Review Segment

Joseph Ferguson, Shillelagh Law

Questions of Life and Death.

Snakes and Snails and Puppy-dog Tails – growing up agonies  

Rock and Roll – a rock-climbing extravaganza                                                                         

Incident on a Boring Afternoon – a troubling garage-door                           

My Favorite Christmas Tree – teenage pranks                                 

Shillelagh Law – an Irish misfit                                                                           

Morpheus and the Mayor – politicians and timewasters                                             

The Incredible Sleeping Man – awakenings                        

Fifteen Minutes – waiting for the end?                                                                 

My Bootless Cries – Western misery                                                     

In the Gloaming – life and death

In Shillelagh Law, a short story collection, Joe Ferguson looks at the human condition. He does it with wit and compassion, and with deep insight into what makes us tick. His mainly male protagonists show every aspect of maleness, even his only female protagonist, the cop in Shillelagh Law, has male qualities as well as female sentiments.

A literary tour de force that makes you think, laugh, and cry.

***

Kenneth W Harmon, In the Realm of Ash and Sorrow

Poignant WWII Legend

Japan and the Japanese soul play a huge role in In the Realm of Ash and Sorrow, a mix of magical realism and historical fiction. An American Soldier, Micah, on a mission over Hiroshima falls to his death, only seen by a Japanese war widow, Kiyomi. Their eyes meet and his spirit gets imprinted on her – like a new-born bird’s. Let alone that Micah hates the Japanese, let alone that he doesn’t know or want to know their thoughts and culture. He must follow her and learn from her.

Kiyomi has her own trouble, being a widow with one daughter. Her occupation is war-work in an ammunition factory. Her husband’s family uses her as a servant. Food is scarce and generally goes to the soldiers, leaving most people to starve. Her daughter, Ai, is a ray of sun in Kiyomi’s troubled life.

These are the premises for a lyrical and powerful mosaic that turns history and suffering into a story of love, sacrifice, and endurance. Harmon develops his novel slowly and tenderly, exploring Japanese philosophy, as well as human emotion and suffering in shimmering pictures that stay with the reader for a long time.

***

Val Penny, Hunter’s Blood

A Car Crash, A Criminal Investigation, Three Unexplained Deaths

Two groups observe a speeding disaster and phone 999. Both parties prefer to leave the scene, and the calls for help go unanswered. A party ends in a search for a disappeared kid. Three old ladies die unexplained deaths in the local hospital.
DI Hunter and his team have their hands full. Hunter’s investigation becomes harder through his connection to the three dead ladies. Several strings bring together a tight plot.

Val Penny holds every string together in her competent hands. As always, her writing carries the reader along. The pace is high from start to end, but Ms Penny still manages an influx of warmth and humour.

Overall, this is crime fiction at a chilling level.

***

Tina-Marie Miller Fame and Fortune

Swinford St George and Hampton Waters

Fame is the Hamptons’ answer to the Weight Watchers. She buys a resort in Swinford St George to establish her empire. Fortune is delighted to form a dance troupe for a county majorette competition. She invites a soap opera star, Camilla Barrington-Smythe, to work as her choreographer. In the background, a snake enters this rural paradise. Troubled waters stir up dangerous emotions. Nobody is safe, and it brings out the best and the worst in the upscale village. Secrets, greed, lies, seduction, and glamour abounds in the third instalment of TMM’s Hamptons series.

Ms Miller knows how to deliver a stirring tale and mix in questions of humanity and tolerance, as well as bullying and forgiveness. No doubt, the Hamptons’ series will see more instalments, as her characters develop and live their high-flying lives.

***

Eileen Thornton, A Surprise for Christine

Light-hearted Short Stories

A Surprise for Christine – a surprise party with obstacles

Reason to Celebrate – trouble in the village

Same Time on Friday? – revenge is sweet

The Last Pea on the plate – do peas have feelings?

