FINE REVIEW: “Chasing Pharaohs” by C.M.T. Stibbe ~ Ancient Egypt meets Game of Thrones blissfully written

Chasing PharaohsChasing Pharaohs by C.M.T. Stibbe
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Ancient Dynastic Egypt meets Game of Thrones was my delighted sense of Chasing Pharaohs as I ventured into a vivid world of scandal, incest, corruption, mayhem, power and sensual intrigue.

Add to this seductive mixture ancient lore, otherworldly creatures–and brilliant research; and my senses were further tantalized by both the rich tale read and knowledge of ancient Egypt gained.

Claire StibbeAuthor C.M.T. Stibbe writes blissfully which gave further credence to both the story and the times she unveils in her lavish story. Similar to an elegant foreign film it took several pages for this reader to get used to “the period accents” but once in the groove it became immensely readable; and in the end the book’s distinctive “voice” contributed mightily to my complete immersion within it.

In reflection I wish history would be taught in college and schools with historical fiction works such as “Chasing Pharaohs” as an adjunct to traditional fare. I have no doubt through books such as Ms.Stibbe’s 18th Dynasty Egypt would come better alive—as it did in mine, in the students’ imagination. As an historical fiction novel this book made an indelible impression on me, and I look forward to reading the sequel.

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FINE REVIEW: “The Railroad” by Neil Newton ~ Courageous Book Steeped In Gravitas


The Railroad by Neil Newton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Available at Amazon

There are times it takes great courage to write, especially when the events are personal—a major human-made catastrophe. Add to it a fictional focus is on the bleaker side of the human condition, and you have a book steeped with gravitas. This certainly is the case in author, Neil Newton’s tough novel, The Railroad. Unflinchingly he takes on two biggies: First, the devastating destruction of the Twin Towers. This shattered the psyche of a nation, a city, and countless individuals, including the leading character at the epicenter of the story. 9/11 was an impersonal attack by virulent strangers, tainted with a flawed ideology that showed no concern for their victims. But the author also faces down another scourge that is immensely more personal. The abuse of spouse and child by someone who intimately knew them, someone bound by marriage vows and decency to protect them under his roof, but chose instead to be their intimate predator.

The decision by Mr. Newton write this intriguing book in the first person is extremely effective. It gives the novel an inescapable sense of immediacy, and doesn’t allow our protagonist Mike Dobbs to hide his flaws. Unflinchingly through his eyes we experience each misstep, each misgiving and every hangover. This is consistent with Dobbs’ emotional decline as a result of his narrow escape down in the depths of the subway system when the Twin Towers collapsed about him. The once go-go ambitious New Yorker is instantly a shell of his former self, echoing much of the dislocation experienced by his fellow Manhattan dwellers.

From the perspective of Dobbs we witness the unrelenting decay of his life, an understandable consequence of his dramatic 9/11’s near death experience—but his wife and friends don’t quite get it. Too much drinking, fractured relationships and spiraling depression become his pattern. Not pretty.

Then circumstances deliver two strangers to his doorstep; there stands a mother and her seven year old daughter, both on the run from a narcissistic man who was meant to have protected them, instead he’d abused them. Though never invited into the cesspool Dobbs’ is compelled to get involved. Dobbs finds himself now facing an immediate villain, immensely more tangible compared to the faceless terrorists that had harmed his nation. With a new sense of purpose Mike Dobbs’ discovers that by necessity his reclusive ways are a thing of the past. As strangers seeking shelter under his roof, the mother/ daughter pair had given Dobbs a gift; they’d reignited his interest in life. Yes, Mike Dobbs had finally begun to care again.

All that was wonderful, until one day Eileen and Megan disappeared.

Without being heavy handed, author Neil Newton allows the pall of post 9/11 New York City to permeate the pages of the book—cleverly. In order that the reader would better appreciate the suffocating portrayal of abuse he uses the 9/11 catastrophe to embody the collective violation we as a nation had felt that ghastly day. In this way, though thankfully never explicit, the author succeeds in atmospherically giving us a sense of Eileen and Megan’s horror and desperation. And it’s through this veil of horror and the bottom of a bourbon glass, the ill-prepared Dobbs, is driven to right the awful wrong inflicted on the two girls he has learned to love. And so his quest begins to find the missing Eileen and her daughter Megan—and combat the unwanted attentions of an intimidating and dangerous ex-husband.

