Review: Vanish

Vanish
Vanish by Tess Gerritsen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Vanish, by Tess Gerritsen, kept me on the couch, the treadmill, the car – wherever I was – turning the pages from the minute I began it until the last page.

I was drawn immediately to find out who Mila was, and to know more about her journey – about the day she lost her innocence, the same day her dreams died. The dreams of a young girl that were crushed by the men in the van, the men who had promised the world and then stripped away all dignity in one fell swoop, as Mila stood naked, shivering, calling to her friend who had just been brutally raped – calling to her friend as she ran, screaming out as her friend was downed – a bullet in her back – leaving her behind on the desert floor to be consumed by the elements. My heart bled because I have heard of such stories.

The story then moves on to talk about the lives of those who become entwined in Mila’s world. The first person is Maura Isles who has finished her autopsies for the day and is ready to head home. She remembers something she forgot in the autopsy room, so heads there to retrieve it. It is then she hears and sees something strange – there is a sound coming from one of the body bags, and she thinks she sees a movement from within it! To Maura’s surprise, the young woman in the body bag is still alive. Maura calls 911, and the young woman is saved. But it does not end there, of course … the young woman appears terrified and the medical team has a difficult time tending to her.

The next day, Maura thinks to pop in and check on the young woman. When she enters her room, there are two men in there – one appears to be a security officer, the other is dressed in hospital garb – presumably a doctor. But what happens next terrifies Maura! A gun goes off – the security guard staggers away from the bed and lands on Maura. By the time she manages to free herself, the doctor, and the young woman are gone!

In the meantime, Detective Jane Rizzoli is in court and she ends up having to take down the defendant – thing is, Rizzoli is very pregnant, and her water breaks. She is rushed to the hospital and ends up in the same place where the young woman has taken refuge. Jane becomes a hostage.

Jane’s husband, Gabriel Dean, is an FBI agent, and he is furious that his wife is trapped inside and that the police are thinking of sending in the SWAT team. Things begin to get out of control – all sort of government agencies come in trying to take over the operation …

I am already saying more than enough … I really don’t want to give away anymore of the story … but I will say this … the young woman who took the hostages was not Mila, but the words she whispered to Detective Rizzoli were, “Mila knows.”

What is it that Mila knows – she knows the truth of what happened one fateful night. For you to discover the same truth, I recommend you read this book. “Vanish” will not disappoint you!

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Review: The Racketeer

The Racketeer
The Racketeer by John Grisham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

John Grisham’s novel, “The Racketeer” did not disappoint me in the least, from the first page to the last.

Malcolm Bannister has been wrongfully accused of a white-collar crime, and he has been sentenced to five years in prison. He lost everything––his wife, his son, his home, and his law practice.

While in prison, Malcolm is assigned to work in the library. He assists his fellow inmates with legal advice, and keeps up with all the news from the outside world. When he reads an article about the murder of Judge Raymond Fawcett, he devises a plan of how to get himself out of prison––he knows who killed the judge!

Malcolm approaches the warden and asks him to set up a meeting with the FBI. At first, the FBI is not pleased with making a deal with a convicted felon, but for weeks they have been trying to figure out who the killer is, and they have met with dead ends all around. The deal gets made, and now the twists and turns in the story will have you riveted to your seat. Does Malcolm really know who the killer is, or is he playing a game of cat and mouse with the FBI––maybe even seeking his own revenge for what they did to him when he was railroaded into prison? The FBI begins to wonder as they track their star witness’s trail, scratching their heads as to what he is up to.

Being the cruel reviewer that I am, I am now going to suggest you get your own copy of “The Racketeer” and find out for yourself exactly what Malcolm Bannister is up to. It won’t take you long to get wrapped up in this story, yet another great read from John Grisham.

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Review: Legacy

Legacy
Legacy by Thomas A. Knight
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Legacy, Book II of The Time Weaver Chronicles by Thomas A. Knight did not disappoint me.

Since the Chronicles are about a Time Weaver, Legacy goes back in time, opening up with Krycin washing up on the sand on the eastern beaches of Arda. He is rescued by a young man, a wizard in training, by the name of Gladius. Krycin seems to have lost all memory of who he is. Gladius affords Krycin a robe and then leads him into the kingdon of the Ardans, a people that live in the uppermost branches of the forest. Gladius hopes that their healers can help Krycin; however, the leader says he cannot be helped – Krycin must seek out his memories on his own.

