Wednesday, March 31, 2010

America Reborn


America Reborn:
Book III of the Clash-of-Civilizations Trilogy

by Lee Boyland (with Vista Boyland)

(Booklocker / 1-601-45912-2 / 978-1-601-45912-1 / July 2009 / 496 pages / $21.95 / Amazon $19.75 / Kindle $9.95)
Reviewed by Lloyd Lofthouse for PODBRAM

America Reborn is the third novel in the Clash of Civilizations Trilogy. The first novel is The Rings of Allah and the second Behold, an Ashen Horse (great title). The United States has been attacked by Islamic Extremists showing 9/11 as a possible preview of worse things to come. Five nuclear devices have destroyed five American cities and killed millions—Washington D.C. is one of the five cities and most of the government is gone.

The trilogy was written by author and wife team, Lee and Vista Boyland. Lee has a degree in Nuclear Engineering and is a weapons expert. His knowledge rings true and readers are witness to what America's military is capable of when unleashed. Considering the state of affairs in the Middle East, this is something that may be long overdue. Too bad it only takes place in books.

I read Tom Clancy's work once-upon-a-time, and when his work was passed off to someone else to write, I lost interest. Reading America Reborn was a blast (pun intended) and the Boylands brought back the energy Clancy lost.

At first, I wasn't sure if The Boylands weren't using their novels as a soapbox against so-called "liberals" (a catchall stereotype that only exists in the minds of Rush Limbaugh ditto heads and Tea Bag people). The truth is, even in World War II, when America was fighting for survival against Hitler's Nazis and Japan, there was a movement in the United States to get out of that war early—back before the word "liberal" had been invented and used as a scapegoat for everything that goes wrong in America.

In the first half of America Reborn, the "liberal" term was tossed around like popped corn labeling characters that fit the stereotype. The fact that The Boylands used the term as they did is evidence of the impact the conservative media machine has had on Americans. Come on, even stereotypical "liberals" don't all look like slobs and act like snobs. I've known far right conservatives that also act that way.

Other than this minor "liberal" glitch, the story is well written with plenty of action using high tech weaponry—something the United States has developed far ahead of the rest of the world. The American military has the ability to kill millions while losing thousands and that is without nuclear weapons. An example would be the Vietnam War (which the United States lost) where America suffered 58,193 military deaths and the North Vietnamese and Vietcong losses are estimated at over 1.3 million.

In America Reborn, George Alexander, the newly un-elected, statuary President is my kind of guy and he knows how to fight. If Islamic terrorists did nuke Washington D.C. and obliterate our elected government, we can only hope that a man like Alexander is waiting in the wings, and he is not modeled after Dick Cheney, who fumbled the second Iraq War. Fictional President George Alexander is likable and efficient. I don't think he would shoot anyone by accident while on a hunting trip. I recommend this trilogy to everyone who liked the old Clancy.


See also: Lee Boyland's Amazon Page
Lee Boyland's Website

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Fairest Portion of the Globe


The Fairest Portion of the Globe
by Frances Hunter

(Blind Rabbit Press / 0-977-76360-9 / 978-0-977-76360-3 / February 2010 / 428 pages / $22.95 / Kindle $4.99)
Reviewed by Celia Hayes for PODBRAM

Once there was a time, at the turn of the century before the century before, when the United States was an infant country clinging to the Atlantic seaboard and just barely clawed together out of the original colonies by the stubborn valor of a handful of men. But even at that early date, twenty years after the Revolution, the far-sighted were already spilling over the Appalachians and into the unexplored wonder of those lands beyond, to the Mississippi River. Once there was a time, when having gone toe to toe with the parent nation of England, emerging victorious by the skin of their teeth, it seemed as if the United States might also take on another European power; that of Spain, which controlled the lower Mississippi. This time again, it seemed the former colonists could call on the aid of France, caught in the throes of their own revolution.

