Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Review - The Tsar's Last Armada

Constantine Pleshakov's book is subtitled "The Epic Voyage to the Battle of Tsushima" and is truly a book of the 18,000+ nautical mile journey of the main Russian fleet under Admiral Rozhestvensky from the Baltic to its fateful meeting with Admiral Togo and the Japanese fleet.

Pleshakov concentrates on the personalities of Rozhestvensky and his subordinates as well as the top members of the Russian government. He hints that if the leaders in St. Petersburg had allowed Rozhestvensky to do what he wished the outcome may have been different. 

Far from the classical story of ships who left Russia piled high with coal and sailing urgently around the world to plunge unprepared into a hopeless battle, Pleshakov tells of long delays and lost opportunities, of bungled intelligence, and of political weakness and indecision. He also seems to share Rozhestvensky's view that the reinforcements he was forced to wait for actually weakened the squadron instead of strengthening it and that the level of talent in the upper naval officers of the Tsar's navy was minimal with very few competent leaders of rank captain or above.

There is also a fair handling of the wide class distinctions and the resulting political unrest in Russia as a whole, in the navy in general, and the "last armada" particularly. Pleshakov discusses this discrepancy in each situation the fleet found itself in, from forming to its ultimate destruction and the aftermath for the survivors. In the end even Rozhestvensky comes off wanting.

I found the book interesting and found it debunked, as noted above, some long-held misconceptions. It pays scant attention to the battle itself; if you want a battle history you do need to go elsewhere. It is a good stand-alone historical story; one needs no previous knowledge of the Russo-Japanese War, Tsushima, or the period to get the full impact of the book. 

It is also inexpensive. Copies are available on Biblio for as little as $3.97 including shipping.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Review - Even Seahorses are Free by Redding Walters

Redding Walters brings a unique, intriguing, and fascinating perspective and story-line to the romance novel.

Even Seahorses are Free traces the love history of Dr. Rebecca Beisonig, through the rather ingenious devices of a long drive up the Pacific Coast with a dead cell phone. As she drives she recounts her past loves and their shortcomings, as well as their high points. 

At her destination, she plunges into her work while re-discovering the depth of friendship with other women and fending off the advances of a "young stud" in which she knows she has no interest. In her rediscovery and soul searching she finally comes to terms with the lost love of her life, the value of female friends, and the end of her marriage that was never really fulfilling.  

Ms. Walters brings freshness to the novel. Her characters, from the very pregnant Barbie to the aloof Howard, are full and lively. They jump off the page to the point you can almost touch them. The story is both unique in the interplay of environmental science and the livelihoods that are often in conflict and in the love, lust, and conflict of Rebecca. 

The energy of the novel starts at a high level and allows the reader to briefly recover before driving to a new peak. Continuing to build as the story progresses with each peak being higher than the last. The ending is both satisfying and not quite how one expects.

Even Seahorses are Free is highly recommended. Available at Amazon and other fine retailers.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Poetry to warm a parent's heart

The Coming Storm (1987) 
by Cirenya

The air is still.
The clouds roll in. Dark, ominous.
Lightning flashes
Against the bronze horizon.

What did Daddy say?
His hand is warm.
Between the flash
And crack…count, yes.

One applepie, Two applepie,
Three applepie, four applepie,
It’s nearer now.

“It’s the air separating
Then coming together.”
“Yes, Daddy.”
The wind starts.
It’s chilly.

One applepie, two applepie,
Three applepie,
Closer yet.

We’d go in now.
Sit by the window,
Watch it come.

Pounding, bouncing
Off the pane.
Flash, crack.

I’m not afraid.

Daddy’s hand is warm.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Growth of a River - flash fiction

It was a special time. That time of life when things were wonderful and new. That time when adults were still incredible fonts of wisdom and knowledge. That time when each day brought amazing things never before seen.

