New Reviews from My Writing Desk

CW Hawes, A Festival of Deaths

A Piano Playing PI

Liked the setup. A female PI and her assistant (and brother), living in a thirty-room mansion. She’s ex-CIA and has connections with the local police. They do most of their work at home, contracting out the field work to other PI agencies. Her brother is a chess enthusiast: he loves food and cooking. He must convince his sister to work. Without money, they can’t get (good) food. The case is a seemingly simple missing person scenario, but it turns out to be far from simple. It doesn’t take too long to home in on a suspect, but the case grows as the brother and sister team tries to solve it. They’re up against a cult (Aztek revival). The twists and turns take them around the sewers and into natural caves located under the city. There is a couple of kidnappings thrown in for good measure, but the two siblings may not succeed, even with the help of several other PIs — and the police. Will they catch the arch villain? Is there a hook for another instalment? After all, this is the first in a series. It was an enjoyable read, but it was hard to swallow the Aztek idea. To me, it seemed too melodramatic. Still, it was an entertaining read.

Gemma Lawrence, The Bastard Princess

Meet Young Elizabeth The First.

Tudor times, Henry the eighth. The daily life of his daughters, as seen through Elizabeth’s eyes. She loves her father and tries to forget and forgive what happened to her mother. Lawrence gives the reader interesting insights into the coming Gloriana’s early life, told in her voice. The fear and the glory, the misery and the triumphs, combine in a colourful tapestry. The portraits of Mary and Edward are vivid and convincing. Above all, Elizabeth charms the reader with her candour and observations. Meticulously researched, Lawrence’s book has merit and is worth reading. Highly recommended.

Julia Schmeelk, Heron’s Bond

The Importance of being Natural

Fantasy. A world, NewEarth, a sentient planet, peopled by dragons and humans. They can talk and communicate telepathically, at least if they have bonded with another and the world. It’s necessary to be able to put up mental screens against ill-willed creatures, from miners to immature dragons. All the same, the world is in balance with the universe and itself. Schmeelk builds a world that has the potential of becoming a Utopia. Will it last? The narrative is charming and could be read by a young audience as well as by adults who like fantasy novels. A little romance, and some unlikely friendships between dragons and humans, combine to a pleasant read in Schmeelk’s easy flowing prose. The message is clear: care for the world you live in and it’ll care for you.

Terry Lynn Thomas, The Silent Woman

An Entertaining Read

The Second World War is about to begin. The first fugitives arrive from Germany, among them, there may be spies. All this seems unreal to Catherine (Cat), who has her own problems to deal with in a childless marriage. Her husband maybe never loved her, and she suffers the pangs of unreciprocated love. Her sister in law, Isobel, despises her and shows it. It’s the old class pattern: Cat comes from a less privileged family, and Isobel grabs every opportunity to show Cat that she doesn’t belong. What could possibly be worse?

Enter Reginald, an old friend of her father. They meet — accidentally — and he offers her an easy job as a courier. It gives Cat various advantages: excitement, mystery, and a bit of cash. What she doesn’t know is that the information she delivers is classified. She gets targeted by a spy ring. Then her husband, the civil servant, who carried government secrets back and forth between his home and work, gets murdered. Cat’s work gets increasingly dangerous, but she grows with the danger.

Terry Lynn Thomas develops her spy, mystery, blackmail, and suspense novella with skill. All the same, to me, the suspense didn’t quite take off. In my opinion, everything went too smoothly. It wouldn’t be fair to describe exact scenes, but there were no moments when I believed the main protagonist in real danger. This is entirely my own opinion. Certainly, many readers of cosy mysteries may find the anxiety Cat goes through absorbing. There are convincing historical details in The Silent Woman. Maybe my problem with the story lies in the character development. For example, Isobel’s attitude towards Cat is predictable, so predictable that it’s hard to imagine she may have hidden depths. My four-star rating is a nod to Thomas’ skilful prose.

Bernard Jan, A World Without Colour

A Pet Lover’s Agony

Undoubtedly, Bernard Jan wrote A World Without Colour with his heart-blood. The question that remains, when reading his short opus, is if it would have been better to wait for a little longer before writing it. Sometimes, when one writes on open wounds, the danger looms that sentiment clouds the writer’s potential. That is a pity. Having said that, I must add my condolences. It is difficult to lose loved ones. Bernard Jan shows courage in sharing that agony, but the question remains what time and distance would have achieved in refining his writing.

Ellie Douglas, Death Oh Death, Horror Collection 2

Where Does True Horror Begin?

Does horror reside among monsters or human beings? In my humble opinion, humans are far worse than monsters. It is true that bone-crushing, bloodsucking ogres are part of our worst and subconscious fears. The question is, where do these nightmares origin, if not among humans? Blood-and-gore is all very well, but taken on its own, it may rate — merely — as disgusting. Why do we fear monsters? Is their worst crime that they are like humans? Do their random acts of violence signify more than their pure monstrosity? Is it true that, among horror authors, there are two varieties? Those who evoke the monsters outside, and those who reflect on the human subconscious and wake up true horror? Ellie Douglas is efficient, but in this collection, the tale that stood out was ‘Junkyard’. It caught my attention because the monsters are human beings. This allows Ms Douglas to play with the lowest instincts that we humans share. True to her style, there’s a large amount of blood and gore too, but the focus remains on men (and a single woman). My wish would be to see more of this and less of the grisly, and strangely innocent, bogeymen. After all, they merely feed even if they do so in a spectacular way.

CA Asbrey, Innocent Bystander

Are Bystanders always Innocent?

There’s much to like and admire in Asbrey’s book. Her heroine is well drawn and believable. Even her criminal love-interest and — assistant evokes sympathy. More than that, her writing and plot arch works, she keeps the readers on their toes. The Western setting, the female Pinkerton and heroine doesn’t go through the motions but investigates every option until she reaches the inevitable conclusion. The technical and forensic part of the book is clear and convincing. Ms Asbrey adds the love-story with little strokes that develops the picture throughout the book.  Lifelike characters and no-nonsense actions combined with unexpected twists keep the readers’ interest captivated from start to finish. A well-researched and enjoyable read.

Eileen Thornton, Murder on Tyneside

Ms Thornton brings murder and jewel thievery under the same hat, adds a little spy spice and serves up an effective yarn. Her protagonist is a mature woman with a penchant for shopping and a brain to solve mysteries through sudden inspirations. As such, it is an enjoyable piece of escapism. My reservations lie in a few plot inconsistencies — a white van that plays a role is never secured — let alone searched for. Ms Thornton’s easy-going prose makes up for the inconsistencies, she is a skilled narrator. It’s easy to get lulled into the, perhaps Agatha Christie inspired, book. The characters are plausible and the setting characteristic.

