Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Inside the Kill Box

Inside the Kill Box
by Michael W. Romanowski

(Foremost Press / 1-936-15419-6 / 978-1-936-15419-7 / April 2010 / 256 pages / $14.97 / Amazon $13.47)

Reviewed by Dr. Al Past for PODBRAM

We are all familiar with the police procedural, but is there such a genre as a military procedural? A police procedural is "a piece of detective fiction which attempts to convincingly depict the activities of a police force as they investigate crimes" according to Wikipedia. With only a few modifications, then, a military procedural might be "a piece of military fiction which attempts to convincingly depict the activities of military special forces as they perform missions." If we can accept that, then Inside the Kill Box is a military procedural, and not a bad one at that.

Set in the early 1990s during the first Gulf War and featuring a large cast of participants all over the globe, the basic story involves suspected betrayal a decade earlier, mysterious well-funded assassins wreaking death and destruction, a Saddam Hussain turncoat to be extracted, and an assortment of military personnel and civilians of several nationalities thrown together in various military actions. Gunnery Sergeant David Sweet, a participant in most of the conflicts, provides continuity throughout.

Organized in short scenes that switch from venue to venue, the story does not invite speed-reading, at least not to me. To derive the full effect, one must carefully keep track of who is who and what is what. The technological aspects are covered thoroughly and convincingly, from the procedures to the speech to the specifics of the gadgetry. I must admit, knowing the exact model of an AK-47, or the particular modifications made to a Beretta automatic did not help me enjoy the story, but those who are attracted to military procedurals might feel differently. I was gratified, at least, that all the technology and machinery did not always perform perfectly. The "fog of war" was definitely a factor, and every mission did not always end satisfactorily. That in itself was convincing. In this respect, Inside the Kill Box is an improvement upon the Tom Clancy-type tale.

Nor are well-rounded characters typically characteristic of military procedurals. Sergeant Sweet is an individual, several cuts above a Rambo-like automaton, and several other characters were fairly interesting as well. The writing style and editing were impeccable. All in all, this is an enjoyable action story that should appeal to a large readership.

See Also: More About the Author

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Above the Fray, Part II

Above the Fray:
A Novel of the Union Balloon Corps, Part Two

by Kris Jackson

(CreateSpace / 1-449-51924-5 / 978-1-449-51924-7 / Spetember 2009 / 392 pages / $19.95 / Kindle $3.99 / B&N $14.36 / B&N e-book $2.85)

Reviewed by Malcolm R. Campbell for PODBRAM

Part I of Above the Fray (CraigsPress, May 2009) follows the exploits of protagonist Nathaniel Curry, a fifteen-year-old telegraph operator from Richmond, with the Union Army Balloon Corps from the Peninsula Campaign during the spring and summer of 1862 through the Battle of Antietam that September.

Part II begins as General Ambrose Burnside, who was placed in command of the Army of the Potomac in November 1862, is pushing into Virginia with the objective of capturing the Confederate capital at Richmond. En route, the Union Army will suffer a costly defeat at Fredericksburg in December with a battle plan that Nathaniel sees as “simple to the point of folly.”

Richmond will not fall until the spring of 1865, two years after Chief Aeronaut Thaddeus Lowe has resigned from the balloon corps due to pay and logistics disputes. The Union Army Balloon Corps, a civilian contract organization, disbands in August 1863. Curry, however, is not out of the war. There’s no precise way to say just how he stays in the war without giving away the inventive plot. Both the Union and the Confederacy want him to spy for them, for he is either an exceptionally streetwise chameleon or a man protected by the gods. He is equally at home with generals and prostitutes, with Southern slaves and northern infantrymen, and with soaring above the fray of a battlefield and with slogging it out under fire on both sides of the lines.

Taken together, parts I and II of Above the Fray give the reader a balloonist’s view of the Civil War from Atlanta to Richmond to Washington, D.C. Jackson’s research is broad and impeccable, his ear for dialogue is well tuned, and his rendering of the war from multiple theaters and perspectives is stunning.

One evening Curry and his friend Vogler are sitting in camp with several of the many historical characters, Thaddeus Lowe, James Allen and Ezra Allen reading mail:

“‘Solly,’ Nathaniel Curry said, ‘you get more mail than the rest of us together.’
“‘Vogler looked over his glasses at him and smiled.
“‘What are you reading now? What language is that?’
“‘It’s German. This is the journal of the Royal Society of Prussia.’
“‘Wouldn’t they speak Prussian?’
“‘No. You’re thinking of Russia where they speak Russian.’
“‘Oh. The letters aren’t the same as ours.’”