Gemma woke that morning, instantly fully awake and with the energy another might need a couple of coffees to attain. She threw on the clothes she and her mother had carefully picked out the night before and ran to her door only to stop short just before the exit. A quick about face, a check in her mirror (Gee, how she loved it!) and a redo of her shirt to make it frontside front, then out the door!

Down the hall, bursting without pause through her parent’s bedroom door and launching herself onto the foot of the bed. “Get up! It’s Missus-pee Day!”

Louise cracked one eye but it was Lance who spoke reaching down to pull Gemma up between her parents, “The River is still sleeping, Silly! Maybe we should have breakfast and let it wake up before we drive out. Whaddya say?”

An “Awww” escaped Gemma before her brain even processed the information. Then it hit her as a good idea and she said, or rather shouted loud enough to make Lance wince, “Yeah! Let’s have Corn Flakes!” Before either parent could groggily respond, Gemma was squirreling back to the foot of the bed, plopping to the floor and racing out.

Her eyes still mostly closed, Louise pushed the covers back and rolled to a sit. She mumbled and Lance understood more than heard, “I guess we’d better try to keep up.” She padded off to the bathroom. Lance pulled himself out of bed and staggered with increasing stability toward the kitchen.

In the kitchen Gemma was already halfway toward breakfast. She had a plastic bowl, a spoon and the box of corn flakes on the island and was pulling on the refrigerator door. The seal was more than her  3-year-old arms could overcome despite her determination and Lance had to give a friendly assist.

“Thanks, Dad!” as she pulled the half-gallon jug off the lowest shelf and carried it in both hands to the island. Reaching above her head she carefully placed the jug on the island, tongue sticking out of her mouth in concentration. Then a quick scramble into the chair and a satisfied “Hmmph!”

Lance flipped on the coffee-maker and moved over to help pour milk and snare a couple wayward corn flakes making a production of bringing them to his mouth and chomping on them to a giggle from Gemma. Then he walked back the way he’d come as Louise slipped past and grabbed a couple mugs from hooks above the sink. Her eyes were still not fully open.

An hour later Gemma was still at full speed but at least Lance and Louise were able to keep pace as they piled into their Integra and negotiated the winding streets of the sub-division out to the highway. Louise drove and Lance sang alternatively silly songs and classic songs with Gemma by turns singing gleefully along and giggling at the edge of uncontrollability. The first hour flew by.

Gradually the songs became less boisterous on Gemma’s end and her gaze wandered more to the passing scenery. Finally she bottomed out, “When is the Missus-pee?”

Louise gave Lance a knowing look and said, “Another hour, luv. Maybe it’s time to count the red cars, but only the red ones, ok? I see one! I have one red car. Can you count more than me?”

“Yeah!” screeched Gemma and was instantly absorbed in the game scanning the road ahead for every oncoming car. Soon Gemma was up to nine, Louise had six and poor Lance, on the passenger side in the back seat, had only counted two.

Gemma cried, “Ten! Now let’s count blue cars!” And so it went for another twenty minutes as cars of color after color in the girl’s repertoire were duly counted as they headed south on the state highway away from the headwaters of the Mississippi.

As the game wound down Gemma agreed to watch the country passing by carefully identifying the corn fields from the soybeans and wheat but needing help on some of the others. Hay and alfalfa and potatoes were all differentiated but they ran into some trouble discerning the hops, the rye, and the oats. A stinky turkey farm zipped past and a couple still functioning dairy farms were noted by the cattle lazing in the sun.

Then the first sign flashed by and Lance said softly, “There, Gemma, Mississippi Headwaters ten miles.”

“Yayyyy! Can I wear my water shoes now?”

Lance dug into the bag they brought, his hands reaching past the snacks and the water bottles to find Gemma’s water shoes. By the time he’d pulled them from the depths of the bag Gemma’s sandals had been kicked off to slam into the back of Louise’s seat and carom onto the floor, just missing Lance’s head as he bent over the bag.