Ilene Goff Kaufmann, Rhyme & Reason

Ms Kaufmann has a Message.

One woman’s life in a volume. Kaufmann is an ambitious author. What she takes on is showing a woman’s life – any woman’s life in poetry. That includes misery, loneliness, heartbreak, abuse, as well as love, trust, childbirth, faith, and loss. A difficult task, but Kaufmann writes fervently and with deep conviction.

Caleb Pirtle III, Lovely Night to Die

A Powerful Thriller

A parallel world where men are nameless and women – dispensable. An assassin who decides to go against the rules. A female attorney who finds herself up against more than she imagined. A tentative romance that blossoms in a hopeless environment. A helping hand that waits until the last second. A narrative style that touches the edge between poetry and prose. These are the elements that create a lovely night to die. A storm looms to underscore the brooding atmosphere of an unusual book from Caleb Pirtle’s hands. With a sense of style and his clipped prose, he holds his readers in suspense throughout. This book grips the reader from the beginning, and its author stays in control to the end. Masterful. Highly recommended.

Again, I’ve read and enjoyed a collection of books, spanning from light entertainment over horror to deep-felt declarations and literary fiction. It is rewarding and instructive to read, especially when one wants to give something back to the world at large. Writers can’t be writers without reading. Also, writers tend to form strong convictions about what makes the writing stand out. For me, the criterium is whether a book makes me think. Of course, an entertaining book can give reason to relax, which is a reward in itself. The be-all and end-all of the matter is that every book adds spice to life.

Remember that writers want to communicate. Therefore:

© HMH, 2019

A New badge of Reviews

 CW Hawes, A Festival of Deaths

A Piano Playing PI

Liked the setup. A female PI and her assistant (and brother), living in a thirty-room mansion. She’s ex-CIA and has connections with the local police. They do most of their work at home, contracting out the field work to other PI agencies. Her brother is a chess enthusiast: he loves food and cooking. He must convince his sister to work. Without money, they can’t get (good) food. The case is a seemingly simple missing person scenario, but it turns out to be far from simple. It doesn’t take too long to home in on a suspect, but the case grows as the brother and sister team tries to solve it. They’re up against a cult (Aztek revival). The twists and turns take them around the sewers and into natural caves located under the city. There is a couple of kidnappings thrown in for good measure, but the two siblings may not succeed, even with the help of several other PIs — and the police. Will they catch the arch villain? Is there a hook for another instalment? After all, this is the first in a series. It was an enjoyable read, but it was hard to swallow the Aztek idea. To me, it seemed too melodramatic. Still, it was an entertaining read.

Gemma Lawrence, The Bastard Princess

Meet Young Elizabeth The First.

Tudor times, Henry the eighth. The daily life of his daughters, as seen through Elizabeth’s eyes. She loves her father and tries to forget and forgive what happened to her mother. Lawrence gives the reader interesting insights into the coming Gloriana’s early life, told in her voice. The fear and the glory, the misery and the triumphs, combine in a colourful tapestry. The portraits of Mary and Edward are vivid and convincing. Above all, Elizabeth charms the reader with her candour and observations. Meticulously researched, Lawrence’s book has merit and is worth reading. Highly recommended.

Julia Schmeelk, Heron’s Bond

The Importance of being Natural

Fantasy. A world, NewEarth, a sentient planet, peopled by dragons and humans. They can talk and communicate telepathically, at least if they have bonded with another and the world. It’s necessary to be able to put up mental screens against ill-willed creatures, from miners to immature dragons. All the same, the world is in balance with the universe and itself. Schmeelk builds a world that has the potential of becoming a Utopia. Will it last? The narrative is charming and could be read by a young audience as well as by adults who like fantasy novels. A little romance, and some unlikely friendships between dragons and humans, combine to a pleasant read in Schmeelk’s easy flowing prose. The message is clear: care for the world you live in and it’ll care for you.

Terry Lynn Thomas, The Silent Woman

An Entertaining Read

The Second World War is about to begin. The first fugitives arrive from Germany, among them, there may be spies. All this seems unreal to Catherine (Cat), who has her own problems to deal with in a childless marriage. Her husband maybe never loved her, and she suffers the pangs of unreciprocated love. Her sister in law, Isobel, despises her and shows it. It’s the old class pattern: Cat comes from a less privileged family, and Isobel grabs every opportunity to show Cat that she doesn’t belong. What could possibly be worse?

Enter Reginald, an old friend of her father. They meet — accidentally — and he offers her an easy job as a courier. It gives Cat various advantages: excitement, mystery, and a bit of cash. What she doesn’t know is that the information she delivers is classified. She gets targeted by a spy ring. Then her husband, the civil servant, who carried government secrets back and forth between his home and work, gets murdered. Cat’s work gets increasingly dangerous, but she grows with the danger.

Terry Lynn Thomas develops her spy, mystery, blackmail, and suspense novella with skill. All the same, to me, the suspense didn’t quite take off. In my opinion, everything went too smoothly. It wouldn’t be fair to describe exact scenes, but there were no moments when I believed the main protagonist in real danger. This is entirely my own opinion. Certainly, many readers of cosy mysteries may find the anxiety Cat goes through absorbing. There are convincing historical details in The Silent Woman. Maybe my problem with the story lies in the character development. For example, Isobel’s attitude towards Cat is predictable, so predictable that it’s hard to imagine she may have hidden depths. My four-star rating is a nod to Thomas’ skilful prose.

Bernard Jan, A World Without Colour

A Pet Lover’s Agony

Undoubtedly, Bernard Jan wrote A World Without Colour with his heart-blood. The question that remains, when reading his short opus, is if it would have been better to wait for a little longer before writing it. Sometimes, when one writes on open wounds, the danger looms that sentiment clouds the writer’s potential. That is a pity. Having said that, I must add my condolences. It is difficult to lose loved ones. Bernard Jan shows courage in sharing that agony, but the question remains what time and distance would have achieved in refining his writing.

Ellie Douglas, Death Oh Death, Horror Collection 2

Where Does True Horror Begin?

Does horror reside among monsters or human beings? In my humble opinion, humans are far worse than monsters. It is true that bone crushing, bloodsucking ogres are part of our worst and subconscious fears. The question is, where does these nightmares origin, if not among humans? Blood and gore is all very well, but taken on its own, it may rate — merely — as disgusting. Why do we fear monsters? Is their worst crime that they are like humans? Do their random acts of violence signify more than their pure monstrosity? Is it true that, among horror authors, there are two varieties? Those who evoke the monsters outside, and those who reflect on the human subconscious and wake up true horror? Ellie Douglas is efficient, but in this collection the tale that stood out was ‘Junkyard’. It caught my attention, because the monsters are human beings. This allows Ms Douglas to play with the lowest instincts that we humans share. True to her style, there’s a large amount of blood and gore too, but the focus remains on men (and a single woman). My wish would be to see more of this and less of the grisly, and strangely innocent, bogeymen. After all they merely feed even if they do so in a spectacular way.

