Sunday, June 27, 2010

Sacred Night by Valerie Connelly

Reviewed for Review the Book
Publisher:  Nightengale Press

I love this book!  Valerie Connelly has an impressive imagination full of mystery and wonder that keeps the reader enthralled throughout. From gritty Chicago to the jungles of the Amazon, this book takes on a life of its own, and what a trip!

Two strangers, talented but unsuccessful in their lives, are "hired" individually to perform their music once a week at Rita's Bar.  Emily provides vocals with guitar and Dan is a pianist. This is their first performance and the place is packed. Unknown to everyone there, the Grim Reaper is waiting in the wings. Terrorists driving a car bomb for reasons we are not yet privy to, are about to come crashing through the front window.  Only two survive the horrendous blast. Our newly introduced musicians are found alive but unconscious. Rita has disappeared and no one knows if she was vaporized along with all the patrons, or left before the bomb detonation. No bodies are ever recovered.

In another part of the world, not far from Belem, Brazil, an elderly chief of the Tokablaki tribe is about to partake of a ritual which will return him to his earlier vibrant self. A form of rebirth, a kind of fountain of youth.  This ritual had been passed on through the ages, and soon it will be his "Sacred Night".  This ritual will involve the retrieval and ingestion of silt, Algala, from the bottom of the Amazon River. I like to learn something new in books I read and found the chapters about this ritual and its beginnings fascinating. Do I know if this really exists? No, but then this story is tagged a fantasy. Regardless, the author has given this part of the tale a plausibility and a sense of possibility bathed in tribal hierarchy, and therefore it plays a major role in our developing story.  Certainly there is factual information mixed with the fantasy.

Shifting back to our two survivors, they have been hospitalized in the same room and under constant surveillance. Emily is the mother of two girls and Dan is the father of two boys. It is decided for the present the four children would be best served by keeping them all together in a foster home while their individual parents either come out of their coma or pass on.

There is so much happening in this book all the way through.  Even with three stories weaving in and out, it keeps the reader riveted.  No one realizes that Emily and Dan are together in their comatose world and are trying to unravel puzzles in order to get back to "save" their children.  There is some mysterious substance found in their blood, unidentified. No one knows if this is compromising or helping their chances of survival. Emily's 16 year old daughter Miranda holds part of the key, but no one is listening to her.

Meanwhile, back in the Amazon jungle, many changes are taking place. The "business" that has been going on undetected for so long is in extreme danger, a type of danger that could mean death to our two unwitting  protagonists, Emily and Dan. The Amazon tribe who have been using Algala for so many generations and whose secrets were used to create this life-giving drug, are all killed.  Suicide bombers seem to be reaching out everywhere, and there is no hint of who is controlling them or who will be the next victim(s).

At the hospital, Emily and Dan appear to be losing their battle, they both seem to go through each step together. With so much going on in the book, it is difficult not to give too much away in a review. The tension which started the story has been building steadily, each bombing bringing a new flood of anticipation and fear to the characters and Ms. Connelly has a knack of transferring that anticipation and tension to her reading audience.  The various threads running through the book create their own kind of tension and bring together all the elements in the end, leaving the reader with a feeling of closure and relief, and yet is it the end? We are left with tantalizing possibilities in the future as the few survivors of the Tokablaki tribe hide in the forests of the Amazon.

This was definitely a thrilling ride for me, with lots to keep me interested quite aside from the mystery and thriller components. A complicated story that's easy to read, a difficult and unique challenge to an author and with Valerie Connelly at the helm, we ride out the tumultuous waves to safe harbor and enjoy the sail.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Dead Air: A Sammy Greene Thriller by Deborah Shlian and Linda Reid

Reviewed for Review the Book
Publisher:  Oceanview Publishing

A rash of student suicides has hit the campus of Ellsford University! What can be the cause? Sammy Greene is determined to get to the bottom of things as a reporter and talk-show host for W.E.L.L., the campus radio station. She is tough, dedicated, and prone to exclamations in Yiddish, a result of being raised by her traditional grandmother. She plans a Memorial show for the most recent, a young man with a great future ahead, a talented musician and composer, and homosexual.

