Forsaken Oath – A Review.

Forsaken Oath, A Dana Hargrave legal mystery by V.S. Kemanis,  Available on Amazon US and Amazon UK.

Four years ago V.S. Kemanis came to my attention via a Kindle Book Review request, and at that time I was quite impressed with her story collection called Everyone But Us.

So, now I have just read her fourth (in order of publication) legal mystery.

The title arises from a charge made by Ellen C. Fortier, founder of Justice Restored (an innocence project):

“We’ve subpoenaed Dana Hargrove to testify on Monday in the case of the People against Ramón Pineda. She’s a woman who shuns her duty to seek justice. Prosecutor Dana Hargrove has forsaken her oath of office.”

Several stories, intertwined, create a complex and busy plot:  the murder of a haute couture designer;  the trail of an unscrupulous financial advisor; a class-action suit filed by the husband of Ms. Hargrove; the murder of a bodega clerk; that of a conspicuously public crusader and her n’er-do-well brother; a bit of BDS&M thrown in for a nefarious ex-fashionista; an assistant D.A. who has trouble following instructions; the protagonist’s attempt to eke out a vacation from Trial Bureau 90 (position peculiar to the New York  District Attorney offices).  At least a couple of the story lines have unexpected conclusions.

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys the complexity of the New York State legal system and understands the “lawyer talk” (“No more graveyard, no more chart.” ) or to anyone who wants some intelligent writing for a change. My only quibble is with the “office banter” which seems somewhat contrived.

So, download the book before you have to return from your holiday!

Leila Smith. This is  an independent, fair and honest review. We are not associated with the author nor with Amazon.

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The Percentages Men – A Review.

The Percentages Men by Brendan Gisby. Available on Amazon US and Amazon UK.

Listen up you cubicle captives, statistical parameterizers, percentage purveyors!

When we say we are 95% sure that you will like The Percentages Men, we mean that in the bell curve world inhabited by Gisby’s characters, we think you will be in the middle 95% of the curve. We are not bothering with the standard deviations.

Whether it is a biannual public attitudes tracker survey about food and nutrition, or a survey about changing attitudes in Northern Ireland, or a salary survey or an investigation of complaints from council tenants, apparently social research is BIG BUSINESS in the United Kingdom.

Gisby’s novel could be set in most any sort of corporation. Those who power modern offices in their hamster wheels every day set will recognize the infighting and intrigues that infuse most office settings, the time wasted on assuaging egos, arguing about parking spaces and corner offices. In The Percentages Men we have James Boston, a/k/a Jimbo, the star statistician; Dan McKay, a good manager; Jack Lamb, an ironic name for a ruthless person obsessed with his own power; and Neville Brown, the familiar “yes” man who looks out for his own interests and marches around with the Territorial Army in his spare time. By the way, Gisby’s corporations have women directors too.

There is a quest for the “secret formula,” vacation villas, “greasy” accountants, takeover deals and lots of suspense. Then, of course, the office romances; raucous parties; dreaming and scheming keep the reader turning the pages. Also, unexpectedly, there is the underlying tension between the Belfast men and the Scottish men; between Catholics and Protestants, as the novel starts in 1985. But the reader will also learn a bit about random probability sampling, sample sizes and other information useful in evaluating the blizzard of studies which hit the newspapers outside of the novel every day. The reader’s bonus is an introduction to the Belfast way of speaking, some Scottish slang and a perspective on public transportation versus using one’s private automobile, so it is.

Gisby writes with the assurance of one who worked his way up in business, from a poor family in South Queensferry in Edinburgh to an author’s retirement in Perthshire. His characters are well-developed. The plot does not plod! The Percentages Men moves along smartly. Market Surveys Scotland goes through many incarnations. On the way to a conglomerate (MSUK), Market Surveys Northern Ireland, Market Surveys North-East arise along with changes in share values, divisions arising and dying, directors being hired and fired.

We learn the fate of each main character at the end including one character who “reinvented himself as a writer, an author.” “… Maybe one of these days he’ll write a book about MSUK.” Well, I think he did and I’m glad he did. I enjoyed this novel.

 

 

 

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Spill Simmer Falter Wither – A Review.

