#BookReviewWednesday – Death Comes for the Archbishop

The book-a-week challenge continues with  Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather.

DCFTAThere are some books that hover around the edges of one’s good intentions — well-meaning notions of finally starting or finishing a novel, even if decades account for the interim.

Family trips at a young age introduced me to the American Southwest. After growing up in Ohio my family moved to Kansas. It took years for me to appreciate the prairie, the Plains, and the West, unexplored by me until a much later age. Interest in novels set in such places eventually took hold.

I think readers discover some authors because of a shared link. For me, I learned of and read about Willa Cather partly because of her life on the Nebraska prairie, but also her life in journalism before turning her full attention to writing. One book that intrigued me was Death Comes for the Archbishop; I was curious how Cather could fictionalize a bit of history lost in the sweep of the American experience.

In the novel, one consequence of the Mexican-American War was the newly acquired territories became reorganized, and the responsibility of ministering to the Catholic faithful fell to the Church in the United States. Diocesan maps were drawn reflecting the change. One such change was the creation of a vicarage of Santa Fe in the New Mexico territory. Death Comes for the Archbishop is the story of a missionary priest who takes on the burden of traveling to Santa Fe to guide the faithful in the deserts and mountains throughout New Mexico and Arizona.

In this engrossing tale, our archbishop, Father Latour is joined by his fellow Frenchman, priest, and friend, Joseph Vaillant as they seek to fulfill their duty as missionaries in an inhospitable land. Latour’s is a questioning heart, wondering if he is up to the task of saving souls and building a church in a vast country only biblical heroes might recognize. His story unfolds bit by bit, and what a magnificent story it is.

Cather’s narrative is at once ecclesiastical, historical, anthropological. It is an amazing feat of describing a world that was, and no longer exists. Published in 1927, Death Comes to the Archbishop is a look back to a time that would have ended when Cather herself was a small pioneer child on the Nebraska Plains. In the present day, it is as if the novel has become more than fiction. It is a time capsule and a treasure.

A reader can embrace this novel for no other reason than to learn of the Hopi, the Navajo, the Mexicans who scrape out a living in such a harsh land. Cather’s characters are memorable: Mexican priests who refuse to acknowledge Latour’s authority as bishop, devout families respectful of churchmen, and proud indigenous peoples who show Latour and Vaillant their customs and ways and exhibit a grace and generosity the men come to respect.

Cather’s literary gifts include a mastery of pace and tempo, regular as a heartbeat, and a use of a language so full in description one can almost feel the heat, the rain, the dust, the wind, and witness the Old World clashing with the New. But key is the story of how change rules the novel. It runs like a current through time. From the remnants of the conquistadors to the American presence, the soldiers, traders, fortune seekers, and outlaws, to the natives who see their way of life diminish generation after generation. There is change, but there also is what remains: devout people who express their gratitude in ways that make everyday life bearable, existing day to day, enduring hardships, and exulting in small gifts life, and faith, occasionally deliver.

Death Comes for the Archbishop (Annotated Edition) by Willa Cather.

5 stars out of 5

Available in all formats everywhere.

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Check in every week for Book Review Wednesday. I’m reading and reviewing a book a week throughout 2018. Join me. Authors, if you have a book you would like reviewed, send me an email at joe@josephmarkbrewer.com.

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Joseph Mark Brewer writes the Shig Sato mysteries. Mix up some Lieutenant Columbo and Kurt Wallander and you have an interesting character in Sato and a thrilling new series set in the heart of Tokyo. And click here for your copy of The Gangster’s Son, The Thief’s Mistake, Traitors & Lies, or Cat’s Meow at a special discount you’ll find only at this site. To get the latest Shig Sato news and previews, check out Shig’s Readers Club — you’ll get a free copy of Tokyo Summer, the exciting Shig Sato prequel that tells the story of the events that led up to The Gangster’s Son. No obligation. Shig insists.

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#BookReviewWednesday – Return to Hiroshima

The book-a-week challenge continues with  Return to Hiroshima, by Bob Van Laerhoven.

 

“Memory is a monstrous thing.”