Interviews with professors, students, and friends trigger some questions as to whether these suicides are what they seem.  A fanatical religious group, with an overly zealous leader preaching, anti-gay, anti-abortion, and anti-corporate funding of research, she begins to investigate the group as possibly responsible for the "suicides".

Having left her purse at the home of her biology professor during an interview, she returns the next morning to retrieve it, and the tape from her interview. When she arrives, Sammy discovers Professor Conrad is dead from a self-inflicted bullet. Another seemingly unrelated suicide? But why then did his mentor commit suicide in the same manner with the same gun 3 years before?  Retrieving her purse, she realizes that it was running until it ran out, and possibly there will be some evidence on it.

Thus begins Sammy's thrill-ride as she battles against all comers including the police chief, her boyfriend, the Dean, other professors, and the Reverend Taft. No one will listen to her, and all warn her to leave it alone, they are satisfied with the suicide theory. Even Professor Conrad had tried to warn her off.  If he was going to commit suicide, why the warning?

This story is fast-paced, factual in many ways, researched thoroughly by the authors who are well-versed in their subject.  The suspense is high and the action continuous with little snippets of humor to ease the tension. Suspicions take sidetracks throwing Sammy and Campus Police Chief Pappajohn off course several times. Danger lurks everywhere. She is not even sure she trusts Pappajohn.  Now, two students are missing. What is the connection?

A strong story and very current, the dangers in the world of today as we lose control of who owns what in business, what conglomerate is supporting life-saving research, this is a medical thriller that satisfies. When Sammy's missing tape is located after a suspicious fire destroys the radio station, answers start flowing thick and fast and in several directions. Everyone seems to suspect the wrong person(s). The race heats up all through the book, to a heart-stopping climax.

Both authors have written thrillers before. Both are in the field of health care and research.  This is the first collaborative story by Deborah Shlian and Linda Reid, and the first introduction of Sammy Greene, which appears to me to be the beginning of a series. If so, I will be watching for the next episode!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Little Giant of Aberdeen County by Tiffany Baker

Publisher:  Grand Central Publishing

This was a tremendous undertaking for a debut novel.  With a unique plot, a depth of perception, and strong characterizations, Tiffany Baker has done very well with it.  Some parts of the book seem to drag, but the 3rd part moves along quite quickly and with a surprising wrap-up.

When Truly Plaice's mother was pregnant, the town of Aberdeen joined together in betting how record-breakingly huge the baby boy would ultimately be. The girl who proved to be Truly paid the price of her enormity; her father blamed her for her mother's death in childbirth, and was totally ill equipped to raise either this giant child or her polar opposite sister Serena Jane, the epitome of feminine perfection. When he, too, relinquished his increasingly tenuous grip on life, Truly and Serena Jane are separated--Serena Jane to live a life of privilege as the future May Queen and Truly to live on the outskirts of town on the farm of the town sadsack, the subject of constant abuse and humiliation at the hands of her peers.

Serena Jane's beauty proves to be her greatest blessing and her biggest curse, for it makes her the obsession of classmate Bob Bob Morgan, the youngest in a line of Robert Morgans who have been doctors in Aberdeen for generations. Though they have long been the pillars of the community, the earliest Robert Morgan married the town witch, Tabitha Dyerson, and the location of her fabled shadow book--containing mysterious secrets for healing and darker powers--has been the subject of town gossip ever since. Bob Bob Morgan, one of Truly's biggest tormentors, does the unthinkable to claim the prize of Serena Jane, and changes the destiny of all Aberdeen from there on.