By Sara Baume. Available on multiple platforms.

Beautifully written; disturbing to its core, especially disturbing that so young an author understands so deeply social isolation, loneliness and despair.

From Sara Baume’s Prologue: “He is running, running, running. And there’s no course or current to deter him. There’s no impulse from the root of his brain to the roof of his skull which says other than RUN. He is One Eye now. He is on his way.”

She is telling us about the rat terrier One Eye, but the inexorable rush to destiny also applies to the 57-year-old motherless child who casts his lot with One Eye.

Ray needed a rat terrier. He found One Eye but only after a badger found the dog first.

Why he needed the terrier is a complex question. He had rats, to be sure. Why he had rats is for the reader to discover. One Eye had no one. Ray had no one. Then they had each other.

“I summoned every last dot of valour I could scratch from my soul, I swallowed a shot glass of rescue remedy and went to the social welfare office. I filled out forms and ticked boxes. I found that continued survival came down to a simple matter of form-filling, a basic proficiency in the ticking of boxes. And because I managed never to miss a box or make an illiterate mark on the bottommost line instead of signing my name, nobody came. And here I am still, and here you are.”

“My father’s name was the same word as for the small insectivorous passerine birds found most commonly photographed on Christmas cards, with orange-red blushed breasts as though they’ve been water boarded by molten amber and stained for life.”

Our narrator is never explicitly named, but he is Ray. He speaks to One Eye (and sometimes, seemingly to us) and interacts only with the clerks at the post office and the grocers. He shows One Eye (and thereby us) the circumscribed world in which he lives. And I use “circumscribed” advisedly. He starts and ends his life in a small Irish village, with limited financial resources and no social support. He exhausted his savings account and could have collected rent, but that task, like so many others, seemed too overwhelming.

“For two years now, the hairdresser hasn’t paid a snip of rent, I’ve only just realised that. She used to post it through the letterbox on the first working day of every month in an envelope that smelled like sweet glue and hand cream. But for the last two years, not a snip. And why would she bother, when the landlord’s disappeared and there’s only his idiot son who won’t notice anyway? And I didn’t notice, did I? So maybe I’m everybody’s idiot after all.”

Baume peels away each prickly leaf of the whin, painfully, one at a time, as she reveals Ray’s secrets.

She also gives us a survey of the flora and fauna of the Irish sea coast – Bowerbirds, chamomile, furze, cuckoos, silverweed, nasturtiums, jackdaws and all manner of living things, flaunting their living as Ray tries to hang on. The alliteration abounds: the “grandiosity of grottos.” The multitude of Marys meets us around the bend. We smell what Ray smells: black mold, cigarette smoke, old slippers and, Baume tells us, time. Irony abounds. The ever-present radio tells Ray and One Eye about endangered species.

This is a remarkable book, not only for the gorgeous language which others have noted, but also for the unmistakably Irish fatalism and folk wisdom contained therein. “Tomorrow, once our slanted slates have collided with the course of the sun, we’ll come back here, I promise.”

The language brings to mind that wonderful Welsh Marches story by Peter Maughan, who also reveres the plants and animals of Batch Magna, “a place on a road to nowhere in particular,” but where the prose trips and trills over the tongue if one reads it aloud. Unlike The Cuckoos of Batch Magna, Baume’s book is not one for those who insist on happy endings. Ray says it best when he tells One Eye:

“This is the way people survive, by filling one hole at a time for the flightiest of temporary gratifications, over and over and over, until the season’s out and they die off anyway, wither back into the wall or path, into their dark crevasse. This is the way life’s eaten away, expended by the onerous effort of living itself.”

 

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The Wild Folk – A Review.

The Wild Folk by Flora Kennedy available on Amazon US and Amazon UK and on Barnes and Noble.

The enchanting fairy tale woven from seaweed, sea, sand and selkies by Flora Kennedy was a pleasure to read.

Sibilant alliteration throughout the prose carries the reader along on waves lapping the shores of the Hebridean islands, reminding this reader of Ring of Bright Water.

The Wild Folk is the kind of book that almost reviews itself: the reviewer cannot really add anything except an admonition to buy it.