Gladius informs Krycin that he has been sent to Arda by the Wizard High Council in order to study magic. There are eight basic elements that living things are aligned to, and humans can only hope to use seven, and most are only able to tap into one of the elements. Only Lyecians can use time. Krycin is curious about Lyecians, and Gladuis informs him that they are the children of Lyecha and they are the gems of the magic world, being able to control time.

The two young men study together, Gladius digging for his secrets to magic; Krycin trying to unveil who he is. Then, one day, a reaper shows up and he is looking for Krycin. He has been ordered by the Fates to retrieve Krycin and return him to where he belongs because he is a threat to the world balance. Gladius and Krycin escape the reaper’s clutches and head out, making their way to Ducain’s Keep where the Wizard High Council is situated.

The story begins to take on a panoramic view now as several tentacles of this fantasy world that Thomas Knight has created begin to entangle themselves together. Eventually, Krycin learns who he really is, and what his mission is to be. His heart is broken at the betrayals of those he thought to be his friends, but his resolve is solidified with what he must do as he is plunged deeper into the moments he knows he has already lived before. He eventually realizes that no matter how much he wants to change the future, that by going back into the past it is not always possible, or wise to do so.

Legacy will have you turning the pages … a fantasy that could very well become an epic movie one day, paralleling itself with the likes of The Lord of the Rings! A must read for any lover of fantasy. I await the next chapters of The Time Weaver Chronicles.

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Review: Alex Cross’s Trial

Alex Cross's Trial
Alex Cross’s Trial by James Patterson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Alex Cross’s Trial by James Patterson & Richard Dilallo delivers an incredible, yet alarming story. The setting is early 1900’s, during the era of President Theodore Roosevelt. Ben Corbett is a young lawyer who does not take on the big money cases, choosing to fight against oppression and racism instead. The President asks Ben to probe into some nasty rumours about what the outlawed Ku Klux Klan is up to in the Deep South, Ben having been born and raised in Eudora, Mississippi. He is told to look up Abraham Cross when he arrives, that this man will be of great assistance to Ben. His cover story is that he is down there to scout out future judges for the Bench.

On his way to Eudora, Ben scans a number of back issues of local newspapers and is bombarded with sensational stories of lynchings of coloured people. The articles made the killings seem so spectacular––a spectacle not to be missed. Ben also learns, from a fellow passenger, that the white man doesn’t really hate the coloured man––they are afraid of them––mostly that the coloured men will take jobs away from the white man because they are willing to work cheaper. “Yes, sir, the black man has to figure a way to get along peaceable with the white man, without taking his job away … if the black man don’t come to understand this, why I reckon we’ll just have to wipe him out.”

Finally in Eudora, Ben has a few ghosts of his own to revisit. Instead of staying with his father, the renowned Judge E. Corbett, Ben checks into a rooming house. We discover soon enough the reason for this, his father not approving of Ben’s direction in law. Ben looks up Abraham Cross and discovers that he is an elderly black man. Together, they begin to unravel the dire situation as Abraham shows Ben the reality of the situation in the South. Ben, himself, after a time, realizes first hand how hated the black people are, and those who sympathize with them! Ben is shocked at who betrays him, and whom he can trust.

Ben makes his report to the President, and then waits for a reply. In the meantime, his own little family is falling apart, his wife having written that she is leaving him. She can no longer handle the frustration of having to live so frugally because of the types of cases her husband feels he needs to take on. Eventually, a horrendous event takes place and some white men are arrested for murder and attempted murder, and the trial of the century begins.

“Alex Cross’s Trial” is an excellent, well-written story that will have you riveted to each page as it takes you through a part of history that should never have happened. Having said that, though, I am happy to see that no matter how depraved some of mankind are, there are always those who will come forward and fight for justice. Make sure you have some idle time available because you will not want to put this book down.

