FINE REVIEW: “The Gangster’s Son” by Joe Brewer. An Intriguing Detective Thriller Set in 1991 Japan

The Gangster's Son (Shig Sato #1)The Gangster’s Son by Joseph Mark Brewer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Finally, an intriguing detective thriller set in Japan that refuses to turn the lead characters into caricatures, and base its premise on such tropes as sushi and martial arts. Reading author Joseph Brewer’s biography, he did a tour of duty in the US Navy and spent considerable time in Asia. The author’s regard and insider perspective on Japan in general, and Tokyo in particular, bring an authenticity and sense of immediacy to this richly rendered narrative.

I liked Shig Sato, the senior detective driven to solve the mystery of the murdered nightclub waitress. He is flawed in the way us humans tend to be; trapped by family history and tradition. Witnessing the good detective navigate his way between the shoals of organized crime, corrupt superiors, influence peddling corporate titans, ambivalent subordinates, and the American military and personal heartbreak–in his quest to track down loathsome yakuza street punks–makes for a fascinating read.

By lifting the veil, ever so slightly, on the Japanese’s enigmatic (to Westerners) ways and rich culture, Brewer helps us understand our larger world a little better—without sacrificing a damn good read. He doesn’t flinch from unsettled matters such as the resistance in some quarters to the American military presence in Japan or the ethnic divisions that divide, specifically bigotry; Nor should he as this is the world that his relentless detective, Shig Sato, inhabits. With the detective’s wonderful debut in “The Gangster’s Son”, I look forward to soon reading the next Shig Sato mystery…..

Review by Mark Fine The Zebra Affaire

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FINE REVIEW: “The Foreign Correspondent” by Alan Furst. The restless peace between the two great wars.

The Foreign Correspondent (Night Soldiers, #9)The Foreign Correspondent by Alan Furst
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This novel was quite a revelation with its focus resting on events between the two great wars. As the storm clouds of World War II are looming we are there via Alan Furst’s pen, experiencing the noir-like, uneasy last hurrah of a free Paris (including a brief dalliance with the film world); to soon fall under the grip of the jackbooted Nazi hordes. In the meantime anxiety builds as loyalties are split. The Communists metastasize their subversive ways in their quest for power as the sinister forces of the Fascists grow, exploiting every weakness, sometimes violently.

Furst is masterful in capturing this much neglected period prior to Hitler’s onslaught, and as such is nuanced and patient as he builds inexorably to a compelling climax at the end of the narrative. I especially enjoyed the scenes recalling Franco’s Spanish Civil War. Such a superbly rendered historical fiction work is “The Foreign Correspondent” that this reader almost felt as though he was there; a witness to history careening toward a brutal cataclysm, yet it was a tale told in very personal terms from the perspective of our leading man…the foreign correspondent.

I hope to be reading many more works by this gifted author, Mr. Alan Furst.

Review by Mark Fine of The Zebra Affaire

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Guest Post: Rayne Hall on Publishing

These are thrilling times for those wishing to write, and get published. No need to for that lonely scream; hoping to be heard (and accepted) by agents, publishers and faceless gatekeepers. If you have the will, and at a modest cost (Don’t ignore having your work edited!) you too can be a published author. Rayne Hall’s blog gives a sense of the flexibility of the 21st Century publishing environment.

8 Great Storytellers

RayneHall - Fantasy Horror Author - Portrait by Fawnheart


by Rayne Hall

1. In the past, most authors worked for editors. Today, most editors work for authors.

2. Most books went from author to agent to publisher to distributor to bookseller to reader. Now, more and more go from

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FINE REVIEW: “A Woman’s Weakness” by Molly Gambiza ~ Tribal Tradition is No Excuse for Spousal Abuse. An Important Read!

A Woman's WeaknessA Woman’s Weakness by Molly Gambiza
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It is the nature of Africa to denigrate the role of women, and this is a tragedy. For example, in marriage (where the bride’s dowry is based on head of cattle) she is not allowed to own property. Now that’s discrimination! So many talented women, capable of making extraordinary contributions to both family and society at large, are marginalized by tradition. Reading “A Woman’s Weakness” brought these distressing thoughts to mind in a touching, personal and riveting portrayal of Eva’s abuse at the hand of David her husband.

