fascinating tale of travel largely in some of the most poorly developed areas of the world undertaken by a young man who is intrigued by different cultures and thrives on living a totally different way of life. His story is descriptively presented and a reader can only marvel at the fact that his survival itself is quite remarkable.

5* Travel tale for those interested in other, often primitive cultures.

The Prince of Manhatten

      The Prince of Manhattan an e-book assumed published, copyright and written by Alexi Iskander.

The reader is introduced to Prince Leofric, the son and heir apparent to the throne of King of Northumbria, one of the seven kingdoms existing in the northern part of Great Britain roughly in the years 600 – 900. Cedric, his father, is holding a victory dinner celebrating a huge victory over the “Howling mad Picts’ as they raided from the north and descended upon the kingdom in the early summer months. Leofric is watching his uncle Aethelred closely because he believes he will attempt to do away with his father Cedric and take over the kingdom. This is exactly what transpires when he manages to kill Cedric, place blame on the son and, with the help of Siana, the most powerful witch of the time, has him transported through time, as well as space. Leofric awakens ultimately in New York City’s Greenwich Village. Concurrently Miranda Hazelgrove, a young NYU student from Albany, has finished work at a restaurant where she works to supplement the financial support she is receiving from her parents. Deciding to take a bus rather than the subway because it is a shorter distance to manipulate her tired body, she is accosted by two killer rapists. Leofric is nearby, hears her screams and rescues her. His attire with sword and all, as well as his manner of action and speech do not cause her any unusual thoughts because there is an event taking place in the city where people are acting out their individual idiosyncrasies of thought. After expressing her thanks she discovers that he has no place to stay for the night so invites him to share her apartment. He does and from here the reader is introduced to a recounting of their activities, both individually and collectively until a finale of sorts is reached.

Discussion: The author has presented a fantasy/romance/space/time travel story that apparently a number of readers have enjoyed. Most regrettably this reader is not one of them. From this perspective the tale provides abundant physical activity but it is set forth either with little understanding of the extent of training an individual such as the prince would have received or to present him as quite incompetent, in which case it is amazing that he would have survived his life in Northumbria. Thus, much of the story seems forced. There also is abundant repetition, missed words/spelling and even usage; e.g. people do not “saddle up” to people they sidle up to them.

3* For romantic YA, Young-at-Heart or those interested, amused by era differences.

The Sojourners

The Sojourners, Outskirts Press, an e-book copyright and written by T. L. Hughes.

Mike Hogan, after splitting with his girlfriend, decides to leave California with his long-time buddies Kansas born Luke Coppens and Ohio born Declan Brady (Decky). They spend a month driving from Huntington Beach, CA to Lowell, MA where they leave Luke’s ’64 Ford Fairlane in his parents’ driveway and embark for London to obtain jobs in the music video production business. They arrive at Heathrow Airport in late September of 1984, discover that such jobs are unattainable and begin a wandering journey through parts of Europe and beyond for Mark. They lose Decky in Amsterdam because he wants to explore his roots in Ireland. He and Luke continue on to Munchen (Munich) to experience the fun of Oktoberfest and the depression of visiting Dachau and lengthy conversations with a former member of the Nazi Party about Hitler, WW II and Apartheid. Then Luke and he part ways as Mark decides to take the train to Austria and then continue through former Yugoslavia’s Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Macedonia and Greece. Here he discovers the hub of all international travelers, Syntagma Square, and visits the Pantheon, Acropolis, and Parthenon, before taking off for the islands of Ios and Santorini. His journey then takes him to Turkey and the ancient city of Ephesus before Istanbul and finally returning home with a little financial help from his family to resume with his original girlfriend and settle into a life no doubt affected to a greater or lesser extent by the trip and the diverse people, cultures and places visited.

Discussion: Fundamentally a travelogue that has been written in a memoir like manner with the wanderings through such varied cultures and variety of individual personalities encountered all of which seem eventually to have provided a serendipitous experience. If the reader enjoys rambling travelogues, the descriptions largely are accurate but minimally described and the presentation of an individual’s personal ruminations and analyses when encountering situations in differing cultures and the individuals thereof, provide some interesting features. If the reader finds these features enjoyable, this book is for you.

5* For a particular type of reader.

The California Run

The California Run ISBN: 9781946409553, Penmore Press, a historical e-book copyright and written by Mark A. Rimmer.

