Woman of God by James Patterson with Maxine Paetro

IN 2002 I bought my first ever brand new car. During that initial year of ownership, I was stopped at a red light on Sheridan and was rear-ended – twice. Over the life span of that car it was in so many accidents I was on a first name basis with the owner of the collision shop. Even though the majority of these incidents were not my fault, my insurance went up because I (or perhaps that particular car) was considered “jinxed”.

In James Patterson’s novel, Woman of God, the main character, Brigid Fitzgerald, is jinxed. Not only does she find herself in difficult situations, but those around her are also endangered with many unable to survive the ordeal. Brigid herself is not left unscathed, experiencing a multitude of near death experiences.

How does this girl, an on again, off again Catholic, end up being considered for the role as the “first” female pope?

It starts with a stint in South Sudan as a member of the staff for Helping Hands (a sort of Doctors Without Borders). Brigid, a young doctor just out of medical school, is thrilled to be at this remote location – think “MASH on Steroids” – right in the middle of the action. When the protective forces move on, the unit is left to the mercies of an adversary who refuses to distinguish between neutral volunteers or the enemy in their quest for genocide. Instead of evacuating, Brigid tries to save one more victim, becoming a target herself. When her vitals indicate death she has an out-of-body experience resulting in an ethereal connection to God after the medics on the rescue chopper bring her back to life. Despite this divine linkage, her continued exposures to traumatic events make her question the existence of a deity, yet God relentlessly reaches out, wordlessly urging her forward. Brigid’s bad luck isn’t helped by her insistence on placing herself in dangerous situations, tempting fate. Even when trying to eke out a somewhat normal life, trouble follows her and those she loves.

After various encounters with the assorted men who are drawn into her circle, she eventually settles down and marries a Priest. Becoming disenfranchised with the Roman Catholic Church, he starts the JMJ (Jesus Mary Joseph) Movement for forward thinking Catholics and other believers. Within a few years, the movement leads to a chain of churches across the United States and into Europe. Brigid is ordained a Priest and her popularity draws huge crowds plus all manner of enemies who disdain what they consider her blasphemy. After her five year old daughter nonchalantly mentions that her mother talks to God to one of the stalking media, Brigid suddenly finds herself on Sixty Minutes admitting her connection with The Lord to the world. This leads to an audience with the Pope and the speculation that she is next in line for the papacy.

What goes around comes around. While my Saturn celebrated its last day of service by spewing its subframe onto the road at the very same intersection as its first accident, Brigid finds herself at a crossroads, not knowing what comes next, but leaning towards the same activities which brought her a sense of fulfillment when she was in her early twenties, back in South Sudan. Whether she survives her further anticipated adventures is up to the reader to decide.

A great book for the light reader who wants some quick entertainment. Cowritten by Maxine Paetro, this is one of a myriad of publications by the Patterson machine, whose popularity endures no matter how many books a year he cranks out.

However, if you want something more from your reading material, keep searching. Trying to create an anology between Brigid and Job, the authors throw one catastrophe after another into her path. While there is a lot of action, everything is superficial, and all too often the reader has to suspend all sense of reality. The writing lacks depth, the characters are one dimensional, the plot moves too quickly and at times is confusing or even senseless due to a lack of detail. I won’t even mention the two to three page snippets called chapters. I personally feel this is an outline for a movie, with its faced paced “drama and trauma”. Brigid travels throughout the world with stops in the Sudan, Italy, Germany, and the United States, flitting from one locale to another meeting a myriad of characters who may or may not be significant in her life. I certainly hope Carrot finds her way home, but we never do discover what happens to the majority of Brigid’s chance encounters unless they die while driving her somewhere. Not my cup of tea, but obviously beloved by others. A generous three stars.

This review also appears on Goodreads.

Sixteen by Jen Estes

Here is a tale of teen angst with a twist. You have the social misfit who despite her lack of popularity, is best friends with the prom queen and dating the Captain of the Football Team that she met while fulfilling her court mandated community service as punishment for buying drugs (sleeping pills) from an undercover cop. To complicate matters, the one person who provides emotional support has run off with her obnoxious foster sister. Sounds like your typical YA novel, yet there is a whole other story written between the lines which moves Sixteen by Jen Estes up a notch from normal expectations.

