This and that for avid readers

Even though July 30th was yesterday, this selection of posts about magical realism is still available. If you love the genre, you’ll find some fascinating ideas.


New from Thomas-Jacob Publishing, Transformed, a Kindle short story by Smoky Zeidel.  “The way I see it,” said Daniel, “the fence lizard eats the fly, so the fly becomes part of the fence lizard. The fly is the fence lizard. The fence lizard gets eaten by the snake, and thus becomes the snake. What’s to say that snake won’t get snatched up by a Golden Eagle, and thus become the eagle?” Does the same principle apply to humans? Marina is about to find out.

Thank you to all the readers who participated in the recent sweepstakes for Emily’s Stories on Audio Book Reviewer. Kelley Hazen and I are glad you stopped by and signed up. Congratulations to the winners and thanks to those of you who have already posted reviews.

Here’s a copy of my Amazon review for Don Westenhaver’s mystery thriller Missing Star

This post WWI thriller mixes historical and fictional characters in a fast-paced search for a missing actress (Joyce) in the very different Los Angeles of another era. The ambiance and history anchor the story which pits ex-marine aviator (Danny) and against the seedy unknowns of the big city where overlapping police jurisdictions and the corrupt politics of prohibition make it easy for many crimes to fall through the cracks.

Danny is determined to find Joyce in spite of impossible odds, and this makes him a believable and determined main character. Inasmuch as missing persons cases typically includes gaps of time when no new information is found, the story takes a few side trips that, while relevant, slow down the pacing a bit. It also doesn’t seem likely that Danny, as a civilian, would be included in police actions. Otherwise, the story moves well with a high degree of credibility toward a satisfying conclusion. Readers will feel anger over Joyce’s circumstances and respect for Danny’s perseverance, and cannot help but hope that they find each other again and make the bad guys pay for what they’ve done.


Recently released from Thomas-Jacob Publishing, Tizita, a new novel by Sharon Heath: “Physics wunderkind Fleur Robins, just a little odd and more familiar with multiple universes than complicated affairs of the heart, is cast adrift when her project to address the climate crisis is stalled. Worse still, her Ethiopian-born fiancé Assefa takes off right after her 21st birthday party to track down his father, who’s gone missing investigating Ethiopian claims to the Ark of the Covenant. Fleur is left to contend with the puzzle of parallel worlds, an awkward admirer, and her best friend Sammie’s entanglement with an abusive boyfriend. Assefa’s reconnection with a childhood sweetheart leads Fleur to seek consolation at Jane Goodall’s Gombe Stream Chimpanzee Reserve, but it’s through a bumbling encounter with her rival that the many worlds of Fleur’s life begin to come together. In the experience of tizita—the interplay of memory, loss, and longing—Fleur is flung into conflicts between science and religion, race and privilege, climate danger and denial, sex and love. With humor, whimsy, and the clumsiness and grace of innocence, Fleur feels her way through the narrow alleyway between hope and despair to her heart’s sweetest home.”

New, from Theodora Goss, my favorite review book for 2017, The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter. See my review here. From the publisher: “Based on some of literature’s horror and science fiction classics, this is the story of a remarkable group of women who come together to solve the mystery of a series of gruesome murders and the bigger mystery of their own origins. Mary Jekyll, alone and penniless following her parents’ death, is curious about the secrets of her father’s mysterious past. One clue in particular hints that Edward Hyde, her father’s former friend and a murderer, may be nearby and there is a reward for information leading to his capture…a reward that would solve all of her immediate financial woes. But her hunt leads her to Hyde’s daughter, Diana, a feral child left to be raised by nuns. With the assistance of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Mary continues her search for the elusive Hyde and soon befriends more women, all of whom have been created through terrifying experimentation: Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherin Moreau, and Justine Frankenstein. When their investigations lead them to the discovery of a secret society of immoral and power-crazed scientists, the horrors of their past return. Now it is up to the monsters to finally triumph over the monstrous.”


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of magical realism books set in Florida.








