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. 

Monday, October 16, 2017

"Remember the 6 million" and ... "You asked for it"

Greetings commies and SJWs,

Since everyone is taking initiative to break the silence regarding their past experiences with sexual harassment, I thought I'd put my two shekels in. It wouldn't be a Monday morning without an offensive post from Connecticut Commie. I just wanted to point out that sometimes aggressive behavior comes from people you wouldn't expect it from. Many years ago, in the early, early 2000s, I worked as a paralegal at a small real estate office. It was a husband and wife team, an elderly couple. On the surface, they were all about social justice. The husband kept talking about "the six million" and "institutionalized racism". His wife kept talking about "women's rights". So on the surface they were very progressive. They supported a number of progressive causes. Well, all their progressive ideas went out the window when one of their high profile clients took a liking to me and started to make chatty, suggestive calls straight to the office. When I shared my concerns with my boss, his reaction was a little surprising. I was told that I "encouraged him", "acted unprofessionally" and "embarrassed the firm".

Just to give you an idea of what I was wearing: I was covered from head to toe. Turtlenecks, long wool skirts and knee high boots. The office was so friggin' cold. My stingy boss would not even heat the section where I was sitting. To save money, he only heated the room where he normally saw his clients. 

Lesson learned? Just because someone claims to be pro-justice and pro-workers, it doesn't mean that they will have your back when it comes down to dollar signs. Needless to say, I didn't stay there much longer. I found a wonderful company with a healthy office environment and a robust HR system to support the rights of the employees.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Courty love under the red flag

Commies and wanna-commies,

Here is a selection of chaste, ideologically acceptable images of courtship under the hammer and sickle sign. Sporty, modestly dressed, able-bodied commie boys and girls holding hands, toiling towards Communism and sharing intimate visions for a bright future.  

Monday, October 9, 2017

Greetings, commies and guilty pleasure seekers! If you are looking for an escape from tragedy and drudgery, Tirgearr Publishing has a series of romantic novellas set in various cities all over the world. One Night in Venice by Eden Walker is just one installment in the series. 

Kate Pollock is an average art student who, by sheer fluke, ends up in Venice on a scholarship. On her first day, she spots sex-on-legs, the illustrious Martinez Di Ser Piero, in the corridor, and shocked to learn he’s her Practicals tutor. The last thing she expects is for him to be attracted to her, but after one kiss, she’s lost to this mysterious man and they can’t get enough of each other. But she’s a virgin. Could he be the one?

After a painting dry spell, Kate inspires Martinez to paint again. When the painting—of Kate—goes missing, she becomes the police’s main suspect. Things get more complicated when her ex turns up, asking her to come home. Kate thinks she’s falling in love with Martinez, but could his secret past break her heart?

My thoughts:
Eden Walker's "One Night in Venice" is a published as an installment in a City Nights series by Tirgearr Press. It is a light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek parody of the whole coming of age romance. As the cover suggests, the focus is not on high art. No, art is just a backdrop. Kate Pollock is "an average art student from London". Average is the key word. She is the first one to admit that it's a miracle that she got into that exclusive exchange program that will allow her to study art under some of the finest European masters. The fact that she is so self-aware and self-deprecating makes her endearing to the audience. Another miracle is catching the eye of the sexy and sultry Martinez Di Ser Piero, a tutor who could have any girl on campus. And of course, as most tall, dark and handsome Italians, he had a sob story from his past, a story that somehow categorizes him as a "damaged man", and therefore worthy of sympathy and exempt from commitment.

In some places I wondered if the author was lampooning the tradition of romance novels featuring naive (though they consider themselves worldly) American or British women in Italy or France. If you are a fan of "Eat, Pray, Love", this is a perfect novella for you.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

"Bohemian Heart" by James Dalessandro - classic noir with an innovative touch

Greetings, commies!
A few months ago I posted my interview with the Renaissance man James Dalessandro, whose talents and scopes of expertise span fiction, film making and music. Today I wanted to share my review of his novel Bohemian Heart, a stylish and innovative thriller set in San Francisco. 