CA Asbrey, Innocent Bystander

Are Bystanders always Innocent?

There’s much to like and admire in Asbrey’s book. Her heroine is well drawn and believable. Even her criminal love-interest and — assistant evokes sympathy. More than that, her writing and plot arch works, she keeps the readers on their toes. The Western setting, the female Pinkerton and heroine doesn’t go through the motions but investigates every option until she reaches the inevitable conclusion. The technical and forensic part of the book is clear and convincing. Ms Asbrey adds the love-story with little strokes that develops the picture throughout the book.  Lifelike characters and no-nonsense actions combined with unexpected twists keep the readers’ interest captivated from start to finish. A well-researched and enjoyable read.

Eileen Thornton, Murder on Tyneside

A Cosy Mystery

Ms Thornton brings murder and jewel thievery under the same hat, adds a little spy spice and serves up an effective yarn. Her protagonist is a mature woman with a penchant for shopping and a brain to solve mysteries through sudden inspirations. As such, it is an enjoyable piece of escapism. My reservations lie in a few plot inconsistencies — a white van that plays a role is never secured — let alone searched for. Ms Thornton’s easy-going prose makes up for the inconsistencies, she is a skilled narrator. It’s easy to get lulled into the, perhaps Agatha Christie inspired, book. The characters are plausible and the setting characteristic.

Ilene Goff Kaufmann, Rhyme & Reason

Ms Kaufmann has a Message.

One woman’s life in a volume. Kaufmann is an ambitious author. What she takes on is showing a woman’s life – any woman’s life in poetry. That includes misery, loneliness, heartbreak, abuse, as well as love, trust, childbirth, faith, and loss. A difficult task, but Kaufmann writes fervently and with deep conviction.

Caleb Pirtle III, Lovely Night to Die

A Powerful Thriller

A parallel world where men are nameless and women – dispensable. An assassin who decides to go against the rules. A female attorney who finds herself up against more than she imagined. A tentative romance that blossoms in a hopeless environment. A helping hand that waits until the last second. A narrative style that touches the edge between poetry and prose. These are the elements that create a lovely night to die. A storm looms to underscore the brooding atmosphere of an unusual book from Caleb Pirtle’s hands. With a sense of style and his clipped prose, he holds his readers in suspense throughout. This book grips the reader from the beginning, and its author stays in control to the end. Masterful. Highly recommended

I don’t have much to say for myself this time. Only this:













© HMH, 2019

Book Series — and Film Remakes — Menace or Miracle?


Lately, book series and film remakes have haunted my mind. One of the triggers was re-reading the Earth’s Children series. However exciting, however unusual the subject, it is devastating to see the deterioration of style, and accuracy, going through the series. No doubt Ms Auel’s research is pristine, but her writing becomes increasingly lazy and, in the later volumes, there are too many pointless repetitions. After a while, it becomes impossible to ignore the numerous paragraphs, easily recognized from volume to volume, mostly word to word. That, together with the endless and repetitive descriptions mars the reading experience. True, Ms Auel may not expect her readers to have the stamina to read all the books in one go, but there will always be those who do. The excessive repetitions show lack of respect for her readers’ intelligence and ability to remember what they’ve read.

Is it fair to say that many authors who mainly write series also tend towards using one or two tested and successful templates for their narratives? Sometimes with excellent results, sometimes with less convincing outcomes.

Film remakes often face the same problematic. It isn’t that simple to follow a successful rendition with excellent performers. It’s been done, and there are some remakes that are better than their inspiration. That situation repeats in book series.

That doesn’t change a few facts. Undoubtedly, there is an element of hygge in recognizing characters and storylines. On the other hand, people, and maybe especially readers — as well as film buffs — tend to get fidgety if a plot gets too obvious. Who can blame them? Readers want to be surprised. No matter how gorgeous a frame is, there must be something more. What do the readers want? What is the secret longing when film-buffs recline in their seats?

I believe that they want food for thought.

We all love and know Poirot and Jane Marple, but we also know that the stories use the same plot with variations. Some are inspired, some are less so. There are numerous authors who write one book after another . . . and their fans love them. Barbara Cartland springs to mind. As well as Ian Fleming, Agatha Christie, and several others, often authors in the crime genre (Ngaio Mash, DL Sayers, Georges Simenon, Maria Lang etc. the list is endless). All are entertaining, some are excellent, but they all have one thing in common. They have one (in a few cases more than one) main character that decides the flavour and the narrative arch. There are stock ingredients like Poirot’s moustache and patent-leather shoes, Miss Marple’s pink knitting, Sherlock Holmes pipe, violin, and syringe, Agent 007’s gun and fast cars. That reminds me that Lord Peter Wimsey also has a fast car, but he rarely shoots.

Has it become too easy? Who can tell? It is true that this is a period that sees more releases every day. There is no weekend without at least three new films opening. Indie publishers have reached over a million titles astoundingly fast. No wonder that it became necessary to re-use old subjects. On the other hand, that isn’t a new trend. Could this explain a rumour that keeps cropping up? Is it true that several successful authors have writing teams to churn out their fare, the faster the better? Maybe — maybe not — but there is a lingering suspicion that something is rotten in the publishing world.

Whatever made me put my fingers into this potential hornets’ nest? Perhaps it’s time to say something positive? That’s easy. While somethings may be rotten, which is the case in every wake of life, there’s no doubt that there’s an abundance of talented writers who take their art seriously. These are the emissaries who seek new ways of expression. They write with their heart and their intelligence and become a fresh breeze in the literary world. Their ideas may spark new visions among their peers. Thus, there’s still hope. Without a doubt, this is the situation in the film world too. If there is a steady stream of pioneers in the arts, we have nothing to fear.

© HMH, 2019

Still Catching up. New Reviews

With another eight reviews to go, there isn’t much to say, except that I hope my thoughts on these books will whet your appetites in reading them yourself.

MJ Rocissono, Beyond the Wicked Willow

A rewarding read

MJ Rocissono knows his myths and uses them deftly in his poignant coming-of-age story. It is a delight to read a well-written saga that weaves in and out of various historical periods in an effortless way. The young adult characters come across believable as well as amiable — their mythical mentors and adversaries are powerful symbols for learning to understand the everyday world they live in. Highly Recommended.

Nina Romano, A risky Christmas Affair.

A well written (crime) caper.