Book Review: ‘Nero’s Concert’

Nero's Concert Nero’s Concert by Don Westenhaver

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
“A Nero: Any bloody-minded man, relentless tyrant, or evil-doer of extraordinary cruelty; from the depraved and infamous Roman Emperor C. Claudius Nero.” – “Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable”

Almost twenty-one centuries after the Great Fire of Rome, most people believe that Nero fiddled while Rome burned. In reality, Nero–who ruled as Emperor between AD 54 and AD 68–played a lyre, and the fiddle as we know it had yet to be invented. Even the historian Tacitus discounts the rumor that Nero sang and played his lyre while enjoying the six-day spectacle of his city on fire. But the fiddling myth lives on.

Nobody knows whether the fire was accident or arson. Disgruntled Romans said Nero started it for reasons of insanity or to clear away land for a new palace. Nero blamed and persecuted Christians to direct the public’s antagonism away from himself. Don Westenhaver’s well-researched novel “Nero’s Concert” provides readers with a what-might-have-happened scenario for the calamitous days of July, 64 AD and their aftermath.

In “Nero’s Concert,” Nero does not start the fire. He asks his close friend Rusticus to investigate in hopes of proving Christians are responsible. Nero doesn’t get the answers he’s looking for. Tensions mount and the friendship between Nero and Rusticus becomes strained. Subsequently, Rusticus’ life and safety are jeopardized when Nero turns to Tigellinus, the sadistic prefect of the Praetorian Guard, for more appropriate conclusions and when Rusticus falls in love with a Christian.

In addition to Nero and Tigellinus, Westenhaver’s novel includes Seneca, Poppaea, St. Peter and other historical characters. Rusticus, who is wholly fictional, attends to both his duty and his heart, making him a wonderfully level-headed protagonist for a story about a chaotic city with an erratic Emperor.

When Camilia, a nurse helping the injured during the fire, tells a Tribune she’s found a murdered senator among the dead, the Tribune says he will take her information to Rusticus rather than Tigellinus.

“I don’t know Tigellinus obviously,” says Camilia, “but his reputation is that he punishes those who bring bad news.”

“Yes,” the Tribune responds. “Whereas Rusticus seems quite different–analytical and professional. Somewhat distant rather than friendly. But I worked with him on the fire and he was fair to everyone.”

Through the novel’s wide window into the past, readers see the workings of the Roman hierarchy via Rusticus’ investigation and his interactions with Seneca, Nero and Tigellinus. As Camilia and Rusticus spend time together, readers learn about daily life and about the horrors of being a Christian at a time when such beliefs are likely to lead to imprisonment, torture and death. The author has taken great care in his presentation of facts about Rome’s rulers, buildings and people. An author’s note at the end of the novel supplies additional details.

While Westenhaver’s writing is highly readable, his modern-day words and phrases add a disruptive casualness that doesn’t fit the time or place. When Thaddeus calls out to Rusticus with the words “Hey boss,” the reality of Rome within the novel crumbles a bit. So, too, when Nero’s efforts to improve his image are referred to as “public relations,” an individual is called “your guy,” a parade is called a “big deal,” and sexual encounters are described as “getting laid.” Personal taste may dictate whether or not this is distracting.

The research behind the story gets in the way of the story occasionally when the primary plot line is diverted into travelogue-style moments around the city and a vacation trip Rusticus and Camilia take to the Bay of Naples. Likewise, a visit with an imprisoned St. Peter strays past its intended purpose into a monologue about Christianity. Such information does provide interesting facts and insights into the characters and the times, but at the expense of the novel’s pacing. Some readers may skim these sections while others may enjoy the additional atmosphere.

On balance, “Nero’s Concert” is an engaging love story as well as an entertaining and informative account of a time that lives in our consciousness as myth more than fact. Readers will come away from the novel knowing that, in all likelihood, Nero neither played a violin nor fiddled around while Rome burned.

Copyright (c) 2010 by Malcolm R. Campbell

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