Review of “Paradise”

Although I have mainly written reviews on books by indie authors, I have written a few about books by established authors. The one following is about Toni Morrison’s very notable novel Paradise. It made quite an impression on me!

Paradise

“Paradise” is the only book I have read by Toni Morrison and I found it pretty incredible. Any new book you read will be different but this book was really unique. I worked for the Los Angeles Housing Authority and came into contact with many races and ethnicities, but always through a Los Angeles prism. The all black world of Ruby, Oklahoma was unlike any other for me. I believe it was the dark strangeness of the story and Morrison’s gift with words that set it apart.

Of course the opening line “They shoot the white girl first” sets the tone of impending doom which travels throughout the story. It has this very heavy gravity to it that you can feel. I don’t recall hardly any light moments, not that I needed them. The reader can pull up the plot from other sources—but there are critical elements to the book: the reason for the town’s existence–an attempt at utopia by insulation which of course fails; the oppressed male blacks in the town become the oppressors to the ladies in the convent—this reminded me of the observation that often the most virulent oppressors of an immigrant ethnic group is the ethnic group that immediately preceded it; the tendency in human nature to rail against the outsider, the “other”. The ladies of the convent, with their unfortunate, desperate, and sometimes sordid histories, were certainly the “other”. There is also the tendency to depersonalize the outsider, which makes it easier to commit violence against them.

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I had mentioned Morrison’s skill with words. Another thing that impressed me was given the sheer number of characters in both the town and the convent, the fact that she was able to develop so many of them. By contrast, in my longest book, I have a number of character within Filipino families but only developed a few of them.

Just by reading this one work, it is very obvious to me that Morrison is a writer of great substance and vision. It did not matter that it was #3 in a trilogy—it stood on its own. I recommend it heartily to those readers who want a different experience. I am now motivated to read the other two books in the trilogy and other works by her.

Sprocket, Friends, and Enemies

One of my true joys is reading and sometimes reviewing indie books. I have found there are some really great ones out there—great to the point that they deserve to be picked up by a regular publisher, if in fact they haven’t already. Here are two written by an author I met on the Goodreads site named Bryan Pentelow. Both are adventure stories involving a crazy combination of characters both human and animal. There are protagonists, antagonists, and lots of laughs. I heartily recommend both these books, numbers one and two in the Sprocket saga.

 Sprocket and the Great Northern Forest

I just finished Sprocket and the Great Northern Forest, the second book I have read by Bryan Pentelow.  One dark November night, Blaggard the crow, seated atop a telephone pole, observes a mysterious figure, clad in a black rain cape with a hood, slither along an iron fence.  The figure suddenly thrusts a shoebox through a gap in the fence and then vanishes. The next day, a Mr. Brassroyd, on whose property the shoebox now rests, goes about his normal day at Brassroyd Environmental, essentially a scrap yard adjoining his house.  Working hand and hand with him is his loyal English Bull Terrier, Mrs. Mumbly.  That day, Mrs. Mumbly hears a ticking and a clicking, and discovers the shoebox.  Managing to get the box open, she discovers a large egg, and  transports it to her own basket in the kitchen.  When Mr. Brassroyd heads out for lunch and an ale, Mrs. Mumbly witnesses to her astonishment, the cracking of the egg, and the emergence of a “being”.  I won’t reveal what the being is but suffice it to say the being drives the story to its very satisfying conclusion.  There is a villain too, the unfeeling malevolent, and producer of toxic waste Eurochem International, whose factory is right next door to Brassroyd’s property.

This is really a marvellous fantasy, replete with loveable characters and lush description.  The description covers everything from the characters to the kitchen to the scrap yard to the surrounding area to the local bar.  Everything, including the syntax and the expressions, is very British.  I felt at times that I was back in the day of Dickens and Thomas Hardy.  Mr. Brassroyd’s breakfast of “crispy bacon, biscuits, black pudding, and fried bread” had my mouth watering!  I really appreciated the animals who occupy center stage in this tale, and who are both heroic and hilarious.  This is a story for both children and adults, as it has a basic sweetness to it and it is so well written.  I very strongly recommend it and fortunately for us, there are sequels.