"Peekaboo" Frankie Fagen is a long-haired, leather-jacketed private detective, best known for his unconventional methods and the Norton Commando he rides through his beloved San Francisco. When summoned to a box at the opera, he meets the beautiful Colleen Farragut, due to go on trial the next day for the murder of her husband, the city's richest and most powerful real estate developer and a lifelong Fagen nemesis. A million-dollar bonus is Frankie's if he finds the burglars Colleen claims were the actual killers - but the real prize would be a century's worth of Farragut diaries that document a family tradition of criminal activity and corruption. With evidence and public sentiment stacked against his client, Frankie, motivated by both love and revenge, races against the clock to find the killer and save Colleen.

My thoughts:
Classic noir archetypes get a facelift and a new lease on life in this mystery thriller. What sets this novel apart from the plethora of the genre is the unconventional protagonist/speaker. Frankie Fagen is a compelling hybrid of James Bond and Holden Caufield from "Catcher in the Rye". He is a man of contrasts, combining callousness with aesthetic sensitivity, cynicism with a weakness for beautiful women. Shrewd and sarcastic, he alternates self-deprecation with self-exaltation. As a private detective, he has to engage his logical side, but his heart - and groin - are still open to juvenile infatuation. Despite many grueling cases and countless sexual encounters that should have left him jaded, he still allows himself to get distracted by the beautiful Colleen Farragut, who is accused of murdering her real estate magnate husband. Leggy, green-eyed and drop-dead elegant, Colleen is best described as femme fatale in distress. Thankfully, the author does not confine her to a stock character. She is neither a sniffling ingenue, nor a cold-blooded murderess alone the lines of Milady in "The Three Musketeers", nor a conventional whore with a heart of gold trapped in a loveless marriage. Colleen is her own entity. She is the ultimate mystery Frankie Fagen is trying to crack. Now, you can expect some traditional crowd-pleasing genre-specific twists. You can expect the murdered magnate to have specific sexual tastes such as S&M. Seriously, what would a corrupt rich man from a dysfunctional family be without his weekly sessions with a dominatrix? And of course, the said dominatrix must have silicone breasts and a scar on her face. Last but not least, be prepared for a succession of intense courtroom scenes. "Bohemian Heart" is delightful mixture of classic twists and surprises.

Friday, September 29, 2017

More Stately Mansions - a philosophical sci-fi tour de force

Greetings, commies and interstellar colonists! If you have 30-45 minutes while your kid is in martial arts class, consider picking up this thrilling and thought-provoking novella by John Rosenman More Stately Mansions.
Captain Temple leads a mission to K22 and finds a beautiful planet with magnificent shining cities. It appears to be a lucrative new market for the Merchants Guild.

There’s just one problem: the cities are mysteriously empty. He can’t find even one survivor, which means the planet is off-limits to commercial exploitation and cannot be used to achieve financial profits in any way.

Soon Temple discovers an even greater problem, one that is strange and ominous and threatens his crew’s very survival.
Not only that, it is an incredible cosmic mind-stretcher that strains sanity to the breaking point, not just the characters' sanity but the readers' as well.

My thoughts:
This novella took me about 30 minutes to read. It is a concise, poignant tour de force of philosophical sci-fi in the vein of Rod Sterling and the Strugatsky brothers. It takes the whole concept of colonization to a new level. A crew of ambitious explorers - all male with one nonchalant and stunning young female - land on an unnamed and seemingly welcoming planet. But if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. There is a spoonful of venom inside that barrel of honey, and the crew members discover it a little too late. As a mysterious cancer-like disease starts claiming them, who will be the last man standing?

Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Frozen Sea by Rosanne Dingli - for the fans of Dan Brown

Greetings, commies and fans of Dan Brown! Today's guest is a prolific and erudite author from down-under Rosanne Dingli.  She has a series of thrilling and eloquent literary mysteries. Connecticut Commie congratulates her on the release of her latest novel The Frozen Sea.

The Frozen Sea is a literary adventure, and an exploration of what it means to be alone. Its characters leap from the pages of literary history to haunt and disturb the present. Rosanne Dingli adds to the Bryn Awbrey series with an evocative exploration of words and perceptions, which stays with the reader long after the last page is turned.