When Serena Jane flees town and a loveless marriage to Bob Bob, it is Truly who must become the woman of a house that she did not choose and mother to her eight-year-old nephew Bobbie. Truly's brother-in-law is relentless and brutal; he criticizes her physique and the limitations of her health as a result, and degrades her more than any one human could bear. It is only when Truly finds her calling--the ability to heal illness with herbs and naturopathic techniques--hidden within the folds of Robert Morgan's family quilt, that she begins to regain control over her life and herself. Unearthed family secrets, however, will lead to the kind of betrayal that eventually break the Morgan family apart forever, but Truly's reckoning with her own demons allows for both an uprooting of Aberdeen County's uncaring ignorance, and the possibility of love in unexpected places.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Full Circle by Nancy Gettelman

Reviewed for Review the Book
Publisher:  Nightengale Press

If I were to consider this book as a person, I would have to say it was warm and comfortable, like enjoying a friend's company.  But first, the reader learns that life for the characters hasn't always been that way.

Sara, the main character, has just caught a glimpse while driving home of someone she thinks could be her long-missing and presumed dead husband.  Her daughter on the same day, coming from grocery shopping is sure she has seen her father. Sara has never gone into details with Emma about what happened before his disappearance. The first few chapters are the memories of Sara as she reminisces about the past. Her life in Milwaukee, her childhood, her part in the family brewery, and her failing marriage.

Fast forward: With a rocky and unhappy background set at the beginning of the book, the story moves on as the reader is taken into the workings of the brewery owned by generations of Sara's family, and her life as a middle-aged businesswoman. Her daughter grown, a lawyer, and married, Sara has settled into the daily life of president of the family business. Although this is a city brewery, the camaraderie throughout of the employees and board is much like a small family-run atmosphere, but as often appears in every group, with the traditional prickly thorn. This particular prickly thorn is a family member, and also on the board.

Nancy Gettelman obviously is very knowledgeable about breweries, the descriptions so vivid I could almost hear the bottles rattling! I love books that are entertaining but where I can also learn something new.

But time works its way into the building and equipment rendering them gradually no longer viable, and after the long haul, Sara and her Uncle Vincent have concluded they must sell the brewery they can no longer afford to maintain.  Into Sara's life comes a reason to be happy again and perhaps find new life along with the changes that are about to happen to the brewery.  Changes that are more than satisfactory to all but the thorny dissenter, who opts out by selling his shares and retiring to Northern Wisconsin.

I love the way the reader is privy to the thoughts in Sara's mind, often at odds with what her words are saying. Particularly once she meets Robb Schneider, who has made a very good offer on the brewery, and still wishes to have the family involved. Only now does Sara appear to wake from the nightmare of her unresolved marriage and what has happened to Kyle, her former husband. Like moving into a new dream, she suddenly finds herself lacking confidence in her personal life, shy and afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing or sending the wrong message.

With encouragement from family friends and relatives, including her daughter Emma, she feels a great load has lifted and happiness can be hers. With an unexpected resolution, an announcement from Emma, an answer to the glimpses of Kyle, and new beginnings for Sara, she looks forward to a brighter future as she is finally able to put the past behind her.

The book is well-written with fully-fledged characters, a strong, balanced plot, and a consistent storyline. It flows very well regardless of jumping about 20 years ahead partway through the book; in a way it flows better because of this and the way it was handled. It's so refreshing to read a book of this type with the main character middle-aged, strong yet vulnerable, and with an exciting future ahead of her.  Full Circle gets the story right, well done Nancy Gettelman!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Spider Bites by Medora Sale

Publisher: Raven Books

This book is referred to as a "Rapid Read" book, short, with a little larger print. These books are easy to read and would be great for invalids, anyone with a shorter attention span, a commuter, or anyone who enjoys a quick break with a book.

Medora Sale has authored a great story with all the traditional and exciting elements of mystery held within a smaller package. As a shorter story, "The Spider Bites" lost none of its edge of mystery.

This full-fledged story begins with Rick Montoya, a suspended police officer under investigation for corruption. His nickname is the Spider, and he is innocent but does not expect to be accepted by his fellows even if cleared. He has spent the summer working on a farm and is just returning home.

The corruption frame is only part of what happens in this book. His former life is in chaos and the house his apartment is in goes up in suspicious flames. The action is crisp, the reader learns a surprising amount about his former life, his friends, his wife. There is a strong sense of more than one thing going on. Two people died in the fire, one of them in his apartment, which changes the core of the story... or does it? Are the murders related to the corruption charge? Is there something else going on?

