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.

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After The Rising – A Review.

by Orna Ross

Available on Amazon US and Amazon UK

The sinking sands of Coolanagh – AFTER THE RISING, May 13, 2012

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This review is from: After The Rising: A Novel (An Irish Trilogy Book 1) (Kindle Edition)
`WARNING!’ they shout. `DANGER! The Sands on this side of the Point are Unstable and Unsafe. Do not Diverge from the Path.’Orna Ross has written a masterpiece and in this age of exaggeration and hyperbole I hope I can convey just how exceptional is her book After The Rising.

There is not a spare word nor a trite phrase anywhere in this book – the prose is absolutely gorgeous.

She clearly and lyrically tells the story of Cogadh Cathartha na hÉireann (The Irish Civil War) and its after effects through the research and recollections of Jo Devereux, who has come into possession of a chest containing her family’s terrible secrets. The war between the Free Staters and the Republicans claimed thousands of Irish lives and Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael live on as reminders of that terrible conflict.

A wise nun leading a pre-Cana class told me years ago that the social pathology of a family muscles its way inexorably from generation to generation unless some one person consciously decides to stop it and repair the damage. In Orna’s book, we follow that damage in the Parle, O’Donovan and Devereux families.

Orna writes a battle scene as well as anyone, and in this work tells the story of Cumann na mBan , the women who supported the losing side, the sinking side, and of Norah O’Donovan from a Free Stater family who loved Barney Parle a Republican partisan and of his sister Peg Parle in love with Dan O’Donovan and the tragic – never melodramatic – consequences. And in a more recent incarnation, we learn of Jo Devereux’s love for Rory O’Donovan, made impossible by the opposing loyalties of their ancestors.

She writes of the complexities of mother-daughter relationships made ever more complex in a time of war by hardened ideologies; of patriotism; of love for dear old Ireland; of out-of-wedlock pregnancies then and now.

The reader is treated to the epics and legends like Táin Bó Cúailnge and the way they are inextricably woven into the Irish consciousness.

And her gift for narrative brought me near to tears more than once.
“The window frames Mucknamore in full seductive act. Over to our right, the setting sun throws streaks of orange and pink and red along the sky and the sea borrows and flaunts the colours like they’re its own. Waves shimmer around the curve of the Point and Coolanagh and between the island and the sea, flat sands glisten with foam. Above it all, seabirds circle and swoop, silver-and-gold underwings flashing in the dazzling, dying light. ”
” Peg felt the mystery of a long marriage. The long melding of days and doings felt, in that moment, more significant to her than the melding of bodies to which everyone, including herself, gave so much attention. All that seemed a small thing to hold beside her father’s gentle lifting of his wife out of her sickbed, the lightness of her once-strong frame in his arms, the unexpected gratitude in the hands that slipped round his neck. Beside the living, companionable togetherness of them, which Peg had sometimes felt but never witnessed. It was a balm to her now. JJ carried Máire”

Ross (née Áine McCarthy) was raised in County Wexford, home to Vinegar Hill where 20,000 British soldiers put down The Rising of 1798, hence the title, After The Rising. It was an intensely personal experience for me to read this novel, because two of my ancestors were United Irishmen and my father’s family was divided by that Rising, and later in the American Civil War, my ancestors were again divided as were thousands of others.

If you are interested in Irish history, in the contribution of women to that country, in the complexities of families striven by ideology, in the glory of the written word, you will want to read this book.

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My Memories of a Future Life – A Review.

By Roz Morris.  Available on Amazon US and Amazon UK
Remembering Rachmaninoff and Ruby among the seaweed and the flowers., August 4, 2012
Beware your alter ego, especially if he is a treacherous incarnation from another place and time.When I started this book, I was almost sure that I would not care for it, but I was wrong, wrong, wrong.I enjoy character studies and this is one of the best and most entertaining I have read. This is one of those novels chock full of eccentric, offbeat (and I use the term advisedly) characters and xechers. It reminds me of a quote I just read from Sebastian Faulk about another novel:

“it is like being taken for a ride in a peculiar kind of car. Everything is of top quality – the engine, the coachwork and the interior all fill you with confidence.”

But then, after a mile or two the steering wheel starts to grow and shrink; the wind screen looks completely distorted, the driver is missing inexplicably for a few minutes from time to time.