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WHAT HAPPENS IN CUBA, STAYS IN CUBA, Part Six

WHAT HAPPENED IN CUBA, STAYS IN CUBA
Part Six
© Mary M. Cushnie-Mansour

The title of this blog says it all! However, this is only the case if the group of people who travel together do not have a writer in their midst!
On with the story … trip to Rau’s house! And, the final day in Cuba…

Day eight … on Saturday a small group of us went to Rau’s house to meet his family. I asked the taxi driver if he would stop by Al Capone’s place on our way––you guessed it by now––that’s right, for pictures! After my mini photo shoot, we picked up V’s friend, D. She has a boat at the marina. She and her husband purchased the boat a number of years ago; however, he passed away shortly after. D loved Cuba so much that she decided to stay on.
V had a map of Matanza, showing where Rau lived, but we still got lost. Not for long, though. Of course, I snapped pictures everywhere. The poverty would take your breath away. Our summer cottages would be mansions compared to what many Cubans live in. I managed, during a walk, to get a real glimpse behind the wooden and steel-railed doors––poverty, unadorned and simple.
The ravaged wooden door leading into Rau’s home opened into what we would consider a storage shed. It housed piles of old wood, and Rau’s workshop where he makes wood carvings for sale. I determined that I would buy some pieces from him.
All the gifts we had brought along for the family were spread out on the table, and the excitement was like a Christmas morning. The gratefulness was heartfelt. Rau has three children: Moses, Penelope, and Elizabeth. Penelope loves to draw, and she proudly showed me her art work. One of our friends had sent her some art supplies. Moses plays baseball, and V had brought him a bat and a new pair of gloves. Of course, they posed for pictures!
Rau has been working on his house for over ten years. The kitchen was quite nice, and from what we saw there were two finished bedrooms. I had no idea where the two girls slept, or the elderly aunt who lived with them in order to help care for the children while Rau’s wife worked. There was a section of the house that I guess, if one were to use their imagination, could be considered an inside open courtyard, as there was no roof. Rau showed Ed his plans for the house and said the construction probably would take another ten years or more to complete!
The household also had a pair of Chiwawas, and their baby, and a Rotti that was tied up on the third floor level. I dared not approach him, assuming by his greeting that he would have taken our limbs from under us and would not have had to eat for another week or two!
During a walk to the store, I flashed more pictures of the living conditions, of the lack of proper sewers and drainage systems––of the people. I felt guilty probing into their lives, but these pictures tell the real story of how the Cuban people have been forced to live. I managed to capture some children playing baseball in a meagre side yard, using sticks and a tennis ball.
Back at Rau’s house, plans were being made to go out for lunch. It took forever, as decisions were being made on Cuban time! Finally, two taxis were called (one of them belonged to Rau), and we crammed in 18 people (including the drivers), and then headed off to a special destination. Rau’s wife just smiled and said it was a surprise. It is inconceivable that the old 1950’s and 1960’s cars are still running, although the air is rank with gasoline fumes! After meandering down a country road, we arrived to a beautiful park––the surprise.
Upon arrival there, I was sad that I had asked to leave Rau’s by 3:00. We sent a message to our cab driver to extend our pick-up time to 4:00––5:00 would have been better, though. We had another fabulous Cuban meal. The meal was provided with plates of sweet potato chips for us to nibble on before our main course came. Ed and I shared a shrimp and chicken dish. Our meat was cooked on an enormous outdoor barbeque. The taxis returned for us at 3:30 and transported us back to Rau’s. I purchased several wooden pieces as gifts for my kids, and Rau wrapped them for me. Our taxi arrived shortly after 4:00 and we were finally on our way at about 4:45. It takes a long time to say goodbye to people in Cuba. I promised Penelope to send her some art supplies.
Back at the hotel, we played cards and then hit the bed early as six of us were supposed to go on the Catamaran on Sunday––our last excursion!
Day nine … Rain clouds crowded the sky and released their droplets to the earth. We decided to cancel our Catamaran trip. Luckily, we got our money refunded. The sun came out from behind the clouds later that morning, so the six of us headed downtown to do some shopping. We found a charming restaurant and were served up a delicious lunch. Once again, I had shrimp; I couldn’t get enough of the shrimp from the restaurants in Cuba (the resort shrimp was nothing to be desired). I managed to pick up some more souvenirs for the kids and my friends, so, despite not getting on the Catamaran trip, it was a perfect day.
Back at the resort, we played some more cards and then six of us took a walk on the beach. I snapped several more pictures, again, and captured a beautiful sunset. After supper, we hung out for a few laughs. Two of the young men who were MC’s for the evening shows were sitting at our table and it became quite the party. One young fellow really got into the joviality. At one point, he jumped up and called C his “Papa!” It was hilarious. We attended the Cabaret Theatre show, and then headed off to bed.
***
So, here I come, almost to the end of our trip … it is day ten. We are packed, and all our suitcases are in one room as we had to be out of our rooms by noon, and our bus was not arriving until after supper. Some of us chilled out by the pool, I had a swim and caught up on some of my journaling.
On the bus to the airport, the guide said that they hoped we had a fabulous time in Cuba. He instructed us as to what we were to do once we got to the airport. As Ed and I were in line waiting to get our boarding pass, a couple from Canada was short $20.00 and was desperately asking people to loan them the money––they would send the benefactor a cheque. Ed gave the man a 20, and also our business card with our address. In a world where sometimes one expects to never see that 20 again, we were surprised to get a cheque in the mail a couple weeks later––faith in human honesty confirmed.
Fortunately, our photos matched up with the pictures that had been taken upon our entrance into Cuba, and we passed through and onto our plane. I was amazed that Sunwing had remembered to provide me with a gluten free meal (request had been put in by the flight attendant from our flight down to Cuba). We were picked up at the airport by the pre-arranged cab and arrived home in our driveway at about 3:30 a.m.
At that point, another adventure began. But, that is another story, for another time.