 

HiroshimacoverIt is the memory of events real or imagined that accelerates Bob Van Laerhoven’s grisly Return to Hiroshima to the first rank of macabre noir. Return to Hiroshima could stand alone as a work of horror. Or post-apocalyptic dystopia. Hiroshima since August 6, 1945, certainly qualifies.

Van Laerhoven’s mastery of his subject and his flawless maneuvering through Japan’s unique past make one forget the depth of his narrative. There are many layers to Return to Hiroshima, and Van Laerhoven’s gift is crafting many intriguing subplots to create an energetic whole. But ‘layered’ is not quite right. Like an iceberg, a predictable part of Japan is visible for anyone to see. But beneath the surface lies mortal danger. And Van Laerhoven bravely plumbs those depths, for what’s underneath is a separate universe. What’s unsaid. What’s unaccounted for. Secrets no one admits to. Furious, revengeful rages hide beneath cool facades. Unspoken but understood conspiracies feed quests to right ultimate wrongs.

But whose catastrophe? Which people? Ultimately, Return to Hiroshima is a thriller, set in motion by a tormented woman determined to escape her past, explaining away her grotesqueness by being a daughter of hibakusha – survivors of the atom bombing. By a Belgian man who returns to Japan to come to grips with the death of his sister. By a Japanese son of privilege bent on sadistic pleasure. By a tortured half-Dutch, half-Japanese police inspector who cannot reconcile his past. By a criminal overlord determined to resurrect Japan’s past glories. And what propels Van Laerhoven’s narrative are the winds of Nationalism. Militarism. Nihilism. Anti-modernism. Mysticism. Myth.

“In the train to Hiroshima, I leaf through the old diaries I have taken with me from Hashima Island. On May 8th, 1988, I’d written: ‘Rokurobei hunts at night. Do not underestimate the demon’s power. When his victims hear his footsteps and see his long neck, it’s too late. He seduces if he can, kills if he must. Although his gentle nickname for me as a child was Aonyobo, a singing female spirit that haunts abandoned imperial palaces, it would be a mistake to overlook the Serpent Neck’s true nature, his capacity for violence.’”

There are times when myth and monsters are the only way to explain the inhumane in us all. And at the heart of Return to Hiroshima, longing turns violent, dreams morph into their own violent realities, and memories prove to be unworthy of trust. Yet the desire to return endures. To return. And return again. Memory is a monstrous thing, indeed.

Return to Hiroshima, by Bob Van Laerhoven, Crime Wave Press.

Five stars out of five.

Available at Amazon as ebook and paperback, at Barns & Noble as a paperback.

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Check in every week for Book Review Wednesday. I’m reading and reviewing a book a week throughout 2018. Join me. Authors, if you have a book you would like reviewed, send me an email at joe@josephmarkbrewer.com.

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Joseph Mark Brewer writes the Shig Sato mysteries. Mix up some Lieutenant Columbo and Kurt Wallander and you have an interesting character in Sato and a thrilling new series set in the heart of Tokyo. Click for your copy of The Gangster’s SonThe Thief’s MistakeTraitors & Lies, or Cat’s Meow. And check out Shig’s Readers Club to get a free copy of Tokyo Summer, the exciting Shig Sato prequel that tells the story of the events that led up to The Gangster’s Son.

#BookReviewWednesday – Stolen Gypsy

The book-a-week challenge continues with  Stolen Gypsy by Elizabeth Horton-Newton.

stolengypsyTerza Blackstone never lived in on place long enough to make friends. Her parents never gave a second thought to uprooting her whenever they felt the need. Alone and friendless is never good, especially when being called to the principal’s office to be told your parents died in a crash while eluding police.

The authorities have lots of questions for 17-year-old Terza, but she has more. So it begins in Stolen Gypsy by Elizabeth Horton-Newton. The cops want to know if Terza knows anything about her parents’ activities. She wants to know just who were these people who raised her and why were they running from the law. When the feds step in to try to take charge of what seems to be a local crime, Terza becomes even more suspicious of what is happening, and although she escapes their grasp, she is forced to rely on strangers to help her find her answers.