Those of you who read Fifteen, the first novel in the Dreamwalker Diaries Series by Jen Estes are familiar with Ashling Campbell, a Dreamwalker who is the only one that can stop the depraved Jumlin from achieving immortality for himself and his spawn, thus gaining the ability to enslave or destroy mankind. Luckily this can only be attempted once every fifteen years and requires the help of the reincarnated Laughing Bear who is human despite being a descendent of the Jumlin. The Dreamwalker is able to travel 15 years forward through time in order to find a way to thwart these potential cataclysmic events. Their progeny is then burdened with the same task until the Jumlin either succeeds in his task or is destroyed.

In Fifteen, Ash discovers that the Jumlin is actually, Walker Smith, the supposed father of best friend Skykar (who was actually switched at birth with his real daughter – Nadette – by the predecessor Dreamwalker). In order to prevent her horrific recurring nightmares from becoming true, Ash convinces Nadette (her foster sister) to run away, not realizing her buddy Tate would go along for the ride. It’s not that she totally resents his attraction to her malicious “adopted” roommate, it’s that she doesn’t have anyone else with whom she can share her most intimate nightmares without being declared insane.

Sixteen advances the saga as Jen tracks down her half brother who has the key to finding another way to “redo” her previous feat in order to “undo” the accidental shooting death of her mother. Success in this quest would result in a boring plot, so the unexpected repercussions of her actions alert the Jumlin to her presence, endangering her friends and family. Forced to expand the circle of individuals who know the truth, they must band together and make some difficult decisions on how to keep the demon Walker from unearthing any further secrets while destroying the minions who make up his empire – all without being thrown into prison for murder or ending up hospitalized/dead.

The trouble the author, Jen Estes, faced was how to weave the two stories together. It’s been two years since Fifteen was published, so a little refresher was welcome, but as Ash explains the whys and wherefores to a widening circle of people in the know, the reader is forced to hear the details over and over. Flashbacks and old diary entries fill in additional blanks as Ash solves some of the remaining riddles. While the repetitions get annoying at times, the plot has enough booby traps to keep it interesting along with some gratuitous violence to appeal to readers who additionally enjoy stories with vampire or dragon slayers. Of special interest was the blending of past, present, and future as Ash interacts with various individuals from her life at different stages in their existence.

Expect an abrupt culmination with a cliffhanger ending leading into the next novel where the teens, armed with what normal people would consider insane facts, are determined to spend the summer tracking down and destroying this evil which threatens the world.

Not quite as groundbreaking as the first novel, three and a half stars and a thank you to Curiosity Quill for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads and Amazon.

The Zodiac Legacy #1: Tiger Island created by Bruce Lee, written by Stuart Moore, illustrated by P H Marcondes

I must admit, I’ve always been fascinated by the Chinese Zodiac and the idea that each of the twelve signs could imbue powers on select hosts is definitely an intriguing concept for a comic book/graphic novel series. Add in the brilliance of Stan Lee, the imaginative writing talents of Stuart Moore, the detailed illustrative abilities of P H Marcondes, and the support of Disney, resulting in the start of a promising series.

To fully appreciate the comic book The Zodiac Legacy #1: Tiger Island, I recommend you read Stan Lee’s introductory novel, The Zodiac Legacy: Convergence which lays out the groundwork for the series. Even though Tiger Island has some background information, the format doesn’t allow for the detail necessary to explain all the nuances of the various characters. As the first issue in this continuing saga, graphics are used to identify the various powers of the good guys on “Team Steven Lee” as they search for a place to set up a command post in their fight against the Vanguard who are plotting to steal their special Zodiac powers to add to the power of their boss, the insane evil genius Maxwell.

At the prospective headquarters on the technology savvy Tiger Island, the reader is able to glean some insight into the inner workings of “the players” as they visit the Holodeck Wishing Rooms to live out their dreams via vertical reality. These fantasies are interrupted by a very real invasion of dangerous wild animals who have been sent by Vanguard to attack the island. While our heroes are saving the day, one of their compatriots disappears. What happens next can be found in The Zodiac Legacy #2: Power Lines.

The plot must unfold quickly since this book is only 66 pages long, so don’t look for a lot of specifics, although the colorful graphics, with some incredible “special effects”, do enhance the story. Still, if you go into this book familiar with the numerous characters, you can sit back and enjoy the ride. While the cliffhanger is on the mild side, it does leave you wanting more.

This continuation of the original Legacy trilogy lends itself to a comic book format, especially since too much explanation detracts from the action. Perfect for middle schoolers or fans of super heroes.