This is the dangerous political milieu in which two young Army officers meet and become firm friends, stationed at a crude frontier outpost commanded by a gouty and irascible hero of the Revolutionary War, General Anthony Wayne, nick-named by his comrades “Mad Anthony” and by his sometime Chickasaw Indian allies “The Black Snake Who Never Sleeps.” Both young William Clark and Meriwether Lewis have connections of a sort – Clark’s older brother is the hero of the Revolution in the west, George Rogers Clark, and Lewis is a neighbor and admirer of Thomas Jefferson. This is a small country – everyone knows everyone else, a circumstance that is very well drawn by the author. Both young men have a passionate interest in exploring the vast and untouched country that is just opening to the United States – but threats of war and treachery swirl around them both. George Rogers Clark is planning to redeem himself with a freelance march on Spanish-held New Orleans, aided by French funding and the reluctant assistance of naturalist Andre Michaux. And among the senior officers of Wayne’s garrison is the slippery and amoral James Wilkenson; paid agent of the Spanish, persistently undermining Wayne’s authority as commander and for what ends? As the tightly woven plot unfolds, the question of who is gaming who, and who is set on betraying who - and will they get away with it? - becomes ever more urgent. Woven into this tangle are such disparate characters as Clarke’s family, especially his sister Fanny and her brutish husband, fascinating details of the natural world, folk medicine, and military practice and custom of the time.

The Fairest Portion of the Globe is a very readable and lively portrait, not only of a period of American history which is underserved in popular fiction, but of the foundations of an enduring friendship between two young men, who within a few years would make an epic journey of exploration – a journey which like themselves, would become legend.


See also: To the Ends of the Earth
The Frances Hunter Website
Celia's BNN Review
The Deepening Review

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Blind Delusion


Blind Delusion by Dorothy Phaire
(iUniverse / 1-440-16822-9 / 978-1-440-16822-2 / October 2009 / 476 pages / $25.95 / Hardcover $35.95 / Amazon $19.72 / Hardcover $27.32 / Kindle $7.96)
Reviewed by Dianne Salerni for PODBRAM

The second novel in Dorothy Phaire’s romantic mystery series is a satisfying read and an admirable follow-up to her first novel, Murder and the Masquerade. Commencing a few months after the conclusion of the first novel, the book opens with Dr. Renee Hayes, a mature black psychologist living in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area, trying to repair her damaged marriage. Renee has broken off her affair with handsome police detective, Deek Hamilton, seeing no future with a man a dozen years her junior, no matter how much attraction there is between them. She is determined to rekindle the flame of love in her own marriage, although it sometimes seems that her continued attempts to woo Bill Hayes are nothing but a blind delusion. While Bill is happy to accept any accommodations she makes for him, he is more interested in pursuing a start-up business with a shady Washington lawyer than in making his wife happy. With the arrival of her 45th birthday, Renee wonders if her dreams of love and a child of her own will ever be fulfilled.

Meanwhile, Renee’s new secretary, Brenda Johnson, is wondering if she’s been blindly deluded about her own husband. She believed that the ne’er-do-well Jerome had managed to keep himself drug-free for eighteen months, but he is unexpectedly fired from his job after a random drug test. Jerome protests his innocence, but that doesn’t change the fact that Brenda is now supporting them on her income, while attending night school and taking care of their baby. Brenda’s mother always said Jerome was trouble, and it turns out that she was right. Jerome’s work troubles eventually lead to blackmail, arson, kidnapping, and murder.

Ms. Phaire’s strength is character building. She has created a cast of believable and likeable women: We sympathize with Renee and Brenda, each bound to men who cannot give them what they want, and each of them reluctant to abandon her marriage anyway. Ms. Phaire’s narration is, for the most part, smooth and highly readable. There are some editing errors in the book, but not enough to distract the reader. I do think the novel could have been trimmed by 50 pages or so. Repeated information and unnecessary scenes slow down the pace of the story, preventing it from achieving the really taut and gripping suspense that could have been there with a more judicious editing.

Overall, Blind Delusion fulfills the potential I saw in Murder and the Masquerade and promises the continuation of a fine mystery series with a smart, professional, and highly sympathetic heroine.


