Friday, November 17, 2017

A Pyrrhic Victory: Volume II, Destiny Unfolds by Ian Crouch

A Pyrrhic Victory: Volume II, Destiny UnfoldsA Pyrrhic Victory: Volume II, Destiny Unfolds by Ian Crouch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A Pyrrhic Victory: Volume II, Destiny Unfolds is the second book in a series. I haven't read the first, but it stands well on its own. I chose it because it won a (2017) CIPA EVVY Merit Award in historical fiction. My own book, Hopatcong Vision Quest was also a winner, so I decided to read the others in my category. So far the books have been wonderful and this one continues the trend.

Destiny Unfolds is about the historic role of Pyrrhus, who lived from 318 to 272 BC and rose up to become the King of Epirus, an ancient Greek State, which is now a region shared by Albania and Greece. Although the plot is more about political and military decisions than about character relationships, there are many fascinating aspects to the way the characters treat each other. The advisers and friends around Pyrrhus treat him deferentially, which makes sense given what a powerful man he was. The battlefield opponents treat each other with honor and respect when the fighting is on hold, sometimes to an extent that seems absurd. Even the sexual/romantic relationships of Pyrrhus are decided through politics.

Ian Crouch creates a feeling for the priorities of the powerful in ancient Greece by showing their love of fighting and their rigid definition of honor. He shows us the nature of Pyrrhus by taking us into his method of planning his battles and his reaction to his successes. This is a wonderful book for people who enjoy carefully researched stories of ancient military conquests.

Steve Lindahl author of Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul


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Wednesday, November 1, 2017

An Inquiry Into Love and Death by Simone St. James

An Inquiry Into Love and DeathAn Inquiry Into Love and Death by Simone St. James
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An Inquiry Into Love and Death by Simone St. James is a good read, especially around Halloween. It's a ghost story with a little romance rolled in. Jillian Leigh is an Oxford student in 1920's England when women were just beginning to attend the school. She has to leave her studies to identify the body of her Uncle Toby. Toby was a ghost hunter. He is one of the most interesting characters in the book, especially considering he only appears through memories and notes left behind.

Jillian's parents are busy with their own lives, so it falls to her to go to Rothwell, a town in Northamptonshire, England where her uncle had been searching for ghosts. One of those ghosts was Walking John, a famous local spirit haunting the woods near Blood Moon Bay. While in Rothwell, Uncle Toby fell off a cliff, which is how he died.

Jillian stays at the house her uncle had been renting because she needs to collect his belongings and, also, because the rent has been paid through the end of the month. But there's a reason a ghost hunter would choose to live in Barrow House and Jillian soon discovers the reason.

I loved the setting of An Inquiry Into Love and Death. The story takes place in post World War I, rural England. All of the characters have been affected in some way by the horrible events they've lived through. Some have come out stronger, some damaged, but all are changed. I also enjoyed the romance between Jillian and Drew Merriken, a Scotland Yard inspector in the area investigating Uncle Toby's death. The were both strong characters with their own interests and responsibilities. The one aspect of the plot I did not like was the relationship between Jillian and her parents. Their actions didn't seem believable, especially late in the book when some secrets began to be revealed.

Overall, this is a good ghost story with lots of tension and strong characters.

Steve Lindahl – author of Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul



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Thursday, October 19, 2017

King Daniel: Gasparilla King of the Pirates by Susan Wolf Johnson

King Daniel: Gasparilla King of the PiratesKing Daniel: Gasparilla King of the Pirates by Susan Wolf Johnson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

King Daniel: Gasparilla King of the Pirates by Susan Wolf Johnson won a (2017) CIPA EVVY Merit Award in historical fiction. My own book, Hopatcong Vision Quest was also a winner, which is how I found this novel. It's a wonderful read, with a complex plot centered on multiple generations of the Westcott family, a wealthy family in the Tampa Bay area of Florida. This is the type of book I love to read on my Kindle, because I can easily search back to where characters were first introduced. Johnson provides a copy of the Wetcott Family Tree in the front of the book, which also helped me keep track.

The Westcott's have their secrets. Discovering what they are makes for a fascinating plot. We have the younger generation represented primarily by Becca, who is trying to break free of the family tradition with a New York singing career, but encounters multiple problems, including a club owner whose interests are not focused on Becca's voice. Her problems are enough to send her back to the Tampa area for help. There's also Becca's grandfather, Daniel, the title character, whose problems are on an entirely different level than hers. Much of this story is about where Daniel is and the character flaws that put him there.

In addition to an intriguing story, the novel provides an introduction to aspects of the Tampa culture I knew nothing about. The region has a children's festival, a music festival, a film festival, an art festival and more, all, as stated on the visit Tampa Bay website: “Named for legendary pirate, Jose Gaspar, who terrorized the coastal waters of West Florida during the 18th and early 19th centuries.” Knowing this makes the story of Daniel's election as “Gasparilla King of the Pirates” even more important.

