The Baker’s Secret: A Novel
Emmanuelle is twenty-two years old when the Germans arrive in her small Normandy village. She is a baker by trade, having learned her craft working beside the village master since she was thirteen. She now rivals him in skill, and her talent does not go unnoticed by the occupying force, who quickly put her to work baking bread for the army. Emma, however, doesn’t just bake bread. She builds up a complex network of bartered items throughout her small village that keeps her neighbors from starving or going mad. Beauty, she realizes, can be found in these small efforts at resistance, but dangerous consequences lurk around every corner if she were to be found out.
Bringing the reader quickly into the daily rhythm of life in a small French village, Stephen Kiernan has created characters who movingly represent the small ways in which local townspeople all over Europe tried to survive and, when possible, fight back against the occupying German force during WWII. Emma’s endeavors and adventures during the war years before D-Day are powerfully rendered.
Stephen P. Kiernan
The Bone Labyrinth: A Sigma Force Novel
The discovery of an untouched pre-historic site has the potential to redefine everything the scientific community has come to understand about human evolution. Before the discovery can be preserved and examined further, the small scientific team is attacked. The anthropologic remains are stolen and the site is destroyed. Simultaneously, a primate research center is also attacked and one of the scientists is kidnapped. The elite Sigma Force is called in to investigate the attacks. How are the attacks connected and what can the discovery tell us about our past?
Bone Labyrinth, by James Rollins, is a fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat, action/adventure threaded through with mystery, intrigue, history, and science. It’s as if Indiana Jones and Neil deGrasse Tyson came together and said, ‘Let’s write the most action-packed story ever’.
What makes Rollins’ books so good, especially those of Sigma Force, is the exorbitant amount of research he puts into the story. He threads his words through with so much realism and factual elements, readers are forced to question how much of the story is fiction.
Although part of the larger Sigma Force series, Bone Labyrinth is easily read as a stand-alone. James Rollins fans of the series, will be happy at the inclusion of familiar characters. Fans of thrillers, mystery, action and adventure will not want to put Bone Labyrinth down.
Rated 5.00 out of 5Remember the Ladies
Remember the Ladies by Gina L. Mulligan is a remembrance of the women’s suffrage movement. Gina L. Mulligan brilliantly recaptures the moment in time when women didn’t have the same rights as men. Both men and women alike deemed those who took on jobs or tried to follow in some men’s footsteps crazy. Going against a society’s norm wasn’t looked upon kindly. Yet many women were daring enough to risk it all. Men took advantage of women’s looks and tried to blame women for enticing them when they could not control themselves.
Inside the delightful novel, Remember the Ladies women everywhere will relive the important steps women made to gain entry into the working field. That moment is to be held with honor and respect, when most view it as impossible or ludicrous, is thrilling. Readers will meet a young girl who loses both her parents in one fatal night. From there, she is in a school where women are not viewed as fit to continue their studies like men are. But that doesn’t stop the main character, Amelia, from achieving her dreams of working. She has much to learn and to accept before she can find the strength to handle herself in her newfound work. Meeting a man who happens to be a senator does her favor in working her way up in the society, in becoming a working woman among men. I enjoyed this realistic yet fictional piece by Gina L. Mulligan. Her novel will forever be one remembered by the ladies.
Whitehall (Season 1 Episode 4): “Wit in All Languages”
King Charles has decided to put his foot down and break Queen Catherine to make her a more obedient wife. Queen Catherine is devastated but vows to keep her true feelings to herself. She must sadly watch as her Portuguese entourage leaves. Words of wisdom are shared with the King about his actions; while they seem to fall on deaf ears, the King may be listening more than he is letting on. Meanwhile, Barbara waits – ready to take her place as a Lady of the Bedchamber for the queen. She even convinces Charles to hold a ball for the queen to brighten her spirits. However, Barbara hasn’t done anything that doesn’t benefit herself and it is doubtful she will start now. The ball begins and the King, along with his women, take their places. There is no doubt that it will be one to remember.
Episode 4 of Whitehall is a complete delight that will leave readers desperate for more. Despite King Charles being the central male character that many may believe drives the storyline, it is the women who are keeping this episode a page-turning success. Barbara is particularly interesting. We watch her weave her way into the kingdom, yet she shows little effort to change her self-centered ways. However, as England’s new queen, Catherine is proving to be more than what was originally expected. While she is a woman who is small in stature, she has shown that she can stand up for herself and is willing to evolve to become both a great queen and a beloved wife. What is so entertaining is that neither of these women are ready or willing to give up quite yet. Keep up with Whitehall by reading episodes one through four – available on Amazon.
Read our other episode reviews of Whitehall.
The Yid: A Novel
Paul Goldberg’s theatrical play novel The Yid is set in the fictional version Stalinist Russia against the backdrop of a tyrannical regime, virulent anti-Semitism and violence. It is based on actual historical events, namely, The Doctors’ Plot, which was an allegation in which Jewish Doctors conspired to poison high-ranking members of the government. As a result, Stalin ordered trains to take the Jews, many of whom were Holocaust survivors and war veterans, to the gulags of Siberia. Thankfully, Stalin died before his murderous plan could come into fruition.
