Book Review—The Weight of Ink

The Weight of Ink Cover

Let the truth be ash. This is one of several themes that run through The Weight of Ink, a magnificent work of historical fiction. Though I would like to write pages and pages about this compelling story, they wouldn’t suffice. Let me just say that I fell in love with Ester Velasquez and her struggle to develop her mind and spirit in a world that demanded “decent” women only marry and raise families. Likewise, my heart broke for Helen Watt, whose life had become a perpetual plague of silent mourning over love lost, the yawning void to be filled with Jewish history.

The Weight of Ink is brimming with theology, philosophy, and matters of the heart. It demands of the reader that, like Ester, you question, even when the wisdom of the ages in the form of a learned blind rabbi is ever present to teach you the meaning of God and suffering. This magnificent book didn’t shake my faith but made it stronger. Because I can see in these tortured characters the spirit of love that drenches the book’s pages in indelible ink and laughs at Ester’s bitter refrain, let the truth be ash.

This story, whatever it proves to be, belongs to all of us. If you choose to read this book, then the story can belong to you, too.

You can find this review at Goodreads.

Book Description
Set in London of the 1660s and of the early twenty-first century, The Weight of Ink is the interwoven tale of two women of remarkable intellect: Ester Velasquez, an emigrant from Amsterdam who is permitted to scribe for a blind rabbi, just before the plague hits the city; and Helen Watt, an ailing historian with a love of Jewish history.

When Helen is summoned by a former student to view a cache of newly discovered seventeenth-century Jewish documents, she enlists the help of Aaron Levy, an American graduate student as impatient as he is charming, and embarks on one last project: to determine the identity of the documents’ scribe, the elusive “Aleph.”

Electrifying and ambitious, The Weight of Ink is about women separated by centuries—and the choices and sacrifices they must make in order to reconcile the life of the heart and mind.

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Book Review—Tender Enemies

Tender Enemies Cover

One of the things I love about an S.R. Mallery novel is how well researched it is. Years ago, I became interested in Germany during WWII and read extensively about the rise of the Nazi party. I also learned about the German American Bund, which in 1936 began openly supporting Hitler and his merry band of henchmen. It’s astonishing to me that such a thing could occur in this country, but there you have it. Not only were grown men and women engaging publicly in a giant PR campaign to convince Americans that the Nazis were a great bunch of people, the Bund also established camps for kids so that they could be indoctrinated—much like the Hitler Youth.

In Tender Enemies,  we get a chance to see all of this firsthand through the eyes of a beautiful and good-hearted amateur spy. Thanks to Lily, we are presented with an exciting story that brings this dark period of our history to life in glorious Technicolor. We meet the good, the bad, and the really bad. And much of the time, we’re not sure who we can trust, which is not good when you’re an operative who finds herself falling in love with the very person you are supposed to be spying on.

If you enjoy riveting historical fiction featuring characters who are realized wonderfully, I urge you to pick up this novel. After reading it, you may come away asking yourself—as I did—how in the world could something like this have happened in America?

You can find this review at Goodreads.

Book Description
A USA Today Best Selling author and two-time Readers’ Favorite Gold Medal winner, S. R. Mallery—as her fans say—”brings history to life.” Here is her newest, a romantic suspense thriller.

It’s 1941 in New York City, a time before Pearl Harbor, when Nazi spies are everywhere in the U.S. and no one knows who’s working for whom. In comes beautiful Lily, paid to gather intelligence by setting up a “honey trap” for Joe Stiles, a supposed German infiltrator. Problem is, she soon faces a danger she isn’t prepared for—falling in love.

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Book Sale—Tender Enemies Now 99 Cents at Amazon

Tender Enemies Cover

Just a quick note to let you know that Tender Enemies by S.R. Mallery is now 99 cents at Amazon. If you are a fan of historical fiction that’s fun, then grab your copy here.

Book Description
A USA Today Best Selling author and two-time Readers’ Favorite Gold Medal winner, S. R. Mallery—as her fans say—”brings history to life.” Here is her newest, a romantic suspense thriller.
It’s 1941 in New York City, a time before Pearl Harbor, when Nazi spies are everywhere in the U.S. and no one knows who’s working for whom. In comes beautiful Lily, paid to gather intelligence by setting up a “honey trap” for Joe Stiles, a supposed German infiltrator. Problem is, she soon faces a danger she isn’t prepared for—falling in love.

Excerpt

Joe grabbed her hand. “Let’s go!” he yelled, and together, they took off, the men’s moans coupled with low curses behind them, growing fainter by the second. He led her over to one of the small alcoves he had hesitated in front of before.

“This has to be the one,” he said. “Hold onto my belt.”