Plot: Achilles, a newly commissioned clipper ship sets sail from New York to Frisco with a Whaler Captain, who also was a Quaker, in charge. His daughter, Emma, who has accompanied him for several years and is an experienced seaman, is with him. He has a quite brutal 1st Mate and a 2nd Mate, Nate Cooper, who is a young experienced seaman but is in his first, somewhat insecure assignment as an officer. The ship is to depart for San Francisco at the same time as a similar ship, Sapphire, captained by Jonas Blunt who has made the journey before but seemingly is quite addicted to alcohol. No similarly destined cargo ships have left New York in several weeks so not only will the first arrival gain the best prices for their cargo, but also will win for the owner a sizeable bet made with the owner of the other clipper. The story, following mostly Achilles’ journey in the dangerous trip ‘around the Horn’ (the southern tip of South America) is fraught with problems of weather, tides and similar indigenous to the journey, but also sabotage, murders and a mutinous crew. Nate and Emma are forced into most unusual positions and the competitive race becomes a tightly contested one. A number of other interestingly portrayed characters also aid the plot: Sarah Doyle, formerly Lady Thompson’s maid who was supposed to await the next ship but instead assumes the position of her former employer; Henry Jenkins a man whom she has duped out of his money, who becomes a crewman on the Achilles after being shanghaied: Gideon whom the unprincipled owner of Sapphire, Thaddeus Oglesby, has made sure for his inclusion in Achilles’ crew for the purpose of sabotaging it so his ship Sapphire can win the race; Thomas, Oglesby’s incompetent son; a bordello owner with 3 of her girls; a brutal 1st mate and other crew members that play interesting parts in the tale. This is a story replete also with abundant details of the structure of the old ‘square riggers’ and their handling in various seas, currents, fog and wind.

Discussion: This tale of a race between two clipper ships from New York to San Francisco in the early days of the ‘gold rush’ when Frisco still was Yerba Buena is a fascinating tale on several levels. At this particular time supplies were short and the residents of Frisco were largely dependent upon those that could be brought by these ships. These newly designed ‘greyhounds of the sea’ could make the journey from New York to Frisco in 100 days and were much in demand. Unfortunately, upon arrival the crews mostly would ‘jump ship’ to attempt to enrich themselves in the gold fields. Resultantly, Frisco harbor was literally overfilled with empty ships unable to obtain sufficient crew to return for another run. The only way sufficient crew members could be obtained was by ‘Shanghaiing’ them. A ship’s captain could pay a combine of bar owners who would drug the drinks of patrons and waterfront thugs who then would deliver them aboard the paying ship. More frequently than not these individuals knew nothing about sailing but were forced to learn rapidly by brutal first and second mates. The author, as “presently one of only a handful of captains worldwide who is qualified to command a fully-rigged ship the size of the clippers” is eminently qualified to write about these ships and does a remarkable job of interspersing fascinating ‘lessons’ into this well-plotted story. Only two caveats must be provided. The story’s early description of shanghaiing crews is so intertwined with the Yerba Buena details that at least this reader was momentarily confused as to the point of departure of the ships. Secondly, many of the details of the vessels, seamanship, weather, tides, use of the sextant and similar material may be a little too pedantic for some readers. However, and parenthetically no doubt, as one who has done a considerable amount of sailing and also made a ‘trip around the horn’, I found the discussions of use of the sextant, tides, winds and points of reference especially fascinating. Unfortunately, or perhaps most fortunately because of the weather, my Horn trip was made in a relatively large motor vessel, but it was enough to bring each feature presented quite sharply to mind.

Conclusion: A totally fascinating historical tale that should appeal to anyone who enjoys sea stories of the period and even more so if you have sailed and/or had the opportunity to ‘go around the Horn’.

5* Fascinating tale of the Clipper Ships; regrettable caveats for a few readers.

 

Dark Ocean

Dark Ocean ISBN: 9780992902841, Seaward Publishing, an e-book by Nick Elliott.