Sometimes nightmarishly Kafkaesque, the hunt takes Mike Dobb’s up along the East Coast seaboard where he confronts cagey lawyers, hired thugs, suspicious small town citizens, and an apparent murderer systematically hunting down the female victims of abuse. Compelling stuff! I strenuously encourage other readers to join Mike Dobbs on his gritty mission to find Eileen and Megan before it’s too late. I certainly found it well worth the journey.

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Brain to Books Blog Tour: Today’s Featured Author, MARK FINE | Bio, Book Excerpt, Reviews & Interviews

Brain to Books Blog Tour

Fast Facts

Author: Mark Fine

Genre: ​Romance / Suspense / Historical Drama​

Books:  The Zebra Affaire: An Apartheid Love Story​ from The Sub-Saharan Saga​

Official Site


Mark Fine (1)​Mark Fine was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. He has made the United States his home since 1979, living in New York, Minneapolis, and Los Angeles.
For four decades he has worked alongside world famous recording artists. He eventually launched his own award-winning record label, Hammer & Lace, with a mandate to produce benefit albums in support of such causes as breast cancer awareness, at-risk children, and wildlife conservation.
For these philanthropic initiatives Mark was voted by Varietymagazine as the “Music Executive with 20/20 Vision.” He has also contributed articles to entertainment industry publications, and conducted public speaking engagements at multimedia events.
​ ​
Now he resides in the South Bay, where he lives with his two sons, his “significant other” and Charlie, a neighborhood dog that drops in from time to time. There he wrote the historic romance novel,The Zebra Affaire. Set in apartheid South Africa, Mark brings an insider’s perspective to the gripping account of a bi-racial couple’s forbidden love.​


​Finalist. BGS Best ​Book 2015 Award, Dublin, Ireland


Mark Fine (2)Apartheid, South Africa

In the spring of 1976 matters of the heart are strictly controlled by racist doctrines. In that toxic mix of segregation and tribal mistrust, an unlikely union between a black man from Malawi and a white woman—an Afrikaner—shocks the nation unaccustomed to such a public affair. All sides across the color divide are represented in the interracial couple’s painful journey in an unaccepting world. The lovers find themselves in the crosshairs of the racist regime’s cold-blooded enforcer, Mal Zander, who will stop at nothing to crush their union and future hopes for a colorblind nation.

The intimate and emotional love story of Elsa and Stanwell is exposed for all to see under the harsh glare of television, newly introduced. In a narrative that’s intense—vividly authentic, and thought provoking—the reader will witness Elsa and Stanwell’s desperate fight to remain together—as the apartheid nation waged a deadly struggle for liberation…and eventual redemption in the guise of prisoner #46664, Nelson Mandela.


It is not often a book as intensely dazzling as “The Zebra Affaire” by Mark Fine comes along. A forbidden love story takes place against the dramatic background of 1970’s South Africa and apartheid. Fine draws you into the story cautiously, laying the groundwork for the eventual affair between Elsa and Stanwell. By gently educating the reader with the background of the conflicts in South Africa, awareness of the difficulties faced by the star crossed lovers is enhanced. This is more than a racial segregation issue; there is a deeper issue brewing in South Africa. Tribal conflicts cause significant damage to a country beset by violence and political unrest.

As the love of Elsa and Stanwell grows deeper and more intense they are assisted by some to strengthen their bond. While segregation forbids open encouragement of their union, friends support them quietly. But the strict Afrikaner regime stands against them if not publicly at least in a behind closed doors attack on their union. While they flaunt their affair the government seems to stand in stunned silence as the world looks on. But the fanatics behind the scenes are both appalled and disgusted by their obvious sexual relationship and strive to expose and punish them for breaking hundreds years old laws.
With vibrant descriptions of both the beauty and ugliness of South Africa the story weaves its way to an intense climax. Waiting for the resolution of the love affair the reader will also wait for the resolution of apartheid. Knowing the eventual outcome of South African politics and the rise of Nelson Mandela it is easy to anticipate the same result for Stanwell and Elsa.

I highly recommend this lush and beautifully written story. Fine’s use of words is akin to an artist’s use of the palette; this is not a black and white story, this is a rainbow story with the rich colors of lives in turmoil. In a word, it is brilliant. If I could rate it higher I would do so.

Read an Excerpt

He needed to make it right. Elsa had misunderstood him. She believed he’d rejected their child and made a mockery of their love. It upset Stanwell that she wouldn’t accept his explanation that he was preoccupied by a cruel government stalking them. And that his immediate concern was for her safety, leaving him little room to truly grasp her good tidings.