Carol Lear starts her future life on a yoga mat “Being told by a barefoot girl to empty my mind. `Shavasana,’ she intoned as she passed me at a serene pace” (Savasana is, of course, the corpse pose.) So, she starts her journey to her future from her figurative death, unable to play her beloved Chopin and Rachmaninoff. Along the way she meets:Karli the spurned boyfriend; Jerry the gay roommate; Tom, Jerry’s friend; Eleanor an aspiring musician with a heavy hand, a lead foot, and one of Gene’s devotees, Aunt Jenny (who knows her only by reputation); Willa Barry the waif who plays the music of the spheres; Andreq and Ruhul (you’ll have to buy the book to find out about them);Anthony Moorish (reminiscent of another master of the Black Arts); Richard Longborrow, dapper crackpot psychic; medium-soothesayers(sic) cum kidnappers; Isabel the mercenary; P.I. Neen who has an unexpected employer, and Gene – Gene Winter, the cruelest most manipulative hypnotherapist she could have conjured up.

“Performing can be a full, rich life. But I hadn’t had a life. All I had was a six-foot wooden box. I’d locked my future into it as a child, deferring the rich, full life to some indefinite date. Like Andreq, I have to let it go.” Get it? six-foot wooden box? Perfect for a very long savasana.

And her journey to the future almost ends like this:
“Small plastic things nudge against my arm like feeding fish. My tapes. Loose tape curls around my hands. Or is it seaweed. Andreq, come to say goodbye. Until next time?”

Honestly, this book prompted me to go to a hypnotherapist, just to see if the American protocol is anything like the zany British ones (it wasn’t – but was equivalent in “hokiness.”)

By all means, buy and read it straightaway, but skip the hypnotherapist – he’ll take your money and your tapes and leave you xeching with Andreq.

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Joni Rodgers Discusses Indie Publishing and Literary Fiction

See my reviews of Orna Ross, Joni Rodgers, Roz Morris

Today Joni Rodgers is visiting Ascroft, eh?. She’s participating in a blog tour to celebrate the upcoming release of Outside the Box: Women Writing Women, a limited edition collection of literary novels featuring unlikely heroines.

Is indie publishing the new high ground for literary fiction?

Guest post by Joni Rodgers

CRAZY 2015Back in the mid-1990s, when books were made of paper and self-publishing was called “vanity”, my debut novel, Crazy for Trying, was published in hardcover and paperback by a small but prestigious literary press. I felt like God had pulled my name out of a hat. The advance was small, just enough for my husband and I to take out kids to Disneyworld, but the impact on my life was huge. Now I was an author instead of a talented dabbler with a pipedream of publishing. I approached my work—and my life—differently from that moment forward.


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Outside The Box – Women Writing Women available 2/20/2015

Amazon US and Amazon UK

Orna Ross

Joni Rodgers

Roz Morris

Kathleen Jones

Jane Davis

Carol Cooper

Jessica Bell

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Rope Enough – A Review.

Rope Enough (The Romney and Marsh Files) by Oliver Tidy.  Available on Amazon US and Amazon UK.

Thoroughly modern murder and mayhem.

Tidy has created a modern Detective Inspector who jogs and collects books – Romney – and his female side-kick named Sergeant Marsh. They solve crimes. Did she jump? Or was she pushed?

Tidy calls himself a “South Coast Crime Writer” “celebrating channel noir and other crime writing of the South Coast of England” (see his blog for further details). Rope Enough is also described as a “police procedural.”

Rope Enough is the first of its kind this reviewer has read. After one recovers from the reprehensible nature of the crimes, one discovers that the writing is very good, a pleasant surprise. This novel moves along at a brisk pace, with a few red herrings and unexpected twists and turns of plot. True to his pen name, the author has “tidied” most of the loose ends by the last page.

Romney manages to solve three crimes, kindle a romance with a younger woman, and trap a psychopath by trickery, tile a shower and that’s just before breakfast. We jest. This Detective is human, interesting and has some depth.

“Run, bath, fix of coffee, dress in his weekend town clothes and head into Dover for a good breakfast before scouring the charity shops and the few second hand bookshops for some delight waiting to be discovered.”

Of jogging, the author tells us: “He felt sometimes that the activity created a state of mind and equilibrium in which he could think more deeply and more creatively than at any other time.”

“He took a lungful of clean bracing sea air, stepped carefully over the stile in the fence and began jogging after them, all traces of his earlier limp gone.”