Three stars and a thank you to Netgalley and Papercutz for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Robota by Doug Chiang, Orson Scott Card

First off, Robota doesn’t necessarily prescribe to Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics. On this alien influenced earth, robots carry the ability to think and they want to take over the world. Whereas once flesh and metal lived side by side, over time they became enemies – each striving for survival. While not all robots are bloodthirsty, Kaantur-Set, the general of the robot army, is obsessed with destroying all carbon based life forms on the planet. Enter Caps, a man whose amnesia leads him to search for the truth. Cap ends up joining a rag tag team, consisting of a monkey-like creature, a young woman raised by robots, and a yeti-looking gorilla, all out to get revenge. It’s kill or be killed, yet they discover not every enemy is set on destruction, when they add Elyso, a robot whose sect refuses to harm humans, to their team.

While this world at times represents the Earth we know, the majority of the planet is fascinatingly bizarre yet somehow enticing, encouraging the reader to try and decipher the underlying meaning behind the fast paced, albeit confusing events. The stunning illustrations by Doug Chiang (who has numerous film credits to his name including Star Wars) creates a breathtaking fantasy world. Unfortunately, the narrative by Orson Scott Card, well known for his work in the SF genre, is totally perplexing, like a rough draft that has left out some pertinent details. Perhaps Chiang’s prologue would have helped set the stage, but it was blurred and unreadable in my ebook. Luckily Wikipedia has the complete backstory, filling in the numerous blanks and providing the reader with enough details to obtain somewhat of a grasp on the plot line.

I find it especially annoying that there was no attempt to revise the written portion of the 2003 publication for this new 2016 edition of Robota, although there is the addition of a forward by Garett Edwards and some extra concept artwork by Chiang to enjoy.

At one point there was a promise for the creation of a video game using the Robota theme, although I would prefer to see an action movie visually bringing Chaing’s conceptualizations to graphic life. There are a few glimpses of the possibilities on utube, where several 2 minute vignettes (with and without sound) are available to view. As I was reading the book, I couldn’t help visualizing the animation possibilities which were more exciting than the written word. Yet, while the illustrations remained stupefying, they didn’t always jive with the narration, despite their astonishing content.

Five stars to Chiang, 2 stars to Card for a total of 3.5 stars and a thank you to Netgalley and Dover Publications for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Celie’s life has been full of abuse since she was a small child. When her mother becomes too ill to satisfy her husband’s needs he turns to his preteen daughter, fathering then getting rid of her two newborns, and eventually farming her out to be the wife of another man so she can take care of HIS house and children. Once again, Celie becomes a receptacle, this time for her husband. Despite the verbal, emotional, and physical abuse, she works hard and quietly accepts her fate, obediently doing what she is told. Her one moment of rebellion involves her sister Nettie whom she harbors from the leacherous attentions of their father. Nettie is sent on her way when she refuses the advances of Mister, Celie’s husband, but vows to write (unless she is dead). When after years of waiting and no letter is received, Celine assumes the worst, another blow in her lackluster life. Yet there are women who refuse to be dominated by men. Shug Avery, Mister’s mistress, becomes an ally of Celie, teaching her the joys of intimacy. Then there is Sophia, step son Harpo’s wife, who refuses to be bullied by any man, physically reciprocating the violence. This, of course, gets ugly when Sophia accosts the mayor after “sassing” his wife for assuming she would jump at the chance to be a maid for a white family.

As we follow the life of Celie we slowly watch as she finds her voice with the help of Shug, Sophia, and even Squeak (Harpo’s mistress). With her newfound independence many truths are revealed, changing her outlook on life. The story is told in “letters” at first beginning Dear God, then switching to Dear Nettie when Celie looses her faith in the Almighty.

Now what I’ve neglected to mention about the book The Color Purple by Alice Walker is that Celie is black, living in rural Georgia during the depression, so not only does this story deal with misogyny, but also the racism still prevalent in the south sixty to seventy years after the Enancipation Proclamation.

There are so many facets to this story, I can see why it won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for Fiction. It’s raw language and unabashed references to sexuality has also earned it a consistent place on the banned book list.

While the depressing aspects of Celie’s life should leave us in a morbid funk, this is a story about the strength of family and friends, full of the promise that people’s attitudes and behaviors can change in a positive manner providing hope for a brighter future. It helps that I listened to the tape narrated by Alice Walker who brilliantly brought the characters to life. Little wonder The Color Purple provided a plot perfect for the stage and screen.

A must read. Five stars.