So he returned to the way of his people, and prepared for Elsa a love letter—made from primitive colored beads.

Stanwell carefully harvested the beads from a family heirloom, a ceremonial loincloth of his mother’s that she in turn had inherited from her mayi. His mother had thrust the rolled leather apron into his grasp as he set to leave Malawi for the City of Gold, and, with tears in her eyes, had wished him the blessings of his ancestors.

 His message to Elsa would not be in words, but in colors. Stanwell patiently threaded tiny antique beads into a delicate necklace of such intricate design it belied his rugged, workman-like hands.

The beaded chain was predominantly yellow—the color of corn touched by the sun—and signified fertility and wealth. Hanging from the center was the rectangular “love letter”—a chevron of black and white beads trimmed with red and pink. The charcoal-black beads pledged marriage, the ivory white beads promised spiritual love, and the red beads—juicy-red like pomegranate seeds—vowed strong, physical love. But the single tier of pink beads, the color of Elsa’s lips, was the most significant; these shiny little beads declared Stanwell’s commitment to the birth of their child.


Elsa accepted the uniquely crafted peace offering. She was touched by his handiwork, and the effort and thought he’d put into its creation. Happy tears rolled down her cheeks as Stanwell gently described the significance of each colored bead. At the moment he placed the necklace around her neck, Elsa’s hand reached up for his, and then she turned to face him. Stanwell cupped her face in his hands—a bas-relief in ebony and alabaster—and held her close. No longer doubting his intent, Elsa raised her lips to his. Tenderly they kissed their sorrows away.

Impetuously Stanwell knelt at Elsa’s feet. He placed his lips on her belly and kissed it. Then on his knees he began an earnest conversation with her tummy, whispering away in his mother tongue.

Elsa had never heard him speak the language of his people before. “What were you saying to our child?” she asked.

Stanwell first touched his fingers to his lips and then to hers. “Hush, I was speaking to our son,” he said.

“A son! How do you know it’s a boy?”

“I know,” he said quietly.

Elsa saw the conviction in Stanwell’s face; there was no doubt. She then knew it to be true. A trill of excitement coursed through her body. For the first time it was real; in her belly, created by their love, was their son. A boy destined to become a unique individual, a manifestation of the union of two great heritages, with skin a beautiful coffee hue. Such a child would be incapable of bigotry and tribalism.

“How could the white half of him hate his black half, or vice versa?” Elsa said softly to Stanwell. “He will be our wonderful gift to Africa.”

 As they gently affirmed their belief in each other, all was still except for music that filtered into the room from somewhere in the backyard. It was mesmerizing. The melody and rhythm remained steadfast, yet as the minutes passed, evocative layers of complexity were added. Both Elsa and Stanwell were fond of the recording, and knew it by the name “Mannenburg.”

But the anguished cry of the saxophone soaring over the hypnotic strains of the keyboard meant something else, something hopeful for Elsa and Stanwell. This plaintive masterpiece by Dollar Brand was the birth of a wonderful new sound called Cape Jazz—a fusion of American jazz and local Marabi music from the District Six township—another unconventional, yet fruitful meld of two musical forms and cultural traditions.


It was dark—probably after midnight. Stanwell was already in motion. Something had alerted him, something rustling by the window. Then the barking started.

Elsa woke. “What is it?” she asked.

“It’s Leo. He’s barking outside our window.”

“Ridgebacks don’t really bark. Something must be wrong.”

Stanwell, about to lunge through the door, stopped in his tracks. A fusillade of snarls and growls had replaced the barking; then a volley of frantic curses, “Jy’s ‘n dood hond ! Jy is ‘n duiwel !” [You’re a dead dog! You are the devil!], filled the night, followed by pounding footsteps and a thud as a body made hard contact with the fence, then he heard the desperate night caller scramble to safety.

Stanwell opened the door. A proud Leo—panting, salivating—stood with a trophy in his jaw. It was the ripped back pocket from a now tattered pair of jeans.

At daybreak, among the churn of muddied footprints they discovered an overstuffed man’s wallet. Inside was the firearm license and driver’s license of a certain Ulrich van Zyl. Elsa and Stanwell recognized the face; it was “Thick,” one of the monsters who’d attempted to rape Elsa in the elevator.

Crass reality had forever invaded their discreet oasis. It was a chilling development. Stanwell hugged Elsa to his chest. Mal Zander’s stooges were closing in. Yet still Stanwell couldn’t bring himself to tell Elsa about his clash with the Security Branch operative. And he hoped he would never have to do so.

