Friday, 29 October 2010

Brendan Gisby's 'The Island of Whispers' reviewed by Teresa Geering

(Teresa Geering is the author of the excellent time-travel romance 'The Eye of Erasmus' - here).

With great trepidation, I began to read The Island of Whispers.

I hate Rats with a passion, but under the influential, cunning writing of Brendan Gisby, I found myself reading this in one long sitting.

Out of sight of prying eyes deep underground, live a colony of rats with imaginative names, such as Twisted Foot, his mate Grey Eyes and their offspring Soft Mover.

Their world is regimented and overseen by A King Rat, who ensures that only the strongest survive by having the weakest culled. These bodies are then in turn used for the feeding cycle.

As the Cold Cycle begins above ground so the breeding season begins below. All in their world is exactly as it should be....

Then the story takes a different turn. A group of the rats led by Twisted Foot and his mate Grey Eyes, who had been subjected to rape, decide to make a bid for freedom to the greener lands above, along with their offspring.

With unexpected help from the lower rat quarters, a bloody battle ensues and they are finally free but at what cost?

Keeping well hidden from four legs, (a nifty Jack Russell called Nipper) and the two legged variety of rat catcher, they set out to cross the sea to safety. Could they swim? They had no idea but were prepared to take that chance.

I found myself willing these little rats to overcome all of the obstacles put in their way, (and there were many) to obtain safety on the other side.

Twisted foot and his followers are pursued by the remaining rats in the colony that have orders to bring them back at the cost of their own lives.

I breathed a sigh of relief, as these intrepid adventurers finally make it to safety but again at what cost?

Do they set up a new colony and live happily ever after.......

At times, the song ‘Bright Eyes’ from Watership Down popped into my head. Was I getting to like these disgusting little furry creatures?

Would I highly recommend it?

The answer is a resounding yes for all age groups, because The Island of Whispers is extremely well written and thought out, albeit highly gory in places.

('The Island of Whispers' is available from here).

Monday, 25 October 2010

Lose your legs and smile - How Can You Mend This Purple Heart?

‘How Can You Mend This Purple Heart?’ is not an intrinsically funny book.

It is the story of how a young naval recruit, Jeremy Shoff, is involved in a lethal car crash coming back from a party and finds himself in the U.S. Naval Hospital in Philadelphia among a ward full of mutilated Vietnam veterans who have lost between one and three limbs while stepping on landmines in the war that was considered by many Americans to have brought shame upon their country.

While some of the therapeutic treatment of these wounds is agonising, it is the convalescence which is the most traumatic, not only for the endless pain subdued by massive amounts of pain killers, but also for the physical and psychological adjustments required to face almost an entire life of handicap after having been the fittest of the fittest, and for the horrific flashbacks to the moment when this crippling transition occurred.

Jeremy is looked down upon as a non-combatant by one hardened and embittered marine in particular, and Terry Gould is excellent at identifying the complex socio-military cross-currents of the situation – marines vs. non-marines, optimists vs. pessimists, warriors vs. peaceniks.

However, and miraculously, most of this book is far from dour. There is a tremendous fondness and understanding in the writing, a recognition of the humanity in all of the participants in all situations, and true admiration for the tact, professionalism and generosity of the hospital staff.

It also regularly dips into outrage and rises to humour, once both at the same time when a passing admiral insists on being treated with the respect he so little deserves.

In common with its publishing stable-mate ‘Confronting Cancer with the QiGong Edge’ by Robert Ellal, this is a book detailing extreme medical trauma that transcends the horror of what it is describing to offer the residual hope that many human beings can overcome almost any setback, the message and the quality of writing exemplified by Primo Levi in his books about the Holocaust.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Simon Swift's 'Black Shadows' reviewed by Teresa Geering

(Teresa Geering is the author of 'The Eye of Erasmus' - here).

'BlackShadows' is not a book I would normally choose to read, but I’m so glad the opportunity was given to me.

We are introduced to the main character Errol Christopher Black, a rookie private detective as he tucks into a large bloody porterhouse steak. Detectives Terry Shadow and Dyke Spanner of the Shadow Man Detective Agency are helping him work his way through a now half empty bottle of claret.

The story unfolds in Newark New Jersey in 1935 where mobs rule, and we are witness to a typical shoot out of the time. As the table is upended to afford some form of protection from the flying bullets, they realise that they are not the intended targets but Terry Shadow meets his untimely end with two clean bullets to the head.

Ten years down the line we find Errol Christopher Black with a new partner, Hermeez Wentz and now based in Manhattan at the Black and Wentz Detective Agency along with his very obliging secretary Ava Jameson.

Errol seems happy to take on run of the mill cases and his new client Claudia seems to fit into that category. She tells of a straying fiancĂ© George, along with the discovery of a lipstick and pair of lacy panties which don’t belong to her.

As he takes on what he considers to be a routine surveillance case, Errol is unexpectedly drawn back once more to the mobsters and gangs of that time.

His one time partner Dyke Spanner is shot to death and Errol finds himself on the trail of a blue diamond coveted by hoodlums and beautiful women alike.

The story unfolds with many twists and turns, whilst the reader is witness to the beautiful women that Errol chooses to bed, in his quest for the diamond and the elusive George. Murder is not a rare occurrence either. To state more would give away too much of the plot.

The strength of the writing led me to imagine that I was entering into a 1940’s movie with Humphrey Bogart in the wings.

I also firmly believe that with the right exposure, there is potential here for a film.