Vogler then tells his fellow aeronauts he’s reading an account of several record-setting balloon ascents by aerialists Henry Coxwell and James Glaisher in England who reached a height of over 37,000 feet. The second flight occurred about the same time the balloon corps was at Antietam. The aeronauts are excited about the record, and they discuss the impact of the cold temperatures and thinner atmosphere on both the aerialists and their balloon.

Such accounts expand the reach of the novel to events far from the field of battle, greatly adding to the perspective of both the characters and the reader. Similarly, events Nathaniel observes at the Second Battle of Bull Run in Above the Fray, Part I, bring him to the attention of those conducting the controversial court-martial of Union General Fitz-John Porter in Part II where the issues of politics, command competency and scapegoats intertwine.

Is it likely that a young telegraph operator from Richmond would be on speaking terms with President Abraham Lincoln, Confederate President Jefferson Davis, General Robert E. Lee, and multiple officers in both the northern and southern chains of command? Perhaps not, but Kris Jackson makes it credible and entertaining. Above the Fray, Part II is fine storytelling by an author who knows the territory. When Nathaniel Curry approaches Appomattox Court House in the spring of 1865, he has come a very long way from that long ago day when he inadvertently rode a balloon into the sky with Professor Thaddeus Lowe, that day when Lowe said, “The sun’ll not rise today, Nathaniel. You and I shall have to rise to meet it.”

See also: The PODBRAM Review of Above the Fray, Part One
The March of Books Review
Malcolm's Round Table Review

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Key of Solomon

The Key of Solomon:
A Novel of the Last Days
by Howard F. Clarke

(CreateSpace / 1-440-48631-X / 978-1-440-48631-9 / March 2010 / 406 pages / $16.53 / B&N $11.89)

Reviewed by Dr. Al Past for PODBRAM

Jack Salter is a problem-ridden New York cop with unconventional detective skills who is sent to Albuquerque, New Mexico to bring down a wealthy CEO he believes to be exceptionally dangerous. The CEO, named Kale, uses his corporation as a cover for his ultimate goal: to acquire the ancient occult key of King Solomon, which will enable him to turn the spirit world to his purposes, the better to dominate the globe, one supposes. Murder and human sacrifice are but tools to this end. Mix in Kane's bald, ex-military security advisor and enforcer, a brave Navajo policeman, a Baptist minister unafraid to step into the battle, several rare book dealers, miscellaneous associated local policemen, a New York mobster on the hook to Salter, a couple of vicious demons from the spirit world, a troop of gangster motorcyclists, and for good measure, a centuries-old conspiracy by trusted authority figures, and you have quite a pot-boiler of a story. Will Salter put the kibosh on the bad guy? Will he even survive? Or will it be the end of the world?

Fans of this genre of tales will recognize the pattern. It need only be added that the prose is readable, with few typos and not too many miscues (such as the word "touristo”, which is not a Spanish word— the word is "turista").

Readers who anticipate a plot-driven story will not be disappointed. For my part, I found the characterizations thin and the action predictable, with everything arranged to best achieve the desired end. The plot element that came through most vividly was the city of Albuquerque, a lovely city indeed.

Nonetheless, stories where the fate of the world hangs in the balance and only One Man (or Woman) can save it are evidently quite popular. If such is your cup of tea, then you might enjoy The Key of Solomon.

See also: The Author's Website
The Author's Amazon Page

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Midnight Tequila

Midnight Tequila by Suzann Kale
(CreateSpace: Stardust Zoo / 1-449-51564-9 / 978-1-449-51564-5 / March 2010 / 232 pages / $12.00 / Kindle $6.39)

Reviewed by Lloyd Lofthouse for PODBRAM

Solange Duval, the fifty-two-year-old main character in Midnight Tequila, is a woman who enjoys her hot flashes, her booze, and her drugs, but misses her husband Paul-Michel, who died from cancer years earlier. Although it is never clear where the money comes from that supports her almost plush lifestyle, she does earn cash as a 900-line telephone Tarot Card reading fortuneteller. I suspect Paul-Michel may have had money or an insurance policy but that is never mentioned.

Solange also dreams of success playing the harp, and when it finally looks like she's made it in Rio, she sabotages the chance by a few flawed notes and returns to Texas.