Serena must think on her feet and take uncalculated risks in this literary romp that takes the reader from Rome to London and to Spain in less time that it takes to say fiddlesticks. The gallery of characters includes Serena’s unfaithful husband, a luckless robber, and an English MP. Naturally there are diamonds galore as well as big wads of money. Nina Romano pulls all stops and hits bullseye with this Christmas romp. The book is light and tempting: a perfect meringue. Recommended for escapist reading on a dreary day. 

Serena lives in Rome. Married. Unfaithful husband. Attempted robbery. Shooting the robber in the hand. Transporting diamonds to London. Selling them for her husband. Scampering off to Spain.

Roger Bray, Blood Ribbon

Serial Killer on the loose

A thriller with a feisty heroine. That being said, part of the thrill lies in experiencing fragments of the plot through the serial killer’s eyes. Add to that, his foible for red ribbons and dunes as well as his long-enduring success. His prospective victim survives and dedicates her recovery period to find her would-be killer. Only a PI, a former criminal investigator, goes all out to help her. He suspects that several unexplained murders may be connected. Bray shows his psychological insight in the way he handles his main characters. Highly recommended

Kathryn Gauci, The Carpet Weaver of Usak

Poignant and well-researched

Anatolia at the beginning of the Great War. The Greek and the Turks live in peace in a double village. They work together but there is a clear divide. Then the assassination in Sarajevo pivots their world into the war that would kill a generation of young men and destroy the Ottoman Empire. This is the backdrop for the Carpet Weaver of Usak, a heart-wrenching saga, of loss and war, but also of great love. To be precise, it’s more than that. Gauci shows a deep knowledge, both of the historical events and the carpet weaving procedure and trade. Her narrative illustrates how the trust between two peoples that lived in harmony was destroyed. This is a poignant narrative that touches on humanity in its many forms. Love and hate, the horrors of war, friendship and neighbourly help is part of the warp and weft of this highly recommended novel.

Katie Mettner, Meatloaf & Mistletoe + Hotcakes & Holly

Mettner has a gentle voice

Two Christmas books. Two love affairs (that end in happy marriages) between scarred and insecure humans. One small town, a diner with a difference, inspired by the legendary Florence Nightingale.

Likeable and insecure, our first protagonist must take over from her employer in the Nightingale Diner. She doesn’t believe she can win love from her childhood friend and knight in shining armour. He has similar doubts (not for the same reason) but takes up the challenge. Her past, especially her mother, prevents her from thinking clearly.

In Hotcakes & Holly two employees in the same diner, a waitress and the cook, experience their personal brand of heartache. She because of her horrendous childhood etc. Moreover, she’s ill and depressed because of an untreated thyroid defect. It takes trials and tribulations for the two to find their balance.

Both books are touching and heart-warming. Ms Mettner writes easy-going, lilting prose that fits her theme. Two enjoyable reads.

Charles Peterson Sheppard, Flint of Dreams

Dreams and Reality Intertwined in a Dizzying Plot.

A reluctant hero.  A young man who must find his feet between the easy choices that his background offers him (a criminal career) and the harder, spiritual path that he’s predestined for. His counterpart is Breezy, a voluntary fiend who works with chemically induced second sight and enjoying gratuitous violence. Pare it down to these elements and you have the traditional good versus evil epic. In Charles Peterson Sheppard’s hands, it becomes much more than that. There’s nothing generic about the plot, and the Native American scenes and dreams give a rare insight into a magnificent people. Flint’s abilities propel him into unchartered territory, but his self-doubt hampers him until it’s almost too late. On the other hand, his counterpart has all the cards in his hands — and he plays them.

There is a gallery of minor characters surrounding the hero and the villain. They’re fleshed out and believable, especially the Chinese girl whose encounter with Breezy almost sends her over the edge. Add a cast of agents, parents, scientists, insects, students, drunkards, siblings, and you have a fast-paced, from time to time terrifying and violent sit-on-the-edge-of-your-chair, modern tour de force.

SS Bazinet, Michael’s Blood

A Vampire with a Difference

A reformed vampire, guardian angels, friendly humans, philosophy, questions about humanity, ethical awareness, and blood. Not human blood but the essence of an angel. These are some of the elements that make Michael’s Blood unusual. Arel, the protagonist vampire, lives on rats when we first meet him. This is the only allusion to Anne Rice and a certain interview. From the rat encounter, Bazinet takes the reader into a new experience. Here, killing rats may well be a symbol of Arel’s fall from grace. His guardian angel follows him through every humiliation and offers a way to redemption. For a vampire, it’s hard to go through such a transformation, especially as it is a gift bestowed by an angel. Why? An angels’ blood forces the vampire to confront his past. Through this experience, painful as it is, Arel gets to know a brave new world for vampires, one where it is possible to grow and maybe regain an element of lost humanity. It takes struggle, an alternative struggle between angels and this strange derivation from humankind. Clearly, the angels never lost their love for other beings. Is this the kind of love they once displayed for the daughters of men but refined so that it will transmute angels as well as men?

Bazinet writes with assurance and panache in this rare treat.

RH Hale, Church Mouse

Horror, Horror, Harrowing, and Compelling

Is this a horror story, a vampire novel, or something else? It is a modern myth, steeped in cynicism. The Church Mouse of the title is a young and gifted girl, who’s given up on life. Homeless, she leaps to the chance of becoming verger in the church of her childhood. It doesn’t matter to her that she has seen and heard horrors there already. It may seem to be an easy job and a hideout from a too complex world. When she crosses the threshold, she enters a nightmare: things go from bad to worse in quick succession. The reader gets drawn in, and it isn’t easy to disengage. Step by step and increment by increment, the true owners of the church’s underbelly creep up on the protagonist and RH Hale’s readers. Cleaning a church after weddings and church coffee sounds like an easy job, but this is just a cover for the nightly workload. Are her new employers what they seem? Are they cultured and knowledgeable, sometimes charming bohemians, or is there more to them than meets the eye? The question will find an answer as the reader moves through several rings of a Dantesque hell in the maze under the church. Rona is an outsider, but her flirtation with vampires transforms her from an isolated youth (every man or woman is an island) to a mighty power and, finally, she may become part of a deadly covenant. Did RH Hale choose the protagonist’s name with this in mind? Highly recommended.

Everybody agrees that it is important to support indie authors. Everybody agrees that buying a book and writing a review for it, makes all the difference for the author. Why does it then seem next to impossible to get reviews, unless one begs?

If begging is required, here is my plea. I believe that Snares and Delusions is well worth a read. I know that some people must’ve read it but very few have taken a few minutes to write about it. It is true that I’ve received some interest lately, and that has made an impact on sales. What could, would, and or wouldn’t happen if people left a review? If you hated the book, write about it. If you loved it, write about it. If indifferent, well, maybe you can’t be bothered, but write about it anyway.