 

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Sprocket and the Great Museum Scam

I just completed the second story in the Sprocket saga, Sprocket and the Great Museum Scam, written by Bryan Pentelow. I enjoyed this story as much or more than the original. For those who remember the first story, it begins by Blaggard the Crow witnessing a mysterious cloaked stranger shoving an egg through a fence at Number Seven Pudding Founders Lane, the location of Brassroyd Environmental, run by the owner Brassroyd.

In one sense, the second story serves as a bit of a prequel as it gives background on this stranger, who is named Septimus P. Thing. Thing is at heart a bad sort who deals in rare eggs and stuffed specimens of rare animals. In his various dealings, it is the acquisition of this egg, which in his possession begins to tick, that his problems begin. He knows he will get into trouble with his landlady should the egg hatch which precipitates his getting rid of the egg and his link to the gang at Founders Lane.

With his accomplices Likely Smalls, thief, and Fauntleroy Pratt his taxidermist, nicknamed ‘Stinker’ due to his malodorous state, they embark on their life of scamming and crime. However, they are up against a formidable combination of humans, dogs, birds, and dragons,in short, the good guys. Readers of the first book will remember Sprocket the dragon, Brassroyd, Blaggard, and Mrs. Mumbly, the English Bull Terrier. New humans, birds, dogs, and dragons are introduced in this saga.

What I found so funny in this saga is the utter ineptness of the bad guys, and how they are foiled time and again. I am sure readers will share in this reaction. I look forward to more stories in the Sprocket saga!

A Vampire Romance for the Ages

I am a member of the Goodreads reading/writing site.  We will often write reviews of each other’s Indie books, of which there are many excellent ones.   I really enjoyed one, entitled  Sebastian: The Life of Sebastian and Hanna Greene, and its sequel, Sebastian Two: Dark Times Arising, both written by Elizabeth Johnson.  They are wonderful stories about an indelible vampire romance.  My reviews of them follow.

Sebastian:  The Life of Sebastian and Hanna Greene

Can you imagine, on your eighteenth birthday, stumbling over your father’s lifeless body in a lonely alley, a father with whom you had had a wretched relationship, no small part of that due to his drunkenness?  Then, mere moments later, a woman grabs you and sinks her teeth into your neck—with the predictable result–and that woman turns out to be your mother, who you thought had died ten years prior??   It gets worse–the mother, who teaches you to live among humans without murdering them, gets killed by a pack of humans seeking revenge, as they stake her through her heart and burn her.  Seeking revenge yourself, you go on a murderous rampage—-but one night you kill a woman carrying a couple of bags–and right after the murder you hear from one of the bags, a baby’s cry—and you discover a baby girl, only days old with big beautiful blue eyes.  You name her Hanna, after your mother.

I just completed Sebastian: The Life of Sebastian and Hanna Greene.  This was actually the first work I have read in this genre.  I’ve never read Anne Rice, nor have I been a devotee of the many vampire movies which engulf us now—so I confess to having a little resistance to this novel going in.  However, that resistance was quickly swept away as I embarked on this absolutely masterful tale about Sebastian and Hanna.  It is a work that takes place in England, New York, South America, Italy, and France, and contains humans, vampires, wolves, and dogs.  It beautifully describes the passions, the tenderness, and the love between Sebastian and Hanna—-but also the secrets and the deceits.  I felt there was a constant struggle going on within Sebastian—a struggle between his head (what he should do) and his heart (what his gut compels him to do), and, due to his life and circumstances, that heart can turn black.  Danger lurks at every turn and this book contains wonderfully frightening and hideous villains.  The author takes us on this journey with a straightforward writing style, without pretence, which perfectly matches the story being told.  I strongly recommend this book to all readers, even those like myself who would not normally gravitate to a book in this genre.  Fortunately for us, I believe we have a sequel coming.

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Sebastian Two:  Dark Times Arising

I just completed Sebastian Two: Dark Times Arising, the second in a series of books about a bizarre vampire world by author Elizabeth Johnson. I will reiterate what I said in my review of the first book, which is that this is hardly my favorite genre of book, in fact far from it. However, Ms. Johnson weaves such an incredible tale, with such great characterizations, that I could not put it down.