See also: Dianne's High Spirits Review
Murder and the Masquerade Reviews
Dorothy Phaire's Website

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Red Turtle Project


The Red Turtle Project
by Don Westenhaver

(Xlibris / 0-738-86648-2 / 978-0-738-86648-2 / April 2001 / 437 pages / $24.99 / Kindle $2.00)
Reviewed by Lloyd Lofthouse for PODBRAM

The main plot for The Red Turtle Project is a fascinating concept and for that reason, I stayed with the story until I finished reading the book. Sam and Liang Weber are the main characters. Sam is a former Vietnam Veteran and earned enough money over the years from the oil industry to live a comfortable life with his wife in Paso Robles near the Pacific Ocean close to William Randolph Hearst's San Simeon.

Sam met his wife while he was in Vietnam during the war—sort of like the musical Miss Saigon but with a happy conclusion. They fall in love, lose contact with each other in the turmoil of the war's final days and meet again seventeen year later. This information is dealt with quickly in a few pages.

As the story opens, Liang's father, Sing Han, is murdered in Singapore. He leaves his daughter a fortune earned from legitimate businesses funded by previous criminal activities. Chinese Mandarins in Hong Kong had him killed. They are in the process of stealing the business empire Sing built, which is worth close to a billion dollars.

However, Liang's father discovered what was going on before his death and managed to hide five-hundred million around the world in various accounts. The Hong Kong Mandarins, worth billions from organized crime, are angry and they want that money. There is no limit to their greed and cruelty. They send killers to find who has the money with instructions to torture or kill anyone that gets in the way.

What Sam and Liang decide to do with the money after her father's death is what holds this story together. The couple goes to Vietnam and offers to use the fortune to help Vietnam recover from the war with America that left the country economically destitute. The title for the book is also the name for the project they fund. The Red Turtle Project is designed to build a market economy in Vietnam from the ground up instead of trickling down from the wealthy.

There are times that the story drags with too many descriptions and loose plot threads, and I found myself skipping paragraphs and some pages to catch up with the main story that involves the Hong Kong Mandarins and their endless thirst for money and power.

There were scenes in Europe that did not ring true when the killers from Hong Kong were searching for Sam and Liang. These thugs are threatening hotel mangers to gain information about Sam and Liang's whereabouts, and the police never get involved. It was as if there were no police and the thugs were free to do whatever they wanted to anyone.

There are other plot threads too, like the one with Gabriella, the daughter. This thread could have been woven better with the main plot. Gabriella is attending the University of California at San Diego as a sophomore. For a time, we join Gabriella during a romance that has nothing to do with the main story. Later Gabriella, after an attempted suicide, joins her parents in Vietnam.

Then there's another loose thread with a character named Harry Collins, a POW who escaped from a North Vietnamese prison decades earlier and has hidden out in the jungles of North Vietnam ever since. I'm not sure why he was in the story, and I imagined better ways to use this character to propel the plot forward. Maybe Harry should have had his own book.

If the flaws I discovered in the story were fixed, this could be a four-star read.


See also: The Author's Amazon Page
PODBRAM Review of Nero's Concert

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Editorial


Editorial by Arthur Graham
(CreateSpace / 1-450-55078-9 / 978-1-450-55078-9 / February 2010 / 136 pages / $9.99 / B&N $8.99)

This little book named Editorial has its flaws, but it does, indeed, channel Kurt Vonnegut in the same manner that Mahogany Rush and Randy Hansen channeled Jimi Hendrix shortly after his death in 1970. I could stop right here, because this is all you really need to know about Editorial. I have been a Vonnegut fan ever since my sister gave me a copy of Cat’s Cradle for my birthday back in the late ’60’s, just as I have remained a Hendrix fan since the first time I heard “Purple Haze” on my AM transistor radio. Although I have read many more of the Vonnegut classics, none has impressed me more than Cat’s Cradle, and I am pleased to report the similarities expressed in Editorial. If you liked Kurt’s famous, strange little excursion into the ozone, you should give this little copycat a read. Even if you are not impressed, the experience will not take long.