Horton-Newton weaves a compelling thriller: Terza’s strength is her determination to get answers about her past, to find out who she is, and to make sense of the traumatic events that litter her young life. Equally determined are the two men who risk everything to keep her from harm, a county sheriff’s detective and charming Irishman with a penchant for saving girls in trouble. Terza discovers their help just might be what she needs to get her answers and her revenge. Terza’s parents were involved with serious, dangerous men. High stakes action, life-and-death consequences — this book has it all.

I have read Horton-Newton’s short fiction in Twisted Tales and Crooked Tales, anthologies published by Readers Circle of Avenue Park, and I am a fan. She has the gift of telling a good story, compelling a reader to keep turning the page, and just when you think you have it figured out — well, you don’t.  So you keep turning the page.

What more can a reader ask?

Stolen Gypsy, by Elizabeth Horton-Newton.

4.5 stars out of 5.

Available at Amazon.

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Check in every week for Book Review Wednesday. I’m reading and reviewing a book a week throughout 2018. Join me. Authors, if you have a book you would like reviewed, send me an email at joe@josephmarkbrewer.com.

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Joseph Mark Brewer writes the Shig Sato mysteries. Mix up some Lieutenant Columbo and Kurt Wallander and you have an interesting character in Sato and a thrilling new series set in the heart of Tokyo. Click for your copy of The Gangster’s SonThe Thief’s MistakeTraitors & Lies, or Cat’s Meow. And check out Shig’s Readers Club to get a free copy of Tokyo Summer, the exciting Shig Sato prequel that tells the story of the events that led up to The Gangster’s Son.

#BookReviewWednesday – Connected: The Shift

The book-a-week challenge continues with Connected: The Shift by Michelle Medhat.

ShiftCoverConnected: The Shift is a continuation of Connected: The Call, Michelle Medhat’s excellent multilayered lightning-quick thriller that is so much more than spies and treachery. Together, the two books make for one long entertaining yarn, served in short, easily digestible chapters. I’m glad the books are offered one after the other. It gives a reader a chance to stop, take stock, breathe, and then jump in again after recovering. If you’re up for a long go, though, you won’t be disappointed.

Connected: The Shift has the horsepower to deliver the themes hinted at in The Call. What did Ellie Noor see that caused her to scream that day in March that caused her husband Sam to confess he’s an MI6 agent, and to raise alarms in the British intelligence community? Sam’s bosses fear Ellie is a spy, or at the very least an unreliable loose cannon, which is very bad timing for her. The UK and the USA are squaring off against a vicious terrorist group bent on world domination. This offers a cover for personal vendettas as well as state-sanctioned treachery. Ellie and Sam get their fill of both.

But it’s so much more than that, and that’s where Medhat’s brilliant recipe of history, science fiction, and suspense-thriller blossoms into an edge-of-your-chair race to the finish of the book. Really. I am nowhere near a sci-fi/alt universe/fantasy fan. I confess I don’t read much of what ‘s published these days because it doesn’t measure up to what I read in my long-ago youth. It’s probably an old saw, but it’s hard to beat Asimov, Bradbury, and Heinlein. But I am expanding my reach. And I am glad I took the plunge with the Connected books. The other-worldly (other universe) storyline, the techno-thriller and biological warfare themes of the book, are an integral part of The Shift. Medhat has created a universe of which Earth is only a small part, and the entire premise feels right and gives what’s a stake on Earth an extra dimension, or several. Take this plot out of the story and this thriller is so much less. Medhat strikes the right balance. And the ending is worth the ride.

4.5 stars out of 5.

Available at Amazon and Kobo in ebook format. Available at Amazon and Nook in paperback.

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Check in every week for Book Review Wednesday. I’m reading and reviewing a book a week throughout 2018. Join me. Authors, if you have a book you would like reviewed, send me an email at joe@josephmarkbrewer.com.

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Joseph Mark Brewer writes the Shig Sato mysteries. Mix up some Lieutenant Columbo and Kurt Wallander and you have an interesting character in Sato and a thrilling new series set in the heart of Tokyo. Click for your copy of The Gangster’s SonThe Thief’s MistakeTraitors & Lies, or Cat’s Meow. And check out Shig’s Readers Club to get a free copy of Tokyo Summer, the exciting Shig Sato prequel that tells the story of the events that led up to The Gangster’s Son.

