Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Woman in the Wing by Jean Sheldon

Reviewed for Review the Book
Published by Bast Press

I am so excited by this book and very pleased to recommend it. It is well-written, intense, and true to itself. Jean Sheldon really knows how to tell a story. Taking place after the attack on Pearl Harbor, it is a work of fiction in a very realistic presentation. Based on the work of women in the United States during wartime, it centers around the work of the "Rosie the Riveters" as they came to be known, and the women pilots in the WASP. Jean Sheldon has given us an insight into the personal and work lives of these women, reflecting the attitudes of the time, and giving us a good dose of sabotage and espionage as well.

"The Woman in the Wing" grabbed my attention and held it until even after I finished the book. I think this is the longest I ever sat with one book trying to read it all at once.  If it weren't for requiring nourishment and sleep, I'm sure I would have done just that. This is not something I say often.

There are not many works of fiction that feature the women, although the author gives some references on-line for non-fiction resources at the back of the book. I even found myself looking up some of the planes mentioned after reading the descriptions!  The story primarily follows the paths of two very good friends and neighbours who want to fly and manage to get the training for it. But Char, our chief protagonist, has run into the male-domination theme so prevalent in the this era, and she is told she will not get her wings because of something distasteful to her which she flat out refuses. I, being a child of the 1940s, applaud Ms. Sheldon for incorporating this imbalance of humanity that was very current at that time and still persists in some ways today.

Enter the FBI searching for Nazi spies in the warehouses and hangars. There appear to be a number of them sabotaging the planes being built and those in use. Since Char is being "punished" for her refusal of the Major's proposal, she has been sent to be a riveter, along with her friend Max.  They are soon required to watch out for suspicious behaviour and report it to the FBI. They know there are FBI agents working in the facility too, but they don't know who they are.

Accidents have increased in the facility over the past 3 months and are becoming more personal than just slowing production. It soon escalates to planes crashing, equipment falling, and murder, with deaths and injuries piling up, building from fear to terror for the women. Character-driven, the plot accelerates through the whole book until the reader may find he/she is out of breath. I highly recommend this book for its research, subject matter, characterizations, and its exciting, suspenseful finish.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Not an Ill Wind by Nancy Gettelman

I learned a lot in an easy-going way, much easier, in fact, than the people who populated this story. I refer to the very interesting trip to Tibet, the amount of information about the country, the history, and Buddhism, while the travelers taking the trip suffered greatly on their actual journey.

Therein lies the mystery, always on the edge of the story causing a feeling of discomfort without an event to explain it. Who are the two Chinese men who the travelers catch glimpses of along the way? Why are there no reservations made for their journey? Why did their host and travel guide turn the group over to his Sherpa wife who obviously does not have a clue to handling a tour, nor does she speak any English. These are the questions that kept me going right through the book, the discomfort growing quickly and the mystery slowly building.

This was a most interesting read, entertaining and teaching, with a satisfying final solution when the reader discovers that most of the travelers are not who we imagined; some were not who they said they were, others were taking the trip for different reasons. Even our main character is keeping mum about what she hopes to gain other than the insights of the trip itself. What she hopes will come of this trip are answers to a relationship, how true her feelings are in this older woman/younger man relationship, and whether she should stop it or pursue it. But the reader must read to the very end to learn what that resolution will be, quite apart from the resolution of the mystery.
Nancy Gettelman has a very distinct style of writing, like a conversation with a friend relating incidents that have happened to her within the story. Her books are diverse. For a good read, informative, mysterious, and satisfying, I highly recommend this delightful and adventurous author.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves by Larry Seeley

Reviewed for Read the Book
Published by: Eloquent Books

Larry Seeley begins his book with a somewhat exciting prologue, then drops back to two years previously, setting characters, setting plot, and the breakup of a major scam. As head of a company that built Tribal casinos, our protagonist Jack Sloan, unwittingly becomes sucked into the scam. While trying to escape, he kills two men in self-defense. With his own money, he makes sure that as many investors in the scam as possible get their money back, but he is unable to finish what he started for the Tribe. He feels responsible for the loss of the Tribe's funding and can't free himself of his self-imposed guilt.

