Friday, January 12, 2018

The Titans of the Pacific - a 1930s thriller worthy of a mini-series

Greetings, commies!
First blog post of 2018. If you love military/historical fiction and literary non-fiction, if you love Jeff Shaara's Gettysburg trilogy, The Titans of the Pacific is a must read! I got a free review copy, and I will be ordering the paperback for my boys.

In 1930, the world was hurtling towards one of the most terrifying periods in human history. The Titans of the Pacific tells incredible, but real, historical events. 

John travels to South America as a member of an American economic mission advising the Peruvian government. He finds Peru in chaos, with an authoritarian regime supported by the country’s elite and foreign big business. He is drawn to the mysterious Yolanda and witnesses the start of a civil war and the local impact of the extreme political movements that tore the world apart leading up to World War II. 

When The Washington Post co-opts John as an investigative journalist, he uncovers a sinister plot with worldwide ramifications. He must decide whether to risk his life in Peru struggling to foil the plot, and challenge The Titans of the Pacific – who will do anything to hold on to power – or return to a safer life in the USA. 

My thoughts:
A few decades ago a new popular genre emerged called literary non-fiction. Many popular history authors wrote in that genre, to make history more palatable and engaging to "lay" readers. Robert Gammon's debut novel "The Titans of the Pacific" is something between a work of extremely well researched fiction and literary non-fiction. If you like Jeff Shaara's Gettysburg trilogy, "The Titans" is the novel for you. I consider myself a huge fan of the WWII period, but my focus has been on the Eastern Front (I trace my roots to Eastern Europe). So I jumped at the chance to read a novel set in 1930s in a part of the world that does not get much coverage from historical novelists and film makers. And I certainly hope (a girl can always dream) that "The Titans" gets made into a movie, or better yet, an A&T miniseries. Gammon's keen interest in politics and history is very evident. Yet he does not sacrifice the human component. John, a first-generation American tracing his roots to Ireland, experiences a fairly typical Irish-American childhood with a doting, somewhat overbearing widowed father Desmond. An unexpected stroke-of-luck promotion changes their fate and opens a world of new opportunities - and temptations - for young John. Defying the odds, he enters Harvard - an impressive feat for a first generation American. As things heat up globally in the 1930s, John travels to Peru with a delegation. His connection to South America stems from his father's love of Hispanic literature. Actually, the Irish - Hispanic connection is not that unusual. There is a sense of religious kinship between the two heavily Catholic cultures. However, John experiences a major shock when he travels to Peru. Still young and idealistic, he is horrified by the oligarchy regime. Pondering the challenges faced by Peru, John cannot help but reflect on the economic hardships in the US that resulted from the market crash of 1929. 

The novel is definitely male-dominated, which I don't mind. I like reading testosterone-loaded military history. But for the admirers of strong female characters, there is Yolanda, a brilliant international law student who captivates John on the ship to Peru. She is like a toned-down version of a Bond girl. 

As I mentioned earlier, it's hard to read this novel without envisioning it as a miniseries and mentally auditioning various actors for the roles.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Rembrandt’s Angel - a mystery thriller by Steven M. Moore

Greetings, commies!
This is probably my last post for 2017. Let's wrap it up with a challenging and stimulating thriller by Steven M. Moore Rembrandt's Angel.

A Neo-Nazi conspiracy threatens Europe.
Esther Brookstone’s life is at a crossroads. A Scotland Yard inspector who specializes in stolen art, she’s reluctantly considering retirement. A three-time widow, she can’t quite decide whether paramour and colleague Interpol Agent Bastiann van Coevorden should be husband number four. Decisions are put on hold while she and Bastiann set out to thwart a neo-Nazi conspiracy financed in part by artworks stolen during World War II. Among the stolen art is the masterpiece “An Angel with Titus’ Features,” a work Esther obsesses about recovering.
The case sends the intrepid pair on an international hunt spanning several European countries and the Amazon jungle. Evading capture and thwarting death, Esther and Bastiann prove time and again that adrenaline-spiked adventures aren’t just for the young.