“He’d slither through the seaweed, its flowing, feeling, fingers of fronds fondling and tangling and he would point to the place he was going to land himself, always a different place, with a bony pale white finger at the end of his lanky arm and I would race over to that spot of his choosing and wait and watch. Me on the grounded shore. Lachie in the flowing water. Separated.”

Lachie and Lorna, Lorna and Lachie. Islanders. This is their story. They form a very insular, inseparable pair, until Lorna grows up and joins the world of the others. It is a story of formal education vs. the lessons of the sea; of adults vs. children; dying in hospitals vs. dying on the island. It is a story of secrets: dangerous secrets and tender secrets.

The relationships are deep as the eyes of Uncle Niall’s cows; as deep as the flowers and foliage; as deep as the pools where Lorna and Lachie swam as children.

Kennedy tells us:

‘The thing about Coll Finn is that it’s precious piece of land in wild sea; an island we can cling to while the waters all around us change. That’s why islands are so special.’

Lorna says:

“Our signal is a scarlet handkerchief of my mother’s that I wrap around a round grey stone on the roof. The stone is there on the corner to stop the tarred roofing material curling off in the heat. Lachie can see the roof of the caravan, the big caravan that is, not the small one perched on the side of it like a wee fluffy fledgling tucked into its mother’s breast. Lachie can see the red from the hill at the end of Struan beach between his place and ours and knows it’s safe for him to come.”

Through Kennedy’s book, we are fortunate to get an introduction to the Gàidhlig phrases which convey meanings between and among the island folk of the Outer Hebrides, the ancient language of their ancestors.

‘Auntie Ruby told me that if I collect enough sheep’s wool I can use it stuff a cushion and maybe she’ll give me one of her old summer dresses to use as a cover’ I say and Lachie smiles and nods ‘tha sin uabhasach math’

We learn a bit of Western Isles history:

“Later in Oban there was a girl at my school who was eerily beautiful with her brown skin and black curls. We were friends for a few weeks and she said she had been told she was a throw-back to the Spanish invaders centuries ago. I told her she looked Maori to me and how I wished I looked like her and I told her of the Maori shearers who slept where they were welcomed.”

It is a story of death and mystery: Who killed Lachie? My only quibble is with the structure in the middle of the book – the voice changes suddenly.

At the wake we meet some of the island folk:  We meet John-Mac, the constable; Aunt Ruby; Kirsty, Johnny, Freya and Finn; Agnes and Jack; Mrs. Cuddy, the librarian; Hughie and Seumus; Margaret Petersen and others. Alec and Dougal are there along with Big Brodie, Fergus and Jordan. Significantly, we do not meet Malky. But we learn some devastating truths.

The language is poetic and ever evocative:

“They are like the standing stones at Totronald transposed there onto Struan beach. Quiet, ancient sentinels to something no-one remembers or knows.”

Leila Smith, for The Kindle Book Review. This is an independent, fair and honest review. We are not associated with the author nor with Amazon.

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Falling Star – A Review.

Falling Star (The Watchers Book 1) by Philip Chen – Available on Amazon US and Amazon UK.  and on Barnes & Noble

“The hologram rose out of the plate and the President saw what Johnny Thapaha [Navajo medicine man] had seen over the forty-some years he had welcomed the morning sunrise with plate in hand.” 

I really enjoyed this science fiction adventure. Unlike most of the dystopian “science” fiction books I receive for review, Chen’s book is heavy on “science” and plausibility. Actual events meld into fictive events (not just invented but inventive to make a specific point) so deftly that this reviewer found herself on the verge of believing the unbelievable. 

The story spans the years from 1967 to 1993, following the career of Lieutenant Mike Liu, the secrets of Navajo Shaman Johnny Thapaha, assorted KGB thugs and, if that were not enough, the fate of the “fourth alien” from “the Socorro and Roswell incidents.”

The reader will certainly get his/her “money’s worth” from this novel. 

At the heart of the book, and the mystery, are the four “mysterious objects” deep in the silt under the oceans around the perimeter of the United States. 