From that point the book seems to slow down temporarily, as Jack falls into his own personal hell and back, then gradually builds his new life in Santa Fe. Here the book and Jack begin to take a turn for the better. Although he anticipates payback from the unavoidable murders of two of the main players in the scam, he begins to enjoy life again, yet he stays alert. In his life in Santa Fe new characters are introduced to the story, adding friends to his life.

Suspense is always in the background of the book, sometimes wriggling through to the forefront but mostly just there, day and night, hauntingly. Some rough sex and language in the book, but certainly no more than one would expect from the characters involved.
Characterizations play a major role in the growth of the book and many defining moments are a result of this. All characters are full-blown, although some harbour surprising secrets of their own. The more I read, the more I got into the book, after my earlier thoughts of "let's get into this!" As the book picked up speed, so did my reading.

Once in Santa Fe, Jack purchases a ranch and a bar. The bar soon became a meeting place for his new friends, including the Shaman John Thunder. The person who really captured his attention was the new waitress, Darlene, young, smart, beautiful and unattached. Darlene also lost her aunt through the machinations of the prime character in the scam. Eventually, Jack has a large number of friends including his cook and handyman prepared and determined to stand by him if necessary. Life seems to be turning around for him, then his past starts visiting him and his nightmares become real. Not really his past but the people who dragged him into near oblivion with their scam. One by one they begin to show up and he knows they will soon make their move and come after him.

By this time, the story is going full bore and coming full circle. Everything is building up steam for a major blowout, but where will it be? The ranch, the bar, or the house where all the scam team are currently lodged? The book comes to a surprising yet satisfying ending on several counts. There is lots of action, lots of identities/characters, plotting, good guys and bad guys, each trying to out-think the other or try to decide what the other is thinking. I found that once I really got into the book, I rarely set it down. If you enjoy this book, you are in luck, the author is already at work on a sequel.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Seven Cities of Greed by Jean Sheldon

Reviewed for Review the Book
Published by Bast Press

A very entertaining treasure hunt and thriller, somewhat reminiscent of the "Sisterhood" series by Fern Michaels with its mixed group of heroes.  Jean Sheldon has written an adventure based on legend and history from the invasion of the Spanish conquistadors in the 1500s and the discovery of a journal presumably dated from 1539.

The reader is brought into the story very quickly with the abduction of Jacqueline Tracy, who has unwittingly purchased this journal at a book auction because she liked the carved leather cover. She has a tendency to forget about auction purchases until they are delivered and so is unable to tell her kidnappers where the journal is.

Jackie's friends, almost all middle-aged including Jackie, soon realize she is missing. The police won't do anything until there is more information, so the women turn to Jackie's friend Nicole, an ex-cop and now private investigator. Little do they know the abuse Jackie is going through, nor the kindness of one of her captors, a giant of a man.

Her band of merry girls manages to rescue her, but they are incredulous when Jackie hires Chuck, the captor's 7'4" assistant, to be her bodyguard, and she won't take "no" for an answer. She is sure he is a good man and didn’t want any part in the kidnapping but had his own reasons for being involved. What impressed her was his kindness and his assistance in helping with her escape. Their group now numbering six including Jackie's Aunt Beth and Chuck, starts trying to sort out what the kidnapping was all about. While Jackie was away, a parcel that had been overlooked in a delivery truck finally made its arrival, and of course, it is the journal being sought after by somebody pulling the strings in the background regarding Jackie's kidnapping.  Someone with a great deal of money and a ruthless greed.

Gwen, a psychiatrist in their close-knit group of friends, is able to translate most of the ancient Spanish, touching off a decision to go to New Mexico. Several things happen that hurry them on their way. Our modern group sets off on a vacation which, though exciting, is not at all the kind of excitement they expected or wanted.

There are several interesting characters in this book, not all in a good way. Our motley but hardy crew is made up with Jackie and her adventurous aunt Beth. Beth Tracy has raised Jackie in Chicago from childhood, the city where all their friends live, but still maintains the house in New Mexico where Jackie lived before her parents died. Pat, whose partner recently died, lives with her cat Zodiac above the bookstore Jackie owns. Nicole, the P.I., Gwen, the psychiatrist, and Chuck, Jackie's new friend, bodyguard and excellent cook. Then there are the "bad" guys under the thumb and threat of one psychotic "Conquistador".

