My First Reviews 2021

SS Bazinet, Dying Takes it out of You

A deadly Virus

A deathly disease that turns its victims into monsters. Two brothers, single-cell twins that are in a way mirror images of one another. One is a scientist the other an artist. Their names are aptly chosen, Milton and Dory, which name gave me associations to Gustave Doré, the artist that brought Milton’s Paradise Lost to life.

Dory has contracted the illness that turns people into a mixture of vampire and rabies victims. Milton fights to find a cure. Their history is fraught with conflict, not the usual sibling rivalry, but a conflict between Dory and their father, who saw the younger twin (Dory) as a head case. Add to the mixture a mysterious character, Thomas, who might be an angel. That was my immediate reaction.

This triad of archetypes combines in a mind-reading feat that takes the reader through lucid dreams and swivelling nightmares, in a setting that shows us our deepest fears and highest hopes. This is dystopian fantasy on a high level, as one would expect from SS Bazinet. Seen through the times of the Coronavirus, there is something visionary about the scenario – the deathly virus and the insanity that grabs people in a frenzy when confronted with a plague. Bazinet has created a dance macabre – a memento mori – for her readers.

Two Brothers, Dory, and Milton

John Milton Paradise lost – of Satan, and the host of fallen angels warring the righteous angels, of Adam and Eve.

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SL Baron, Blood Ties

Vampires Mourn

Militancy is at the core of this daunting Vampire Tale that follows Vanilla Blood. SL Baron keeps up the hedonistic aspect of vampirism, notably the various blood tastes, but the odds are harder. Bridget, an elder vampire must deal with the loss of her beloved Sébastien who gets shot in a terrorist attack in Paris.

As a result, the united vampires stand up together to fight against terrorism. All of them come together and, although they must face old foes, they join their efforts to prevent further unnecessary and tragic deaths.

We meet The Children of the Night, Livia, her lover Lucian, and her daughter Cassie Lynn in this stirring novel that tackles a difficult reality that concerns every human being. It is impressive that SL Baron manages to keep her writing light and entertaining without losing sight of the hard facts of modern life.  

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Uvi Poznansky, Apart from War

Three in One

The Music of Us/Dancing with Air/Marriage before Death

It wasn’t difficult to step into the third part of Still Life with Memories – in fact – it didn’t occur to me that this wasn’t the first book of a series. Apart from War can be read as a coherent trilogy. That speaks loudly about Uvi Poznansky’s writing acumen.

The love story between the two protagonists, Lenny and Natasha is heart-breaking and profound, although Natasha’s proverbial Jewish Mama brings in comic relief and sometimes some darker notes.

What stroke me most in these books – apart from the flowing prose and immaculate historical research were the strange music choices. I asked myself if they might be a symbol of the innate trouble in the relationship between Natasha and Lenny? Could it be a symbol of Natasha’s oncoming Alzheimer’s? Or was it a matter of little musical knowledge?  One thing is clear, all or several song lyrics have been changed. Sometimes the change is subtle, like in The White Cliffs of Dover. In others, it is blatant, like changing the nightingale in Berkeley Square from singing to silence. In another song, what sprang to mind was that Vera Lynn never doubted that we’d meet again. I could go on, Night and Day, changed to Dark and Light. So, in Make it one for my Baby and One more for the Road, the baby suddenly became heartbreak and the long road – love. That is not all.

In Natasha’s first concert appearance in these books, she is part of a camp event – a musical entertainment for the troupes. She is scheduled to play Rachmaninov’s third piano concerto – without an orchestra? Wisely, she changes her mind and plays God Bless America. By the way, that is a major shift. Her second concert, which takes place in Carnegie Hall is dedicated to Mozart’s Requiem. I can understand the symbolic value of using a requiem (which involves an orchestra, a choir, and four soloists) as Natasha’s program. She certainly explains that her father transcribed it for four-hand piano. While there is a four-hand transcription by Carl Czerny, I find it hard to imagine that feat boiled down to two hands – without losing some substance. Why doesn’t Natasha play anything that is written for piano? In my mind, it must be a choice, deliberately made. Would I have done this? Perhaps – and then again perhaps not.

All that aside, Apart from War presented an absorbing world to dive into for any thoughtful reader.

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Susan Finlay The Secret Town (Project Chameleon)

Chilling Instalment in Project Chameleon

Claire and Steve have barely made it out of France after the kidnapping of their youngest child. They are in Holland – and have no idea where to go next. A friend seems to have the solution: a secret town in the US.

At first, everything seems idyllic, but impressions can deceive. After a few weeks, the nightmare starts again. The family pulls together and finds friends in unexpected places.

Ms Finlay works her suspense and makes the reader doubt everybody. Her writing flows, and the characters are lifelike – showing their fear and doubt and – eventually – disgust with their situation. Through twists and turns, Ms Finlay pulls her readers into the story and make them share the angst of her protagonists. In this part of Project Chameleon, we are on the edge between a cosy mystery and a thriller. Any fan of mysteries will enjoy The Secret Town.

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Penny Hampson, An Officer’s Vow

Regency Drama with a Plucky Heroine

Lottie flees her obnoxious cousin. Nate Crawford is on his way home after being wounded in battle. Lottie is on the run, from an unwanted suitor. Nate believes that his life is at an end because of his crippling injury. They meet – and their tale begins.