King Daniel is another great read!

Steve Lindahl author of Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul



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Friday, October 13, 2017

Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker

Emma in the NightEmma in the Night by Wendy   Walker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker is a captivating crime novel with plenty of plot twists. Two young girls went missing three years before the story begins. In the beginning of the book, the younger girl, Cass Tanner, who is now eighteen, has returned and is determined to find her sister. The detective and the psychologist (Dr. Abby Winter), who both worked on the case originally, are back. Abby had a few theories about the family that weren't followed up the first time. She's determined to go down those paths this time.

Cass explains how she and Emma were held for the entire time on an island off the coast of Maine. Although she escaped and made her way back to her family, she offers very few clues as to the location of the island and the couple who held her captive. Meanwhile, Abby tries to locate the island by finding out what she can through interviews with Cass, hoping the young woman will reveal something she didn't realize is important. At the same time, Abby tries to discover facts about the home life that she believes drove the girls away.

What makes this story unique is the author's focus on the mental illness: Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Abby's mother had this disorder and she sees similar signs with Cass' mother. It was fascinating to learn more about Narcissistic Personality Disorder, but there were also times when Ms. Walker explained a little too much and the descriptions of the illness seemed intrusive.

Steve Lindahl author of Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul



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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Never Enough Flamingos by Janelle Diller

Never Enough FlamingosNever Enough Flamingos by Janelle Diller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The second of the 2017 CIPA Evvy award winning novels I chose to read is Never Enough Flamingos by Janelle Diller. It shared the first place award in historical fiction with The Other Side of Him. (My book, Hopatcong Vision Quest won a merit award in the same competition.)

Never Enough Flamingos is a fascinating, well-written novel, set in a Mennonite community in Kansas during the Depression. In the introduction Diller describes Mennonites in the following way:

In a manner of speaking, Mennonites and Amish are kissing cousins, but even that's a risky description since Amish tend not to kiss anyone but other Amish.

The introduction is interesting, especially for readers like me, who know very little about the history of Mennonites. Don't skip it.

Since the Mennonites are a highly religious group, I expected they would be less susceptible to the temptations of day to day life, but this is the depression, there hasn't been rain for way too long, and these are farmers. It's a hard time to live through and hard times not only lead people to make questionable decisions, but they also present other people with opportunities to take advantage.

The title Never Enough Flamingos seemed strange at first, until Cat (the narrator) described her mom as ...a flamingo in a sea of turkeys... and it became clear that flamingos are the people who rise above the failings of the general population, even in hard times. The story is about those people as well as the people who give in to temptation.

Steve Lindahl – author of Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul



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Wednesday, September 27, 2017

China Dolls by Lisa See

China DollsChina Dolls by Lisa See
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

China Dolls is the story of San Francisco's Chinatown in the mid twentieth century. As the story begins, America is in the midst of the depression. The plot continues through World War II. What makes this novel fascinating is Lisa See's decision to cover this subject from the points of view of three showgirls.

Grace, Helen, and Ruby, meet at auditions for a new nightclub, Forbidden City, which is located just outside of Chinatown. The idea is to feature “oriental” performers for an “occidental” audience. (Both of those terms were used during that period.) Grace Lee has come to San Francisco from the mid west with the hope of winning a role at the world's fair on Treasure Island, but she didn't succeed. She's on her way to her next option. Helen Fong, who is from a wealthy, local, very traditional, family, hears Grace asking for directions and offers to lead her there. Once there, they meet Ruby Tom, another dancer. All three audition and all win roles.

The three young women become close friends. This friendship is the novel's greatest strength. They help each other through tough times, but also compete with each other, hold secrets from each other, and betray each other along the way.

Steve Lindahl author of Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul


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Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Other Side of Him by Alice Rene

The Other Side of HimThe Other Side of Him by Alice Rene
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After one of my novels won a 2017 CIPA Evvy award, I thought it might be fun to read the other winners in the historical fiction category. The Other Side of Him by Alice Rene won one of the two first place awards. I loved the book!

In the beginning Rene's writing felt a little rushed, as it jumped among short glimpses of Claire's younger life, living with her brother and her poor, single, immigrant mother in a Chicago housing project. But after Claire moved to San Francisco, the novel settled into a careful study of her life, a young woman working first on a bachelor's degree then a master's degree in social welfare.

The novel is set in the 1950's, a time that presented a number of problems for women trying to establish careers and dealing with limiting expectations from society. Claire also faces family issues common to second generation Americans.

Claire's brother, Tom, moved to the San Francisco area before she did. After she had lived on the west coast for some time, Tom set her up with Greg, a man he met at a gym. Greg had many wonderful qualities, but also, as the title states, another side. The slow, careful way Greg's personality is revealed through Claire's point of view is the greatest strength of this wonderful, intense story. I couldn't put it down.

Steve Lindahl – author of Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul


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