“The curtain of state secrets fell quickly on the mysterious object in the Hatteras Abyssal Plain. “ 

There are Defense Intelligence Agents on the case; there are “CSAC” agents competing for attention, and their agency is so secretive that even meaning of the acronym is classified. By the way, there is a woman agent too, Mildred Swensen; and a woman assassin, Julie Davenport who interact with myriad other interesting characters clothed in the kind of detailed development usually found in a literary novel. 

(For those readers who dabble in numerology, the number four (4) appears fifty-nine times, so watch for it.) 

“Because of this and, perhaps because this alien took four days and four nights to expire, Johnny Thapaha believed him to be an emissary from the Great Spirit.  Johnny Thapaha called him ‘the traveler.’ “ 

You will have to buy the book to find out what happened before the alien died! 

But the best part of Falling Star is the chance to learn about magnetometers, submersibles, sonar technology, oscilloscopes, Heckler Koch MP-5 submachine guns, and other integral equipment – lots of technical information – from an author who is also an engineer, trial lawyer and investment banker. If the reader pays attention, he/she will also absorb some geopolitical realities, the vicissitudes inherent in the war between Congress and science and the meaning of Starlength 1300.2! 

Buy this book before the mysterious sonic booms shake your reading room. 

Leila Smith, for The Kindle Book Review. This review was not solicited. This is an independent, fair and honest review. We are not associated with the author nor with Amazon.

 

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Hyper – A Review.

Align, Define, Deliver and Reference – useful advice for a change., December 8, 2015

Hyper by Gregory P. Steffine. Available on Amazon US and Amazon UK.

If you think you are using “Agile Methodology”, you had better be Nimble and Quick.
That’s the advice from Gregory P. Steffine in his well-researched and organized book called Hyper. Do not hesitate! Get that prototype to your client early in the process.

Although ostensibly a book on Business Intelligence in the usual sense meaning “mining” data and transforming it into information useful to analysts and decision-makers, this book contains common sense business intelligence which will be invaluable to Business Analysts who need to learn how to effectively extract and organize requirements.

Steffine quotes subject matter experts from Alvin Toffler (author of Future Shock and many other thought-provoking books) to Stephen Few (Data visualization expert).
For the most part he avoids the usual crutch “buzz” words and jargon which render many “business” books useless to the uninitiated statistician or data analyst, and tiresome to the discerning BI (business intelligence) analyst. There are, however, a few jargon-type words which got by the editors. On the other hand, his bibliography and footnotes may be worth the price of the book.

Chapters 13 and 14 on organizing your data are especially pertinent.
Chapter 26 on “Big Data” is worth a look.
Chapter 25 on Dashboards and Business Intelligence Delivery contains some very good suggestions.

Steffine provides process flow charts and offers templates and outlines as a bonus to his readers for organization of their projects as opposed to the “blather” that populates many of these “how to” books submitted for review.

I would definitely recommend this book to data and business analysts.

Leila Smith, for The Kindle Book Review. We are not associated with the author nor with Amazon. The Kindle Book Review received a free copy of this book for an independent, fair and honest review.

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In The Electric Mists With The Confederate Dead – A Review.

In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead by James Lee Burke.

Available on Amazon US and Amazon UK.
Echoes from the 1860s across the bayous.

A sense of foreboding drifts over New Iberia from the very first page of this most literary novel, as the reader is treated to not one but three mysteries: one is thirty-five years old – the murder of Dewitt Prejean – and serves as a device to draw characters together. Lieutenant Dave Robicheaux, FBI agent Rosie Gomez and General John Bell Hood (1831-1879) search for a sadistic murderer in present-day 1992, the second mystery. They use logic, assumptions, luck, setups, breaches of ethics, intuition and extrasensory clues to determine the connections between an unlikely security guard Murphy Doucet; a hapless has-been movie star Elrod T. Sykes and his lady friend Kelly Drummond; a mobster Julie “Baby Feet” Balboni; the long-retired night jailer Ben Hebert; movie director Mikey Goldman; bottler and “respectable” business man Twinky Lemoyne and others like Sam “Hogman” Patin who plays Harmonica and Twelve-string guitar. Don’t you love the names?