My thoughts
There are so many elements that set this book apart from the typical Dan Brownesque mystery/thriller. First of all, it it set in the near future, 2020s. At first I thought it was a typo and then realized it was deliberate. There are vague references to certain political and economic reforms in Europe, but the overall ambiance is not post-apocalyptic. The most unique feature about this novel is the female protagonist, Esther. If you are tired of female leads who look like sexy French art students or Playboy bunnies, Esther Brookstone is delightfully refreshing, as she defies cliches. A 60-something going on 35, a three time widow (rather suspicious) and still open to new romantic adventures, childless, feminine yet able to hold her ground in a male dominated profession, she is like a female version of James Bond. I am so grateful that Esther does not have a chip on her shoulder and doesn't engage in long tirades about how hard it is to be an older female. Thank you, author, for sparing me the feminist rant. Esther has a Peter-Pannish quality to her. Now, what makes this novel challenging is the location hopping. Just wanted to throw it out there. The author does his readers a service by listing all the characters in the introduction. But if you are reading a Kindle version, it will be hard to keep going back and checking who is who. So I recommend reading this book when you are able to focus on it, not when you have three other novels in progress.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Wuthering Heights 2011 - racially charged torture porn

Greetings commies!

Sometimes you come across a cinematic equivalent of a second trimester abortion, and this particular adaptation of Wuthering Heights is just that. I watched it on my iPhone while on a business trip in Italy. There are so many things wrong with it, I had to share them.

There are several notable figures flipping in their graves, from Emily Bronte herself to Martin Luther King. Nothing spells "social responsibility" like having a hysterical white woman slack, kick, lick and step on a black man. The ethnicity of Healthcliff never was verified, but it is implied that he is of Romani descent. Substituting a gypsy for a black man is a bit of a stretch. I don't know if the director wanted to make the story somehow more "relevant" to modern audiences. Either way, the attempt failed miserably. If anything, it trivializes racism. A black man in the English moorland sticks out like a sore thumb. The Earnshaws are reduced to a bunch of filthy, violent rednecks. I almost feel this movie should have been done as a modernized version, set in the American south, with a poor white family fostering a black kid. It would have been more convincing. I will not even comment on the casting and acting. Catherine's eyes cannot decide if they are brown or blue, and the chicken pox mark on her forehead keeps moving as she gets older. All in all, this particular adaptation is a lame piece of racially charged torture porn.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Betrothed to the Red Dragon - a short story of Art and Gwen

Greetings, commies!
If you are looking for a quick engaging read between your Thanksgiving meal courses, consider Kim Rendfeld's short story Betrothed to the Red Dragon.

Dinas Powys, 479: Queen Gwenhwyfar is content to rule alone. But with her captain dead and the Saxons raiding their way toward her stronghold, she turns to the general Artorius to lead her warriors. His price is more than she wants to pay—her hand in marriage.

My thoughts:
I  hope this short story develops into a novel. I have read both of Kim Rendfeld's prior novels set in the Dark Ages, The Cross and the Dragon and The Ashes of Heaven's Pillar and found both to be meticulously researched and satisfying. I also follow her blog in which she sheds light on many common misconceptions about the social norms in the Middle Ages. There are so many takes on the iconic power couple Art and Gwen. In the past decades there has been a shift in the portrayal of King Arthur and his consort. Unsurprisingly, Rendfeld's queen Gwen is no shivering submissive lamb. Even though she does not disdain cosmetics, she is a savvy politician. I can see her played by a younger Kristen Scott Thomas. I hope that "Betrothed to the Red Dragon" blossoms into a full-length novel.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

PS: I Love You - Maggie Tideswell's paranormal romance

Halloween has technically passed, but there is still plenty of cheap candy and sparkles floating around. Fans of paranormal romance shouldn't miss the second installment of Maggie Tideswell's paranormal series. 

PS: I Love You is the second book in Maggie Tideswell's paranormal romance series. I first the first novel Goodbye, My Love and made an instant connection to the classic "Jane Eyre", from the grumpy, socially offensive yet sexually compelling employer (think a hotter version of Mr. Rochester), a high-maintenance special needs child and a well-meaning governess/therapist female protagonist who finds herself drawn into the family secrets. By becoming romantically involved with her employer Ben, Jess inherits a load of psychological burden. 

Any other girl would have run away screaming, but Jess seems to revel in the drama and family secrets, even the antagonism of her employer's former sisters-in-law (who somehow evoked the images of the weird sisters from "Macbeth"). Jess is the kind of girl who will do everything wrong, go against what most women would consider good judgment. Her reward? The chance to get involved in a paranormal mystery featuring her predecessor/rival Roxanne, the woman her boss/lover used to worship and had a hard time relinquishing. It's much like lurking on social media, pulling up pictures of your lover's ex.  

Monday, October 30, 2017

Status: the Game - a cyber thriller exploring your thirst for popularity

Commies, this book really hits home. If you have kids in high school, or if you are trying to make sense of your own teenage years, please check out this thrilling cyber mystery, Status: the Game by Vincent Robert Annunziato.