During an unseasonal cold snap in Venice, Loretta Groombridge seeks employment. Her uncle’s legacy is running out, and she is lonely. Eccentric Welsh professor Bryn Awbrey and his secretive house guest plunge her deep into a literary mystery, which becomes riskier the more she discovers. Her degree is not enough to arm her for the dilemma, and neither is her ability to deal with disappointment and fear. A frightening attack robs her of dignity and peace of mind, and signals more insecurity. When she takes a break, a fire in the night summons her back, and almost robs her of all she has found to love in Venice. The risk-filled history of the ancient city seems transported to the present time.

My thoughts
I received a copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review. Apparently, this novel is one in the Bryn Awbrey series, and I'm thinking of reading more. This is definitely a cross-genre novel that doesn't quite fit your typical time-travel or duel era genre, even though the narrative does jump from one era to another. As her endowment depletes, Loretta Goombridge finds herself at a crossroad and growing increasingly anxious about her future. Professor Bryn Awbrey entices her into a literary mystery. A good chunk of the novel is set in Venice - a popular destination for soul-searching loners.

The author's academic background is apparent. Her erudition shines through. And she crafts every sentence lovingly, with elegance and sophistication. But you have to be trained for that style of narrative that skips from genuine documents, to present day, to various locations in Europe in 1930s and 1950s. If you are not used to that type of pace, you will catch yourself doing what I did - going back and rereading certain passages to ensure your grasp of continuity. The fans of Dan Brown who love the signature Brown-esque literary techniques will be delighted.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Blood of the Stone Prince - a Medieval "hipster" novel

Greetings, all saints!
Exciting news for those who have been following the series of blogs on 15th century bishops, ecclesiastic composers and architects. Blood of the Stone Prince is here, courtesy of Crossroad Press (thank you for continuing to believe in my work). This novel - 23 years in the making, no less - is the fictionalized product of the themes I touched upon in my posts earlier this summer. No, this isn't a typo. It took me 23 years to complete this novel. I started developing my characters as a high-school sophomore, but I didn't quite know what to make of them. It took me over two decades to pull the loose threads into something coherent. I half-jokingly call it my Medieval "hipster" novel. My goal was to create a cast of characters that are recognizable to modern audiences. Please, don't faint. It's not about "selling out" or "dumbing down" the characters, or making them act in some anachronistic way. Quite the opposite. It's about drawing the parallels between the past and the present. Think of it as a form of reverse time-travel. Some archetypes are timeless. You will recognize the sickly goth girl, the self-absorbed child prodigy, the drama club geek, the burned out jock, the cynical CEO of a pharmaceutical company. Each chapter is narrated in the first person by a separate character. In the past I have been crucified for my usage of the infamous third person omniscient narrator. This time I took a drastically different approach and allowed the characters to speak for themselves.

From the alchemy labs of fifteenth-century France comes a tale of one beauty and three beasts on a macabre journey through the Parisian underworld. After sixteen years of priesthood, Monseigneur Desmoulins secretly wishes for excommunication. Fed up with sacristy intrigues and tedious inquisition proceedings, he keeps himself amused by dissecting rats, playing with explosives and stalking foreign women. Some of his dirty work he delegates to his nineteen-year-old protégé Daniel Dufort nicknamed Stone Prince, who plays the organ at the cathedral. The gaunt, copper-haired youth looks may look like an angel, but his music is believed to be demonic, pushing the faithful towards crime and suicide.

To keep themselves safe amidst urban violence, the master and his ward take fencing lessons from Lucius Castelmaure, an alcoholic officer facing a court martial. Their alliance is tested when a Wallachian traveler implores them to entertain his terminally-ill daughter Agniese, whose dying whim to is be buried inside the Montfaucon cellar alongside felons and traitors. The three men jump at the chance to indulge the eccentric virgin in the final months of her life.

Raised in the spirit of polyamory, Agniese has no qualms about taking all three men as lovers. In a city of where street festivals turn into massacres, it's only a matter of time before the romantic quadrangle tumbles into a pit of hellfire. Filled with witch-hanging, bone-cracking, gargoyle-hugging humor, Blood of the Stone Prince is a blasphemous thriller for the heretic in each one of us.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Female solidarity: endearing or racist? You decide ...

