January 20, 2017
In Ecclesiastes 1:9 it is written that there is nothing new under the sun. That is a mostly true statement, and the meaning is evident to anyone who has noticed that most mediums of artistic expression (notably cinema) have struggled to come up with fresh ideas in the modern era. For every new or semi-new concept, there are a hundred carbon copies of existing work. For every A New Hope there is a Star Wars: Episode VII. For every debut album there are a hundred reunion tours. For every successful film franchise, there is a television adaptation. There really is nothing new under the sun.
Now that I have truly brought the mood down, let me try to bring it back up again by saying that Toru is one of those novel, original stories set in a fantastic land that for once doesn’t seem like a charcoal etching of another realm. Toru is a steampunk story set in the far east. Disciplined samurai ride into battle aboard bustling locomotives and the paths of sword and steam cross brilliantly. About halfway through this novel, I had to stop and look to see if this kind’ve thing had been done before. To my surprise, it has, and if you’re interested in samurai steampunk stories, there are one or two others out there, though I would be very surprised (and pleasantly) if they carried the depth and attention to detail of this one.
If there is anything to nitpick about the story, it might be the capabilities of the main character of Toru. In many ways, this book is a coming of age tale, or a bildingsroman if you squint, but there is little room for growth for this character. Toru can do it all, knows just about all there is to know, displays few (if any) character flaws and is basically an infallible force in the world. It would be interesting to see Toru grow and change more than what we’re given, but much like Star Wars or the bible, we are dealing with very powerful, legendary characters and there is clearly more story to tell beyond this first entry so this is forgivable. Also, as I mentioned, this a nitpicky thing and one that doesn’t distract from an otherwise remarkably well-written and well-edited read, nor does it warrant the subtraction of even half of a star. This is easily a 5 star novel that I think most readers will find approachable and satisfying.
Assessed by Awesome Indies
December 15, 2016
Hosanna is a well-written book, obviously professionally edited, with a thought-provoking story line that embraces the racial divide in 1940s Georgia. The author artfully developed the characters and their sometimes difficult dialogue to portray the culture for that time period in such a compelling way that I felt I was right there with them. The plot was well-structured, the narrative flowed well, and the story was engaging. 5 Stars.
October 26, 2016
In the port city of Aberdeen, the battered body of a young woman is found in the muck near the wharves. She is unidentified, but from her clothing is definitely not someone who would normally be in such a locale.
John Grant, a ship figurehead carver, is certain that the town’s constable will not do a good job of learning what happened to her, and in his quest for justice takes on the task of investigating her death. At the same time, Helen Anderson, daughter of a prosperous shipping company owner, is seeking to break out of the strictures placed on women of the era, and is pressuring her father to allow her to participate in managing his company. Her quest for liberation is affected by the growing romantic feelings for John.
This story starts off with a sense of heightened tension, as John is awakened to help rescue sailors from a ship that is foundering just offshore, and picks up with the discovery of the dead woman.
The Likeness is actually several stories that proceed on parallel courses, and while John’s investigation and finally solving of the young woman’s death is an important storyline, the main story is John and Helen’s relationship and how they manage to navigate the strict societal conventions of the mid-1800s and maintain their own sense of individuality and freedom.
The author has created a masterful interweave of several stories that come together beautifully at the end with all the mysteries solved and the personal relationships resolved in a most satisfying way. The mores, conventions, sights, sounds, and smells of the era are described so well, I was able to see the story unfolding in my mind like a period movie. The characters are so real, you can hear them, smell their sweat and perfume, and you either like and support them, or you want to take them to a locked room and throttle them mercilessly.
The mark of a great story is that it draws you in so fully that time unfolds without your awareness of it. I started reading this story in mid-morning, and didn’t eat lunch until I’d finished in mid-afternoon. Another is that after reading it you feel that you’ve learned something interesting about a bygone era.
A great story that is more than worthy of the five stars I give it.
Reviewed by Awesome Indies
February 19, 2016
"a zinger of a surprise ending"
Penny for Them by Philip Catshill is an adventure story set mainly during the outbreak of the 1982 Falklands Conflict between the UK and Argentina, as the two countries slugged it out over a group of rocky islands in the Atlantic.
It’s primarily the story of Penelope Kendall-Wilkes, the stepdaughter of former British MP Henry Kendall-Wilkes, a central figure in the events leading up to the war. When Kendall-Wilkes sees Penelope as a threat, despite the relationship, he is determined to have her killed, and in the end, decides that he wants to do the deed himself.
The author does a credible job of portraying the complex, almost schizophrenic character of Penelope, as he allows us to see her multiple identities and personalities in her own words. The use of the first person, present in the narration, puts the reader in the picture, bringing the action alive very effectively in most of the book. It does cause a bit of confusion in places, but not fatally so.
Penelope’s relationship with Sean Moran, the man she’s been told murdered her father, is complex, but the author handles it well, including the surprise of Moran’s actual identity.
Penny for Them is a riveting read. The main character is complex, not a very good person at times, but someone the reader can root for, and the author came up with a zinger of a surprise ending. He also did a very good job of incorporating the background and action of the Falklands War into the overall narrative.
I give him five stars for this book.