Friday, July 06, 2018

Once a Scoundrel by Mary Jo Putney

Gabriel Hawkins Vance entered the Royal Navy at the age of twelve and faced many horrific circumstances. At the age of sixteen, he commanded a French prize ship, but when Gabriel had to face his grandfather, Admiral Vance, he felt terrified. He would rather face disease, cannonballs, and ruthless pirates.

Gabriel resigns from the Royal Navy, walking out the door to an unknown future. All he knew was ships and the sea, so he decided to be the commander of his own ship. He could sail wherever, whenever he wanted, and take only the jobs he felt like taking, with the larger the risk the higher the payout.

One of these high-risk jobs is to save a lady who has been captured by pirates along the Barbary states. His mission: negotiate the ransom of fifty thousand pounds and bring her back to England unharmed. (Fifty thousand pounds in 1814 is like $940,000 in today's currency--a kings fortune!)

This "lady" who needs saving is not the average, sweet, curtsying sort. Aurora "Roaring Rory" Lawrence has a reputation for being intelligent, beautiful, charming, and independent--which is what got her in trouble in the first place. The story focuses on the twists, turns, and risks that Gabriel takes to rescue Aurora, her cousin, and the entire crew. With romance, murder, bribes, bartering, harems, and a wicked sheik, Once a Scoundrel is hard to put down. Although it is part of a series, it can certainly stand alone.

She lifted her chin. "Should I go free and others spend the rest of their lives in slavery because of the lucky accident of my birth?"
"In the eyes of God, no, but it's the way of the world in which we live." 
~Once a Scoundrel

~Daniela Green

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Doc by Mary Doria Russell


I do not read westerns. When I picked up Doc by Mary Doria Russell, I had my doubts that it was my type of book. What I found was a historical fiction title with real characters interacting with made up characters solving a murder and trying their best to make a living in the town of Dodge City, Kansas.

What I thought I knew about Doc Holliday was no more than the typical legends of the OK Corral. This book goes into the story of Doc before the famous gun fight. It tells of the Southern gentleman, the piano player, the dentist, the gambler, the man with tuberculosis and the good friend. During one particularly big fight with his mistress / girlfriend / favorite prostitute, Kate, he explains why he is a dentist in the town of Dodge when it doesn't bring in any money. He says he does it because it makes life better for other people. He takes away some suffering for others by helping them escape pain. Doc spends his days as a dentist in town and his nights gambling. 

This book is seasoned with many colorful characters including the Earp brothers, a number of women who work at the brothel owned by James Earp, and perhaps one of my favorite characters a man who was a prince in Austria but left to become a priest on the prairie, "For the rest of his long and eventful life, Alexander von Angensperg might have topped just about any war story told in a Jesuit residence. He could have listened, and nodded, and acknowledged each man's most colorful adventure, and then achieved an awed, respectful silence with just six words: "I heard confession in Dodge City." 

Dodge City was a rough and tumble place and the team of Masterson and the Earps tried to bring law and order to the town the best they could.  At the end of the book Doc Holliday, the Earps, and their ladies are heading off to Tombstone to see what the newly developed mining town has to offer. 

This was an enjoyable title that once I got into I couldn't wait to see what was next in the adventures of Doc, the Earps and Kate in the city of Dodge. 


Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The Things They Carried

The New York Times blurb on the front of the reissued paperback of Tim O'Brien's classic book about the Vietnam War reads, "A marvel of storytelling...a vital, important book--a book that matters not only to the reader interested in Vietnam, but to anyone interested in the craft of writing as well." O'Brien has told his own war story in fictionalized form, in a series of interconnected short pieces. It is brilliant. He says at one point, "If at the end of a war story you feel uplifted ... you have been made the victim of a very old and terrible lie." Many authors have written of their war experiences, whether it be in WWII, Vietnam, or the more modern battlegrounds of Iraq and Afghanistan. Very few of those have the ability to capture the nuances and make you feel the story deeply in the pit of your stomach. O'Brien has that talent. In a tender balancing act, he writes of the beauty of the jungle, the exhilaration of camaraderie, while also recording the brutality of war. O'Brien was not confident that our country should be at war in Vietnam, and when drafted, he toyed with the idea of running for the Canadian border from his home in Minnesota. He struggled deeply, thinking that running would be the bravest thing he could do. Instead, he says what drove him to report for duty as ordered was "hot, stupid shame." He feared exile more than he feared war. The bravest thing, in the end, was observing, participating in, and recording the mundane and the misery of being a soldier in that time and place. Highly recommended.