The third mystery concerns General Hood and Major Moss. That mystery, dear reader, will not be solved for you by Mr. Burke. That is a mystery for the Ages.

Hood, noted for bravery, recklessness, and aggressiveness, is in some ways an alter ego for Robicheaux. Hood was ultimately defeated by his former West Point instructor. Robicheaux is almost defeated by his boss the Sheriff and deputy Rufus. But, Hood blessed with hindsight and foresight is able to help Dave prevail.

USA Today described this novel as “mystery cloaked in eloquence.” It is that and more. Electric Mist captures the people, the patois, the swamps, the dark and humid atmosphere so vividly, I will remember Burke’s New Iberia forever. I do not usually read mystery or crime novels, but I have received a couple of that genre recently for review, so I have some limited exposure. However, In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead ranks with the best of books in ANY genre I have read. The genre writers should take their cues from the Master, Mr. Burke. Those amateurs who think that anything literary must be removed in order to appeal to readers or that gratuitous violence is a substitute for eloquence are ruefully mistaken. Burke’s murders actually occurred, if that’s important to the reader. His victims were “marginalized” people, who now live forever in thoughtful and intelligent prose. Burke has identified Keats, Chaucer, Milton and Shakespeare as the greatest English language writers but has said that Faulkner could join their rank at the Tabard Inn. I think they would welcome Burke, too.
I have my own Confederate ghost, an ancestor, who would have been a major contributor to Southern writing, had he not worn the gray and died under a tree in Tennessee. Maybe not coincidentally, he spoke to me a couple of times this month marking the 150th year since the end of that Civil War. Maybe synchronicity led me to In the Electric Mist With Confederate Dead this month. Maybe General Hood did. This book of James Lee Burke brought my ancestor to consciousness again. If you like murder mysteries; if you like Civil War History; if you read literary novels; if you want to learn some French; if you would like to know more about Louisiana, then download it to your kindle immediately.

Leila Smith, for The Kindle Book Review. We are not associated with the author nor with Amazon. This review was not solicited.

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Our Wild and Precious Lives – A Review.

“Melly was here.”

Our Wild and Precious Lives by A.G. Russo Available on Amazon US and Amazon UK

I cannot improve upon what the other reviewers have said. This is an exceptional novel, which, as they have noted, seems more a memoir than a work of fiction. The Amazon author page is blank for Mr. or Ms. Russo, but surely the author was a soldier.

Our Wild and Precious Lives deals with the big questions of Life, Death, Love and Loss set against a backdrop of WWII and the Korean Conflict, and as another reviewer has correctly noted, from many points of view, all handled perfectly.

More importantly, it also deals with the social upheaval in families and societies caused by war, on both sides: on the side of the victor and on the side of the vanquished. Our Wild and Precious Lives makes clear the considerable costs of war paid by the ordinary enlisted soldiers and their kin. It wrenchingly pulls back the covers and shows us the pain and anguish caused by ordinary people trying to “do the right thing.”

Sergeant Major Jim McCarron, a hard-working Irish American is the overbearing patriarch of a military family, married grudgingly to an Italian woman to fulfill a promise to his best friend, with two unwanted children. Those children are also casualties of the Second World War. There are extended families suffering, too, in Brooklyn and in a village near Naples.

For those teens and adults who were born after the 1960s, this novel will teach them history not learned in schools as a rule. It will teach them perspective. The novel also covers the tense years of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Readers will learn geography; some German sentences necessary for kids to get by in a foreign land, split into East and West; European architecture; and will find an abundance of cultural information about German society, Italian society and American society. Some of those American cultural beliefs are only revealed to the holders of same against the backdrop of minority status in a strange land. They will become familiar with General Patton and the social stratification in the army at that time.

This novel also fits the “coming of age” genre in that we meet the two teenage characters when they are fourteen and thirteen, but it regresses and progresses in time deftly. Teenage problems such as bullying, racism, dyslexia, parental abuse, feeling misunderstood are handled sensitively and well. The movies and popular music of the time features prominently in the many school dances, which were among the few social outlets available to Army “brats.”

Cimarron, based on an Edna Ferber story, was Melly’s favorite film. It has been described as starkly beautiful, wildly adventuresome, and grippingly dramatic. At its core is guilt, a war over land, and a family disrupted. I understand Melly’s point of view completely.