She excitedly kicked her feet making Lance’s job doubly difficult to secure her feet into their snug-fitting water shoes. With his long experience Lance deftly snared first the left foot and then the right and stuffed each foot into its waiting shoe. Gemma never missed a beat and Louise was parking the car as the last shoe was successfully placed.

Only one admonishment was necessary to keep Gemma next to her paents and not bolting across the parking lot alone but she still nearly dragged them both to the gate and down the trail. When they arrived at the small stream gurgling out of the lake that stretched out in a clear sun-lit vista, though, there was trouble.

“Where’s the Missus-pee?” Gemma demanded.

“This is it! This is where the river is born!” said Louise.

“But it’s too little,” Gemma insisted. “The Missus-pee is humongous.”  And she spread her arms wide above her head.

Lance tried, “But the river grows just like you. It starts small like you did when you were born and gets big as it goes.”

“But I’m older! The river here is the same years old as the one by us!”

“Rivers grow as they flow,” Louise tried alliteration. “The Mississippi is old because it wanders, like Grandpa…”

“Or Mommy before she has her coffee!” This got Lance a sardonic look from Louise.

“But it grows the further it goes. Feel it move.” Louise bent to touch the shallow, swiftly moving water. “More water pours in all the time as it flows, making the river grow.”

Gemma frowned. She did not like this much but she was willing to consider this unforeseen development. She walked into the water and splashed a bit. That made everything feel a bit better. She watched a bug spiral downstream, caught in the splashing and watched the other people as they variously stood, walked, and tip-toed in the water. They all seemed to think this was the Mississippi.

“Can we see the Missus-pee grow?” She asked.

Louise and Lance exchanged a knowing look, turned in unison to Gemma and nodded. They spent the rest of the day meandering like the river from town to town, bridge to bridge and watched the Mississippi grow from its rivulet at Itasca to its breadth at St. Paul. 

Sunday, November 12, 2017

New website and renewal

Just a little note to announce my new author website:

One feature is a weekly "poetry slam" where two poems are placed next to each other, one from a "famous" poet previously published by a mainstream publisher and an "unknown" or "unpublished" poet. Vote/rate each, come back next week to see the final results and the reveal of the poets and the history of each poem.

Another feature is works in progress and works available for free.

Please take a moment and vote on the slam and let me know what you think!

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Book Review - Mystery of the Haunted Pool by Phyllis A Whitney

Like many of the reviewers I first read Ms. Whitney as a young adult and was happy to find this copy and pick it up for some leisurely summer reading. I do take a bit of umbrage at the reviewers who try to paint this book with the social brush of today. Any work is a product of its times and should be judged in that context. To that end this book, which won an Edgar Award for juvenile mystery, is smooth, pleasant read. Ms. Whitney develops her characters well and paints an enchanting setting. It does deal with gender roles, disability, financial hard times, and aging, all from the lens of a young girl. Although there are clear gender roles (the women do all the food preparation, for example), that was the norm in 1960 to set it otherwise would have made it difficult to relate to the intended audience. However, there is nothing the protagonist, Susan, does not do or is prohibited from because she is a girl. Also Gene's disability is treated, again inside the context of the time, with compassion and empathy and some amount of empowerment. I am still looking for a copy of the first Whitney mystery I read, Mystery on the Isle of Skye. Whitney writes well and this mild read was a welcome change from the much more "in your face" work of more contemporary writers. Recommended if you want a quiet nostalgic well-written read.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Book Review - Pan by K. R. Thompson

Before we get to the Promotional Stuff...

For a variety of reasons I was only able to read Pan. This was truly unfortunate because K. R. Thompson has done a superb job spinning the prequels to Barrie's children's classic. We are brought into the world through Tinkerbell's eyes and see the roots of Peter's character as well as some background on Neverland in an extremely well-written and seamlessly integrated way with the original. Why does Peter Pan flit between depression and manic joy? What is the origin of the lost boys? Ever wonder about the crocodile? And then there's Captain Hook and the merpeople. Thompson brings the backstory to life.  Five stars! Highly recommended! Read on!

by K.R. Thompson