The book starts where the first book ended, with Hanna Greene, upon learning that Sebastian had earlier killed her birth mother (or did he?), decides she must leave the very charismatic hero, who is her passionate boyfriend/lover. This sets in motion a chain of events involving many of the characters from the first book—of course, Sebastian and Hanna, the omniscient head vampire Mason Benedict, and the two separate sets of three malevolent vampire brothers.

New characters are either brought into the story or given greater emphasis. They include Hanna’s birth mother Hope Lane, the powerful Hilda Denali, the ultra-deceitful witch Ruth, and the deceased Isobel’s beautiful mother, Margret. The action in this book spreads further afield to Mexico, Nigeria, Pacific islands, and Japan.

I don’t want to give away any of the story but I will add there is one great kick-ass vampire battle near the end of the book you won’t want to miss. And of course, it ends unresolved, which means we need to see the next book! I strongly recommend this book, even to non-vampire fans, as I did the first one entitled Sebastian: The Secret Life of Sebastian and Hanna Greene. You won’t be disappointed.

 

A Winter War Romance

I am a member of the Goodreads reading/writing site.  We will often write reviews of each other’s Indie books, of which there are many excellent ones.   I really enjoyed one in particular entitled Lost Ground by Ulla Jordan.  My review of it follows.

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I just completed a wonderful novel by Ulla Jordan entitled Lost Ground, a work of historical fiction.  This book really worked for me on different levels.  I have always been a huge fan of this genre having read extensively James Michener, James Clavell,  and Gore Vidal among others.  It is a drama/tragedy/love story/celebration of life with all its complexities set in Finland during the often overlooked 1939/1940 Russo/Finnish War.

Right off the bat the subject intrigued me because although I have a pretty fair knowledge of World War II, I really knew nothing about this particular war which is connected to the larger war.  In that sense, it was a great education for me.

However it was the poignancy of the love story, really a love triangle that is interwoven with the calamitous and often horrendous events on the ground that drove this gripping drama.  The story begins at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, scene of Jesse Owen’s triumphs and Adolf Hitler’s chagrin.  Thomas Henderson, an American reporter is in town to cover the event and by chance runs into the Finns Dr. Eric Bjornstrom and his daughter Tina at a hotel.  She is there rooting for her fiancé Paul (although he never officially proposed) who is entered in the men’s five thousand meter event.

Tom is a tall, charismatic, hard-bitten soul who covers his disappointments in life with a cultivated air of indifference and an enjoyment of good scotch.  As he explains later in the novel “life is a game of catch-up. Trying to get back to where you were before your last mistake.”  He reminded me a bit of Humphrey Bogart’s “Rick” in Casablanca.  Tina is an understated pretty blue-eyed woman without any Hollywood pretension.  She is shocked by a man’s use of the term “ass”, a term never spoken in her social circles.  The attraction between them when he helps her pick up the contents of her spilled purse is immediate.  Paul is a reluctant, passive, emotionally shut down man who is always aware of coming from a lower social position than Tina.  Hence, he does not propose to her.  When he takes a spill in the event and is eliminated, he feels his big chance in life is over.  By coincidence, Tom was also a runner in his youth but an injury brought that phase of his life to an end.

Fast forward three years to Helsinki.  Tom and his friend British journalist Philip Taylor are in town to cover the gathering storm in Finland as Stalin’s Russia threatens.  Taylor calls his old friend Bjornstrom and he and Tom are invited over for dinner.  Paul is also there and that very night, he gets his summons to report to the front.  The story unfolds from there.

We learn that the three principal characters all have some hard luck in their backgrounds—early deaths of parents, an early jail experience, an unwanted pregnancy, and in the case of Tom and Paul, premature endings to their running careers.  Tom, who feels anything other than sex with a woman brings on problems, begins to find his own heart as his relationship with Tina blossoms.  However, Paul is at the front and he still loves Tina.

I won’t reveal how it all comes out but suffice to say that this reader’s emotions were completely engaged—such anticipation, joy, and sadness.  The author’s phraseology is excellent with skillful use of metaphors, especially to describe the depth and ironies of life. The description of the war itself is very graphic and feels so real.

Finally, the story is concluded with a powerful and surprising ending.  The author could have wrapped up the story in another more predictable way but I am so glad she chose the ending she did.  I recommend this book to everyone!