Throughout the novel, Solange often remembers moments with Paul-Michel. To me, it was obvious her depression and need for booze and drugs was to stay numb. He may have been the only person who understood her. Even having regular sex with kinky Carlo, who tries hot-wax sex, seems to be an attempt to forget. In fact, Solange doesn't seem to have much to enjoy from life. For a companion, Solange has Bunny May, a wise, toothless diabetic cat, who shouldn't be drinking milk but does.

The story is nicely balanced between the 900 calls and Solange's "trips" through life with her equally strange friends. Solange is not a stereotypical character. She is a uniquely challenged individual and an almost lost soul, and that is what makes this story worth reading.

At times, Solange comes off as a sexy, ditzy airhead, who even in her 50s turns heads with her cute figure. She writes in a dream journal of dark places that reminded me of someone suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). There are hints that she may have been sexually abused earlier in life and Paul-Michel rescued her, the only man she probably ever loved, and losing him solidified her PTSD.

This novel, which meanders through the head of someone who has almost lost herself to darkness, is an intriguing character study and it isn't a nice place to be if you are Solange, but it is worth the read if you are someone who enjoys stories that do not follow a formula genre outline. I enjoyed reading Midnight Tequila and recommend it.

See also: Suzann's Amazon Page
Suzann's Authors Den Page
The Author's Stardust Zoo Website

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Love and Synergy

Love and Synergy: Words Dedicated to Family and Friends By Rebecca Loyd
(AuthorHouse / 1-438-99955-0 / 978-1-438-99955-5 / November 2009 / 160 pages / $13.99 / Hardcover $22.99)

Reviewed by Malcolm R. Campbell for PODBRAM

“Rev. Jimmie Ray Loyd, age 61 of Jacksboro, died June 27 at his home. He was an Ordained Baptist Minister in 1980 and was founder and pastor for the past 25 years of the Pioneer Baptist Church. He was loved by family, friends & all who knew him.” -- The LaFollette Press, LaFollette, TN, July 3, 2004

Obituaries are news carefully written in an age-old, one-size-fits all style, that informs readers about what happened without—in most modern newspapers—conveying the full emotional import of the event and the days leading up to it from the perspective of family and friends.

When Jimmie Ray Loyd was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia, he asked his daughter to share his story. In Love and Synergy, Rebecca Loyd accomplishes this request in a straightforward, heartfelt manner that honors her father and family while offering comfort to others facing a terminal illness.

Love and Synergy is a story about the last year of a man’s life, and it begins with a memory of Jimmie and his wife Beatrice building a fire in the potbelly stove of the church that Loyd founded while their children Yvonnia, Jimmy and Rebecca play nearby and try to ignore the cold.

During the first fifteen years of his ministry at the Pioneer Baptist Church, the Reverend Loyd continued his day job in the construction business. However, the congregation wanted him available on a full-time basis. Rebecca Loyd writes that “when Dad was first diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia, we became angry that his retirement has been taken from him. In retrospect, he had been given the opportunity for ten glorious years to focus on what he loved most—serving as pastor of Pioneer Baptist Church.”

The journey Jimmie Loyd and his family took during his last year moves quickly from old memories to a doctor’s appointment to learn why he looks and feels so tired. After his physical, Loyd says he’s okay and that he will check in with the doctor again after they get back from a trip to Oregon to visit his son Jimmy and his wife Amy.

Once in Oregon, it’s obvious Loyd is more than simply tired. Hospital tests show he has leukemia and more testing shows that the form of leukemia he has is “a vicious disease… that affects red blood cells, platelets, white blood cells, and bone marrow.” The family fathers, an aggressive treatment program is prescribed, and remission comes and goes on a hope-against-hope rollercoaster ride of emotions during good days and bad days.

Known up and down the hall as “the preacher man from Tennessee,” Loyd fights his vicious disease with a positive attitude and determination that endears him to the hospital’s staff and volunteers. The staff sees the love and support of his family as they face each turning point and hard decision including the one to go home to Tennessee when there is nothing else the hospital can do. His doctors and nurses give him a standing ovation on the day he is discharged.

Love and Synergy is a story about the Reverend Jimmie Loyd, and his faith runs through it like a deep river. Love and Synergy is also a story about a family’s unconditional love and support for each other, and it ends as an inspiration to all who face similar journeys. The author’s father would like that.

See also:Malcolm's Round Table Review
The March of Books Review
The GoodReads Review
Rebecca Loyd's Website