#BookReviewWednesday – Blind River

The book-a-week challenge continues with  Blind River, by Ben Follows.

BlindRiverThe last thing Curtis Mackley wants to do is go home to Blind River. An FBI agent, he chose the Bureau over home many years before. But a knock on his door and a summons from his partner, Frankie Lassiter, sends Mackley to his home town. One by one, local teenage girls have gone missing. The local police have asked the FBI for help.

The crimes are only the tip of the criminal iceberg in Blind River. Mackley and Lassiter’s hunt for the missing teens explodes into one crisis after another — more crimes, bloodshed, and vendettas than one town can endure. Mackley’s personal issues and the grief he finds there complicates what’s already a harrowing investigative experience.

About a third of the way into Blind River I went to its Amazon page to read some of the reviews. I could not believe it had (as of this writing) an average of 4.1 stars — 77 percent of the reviews are either five stars or four.

Blind River is a serial-killer murder mystery and a good yarn, and what appears in between the covers would make for a good movie or television series. But far too many things stand in the way of it being an enjoyable read. Follows shows no firm grasp on language or writing for the purpose of storytelling. There is a sense of the plot moving along scene by scene but it’s done carelessly. His descriptions are flat, and a limited vocabulary makes for lackluster reading. A Canadian, Fellows sets his story in New York but does not use American vernacular. His main character is “a fed” but the author shows no knowledge of titles or job responsibilities, procedural issues, or terminology.

Blind River is a clever whodunit with great twists and surprises, but it seems Fellows offered up what amounts to a first draft, with every typical error and mistake. It makes for very frustrating reading. At some point, I hope he uploads a clean version that addresses the many glaring issues. Blind River is a good story held back by a need for a polished and thoughtful revision.

I am breaking my own rule of never writing a review of less than three stars because clearly, Follows has talent. I want to read more of what he writes. But not if the other works are in the same condition as Blind River.

1.5 stars out of 5.

Available at Amazon as ebook and paperback.

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Check in every week for Book Review Wednesday. I’m reading and reviewing a book a week throughout 2018. Join me. Authors, if you have a book you would like reviewed, send me an email at joe@josephmarkbrewer.com.

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Joseph Mark Brewer writes the Shig Sato mysteries. Mix up some Lieutenant Columbo and Kurt Wallander and you have an interesting character in Sato and a thrilling new series set in the heart of Tokyo. Click for your copy of The Gangster’s SonThe Thief’s MistakeTraitors & Lies, or Cat’s Meow. And check out Shig’s Readers Club to get a free copy of Tokyo Summer, the exciting Shig Sato prequel that tells the story of the events that led up to The Gangster’s Son.

#BookReviewWednesday – Out

The book-a-week challenge continues with Out, by Natsuo Kirino.

OUTbookcoverforreviewA wife and mother who works the overnight shift making box lunches finally had enough of a husband who strays, gambles, loses their savings, humiliates her, and displays all the indifference of a stranger. She strangles him, then convinces her co-worker friends to help her dispose of the body and cover up her crimes.

This is the heart of the mystery novel Out, by Natsuo Kirino, but to say that’s what the story is about is wrong. Out is a glimpse into the underbelly of a microcosm of darkest modern Japan. It’s notable for what is absent. Its characters are dark, intense, mystifying, mortifying, desperate, caught in the gears of the terrible machine of survival, day to day, night to night, paycheck to paycheck. Indifferent husbands, recalcitrant children, indifferent bosses, creepy co-workers, and sinister criminals populate the pages. Kirino’s style is direct and unceasing. Just as the reader grasps the implication of one action, another comes, then another, then another.

What’s not to like?

I discovered this morbid gem of a thriller several years ago and finished reading it for a second time the past weekend. Kirino, who came to writing in her 30s and published in her 40s to wide acclaim, wastes no time in describing the miserable existence of a team of food factory workers mindful of quotas and the best position on the assembly line to endure a long, tiring shift. Their day continues upon their return to their homes in the morning to face the demands, slights, and misery of their lives. The incessant need for money is one of the book’s central themes. Bone weariness another. Unwanted attention by a strange man and the humiliation of not being young and pretty are others. Most know how it is to be treated as automatons, cash dispensers, or objects of scorn.

