Tag Archives: War

Charleston by John Jakes

We read Savanah for last month’s book club and decided to focus on John Jakes other stand alone book, Charleston, for this month. What a difference. While Savanah was a fun little book (if you can call anything about the brutality of the Civil War fun), Charleston was a completely different sort of novel. Beautifully written, full of action, pathos, and, at times, pandemonium.

It begins with the family’s “founding father” in 1720 deciding to marry his pregnant girlfriend who agrees on the condition that he change his last name to something nicer sounding. Influenced by the sounds emanating from a church tower in Charleston, he decides on Bell. Fast forward to the Revolutionary War and the Bell family who own and manage the wharf along with several homes and have a well known reputation within the community. Enter Edward Bell returning from law school in England after hearing that his home town is going to be invaded by the British. His father sends him to escort his mother, located at their nearby summer home, to a safer location, but he is too late. Local men, loyal to the crown, take it upon themselves to loot and pillage the revolutionary friendly family, and Edward’s mom is shot in the stomach. This begins a feud between the two families which interweaves throughout future generations. It’s also the first of many violent deaths which permeate the plot. The Revolutionary War takes it toll on the members of the Bell family, but the widows and their children carry on into the War of 1812 where Charleston’s harbor is once again invaded. Strife continues as the political climate changes the focus of the landowners who insist on slavery, despite the laws that restrict the slave trade in the town. This leads to the Civil War which once again pits neighbor against neighbor. The Union eventually wins out (spoiler alert) and somehow the Bell family survives the mayhem of the Antebellum South, barely, with some hope towards the future of Charleston, South Carolina.

Mayhem is the key word. I chose to listen to the audio read by George Guidall, an abridged version, and there appeared to be an excess of deaths, mostly murders, although Mother Nature had her hand in some spectacular means of demise. This book would make a great basis for literary bingo, or better yet, a drinking tournament. The reader can’t help but be sucked up into the drama, rooting for their favorites, booing the villains (and there are a lot of those to hiss at). Jakes has a talent for creating vivid characters and a fast moving plot and in Charleston he has not lost his touch. Any of his series is a good bet for an excellent read, including this historical novel which contains real life events and personalities along with the fiction. Four stars. This review also appears on Goodreads.

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The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway

Sarajevo, the Capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, is a modern European city with a rich history, the home of the 1984 Olympics, not to mention the location where the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was shot instigating the start of WWI. After the Soviet Union dissolved, Bosnia voted to became a separate nation, breaking off from Yugoslavia. Yet this newfound country was not without its problems with the various factions, including the Croatians, Muslims, and Serbs vying for power. Their disagreements became hostilities which led to war. This vicious conflict, whether or not one considers it a civil war, was a matter of genocide and mass graves, one found as recently as September 2017, leading the tribunal at The Hague to convict the perpetrators with a lifetime sentence for crimes against humanity.

One major battle during the Bosnian War was the Siege of Sarajevo, the longest siege in world history lasting from April 5, 1992 to February 29, 1996 – almost four years of deprivation. The forces stationed within the city were not well armed and forced to stay put by the snipers who surrounded the area. Civilians took their lives into their hands to venture outside their homes, although staying indoors was no better as shellings of mortar were commonplace, damaging over 90% of the buildings before the conflict was forced to a resolution by UN forces.

This is where The Cellist of Sarajevo begins, after a shelling in the midst of a group of people standing in line waiting for a handout of bread. Death had become commonplace to the city inhabitants, but twenty two deaths in one fell swoop was an anomaly. The dead were buried at the former stadium which had held the Olympics, now in rubble. One man felt called to respond to this tragedy, a professional musician who decided to return to the site of this mayhem for twenty two days to play his favorite piece of music, Albinioni’s Adagio, as a memorial for each of the victims. The author, Steven Galloway, has chosen to present a fictionalized version of this true event, reflecting upon the carnage of war by following the lives of three characters over a one month period. Kenan and Dragon set about their normal routines including the hardships and danger of finding water and food to sustain their families. One character, Arrow, has become an instrument of destruction using her talent as a natural shot to pick off the enemy soldiers who threaten the townsfolk. It is her task to make sure the Cellist survives and she sets about watching for a fellow sniper sent by the enemy to destroy this tiny bit of hope in a desperate situation.

This glimpse of War is frightening on many levels as through the characters eyes we witness the shamble of lives once full of joy, now reduced to survival at the most basic of levels. How could the world have allowed this to happen? And why do we continue to fight against one another in various conflicts, many also including genocide, throughout the world? These emotions are invoked by reading this short book, almost a novella, but jam packed with vivid details which will wring your heart to pieces. Five stars.