What seemed at first to be a dim little inlet, turned out to be a long, dark passageway, where the temperature chilled and a slightly foul odor emerged. She followed him blindly, until he suddenly stopped short, and she rammed up against him.

“What’s going on?” she asked.

“We’ve run into a wall. But if it’s what they told me about, it’s good,” he said in a low voice.

She inched up beside him and realized he was running his fingers over the plaster, scouring for something.

“It’s gotta be here somewhere,” he whispered.

“What’s gotta be here?” she whispered back, but he didn’t answer.

She heard another sound.

He, too, had obviously heard the several footsteps at the mouth of their little “cave.” Fear spiked through her. She didn’t dare move. As the footsteps grew even closer, she heard some words.

“Ich denke ich höre sie.”

Suddenly her high school German came back to her. “I think I hear them,” they had said.

How close are those guys? Still holding onto his belt, she waited for Joe to do something lifesaving, but all he did was move them sideways, as the speed of his hand movements on the wall in front of them grew more frenetic. What in the world was he looking for? She wanted to ask him but didn’t dare utter a sound.

The creaky sounds of cheap shoes, one careful step after another, kept on advancing and still, no solution from Joe.

“Ich kenne deine beiden hier,” one of them snarled out loud.

She clapped one hand over her mouth. They had said, “I know you’re both here.”

Closer the Gestapo shoes squeaked. Closer and closer. It’d be over soon. It’d—

Book Review—Trouble In Glamour Town

Trouble In Glamour Town CoverAfter reading S. R. Mallery’s new novel, I am under the impression that nothing much has changed in Hollywood since the 1920s. Of course, movies are in color now. And people actually talk. But corrupt cops, substance abuse, and mistreatment of women are pretty much what you can get now. Which reminds me. How, with prohibition, is there so much freaking alcohol? Wow, I guess the politicians didn’t really think that one through.

One thing I love about this author’s work is her attention to period detail. For example, who knew that actors had to wear blue makeup and yellow lipstick in front of the camera? Fascinating! And she didn’t neglect details like having to crank your stupid car to get it to start—even when you were trying to catch a bad guy. I love that kind of world building.

This is an unusual Hollywood story. Sure, you’ve got the wannabe starlet through whose eyes we see the story evolve. And the hard-boiled detective, the earnest boyfriend, and a cast of crazy characters literally out of the movies—Clara Bow, Douglas Fairbanks, and Mary Pickford! But you also have a sweet story about Rosie, who just wants to be happy. And despite the filth and corruption she seems to encounter at every turn, this girl just might have a shot.

You can find this review at Amazon US.

Book Description
Hollywood, 1926. Where actors’ and actresses’ dreams can come true. But do they? While silent screen movie stars reign supreme, a film producer is gunned down in cold blood. Enter Rosie, a pretty bit-player, Eddie, her current beau, and Beatrice, her bitter stage-mother. As real celebrities of the time, such as Clara Bow, Lon Chaney, Gloria Swanson, and Rudolph Valentino float in and out, a chase to find the killer exposes the true underbelly of Los Angeles––with all its corruption.

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THE DOLAN GIRLS—Thundering off the Page Like a Cattle Stampede

Though I am not normally a reader of historical fiction, I do enjoy movies about the Old West. Films like ‘The Outlaw Josey Wales,’ ‘Unforgiven’ and ‘True Grit’ (the Coen Brothers’ version, not the original). There’s something very appealing about these desperate, iconic characters struggling to survive in a desolate setting, with the promise of Progress—usually in the form of a new railroad—looming somewhere on the horizon. When I read The Dolan Girls, I found many of the things I love—strong women, villains cut from the cloth of a harsh adherence to tradition, and some other pretty colorful characters, both real and fictional.

The Dolan Girls is western fiction as you’ve never read it. S.R. Mallery’s words thunder off the page like a cattle stampede. And her sharply written characters demonstrate that truly it was women who tamed the American West.

You can find this review at Amazon US.

Book Blurb

[The Dolan Girls Cover]

The Dolan Girls by S. R. Mallery has it all. Set in Nebraska during the 1800s, whorehouse madams, ladies of the night, a schoolmarm, a Pinkerton detective, a Shakespeare-quoting old coot, brutal outlaws, and a horse-wrangler fill out the cast of characters. Added to the mix are colorful descriptions of an 1856 land rush, Buffalo Bill and his Wild West Show, Annie Oakley, bank/train robberies, small town local politics, and of course, romance. Two, in fact!

