THE VOLUNTEER by Salvatore Scibona

March 28, 2019

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The novel by Scibona is a difficult one to understand and really enjoy. The author utilizes an almost stream of consciousness writing style which I must indicate does not work for this novel.

It touches on four generations of men; their pathways through life and the horrors of the war in Vietnam as it affects one of them. Vollie Frade is met at a point where almost on a whim to escape a bad home situation enlists in the Marine Corps. This is just in time to be sent to Vietnam where he witnesses the horrors of that war. On a second tour he is captured in Cambodia where American forces are not supposed to be. He is held in horrible conditions in prison with two other men and becomes the only survivor to escape and return home. This imprisonment does affect him through the remainder of his life.

In a similarity to Winston Groom’s novel “Forrest Gump” major events around the world are depicted during the course of the story and integrated into the story line. Unfortunately, I found that I could not retain an interest in the book due to the myriad of shifts and characters introduced with little or no interconnection.

3/19 Paul Lane

THE VOLUNTEER by Salvatore Scibona. Penguin Press (March 5, 2019). ISBN 978-0525558521. 432p.

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THE CHAOS FUNCTION by Jack Skillingstead

March 23, 2019

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The author has combined a great deal of action with an interesting scenario right out of the world of Science Fiction giving his readers a very engrossing novel.

The story begins with Olivia Nikitas, a very successful war correspondent, in the midst of covering the civil war in Syria. She is accompanied by Brian, an AID worker and the man that she has found love with. While they are covering a battle in Aleppo Brian is killed with Olivia dragging him back into a chamber in a building adjacent to the area they had been covering. In a reverie experienced by Olivia traumatized by Brian’s death conditions change and it looks like her lover was only wounded.

The Science Fiction part comes across when returning to the United States Olivia is kidnapped by a group claiming to be guardians of a machine that allows conditions in the world to be changed. And that is why she experiences the shift from Brian dying and than still alive but wounded. Olivia has received the power to operate the machine from the individual that had it but was killed during the same time and place that Brian died in. She learns that she is the first woman to have this power during the many centuries that it has been utilized.

Escaping from the group with the help of two of their members Olivia uses the benefits of the machine tied to her mental ability to use it to change conditions in the world. Unfortunately, the new conditions created by her allow the spread of a man made epidemic of smallpox which kills off millions around the world. She realizes that her desire to keep Brian alive has forced the spread of the disease to take effect due to conditions created by Olivia’s machinations of world conditions.

The combination of circumstances involving a great deal of action with an interesting twist will provide a fascinating experience for the reader making the awaiting of future books by  Skillingstead a done deal.

3/19 Paul Lane

THE CHAOS FUNCTION by Jack Skillingstead.  John Joseph Adams/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (March 19, 2019). ISBN 978-1328526151. 304p.

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INSPECTION by Josh Malerman

March 19, 2019

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Malerman has the wonderful ability to deliver exciting books with “different” plots for his readers. Inspection is no exception to this rule.

At the beginning the reader will fully be invested in the idea that it is a situation existing in a future when “Big Brother” is watching every move made by the residents of their country. This is not the case. It is set in a present time when a radical deviation from the norm has been set up by wealthy people interested in proving a point they are sure of.

Two separate schools have been built in a forest location very far from prying eyes. One is an institution populated only by boys with no females around, and the other by girls with no males around. Each has existed for years with no contact with the outside world. The children, as they are, have no nouns in their language that lead to the realization that there is an opposite sex. They have been given the names only of the letters of the alphabet and told that they developed on special trees and taken off when ready to survive on their own.

The head of the boys unit is known as D.A.D. with the girls’ supervisor M.O.M. The children are being trained with advanced courses in the arts and sciences with the thinking that left without the distraction of sex they will not be subjected to the strains that normally exist with the interaction between men and women. They will, therefore develop into geniuses and make contributions to mankind beyond the normality of other groups growing up in regular circumstances.

The story moves between the boy “J” and the girl “K” as they both independently begin questioning their supervision and the constraints of their sheltered existences. The ending is a completely logical one given the circumstances as developed and complete an extremely engrossing novel. Several sleepless, but rewarding, nights are in store for the reader as they are drawn into the world created by the author. Very well done.

3/19 Paul Lane

INSPECTION by Josh Malerman. Del Rey (March 19, 2019). ISBN 978-1524796990 400p.