As a fotenote, the real cellist who this book was based on was angry that his actions appeared in this novel. Living in isolation, Vedran Smailovic’s deed was a private, personal one which he felt was not accurately reflected in the book. While the author interviewed many survivors of the siege to create a realistic dialogue, Galloway did not meet with Smailovic until after the book was published and only then to explain his cause. While the cellist wanted monetary compensation, the author felt this incident was in the public domain and thus fair game. Smailovic believes that the War in Bosnia should only be written about by those who had experienced it which brings us to the question, “Should an author’s writings be limited only to those events which reflect their personal experiences?” This, of course, is a ridiculous premise as whole genres would be eliminated from literature. Yet, when writing about historical events, the works should reflect an accuracy behind their words so as not to mislead the reader with a false narrative, despite the fact that the book is a fictionalized account. One must also consider point of view and interpretation, as a story from the vantage point of the army surrounded Sarajevo would have been a much different tale. Just something to think about.

Orhan’s Inheritance by Aline Ohanesian

Opening Blurb: Grandfather Kemal is found in a vat used to color the kilim rugs he sells, meaning he literally “dyed”.

Orhan’s Inheritance is the perfect title for Aline Ohanesian’s premiere novel about a young man, Orhan Turkoglu, who inherits the family business when his DeDe dies. His bequest is unusual since a father usually passes his property to his son, not his grandson, but the 1990’s are modern times even in Turkey. Yet traditions remain strong and Mustafa threatens to take Orhan to court and challenge what he considers a bogus will. It’s not that the father wants to run the family business, he’s never earned an honest days work, it’s just the principle. Orhan fears his father will either neglect the business or sell it and waste the money, negating all his efforts to create a successful company.

However, that is not the gist of the story. The most unusual aspect of the will is that the deed to their family home is to be transferred to 87 year old Seda Melkonian, an unfamiliar name belonging to an elderly women living in an Armenian Nursing Home in Los Angeles, leaving him, his father, and his aunt without their beloved residence. Seda is the key to Orhan’s true inheritance and he travels across the ocean, his grandfather’s sketch book in hand, to have this stranger sign papers so he can keep his childhood home in the family as well as discover the mysteries of his Dede’s past.

Bopping back and forth between present and past, the reader is exposed to the genocide perpetuated against the Armenians living in Turkey during the waning days of the Ottoman Empire, when the Turks sided with Germany in World War I. The Armenian Death March, where able bodied men were murdered or imprisoned and women, children, and the elderly were forced to leave their homes and walk to the Syrian dessert, is prescient to the treatment of the Jews by the Nazis. Similar to the attitudes towards those of the Jewish faith, the Turkish people resented the affluence of their Armenian neighbors – angry at the fees they charged when lending money, angry that they were Christian instead of Muslim, angry that the women were seen in public without covering their bodies (wearing a bonnet was not enough), angry that their success make them feel somehow lesser. So when the Turkish Army took action, the populace remained mum, even though it was their former friends who were taken away and shot as traitors. They blamed it on the war where casualties are to be expected, but there is a difference between war and genocide, a fact that needs to be acknowledged when a population of 1.7 million is reduced to 300,000.

Based on the memories of the author’s grandmother, Orhan’s Inheritance gives us a glimpse into the mind set of those who live in Turkey, a modernized Middle Eastern country with one foot still in the past.

A thank you to Algonquin Books and Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. 4 stars.

Savannah or A Gift for Lincoln by John Jakes

If you are looking for one of John Jakes sweeping sagas, then Savannah is not the book for you. This quaint little (by Jakes’ standards) Christmas story, if you can call any book set during Sherman’s March to the Sea “quaint”, Is a somewhat quiet interlude lasting from the newly established Thanksgiving, 1964, through a couple of weeks into the new year. Yes, there is looting and destruction by both Yankees and Rebs, but Savannah plays the perfect host, welcoming their enemies hoping to avoid the burning experienced by the neighboring city of Atlanta. Here we meet General William T Sherman, an unusual type of soldier, slovenly in appearance but determined to end this war once and for all.

Yet, Sherman is not the main event. This is the story of twelve year old Harriet and her widowed mother, Sara Lester, who are forced to leave behind their rice farm and move into Savannah when the fields are flooded by the rebs to help slow the advance of Sherman’s army. Moving in with her best friend, Mrs Vastley Rohrschamp (who both fears and secretly welcomes the idea of being somehow defiled by the enemy), the three women try to get by as best they can in times of uncertainty and poverty. Hattie, a headstrong, reckless young lady, is the main focus as she wages her own battle against the Yankees, even going so far as to kick General Sherman in the shins. His reaction surprises her, and afterwards she feels comfortable enough to ask him for assistance when the need arises. Still, Hattie admits they can never be friends since her heart belongs to Dixie and she cannot forgive the deaths of her father and others who were killed in the war.