Spousal abuse is all too prevalent (and obviously not limited by socio-economics, color, or creed); but author Molly Gambiza shines a light on a different and troubling strain of this wicked unkind behavior. The principal characters in the book are from Uganda (as is the author, so she knows of what she speaks) and they have immigrated to England, in pursuit of a better quality of life. Sadly, Eva’s husband and mother-in-law insist on perpetuating the submissive role expected of Ugandan women–in England! In their attempts to do so, poor Eva (selflessly protecting the children) is subjected to a constant barrage of humiliation and physical abuse.

As a testament to the fortitude of the woman of Africa (Just try carrying a five gallon bucket of water on your head, walking to and from the river, with an infant strapped by a blanket to your back!), Eva finally finds solace and wisdom through personal sacrifice–and a long journey back to her roots. As for Molly’s writing style, I thoroughly enjoyed the spirit of Uganda radiating through her expression of the English language. It gave the book a distinctive voice which makes it all the more memorable. An Important Read!

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FINE REVIEW: “A Dream Fulfilled” ~ Former Freedom Fighter, Ambassador & Author, Thandi Lujabe-Rankoe. A Riviting Personal Story of Sacrifice for Human Freedom.

A Dream FulfilledA Dream Fulfilled by Thandi Lujabe-Rankoe

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Thandi Lujabe-Ranko, the subject of this fine and authoritative autobiography, which outlines for us, in sometimes uncompromising terms, the journey taken by herself – from the cauldron of apartheid, through various postings in exile to a triumphant return to the native land. A quiet, unassuming though single-minded woman, Thandi represents the best that any country can offer. I urge you to read this book as it will not only inform you but will become one of the most important records of the invincibility of the human spirit.”

These are NOT my words, but I discovered them in the forward of “A Dream Fulfilled.” Imagine my delight when I saw that they’d been written by NELSON MANDELA. Of course, I agree with Mandela’s assessment of this fine book.

In a time when we see ambassadorships cavalierly handed out as rewards to those who merely “bundled” the most money for a presidential election, it is gratifying to see that in the tip of Africa a diplomat received her High Commissioner appointment to represent her nation based solely on merit. And boy, did she earn it: The Hard Way! In reading Ambassador Lujabe-Rankoe’s harrowing story, it becomes evident how difficult her journey was; the personal cost was awful. But in telling her story, the ambassador deservedly indicts the brutal apartheid regime. But she displays generous grace and humor to those that were kind.

Thandi was always destined to serve, but her early ambitions to be a nurse in South Africa were crushed by early activism protesting the apartheid laws. As she became immersed in the freedom struggle, she found herself in danger, and fled her native land. With the threat of death a constant, due to the apartheid regime’s sustained efforts to assassinate the ANC leadership, Thandi (often with a child in tow) was constantly on the move to various destinations in Africa, and even Norway. I was amazed at this formidable woman’s ability to adapt to these new communities, cultures, and societies–yet, at the same time successfully championing all humanities cause.

And that is what finally makes the reading of this book so satisfying: Redemption. After 33 years in exile (and after Mandela’s 27 years of imprisonment), both their dreams were finally fulfilled with Nelson Mandela’s 1994 ascendency to the presidency. And as a fitting reward for her profound contribution to the freedom struggle (not merely based on gratuitous political favors) Ambassador Thandi Lujabe-Rankoe was appointed High Commissioner, with the mandate of representing her first-time free nation to the world. And as ambassador, and knowing so well the countries she was posted (due to her past travels) she served her nation brilliantly.

I strongly recommend this book those who appreciate autobiographies and memoirs, African studies, political science, 20th Century world history, women empowerment, stories of personal courage and sacrifice, and compelling tales of inspiration.

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Or, How my messed up knees contributed to my new vocation as an Author…

It was my MRI, but the mournful expression on the face of the white-coated orthopedic surgeon suggested he was grieving for his own legs. “Bone-on-bone on both knees,” he said. “You have craters where you once had cartilage.”  Now I had an explanation for the excruciating pain that had robbed me of my mobility.