Stay tuned for my concluding segment, my generalization of “What Happens in Cuba, Stays in Cuba!”

Review: Predator

Predator
Predator by Patricia Cornwell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Predator” by Patricia Cornwell is a maze of mystery and intrigue that will keep you biting your nails right up to the last page. And even then, I wanted more. I wanted to see the real perpetrator – the one truly responsible – brought to justice, but maybe that has been reserved for another story.

Cornwell leads us into the world of Dr. Kay Scarpetta and her team – Pete Marino, Benton Wesley, and her niece, Lucy. This collection of specialists operate a higly sophisticated forensic academy, and some of what they do is analyse the brains of killers in order to see if they can figure out what makes them tick. In “Predator” one particular man, Basil Jenrette, is telling some pretty amazing stories – stories that begin to have a familiar ring to them and lead to some old, unsolved disappearances. These in turn, become connected to current disappearances, and crimes, which at first glance might be considered to be suicides. But are they?

The finger gets pointed at several individuals, keeping the reader guessing. I am not one to give away too much in my book reviews – I figured it out, and would love to hear if you did, as well.

If you are someone who can handle an intriguing psychological thriller, then curl up with “Predator.” But, make sure you keep the lights on, your curtains drawn, and your doors locked.

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WHAT HAPPENS IN CUBA, STAYS IN CUBA, Part Five

IMG_2325WHAT HAPPENED IN CUBA, STAYS IN CUBA
Part Five
© Mary M. Cushnie-Mansour

The title of this blog says it all! However, this is only the case if the group of people who travel together do not have a writer in their midst!
On with the story … trip to Havana! (Sorry for the delay – life sometimes gets in the way)

Day seven … L and I went on the Havana trip. We were smart and took the tour bus, complete with a guide and a tasty lunch.

As we drove through the countryside, our guide, George, relayed to us bits and pieces of the history of the island. I must have been an annoyance at times because I asked several other questions regarding religion, labour laws, living conditions, etc. Of course, with the early Spanish influence, the main religion of the island is Christianity, Catholicism being the primary denomination. There are a few Protestants, and also highly prominent on the island is the African Spiritual worship––the reading of cards, palms, and spirits. George pointed out that many people go from the Catholic Church service to the Spiritual service … same for funerals … a ceremony to appease each of the factions.

When I questioned about life styles, the lack of modern appliances, I had the feeling George avoided the specifics. He started by saying that despite the looks on the outside of the buildings, inside was beautiful and most everyone had televisions, VCR’s, stereos, etc. Somehow, I found that difficult to imagine, and our visits to families in Cuba paid tribute to such thoughts. Of course, there were some modern conveniences, but I do not consider entertainment devices to be an improvement to a person’s general well-being.

We made our first leg stretch/bathroom stop at a roadside stand. It was pointed out that we could purchase a virgin Pina Colotta––L and I shared one––it was delicious. I took a picture of L, standing by an old car. Suddenly, a young man points to a saucer on the hood of his car, and he demanded a peso. I was astonished. I threw in a peso, and then asked L to take a picture of me, as well––two for the price of one! I don’t think the young fellow was too happy about that.