In this regency drama, Ms Hampson pulls all stops and throws in Lottie’s friend Harriet Spencer, French spies, a duke, his friend and secretary, the leader of a bawdy house, as well as various people serving the main characters as maids, innkeepers etc.

An Officer’s Vow throws a different light on the regency period than the books by Jane Austen that concentrate on character development. Here the reader will find tumult and erotic entanglements, all presented in pleasant prose that is easily read. All in all, this escapist confection that is ripe with romance and imbroglios will delight lovers of Regency romance.

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Eva Pasco, Underlying Notes

Perfume and Music Play on All Your Senses

Landing inside Carla Matteo’s head as she is in the throes of night sweats, the reader immediately enters the action in Underlying Notes. What kind of life is it? On the surface, it’s a simple life. Carla is married to Joe and has been his true helpmate for years. Underneath there are all sorts of disturbing factors, which is mostly the case for married people. Is it fair to speak of a midlife crisis? Perhaps even mention a marital crisis?

Joe may or may not have extramarital activities, and Carla has made career choices that she may or may not regret. Add to that a cast of Italian family members – possible mob connections – former and current friends, Italian food, and music, spanning from the 1812 Overture, over The Hollies and The Beetles, to Andrea Bocelli and Italian schmalz. In this way, Ms Pasco confronts her readers with a many-faceted, fragrance rich environment.

On top of it all, resides Carla’s love for perfume. It is her refuge and passion, as well as something she has investigated for years, notably on a website for fragrance aficionados. Thus, a new career opportunity surfaces but dwindles as fast, due to a stuck Amtrak train and a long taxi ride.

Below and above there is food, fragrance, unbridled marital lovemaking, and music to heighten the senses. In Ms Pasco’s flowing prose, and through her insight into human nature, this becomes a mesmerizing tale about humanity.

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Debi Ennis Binder, Dragon Rings

Epic Saga Taking Place in the Fantasy Realm Nesht

The kingdom of Nesht is ripe for attack. Blue humans of a vile disposition have subdued dragons and enticed slavering beasts to assist their assault. In Nesht, the attack comes unexpectedly. Will the king and his retainers, including high witches and warlords succeed in defending the vulnerable kingdom?

Ms Binder has chosen to write her saga in third person omniscient and that gives her the option of moving between the character viewpoint at will. It fits the genre; Binder has a tale to tell. It is dramatic and there are plenty of twists to keep the readers’ interest.

My only objection to her writing style is the use of the word ‘f**king’, which seems an uneasy fit. This word only appears in speeches when the characters are in heightened emotional situations. My problem with the usage is that it doesn’t work. Why? It sticks out like a sore thumb because the dialogue is otherwise polished. Also, it seems unlikely that the characters using this word wouldn’t as they have an inherent connection to their sexuality. In my opinion, it might have worked better either to leave this word out as being redundant or to coin a forceful expression to convey the character’s distress or anger.

Dragon Rings is an epic tale with gruesome monsters, humane dragons, formidable witches, notably the high witch, Mayra ara’Ferren. She gets assistance from likely as well as unlikely corners. Still, betrayal, treason, and selfishness endanger everybody. Ms Binder creates gruesome war scenes, romance, and (unlikely) friendships. She builds a world of magnificent landscapes, castles, gardens, and wonderful libraries. All in all, this is an entertaining and exhilarating read that will attract lovers of fantasy. There are philosophical aspects for literary connoisseurs, but first and foremost, this is a sprawling fantasy, which has a clear-cut ending but also the potential for a continuation.

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Kevin Ansbro, Kinnara

Modern Time Fantasy

A chilling start. Three strains twisted around one another although taking place in three distinct corners of the world. Norwich, Kaiserslautern, Phuket. Hannah and Callum who are schoolfriends fated to fall in love, a quirky parental quartet, The Kinnara – part human and part swan – who is condemned to spend his life immobile in the Andaman Sea. An insane serial killer. Oriental heat and fragrance. Murky Germany. Upright – or downright Norwich. These are the elements of Ansbro’s Time bending fantasy in which the multiple points of view take the reader effortlessly from character to character and from country to country.

It is hard to say where Ansbro’s writing excels more – in the violence of the killer or in the fabulous ocean images that he presents. One thing is clear – this is a master at his art. The characters are vivid – from the young lovers to the Thai guy who befriends Callum – and from the serial killer (who will chill the reader to his or her bones) to the Kinnara, around whom the entire plot pivots.

Ansbro has a penchant for describing anything, from the Boxing day tsunami over the featureless Kaiserslautern area to the quirky Norwich family life, in a way that captures the readers’ imagination and takes her or him on the magic carpet flight of his inspiration.

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©HMH, 2021

2 comments

  1. Thank you so much for your fantastic review, Hanne! For my hopefully future readers, after Hanne and I discussed my use of a Nesht curse word, and in keeping with other comments along the same line, I pulled both Dragon books and replaced “fark” with something grittier and more in keeping with the emotion of the moment. It just works. Thanks, Hanne, and others!

    1. As you know, Debi, I enjoyed reading Dragon Rings. Also, I salute you for taking my critique in the spirit it was meant. Can’t wait to see what you’ve come up with to replace that much-reviled word. . .

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