“Okay, doc. What would you suggest I do next?”

1471-2474-11-167-1 (1)

Would you like this bionic cyborg device in your body?


Ever so proudly, as if he presenting me with a Grammy award, the surgeon handed me a gleaming replica of the Stryker Scorpio knee replacement system. I took one glance at this bionic, slash cyborg, device—more like a prop from the Terminator  movie franchise—and fled, or more precisely flopped away on my two gimpy knee’d legs.


I was terrified. Knee replacement surgery seemed akin to gross amputation. Why the necessity for this traumatic procedure, twice—on each knee, I wondered? Surely this is a simple patch job; the biological equivalent of filling in a pothole?

With certainty I knew this was something I wouldn’t do, but as I searched for an alternative solution the pain persisted and my universe shrunk. No more tennis, and no more walks on the beach, no more soccer games, no more travelling, and even obligatory visits to the grocery store became too taxing. In fact, only vanity prevented me from applying for a disabled placard to allow me to park my car a few yards from my destination.

Inevitably I resigned myself to a future marooned on my bum. At least my bum didn’t hurt…at least not yet.


No! This is NOT a picture of MY bum.

So, what’s a poor guy to do stranded all day on his butt? Watch TV? Tried and done that. And then an absurd notion entered my head, “Why not write a book…”

Now I am not a Luddite. I’m well aware that the earth is round and technology is crazy cool. My resistance to bionic knees was not a foolish quest to invalidate the wonders of modern medicine. Quite to the contrary, I admire medicine. But in this instance, to me, “the punishment did not fit crime” and the recommended remedy was far too draconian. Hence I began the first tentative steps into ‘authordom.’ With computer in hand (or hand on mouse) I now used the wonders of modern technology as my primary research tool.


Bound to a chair I travelled through the universe and the ages; and visited the arcane and cruel laws of South Africa’s apartheid regime (the topic of my book)—without ever leaving my desk. Google and Bing replaced the library and index card system of yore, and brought all knowledge to my desk seemingly at my bidding. And from this foundation of dedicated research, my romantic-suspense, historical novel “The Zebra Affaire” began to take form and reveal its true shape.

ZA Kindle and Paperback Mock up copy

Here’s the obligatory plug of my novel. You are welcome to buy it at and other fine retail outlets. Thank you 🙂

Now we’ve reached the heart of this story; a “circle of life” thing—that still fills me with wonder—kind of happened. You see the book owed its very existence to the plight of my poor knees, and seemingly in a selfless act of gratitude this same book chose to show pity on my knees and reciprocated in kind.


One day when researching the specifics of the bloody massacre of black school children during 1976 Soweto Riots—I was suddenly transfixed by the search engine’s seemingly arbitrary highlight of something called stem cell regeneration of knee cartilage. And so I followed these crumbs of information that my grateful book had offered me. Apparently I had finally found the asphalt patch I’d been seeking for my pot-holed knees.

An innovative medical group, a modest two-hour drive from my home, was pioneering the procedure. They instructed me to bring my MRI (which I then pried from the grasp of the protesting orthopedic surgeon) to the initial appointment.

Anxiety skyrocketed. It was vital I qualified for the program. Fortunately both knees did; I experienced a similar euphoria as if my two knees had graduated college magna cum laude.


Now I will spare you the gory details (as there were none: no scalpel, no chain saws, no staples, and no sutures). But there were lots and lots and lots of needles (and some sedation). It would be fair to describe my needle-sprouting knees as living pin cushions during the meticulous stem cell “seeding” procedure.

An intimate portrait of one of my two prickly knees. And yes, it did hurt. I was awake during the process…


Twenty months have come and gone since stem cells harvested from my own body were carefully inserted beneath each knee cap. I used the time well, finishing off my novel, and designing both the front cover and the book’s interior. And as I labored the stem cells did their share of the work.

