Saturday, March 31, 2012

After Ilium, Stephen Swartz

After Ilium  is an engrossing work of modern literature, delivered with darkly cosmopolitan flair, by indie author Stephen Swartz.  As one reviewer said, 'don't read this if you are expecting a sappy romance novel!' There is a deep story here, and while there is a love affair, this book is much more of a thriller, mixing intrigue and politics with the romance. 
Set against the backdrop of the modern middle-east, After Ilium contrasts the old against the new in multiple ways throughout the story. Historical Ilium of the Trojan era is viewed through the eyes of the young history buff and tourist, Alex Parris as he tours Turkey and Greece, and we see the modern cities that thrive there now. The contrast of old against new provides a vivid tapestry that holds the reader.

The story begins when Alex Parris, a young American wakes up in a foreign hospital. He is terribly injured and his story is told in both flashbacks and dreams.

He has always been involved in the history of ancient Troy, or Ilium as it was called in ancient times. After finishing college Alex journeys to the ruined city that has fascinated him all his life, and on the way there he meets the mysterious and beautiful Elena.

Elena is older and very cosmopolitan. Rather naive at the outset, Alex is attracted to her foreign mannerisms and her aloofness challenges him. They begin a love affair that is filled with both passion and unanswered questions. 

Rather quickly things begin changing for the the worse, in his relationship with the beautiful Elena. Swartz' descriptions of both ancient and modern Ilium are clear and vivid.  The conversations and interactions between the characters are natural and unforced, drawing the reader in and immersing them in his tale.

Alex’s youth and inexperience lead him into a situation that culminates in a series of terrifying events. Nothing is as Alex believes it to be, and he is dragged into a series of nightmarish events that have one comonality - Elena. 

The way Swartz weaves the complex web of both Alex's dreams of ancient Ilium and his drugged memories of what happened to him after he met Elena is engrossing, and I found it hard to put down.

This is not a romance novel in any way. The mystery of what happened to Alex and how his love of the history of Ilium led to his predicament is at times violent and gritty.

I really enjoyed this book. There is no fluff here, just good, solid adventure, well-written and engrossing. After Ilium is a book that I would read again! 

Friday, March 9, 2012

Losing Beauty by Johanna Garth is an urban fantasy in the broadest sense, being a modern take on the Hades - Persephone tale. I am a sucker for mythology of any sort, and Greek mythology offers a lot opportunity for new retellings, as Rick Riordan has shown us in his Percy Jackson Series.

I met Johanna in the course of business since we are both published by Fantasy Island Book Publishing. I was intrigued by the cover of her book, and when I bought the Kindle book I found myself completely absorbed in her tale.

The story begins with Persephone Campbell, a girl with a problem. Persey is a beautiful girl, and everyone loves her. Even as a child, people find themselves telling her their problems: terrible things which no normal person would ever tell anyone, much less a child. Even so, people can't resist telling her their deepest and darkest secrets; a thing which continues into her adulthood. Her ability to draw the deepest secrets from people is strange, and it emerges that she was adopted as a baby and her father was listed as 'unknown'.

I admit that I was afraid that Persey would be too perfect, too wonderful - but she is not.  Persey is not always honest with herself and allows her sense of obligation to rule her life, for reasons that make sense to her at the time.

Three men love her to the point of obsession. After high school, Persey marries her high-school sweetheart, Aaron Strait out of a sense of duty, more than anything else. She loves her husband, but she realizes that her love for him is not the sort of love that a wife should feel for her husband. Still, she does love him and remains a loyal wife.

Persey goes to work for the same company as Daniel Hartnet, a man with an uncanny ability to read people, that he calls his crap-o-meter. This ability to read motives is every bit as uncanny as is Persey's ability to draw out secrets. He discovers that he can't read Persey, and that really intrigues him. He soon becomes obsessed with her, but like the moderately decent man he is, he respects her commitment to her marriage.

Johanna Garth draws her characters well. Haden is a bad man, selfish and focused only on his own desires but quite seductive and very compelling. Daniel Hartnet is not lily-pure in his motives, but he is a basically good man and also quite seductive. Aaron is a simple, high-school jock-made-good; a man who is solely driven by his desire to protect and provide for her; and she is completely aware of that. Aaron becomes very successful, and on the surface everything looks perfect.

What she does not realize is that she is the one true love of Haden, also known as Hades, God of the Underworld. He has followed her progress since her earliest childhood, grooming her to be his wife in various different guises. He has even posed as the coach in her highschool. There is no length that he won't go to to have her. When she marries Aaron, Hayden puts a terrible plan into action, using all of his resources as Lord of the Underworld; and soon she finds herself tied to the last person she wants to be tied to. That is where the adventure really begins.

Persey is a nice girl, but her secret ability is hard for her to bear; and she feels that she is responsible for a tragic event that is the sole responsibility of Haden. He, of course, uses her insecurity to bind her to him even more tightly.

Johanna Garth has written an urban fantasy that is sophisticated, and romantic. It is a wonderful adventure that takes Persey from rural america to New York to Asia, and has many twists and turns that are quite unexpected. The ending was quite unexpected!

I freely admit that I had a great time reading this story and highly recommend it to anyone who loves a good romantic urban fantasy. I am now a fan! I will definitely be reading anything Johanna Garth writes!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

In Memory of Greed, Al Boudreau

This week for your dining pleasure, we are serving up a novel of geo-political intrigue, 'In Memory of Greed'.  Indy author Al Boudreau has dished us up a thriller involving the the movers and shakers in the world of Genetically Modified Seeds, and there are some real bad guys in this frequently violent but always entertaining book!

This tale of greed and moral bankruptcy is based on the premise that (quote)'If you control the seeds, you then control the food and ultimately the world.'  This is not that new a concept but what is new is that someone finally got around to writing a real thriller based on that rather simple concept.

ModAgro is the world leader of genetically modified seeds, and the CEO, Stuart Roth is determined to make it the only source of seeds, ruthlessly destroying small businesses and farmers in a way that is both heinous and abusive. He is thwarted in a takeover bid of his competitor, Haverhill, and decides to have the CEO of Haverhill murdered.  His enforcer, Patrick Keegan makes it so, and frames the perfect patsy. 

Murhkin Mocado is a highly trained former US Navy seal.  He employed by John Haverhill, and is the son of a powerful US Senator, and has been on the fringe of trouble all of his life. He is framed for a crime that he didn't commit, the murder of a man that he liked. This begins a series of events that kept me on the edge of my seat! I could visualize this as clearly as if it were scenes in an action movie. Murhkin ends up being both hospitalized and arrested, but it is there that he meets his love interest, a nurse named Jenn Pratt. 

At the same time that Murhkin is involved in his ordeals, Joelle Barstow, an industrial espionage operative is involved in a series of misadventures which are related to Murhkin's troubles.

Soon Murhkin is taken from his hospital bed, and transported first to Keegan's Ireland, and then to the beautifully drawn country of Kenya. Joelle Barstow is tailing them all the way.

These people are not superhuman, they make mistakes.  The rage that is expressed is human in its intensity with one exception.  Stuart Roth is completely over the top, but I liked that about him. As his empire crumbles he becomes ever more out of control. His self-abusive tantrums lend comedic moments to the roller coaster ride, as do his assistant's dead-pan comments.

There is a twist at the end that left me thinking about the book long after I finished it.  This is an excellent first novel, and while it has received some mixed reviews, most of the reviewers seemed to agree with me that this book was a fun dip into the world of political intrigue.