Kelly Currie

Monday, May 21, 2018

Song of Achilles and Circe by Madeline Miller

    Madeline Miller's remarkable way of retelling Homer's The Iliad and The Odyssey was definitely bound to be a recipe for success. I loved every ingredient (element) in these books.  Love, betrayal, enchantment, adventure, jealousy, complex relationships, and a dash of vengeance.  This isn't your four-ingredient recipe that you can find at your local grocery store.  No, no this is a "magnifique" three-star deal.  Song of Achilles alone took Miller ten years to write and received the Orange Prize for fiction, which is the United Kingdom's most prestigious literary prize. After reading this enchanting tale, I had to read her second novel, Circe.  

   The Song of Achilles is from the perspective of Patroclus.  The book begins with Patroclus being exiled for killing a boy. He is then sent to Phthia to be fostered by its king, Peleus.  This is where he meets Achilles, the perfect, handsome, and fierce demi-god. The story continues throughout their teenage years and into the war with the Trojans.  When Patroclus poses as Achilles to save the demi-god's life, he tragically loses his own--in a gruesome, horrid, and agonizing painful death. Losing Patroclus plunges Achilles into a deep depression, and the soldiers believe he has lost his mind.  As the Fates said, the war will be won by the death of Achilles.

“And perhaps it is the greater grief, after all, to be left on earth when another is gone.” 
-Madeline Miller, The Song of Achilles

     Circe is only a minor character in Homer's The Odyssey, so creating an entire novel about the sea goddess or nymph poses a challenge. The greatest challenge for Miller may have been to keep the storyline coherent enough for her readers. The novel spans hundreds of years because Circe is immortal.

     Circe was born more human-like than god-like. She isn't vicious enough to be a goddess.  She was an outcast and every Titan and Olympian made it quite clear to her. She did, however, possess a valuable power: witchcraft.  When Circe turned the most beautiful sea goddess, Scylla, into a man-eating beast and the man she loved into a god, she was banished to the deserted island of Aiaia. Throughout her life, she discovered relationships, love, and motherhood.

     Both The Song of Achilles and Circe contain themes of abuse, relationships, love, sacrifice, and dealing with one's emotions. Achilles and Circe had to fend for themselves and learn through hardships. I have to admit that as I was reading I fell in love with these characters and found myself siding with them, even though I didn't agree with some of their actions. Very detailed and gripping!

  "He was quiet a long time. 'You are wise,' he said. 'If it is so,' I said, 'it is only because I have been fool enough for a hundred lifetimes.'"
-Madeline Miller, Circe
~Dani Green 

Friday, May 11, 2018

The Flintstones, Vol. 1 by Mark Russell and Steve Pugh

The Flintstones, Vol. 1 collects comic book issues 1-6. It is an updated, grownup, dark comic, similar to the TV show Riverdale in style. 

Publishers Weekly describes The Flintstones as, "absurd reality that isn't much different from the original TV series-cartoon cavepeople living with prehistoric versions of modern technology". The same quirky shop names you remember from the TV show make an appearance here - Bloomingshales, Spears and Roebuck, Outback Snakehouse. 

The characters deal with current issues in sneaky ways. There's commentary on working one's self to death (literally - by dinosaur attack) for someone else's benefit. Fred and Barney are veterans of the Bedrock Wars and dealing with issues of PTSD. For Barney, his PTSD is complicated by the fact that Bam Bam is a child that was orphaned by the Bedrock Wars. There are also questions of the next war - is it worth fighting aliens who show up to Bedrock Valley or should the town wait it out to see what happens before taking action? The characters even deal with issues of marriage equality as protesters crash a marriage retreat to protest monogamous relationships. 

Publishers Weekly writes, as in the original TV show it's the "sweet characterizations that present Fred and Barney as lovable lunkheads whose sincerity often sets them apart from the rest of Stone Age society" that make this satire a fun take on modern issues.