Goldberg’s story starts out with the government secret police barging in to arrest the protagonist of the story, Solomon Levinson. This arrest sets in motion a bizarre plot to strike back at the tyrannical regime. Levinson together with the black Yiddish-speaking engineer who fled Jim Crow America, recruit a wide variety of people dissatisfied with the regime to hatch a plan to finish with the regime once and for all, and save the Jews from their ultimate demise.
I really enjoyed reading The Yid. As a Russian Jew, I immediately connected to the book on a personal level. Although this is a work of fiction, many events that the author describes (himself a Russian-Jewish emigre) took place in real life. Goldberg uses a unique technique, namely a Shakespearean play divided into three acts to tell the story. The result is a farcical tragicomedy that very well could have been real. Character development is particularly strong in The Yid with each of their characters having their own demons and their own experiences that caused them to be highly critical of the tyrannical Stalinist regime. In addition, Goldberg does a great job of capturing the dialogue among the characters, which is heavily interspersed with Yiddish and Russian interjections and swear words, so that it reflects the mood of the novel.
If I were to describe The Yid to a friend, I would tell them that it has elements of Shakespeare’s King Lear, Orwell’s Animal Farm, and Quentin Tarantino’s motion picture Inglorious Bastards.
One Cowrie Shell
Sparks’ One Cowrie Shell is a tragic coming-of-age story set amidst the backdrop of a terrible period in humanity’s near history. Jaiye is a member of the Yoruba tribe. He is on the cusp of manhood, tending his yam field, and dreaming of the woman he wants as his wife. Unfortunately for Jaiye, Kembi is already promised to another. It is the custom of the Yoruba that village elders arrange marriages. Kembi is promised to Ekun, and Akinya to Jaiye. Our young protagonist is very inquisitive and very stubborn. He is ready to go fight the neighboring Dahomey, as his people have done for as long as anyone can remember. He wants to turn prisoners over to the slave traders and earn cowrie shells. While merely pretty shells to the Europeans and Americans, cowrie shells serve a monetary value to the Yoruba and Dahomey.
Jaiye repeatedly insists, with the stubbornness teens anywhere can muster, that he will have Kembi for his wife. Despite the counsel and contrivances of his father, Jaiye will not let go of the foolish idea. He commits a terrible crime, earning him thirty cowries in blood money, and his actions lead to three villagers being taken away by slavers- Ekun, Kembi, and Jaiye’s little brother, Lekan. Jaiye embarks on a perilous journey to find them, crossing the ocean and stalking plantations like a panther in the dark, careful to stay out of sight. His journey takes him up and down the U.S. coast, across the sea to England, and back home to the Yoruba.
Though Jaiye learns of all three who were taken, not one of them makes the journey back home with him. Jaiye returns with a wealth of knowledge, though. He is the first to travel to ’the other world,’ and returned to tell of it. He has seen the atrocities inflicted on the slaves–the beatings, the rapes, the senseless killings. Jaiye has a new mission in life, albeit, perhaps a somewhat futile one. He wants to stop the fighting between Yoruba and Dahomey for good, something easier said than done. Jaiye goes from being g a self-absorbed child, for the most part, to a somewhat respectable man.
Fun stuff: I am an anthropologist by schooling, if not active practice, and I loved the glimpses of Yoruba culture and history. These details seem accurate so far as my knowledge goes. This region/cultural milieu isn’t my forte, but I am now interested in learning more. The details of slave trading, and this era of slavery, were an accurate reminder of a harsh and senselessly heartbreaking period. One particular point of interest for me was the funerary customs of the Yoruba and the superstitions regarding daytime burials, such as the spirit seeing their shadow and retaliate against the living.
Jaiye slowly learned valuable lessons, such as the Yoruba and Dahomey should stop fighting and sending people to the slavers, and that the loss of dignity suffered by captives of either side has no monetary value. I was particularly touched when Jaiye found Ekun and came to the realization that Ekun had seen him as a friend, not a competitor. Jaiye began to realize the harsh consequences of his actions in relation to what happened to Lekan, Kembi, and Ekun, which were horrific events even hearing about them ‘second-hand.’
Not so fun stuff: the writing seemed very simplistic at times. There was a good deal of telling, when showing would have been more engaging. Some of the dialogue, and other phrasing, seems stilted. It comes across as forced and unrealistic. There were also descriptions of daily activity that is random and, while interesting, not relevant to the story.
I would strongly recommend a professional editing round to help strengthen and tighten the writing. There is a good deal of unnecessary repetition that could be phrased differently, implied in different ways, or eliminated altogether. Point: Jaiye’s father reiterating numerous times that Akinya will be his wife; she is the one chosen for him, and it cannot be changed. Jaiye needs a smart Gibbs smack to the back of the head. His poor da has patience to put a saint to shame.
Another issue that cropped up often were places where quote marks were missing or where they are present and should not be. Tense bounced back and forth from present to past in same paragraph, sometimes even same sentence. Occasionally, type switched to italics for no apparent reason, which jarred me from the story as I attempted to suss out why the change had been made.
This story has a lot of potential, and Sparks could take it so much further. There’s certainly room for Sparks to bloom as an author. I hope to see an edited, cleaned-up second edition of One Cowrie Shell in the future! I will happily adjust my rating accordingly, and I do intend to keep a weather eye out for new works by the author.