There’s some violence, some love, some evil doers, and some kindhearted gentlemen looking out for the three companions. As I said, a sweet little wartime Christmas story.
This one was perfect for listening, with an abridged audiobook read by Dylan Baker.

Oh, and the subtitle “A Gift for Lincoln” refers to the telegram Sherman wired to President Lincoln on December 22nd with the message, “I beg to present you, as a Christmas gift, the city of Savannah, with 150 heavy guns and plenty of ammunition, and also about 25,000 bales of cotton.”

Three stars.

Elves (Volume 1) – Part 1: The Crystal of the Blue Elves by Jean-Luc Istin and Kyko Duarte, Part 2: The Honor of the Sylvan Elves by Nicolas Jarry and Maconi

A few years ago Elves was published in France (Elfes) and now it’s making its appearance here in the United States. Volume 1 contains two separate stories, Part 1: The Crystal of the Blue Elves by Jean-Luc Istin and Kyko Duarte about the Blue Elves who live by the sea and Part 2: The Honor of the Sylvan Elves by Nicolas Jarry and Maconi dealing with the Sylvan or Forest Elves. There are three other subsets of Elves to be published in a future edition.

The trouble with this series is that it takes awhile to grasp the cast of characters. While the graphics are spectacular and help the reader interpret the story, there is still a lot of confusion. Part of the problem in the first story is that these are three plot lines which eventually intersect, however, the story flits from one to another in a jarring fashion, taking a moment or two to figure out which part of the plot is front and center. While in the second story there is also a bunch of back and forths which make it difficult at times to figure out who’s who or what’s what. Too many gaps in the story only adds to the confusion, requiring an explanation which is nowhere to be found. It’s as if there was a prequel we all missed. Some backstory please before you throw us into the mix. Eventually we get the drift, but only after a frustrating start.

In both stories there’s a lot of backstabbing and double crossing along with a few deceptions which change the outcome of the saga, although there are some honorable characters who leave us with hope for an eventual resolution. The various evil creatures such as the ork mercenaries are horrifying, but as least they are easily identifiable as the enemy. It’s when the “good guys” turn out to have a hidden agenda and double cross their so called friends that the stories reflect a dark theme.

Full of blood, violence, and death, not everything turns out with a happily ever after ending. It’s just not that kind of book. With a better narrative and smoother transitions, this would be a superior series. The colorful, intricate art work illustrating the two stories could easily be developed into an adult animation (there’s nudity along with the violence) for the small or large screen. Three stars.

Thank you to Netgalley and Insight Comics for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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.

Crossfire by Dick Francis and Felix Francis

Where’s a man to go after having his leg blown off while serving his Queen and Country in Afghanistan? Once released from the hospital with a perfectly usable prosthesis (which clicks when he walks) Captain Tom Forsyth proceeds to the one place which he has avoided most of his adult life – his childhood home. It’s not that he doesn’t find comfort in the physical surroundings, it’s just that he and his mother always seem to get into a major altercation, nitpicking each other over minutia. It doesn’t help that he blames his mother for her failed marriage to his absentee father and her remarriage to his stepdad.

Yet Tom needs some sort of roof over his head, so home he goes – to the house and stables belonging to the renowned trainer of supreme racehorses – his mom, Josephine Kauri, also known as the First Lady of British Racing. Once you hear the word “racing”, the reader knows they are in “Francis Land”. Crossfire (loosely referring to the movement of a horse who counter canters during a race as well as to the outcome of being caught between the action of two firearms ) is the last novel written by Dick Francis with his son Felix.

It doesn’t take long for Tom to realize that something is wrong in his childhood domicile. With a lot of prying and a bit of curious snooping, he discovers his mom is behind in her taxes, has lost a shitload of money in a shady investment, and is being blackmailed to the tune of 2000 pounds a week, as well as being forced to lose certain races.

Through a series of fortuitous events as well as some clever surveillance, Tom is able to discover the source(s) of his mother’s possible downfall including the potential loss of her reputation (more important to her than money) as well as resolve a childhood crush, and find a focus for his uncertain future.

Well written with lots of action and intrigue as well as some LOL humor, this is a definite book to add to your must read list.

While I read Crossfire when it first came out, this time I listened to the CD and Martin Jarvis does a superb job of bringing the story to life. While some might contend that this title doesn’t meet the standards set by Francis’ previous books, I would like to argue that Crossfire has all the components of a great read – compelling characters, an exciting plot, an unforeseen resolution, all told with a light humorous touch. Add in the horses and it just doesn’t get any better.

Five stars!

This review also appears on Goodreads.