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UNEXPECTED GIFTS—Falling Through Time in America

So, let me first say that I’m not really a fan of historical fiction. I’m more a horror-thriller kind of guy. That said, I had the pleasure of reading Unexpected Gifts and now have a new appreciation for this genre. The author has placed her protagonist Sonia in a contemporary setting, with all of the problems and pain of a nervous young woman trying to take control of her life. And things haven’t been going all that well. Doesn’t sound like the past, right? Well, here comes the “historical” part. Sonia is introduced to past generations of family and friends courtesy of letters that her mother shares with her over a series of days. These aren’t normal letters, mind you. They literally transport Sonia back to a time and place when these people were struggling with their own issues—many of which are tied to famous events. I thought this was a clever device that worked extremely well.

Unexpected Gifts is a book of longing, hope and wonder. Does Sonia ever reach that place of joy and contentment? You’ll have to read those letters to find out.

You can find this review at Amazon US.

Book Blurb

[Unexpected Gifts Cover]

Can we learn from our ancestral past? Do our relatives’ behaviors help mold our own? In Unexpected Gifts that is precisely what happens to Sonia, a confused college student, heading for addictions and forever choosing the wrong man. Searching for answers, she begins to read her family’s diaries and journals from America’s past: the Vietnam War, Woodstock, and Timothy Leary era; Tupperware parties, McCarthyism, and Black Power; the Great Depression, dance marathons, and Eleanor Roosevelt; the immigrant experience and the Suffragists. Back and forth the book journeys, linking yesteryear with modern life until finally, by understanding her ancestors’ hardships and faults, she gains enough clarity to make some right choices.

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Historical Terror—Horror that Happened

[Alan M. Clark]By Alan M. Clark

What Were They Thinking? How could the people of Jonestown drink the cyanide laced Kool-Aid? How could Jim Jones ask them to do it?

How did Marine Sergeant Herbert J. Thomas, Jr. decide to fall on a grenade during fighting in Bougainville in WWII? Surely, he didn’t do it for the posthumously awarded Medal of Honor. No doubt he did it to save his fellow soldiers, but that’s a pat answer that leaves out all but the barest glimpse of the emotions involved. When it’s difficult to put myself into the shoes of the people making these sorts of mind-blowing decisions, their choices can become a fascination for me.

This post was originally developed as a presentation about writing historical fiction for the WordCrafters in Eugene writers’ conference under the title “What were They Thinking: The Drama Available in History.” The driving force of human emotion can be quite mysterious when we’re not present to see it in action. If the emotional context is missing, I am frequently befuddled by the decisions of my fellow human beings. History is filled with dramatic events that involve momentous and pivotal choices, some heroic, some dastardly, taken by human beings under great emotional strain. Those situations that ended in tragedy were often a result of decisions made, often hastily, based on a poor selection of choices, none of them good, or in the pursuit of a desperate agenda. Those that ended well often resulted from a persistent hope, faith, love, or just dumb luck.

Here are some of the types of choices human beings make that are difficult for me to understand on the surface.

1) Suicide (sometimes there’s no explanation left behind).
2) Maintaining relationships with those who are emotionally difficult, abusive, or dangerous.
3) Engaging in activities that are known to easily lead to addictions.
4) Unusual risk-taking or other self-destructive tendencies (sometimes referred to as a death wish).
5) Self-sacrifice (a willingness to sacrifice oneself for the benefit of others).
6) Courage in the face of overwhelming odds.
7) Striking out for the unknown with little but hope to sustain the effort (Christopher Columbus comes to mind).
8) Acting on intuition alone (trusting oneself to anticipate something of great import).
9) Willingness to pursue a course despite the obvious pain endured or caused to others.
10) Unwillingness to consider anything but one’s own agenda or beliefs in the face of obvious reality (Hitler comes to mind).
11) Collective belief systems that seem obviously harmful to others (South African Apartheid comes to mind).
12) Falling in love with highly flawed, even destructive individuals.
13) Hating individuals for reasons that seem to have little depth.
14) Scapegoatism.

For this paper, I’ll refer to these quirks of human decision-making as “fascinating choices.” Most of the choices seem unreasonable on the surface, so why should I trouble myself to understand? I’ve certainly made some weird, even bone-headed decisions in my life, but then, I know why, at least most of the time. If hindsight is 20/20, I should be able to evaluate others’ fascinating choices objectively, right? Of course not. If there’s no record left behind of what the actors involved were thinking and feeling, a lot information is missing. Should I dismiss my astonishment with the notions that those who made the fascinating choices were insane, ill-informed, or merely bad at decision-making, some lucky and some unlucky? I think the fact that I’m left scratching my head in wonder is an indication that something particularly human and emotionally complex has occurred in these situations, something that holds great drama. Sometimes, we have the pat answer—he gave his life to save his fellow soldiers—but that doesn’t satisfy my curiosity. Was he motivated by patriotic fervor or was it a special relationship with those particular men that motivated him. If the latter, what events led to such strong feeling?

Read the rest at The Imagination Fully Dilated Blog.