Authors don’t want to live in a vacuum. They love words. They would adore your words about their book. Maybe the market is swamped with books by unknown authors, but it is possible to see that as something positive. A cornucopia of books, what’s not to love about that? Rescue an author today. Write a review. Short critiques will be accepted with gratefulness, long and in-depth ones, with greed: vociferous and drooling. Make an author happy. Make my day?

© HMH 2019

Catching up with my Reviews


It’s been too long since I published a new batch of reviews. I suppose life caught me unaware: I thought I’d done more than I did. Now, in 2019, it could be an important New Year’s pledge to remember that posts don’t multiply on their own. It doesn’t even help to write reviews and publish them on Amazon or Goodreads: they don’t jump across to my blog of their own accord. Without further ado: here are some books I’ve enjoyed, some books I admire, and some book that grabbed my attention.

SL Baron, Vanilla Blood

Feeding the myth: Vampires love blood

What is it that brings people to write about vampires? Is it the age-old blood cult that rears its head? Once the Danes sacrificed horses’ blood in large silver vessels. Also, Hebrew demonology has its examples: Lilith, feeding on babies’ blood. Vampires are part of folklore since forever. The nineteenth century fostered what we recognize as today’s vampire, beginning with The Vampyre by John Polidori and continued by Le Fanu (Camille). Dracula and Nosferatu entered the scene and cemented the genre and inspired authors like Anne Rice. In this case, SL Baron’s Vanilla Blood represents the genre.

Vampires are the ultimate human predators. They’re charismatic and ― undead. They survive from century to century, as glamorous, intriguing characters, who feed on their prey’s blood, discerning the taste and quality of their meal as any gourmet would do. Contemporary vampires don’t die easily. No silver bullets, Garlic, or stakes can harm them but falling in love might become their undoing.

Baron writes an absorbing modern-day version of the old myth. Her narrative stirs up emotions when the protagonist loses her brother and her lust for life. From there the plot unfolds until its climax of revenge and reconciliation. Highly recommended.

Barbara Monier, Pushing the River

Poignant: Barbara Monier’s family saga poses important questions

A sprawling narrative about a house full of ghosts. A dysfunctional family on one side: a fifteen-year-old mother-to-be and her mother. On the side, our protagonist finds a new lover that, to the reader, seems too good to be true. He moves in, with his entire possessions in a paper bag, and leaves when things get overly complex. In the wings, sons and daughters with more, or less, successful lives. In the centre, a woman willing to be there, willing to be everything for everybody. That gives her much heartache — and much happiness. This sums up the plot, but what binds it all together? The central character? The proverbial mother-creature? Is this book turning the spotlight on motherhood? Is it questioning when it is time to let go? Or, is it questioning the way we treat our families? Taking everybody for granted is a recipe for disaster, but so is being unwilling to take responsibility. To me, Pushing the River raises several important questions. It is refreshing that Monier doesn’t force the answers down the readers’ throats.

Daniel Kemp Why, A Complicated Love

An emotional rollercoaster

Why starts with a sex-obsessed protagonist and develops into a tragic love story. There’s every possible element of a mafioso set-up, but it goes further. The story has certain elements that remind me of Rigoletto (the Duke of Mantua, his court jester, and a young innocent woman, caught in the power game belonging to a medieval court). It’s brought forward to a contemporary period, but the essence is similar, and the victim is female. There are some differences: two female leads, the young woman and her mother who suffers a similar fate, except that she’s left her innocence behind years ago. Why is well written and believable. The protagonist survives to lead a new life of sorts, but he is damaged beyond repair. He knows this but is able to make the best of a lousy deal. The book starts at the end: the love-object has already died, and Kemp rolls out the narrative on this background. This isn’t a book that lives through the writing as such. It is the heart-wrenching plot that stays with the reader. Still, the writing brings across the characters’ agony. Nobody exists without suffering. Not in the world, Daniel Kemp opens up for his readers. The strong element of crime and sordid humanity makes the love-story even more devastating. It is a surprisingly thoughtful book. Highly recommended.

Loraine Conn, Sentinels

Carling is destined to save the world. A compelling read

Fantasy. A fight between order and chaos, vaguely set in Britain around the Roman invasion. Ms Conn plays with the idea of a secret domain, which could be Logres of the Arthurian myth. This realm is hidden within the country, but contrary to the Arthurian legend it’s probably located in Scotland. The sentinels, guardians of the old way of life, present an interesting idea as well: a play with colours – representing the rainbow. Could they represent the rainbow bridge of Norse mythology? No doubt, Ms Conn knows her myths and has an affinity with the occult history of Britain. She shares that with authors such as CS Lewis, AE Waite, and Charles Williams. This is no scientific thesis though: it is a captivating story about the One True Child, the heroine and a strong female protagonist. She lives and learns to fight and love through her connection with an extensive gallery of individuals. Highly recommended.

Leslie Hayes, Not Like Other People

Not Like Other Stories

A collection of short stories. Weird and wonderful characters flit across the pages There’s the lonely traveller, the troubled teenager, the overprotective mother as well as actors, writers and, misfits: all in condensed form. Ms Hayes uses each short-story to create a precise impression. There’s skill as well as fantasy in her writing. An admirable achievement.

Ben Westerham, Too Good to Die?

Crime Doesn’t Pay — Addiction Kills

Westerham efficiently describes an eighties’ private detective at work and leisure. Sometimes he mixes up both, sometimes he gets into trouble, sometimes he has a lucky break. This is a bleak story about troubled people, but Westerham lightens up the mood with his, sometimes ambiguous, wit.  Recommended.

James Glass, Stone Cold

An Assertive Novel

A courtroom drama ― a criminal investigation. A tortured criminal investigator forced by her circumstances to come to terms with childhood trauma. An ambitious novel from the hands of J Glass.

Karl Holton, The Weight of Shadows

The Past lies in Shadows.

Sophisticated Thriller that, in my opinion, touches on elements of Dante’s Hell and the Seven Deadly Sins. A weight of shadows is possibly what connects the large cast of characters, especially the protagonist, Benedict, and the ‘grey eminence’, Hanson. These two both struggle with their pasts and work to overcome former sins. Their counterpoint is the mysterious hunter who features in the first chapter. Again, this is my opinion: he is the Doctor, although the Doctor could be like Jupiter, the Greek god, in his thousand manifestations.

On the surface, there are several coinciding crimes: a jewel heist, several assassinations, and abductions that involve international crime rings, a complex team of investigators from the regular police to CIA, MI5, MI6, Interpol, and NCA. Everything links up, with the crimes complementing each other like Chinese boxes. Highly recommended

Jessie Cahalin, You Can’t Go It Alone

A sweet and thoughtful book

You Can’t Go It Alone is a wistful ― and wishful ― narrative of how humans can help to bring out the best in one another. It advocates community spirit but doesn’t shy away from showing how troubled we can be. The female protagonist goes through a painful and uncertain IVF treatment, which threatens to estrange her from her husband. Throughout the work, Cahalin illustrates how people could come together and make the world a better place. Is this a romance with roots in everyday life or merely an expression of hope? Wishful thinking? These are the questions the reader must ask, but there are no easy answers.