Definitions of Indefinable Things by Whitney Taylor

I hated (in a good way) this book about two teenagers who develop a common bond while picking up some Zoloft at the local pharmacy to help relieve their symptoms of clinical depression. Reggie (see: Regina Mason) refuses to feel anything after the loss of her two closest friends while Snake (see: Matthew Elliot) is dealing with the after effects of inadvertently impregnating fellow classmate Clara Banks whose father owns the ice cream joint where they all work. This impending fatherhood puts a crimp in any sort of relationship these two lost souls might cultivate even though they both exhibit a growing attraction (see: bearability) towards one another. Who else recognizes the various phases of depression, especially when the wicked Stage 3 (see: Disconnect) immobilizes the sufferer? Clara, while she wants her boyfriend to love her, recognizes that there is an irresistible allure between Snake and Reggie, despite his sense of loyalty towards her and the baby. The triangle becomes even more bizarre when Clara turns to Reggie to be her partner in birthing class when Snake, in the grips of the paralyzing Stage 3, stands her up, resulting in an atypical alliance amongst the three outcasts.

Add in a droll, provocative, sometimes hurtful dialogue, a bunch of compelling minor characters (Side note: Snake’s two moms), and some intense psychological musings with a morbid overtone to convey the premise for Definitions of Indefinable Things by Whitney Taylor.

The fast moving plot covering only a couple months of their junior year in a small town high school moves from point A to point D with more than a few intersections of various disasters (see: self inflicted) encountered along the way. While there is a somewhat HEA at the conclusion, the future is realistically open ended concerning the destiny for these young teens.

Four stars for a unique approach to examining the issue of deep depression and family dynamics as well as dealing with the topic of rejection by ones peers, not to mention the repercussions of teen pregnancy,

A thank you to Netgalley and Houghton Mifflin for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Small Great Things by Jodi Piccoult

Literature highlighting the latent racism hidden amongst even the most liberal of the white population in the United States is especially relevant during a time when the slogan “Make America Great Again” appears to be code for “Make America White Again”. With a self proclaimed white supremacist stashed near President Trump’s ear, the rest of us, no matter which way we voted, need to be vigilant against any attempts to reinstitute laws which are discriminatory. Already there is a cry out against what is referred to as the “New Jim Crow Laws” as our citizens of color march under the banner “Black Lives Matter”.

Small Great Things by Jodi Piccoult examines the life of Ruth Anderson, a maternity nurse who lives a comfortable life style in an upscale neighborhood in Connecticut, the widow of an American war veteran and the mother of an outstanding sophomore attending a prestigious high school. (Did I mention that she is black?)

Her entire life changes when a young couple is horrified that a black woman is touching their newborn son and she is asked to step away and refrain from interacting with the tiny babe. Yet, shit happens, and Ruth finds herself alone with the infant when he stops breathing, choosing to resuscitate the limp form but stepping back as soon as she hears help arriving. Asked to start chest compressions while the doctor does his due diligence, little Davis still dies. The parents threaten to sue for negligence, but the hospital lawyer sees Ruth as an easy target and redirects their energies in her direction.

It’s at this point Ruth’s life becomes surreal as she is relieved of her duties at the hospital, loses her nursing license, and finds herself being dragged off to jail in the middle of the night wearing nothing but a nightgown. Out of a job and refusing to touch Edison’s College Fund, Ruth relies on a public defender to plead her case as she slings burgers at McDonalds to make ends meet. Her lawyer, Kennedy McQuarrie, a white woman, pursues the case for altruistic motives but discovers her own hidden biases as she becomes aware of the subtle (and not so subtle) forms discrimination takes in a society geared towards the needs of a white clientele.

Moving back and forth between the points of view of the three main characters – Turk (Davis’ father), Kennedy, and Ruth – the plot advances through the trial and its aftermath with an epilogue that also hints at future events.

Jodi Piccoult takes on a heavy topic which is made more difficult since she is white and can only empathize with the black community through second hand experiences. Yet Piccoult’s popularity provides a vehicle to explore a sensitive issue which has been ignored for way too long. Based on some real experiences, the author takes a few liberties and at times stretches our sense of credibility, although this longish story is absolutely readable and engrossing on many levels, despite the too convenient ending. Its almost instant popularity guarantees a wide readership and will perhaps open some eyes to many of the daily mishaps experienced by our neighbors who were not lucky enough to be born into a life of privilege based simply on skin color. Of equal importance is a glance into the white supremacist movement, analyzing the various motivations and strategies used by an ever present segment of our society.

Four stars and a thank you to both Netgalley and the author, through Goodreads, for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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