All of this, described in exquisite detail, drives the central theme of the story: one woman had enough. It’s a fatal decision, and her coworkers, the only people she could remotely call her friends, step up, albeit timidly or reservedly. That she convinced her friends to help her, using comradery and bribery, is only the setup to the crime’s gruesome aftermath. The tension quickens as reality sets in. What ensues is dark and occasionally funny, but is also an examination not only of an individual, but a group, and a national, consciousness.

A novelist and a short-story writer, Kirino has won many awards. Out is the winner of the Mystery Writers of Japan Award, Best Japanese Crime Fiction of the Year, nominated for an Edgar award by the Mystery Writers of America. Some of her other works have won the prestigious Tanizaki Prize and the Yomiuri Prize.

But for me as a reader, the one prize that matters above all others, is believing a book is worth reading twice, three times, four times. Few have reached that apex. Out surely has.

Out, by Natsuo Kirino, translated by Stephen Snyder.

5 stars out of 5.

Available in all formats everywhere.

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Check in every week for Book Review Wednesday. I’m reading and reviewing a book a week throughout 2018. Join me. Authors, if you have a book you would like reviewed, send me an email at joe@josephmarkbrewer.com.

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Joseph Mark Brewer writes the Shig Sato mysteries. Mix up some Lieutenant Columbo and Kurt Wallander and you have an interesting character in Sato and a thrilling new series set in the heart of Tokyo. Click for your copy of The Gangster’s SonThe Thief’s MistakeTraitors & Lies, or Cat’s Meow. And check out Shig’s Readers Club to get a free copy of Tokyo Summer, the exciting Shig Sato prequel that tells the story of the events that led up to The Gangster’s Son.

#BookReviewWednesday – Sixty-Four Days – A Sea Story

The book-a-week challenge continues with Sixty-Four Days – A Sea Story by Malcolm Torres.

sixtyfourdaysSixty-Four Days is the first in the Sea Adventure Collection by Malcolm Torres. It is a short read – 31 pages. It can be read in half an hour.

You will not be wasting your time.

I have decided to include Sixty-Four Days to this series of reviews for two reasons. First, to introduce you to Malcolm Torres’ fine series. The Sea Adventures is a collection of short stories available for free on Amazon. Second: Torres knows what he’s writing about.

I spent five years on active duty in the Navy. More than four of those years were on ships at sea: a destroyer and an amphibious command ship. I was never on an aircraft carrier. But I can tell you straight — Torres captures life on board ship in a way only a sailor can. From non-skid to jet blast to catapults, teenagers with unimaginable responsibility, and senior enlisted men who know danger lurks every second of every day on 4.5 acres of a flattop.

The story focuses on a senior chief petty officer 64 days from retirement – he’s so close he can smell it. Only one problem: This particular day, a jet failed to drop all of its quarter-ton bombs during a bombing run. It is returning to the carrier with live bombs still attached to its wing station. And our senior chief is leading the firefighting team when the jet comes in to land.

This is as real as it gets on an aircraft carrier. Sixty-Four Days is a top-notch read.

Sixty-Four Days – a sea story by Malcolm Torres.

4.5 stars out of 5.

Available in email format for free on Amazon.

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Check in every week for Book Review Wednesday. I’m reading and reviewing a book a week throughout 2018. Join me. Authors, if you have a book you would like reviewed, send me an email at joe@josephmarkbrewer.com.

NewAllBooks20184FB

Joseph Mark Brewer writes the Shig Sato mysteries. Mix up some Lieutenant Columbo and Kurt Wallander and you have an interesting character in Sato and a thrilling new series set in the heart of Tokyo. Click for your copy of The Gangster’s SonThe Thief’s MistakeTraitors & Lies, or Cat’s Meow. And check out Shig’s Readers Club to get a free copy of Tokyo Summer, the exciting Shig Sato prequel that tells the story of the events that led up to The Gangster’s Son.