Greetings, commies and libtards!

Here is an actual illustration intended to represent female solidarity in the workplace. Forged by a well-meaning Eastern European artist in the 1960s. Do you find it endearing/inspiring or offensive/racist? Note the pan-Slavic female is in the center. Her Western European sister is to the far right. Whose hand is on top? That's right. The Slavic woman's. The rest of the women are looking aside, while the Slavic woman is looking right at you. So, while the illustration is supposed to represent equality, it clearly establishes ethnic superiority of the Slavic group. Or am I reading too much into it? You decide.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Death Knows My Name: social commentary through the eyes of a demon - a novel by Kellie Wallace

Greetings, Commies, Aussies and Yankees!

Today's recurring guest is Kellie Wallace, a young Australian author of numerous historical, dystopian, YA and cross genre novels. Her latest release is a paranormal thriller with strong romantic and philosophical elements Death Knows My Name.

After the tragic drowning of her brother eighteen years ago, Aleida Fuller has lived her life communicating with the supernatural. She can see and speak to the dead, as if they were still walking the earth. Despite being welcomed in the spirit world, Aleida lives a closeted existence. Her reclusive mother refuses to accept her abilities and the local townsfolk think she’s a fraud.

When mysterious traveler Rafe Jenner arrives in town, Aleida’s dull life is irrevocably changed. He’s handsome, strange, and oddly alluring, with piercing eyes that turn red in the dark…

As Aleida and Rafe are teamed up to solve a crime for the Sheriff’s Office, a great evil lurks in the shadows. Bloodthirsty for Aleida’s soul, Hell-bound demon Albinus roams the earth, shedding blood and taking lives in search of her. He will stop at nothing until he gets what he wants. Aleida must draw on her physic abilities and her new-found alliance with Rafe to battle Hell’s agents before her soul is lost forever.

My thoughts:
One of the most captivating parts about this novel is the philosophical / existential component. Rafe, a jaded soul-snatcher who has been around the block a few times, struggles to keep his red eyes from rolling as he watches the decay of the human race. He notes that in the past century people have gotten fatter and dumber - and more skittish and squeamish around the subject of death. At the same time, he eats the same "dumb American food". He is not above having whipped cream on his pancakes. I guess his supernatural body does not metabolize carbs and fat the same way a human body would. Oh wait, moving from one body to another, changing hosts every century or so, is taking its toll on Rafe's supernatural essence. He is starting to feel more and more human. (The premise of the novel will remind you of an acclaimed indie film "In Her Skin" starring Scarlet Johansson, featuring the predatory wanderings of an otherworldly entity that entices and gobbles up lonely men).

It is not surprising that Rafe's unlikely human ally is Aleida Fuller, a young woman burdened by the disturbing gift of communicating with the dead, the gift she had developed following her younger brother's drowning death. Aleida seems to have achieved a sort of philosophical acceptance of her gift and her place in the world. Naturally, she cannot keep that gift to herself - it makes her too useful in investigations. It also makes her a great target for exploitation. Who would not want a girl like that on their side? Personally, I find it refreshing that Aleida has no qualms about milking her gift. She does not get all high and mighty about having a "special mission". She is not above offering her services to bachelor parties and Halloween seances, just as Rafe is not above eating American diner food. That self-deprecating humility is what makes them such suitable allies.

One thing I wanted to mentions is that even though the author is Australian, most of her novels are set in America. She is very familiar with American pop culture and everyday practices. It's not unusual for Australians to romanticize Americans - and vice versa. I commend the author on writing yet another thrilling, witty, philosophically challenging novel.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Stiegler Artworks - unique affordable gifts inspired by Nature

Greetings, commies!
One of life's joys is meeting other commie mommies - from other states. There is so much to learn from our former countrywomen. We bring so many talents and customs from the old country. Today I wanted to share my latest discovery: a gift shop specializing in souvenirs and garments inspired by Native American and Nordic folk traditions. Irene is a fellow Eastern European mommy married to Nate Stiegler, a poet and artist. Together they run a gallery/shop. In addition to Nate's original artwork, you can find a selection of durable, unique garments and shoes made of wool. I ordered two pairs of slippers from Irene, and they arrived at my doorstep a few days later. She was extremely helpful about making suggestions about the size and the design. It's not too early to start thinking about getting holiday gifts. If your loved ones appreciate something unique, crafted with care and expertise, definitely consider ordering from Irene and Nate.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Microaggression in the world of historical fiction

