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

Fire


Red and silver evoked images of fire,

Alarming the heart.

Bloodshot and shiny, it cut a pathway through flesh and stone.

Lachrymose, in shock, passers-by stopped in the streets.

Glowing scaffolding couldn’t support the spire.

Humans fought the inferno

To save what could be saved

And still the flames endured.

Lead dripped into the wounds

As a mirror cracked.

Were we ever powerless

Against an irate nature?

What turned away the fates?

Was it prayers or

Singing in the streets?

Was it the power of faith,

Pleading and beseeching,

That turned the tide?

Was it one defiant cross?

Or the shower from hosepipes?

Hundreds took part in the fight

And made humankind hold its breath.

Out of flames and despair

A new hope survived.

© HMH, 2019

Misquote — Parrot & Pussycat

Acrylic on Hardboard (section)

This is one of my first attempts with acrylics. One can only say that it’s colourful. The reason I left out the kitten is that it seems too flat to my eyes. It isn’t in my belongings nowadays so there’s no way to improve the work. . .

© HMH, 2000

Barking Abbey

Cloistered walks rose towards the sky

The cool refectory mirrored

Muted voices

As nuns bowed to

The abbess.

Only ruins are left

Of walls welcoming

William, victorious

From Hastings…

Grey shapes remain.

Sharing their secrets with

Those who listen:

The Curfew Tower

And St Margret

Still hold out and guard those,

Dead to the world

© HMH, 2014

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

Phenomenon

Are we then likely to reach a conclusion?

Must we accept the most basic defeat?

Can sweeping statements and primeval landscapes

Account for the strangeness, the passionate nature

Protecting and challenging glorious bliss?

Would life become simpler in subtle tranquillity?

Can we achieve such miraculous feats:

Claiming insight in marvels beyond our reach?

Is love that easy on those individuals,

Who worship or value one person for life?

Sentiments change when old fancies grow tired

But must we regard this as failure or sin?

Love is the fountain of deepest emotion

Dividing the minds but compelling the hearts

Nobody questions oblique fascination

When passions and prudence traverse a blank sheet.

Strangest of all is the blissful oblivion

That enters the heart falling deeply in heat

Nothing prepares us for greatness so forceful

That all painful facts fade away in the mist.

Yet:

Irreversible joy precedes and prevails,

Throughout mischief or trouble, to light our days.

Thankfully harmony enters with wisdom

Winning the battle, that unhurried yearning

Never concedes to renounce or surrender

Even when stakes reach their consequent brink.

Courage and gallantry ever abound

Where heart and perception set forth hand in hand.

One core will certainly always remain

Where ardour, endurance complete our aim.

Accepting as true this one point is compelling:

The greatest of passions convey one real worth

Devotion grants all to the bravest of humans

Who dare to commit to the wonder of love

From Aspects of Love


Not long ago, Tim Taylor featured this poem on his blog. I want to thank him — and share the poem here

© HM Holten, 2014 (2019)

Ignoring the obvious

A curious event

I shared a video clip about racism some time ago. The reactions were numerous and went from approval to the opposite, although most of those who bothered to comment were in favour of the share. What made me think — and think again, was one sanctimonious comment. The content was that those who speak about racism are the only racists.

In a way, that states one thing only. If we bury our heads in the sand nothing bad will happen. That is something I must write about, I think. In my opinion, the clip was touching and couldn’t offend anybody. There I was mistaken. Did this person want a mud-slinging contest? If so, I managed to stop it. I wrote an exceedingly polite answer, saying that people are entitled to their opinions, but that I found the piece relevant and touching. Then I wished this person a pleasant afternoon and evening. That answer received a couple of likes. It seems that there are more people, who find it important to speak about problems, than those who want to give trouble of any kind the silent treatment. I had more than my share of that in my childhood. Maybe that’s why I find it so inappropriate now.

How are we supposed to make changes for the better, if we always swallow our opinions? Without debate, solutions to problems and misunderstandings won’t materialize. Silence kills: sometimes it kills millions. Is that acceptable? I think not. Was this an attempt at trolling? Perhaps, but even trolls can express their thoughts on important questions. They have a right to say what they think about anything: from fashion to genocide. That is the basic principle for maintaining a democratic society. Even if democracy is complex and hard to manoeuvre, it is by far the preferable concept until we are ready for Utopia.

It isn’t easy for humans to live together. If family quarrels abound, how can we expect that countries among countries can find a common denominator? The sad part is: if we don’t, we must suffer the consequences, which could be anything from revolutions, military or plutocratic dictators, world — or local — wars, to murder and mayhem, suicide or any other forms of killing. Who wants to live in such a world? I don’t. I admit to being part of a privileged minority: I’m well-educated, I have a place to live, I can buy food and drink fresh water. Many people don’t have such advantages, but it won’t help them or change the world to ignore that there are inequalities that must be addressed. In every civilized nation, it goes without saying that every man, woman, and child has a right to a humane life. So far, most of this world’s people live in appalling circumstances. As far as I can see, this is the source of hatred and racism. We fear those who can take away our privileges. Those who we fear, we fight. Wouldn’t it be better to work towards a benevolent change?

I’m getting carried away. But it is important to open one’s eyes to these problems. There may not be an immediate solution to any of this, but real change must come from within. If we bury our heads in the sand and deny the problems that inevitably riddle an unjust society, we mustn’t wonder, if all hell breaks loose. Look around and accept that we humans have created a flawed community. Are there any solutions to these issues? The paradox may be that we aren’t able to live in peace. Should that stop us from doing what we can to create a better world? Personally, I think that this isn’t an option. We must do whatever it takes to improve — first ourselves — and then the world. This is a challenge that we must meet with open eyes.

© HMH, 2019