Interview with Mark Fine

Angela B. Chrysler: I want to take a moment to welcome Mark Fine, author of THE ZEBRA AFFAIRE available on Amazon:

Thank you so much for speaking with me, Mark. Please take a moment to tell us about your book. Tell us, how did you come up with the idea for your book?

Mark Fine: Thank you Angela for chatting with me. Though they don’t realize it, I would have to credit my two sons. I have this belief that if a people don’t know their history, they are destined to be forever lost. It was important to me that my sons learned about their African roots from their father; but my personal story isn’t that interesting. So I chose to couch the story from the perspective of far more intriguing characters, that of Elsa (who’s white) and Stanwell (who is black) and their daring romance of the no-no kind. The cruel dynamics of the love-struck couple’s story under the racist regime of then South Africa is all theirs, but the place and time that I inserted them is very much mine.
ABC: Stories always require some form of research. What kind of research did you do for your book?

MF: Besides reference works and letting my fingers stroll through the universe that’s Google, I went on safari. In capturing the romance and exotic location for The Zebra Affaire, I had the privilege of viewing many wild creatures in their natural habitats—a life-affirming experience that I strongly suggest for others. Being in the bush, tracking game (with camera, and not firearm) is not a bookish, academic pursuit, which was a welcome change. The composite of the senses are vital to telling a story that’s authentic. And as the climax of the book is resolved in the African bushveld, what better place to begin the writing process.

ABC: Which scene or chapter was the hardest for you to write?

MF: It’s less about a specific scene, than the challenge of ensuring the reader understood the arcane nature of South Africa’s apartheid rules. Without the reader truly appreciating the jeopardy Elsa and Stanwell faced in that turbulent society, the novel would not have the impact it deserved. So, instead of footnotes or endnotes—both devices that pull the reader away from the narrative, I created what critics have favorably called “anywhere notes.” These I inserted within the context of the story. In the wonderful reviews Zebra has received, these “anywhere notes” have been applauded. Readers now better understand the societal construct of the time, and Elsa and Stanwell’s story became more meaningful, touching and emotional.

ABC: Please describe your favorite scene or chapter in your book and tell us why it’s your favorite?

MF: The challenge was to set the stage for this unlikely union; a white woman and black man falling in love, at great personal risk, in a bigoted apartheid world. I don’t wish to reveal too much, but emergency events surrounding a catastrophe was the vehicle I used. Without a solid foundation to establish their relationship, and at the same time reveal the cruelty of apartheid, well, the novel would not have succeeded so handsomely. Fortunately this establishing scene worked, and as such it has become my favorite.

ABC: Which of your characters, do you relate to the most (or) who is your favorite character and why?

MF: The patriarch in the book, a character known by the initials DGF is certainly my favorite. He holds moral authority, decency and strength in an unkind world. Certainly flawed, but he represents all the honorable and kind people of South Africa who tried to make life easier for discriminated majority. He understood that bigotry was dehumanizing, and worked to make a difference. I’d like to believe that DGF is a reflection of my personal sensibilities.

ABC: I once read that every author is simply a compilation of his/her favorite authors. Which authors have done the most to influence your writing and why?

MF: Always enjoyed substantial books that both entertained and informed. It was such a pleasant way to learn. Without a doubt Herman Wouk, Leon Uris, Ken Follett, and South African authors Wilbur Smith, Andre Brink shaped me. I’d like to add Alan Furst to that list. He’s my current favorite.

ABC: “Story” has always been the center of all human cultures. We need it. We seek it out. We invent it. What does “story” mean to you?

MF: Of course, “story” takes me back to being a child, and the best moments were being read to. I was fortunate that my granny owned a private library in Johannesburg, and she shared with me her joy of the printed page. So many stories, and so many rich memories preserved in my mind.

ABC: Tells us about your next project.

MF: The Zebra Affaire is set in 1976 South Africa. I’m considering remaining in sub-Saharan Africa, and setting my next novel, The Hyena Affaire in 1978 Rhodesia (now known as Zimbabwe). I’m in the process of developing the outline, character profiles, and continuing research. Though my books are set back in time, and on a continent many are unfamiliar; the themes are relevant today, considering the tribal turmoil in the Middle East, as an example.

ABC: Where can we find you and your book?

MF: The Zebra Affaire is available in both paperback and Kindle editions. It can be purchased at Amazon, Barnes & Nobles and other fine retailers. For convenience the Amazon link for the Paperback is: and the Kindle:

ABC: Thank you again, so much for speaking with me.