Cultural sensitivity training sessions have become a common cover-yer-arse trend in the workplace, infiltrating all industries. What about historical fiction? We are a bunch of passionate, sensitive, imaginative and opinionated boys and girls (and some gender fluid). What about the callousness we encounter on daily basis? As a historical novelist, I look back at my experiences, and my victimhood alert goes off. How many times have I been a victim of microagression? And I am not the only one. After talking to a few of my fellow historical novel authors, I realized that we all have been victimized and deserve retributions (or at least a free B&N gift card). More and more authors use social media to promote their works. Interviews and blurbs contain bits of their biographies that sometimes reference their ethnic heritage, marital status, religion. Any time you share something personal about yourself, you are in danger of having your work evaluated through a lens of bias. There's nothing like being told by someone who hasn't even read any of your works what you should be writing about and which topics you should avoid. Here is a list of comments I have gathered over the years. 

Wow, you speak English real good.

I certainly hope so - after twenty-five years in the US.

So why did you decide to become a writer? Don't most Russians work in IT?

For the record, I am not Russian. Russian is my first language, but I do not identify myself as Russian any more than an Indian who speaks English identifies him/herself as British. Some Russian Americans are doctors, lawyers and financial advisors. I am not good enough at math. As we say, if you can't calculate - write. If you can't write - write historical fiction.

You should write about YOUR heritage.

Thank you. I already have. Too bad you weren't paying attention. Look me up on Amazon. Seriously. Take a look at my list of titles, and you'll see that several of my novels are set in Central Europe. 

Why do you write about Irish history? You are not Irish.

Why do you write murder mysteries? You are not a murderer, I hope. But, since you asked, cultural appropriation is my guilty pleasure. 

So you write women's fiction?

I do write fiction, and I do have two X chromosomes, but my work does not fall into the women's fiction category.

So you are an immigrant author?

I am a first generation American who happens to write. I do not view the world through the prism of my immigrant experience.

You make Catholics look like douche bags in your books. Is that because you're Orthodox?

I do have antagonists who identify themselves as Catholics, but it does not make me anti-Catholic. For the record, I am Protestant. My personal beliefs do not affect my portrayal of Catholics. You find douche bags in many religions. However, if a novel is set in 15th century France or early 20th century Ireland, there is a good chance that the antagonist will be Catholic. If you insist on labels, I am a misanthrope. I hate all people equally.

Please share YOUR experiences of microaggression.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Lullaby for My Sister - Italian-Canadian family drama by Nancy Barone

Ciao campagni! 
Today's guest is Nancy Barone, the author of a family drama Lullaby for My Sister set in the Italian community in Canada. Yes, you can expect some Italian stereotypes - some flattering and some critical.

When Valentina and Lucy Mancino’s mother died, and their father turned to alcohol to cope, Valentina quickly understood it was up to her to run the household and take care of her little sister. But Valentina was only nine years old. And when their new step-mother moved in, along with her two sons, Val also knew things were about to change for the worse.

Fifteen years later, while Lucy is flailing in life, Val is running a successful career, but she’s also hiding a terrible secret. She soon discovers that her former home is suppressing secrets of its own—many unspeakable truths are dying to be told.