Continuing on through the countryside, I asked questions about the soil conditions on the island, mentioning that what I had noticed so far was a lot of rock. George said the Caribbean Sea side of the island was more fertile than the eastern side. He went on to talk about the plentiful fauna on the island, the 1000’s of species of insects, the animals, and the fact that 85% of Cubans owned their own homes. He elaborated about the free educational system to the end of high school, and that even after that, if a student passed a tough university entrance exam, the education was free. Those who did not pass the exam could go to a college and learn a trade. George also pointed out that medical and dental services were free. He flashed a perfect set of teeth to drive his point home. (Unfortunately, some of the street people I had observed were not so lucky––if you get my drift)

Most Cuban families must have two incomes in order to survive. Many families live together, and welcome extended family members into their humble homes so the children can be tended to while the mother goes off to work. As mentioned above, George talked of home ownership. Cubans pay a % of the cost, per year, to the government, and the house is usually paid for within 15 years. As a visitor from an affluent country, I was shocked because the conditions many Cubans live in are appalling. Up to this point, there have been no property taxes, but that is something that is going to start changing. Up to now, foreigners have not been allowed to purchase homes in Cuba, but that, too, may be changing. The more George answered, and didn’t answer my questions, the more I felt that a lot of what he said and didn’t say was “programmed”––if you get my drift.

Well, on with the actual trip … upon our arrival in Havana, our first stop was at the 16th century El Morro Castle. We were allowed to purchase rum and cigars at the store; however, our tour did not include an actual walk through the inside of the fortress. Back on the bus, we drove through Old Havana and New Havana (not the historical early section yet, though). We dismounted the bus and took pictures, and as usual, we were swarmed with people who had their hands out to beg for coins, or to sell their wares. If I had to pay each one of them for the amount of pics I took, I would have been broke in no time! I thanked my lucky stars for my new camera and its 50x’s zoom!

New Havana’s homes are in better shape than most of what I had observed up to this point in my trip. It was in New Havana that we stopped for lunch, a typical Cuban meal of rice, black beans, chicken, pork, sweat potatoes, finely grated cabbage, cucumbers, tomatoes, and a scoop of ice-cream to finish it off. After lunch, we headed to Revolutionary Square where Castro gave many of his speeches. George mentioned the Pope had performed a Mass there. From there, we headed down to the oldest historical section of Havana. George said some islanders would be dressed in century costume and would be performing (like our street busters, I guess). They would also expect money if you took their pictures. One elderly woman, dressed up, a cigar hanging from ruby-red lips, sitting on a stoop, held her hand out for a peso when she noticed my camera. I walked past, went down the street, turned and focused. She must have expected me to do that, for she turned and covered her face just as I snapped!

When George discovered I was a writer, he was excited to point out the hangouts of the writer, Ernest Hemingway. He sent me down a side street, just off the square, to a café where Hemmingway had hung out. George also pointed out the hotel where Hemmingway had lived while he wrote the book “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” Hemmingway actually committed suicide in his room, and it has been closed off now, and only used for “viewing.” Of course, our tour was not privy to this. I was nervous, being away from the group, so I headed back to the square. Here, the landscape was teeming with buskers and beggars. There was an elderly couple dancing; a man dressed up as Castro, brightly dressed ladies. I noticed a statue of the “Old Man of the Sea,” so life-like … and then it moved!

From the square, I snapped several photos of the people and the beautiful architecture. We went into a huge cathedral, and another building that had, at one time, been a prison; however, it was now transformed into a castle with rooms filled with well-preserved precious treasures. Eventually, we made our way to a hotel/café, another Hemmingway haunt. I took pictures of the author’s pictures. I also browsed through one of the shops and purchased a tourist guide on Old Havana, something to refer to, as my brain definitely would not be able to accommodate all the information being relayed.

Our final stop in Havana was the market. What chaos! Vendors everywhere, trying to lure the tourists to their booths … “Looking free, lady!” … I purchased a couple small things, but our time had been limited to 40 minutes, and I personally hate to be pressured into spontaneous purchasing.

By the time we arrived back to our resort, it was dark. It had been a wonderful day––a little taste of Havana!

Stay tuned for the next segment of “What Happens in Cuba, Stays in Cuba!”

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