Angus McKinnon is a seasoned Marine investigator who, although working independently, semi-officially works for Alastair Marshall’s CMM investigative company based in Greece. Angus is in Hong Kong investigating a situation with respect to the Lady Monteith, a ship being used by the Japanese and sunk by an allied submarine during WW II. The vessel reportedly was carrying a huge amount of gold and Sinclair Buchan, the original owner is interested in its reclamation. Angus receives a call that Alastair has died suddenly and so must return to Greece. There he discovers that his employer/mentor/friend actually has been murdered apparently after escaping from the Toyama Maru, a small Japanese ship. He again meets Clair Scott, the British Intelligence agent he had rescued several years before when she had been abducted during a Russian entanglement. She verifies his collateral knowledge that Marshall had worked for years with British Naval Intelligence since merged with the Ministry of Defense Intelligence Department. Together they were concerned about information that some of the radical imperialistic Japanese groups were more than just bugle blowing, mega-noisy, people parading the streets. Angus, somewhat reluctantly agrees to investigate for them while pursuing his on-going process with respect to the Lady Monteith. From this point, his life becomes filled with frenetic activity. He discovers that one Japanese group in particular, the Genyosha or Dark Ocean, has ties to a Geneva based study group and that combined, their objective seems to be much more extensive than previously would have been surmised. His job then, is to discern how extensive it is and exactly how it is to be implemented and he must accomplish this feat by gaining the information piece by piece and assembling it. The story proceeds at breakneck speed as it follows his activities as he approaches this herculean task with unexpected help from unlikely organizations who cooperate because it is a necessity for the good of all. Unfortunately for Angus and everyone close to him, the activity is one fraught with constant danger and the imminent threat of death.

Discussion: To quote from this reader’s review of the directly preceding novel ‘The Sea of Gold’: “… the complicated plot and constantly changing world locations may not be to everyone’s liking but for the more sophisticated reader the author has quite masterfully assembled these perhaps somewhat disparate elements into an engrossing story that is quite difficult to put down.” This statement again applies but one somewhat disconcerting feature must be mentioned that does not seem to be apparent in the preceding volume. Here, Angus’ serendipitous survival repeatedly depends on a sizeable amount of good fortune, karma, or whatever. His Extra Sensory Perceptive abilities (perhaps more frequently referred to as instincts or ‘6th sense’) seem somehow to be lagging with respect to: recognition of danger producing situations, places and/or individuals; loss of, or slowed, ability when quick thought/action required; or perhaps he never had developed these necessities to the extent required for individuals in his present ‘secret agent line of endeavor’. This latter perhaps is the best explanation as Angus himself recognizes. He is an excellent Marine Investigative Agent but never thought about, or was not particularly enamored of being, a clandestine field agent, more vernacularly referred to as a ‘spy or spook’.

Conclusion: A fast paced international thriller with overtones in accord with today’s headlines and a somewhat reluctant but still very efficient, protagonist who appears to be only partly temperamentally equipped for this ‘new’ job.

4* Fast paced international thriller with a slightly reluctant protagonist

 

PRACTICAL TIPS to Live or Travel in CHINA

PRACTICAL TIPS to Live or Travel in CHINA, an e-book by Ani Right.

Following a Legal & Disclaimer section, the author sets forth a very extensive Table of Contents of material that quite literally covers all aspects of preparing to travel and/or move to, as well as to leave, China. Much of the preparatory material is routine but such items as useful apps to download and Sim cards in China are particularly thoughtful, as is the idea of keeping your hotel room card with you whenever you go out. The name/address are on the card and useful for a taxi or other to have directions so you can get back in case you do not encounter English speaking persons. Parenthetically this is a practical suggestion for any foreign country, and her suggestion to have at least a minimal ability to understand/speak the language is most practical. The rest of the book is devoted to quite extensive descriptions of the principle airports, cities, top hotels, best budget hotels, special hotels, motels and prominent places to see, all with distances from one point to another. Comparative bus, taxi, bikes, scooters, rental cars, high-speed trains, and air fares, time in route, and more also are provided. Also presented are activities in which to indulge that include explanations if new and/or different. Top western, Chinese and special restaurants of note, spas, housing, hiring of house employees/babysitters and still more, all with attendant costs and how best to acquire them are described at length. Especially important dos and don’ts of social activities are thoughtfully explained, as are the availability of organic food, home delivery, where to shop for what, scams of which to be wary, smoking and even a section detailing what to expect of toilets in China.

Conclusion: This book is a treasure trove of information that the prospective traveler definitely should read thoroughly before leaving and be retained as a constant companion while in China. Parenthetically, it contains some fascinating nuggets of information for the casual reader, if he/she does not mind skipping through the pages of copious factual material.

5* Must read travel guide if China is your destination; nuggets for casual readers.