THIS MONTH'S BOOK REVIEWS...THIS MONTH'S BOOK REVIEWS
James Gault reviews The Castle of the Red-Haired Maidens by Rob Burton
The combination of brutal reality and supernatural fantasy in this novella reminds me of ancient Norse myths or perhaps the scenario for a Wagner opera. The period and the setting is just right, and so too is the dark, tempestuous atmosphere that the author creates.
The story is set during the Middle Ages in Scotland, at a time of two great struggles. The new Christian religion was battling with the ancient myths and beliefs of the old religions, and at the same time the indigenous Celts were fending of raids and invasions of Norse Vikings. It was a time of rape and pillage; an era of extreme cruelty and violence. Treaties were made and broken by devious warlords on both sides, and women were treated as chattels and sacrificed to the lust of common soldiers and the political expediency of the ruthless barons and clan chiefs. It was a time when morality was having an extended holiday.
All of this is depicted graphically in a fast moving story of betrayal, flight and revenge. The beautiful Nye flees an unwanted arranged marriage and falls into the hands of one violent ruthless marauding band after another, suffering worse and worse degradations at every turn.
A warning – do not read this if you are squeamish. But if scenes of horrific violence don’t deter you, it is a great read.
John Dill reviews Best Intelligence by James Gault
James Gault’s new novel “Best Intelligence” is an intriguing story of one man’s journey with his personal convictions on good and evil.
Mr. Gault highlights the veracity in our experiences about what it takes to shift our personal convictions about such matters. A die-hard cop who suddenly finds himself living under the threat of extinction, just as suddenly realizes he’d rather live on a level equal to his antagonists, morally speaking, than die on a higher level with his convictions.
Mr. Gault reinforces the belief that every nation has its own personal gang capable, willing and licensed to rise above the law in the interests of the nation as a whole. As always, the moral turpitude of such structures suggests humanity has yet to rise beyond “might-makes-right” resolutions when all else fails. Personally, I wonder if such entities are serving the greater good of the nations under which they are formed or if they serve the greater good of a few individuals, and the nations they are formed under simply benefit from this service to these individuals. Be that as it may, it makes for fine fodder in the writing of stories and has been the subject of many. Mr. Gault has done an admirable job in exposing the Achilles heel of the law and the folks engaged to enforce it. I also enjoyed his well-researched usage of the Scottish perspective attached to his characters.
A good read I would highly recommend that covers many facets of human strategy in finding that ever elusive balance between good and evil in application.
James Gault reviews Silver Lining – The saga of an orphan by Alieu Bundu
This novel by a Sierra-Leonean author about the struggles in his country against war and poverty is a must-read for all of us living in comfortable Western industrialised societies.
A word of warning, though. The novel is not written in a conventional English that we are familiar with; the author has chosen to tell his story in the version of English spoken in his native land. For purists of the English this will be sacrilege, and even for the more tolerant it is challenging. You have to read it as a novel written in a dialect which seems on one hand quite easy to understand, but at a deeper level is confusing. Although all the words are familiar, in some places the word choice seems strange. There are phrases, for example ‘okay?’ and ‘you must be joking’ which to UK and US readers will have a light-hearted connotation, but in this novel are used by serious people in very serious situations. Readers should not allow themselves to be misled by this. The language is a challenge, but the themes and content are so important that the challenge is worth it.
The story relates a series of incidents in the life of a young boy whose life is disrupted by war, death and crime as he tries to find salvation through education. He encounters evil people, some gratuitously evil and others victims of their circumstances. But he meets good people too: people who help him or other victims like him, who have their own story to tell. Some may argue that the characters are too ‘black and white’, but in a land where war, murder, rape, child soldiers, sexual exploitation are all endemic, nuancing characters is perhaps a luxury that would detract from the hopelessness and horror the author is bring to our attention.
The themes of this book are those which are taken up by foreign journalists who go on to win prestigious awards. This book surpasses that. It’s an authentic story from a local writer giving us a first-hand account of terror and deprivation, but also of kindness and optimism. It’s a unique opportunity for us to go beyond the newsreels.
Rob Burton reviews Fat Man Blues by Richard Wall
I purchased this book a few days ago and really haven't been able to put it down. In fact I was reading it a 3:30 this morning as I couldn't sleep. If you love the delta blues of 1930's America and the bluesmen and women of that era then this book is for you. It takes you to that place and pulls no punches Richard Wall (a British Writer which makes it all the more astounding) uses the language and the cadences of the South to bring the story to life. It is a classic blues story of deals done at crossroads at midnight and rough justice deal out by the local rednecks to the plantation workers and the black musicians scraping a living playing on the streets and in the juke joints - its a high rolling, heavy drinking rip-roaring lifestyle played out to the classic blues music of the likes of Robert Johnson and his contemporaries. A recommended read.
Woke up this morning
Looking for a book
Opened up ma Kindle
Just to take a look
Got the Fat Man Blues
Yeah the Fat Man Blues
Took me to Mississippi
Read about t' Delta Blues
Met up with Hobo John
Walked a mile in his shoes
Got the Fat Man Blues
Yeah the Fat Man Blues
Foller'd him to t'Yeller Dog
And the other juke joint bars
And all I gotta say
Fat Man Blues is worth five stars
Got the Fat Man Blues
Yeah the Fat Man Blues
James Gault reviews ICE by Ulla-Lena Lundberg translated by Thomas Teal
This is not so much a novel as a fictional journal or memoir. It recounts the life of a young Lutheran priest and his wife and child when he moves to a remote Finnish island community to take up the role of pastor. The daily incidents which punctuate their unfamiliar and unhurried lifestyle are presented as they occur. This in itself is a problem for the author, for it means the book lacks the narrative drive of a firm plot. It starts slowly and steadily builds to a snail’s pace.
But plot and narrative are not everything. If the author can bring a group of fascinating characters to life and make us believe in them, this will often sustain a slow story. Does the author succeed in this here? Well, yes… and no. The characters of Petter the priest and his wife Mona are outstandingly well drawn; I felt for them and was immersed in their problems. Unfortunately the other characters were less effectively written. The author tended to introduce them using character descriptions, which were not always reinforced by their subsequent words and actions. Also disconcerting was the attempt to put adult thoughts and feelings into the minds of the couple’s baby and toddler.
As well as a journal, this is also a book very much themed on theology. Three points of view are presented: the Christian faith of the preacher, the lingering superstitious beliefs in the old legends held by the postman, and the atheistic views of the Russian refugee doctor on the island. The author chooses not to concentrate on the differences between them, but rather to search for an accommodation that allows a place for all three. Each acknowledges that the others maybe have some sort of point. This is an admirable sentiment, but it is another factor in removing conflict and tension in the book, and contributes towards its rather bland feel.
For me, the main achievement of this work is the way it evokes the atmosphere of the setting, the cold, the harshness of the life and the isolation. This is not a bad book, and will be enjoyed by many. Women will be attracted by the characterisation of the two main characters. It is a book that almost makes it for me, but not quite.
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