The “bad guys” are really bad and the cops polite. They take time for tea and biscuits, discuss crime novels, and seem to have compassion for the victims and their families. DS Marsh reads crime novels, too. There is an interesting variety of developed characters.

‘Not at all. You know what they say about coppers who read detective novels?’ Marsh didn’t, but didn’t like to say so, so she sipped her drink. ‘Don’t tell anyone down the nick, but I’m a big fan of the genre myself.’ ‘Really?’ ‘Absolutely. Doyle, Christie, Dibdin, Hill, James, Rendell, Wingfield, Harvey. There are some fine American practitioners. Chandler, MacDonald, and Elmore Leonard takes some beating. Some of the continental crime writers are worth getting to know, too, although I’m not so keen on the rash of Scandinavian stuff that seems so popular at the moment. But that might be as much to do with the translations as the original writing. And then you’ve got the older classics on both sides of the pond, of course.’

Despite the fact that I usually review literary fiction, I enjoyed this book very much.
The structure is good, the writing smart, the atmosphere wonderfully dreary, and there is social commentary about the status of the Kosovans and immigrants in the modern UK.

“In a town that had seen better days economically, for local residents who were struggling with the expense of life and lack of work, it was widely viewed as adding insult to injury as they had watched a steady stream of eastern European refugees trickle into their town…”

This book has social fabric and substance.

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Jake Miller’s Wheel – A Review.

Jake Miller’s Wheel by James Ostby.

Available on Amazon US and Amazon UK.

The land held great promise. The promise of Elysian Plain, the ancient Greek paradise.

“I’m here about Jake Miller.”

Montana is a vast state (4th largest in the U.S.), dependent upon farming, ranching and hard rock mining. It has over 100 mountain ranges, hence its name. The summers are hot and the winters extremely cold. It is prairie country, It is Continental Divide country. In the 1930s it was Dust Bowl country, with barns, houses and souls literally buried by the howling winds.

Into this inhospitable environment, Ostby’s protagonist, Jake Miller, trekked in 1913, only 24 years after Montana became a State. He planted himself 1,200 miles from his native Iowa. Why he left Iowa remains a question. But whatever the reason, it shadowed him for the rest of his life. The novel starts and ends in a grave yard.

‘Jake crawled to the head of the grave, leaned against the stone marker, and pulled his knees under his chin. It was dark and cold, but the inscription on the headstone seared his back: “And know that I will wait for you.”‘

“As the light enveloped him, and lifted him, Jake looked down and caught one last glimpse of his mortal form.”

Jake Miller’s Wheel is one of those rare nuggets we stumble across very occasionally while chipping away at our personal rock piles. Ostby’s writing is rich, philosophical, sometimes a bit “preachy” but always intensely interesting. How many novels can we find in the modern era that ask us to consider: “The capacity of humans to reason, and where he disagreed with Kant, on realism vs. idealism.”

“Are madmen aware of their madness? Most probably aren’t, so, Jake concluded–though somewhat uncertainly–that he was not crazy. But he wouldn’t bet the farm on it. ”

Ostby and Jake tackle “the big questions” of life and death, as well as schizophrenia, guilt, grief, searing loneliness and human strength and frailty, with intelligence and compassion in a wholly readable way.

“For as long as [Jake] could remember, even as a young child, he had felt the burden of some vague, weighty, hovering, moving, unseen part of him. Like a wheel, or–at it’s worst–a grindstone, that he could neither cast off nor control.”

Was it the Hindu Mandala representing the universe? Was Jake’s the square within the circle or the circle within the square? We shall leave that to the reader’s discretion.

Ostby takes us through the 1930s affording us a glimpse into the spare lives of the Norwegian and German farmers, the Farm Labor Party and its attendant political struggles, the prairie Lutherans and their box socials.

The characters are many and varied, some well-developed, some less so representing points of view. Ostby has peopled his novel with farmers, a sheriff, a prairie psychiatrist, a fortune teller, a medium, a doctor, alcoholics, pool players, disembodied prophetic voices and Lights.

‘The wind picked up again, and this time it stayed steady from the west. There would be no rain. The chickens kept eating, and Chaucer nuzzled Lars. “But I’m fighting it,” Jake said. “I don’t expect you to understand. People like you don’t have a firm grip on reality.”‘

“I’m here about Jake Miller.” “Jake?
What about him?” “What kind of a guy was he?”

Waiting for rain. Waiting for Fate. Waiting for Ostby’s next novel.

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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