This book surprised me. I learned some history along the way, the legend of the "streets paved with gold" as understood from the journal, that middle-age can be exciting, loyal friendship is a wonderful thing to have, and when you are being chased by a madman always watch your back!  Ms. Sheldon has mixed adventure, terror, history, and the beauty of New Mexico into a story I didn't want to put down. The characters, even the worst of them, molded a certain fascination into the story. I feel with these characters she has the makings of a series, though I have no idea if that is in the author's future. She has written a variety of books and possibly prefers stand-alone stories. I want to keep my eye on this author's output, I'm sure it will be interesting.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Warnings: The True Story of How Science Tamed the Weather by Mike Smith

Reviewed for Review the Book
Published by Greenleaf Book Group Press

When I first requested this book for review, little did I know I would be reading it and beginning my review amidst forest fires, smoky air, and strong wind gusts! My interest in requesting the book is twofold: I recall Hurricane Frieda ripping through Vancouver, B.C. in 1962, a very rare event for that area; my Dad's cousin was the weatherman who was first to recognize and forecast it, returning to work to do so on TV in Portland, Ore. Weather has always fascinated me, not only because "everybody talks about the weather"!

"Warnings" is very easy to read for the layman. I was shocked to learn how lacking some of the basic things we now take for granted were, such as no tornado warnings as recently as the 1950s, in some areas of the U.S. even more recently. Not a hint! How many lives must have been lost needlessly in past years? Mike Smith has done his research, has lived his research, and knows how to deliver it. The book is historical, accurate, and personal. I was hooked on the Introduction which primes the reader for the main event, or in this case events, to come in this book.

Smith gradually builds from its early beginnings the study and workings of tornadoes in terms anyone can understand. The subject is fascinating as he writes it. By two-thirds through his book I am amazed that the few trips I have taken by plane were successful strictly on the basis of weather! The growth of knowledge, and the way that growth comes about is exciting and tragic at the same time. When the investigations turn to storm-chasing, the reader learns just how important this scientific information-gathering becomes, not just another daredevil stunt among adventure seekers as we might see on TV.

I found the information on Dr. Fujita's methods and discoveries to be well explained and the ignorance of the official weather prognosticators in their cocooned refusal to accept his discoveries almost inevitable, yet unacceptable and disastrous. Even when changes were made, neither pilots nor airport control staff were made aware of impending tornadoes, or "microbursts" (explained in the book) until very recently, a ruling referred to by Mike Smith as "bureaucratic myopia". This is non-fiction, but gave me the shivers in the same way as a thriller fiction would, especially with a very close call that was averted not by a weather warning, but because of a power outage at the airport just prior to a landing, causing the pilot to abort the landing.

Did you ever wonder how the newspapers got their weathermaps so up-to-date? Did you ever wonder how Doppler Radar came into being and how it works? These are questions I'd asked myself through the years and they are covered in this impressive book. This is not a large book, nor do you have to be a meteorologist or savant to read it. Nor does it deal exclusively with tornadoes. It is all written in simple language. There are also a number of photos in the book. While this book deals mostly with the U.S., it is of global significance.

Not surprisingly, the most critical event in the book is Hurricane Katrina. Among other things we learn what could go wrong with the forecasts’ timely releases, what did go wrong and why, and how they tried to get the evacuation process going while there was still time. The survivors were literally 'hung out to dry' as buck-passing and meals in high end restaurants took precedent over people. How many more could have survived if it weren't for the bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo and selfishness? The night of August 31, 2005 should be etched in their memories forever as deaths of survivors began to pile up. If bureaucracy hadn't fumbled the ball, the meteorological scientists would have netted it.

This is a fascinating book, full of suspense, telling it like it is, and a great learning experience without realizing just how much of what you read will stay with you. I highly recommend this book, it opened my eyes to the difficulties people 'in the know' deal with not just occasionally, but on-going in their efforts to keep us all as safe as possible. We know that paramedics, firemen, rescue teams all do this as part of the job, but we rarely think of the background to catastrophe. Winds, flash flooding, and the deadliest for a city below sea level: a storm surge. All closely watched. One last tornado is included: Greensburg, a town that disappeared, but has risen again. As an added bonus, this book is interactive. There are symbols scattered throughout which direct readers to a website where they can find videos, related information, and more.