Doug J Cooper, Crystal Deception

Science Fiction with Emphasis on Science?

Crystal Deception might well build on some of the ideas in McCaffrey’s books. The idea of sentient crystals is part of the trilogy. The author of CD has taken this idea further. Unfortunately, he gets himself involved in technicalities at the beginning of the book, giving in to a natural wish to explain the theory behind the idea. Initially, that reduces the excitement. Once Cooper has set the scene, the book grabs your attention, but some readers might give up before reaching the plot crystallizes. The sentient crystal becomes a believable and pleasant acquaintance, maybe because it possesses the most fleshed out character. There are sections in the book that read like a computer game (random violence in a closed-in area), but the plot comes together towards the end.

I have one final thought to share with you: if you read a book, if you enjoy it — or maybe hate it — never hesitate to tell the author. I know, some authors only live in their books these days, but there are plenty who live and write out of their hearts and guts. Give them a hand up: they deserve it.

© HMH, 2019

Modern V. Old-fashioned Writers’ Methods

Some people believe that writers of old were more accomplished — and wiser — because they wrote by hand. In their opinion, modern authors lack flair because of using PCs. Even worse is it that these ‘modernists’ connect via the internet: such lovers of the quill believe that indie authors spend so much time dallying on the social media that it’s a wonder they get any writing done. To round off the quill lovers’ rant, they accuse the internet active authors of being second-rate: good authors who naturally are traditionally issued should only connect with their kind of authors etc, etc.

This is maybe an important discussion, but it isn’t one I can undertake with somebody who is against modern technology. It is notable that there are some authors who like to make it appear cute if they find it difficult to format manuscripts for Kindle or build a website. Others feel at home with the technology. It makes no difference in the end. What is important is only what an author produces. The number of books may vary, the publishing methods, the writing process is individual. The main issue is clear to me: whichever way they do it, they write. The average author writes, rewrites, revises and formats until he or she turns bald or wrinkly. But they write. They do it because they must. The thoughts, the ideas, and the stories in their heads must out on paper, or they’d go crazy. They make every word count and couldn’t care less in what way they get their words onto the page.

I believe that Charles Lutwidge Dobson, better known as Lewis Carroll, wrote Alice and Through the Looking Glass in purple ink. It may be less well known that he invented a ‘nyctograph’ a writing tablet that enabled him to write in the dark. The device consisted of a gridded card with sixteen squares and a system of symbols, representing an alphabet of Dodgson’s design. To make this work, he used letter shapes similar to the Graffiti writing system on a Palm device.

My point is that even nineteenth-century authors dabbled with technology. This is one of many curious facts about what writers do to transform their thoughts and ideas into something readable and enjoyable. Why would anybody care how we do it, as long as we write?

Last night, when I’d finished my ‘guilty’ media jaunt, there was some necessary research to do. That didn’t stop me from writing. Thank god for the internet. It helps me and, anybody with a search engine, to find the most curious facts. There’s no doubt that today’s writers easily get noticed and risk looking suspicious because of their search-habits.

Until last night, I didn’t realize how scarce the information on South Jutland POWs in Japan during the Great War is. I found a prisoner’s card in a Danish archive: it shows the name and birthday of this Japanese POW and that he went on the Mitau. That ship was almost impossible to track. . .

My other task, I found it even more difficult, searching for adequate info about Danish naval uniforms in 1919. It may not figure in my WIP, but it helped me to get going. At the end of the evening, I’d written a reasonable chunk of the scene and have something to go from tomorrow.

 

 

© HMH, 2018

New reviews

 

 

It’s time for another assortment of critiques. I’m surprised that it’s such a long time since the last one. Mea culpa. Anyway, the need for fellowship among writers is as great as it ever was. There’s nothing that boosts an author like an honest review. In a way, it doesn’t matter whether it’s good or bad. Mind you, there is a big difference between a critical and a malicious review. In my opinion, a severe review can show as much interest in the book as a placid one, provided it clarifies the reasons why the reader didn’t enjoy what he or she read.

We can learn from harsh critiques, but we enjoy the agreeable ones. Perhaps we also learn something from benevolent reviews, but we shouldn’t dismiss unfavourable opinions. After all, we can’t please everybody. We shouldn’t even try. For any author, the main issue is that we touched a nerve. Writers get fired up when somebody communicates their thoughts about what they’ve written.

In other words: read our books. If they awaken feelings, good or bad? Tell us about it.

Personally, I believe that short reviews make more sense than longwinded ones. For instance, I see little reason to give an outline of the book: most authors don’t want their readers to know every twist and turn before they immerse themselves in their story. So, if you want to give an idea of the plot: beware of giving away too much. In other words, don’t hesitate to write one sentence and leave it at that. Sometimes, that might sum up your judgement better than many words.

Without further ado: here are my latest reviews.

 

 

Sue Shepherd, Can’t Get You Out of my Head

Wonderful and surprising

Can’t get who out of your mind? My first reaction to Can’t Get You out of My Mind was incredulity — my second — being intrigued. Shepherd has written a beautiful and thoughtful novel that remains with the reader for a long time. The concept is simple: the result is a speculative narrative. Shepherd engages her readers and makes them root for her heroine. A highly enjoyable book.

 

 

Karen Eisenbrey, Daughter of Magic

A coming of age tale.

Dreams and reality compete for the central character’s attention. Daughter of a sorcerer and a sensitive healer with magic ability, Luskell is unwilling to take up her inheritance. From here the narrative develops. Unfortunately, the first part is unclear through the author’s handling of a complex concept but, towards the middle of the book, things fall into place and the mosaic becomes a clear picture. Once the scene is set, the main character and her helpers take over and show their merit, their thoughts and emotions. Would it have been better if the protagonist had been in focus throughout? This is a moot question. All in all: an engaging journey.

 

 

Jacqueline Pirtle, 365 Days of Happiness

Happiness is a Piece of Cake

We’re all born to win, but it is only too easy to get bogged down by life. Pirtle has written a book to help weary men and women to get the sparkle back. The author insists that a course of 365 exercises will make miracles happen. It is a wholehearted and passionate effort to help people help themselves. Whether it will help is up to the individual reader. For my own part, I can only add that singing and dancing certainly help people lay off their worries, at least, for a time. Is there any miracle treatment for unhappiness? Only if one accepts and comes to term with living in a world fraught with misery. The upside is that this earth still is a beautiful place. Five stars for the author’s enthusiasm.