Many times during reading BLACK SHADOWS I was convinced that I had all the answers, only to be completely wrong footed by the superb, imaginative writing of Simon Swift.

More information on 'Black Shadows' - here.

Sheila Mary Taylor praises 'Conronting Cancer' by Robert Ellal to the rafters

Sheila Mary Taylor (aka Sheila Belshaw) is the author of 'Fly with a Miracle', the story of Sheila’s son Andrew who overcame a usually fatal form of teenage cancer against all adversity, and fulfilled his dream to learn to fly. Published by Denor Press, London, available from Amazon - here.

'Confronting Cancer with the QiGong Edge' - the true life horror tale of facing cancer four times.

The unputdownable quality of this book lies not only in the superb writing, but in the mesmerising balance the writer achieves between the horror of his protagonist’s journey through seemingly never ending onslaughts of cancer, and the philosophy behind his remarkable recovery.

He is not afraid to show the weaknesses of the main character alongside his strengths. He doesn’t keep you strung up on the edge of your seat all the time. He gives you an enlightened breather every now and then, skilfully juxtaposing events that are not necessarily chronological and yet perfectly fit a pattern ─ creating cliffhangers as in a thriller that draw the reader ever forward.

This book should be read not only by cancer patients, or those touched by cancer, but by everyone. For there is a wealth of knowledge to be gleaned about how by one or two simple processes we can escape the stresses of the modern world that lead to so much ill health. One of these is a simple qigong exercise, a method of exercising from the inside out, instead of from the outside in; a combination of mind, breath and body co-ordination that leads to stillness, which in turn leads naturally into meditation, and from there to the art of visualisation ─ visualising the body whole and healed, a concept so important in augmenting the very necessary highly technical treatments of cancer. The “Embrace the Tree” exercise (what a lovely title that would make), is the most important of these, and one we could all use, if only to chase away the common cold.

There is a fine line to be drawn between bravery and fear, between strength and weakness. Bob Ellal acknowledges that his usual iron will sometimes falters. He does not pretend that that it isn’t happening. This endears the reader to Bob. We can all identify with this weakness. But at the same time we are astounded at his tenacity, in his belief that he will recover, in his ability to face whatever new monstrous horror is thrown at him.

Bob’s wife Cheryl also shows great fortitude. Throughout the terror and drama of the recurring cancer, she remains strong, as do his children. In periods of remission Bob and Cheryl are able to resume a semblance of normal married togetherness. “That’s the litmus test of true love,” Bob tells us. “To sit in an empty room, say nothing and not get on one another’s nerves.” He highlights the stresses and strains of the carer, the wife who has to stoically stand by him, exercising inexhaustible strength. Cheryl is underplayed by the writer, but she shines through as a crucial cog in the wheel of Bob’s extraordinary journey.

It was a toss-up for me to decide which element of this book made me most excited: the beautiful prose, or the spell-binding content. But I suppose that in the end it is a combination of both. I love the easy conversational tone, the elegance of style, the metaphors, and the perfect syntax which gives rhythm to the prose, at times almost as alluring as poetry. But above all there is the ring of truth and honesty in every word. He illustrates graphically how great things can be achieved through being faced with the prospect of death. At so many different levels ─ physical, mental and philosophical, he concludes that the importance of good health and the achievement of it, far outweighs the material achievements that so many of us consider necessary for a “successful life”. And he gives tangible hope to other sufferers.

You can buy 'Confronting Cancer with the QiGong Edge' in paperback or on Kindle - here.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Ramzy Baroud reviews two excellent George Polley books

(Ramzy Baroud is the editor and publisher of The Palestine Chronicle and author of several books, including the recent 'My Father Was a Freedom Fighter').

What struck me most reading George Polley’s books, Grandfather and the Raven and The Old Man and the Monkey are their ability to relocate the reader geographically without dislocating him culturally or intellectually. The place is maybe Japan but the moral of the stories are to be applied everywhere, and on everyone.

My children read both books and enjoyed them immensely. They appreciated the sense of adventure, readability and the uniqueness of the style. I appreciated their subtle moral messages. Indeed, the reader is left without a restricting set of values imposed by the author, but the ability to think and glean the messages of the stories using his or her moral contexts or cultural values. My younger daughter saw The Old Man and the Monkey as a clear anti-racism message. My older daughter argued it teaches kindness to animals and appreciation of everything around us, no matter how different or seemingly strange. I appreciated the fact that the books allowed them to think outside the carefully tailored, yet often simplistic messages imparted on them by the media regarding the ultimate right and wrong.

George Polley’s text is readable and enjoyable. No gimmicks and no stylistic fads. Seemingly classic in its approach to writing for younger readers, it is still very creative in the way it conveys the content and the overall moral of the stories.

Grandfather and the Raven leaves one wondering if indeed such stories have been carried from one generation to the next in Sapporo, Japan. The way the stories are told transmits the feeling of generational wisdom that is conveyed through ancient legends and fables of East Asia, the Middle East, Africa and beyond. George Polley expresses that astute sentiment so wonderfully through his prudent, careful but at times mischievous characters.

Even as an adult, I found myself very much involved in reading and attempting to interpret the stories. The conclusion of The Old Man and the Monkey had me pause and reflect for a while with a mix of feelings, partly sadness, but also appreciation of that often unspoken relationship between us and nature which keeps our world moving, often unnoticed.

George Polley’s beautiful style is a model of anti-sensationalism, a breath of fresh air at the age of intellectual profit-generation and mass production of ideas. It’s beautiful and sweet. It gets the reader to think, and often smile.

Thank you George.