My thoughts
Having almost lost my mother at the age of seven, I certainly felt very emotional reading this book. There are very few things that can scare a child more than hearing "You have to be a big, strong girl". In her novel "A Lullaby for My Sister", Nancy Barone explores the nightmarish scenario of two sisters, five and nine, losing their mother under mysterious circumstances, and their father and uncle dropping cryptic messages and not allowing them to attend the funeral. Men do not deal with bereavement well. The girl's father, whom the older daughter Val, the narrator of the novel calls by his first name Luigi, plunges into alcoholism, while dumping parenting responsibilities on his 9-year old. To keep herself from coming apart, Val corresponds with her dead mother through letters. Fast forward twenty-three years. Val is a successful career woman, determined not to let her dysfunctional childhood hold her down, but her younger sister Lucy is unconsciously resentful, immature and detached from reality. The scenario is so common, it will make you cry. In terms of the style and the content, for those of you who read family sagas and women's fiction, some of it will sound like deja vu. I mean it in a nice way. It's not that the author is aiming to massage the readers' traditional sweet spots by combining familiar elements. It's just that what she describes is so common. The characters and the situations are recognizable and relatable. A picture perfect mother in a summer dress with a string of pearls, battling her demons - and bequeathing them onto her family after her death. You will find yourself nodding and shaking your head.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

1906 - a novel of the San Francisco earthquake and fire

Commies and heretics,
Do not miss this interview with a Renaissance man by the name James Dalessandro. An acclaimed author of historical and crime fiction, a filmmaker and lover of opera, he joins us today to discuss his literary and cinematic projects. He is best known for his novel 1906 depicting the San Francisco earthquake and fire. Dalessandro has held a few jobs that many people in the world of literature and performing jobs would consider dream jobs. However, even someone as accomplished and well connected as him runs into challenges. Your humble host Connecticut Commie thanks our guest for his time and candor.

MJN: Your novel 1906 describes the great San Francisco earthquake and fire. Disaster films having become quite popular in the past few decades, especially with the advancements in special effects. If your novel was to be turned into a movie, which director would you pick? As a screenwriter, I am sure you have thought of that.

JD: Barry Levinson was the first signed director, then Brad Bird at Pixar was on the project for 6 or 7 years - it was supposed to be the first live action for him and Pixar.   But everybody kept changing the script and the story.   I would have to say Peter Jackson would be my first choice:  he knows how to blend real story telling and visual effects.   The problem with "disaster" films - I really loathe that name - is that they've become all disaster and no story.   After 1906 was dumped by Pixar and Brad Bird, Warner Brothers put "San Andreas" into production.  The hokiest, most preposterous pile of garbage, but everyone kept saying "but the visual effects were so good."  Is that we've become:  we give up history, story, human drama for things that a 14 year old can do on his laptop?    The Rock rides to their rescue of his daughter in a rubber boat, and forget that a million people just drowned?    Peter Jackson would be good.  Right now the film is in limbo... the money they spent in going away from my story is appalling.  The dumped the characters, the truth about what happened - the lies, the cover up, the tragedy and heroism.  It might never get made.  Sadly. 

MJN: 1906 is narrated by a young female reporter Annalisa Passarelli. I am sure that in the early 20th century there were not many female journalists, and their activity was usually restricted to writing articles on the topics of fashion, housekeeping, and if lucky, art and entertainment. What were some of the educational institutions in the early 1900s that produced female journalists? Berkeley comes to mind.  

JD: The most influential journalist of all time was Nellie Bly from the New York World.   Staring in the 1880's, she went undercover to expose the horrors of mental hospitals, baby peddling rings, wholesale political corruption.   She went around the world in less than 80 days, alone, to show it could be done after the publication of Jules Verne's novel - the first person to solo circumnavigate the globe.   The most famous journalist in America at the time.  The women's rights movement was in serious swing, and women were rebelling and fighting for rights and equality.   Nellie was the inspiration for my fictional Annalisa Passarelli and lots of other young female writers and journalists.   What was Emma Goldman's statement - well-behaved women never changed anything.  I need a strong woman amidst all that testosterone.   I'm married to one of those women.

MJN: I noticed that several of your novels are set in San Francisco and involve the opera house as a setting. Do you find that the glamor of high art makes the grisly component of murder and mayhem in your novels more jarring?

JD: It kind of turned out that way.  I'm a big opera lover:  I'm writing the libretto for an opera right now, based on one of my film scripts, called THE ITALIAN GIRL.   I like to say that I have a lot of low friends in high places.. .and vice versa.  Smart people with class tending bar and building houses.   I try to see the big picture in films and books - the little guy and gal set against a big back drop.  The Tenderloin to Pacific Heights.   Opera is the most amazing music, and I'm a fan of it all.  I wrote the House of Blues Radio Hour for Dan Ackroyd and created "Rock On" with Ray Manzarek of the doors.   I used to ace the Downbeat Magzine blindfold test to identify artists in new jazz releases.  But opera is heaven to me, particularly the Italians - Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, Verde and Puccini.  I have a dog named Giacomo Poochini.   Americans don't like it because they don't understand the words.   I'm an Italian citizen, I speak the language fairly well.  I have dual citizenship.   Life is too short not to love opera.