MF: You are welcome, Angela. I enjoyed discussing my work with you.

Connect with Mark Fine

Official Website

Fine Books

Mark’s Blog

FINE REVIEW: In Search of the Next POTUS (President of the United States): One Woman’s Quest to Fix Washington, a True Story

In Search of the Next POTUS (President of the United States): One Woman's Quest to Fix Washington, a True StoryIn Search of the Next POTUS (President of the United States): One Woman’s Quest to Fix Washington, a True Story by Judy Frankel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Alas, in the United States we now have an electorate easily distracted by glittering celebrity. Drawn easily to the trivial and seduced by nonsense, typical voters are more engaged in Bieber’s latest shenanigans (in reality these have no impact on their lives) than focus on the important stuff that in reality do profoundly impact the quality of our daily lives; specifically the rampant gerrymandering and corruption in the halls of government. But there’s nothing typical about author and master gardener Judy Frankel. As an activist (especially related to food issues) as she has selflessly manned the barricades (as so acutely documented and captured in this book’s subtitle, ‘One Woman’s Quest to Fix Washington”). Indeed she has championed our collective interests, while the rest of us have ignored her warning, complacent in the belief that the truth is best found on Entertainment Tonight and The View.

Witnessing Ms. Frankel’s political journey in the pages of POTUS, and the unremitting struggle and disappointments she faced along the way, concerns me. Clearly as a collective we are not prepared to extend ourselves personally, to make the effort to dig through the clutter in pursuit of forthright answers; and then do something about it.

By the way, Ms. Frankel does her best to avoid the customary tropes of attributing all ideological wisdom and political purity to solely one side of the debate, and is happy to point her earth-stained fingers (remember she is a master gardener) at all those that have dirtied their hands. The cast of villains is considerable: big business, unions, lobbyists, special interest groups, and both parties, the merry men and women inhabiting the house, and even the White House that persists in shoveling fetid fertilizer into our naïve faces. Just that we’ve all been so distracted that we haven’t noticed nor really cared. But that’s the thing, Ms. Frankel does care and should be revered for her Quixotic crusade, which would become considerably less speculative if more folks read this fascinating book—and chose to become engaged in the process to preserve our nation at the ballot box, on the basis of being truly well-informed.

I’m not claiming Ms. Frankel has all the correct solutions (though I take her view on food-related issues very seriously) but I’m thrilled to say in this book I’ve found evidence of “intelligent life,” someone not distracted by glitter, and with a demonstrative track record of being engaged up to her elbows on the earnest matters that affect ourselves and the future of our children.

I cannot deny this is a complex process, the vision Ms. Frankel has outlined, but I found it to be a compelling read. The author’s ability to take so many moving parts–all of them complicated–and reduce them down in a cogent fashion is mighty impressive. The fact she shares her personal story so frankly, makes this book so much more of an entertaining, human story. With 2016 just around the corner, I recommend “In Search of the Next POTUS” as both a timely and important read.

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FINE REVIEW: “THE LAST LION: Defender of the Realm” by William Manchester & Paul Reid. Hazard of Writing in the Footsteps of A Master

The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965 (The Last Lion, #3)The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965 by William R. Manchester
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The great biographer William Manchester had the ability to transport the reader back to a period of history with the lust and vigor of great fiction. Unfortunately, due to Manchester’s untimely death–and despite his already in-depth research on Churchill, in the hands of journalist Paul Reid this third volume of “The Last Lion” is merely dry and factual. I’ve never been overwhelmed by the size of large tomes, but this book has been difficult to navigate due to the fact that it seems to be “just about the facts” and fails to bring these larger than life characters that dominated the WWII stage back to life.

I still give it four stars because these same facts are meticulously documented, and for the sake of history this facet of a most momentous task—documenting Winston Churchill’s war years was well accomplished. Alas, the presentation is sterile and uninspired–unlike the two previous volumes in the trilogy.

To be fair there was but one William Manchester. And it is only fair to acknowledge that Paul Reid had an unenviable task trying to write in the footsteps of a great master; this he failed to do with the élan and grace of Manchester, but in the end I would rather have read this less-than-stellar book than had no Volume 3 at all. Finally, to have had Churchill’s war years neglected due to the mortality of a great author would have been a sad loss; my gratitude to Paul Reid for leaping into the breach and endeavoring to do his best to set the record straight.