This book will hold your attention to a satisfying close, regardless of being a faster than usual read. I really enjoyed the story-line and read it all in one day, not something I'm usually able to do. Quite frankly, I want to read more from this Canadian author.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Sidetracks by Valerie Connelly

 Reviewed for Review the Book
Publisher:  Nightengale Press

Take a wild ride on the railroad to oblivion or to a better life with "sidetracks" that will define you and your outcome. What thought would go through your head while sitting in this darkened train? On one hand we have a nondescript middle-aged woman who has just fallen in the tub and cracked her skull, as an equally ordinary delivery man arrives to deliver flowers, notes water coming down the stairs and rushes to her aid, pulling her out of the tub. Peyton was able to quickly punch in to 9-1-1. But while he is trying to save her life, someone else has slipped in unnoticed, and fires shots at both before Hannah's dog attacks the assailant and is subsequently killed. A very timely visit by Lynn Hargrove, a lawyer friend of Hannah, having a gut feeling that all was not well with her friend, results in again alerting the police and ambulance for both victims, who arrive just in time.

Our two protagonists, Hannah and Peyton, next recognize, if recognize can be considered the correct word, that they appear to be riding on a train to an unknown destination, though they do not "see" each other yet. 

Hannah is the first to become aware of the train and finds herself locked in a probable stateroom alone. But wait!  welcoming her, although she seems to be nothing more than a disembodied voice, and explaining to her what has happened to her and that she will be accompanied by various "Agents" who will assist her to relive important formative parts of her life. What she learns from these times of her life will eventually help her to make choices. There will be 4 Agents along the way. If she fails she will either go back to her life on the track she is on, possibly unable to function, end her life, or carry on with her life changed and going in a new direction.  The final decision will depend on the "Processor".

Although the theme has been sometimes used in various ways in the past, Valerie Connelly has written this book as fresh, fascinating, all-encompassing and surprising, the passages and sidetracks are thought-provoking, and the end result may bring surprises. The journey and trials in this book are personal and the reader can learn a lot from them.

Being that this is essentially a murder mystery, there are many chapters interspersed with what is happening in the background of their lives during this search within themselves. There is a lot going on in all directions, with Lynn and Detective O'Riley, the cop detective who responded to the calls, in a race against time to find the attempted murderer or murderers while bodies begin to pile up. There is plenty to keep the murder-mystery fan guessing,

Back on the train, both Hannah and Peyton have discovered each other, as he has been assisted by his own Agents, and find themselves in and out of their past, first separately and in later episodes, sometimes together. The purpose of the trip is to determine if there was a "sidetrack', a time when they might have changed direction in their lives and this must play out to its final result.  Hannah has chosen a risk she had always wondered if she should have taken, and Peyton has chosen a decision of wealth found where he might have changed his life around. These sidetracks are played out for them to a certain point and they are returned to the train once again.

While they are taking these journeys of self, Lynn and Detective O'Riley are trying to make progress in the case. There are many sidetracks here, too, or perhaps more "red herrings"; just who was the intended victim and why are more people being killed. What exactly is going on in this case, are they related or separate?

Meanwhile, back on the train, there are more stops to be made, but the Agents are now showing them some definitely undesirable outcomes in this imaginary route they have taken.  This being the last trip, they will face a Tribunal, a decision on their fates will be decided by what they have learned and what track they will want to take. A decision that will be made by the "Processor" after hearing what they have learned.

This book took my attention right from the start.  The theme is fascinating in its growth and direction, the murder mystery is well-written, and I could hardly wait to see the final conclusion. I found myself rooting for this or that to happen, there are surprises, happy times, disturbing times, and confusing times, all wrapped up in a neat little bundle. While reading about the sidetracks, I found myself thinking along those lines, but decided I took the right track after all. Now to live up to it. I feel an affinity with the four main characters in the book, a sign of an excellent writer.