 

 

Keith Dixon, Storey

Brilliantly written

Hard-boiled criminals take centre stage in this dramatic caper. This is a page turner, entertaining and modern. I felt in good hands: Dixon knows his craft and takes the reader through the plot with conviction and — charisma. Highly recommended for everybody who likes to sit at the edge of their chair while they read.

 

 

Lisa Hofmann, Trading Darkness

High fantasy, a compelling fairy-tale

Here we have a classic German fairy tale, in the style of Grimm and Hoffmann. A quest, deception, and lack of knowledge. Slow advance towards better understanding and a final battle. L Hoffmann’s use of multiple point-of-view may cause some confusion at the beginning of the narrative. It is necessary back-story that sets the scene for the protagonist’s journey from living with half-truths to identifying reality. Through that journey, she learns to forgive, to love, and to redeem old evils. This is a must read for fantasy lovers.

 

 

 

Raymond St Elmo, The Origin of Birds in the Footprints of Writing

A Book of Imagination and Wit

This made me smile and laugh from the beginning to the end

The Origin of Birds in the Footprints of Writing: what an unusual book. Just finished reading it. Here’s a book of magic realism if ever there was one. The birds and books intermingle as metaphors for one another. True, St Elmo owes a heavy debt to Calvino, Poe, Chesterton, and Lewis Carroll. But his work is its own, funny, thoughtful and mesmerizing. Dream sequences intermingle with economic worries and workplace policy. The balance between workaday trouble and weird, wonderful scenarios could tumble any moment, but we (the readers) are safe in the hands of a master plotter, a programmer extraordinaire, and a court jester turned magician all in one.

 

 

Wendy H Jones, Killer’s Countdown

Written with knowledge and expertise.

Jones presents ‘Killer’s countdown’ in elegant prose. The narrative presents the reader with two protagonists: the killer and the (female) police officer. This way, we get confronted with the chilling thoughts and arrogance of a serial killer. Policework must be meticulous, and hence the detective can appear somewhat dry. This clash makes the contest between the characters all the more spine-tingling. We’re a long way from Agatha Christie: this has a far tougher substance. Jones handles the dual point of view with great skill.

 

 

Tina-Marie Miller, Everything Happens for a Reason

Touching and surprising

Miller takes on a difficult subject in ‘Everything Happens for a Reason’. This is a narrative about bereavement and learning to live again. She analyses family ties, conflicts, and deep affection in a thoughtful narrative that touches the reader and opens for discussions. On top of this, Miller’s prose flows artlessly. A poignant book that’s well worth reading. Highly recommended.

 

 

Ellie Midwood, A Motherland’s Daughter, A Fatherland’s Son

Read it!

War makes us suffer needlessly. And Midwood makes a clear case for conscious objectors. How does she do this? Through showing the misery two young people go through, especially how easy it is to become debased through forced actions. At the same time, A Motherland’s Daughter, A Fatherland’s Son is a heartachingly beautiful Romeo and Juliet story. Here we aren’t confronted with two families in Verona, but with a world at war. Strongly written and utterly convincing. Highly recommended.

 

 

© HMH, 2018

Professional Author?

What transforms a writer into an author? Does being an author turn a writer into a professional?

 

Not too long ago, somebody told me that writing is an — expensive — hobby. That made me wonder when an author can claim to be a professional. Is it just a question of sales? Do you have to be a best-seller to be a ‘professional’? Could it be enough to be dedicated and write every day?

I have no spontaneous answers but will try to find adequate answers.

In my humble opinion, being a professional author isn’t a question of sales. That would make any celebrity who decides to dabble in authorship an instant professional: celebrities sell. The question is whether they dedicated time and work to their writing or if they went to a ghost-writer and came out with an instant success. If they did indeed write and edit and sweat over a manuscript, I doff my hat to them. Well done indeed.

Then there are the dilettantes. They love to write. They never stop to think about how what they write comes across. They pour out their feelings for all to behold. Met with critique, they rage and rant. It isn’t right that they should research their material or check grammar and spelling. If confronted with mistakes they tell you it’s immaterial if mobile phones were generally used in 1980, or if women wore crinolines in 1802. As long as they write their fantasy and feel good about it, they’re great authors. Surprisingly, some of these have success, for a while.

These are just a few examples. I believe: most authors would agree with me that it takes more than enthusiasm to write. It is hard work. There’s no way around writing every day. Imagine a professional piano soloist, who doesn’t practise daily. It would never work: pianists must keep their muscles supple and their touch precise. Sounds familiar?

Authors may not be speedy typists, but they need imaginative muscle and a flair for handling a plot. This applies whether one writes fiction or non-fiction. A sense of style may be God-given, but my conviction is that it takes more than talent to write well. We can’t only rely on editors to make it right. If we don’t do the work from day to day, we won’t improve. If we don’t improve, where is the craft?

Good authors read. They read, and digest the written word, like cows on pasture. According to Lin Yutang, it takes three or four ‘liaisons’ with favourite authors for a literary lover to emerge as an author.

Not even that is enough to make a professional author. These days, the indie movement may confuse standards. Are independent authors better or worse than established ones? There’s no conclusive answer. Many publishers are wary of taking chances on new and/or experimental writers: does that take away the merit of being ambitious and complex? That would be a descent from literature into crowd-pleasing.

Where does that leave the aspiring author? Perhaps, there’s only one answer to this riddle. There is only one type of authors that count. Those are the ones who didn’t give up.

We write because we must. We battle to find the right words. We’re haunted by self-doubt. We struggle to sell our books. We are fiercely independent. We go against the grain. We write and write and write. We don’t let critique or adversity stop our quest for writing the perfect story, the ultimate fantasy, a profound insight, something amazing.

 

 

© HMH, 2018

Another Collection of Reviews.

 

 

In mid-March, I found myself musing about reviews and reviewers. The situation stays much the same: authors need reactions from their readers to thrive. Not just to sell books, but also to know that they’ve been heard (or read). We can’t function in a vacuum. I can’t stress this enough.

It doesn’t take much to post a review. If you read and like a book, it could be essentially natural to acknowledge the fact. If, on the other hand, you didn’t appreciate it, writing about your frustration or anger could be a way to disperse the feeling. Maybe it could give you another insight into what you just read. Why not try it?

Authors would love you for it. A review isn’t a scientific dissertation. It doesn’t have to be long or thorough. But it is an opportunity to say thank-you for an enjoyable time — or point out exactly what marred your experience with the book.

Below, I’ve collected another batch of reviews — in no particular order — for illustration and to give my fellow authors a small boost.

 

Selected Reviews

 

Jenny Ensor, Blind Side

Blind Side is a compelling read.

The plot is tight, and the characters well presented. Jenny Ensor’s debut is well written, intriguing and doesn’t allow the reader to stop until he or she reaches the end.