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FINE REVIEW: “THE OLYMPUS PROJECT” by Ted Tayler ~ A Thrilling Read of Espionage and Vigilantism.

The Olympus Project (The Phoenix, #1)The Olympus Project by Ted Tayler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Author Ted Tayler is generous to his readers with dynamic characters and intricate plots. Redemption alone is a powerful force to shape a compelling story. But author Ted Tayler is generous to his reader, and adds a substantial dose of vigilantism, a lead character drowning in past vices, and a privately-funded secretive spy / counter terrorism group to the already charged mix. Cleverly he avoids a cast of mere caricatures, but devotes a chapter each, to fleshing out the motivations and scars of the principal characters driving the Olympus Project (we get to know their real names, but Colin Bailey will only know them by their pseudonyms….a nice touch).

Bailey comes to the task well skilled in eliminating people, but under the direction of his new masters his nihilistic instincts are more productively applied; disposing in creative ways those in positions of power that prey on the weak. And then the sub rosa efforts to provide crucial intelligence and counter terrorism support to Great Britain’s official security apparatus (without them knowing about it!). Needless to say creative solutions are required, and this makes “The Olympus Project” immensely more intriguing than conventional spy/vigilante faire.

But these well laid plans may be in jeopardy due to the temptations of a sensual but troubled female, which brings a new level of spice to an already boiling pot. So I look forward to reading next “Gold, Silver, and Bombs”– author Ted Tayler’s sequel in his Colin Bailey “The Phoenix Series.”

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FINE REVIEW: “A Fine Balance” by Robyn Cain ~ It’s a fine read :)

A Fine BalanceA Fine Balance by Robyn Cain

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A bald-headed psychopath returns to his neighborhood and the body count rises. He’s the nebulous face, the deadliest kind, of corporate espionage. An equal opportunity killer, incapable of remorse, uncaring whether his victims are family or foe. The opening sequence is startlingly dramatic as we witness the callous actions of this despicable individual. The scene is now set to unravel the full extent of this multi-layered plot.

Enter Jenny; clearly a beautiful and intelligent woman. She is also a revered employee at the company. Yet, rather than live a complete independent life, she merely exists; living a less than privileged life. Jenny’s circumstances add to the growing mystery. We then meet Matt who is travelling incognito, being the millionaire investigating those responsible for harming his company. Matt is a sudden and unwelcome guest in Jenny’s modest residence in order to best maintain his cover. With him impinging on her space, well, needless to say the sparks fly; first the feisty repartee, then the questioning passion.

However, at its heart this is a novel about family and the blood bond that binds–the best that family represents: love, selflessness, sacrifice, loyalty, tradition–and the worst: hatred, corruption, manipulation, betrayal and greed. A fine read. I’m certainly looking forward to reading more of Robyn Cain’s writings.

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FINE REVIEW: “The Long Dance Home” by Julie Mayerson Brown. Lively, Refreshing & Spiced with Snappy Dialog.

The Long Dance HomeThe Long Dance Home by Julie Mayerson Brown
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There is vitality to this novel that I found refreshing. The author’s ability to capture the spirit, the essence, of her characters extended way beyond mere florid descriptions. And so I enjoyed the fascinating cast of characters that filled the setting in Clearwater, a small Northern California town.
No doubt about it “The Long Dance Home” is a modern love story, and other reviewers have elegantly articulated the romantic travails of CeCe. But I choose to focus on some other aspects of this well told story; the loving homage to the arts —specifically ballet, the joys of an imperfect family—where the stepmother is a gem, the loyalty of friendships—even if the best bud is a goof, the reverence for tradition—even if it’s the annual children’s performance of “The Nutcracker,” the desire to do one’s very best—even if mistakes are made along the way, and finally the pain of loss—the price for feeling alive.

We meet the Russian-born ballet instructor, Ilana who nurtured the dance prodigy we know as CeCe, as a young child. But due to the fragility of age, and the onset of senility in her mentor, CeCe finds herself experiencing a different kind of loss–the emotional fading of the most influential person in her life. The scene with the crystal ballerina Christmas ornament, a gift received many years before from a then vital Ilana, I found to be both poignant and meaningful.

Finally, there is adroitness in penmanship (especially the dialog) that separates author Julie Brown from many of her peers: there’s a sequence when her current beau visits CeCe’s parents’ home for the first time—the snappy exchange between boyfriend, family and friends still makes me chuckle. This is lively and refreshing stuff that I encourage other readers to enjoy!

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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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