Bob Brooks is down on his luck. He ekes out a living as a substitute teacher and grabs odd jobs to make ends meet. It's never enough though and desperation sets in. Partly his fault, Bob is an overgrown kid at heart, dreaming of the day he can dedicate his life to full time gaming. It's selfish, but games are a calling.... And teaching? Just a bridge to something else. Life goes from bad to worse until Bob reads about a new internet game called Status. The internet sensation promises money, prizes and popularity to players who succeed. Bob marvels at the prospects and perfects a plan. Teach students about the internet while playing Status and have students build up his points in the game. With a never-ending supply of incoming, naïve teenagers, it's perfect. Madison High is perfect too. Affluent, hi tech and filled with students who have money and time. Even better? The Principal thinks he's cute and loves his proposal on Status. Once Bob debuts at Madison, though, he finds out that great plans aren't always so great. Especially once he learns his students are already playing Status and they are better at it than him.

Everyone is suspect in this thrilling adventure of social battles that pits brains versus brawn and haves versus have nots. Find out who wins! Oh and by the way, obtaining enough status might just make you the next big star of the internet. With fame and fortune just a rumor away, who wouldn't want to play... "Status?"

My thoughts:
There is a good reason why teachers and school administrators are sternly advised against having presence on social media, let alone friending their students, let alone playing online games with them. In Vincent Annunziato's novel "Status: the Game", a mousy, inconspicuous, insecure twenty-eight year old Bob Brooks gets a second chance at boosting his self-esteem and reliving his teen years when he becomes a teacher at an elite public high-school and gets hooked on an interactive game "Status" that brings out the most competitive and vindictive aspects of the human nature.

There are so many things to love, to ponder and to identify with in this novel. If you are a teen, parent a teen or remember being a teen, this novel will certainly reopen a few wounds - but in a most therapeutic way. It's that wholesome eye-opening pain that leads to healing. Kudos to the author for creating an intricate and convincing virtual universe that mirrors the real world even though it promises a chance for redemption and prestige to those who are underdogs in real life. The more the players try to reinvent themselves in an alternative reality, the more like themselves they become - the ugliest, most vicious and grotesque versions of themselves. 

"Stay strong, stay loyal!" That running slogan is loaded with irony and hypocrisy. So many relationships in the book are based on exploiting other people's weaknesses and cajoling them into alliances that result in angst and violence. Remember, convoluted alliances is what had led to WWI.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Forgotten - a Vietnam war novel by Marc Liebman

Greetings, commies!
Today's featured author is Marc Liebman. His unapologetic yet humble narrative style captivated me a few years ago. I wanted to share my thoughts about one of his recent novels titled very bluntly Forgotten.

The novel is a story about treason, drug trade, greed, sex as well as dogged determination to survive.
Treason because an American POWs became a collaborator and only one of the Forgotten witnesses the crime.  The drug lord holding the Americans allowed his unit to be captured in return for a commission in the North Vietnamese Army.
The Americans are forced to turn raw opium into heroin while the drug lord masquerading as a North Vietnamese Army officer waits for when the time is right to ransom the Americans for two million apiece.
To spice up the action, the wife of one of the POWs is an anti-war activist and over the course of time, Janet Pulaski becomes what one reviewer called a "badass, lesbian, nymphomaniac assassin."  To her employers, Janet Pulaski is known as "The RedStar of Death."
For nine long years, the Forgotten endure captivity and after they are rescued,two Americans, one the head of the CIA's POW/MIA desk and the other a former POWwant them dead.  The CIA officer is afraid an investigation will expose his relationship with the Cubans and send him to jailor worse.  The former POW knows if Randy Pulaski tells what he knows, he could wind up at the end of a hangman's rope.

My thoughts
"Forgotten" is one of Marc Liebman's longest novels, close to 600 pages, but you don't feel burdened or bored, thanks to the snappy, sometime jerky pace that fits the content so well. If you are familiar with Liebman's work, he is a real man's man, and his fiction is hypermasculine - in the best sense possible. Think a more eloquent, more elaborate version of Hemingway. The Vietnam war will continue being a controversial subject. Having been through a few more controversial military campaigns in the past few decades, American can step back and re-evaluate our experience in Vietnam. It's so important for us a American citizens, readers, critical thinkers, to step back and refrain from judgment, and try to see the situation from each character's point of view. As with most of Liebman's novels, it helps to understand the military jargon. For instance, if you've never seen an A-7B Corsair, you should google it. What is second nature to an author who has firsthand experience with the military may not be so to an average lay reader. So being able to visualize various aircraft models referenced in the novel will be useful. You can expect graphic, highly technical, cinematic battle scenes as well as crude, unceremonious sex scenes. So if you are a man who is into military history, or a woman in touch with her masculine side (like myself), this novel is a perfect treat for you.