Leila Smith for The Kindle Book Review.
The Kindle Book Review received a free copy of this book for an independent, fair, and honest review. We are not associated with the author nor with Amazon.

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The Never Hero – A Review.

The Never Hero by T. Ellery Hodges – “It’s that very formula.” The Quest writ large.

Available on Amazon US and Amazon UK.

“This was never about good and evil” is the phrase which prefaces the book. The dedication reads: “Dedicated to all who wondered where their Mr. Miyagi was while life was beating them down.” (Mr. Miyagi is the fictional karate master who advised The Karate Kid in times of trouble, prized for his philosophy as much as, if not more than, his martial arts skills.)

Finding The Never Hero was pure serendipity made possible by the cyber world of bloggers, twitter and indie authors. The Never Hero is a surprisingly philosophical novel, full of well-developed characters who do NOT think in bubbles.

“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.”
Friedrich Nietzsche, the author of that quote, undoubtedly inspired The Never Hero, as did Joseph Campbell (The Hero With A Thousand Faces is explicitly mentioned by Hodges).

This novel also owes its considerable substance to the author’s understanding of any number of comic book and/or graphic novel heroes and antiheroes: Batman, Spider-Man, Superman, The Hulk, Neo and others unknown to me.

One of Hodges’s characters explains to the reluctant hero: “Tibbs, you have to understand, in comic books superheroes and super villains are essentially the same character,” Hayden explained. “The hero or villain has something bad happen to him, and then they [sic] either become good or bad.”
These are the weighty issues examined in this novel: “To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering.” Friedrich Nietzsche.
“All things are subject to interpretation whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth.” Friedrich Nietzsche.
The heaviest weight faced by the hero in this book is the weight of inevitability – maybe faced by all heroes.

We follow Jonathan Tibbs from his calling by an other-worldly Übermensch, the flawed and not-all-powerful Heyer (who is Aryan in his appearance), to Tibbs’s apotheosis at the top of an unfinished skyscraper (remember Howard Roark?).
However, this particular apotheosis means a life-or-death struggle with a monster from another planet. The result of this struggle will determine the fate of human kind on the planet earth.
Now, if this sounds a bit grandiose, it is. But then, are not all of the divine myths explored by Campbell? Hodges ambitiously explores these mythologies in a very complex way. The protagonist’s two best friends are writing a comic book based on the New Testament while their friend, Tibbs, is living out the same story unbeknownst to them. His heroics will never be known or understood by anyone other than Heyer and the monsters that he slays. The reader will have to purchase and read the novel to determine why.

There is a nod to the jewel in the lotus, to supernatural aid when necessary, the quest, the dreams, the crossing of thresholds. Let us not forget the main trope or device in this work is the comic book.

“Hayden, come on. Ask an atheist if the Bible is a work of fiction. They’d hold it with the same esteem they do legends of Zeus and Hercules, which I might add are both also comic book characters ,” Collin argued. “If I get a Superman tattoo on my arm, it would be a symbol of values that I happen to find inspiring, just like a crucifix would be on your arm.” “A crucifix isn’t just a symbol. It’s not based on a work of fiction!” Hayden said.

Gentle reader, you will have to abide the usual silliness found in other science fiction books about incomplete knowledge. Neither the government nor the aliens can explain why they are breaching our time and space because humans cannot handle the truth. There are plenty of instances in which the explanations make no sense, but then perhaps they are part of the trope. The battles between and among the Roman and Greek gods were often explained by the ancients in incredible terms.

But to counter the silliness, there is a serious examination of growing up male in the United States:
“When his mother had told him his father was gone, when what she was saying had truly sunk in, he’d been ashamed at his initial reaction. It hadn’t been grief, although that had come later. It had been a suffocating fear. Jonathan had known, quite suddenly, that the shield between him and the world, the force that had defied reality to keep him sheltered, was suddenly gone, and he was afraid; afraid that he wasn’t ready to rely on himself.”

