Category Archives: Adventure

The Young Lions by Tony Maxwell

The Young Lions by Tony Maxwell is like a potential diamond mine in South Africa. A few gems mixed in amongst the rubble, but no mother lode.

Back in Calvary, Canada, young Robert Hamilton (about seventeen) gets into a fight with his stepfather and in a struggle over a gun, kills the man. His mother ships him off to England to stay with her younger sister, Emma, who proceeds to “educate” her nephew in various positions meant to alleviate her sexual need, while her elderly husband, Reginald, gets his jollies by covertly watching the action. Reggie is heavily involved in ammunitions sales, and brings Emma and Robert along on a trip to Scotland where information is passed and deals are made. Robert, handy with a rifle, wins a friendly hunting competition and a set of pistols. After visiting his ancestral home in Scotland where cousin Albert lives, the two young men decide to head to South Africa to seek their fortune in gold or diamonds. All this occurs in the first forty pages, with another four hundred and fifty to go.

My first suggestion to Tony Maxwell is to weed out irrelevant characters and plot diversions. It’s hard to determine which individuals are important to the plot and what parts of the action are relevant to the whole. So trim it down. Spend more time on the important aspects of the novel and less on the minor details. I don’t need to know which shops Robert visited and what hotels he stayed at unless it is necessary to make a specific point. If the characters pop up at various times throughout your narrative, include a chart to help the reader keep them straight (as you did with the glossary of South African words).

Second, there is obviously a lot of facts about weapons and life in South Africa, but let it flow naturally, don’t make the characters lecture us on the details. If we wanted to read the history of the Boer War, we would be reading a different book. Remember, there is a big distinction between fiction and nonfiction writing, so show, don’t tell.

Third, decide the genre and audience intended for this book. Is the main focus adventure, history, or porn? It’s definitely not romance, and the treatment of the female characters is offensive to any women who might pick up this novel. This story is set in the 1890s, the Victorian Age, where women were treated gently and sex was forbidden until marriage. While there might be exceptions, the novel portrays every woman as a tramp using their sexuality to gain advantages from the menfolk. For example, I found it in extremely poor taste when Catherine plied the customers with her sexual favors to get a larger order for boots. The sexual innuendos are not humorous, but tacky. Plus, Roberts numerous escapades fall far short of the erotica you are trying to portray. They “turn me off” instead of titillate.

My main suggestion is to have sympathetic characters. Our hero, Robert, is an egotistical jerk right from the beginning. While the reader can understand his lack of remorse after shooting his nasty stepfather, they can’t forgive that Robert looked the other way when he saw the same man sexually molest his own daughter. Robert was afraid if he spoke out, he wouldn’t get his own chance of a little nookie with his step sister. And speaking of incest, Aunt Emma’s treatment of Robert borders on statutory rape. Robert seemed to enjoy the results of these lessons which he used on practically every woman he interacted with in Europe and Africa. There is no romance here, just sexual action, raw and crude. All the women are ready and willing or they initiate the contact. Robert is an eager participant, even if the “lady” is the wife of a friend or relative. He has few morals and fewer regrets. I’m sorry, this was not a man I could admire. (Then there was Cousin Albert who was a crazed mass murderer, hacking up women he considered whores.) Not exactly role models.

The attitudes of men towards women in this novel is atrocious, plus the narration reads like a summary for a screen play and the conversations are mundane and stilted. There is some potential for an exciting novel – if the miscellaneous information is cut away, the female characters are treated respectfully, and gratuitous violence is eliminated (save the gruesomeness for the war scenes). Dialogue, even if not witty, should at least resemble normal conversation. In the meantime we have a novel that delights in the sordid aspects of life instead of the integrity which can be found in the human spirit in times of crisis. That’s the book I want to read. The only reason I continued reading after the first few chapters is that I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

When I read a book for enjoyment, I don’t want to experience a taste of disgust. There might be an excellent novel within these pages, but the published copy definitely needs extensive pruning. Focus on the action during the war years, which is actually quite interesting, and eliminate most of the rest of the plot. A 250 to 300 page story is a perfect way to retain the readers’ interest. Please keep this in mind for your sequel. Only one star.