All now is well! “The Zebra Affaire” continues to receive splendid reviews (76 of them to date, Thank you!) for which I continue to be both humbled and grateful:

I see Pulitizer Prize material here…” readerJeanne Mary Allen

“Intensley dazzling!” Elizabeth Newton, author of “The View from the Sixth Floor”

“Scorching!” Charlie Flowers, author of “Hard Kill”

“If I could, I would give it six stars!” reader Enrico Grafitti

“A masterpiece at All levels…,” Ilana Edelstein, author “The Patron Way”

“A book to savour slowly…I found myself re-reading whole paragraphs, such was the quality of the writing. One of the best books I’ve read this year.” Jean Gill, author of ‘Song at Dawn’.

Clearly my pen is well indebted to my long suffering knees! As for my ability to walk—it is now a joy to be fully engaged, zooming about,  speaking at book clubs and book signings—with barely a twinge in either knee.

A little more about me: here

Introducing you to a remarkable woman of Africa, THANDI LUJABE-RANKOE

Introducing you to a remarkable woman, THANDI LUJABE-RANKOE; Freedom fighter, Senior South African Diplomat and Author. 

Exiled for 33 years during South Africa’s liberation struggle (at the time Nelson Mandela was imprisoned on Robben Island).

Finally, she came in from the cold and President Mandela appointed, now Ambassador Lujabe-Rankoe, as her free nation’s High Commissioner to Botswana, and then Mozambique.

 “Now it is time for justice to be applied to all.”Thandi quote

Needless to say this courageous woman’s kind words regarding  The Zebra Affaire means a great deal to me. She has lived it, and continues to devote her life to the idea that “it is time for justice to be applied to all.”

IS KINDNESS OVERRATED? – guest blog post by Lexa Harpell

Lexa personifies Kindness. Her thoughtful tribute to mothers, “To Mum, Gifts from your Soul” is a reflection of her values.

Anita's Haven

Today’s guest blog post on kindness comes from an Australian author with a big heart. Here’s what Lexa Harpell has to say about it. Read more about Lexa below her post.

Maybe we should first look at what Kindness means:

‘An act of Kindness is a spontaneous gesture of goodwill towards someone or something – our fellow humans, the animal kingdom, and the kingdom of nature.’

‘Kindness is a behavior marked by ethical characteristics, a pleasant disposition, and concern for others. It is known as a virtue, and recognized as a value in many cultures and religions.’


Hmmmm is it overrated?

Personally, I believe it is quite underrated. There is immense power in just one small act of kindness – it can change a person’s life – a belief – a decision – history. The beauty and mystery of kindness is that we may never know who or how –…

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FINE REVIEW: “The Price of Silence” by Ulla Hakanson. A Psychological Thriller that Felt All too Real!

The Price of SilenceThe Price of Silence by Ulla Hakanson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Forget chick lit with a Swedish twist, “The Price of Silence” is a psychological thriller that’s frighteningly real. The refined details on every page authenticate this nail-biting saga; and in the process I found myself fully vested in Amy’s plight, and felt great loathing for the vindictive psychopath bent on destroying her.

But “The Price of Silence” is also a balanced tale, refraining from immature rants and gratuitous recriminations. It tells of the foibles of human nature: How a wonderful person can make a single bad decision (in this instance, the choice of the wrong man as a fiancé) and pay dearly for it. How the kindness of strangers may well be life’s greatest gift. How bigotry has no place, ever. How there is always the right time to forgive. How nothing is more satisfying than the self-destructive nature of evil. By no measure is this “a message book,” but author Ulla Hakanson had the writer’s craft to take me to a deeper level at the same time I burned speedily through the pages of her thrilling novel. The author’s Swedish heritage is gently introduced during the narrative, which adds further richness for the reader.

By the way, I found the great outdoors of British Columbia invigorating, as it was so descriptively told, that I am tempted to add a kayak excursion to my bucket list.

“The Price of Silence” is definitely a book to be enjoyed by both men and women.

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3 Ways to Win against Writer’s Block

8 Great Storytellers

Nothing freaks writers out more than the inability to write. It can happen at any point in a project but most often strikes mid-stream. You are stopped cold, confronted by a startling realization that your story has lost direction and is sinking into an abyss of confusion.frustrated-writer

There are countless reasons why writers stumble, lose focus, and end up suffering the paralyzing effects of writer’s block. A few quick fixes:

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