The Little Fairy – pleasant surprises

The Number 57 Bus – the romance of a bus

Only the Best – theatre trouble

The Suitcase – secrets to keep

The Wrong Horse – an apparent suicide

Reaching the Top – taking up a challenge

Drastic Measures – the bliss of having neighbours

To Trap a Thief – an amazing jewel

This collection of light-hearted short stories is a quick read that gives the reader a mixture of romance, crime, quirky ideas, and musings about life, the universe, and anything. Ms Thornton writes in a playful manner, it may not be deep or philosophical, but it is effective. This is the kind of book you’d grab to while away a rainy day – when you want an hour or so of cheerful recreation.

***

Susanne Leist, Prey for the Dead

Vampire Extravaganza

The Sequel to Dead Game

The town Oasis is still picturesque on the surface but underneath evil broods. Linda and her best friend Shana still hope for romance and a little happiness. Two of the hybrids, Greg and Todd, vie for Linda’s love. She is torn here and there – uncertain and scared. Shana has a fling with Sam, the sheriff.

The novel opens with an earthquake or is it an explosion that shatters five years of human/hybrid/vampire quiet familiarity. The earthquake marks the re-emergence of the Dead – the evil vampires who aim to eradicate humanity as well as the mixed human/vampires, called hybrids. News emerges that there are vampires in Disneyland Florida and that’s where the main plot takes place.

Part of the suspense rests in the uncertainty about who is evil and who is good.

Leist works her magic with her usual panache and wit. She delivers twists and turns and quirky surprises as well as vampiric blood and gore.

***

Suzy Henderson, Madame Fiocca

WWII Drama with a True Story at Its Centre

New-Zeeland born Nancy Wake frees herself from her bible reading mother and goes to New York thanks to a gift from her aboriginal aunt. On a background of subtle abuse from her mother, combined with an absent father, she has a lot to overcome. After leaving New York for London, she decides to study journalism. Her first assignment is in Marseille, she lands a scoop and can settle down in Paris as a journalist.

Hitler is a looming threat, but Nancy enjoys a luxurious lifestyle as she meets a wealthy industrialist, Henry Fiocca. He woes her, and she – eventually – excepts his marriage proposal.

The war breaks out, and Nancy embarks on a journey through the miseries, the hopes, the deaths, and the resistance, which she feels compelled to assist.

Ms Henderson has thoroughly researched her subject matter. More importantly, she brings Nancy Wake and her love interest to life. The gallery of German soldiers, Jews, Gestapo officials, Special Operations Executives, pilots, and members of the French resistance offer their individual characters to the readers’ perusal. Ms Henderson’s writing is evocative in the early parts of the book, but when the reality of war breaks over her protagonist’s head, it becomes matter-of-fact and blunt. Full of contrast as life on this earth must be, this is a captivating and rewarding read.

***

Mark Carnelley, The Omega Chronicles

Apocalyptic Sole Survivor Adventure

A dust cloud might become the end of the world known by humans. Colton Lee Steele (Cole) has an accident that turns out to save his life.  A pilot working in Antarctica, Cole has a fall that causes a severe concussion. To ensure his continued existence, he is placed in an induced coma – and he is on oxygen when the poisonous cloud hits. That is the premise for this action-filled adventure.

What can one individual do, faced with being the last person alive? He or she – in this case – Cole can either go under or do his best to survive. The Antarctic winter might kill him – so he leaves using all available methods. He must find a place to live, a place that will sustain him.

Mark Carnelley poses the question of what it takes to survive in the utmost plight. Is there anything left to live for? What is the purpose of survival? Only this: being alive and realising it is worthwhile to fight even in the worst situation. Cole shows his mettle – and is lucky to have the skills to take up the challenge. This is, even if the frame is an apocalyptic adventure, a thoughtful celebration of life on this earth.

Will Cole survive? Will the world recover? To find out, it is necessary to read this surprisingly beautiful book.

***

© HMH, 2021

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