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BEAUTIFUL BAD by Annie Ward

March 15, 2019

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One can say that this book is a wonderful love story, but it is a novel far above the recounting of a romance. It is a story that moves through various twists and turns granting the mesmerized reader a good deal of sleepless moments while glued to the pages.

Maddie (Madeline) and Ian’s love story begins when she is in a position overseas and visits a friend of hers in a nearby country. At a party she meets Ian who is a professional soldier in the British army. He is currently part of a detachment guarding diplomats stationed at embassies in that country. She falls for him, and he for her but it takes a period of 16 years for the two to finally marry and settle in Maddie’s home state of Kansas. Their union produces a beautiful son named Charlie loved by both in a marriage that seems very successful.

Things change when Maddie suffers an accident during a camping trip, scarring her face and causing her to begin seeing a therapist to help her come to grips with the disfigurement. It is during her visits to the analyst that the fact that Ian suffers from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) due to his constant postings into combat areas comes out. Since it is Maddie that is used as the first person narrator we learn much about the symptoms of Ian’s PTSD as outlined by her. She is, by her own admission, living with a man with an abundance of phobias that make life for both difficult.

The ending is an incredible piece of writing which brings the reader through several complete changes of view about what has and is happening. Ward has written other novels prior to “Beautiful Bad” but she has certainly vaulted to a place right at the apex of the literary world. I can’t wait for her next book and I’m sure that this will be the reaction of anyone reading this book.

3/19 Paul Lane

BEAUTIFUL BAD by Annie Ward. Knopf (March 5, 2019). ISBN 978-0525521877. 272p.

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OF FIRE AND LIONS by Mesu Andrews

March 10, 2019

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A well written novel based on the Old Testament story of Daniel. The author evidences a great deal of research in presenting a novel like account of the life and times of the prophet. Daniel lived during the tumultuous times characterized by the rule of Nebuchadnezzar over the city state of Babylon and his conquests of much of the known world. The novel begins as the young girl Abigail is taken prisoner by the invading army of the Babylonians conquering Jerusalem and taking her and many others captives. They are being brought to Babylon as slaves. Along with her are five young men including Daniel and four of his friends. Daniel takes a liking and interest in Abigail starting a lifetime of love between them.

Andrews does not gloss over the miracles attributed to Daniel’s times and caused by the one god, Yahweh, that was worshiped by his people. There is the survival of his friends thrown into a blazing furnace and the later survival by Daniel of being thrown into a pit with several hungry lions. He is brought to Babylon in order to be trained to govern under the sway of Nebuchadnezzar along with other selected Hebrews as a means of assuring the rule of a wide variety of men selected from Babylon’s conquests. This is seen as a means of assuring loyalty to Babylon and is a far reaching belief going beyond the period being looked at.

Andrews, as is her practice, has done a good deal of research into the period surrounding Daniel’s life both by close reading of the book of Daniel and other prophets of that era as well as other surviving works available at present day. Literary license allows the author to resurrect conversations that possibly could have taken place based on events depicted. As an historical work the recreating of the world of about 500 B.C. is truly an engrossing project. The book is made into both a captivating novel as well as the creation of life lived in another and stranger period. The novel is by any definition a mesmerizing read and an all nighter for the reader.

3/19 Paul Lane

OF FIRE AND LIONS by Mesu Andrews. WaterBrook (March 5, 2019). ISBN 978-0735291867. 400p.

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BEFORE SHE KNEW HIM by Peter Swanson

March 8, 2019

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Hen (short for Henrietta) and her husband Lloyd have just moved into a new house just outside of Boston, Massachusetts. They start to meet their neighbors shortly after moving in as a normal activity for people changing into a new environment.

Hen is an illustrator, and a fairly successful one. She is bipolar and has had a bad experience some years ago with a murder of someone that was close to her at that point. But she seems to be on the right meds with her condition controlled and has found happiness with Lloyd and with her work. This was until she and Lloyd in their process of meeting neighbors are invited to Matthew and his wife’s home. Hen sees a sports trophy displayed which she is sure belonged to the person murdered years ago and realizes that Matthew is probably the murderer.

Certainly this recognition would normally provide the ingredients of a great story with Hen reporting her suspicions to the police and than later confronting Matthew as he actually murders another man. But Swanson takes us far beyond one crime as the reader is introduced to Matthew’s psychotic brother Richard, Lloyd’s affair with another woman and her murder, and a probable description of the crime occurring years ago that Hen was privy to. A convoluted set of events certainly but put together by a master of the genre and bringing a great story and some sleepless nights to a fascinated reader. The ending is not broadcast but is logical based on events described with further books by Swanson eagerly awaited.

3/19 Paul Lane

BEFORE SHE KNEW HIM by Peter Swanson. William Morrow (March 5, 2019). ISBN 978-0062838155. 320p.

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THE DEVIL ASPECT by Craig Russell

March 7, 2019

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A novel that is guaranteed to grab hold of the reader immediately and not let go until the finale. It should be termed dark, but not gothic, although the concept of malevolent spirits permeates its pages. Viktor Kosarek is a young recently graduated psychiatrist who had studied under Carl Jung, one of the fathers of modern psychiatry. It is 1935 and set in a Czechoslovakia with the advent of Nazism on the horizon as Viktor seeks his first job. He holds the theory that evil in a person is due mainly to an evil spirit existing within the makeup of people. That the reason for murder taking place is the pressure brought by this force beyond the ability of the person to control.

Viktor’s theories catch the attention of the manager of a famous insane asylum known as the Hrad Orlu asylum for the criminally insane. At the time the asylum houses only six patients who are among the most horrific killers in Europe . He is invited to work at the asylum attempting to treat the six and prove his theory. Upon arrival Viktor begins sessions with the six; One woman and five men. He is aided with a young lady, Judita, handling the written transcription for the interviews with the patients. She is Jewish and is attempting to flee Europe ahead of the Nazi terror she realizes is coming. A love affair does develop between her and Viktor which plays out in the background.

A second scenario is developed dealing with a serial killer known only as Leather Apron who is terrorizing Prague. His methods of slaughter are reminiscent of England’s Jack the Ripper murderer. Russell follows the chase led by a policeman and also ties in ancient legends about evil entities that have permeated Czechoslovakia’s past.

The reader will be led into reading about murder at its most horrible with descriptions of mutilated bodies that can definitely be very difficult to bear. These are tied into Viktor’s findings in a logical way that helps lead to a finale that is logical and ends the novel in a manner very suited to the story being told. An excellent piece of dark literature that will keep readers glued to the pages attempting to discern an ending that is certainly not telegraphed but is quite satisfying.

3/19 Paul Lane

THE DEVIL ASPECT by Craig Russell. Doubleday (March 5, 2019). ISBN 978-0385544368. 432p.

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CEMETERY ROAD by Greg Iles

March 5, 2019

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There is one absolute truism in any of Iles’ books written about the American south and set in the twentieth century: There will be a man or woman that is inherently good and facing a group that is evil personified. Just prior to the present novel he was involved in writing several books centered in the city of Natchez. His principal character became involved with fighting a group calling itself the “Double Eagles”. The story actually painted the villains as being involved with both the assassination of John F. Kennedy as well as running Natchez.

Cemetery Road introduces Marshall McEwan in the role of principal protagonist and a shadow group known as the “Poker Club.” Marshall grew up in the small town of Bienville, Mississippi. He was an athlete, a good student and in love with a girl nicknamed Jet. Jet seemed to reciprocate this love until circumstances drove them apart. Marshall left his birthplace, went to Washington, D.C. and over eighteen years gained a well earned reputation as a great reporter. He found himself in many dangerous areas and it appeared that he would continue. His work won him a Pulitzer prize capping his already great reputation.

His progress was interrupted by his mother calling him to return to Bienville to run the family newspaper. His father who was the editor in chief had suffered a major coronary and Marshall was asked to keep things moving until his father recuperated. The biggest problem for Marshall was that he ran into his old girl friend Jet. She was married to Paul, a boyhood friend of his, but it looked like she and Marshall were still in love with each other. While they planned to leave together when Marshall was free to return to his Journalistic career Jet was hampered by Kevin, her son, and the obvious fact that her husband would never let him leave with his mother.

The circumstances of the novel include the winning of the construction of a big Paper mill by the Chinese government In Bienville and the prospect of more jobs, higher wages and added fortunes for members of the Poker Club. A murder of a man that found ancient bones and works at the proposed site of the paper mill with the prospect of the town losing the site and the Mill galvanizes the actions of both Marshall and the Poker Club in different points of view. Marshall to expose the murder and the club to protect their turf.

Iles is a superb builder of characters for his novels and Cemetery Road is no exception. How will the affair between Marshall and Jet turn out? And, of course will the Poker club succeed in keeping the knowledge of a probable historic site from the U.S. government and the turning of it into a protected national park. Like his previous novels centered on Natchez, this one is possibly the first of more. But it stands alone as a completely mesmerizing read with the questions raised by the ending not spoiling the enjoyment of a great author at his best.

3/19 Paul Lane

CEMETERY ROAD by Greg Iles. William Morrow (March 5, 2019). ISBN 978-0062824615. 608p.

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ONE FATAL MISTAKE by Tom Hunt

February 13, 2019

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Karen Mayo, estranged from her husband has taken her life into her own hand, studied and became a nurse. She has also watched her beloved son Joshua moving away from the divorce between his parents, now ready to graduate from high school and  accepted to Clemson University. He is also a member of his school golf team and plays frequently with his father.

Suddenly fate takes a hand in the Mayo family’s affairs.  Joshua and his father decide to drive golf balls off a cliff facing a river and located in a large wooded area north of their home.

They finish the driving a little after dark and are on their way back to Joshua’s home when they accidentally hit a man walking alone in the woods. They quickly go over to see how the person is when the man jumps up and attacks Andrew, Joshua’s father. Appearing possible that Andrew could be killed, Joshua picks up a rock and strikes the man on his head. Checking him it is found that he has died from the blow.

There is another half of the events in this well done novel. Three individuals, two men and the wife of one of them have planned and executed a robbery of a bank.  One of the men is purposely left at the scene of the robbery and the other two flee the area with a bag of money stolen from the bank.

The two halves are expertly tied into a very ingenious whole by the author. What happens when the two groups meet and how the events reach a conclusion for all of them is the theme of a very engrossing novel by an author that is a master of developing characters in his books.

The accidental murder in the woods and its consequences is tied very neatly into the actions and fate of the bank robbers, including the one that was stranded at the scene of the crime by the other two. A compelling all-nighter by an author completing only his second book. Certainly one to continue looking for in the  future.

1/19 Paul Lane

ONE FATAL MISTAKE by Tom Hunt. Berkley (February 5, 2019). ISBN 978-0399586439. 320p.

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THE GIRL IN THE GLASS BOX by James Grippando

February 9, 2019

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A Jack Swyteck Novel, Book 15

This, the latest novel featuring Jack Swyteck, Grippando’s practicing attorney, was written during a period that saw a law enforcement agency of the United States, U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement (better known as ICE) being subjected to a huge amount of criticism by a portion of the American population. The agency was demonized by its critics as riding roughshod over the immigrants that it had to apprehend, detain, jail and/or deport from the country. The leading critique was that it separated children traveling with their parents as they attempted to enter the United States illegally. In my opinion, adherents of the agency were quick to point out that ICE was simply carrying out their assigned function in attempting to keep out people that did break the law by not complying with the legalities of legal entrance.

Grippando, through Jack Swyteck, makes his opinion very clear in setting up ICE as being over zealous in their administration of their duties. His beloved abuela (grandmother) pushes him into the defense of an illegal alien woman and her daughter. Julia Rodriguez and her daughter Beatriz are illegals that have found a small place in society and are trying to make a life for themselves when Julia is sexually attacked by her boss at the coffee shop where she works. She defends herself but then finds herself detained by ICE after an anonymous tip, locked in prison and set up for deportation. Beatriz stays with an aunt that has completed immigration requirements earlier and is a U.S. citizen.

The novel is replete with the sordid conditions experienced by Julia, the pressure by ICE on the judge supervising the trial that Swyteck requests to present her case for political asylum, and the changes in her daughter when her seemingly happy life is broken up by her mother’s problems. Grippando’s opinions are open and clear. This does not change the fact that the book is the author’s usual well done and engrossing story which can be read as another fine reading experience. The novel reaches an ending which seems to clearly be the beginnings of another book continuing the story. Again, despite this reader’s opinion about ICE and its described methods, this read is a pleasure of an all nighter by an author that is at the height of his literary skill.

2/19 Paul Lane

THE GIRL IN THE GLASS BOX by James Grippando. Harper (February 5, 2019). ISBN 978-0062657831. 368p.