MJN: One of the critics compared you work to that of Dashiell Hammett. It is always scary to read what the critics have to say about your work. Some of the comparisons are surprising. Have you ever been surprised by a comparison made by a critic? Do you feel flattered when your work gets compared to that of other iconic authors? I imagine, some writers having mixed feelings. On one hand, it's flattering, but on another hand, you probably wonder, "Why must I be compared to XYZ? Doesn't my work stand on its own two feet?"

JD: Some people take umbrage, I find it tremendously gratifying to be compared to Dashiell Hammett, who created the modern Noir detective thriller.  A brilliant writer.  That was "Bohemian Heart" you're referring too.  Another one compared me to Raymond Chandler - given the snappy one liners and metaphors from my P.I. Frankie Fagen. It's certainly more like Chandler's work.   Both were great writers.    None of that bothers me at all, I find it encouraging.   What bothers me are comments that question our integrity or scholarship - no writer earns universal praise.   I just read a review from a reader, online, who said she had to wade through a dumb, phony plot about political corruption before she got to the earthquake in 1906.   That dumb, phony plot is exactly what happened.  The day before the 1906 earthquake, prosecutors handed down indictments for the Mayor, all 18 members of the Board of Supervisors, the Police Chief and half the judges in town.  It was a plot hatched in the Oval Office of Theodore Roosevelt to to go war on urban corruption.  And those under indictment used the fire and chaos to fight back at their enemies, burning their houses, and hailed themselves as the great saviors of San Francisco.  It was bullshit.   The Army got drunk, shot hundreds of innocent people as suspected looters, then they all lied about the death count.   They used dynamite to stop the fires and all that did was spread it.   If that's a dumb, phony plot then the moon is blue cheese.  But you learn to slough it off.  It doesn't mean anything, other than some people are too lazy to look up a few facts before they slam someone.  Me:  I look before I shoot.   That stuff annoys me, but it doesn't bother me.   Dashiell Hammett - he's the Buddha. 

MJN: You have a history of working with large publishing houses. You also mentioned that you had a hard time selling your novels set in San Francisco to a New York publisher, because the setting was not "local", and the publisher feared that New Yorkers would feel "alienated". I imagine this is not the most ridiculous excuse you ever heard. Did you ever circle back with that editor after your novel was released via a Californian publisher?

JD: I've had my books published by Putnam Penguin (Citizen Jane) and St. Martin's Press (BohemianHeart).  And yes, it was the dumbest excuse I've ever heard.   Several publishers called 1906 - which was the greatest disaster in American history and the victim of a century long web of lies and coverups - a "regional story."  So was Hurricane Katrina, by that criteria.  That would make the Civil War a border conflict?   A lot of the New York publishing establishment - not all, but a lot - dismiss San Francisco as a pretend urban city that doesn't measure up.   Wallace Stegner is one of the great writers of the American West (Angle of Repose), won the Pulitzer Prize and was never reviewed in the NY Times.   That's an insult.   The NY Times once dismissed Jack London's "Call of the Wild" as just another dog book.   I love the NY Times, can't live without reading the Sunday Times, including Arts & Leisures from cover to cover.   But we're provincial and marginal, and that's unnecessary.   We gave the world Mark Twain, Jack London, Dashiell Hammet, Gertrude Stein, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, John Steinbeck, Wallace Stegner.   Amy Tan.  Even Allen Gingsberg broke through here.  Find me a city that can match that list.   They'll do a book set in Appalachia or the rural South, but San Francisco - not so much.    So I wanted a San Francisco publisher all along, and that's what I got - Chronicle Books.    And they're now all out in Digital/Kindle, which has given all of us a new life - our books are never out of print.  That's a gift from the tech world, and for that we are all grateful.