There are several obvious weaknesses in Editorial. The book is exceptionally short: with its large font and low page count, it is considerably shorter even than Cat’s Cradle. Every time ellipses are employed, and Mr. Graham has given them a full-time job, there are no periods closing the sentences. The usual lack of POD proofreading is evident, too, although it is not excessive. The author must have spent at least ten minutes designing the cover, and there are places in the terse but convoluted plotline that easily leave the reader a bit confused.

I know nothing about this author, as nothing seems to be available online about him, not even his age, although the narrator of the strange tale claims to be mature. If Mr. Graham had not mentioned the name Vonnegut in his review request to me, I would have dismissed this short, silly little work out of hand. However, the author did mention one of my favorite classic authors, so I read the first few pages of Editorial at Amazon before rejecting it. In spite of my complaints, I was not disappointed! Like The Milkman I reviewed here a while back, Editorial is clever, tacky, and even a bit obscene. Since Porky’s and American Pie are two of my favorite comedies, I can obviously handle a few of these stated qualities. The crude hand drawings and the unexpected use of XXXX’s instead of words in a few places are particularly clever.

Don’t shoot the messenger if you choose to read Editorial and find my comparison to Vonnegut ludicrous. There is only one Mahogany Rush album in my collection. Although Mahogany Rush 4 has always been my favorite, there is no substitute for the original, so my Hendrix collection is extensive. Kurt Vonnegut was one of the original masters of what you might call psychedelic reading material. There’s a new Randy Hansen on the scene carrying his magical banner.


See also: Editorial at B&N

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

West to the Sun


West to the Sun by T. G. Good
(Outskirts Press / 1-432-75162-X / 978-1-432-75162-3 / December 2009 / 262 pages / $16.95 / Amazon $12.20)
Reviewed by Celia Hayes for PODBRAM

It is a good omen for the cover of a book intended to tell the story of the great emigrant trails across the far western frontier to feature an illustration of a covered wagon pulled by the appropriate numbers of the appropriate draft animal. The cover art for all too many works of fiction about the California/Oregon trails appear to feature a huge covered wagon hitched to two horses, an arrangement as impossible in practice as it was historically inaccurate. The unvarnished fact was that most emigrants crossing to California or Oregon prior to the Civil War hauled their worldly goods there in relatively small wagons, pulled by at least three yoke of draft oxen – for it was a brutally wearing journey, where there was often not much of a road at all, and horses were too fragile and expensive to serve as team animals. Having written my own novel about a wagon-train party, venturing to California in the early years, I can attest that having an accurate cover is a promising start for readers hoping to learn more about the wagon-train emigrants.

This young-adult historical, follows the Symons family – father Jedediah, mother Mary, eleven-year old Jeremiah, little sister Bitsy and an assortment of old friends and new-made acquaintances, as they leave their farm in Tennessee and take to the trail for Oregon. They do so with the advice of Jedediah’s brother Peter, a knowledgeable veteran of the far west, in the days when everything west of The Mississippi-Missouri was a trackless wilderness. In fact, the character of Uncle Peter affords a graceful means of acquainting young Jeremiah and his family with many of the old mountain men, such as Jim Bridger, and of relaying bits of western lore, and practical wisdom of the trail. The family is also religiously devout, in a way that is true to the historical record, although displaying a more 20th century degree of tolerance towards other faiths.

In a fairly straightforward way, this account fills in many little details of the wagon-train pioneer’s journey: the politicking which went on, all along the trail as bands of travelers elected leaders, found fault with them and elected new leaders, dealt with lawbreakers, split apart into more congenial groups and negotiated a safe passage for their families and wagons with potentially hostile Indians. West to the Sun is also a full and heartbreaking account of fatalities from accident and disease encountered by the Symons party. It was a rare wagon party that did not leave a member, or sometimes several members of it behind, in a lonely and unmarked grave along The Platte or The Sweetwater.

I would criticize this book on only one account, which would be that the narrative voice sounds a little too modern, occasionally dropping into 20th century turns of speech which struck me as more than a little jarring. This would have been a quite satisfactory read if Jeremiah had sounded a little more like a 19th century voice; if his narration sounded more like Tom Sawyer’s or Huck Finn’s – or even Jaimie McPheeters.


See also: The Deepening Review
Celia's Review at BNN