There is a serious examination of the loneliness faced by a reluctant hero who knows death is inevitable.
“This isn’t a comic book.” “Yes!” Hayden said. “That is exactly what it is. It’s exactly what those stories are about. You have to get down there.” “I didn’t volunteer for this!” Jonathan yelled, his fear spilling over into anger at Hayden for taking some moral stance when the situation required nothing of him.”

“There was no choice; it had the strength to move that he couldn’t find. When he let the thing take hold of him, its fury wrenched his eyes from the broken body of the girl and back to the monster in the street. Part of Jonathan curled down into a ball as the thing grew stronger. It fed on the responsibility, the disgust, the frustration, the unfairness, the very adrenaline pumping through his veins and silenced the part of him that wouldn’t act.”

For the comic book fans, there are plenty of “kaboom” and “kapow” moments and the writing is quite cinematic (no actual pictures necessary). For the action fans, there are battles. For the science fiction fans there are teleportation and transformation. For the romance fans, you will find romance. But for serious readers willing to sidestep the implications of a comic book trope, there is some fine writing contained in The Never Hero.

Leila Smith for The Kindle Book Review.
The Kindle Book Review received a free copy of this book for an independent, fair, and honest review. We are not associated with the author nor with Amazon.

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Novellas of Mari Biella – A Review.

The Quickening, The Song of the Sea, Loving Imogen, Summer by Mari Biella

Available on Amazon US and Amazon UK

How does she do it? Channel Henry James, I mean.

While it is grossly unfair to Biella to include all of her Amazon offerings in one review, I want you to read ALL of them.

Like the ravenous sirens in The Song of the Sea gobbling up a hapless sailor (spoiler alert), I read all the above in succession. They are that good! “Poor old Jake,” the fishermen say, looking up from their nets as he walks along the harbour wall on chill grey days when the wind is up and the clouds are low…” “He ain’t been right since the accident.”

“It was just that, he said: singing, pure and high and sweet – the sweetest sound he had ever heard or could ever have imagined. There were no words, for this song was too ancient for language.”

James, noted for psychological thought experiments, hovered over my shoulder as I read Loving Imogen, a tale of twins of questionable origin and a schoolmaster, growing old and irrelevant alone, suddenly cohabiting the same small house. What Maisie Knew came to mind, too, because of the precocious nature of Biella’s young characters.

“And so here he is, amidst the debris of a spent life and a dead love, an ageing man for whom no one cares. “An unenviable position,” he admits, standing by the kitchen door and watching the dusk gather over the hills. “Most unenviable, indeed.”

Are you getting the picture? This is seriously good writing.

The Quickening put me in mind of The Romance of Certain Old Clothes in that Biella’s story is certainly Gothic, a story of the revenge of the dead and another thought experiment about the effect upon a remaining sibling and parents when a child dies.

It is also unfair to doggedly compare Biella to James, because she deserves her own place in modern writing. She is imaginative, meticulous in her choice of words, creates amazingly atmospheric narrative and utterly enchanted this reader. Somehow she manages to write in an almost-19th century voice, acutely aware of the consciousness of her characters. She has mastered point of view and interior monologue whilst writing about the supernatural. She creates the conflict, nostalgia, the notion of the sublime we sometimes associate with the past – a kind of romanticism which forces us to deal with her characters’ terrors and intense emotions on their terms. We are pulled into their inner worlds. “Back then, I thought that houses were but stone and wood, and had no power other than that which we chose to bestow on them. I thought that abandoned houses were only pitiful, the haunts of mice and spiders and beetles, and believed that nothing could quicken in empty rooms and silent spaces.”
Summer brings us another ghost story in a village outside of London. “An old house and excitable women ,” one paper blared the next day, alongside an unflattering photograph of Peter scowling at the camera. According to the rectory’s owner, Mr Peter Anderson, the supposed ghost is an all-too-human prankster.” “She loved walking through the rooms at dusk, watching as the darkness took them in its arms and rocked them to sleep.”
Biella is also a very good story teller.

So, gentle reader, if you’ve grown weary of the usual modern vapid offerings, spice up your literary appetite with a hapless sailor or two; maybe a tasty spectre; maybe these wonderful ghost stories.

Posted in Literary Fiction | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments