Thursday, August 30, 2012
The style of writing mimics the historic writings of that day. In fact much of it is apparently taken from Lincoln's secret journal, which reveals his family's dire and ominous encounters with vampires. The death of his mother when Abe is 9, caused by a vampire when Abe's father can't repay a debt, leads to his obsession with hunting and killing the monsters wherever he can find them.
At one point, he is saved from certain death at the hands of a female vampire that he had at first mistaken for an old woman. He is stunned to discover that the gentleman who rescues him is in fact a vampire himself. Abe slowly adjusts to the fact that not all vampires are equally evil. In fact Henry Sturges, the vampire in question, undertakes to train Abe so that he will be better able to kill the ones that need killing the most.
As time passes, Abe becomes a young adult, always ambitious to work and earn money, but willing to pause and go after any vampire whose name is sent to him by his mentor Henry Sturges. When Abe has an opportunity to visit the South, New Orleans in particular, he sees some of the horrors of slavery up close, and is shocked to see that some vampires are in league with some slave owners in order to avail themselves of an easy and abundant source of fresh blood. Abe was already anti-slavery, but this certainly put a sense of urgency to his political and moral leanings on this issue.
A little known "fact" is that the vampire elements of that day were a significant force on both sides of the War Between The States. The vampires of the North worked together in a confederation called The Union, and even provided a security detail for President Lincoln that he came to rely on heavily for protection for himself and his family.
The book is an entertaining mix of history and evil vampire lore...not exactly as smooth a mix as Grahame-Smith pulled off with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but that, after all, is fiction and fiction, and I'm telling you, that was a masterful blending! This one is easier to picture as a movie, and what do you know, they've made one already! Haven't seen it myself, though....but the book fills the bill if you like this particular brand of good vs. evil, with a little Civil War history thrown in!
Tuesday, August 28, 2012
Umphrey takes a walk with the Hebrew slaves that Moses leads out of Egypt, comparing many of their behaviors with some that just might be a problem in the lives of many today. The most frequent example that he chooses is one he knows all too well: himself.
He uses the choices he made as a youth and young man to drink, often to excess in order to feel more confident and have more fun. This habit led to dependence on alcohol, which eventually caused panic attacks and feelings that he might be mentally ill. It took a long time before he realized that he might be an alcoholic, and that there might be a causal relationship to the mental stress he continued to experience.
After he decided to quit drinking and even returned to church, he still clung to some old habits, which he effectively compares to the Hebrew people's longing for the "good things" of Egypt, once they had entered the desert on the way to the Promised Land.
Most readers will recognize some of these modern "idols," which one of Umphrey's sources, Timothy Keller, defines as "...anything you seek to give you what only God can give." This book will lead to some eye-opening self-examination and give readers an opportunity to reflect on what is really the most important goal of our lives: to serve and honor God and God alone.
The book is available through Amazon and from Quarry Press, PO Box 181736, Dallas TX 75218. email@example.com,
Friday, August 24, 2012
The author tells of meeting an older man on one of his treks to India. As they share a table in a coffee shop, the older man asks him if he would like to hear a story that will cause him to believe in God. Our author accepts the challenge and goes off to Canada to meet our hero, Piscine Patel, who has gone by Pi since childhood days.
Pi is charming as he tells us all about himself. He is clearly among the brightest and thoughtful of the children in his school. His dad owns the Pondicherry Zoo in Pondicherry, India, so Pi has a golden opportunity to observe the habits of the animals and to help take care of them. As he becomes a teenager, he begins to learn of and to appreciate the myriad of gods in his Hindi religion. He also is inspired to learn more about Christianity, and a short time later, about Islam. He marvels at the good in each religion and wonders why the practitioners of each faith don't get along better with one another. He worships on separate days with each group until they get wise to him and confront his parents. Each group would be pleased to have him of course, but wants him to drop his relationship with the other two. His parents, not overtly religious themselves, just want him to decide so that they will not have to listen to the religious leaders argue.
His relatively serene life enters a new stage when the political climate in India changes. His parents decide that they can have a better life if they migrate to Canada, so in short order, his dad arranges to sell the animals and the zoo, packs up his family and books passage on a freighter so that they can escort the animals who have been sold to zoos overseas.
But only a few days into the ocean voyage Pi is awakened by a loud noise and decides to leave their below-deck quarters to see what is going on on the upper deck. It doesn't take long to realize something terrible is happening. He goes back to the stairs to alert his brother and his parents, but there is water rising up the stair well. He returns to some crew members who unceremoniously hand him a life jacket and throw him overboard into a lifeboat. The animal cages have evidently been unlocked or broken, because there is already a zebra in the lifeboat with a broken leg. No other human joins him, but there is a hyena, and very shortly they are joined by an orangutan and a Belgian tiger whose name is Richard Parker.
As it turns out, Pi is the only human survivor and he is afloat on the Pacific for 227 days. The second half of the book is the record of his ingenious and heroic means of survival. The hyena terrorizes the zebra, the orangutan, and the other occupants on the lifeboat. Before long only Pi and Richard Parker remain. The tiger Richard Parker has a bad case of sea sickness which allows Pi to formulate a plan to establish his alpha dominance over the tiger, much as a lion tamer would. Part of what Pi does is to catch fish and toss them to the tiger so that the tiger will begin to associate Pi with meal provision.
Pi's descriptions of the endless variety of clouds in the sky, the behavior of the ocean, and the almost infinite variety of fish and sea life they encounter over the course of 227 days show how hard Pi must work to keep his mind occupied. He sees God in so much of what he is experiencing and observing. He eventually begins to appreciate that Richard Parker is there so that he has another being to take care of and to establishes an uneasy companionship.
Many readers have read allegorical meaning into Pi's journey and there is much to consider in this rich novel to support that. But it is also a very satisfactory, richly imagined tale of survival and a decision to find God in even the most trying and horrific of circumstances.
Long live Yann Mardel, and long may he write!
Wednesday, August 22, 2012
She has been tasked with following instructions which she received in Vienna in a journal that originally belonged to a mysterious older man to whom she had become very close. He claimed, and she believed, that he had come from the future and was giving her advice that would lead to specific outcomes that would benefit her family and an even wider circle of friends and organizations as time goes by. She was even told whom she should marry and she set about arranging the circumstances so that that would indeed happen. It helped that Frank Burden had already expressed interest in marrying her before she had ever gone to Vienna.
Her first duty is to sell a valuable piece of jewelry, which the man had also given her, so that she would have seed money to start a fund which would provide for the financing necessary to do the things she had been tasked to do. Second, she was told the name of the person she should hire to manage the fund she would set up. She was told the name of the fund, and even what company to invest in first.
Of course she had the choice not to follow the prescribed plan, and sometimes experienced a great deal of anxiety as things seemed to be going terribly wrong, but the advice she had received always proved to be the way to go.
Historical characters show up frequently in Eleanor Putnam Burden's life. Her godfather is William James, the leading American thinker, philosopher and psychologist of the day. She had met Dr. Sigmund Freud while she was in Vienna, and was instrumental in bringing him, along with his disciple and fellow psychologist Carl Jung, to the Boston area to lecture. Because her benefactor had told her of the coming disaster of J. Pierpoint Morgan's great ocean-going vessel, the Titanic, she was able to warn him not to take the maiden voyage.
She was also tasked with recruiting Arnauld Esterhazy, one of the young intellectuals she had met while in Vienna, to move to Boston to teach in the prep school that her husband Frank had attended, and that would become the alma mater of her son and grandson, as yet unborn.
In the meantime, Eleanor is continuing to serve as a charming hostess for Frank as he rises in prestige and influence in the world of Boston banking; she is raising two daughters and doing frequent service and charity work, and otherwise functioning as a key player in Boston society.
But when rumors of war in Europe, the prelude to WWI, are heard, Arnauld Esterhazy feels that it is his duty to return to Vienna to serve in the army there. His expectation is that the war will be of short duration and that his responsibilities will lie far from active battle fields. Sadly he has greatly misjudged what will be required of him. As the war winds down, Arnauld is missing and presumed dead. Eleanor is distraught and asks Dr. Freud to verify the report. He gets back to her with the sad news that trusted sources verify that Esterhazy is dead. Eleanor is stunned....the journal from the future has not been wrong about anything, but Esterhazy has not yet had the opportunity to influence her son, much less a grandson, and yet he has died in the awful war!
Eleanor's feelings of tension return over the battle between choice and destiny as she mourns the loss of the esteemed friend and teacher. At last she decides that he simply cannot be dead, and decides to leave her family in Boston and travel to Europe with only her three year old son, hoping against hope that Esterhazy will be found among the survivors who are still in hospitals, many so shell-shocked that they do not know their own names.
Eleanor's confidence and wisdom serve her well as she deals with many long-suffering Europeans in their war-torn countries and some very unsavory characters as well. She meets Esterhazy's parents, learning of his secret past, which is known only to a very few people. She spends more time with Dr. Freud and Dr. Jung who agree to help her in her quest to find Esterhazy.
This story is intricately plotted and has surprising twists along the way. The ugly anti-Semitism that was emerging in 1897 Vienna and was discounted at the time as a mere political strategy,is becoming the horrific reality that no one foresaw. Discussion of music theories, psychological theories and the battle between free will and destiny also keep the reader involved and thinking about a myriad of ideas and their implications, even beyond the rich characters and personalities that we come to know throughout this compelling and memorable book.
Tuesday, August 21, 2012
His connection to this time and place comes from a favorite teacher from his prep school days in Boston. Arnauld Esterhazy had a profound influence on Wheeler Burden as well as a couple of generations of St. Gregory Prep School boys, including Wheeler's dad, Frank Standish Burden II, also known as Dilly.
Arnauld Esterhazy (The Haze) was a favorite history teacher, impressing on his students the prevailing attitudes of the intellectual and artistic Vienna youth as the Austrian Empire confidently but naively faced the turn of the 19th century. He had been one of those youths himself in 1897. Dilly Burden grew up in Boston and was an outstanding student and athlete at both St. Greg's and Harvard. He was a war hero in WWII, serving with the French Resistance and was killed by the Gestapo as the War wound down. Wheeler had been a toddler when his father died.
Wheeler is now in his late 40s, but has made a name for himself in athletics at both St. Greg's and Harvard before becoming a musical sensation as part of a rock band, leaving that world behind to edit and publish the accumulated notes of The Haze himself. Because of that immersion in Esterhazy's written thoughts and musings over the last 10 years, he is well prepared to make his way in this world. He realizes he must be very careful not to reveal the future to anyone, but at the same time, try to figure out a purpose and a plan for what to do now that he is here.
Wheeler keeps a detailed journal of his thoughts and conversations with the people he meets. In fact one of the first people he thinks to look up is Sigmund Freud, who he knows will come to meet both his grandmother and his mother in the years to come. He believes his story will intrigue Dr. Freud and perhaps convince him to provide some money and a place to stay in exchange for the fantastic but true story he is prepared to share with the famous psychologist.
Wheeler's resolve to keep a distance between himself and others he might unduly influence is challenged when he meets a beautiful young American woman who also seems attracted to him. Against his better judgement, he begins to spend more and more time with her, even after discovering her true identity. In spite of the age difference, he has met the love of his life.
He also begins to challenge Dr. Freud's theories of psychology, perhaps suggesting some ideas that may affect his developing theories of human behavior.
But perhaps the most shocking meeting occurs when he realizes that a young American man he has met in the coffee shop is actually his father, Dilly Burden himself! The last thing Dilly remembers before arriving in Vienna is the elaborate vision he had constructed for himself to avoid the pain of Nazi torture. But it wasn't a plan to meet the Haze in his native land; Dill's plan now that he is in Vienna is to find the 8 year old child who will become Adolph Hitler and kill him before he has a chance to grow up.
Wheeler's story is ostensibly told by his 90 year old mother, who is writing it in 2005, based on the journal that Wheeler kept while he was in Vienna. This plot is amazing in it's intricacy. It involves historical characters interacting with the fictional characters in plausible ways, and is a fascinating take on time travel and how it could affect the future (and/or the past) in untold ways. The author Selden Edwards is a gifted writer, creating characters with depth and charisma that will keep the reader thinking about them long after the book is finished.
Sunday, August 12, 2012
December 14 begins with the usual routine for Dr. Gabe Stanton: bike ride, coffee at his favorite coffee shop and then on to work at the CDC Research Center in LA. But his first call sends his day spinning wildly off kilter, as he hears the symptoms described which could mean that a very rare, but potentially fatal disease has attacked a John Doe patient just recently admitted to the hospital.
In the meantime, a Mayan researcher at an LA museum, Chel Manu, has received a hurriedly delivered package for safe-keeping from a shady antiquities dealer. It may be fake, but the more she looks at it, the more she believes she has received the genuine article, an ancient codex which almost certainly is even older than the existing Mayan writings currently housed in a few fortunate Museum collections. That means it is illegal for her to possess it and that legally it should be returned to the country of Guatemala, from which it was no doubt stolen and secreted out of the country in hopes of a quick sale to dealers in the US.
As Chel ponders her ethical dilemma, she receives a call from the hospital where the John Doe is being treated. He speaks no English and the translation panel at the hospital believes he is speaking a Guatemalan dialect. When Chel speaks to the patient, she realizes that he does speak the dialect of her birthplace. The doctors are guiding her to ask questions that will help them isolate the source of his disease, which most likely came from something he ate. His frightening symptoms include insomnia, hallucinations and an incredible unquenchable thirst. As she asks questions she comes to realize that he is very likely the agent who sold the codex to the antiquities dealer. Without telling the hospital authorities and Dr. Stanton her suspicions, or even of the existence of the codex, she continues to ask for the exact location of the ruins where the ancient book was found.
Too soon, the disease takes the life of Volcy, the Guatemalan the hospital had admitted as John Doe. Chillingly, there are soon other cases discovered, and the hospital researchers discover that this prion disease, similar to mad cow disease which is spread by ingesting infected meat, is not spread by food at all but is airborne and enters the body through the eyes.
The disease spreads like wildfire through LA and is unwittingly carried to other US cities by travelers before a quarantine is mandated by the CDC. Dr. Stanton and his team are scrambling to find a way to counteract the fast moving disease and to prevent it's further spread. Chaos reigns in LA, as the disease moves faster that the bureaucracy's efforts to slow it down. Chel continues to translate the codex, discovering some startling secrets about the ancient Mayans, secrets which may hold the answers that Dr. Stanton and his team are trying to find. When the expert on the ancient text and the lead researcher on prion diseases join forces, they just may be able to save the world.
Tuesday, August 7, 2012
The Dutch culture in that era allows much more freedom for women than the English, which means that Blandine van Couvering, orphaned at 15, is allowed to continue in the work of her family and thus is one of the emerging "she-merchants" in the community. Currently she is 22, no longer a responsibility of the Orphan Master Aet Visser, but she still relies on him for advice and guidance. Visser himself seeks the aid of a new arrival in New Amsterdam, Edward Drummond. Though claiming to be a grain merchant, he is in actuality a spy for King Charles II of England, who intends to claim the territory now occupied by the Dutch. Visser asks Drummond to check on one of the orphans he has placed with the Godbolt family to confirm whether or not Visser's suspicions regarding this family are valid. Intrigue and suspense abound, as virtually everyone's end game is making money. This family stands to gain substantially when the orphan receives an inheritance from family across the sea. Visser doubts that the current child is the same one he placed there.
The purpose of the New Amsterdam outpost is to collect and return beaver pelts to the fatherland, and the result is that traders and merchants abound, adeptly bartering tools and supplies, even guns, to the native American hunters and trappers who supply the pelts. Everybody wins!
But the ugly circumstance that the community slowly comes to notice is that orphans are occasionally disappearing. The citizens gradually comprehend that something, or someone, is targeting the most vulnerable among them. Deep fear and horror strike their hearts when bones of children are discovered in remote fire circles surrounded by signs and totems that indicate a demon that is part of local indian lore, the witika, may be responsible. The witika demon is also associated with cannibalism. As unthinkable as it seems, there is no doubt a serial killer capable of great evil in their midst.
It isn't long before frightened people begin to suspect others in the community, and believe me, there is no shortage of possibilities! Because Blandine seems to be the only one concerned when one of the black community's children disappears, she is considered suspect, and possibly a witch. Since Visser is the only adult in the community charged with the responsibility of all the orphans, perhaps he bears guilt in the disappearances.
This saga has so many twists and turns, so many interesting characters, and so many heart stopping moments of terror built into the story, that the reader's interest is held captive til the very end. There are so many reasons to recommend this book...here are two: One, it is NOT a trilogy, so I can assure you there is closure; and two, though it has just come out in print, it is about to become a movie so you need to read it first and cast it in your own mind to see if you are thinking like the great minds of Hollywood...just sayin...
Sunday, August 5, 2012
I have read and enjoyed several of her books featuring Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and his partner Gemma James of Scotland Yard, but this one caught my eye when B&N offered it to Nook users, mentioning that it was the first of the series. If I had just picked it up randomly, I would not have assumed it was the introduction to the characters but a comfortable continuation of a story in progress.
In this case, Kincaid has been gifted with a time-share at a resort in northern England by a cousin whose family can no longer get off for this particular week. Kincaid, way overdue for time off, decides to take his cousin's generous offer, planning not to mention his occupation at all to fellow vacationers, so that they can just know him as a generic fellow guest at the Followdale House. Unfortunately, his anonymity is short-lived when, the first morning of his stay, he discovers the body of the assistant manager floating in the Jacuzzi.
The local inspector is sure it is death by suicide, in spite of the fact that a space heater on an extension cord has been thrown off the upstairs balcony into the pool, and is still plugged in at the time the body is discovered. Kincaid feels he must involve himself at least long enough to make sure the visiting medical examiner realizes it is a suspicious death.
A motive is not immediately obvious, but all the guests come under some level of suspicion as more of the facts become known. Sebastian Wade, the victim, seems to have been keeping a record of potentially embarrassing information on all the guests, not to mention the property manager, Cassie Whitlake. She makes no bones about despising Sebastian, even after his unfortunate demise.
Kincaid quietly enlists Gemma James' assistance back in London to do some low key background checks on some of the other guests. Before long another guest or two have died suddenly in what seem to be crimes of opportunity. Their common link, other than being Followdale House guests during the same week, eludes Kincaid until Gemma's research connects the dots.
The stories of each of the guests is intriguing, and Kincaid can't help but get involved to varying degrees with several of them. There are suppressed secrets to be uncovered and a murderer to be discovered. Kincaid is definitely the man for the job...even if he is supposed to be on vacation!
Wednesday, August 1, 2012
He is the proverbial tall dark and handsome guy that women dream about. Incredibly, he tells Maggie that he remembers her from high school. Though she remembers very little about him, she is taken with his charm and friendliness, and soon finds herself with a rewarding part time job editing scientific reports.
Her husband Rowan is a police detective and they have what she would describe as a good marriage, but there is an increasing distance between them. Rowan and his partner have been handed a very disturbing case that involves the violent death of a young child. They feel compelled to bring the killer to justice, but keep running into stone walls.
Rowan thinks about the case constantly, and even begins to feel guilty whenever he is surrounded by his family, knowing there is another family that ought to be united but is now drowning in grief. Since Maggie is told very little about the case, and nothing about Rowan's feelings, all she experiences is the loneliness and lack of intimacy. Always someone who could get carried away by her daydreams, Maggie decides a safe way she can remedy this situation, is to have an imaginary romance and the object of her fanciful desire is her boss, Dr.Cambien Cuthbert. What harm will it do? No one but herself will ever know the content of her dreams.
But soon the day dreams flow into very vivid dreams at night, dreams in which Cambien comes to her and is even more eager than she is to consummate the relationship. He even at one point tells her that she need not hold back, as it's only a dream. At the office, though the relationship remains platonic, she notices that he seems to be flirting with her and looking for opportunities to be near her in the office setting. Inevitably, her harmless day dream fantasy turns to real life unrequited love. She is miserable when Cambien begins to date her single girl friend, who also falls head over heels for him, and adds to Maggie's jealousy-filled misery by giving her all the sordid details of the romance.
Maggie eventually begins to realize that Cambien is stalking her in her dreams and, to her horror, really is an active participant. Either he or the demon who controls him intends to have Maggie as his very own. When she resists him, her daydreams become nightmares. Even her children are threatened in night terrors and perhaps even a night visit by a threatening being who disappears almost as suddenly as he is noticed by Rowan and Maggie. Cambien's power over Maggie is apparently enhanced by some herbal potions that he burns as incense. The drug enables his spirit to leave his physical body in order to search for Maggie, and when he finds her, even in a dream, his power is mesmerizing, almost like a spell cast by Dracula.
This is pretty chilling stuff, and drives home the ongoing battle between good and evil, and the slippery slope that a little "harmless daydream" can be for a less than vigilant wife and mother, who rationalizes breaking wedding vows as okay, if she is doing it only in her imagination. Definitely has a paranormal edge, but also a shout out for Christian values in marriage and the redeeming power of love and forgiveness. I'll be thinking about this one for awhile.