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We Are Pirates by Daniel Handler

If you are looking for a feel good read, go find another book, because this isn’t the right one for you. If you enjoy bizarre and unsettling stories which are surprising (but not in a good way), read away. How does the author of A Series of Unfortunate Events translate his dark style of writing into the adult realm? Your answer can be found in his newest novel, We Are Pirates.

Daniel Handler certainly has mastered that surreal touch of horror. All the characters are flawed. Their human faults prey off one another, like in a pool game where the cue ball hits one of the characters which ping off one or two of the others. In this case, the lucky ones end up in the pocket, and the losers stay in play throughout the book. Right up front Handler tells us about his youthful indiscretion of listing “pirate” on his high school aspiration list. Even then he realized that the vision of pirate seemed exciting and adventurous, while the reality contained a brutality and violence beyond our imagination. This is that story.

There are two parallel plot lines being told which somehow intersect. One is the story of fourteen year old Gwen who is rebelling against her parents. She feels unwanted (her name was left off the yearly Fourth of July open house invite), displaced with no friends (they have moved to an upscale neighborhood in San Francisco), scarred (there’s a mark on her leg from a accidental burn as a toddler), constantly under scrutiny (her mother searches her room regularly), bored (she isn’t allowed to take the bus alone), and disconnected from her parents (they don’t have a clue). While at the dentist, she accidentally meets up with a kindred spirit, Amber, who is just as mixed up and angry at the world. Together they devise a life changing plan – they decide to become pirates. Gwen, as a punishment for shoplifting at the local drug store, volunteers at a nursing home by caring for Errol, The Captain, who is fascinated with novels such as Captain Blood and Treasure Island. Gwen borrows these books and together they perfect the pirate lingo. Errol has Alzheimers, so he is easily persuaded to be Captain of the planned venture. Manny, an aide at the Jean Bonnet Living Center, also feels mistreated and misunderstood, and agrees to go along. Up to this point, the plot line is a harmless frolic. Then the friendly banter morphs into malice and mayhem involving drugs, kidnapping, theft, and even murder. This is where our pity towards lost souls turns into terror at the senseless violence. They truly become pirates.

The second story is about Gwen’s father, Phil Needle, a radio producer who is looking for that one idea which will propel him into the successful business man he desperately feels is his destiny. The truth is that Phil’s life is a mess and he’s close to financial ruin. He does have a potential masterful idea, but he can’t come up with a title. Just at the point he is ready to give his pitch, there’s a phone call that his daughter is missing. Phil, despite his narcissism, does love Gwen, so he drops everything and sets out for home, driving from LA to San Fran, as quickly as he can.

Somehow things get tied up in a frayed bow by the end of the novel, but it’s an ugly package to be decorating. There are too many baffling questions left up to the reader to ponder. The story is told by a narrator looking back and making comments on the culture of the times (these tidbits are an interesting aspect of the story, actually providing hope for a successful conclusion to the saga). But who is this story teller? Is it a reporter looking for an angle on the pirate scandal? Is it a private investigator looking for clues? Is it the author, putting himself in the position as impartial observer? In order to get a better understanding of what has occurred between Memorial Day and Labor Day, the time frame within this novel, it is necessary to reread the opening chapter. This is the true ending, not the beginning, of this book, which, although it provides some closure, also leaves the reader even more disgusted about the dynamics of the Needle family.

The style is easy, but the plot is strewn with stormy weather. If you have your sea legs, anchors away. Those who like smooth sailing, choose a different book. I give We Are Pirates three stars.

I’d like to thank Bloomsbury Publishing and Netgalley for allowing me a free download of this title in exchange for an honest review.