The love story is gritty and utterly convincing. It is fascinating to follow the main protagonist’s struggle with reality, as well as people, she believes to know. Ensor explores a challenging war situation through the Russian hero. His military persona is balanced with his musicianship, and his determination to survive with his ugly dreams. I especially liked the villain of the piece: top marks for creepiness.

Susan Finlay, The Outsiders: In the Shadows

In the Shadows delivers what readers of cosy mysteries have come to expect. What interests me, personally, is that the main character could be guilty. I almost hoped for that twist, although I realize that it would be going outside the parameter for mystery novels. Susan Findley is a confident author and takes her readers into her universe with believable characters.

RL Sanderson, The Dying Flame

YA fantasy at its best?

A nightmare sets the scene for The Dying Flame. RL Sanderson stirs a witches’ cauldron of forbidden magic, outcast peoples, Mind reading, and its consequences. A priesthood with a strong resemblance to the inquisition holds the reins and suppresses freedom of thought.

The protagonist, Orla, is catapulted out of her comfort zone. In the beginning, she sets out to rescue a beloved sister, but it turns out that her quest will send her further from home and her normal life than she bargained for. Orla is likeable but has everything to learn. The plot is full of action, but one can discuss if there’s a real end to the book. Clearly, as the first part of a series, that’s a strong inducement to wait for the sequel. An enjoyable read.

Rosalind Minett, Intrusion

A boy’s take on the time before and during the first period of WWII

Minett writes a believable boy. Also, a likeable boy. His best character features come to the fore, as life becomes complex. Whether bombs fall, or he must go into provisional billeting, he keeps his ideals and dreams. The narrative moves through London in the pre-war period and beyond, but to get the complete picture one would have to read the entire series. I should certainly like to.

K O’Rourke: A long Thaw

A Thoughtful Narrative

Multiple POW can be difficult to control, but O’Rourke handles it with confidence. A Long Thaw is a narrative about families, about secrets and lies, about guilt and forgiveness. It is a thoughtful presentation of the difficulties every individual can encounter, growing and ripening. I admire the author for her delving into this sensitive area. Recommended as a challenging and ambitious book.

Angelica Rust, The Girl on the Red Pillow

An amazing story dealing with mental challenges

The Girl on the Red Pillow is a rollercoaster read, masterfully set in scene by A Rust. Her inventiveness in confronting the reader with a troubled mind makes the narrative immediate and touching. The story-line is split in two, the main events interspersed with flashbacks, that slowly uncover the true horror confronting the protagonist. A thought-provoking book I can’t recommend enough.

Ransom Riggs, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. I enjoyed it, but I may have read better books. The narrative is built around old and — weird photos, which must have taken time and effort to get together. It has fantastical elements and the narrative has surprising twist and turns. I can’t point out what detracts from its merit. Maybe it is just a sensation of unease that inevitably emerges from a horror story. Is it fair to call it a horror story? (It isn’t normally a genre that attracts me. Anyway, who cares about the genre?) With all this in mind, I must add that there were unexpected moments of beauty and romance, which were deeply touching. All in all, I go along with the concept. The idea is brilliant, and the plot is convincing. Would I read the sequel? I believe I would.

Patrick W Andersen, Second Born

 A Different Take on the New Testament?

I can’t say exactly why I found this book difficult to get hooked on. It had all the elements of a sword and sandals narrative. The characters were vivid, the language appealing, and yet I felt aloof. Perhaps it was because I couldn’t get my head around the family setup. You don’t expect Jesus of Nazareth to have an extended family, or indeed, that he partly recruited his followers among his brothers. With James, the eldest brother, being the righteous one — and Jesus the troublemaker, I found myself questioning who the main protagonist was. I kept wondering when the plot would start to take shape. Not that nothing happened: there was action galore. But, it felt like scene setting and back-story for a long time. I suppose the fact that I read on, speaks for the quality of the writing. Eventually, things became clearer and the plot — thickened — about halfway through. Maybe I was at fault, for having faulty expectations. Andersen knows his stuff. He is an apt narrator, but I had trouble with this one. The four stars reflect Anderson’s prose.

 

© HMH, 2018

Bad Script? Good Plot?

Or both, Interchangeable

 

Five sea-battles, a lynching, a riot with attempted arson, a torture scene, practically no dialogue, and a cast of predominantly male actors. The only two females are respectively a whore and a longsuffering wife. They probably have about three lines between them. Perhaps the wife has a bit more, she scolds her husband for fifty seconds or so. Oh, she also repeatedly tells a band of rioters to ‘go home’. And I’m supposed to like this film? What a waste of time.

On top of everything else, the sea battles were 3d models, and they used the same still of the attackers before every battle scene (as seen through a folding monocular). There was too little dialogue and what was there was inept. It may have been historically correct. If so, that is a poor merit. I have nothing more to say about this.

 

A few days ago, I watched The Book Thief. It was glorious and tragic and funny and beautiful all at once. I think I cried for the better part of it. I simply couldn’t stop, but I didn’t care. It went through and through me like a knife and a caress. What a rare treat. It just fits in with what I write about. It was an inspiration, and more so than the book. I found the book impossible to finish the first time I attempted to read it. On my second try, I think I got it, but there are things in it that I can’t handle. Mostly it is a question of language. I don’t know. The mixture of German and English seems shrill in the book. In the film, it seems natural. I also had trouble with the ‘hand-written’ sections. That is one thing they’d left out in the film. It is hinted at: Liesl opens a transformed (painted over) propaganda book and starts writing. In the next frame, she sleeps resting her head on the book. Hans Hubermann finds her there and caresses her hair. These simple pictures say everything.

I’m not certain, but I believe Geoffrey Rush (Hans H) speaks death’s lines. This film shows a surprisingly gentle side of Rush. I’ve mostly seen him in hard-boiled roles, but here he shows so much more. Sensitivity, warmth, understanding, and sorrow. What a performance. Emily Watson as Rosa is his match. But the young actress who plays Liesl makes the film come alive. Her eyes are riveting. Max and Rudy are equally well presented. What’s not to love about this film?

A mixture of humour and pain can convey fundamental ideas. I knew this was an important film the moment I saw the first short clip from it. That’s several years ago. At the time, I worked in Bremen, and the first thing I did after seeing that clip was to buy the book. I was disappointed in it at first. But I overcame that. But I think this is one film that overshadows the written work.

Isn’t it strange how close beastliness is to humanity? In The Book Thief, they manage to show both sides in a devastating manner. Such works of art give me back my trust in humanity. They also underline the importance of insisting on kindness, charity, and compassion. There’s nothing worse than envy. That is a deadly sin, even if one isn’t Catholic. What more can I say? It was a significant experience.

 

© HMH, 2018