Happy New Year! This is the view from my office window in Key Largo - where I'll be spending most of my time in 2020 - when I'm not visiting my adorable new baby granddaughters, of course.
Like many writers, I feel terribly guilty for not posting on my blog more often, for not posting to the social media sites enough, for not coming up with scintillating, original, and fun content on a daily basis - in order to keep my list of followers and my 'likes' count growing. According to the people who know these things - this is vitally important to my career. Sigh. Some authors are really, really good at all that and manage to get their books written, participate in writers' organizations, and go out and promote their latest book. Some even have day jobs. It's exhausting to think about. I spent most of the first part of 2019 doing promo for my latest novel, JORDAN, a part-thriller, part-cautionary tale. It worked, and I'm very happy for all the accolades JORDAN received.
But I didn't get much else written in that first half of 2019. By the summer, I'd let much of the daily obligation of posting memes & fascinating (if only . . .) info everywhere fall by the wayside. Honestly, I'm just not that interesting on a daily basis anyway.
I'm working on two novels now. One is Book 2 of the JORDAN Trilogy. Book 2 takes us 30 years into the future, and Book 3 (To be written in 2021?) will take us 60 years ahead. So, I've been researching what our planet and we humans can expect to experience in the coming decades. (Spoiler Alert - it's not great.)
The second book is set in 1400s Toulouse, France. I'm deeeeep into the research for that one. Just about every aspect of life was different then, and I'm finding the research more difficult than I thought - because of two things. Toulouse suffered a huge fire in 1463 that destroyed between 1/2 and 2/3 of the city. In addition, during the French revolution, the people stormed every church, municipal hall, and library and destroyed every archive of paperwork they could find. Burned it all. Very little survives. So, the fact-finding for my novel has been slow, available in tiny bits found in arcane books and papers written by scholars and historians from all over - and rarely do they agree on the 'facts'.
My goal is to get book these books completed in 2020. Wish me luck? In the meantime, keep reading. Review the books you like? Be kind to authors - unless you've written a novel, you've no idea how much work, all the hours and hours and hours it takes. And take the time to recommend books to your family and friends. Encourage them to BUY the books, if they can. Authors deserve and need to be paid, just like everyone else. Thank you!
Naked Came the Florida Man by Tim Dorsey
William Morrow 326 Pages
Review by Victoria Landis
Serge Storm’s boundless enthusiasm for all things Florida is in full exposure in Naked Came the Florida Man.
As usual, the caffeine-fueled and hyper-happy Floridaphile Serge and his buddy, Coleman, explore the hidden gem areas of Florida, while Serge spouts fascinating and arcane facts about each, and Coleman fashions bongs from dollar store finds. Zora Neale Hurston, Stetson Kennedy, the infamous Florida Man, the deadly Lake O tidal wave from the 1928 hurricane, the annual Muck Bowl football game, lost gold coins, and even Mitzi the Dolphin enter into this story.
Along the way, Serge and Coleman adopt an ESA (emotional support animal) ferret and interact with average citizens, some of whom are victims of conniving con men. Serge, of course, cannot let such injustice stand. He exacts revenge on behalf of the good folks—and finds yet more ingenious ways to punish (eliminate) the bad guys.
Dorsey concentrates much of this story on Lake Okeechobee and the communities surrounding it. A sub-plot takes us into the depressing world of the children there, follows their lives of poverty, and explains why so many of the boys become major league football players. It’s heartening that the star of the sub-plot is actually a smart, capable, and determined girl who beats the odds. All this, of course, delightfully crashes broadside into Serge’s particular wheelhouse.
Our insane hero has survived another adventure, and we can’t wait for more.
Salem's Cipher by Jess Lourey
From the first few pages, Lourey had me hooked.
This is an exciting roller coaster ride with a ticking clock, a long-lost treasure, and so much fun to read. Lourey skillfully blends historical people and facts with fiction to keep the pages turning.
If you enjoy Dan Brown’s novels, you’ll love this one, too.
The main characters are women—strong women. Smart women who rely on themselves to decipher the complicated, hidden puzzles left for them by history. What’s at stake? The future of the United States of America. Salem Wiley and Isabel Odegaard have been trained from childhood to take on this challenge. Imagine their bewilderment in finding this out—as they were never let in on that little secret.
A woman presidential candidate is ahead in the polls with the election just days away. So far ahead, she’s scared the hell out of an old patriarchal secret society, and they’re doing everything they can to stop her. Everything.
There are a few (minor) continuity issues that took me out of the story and made me go back and recheck things, but they didn’t deter my interest by any means. For that reason, I wish there was a 4.7 star rating. But I don’t feel it’s fair to give it a 4. (Gave it a 5 in online review.) Not with the way I wanted to get back to the book as soon as I could. That doesn’t happen often enough.
I also had a problem with the tag line on the front cover, The witch hunt never ended. It actually made me hesitate to start the book, as I have little interest in reading any more about the Salem witch trials, and that line made me think that would be the focus of the story. The characters do take a trip to Salem, Massachusetts, but it doesn’t have anything to do with the witch trials—or witches at all, for that matter. So, I don’t think Lourey’s publisher did her any favors with that one.
There’s a 2nd book, Mercy’s Chase, featuring Salem Wiley, who has become a cryptanalyst for the FBI, and I can’t wait to dive in.
Check out Jess Lourey's website here: JessLourey.com
It’s time to talk turkey. Like how much we love to eat it? No. That’s a given. How lame it is such a delicious bird that is indigenous to our continent is named for a country straddling Europe and Asia? Well, that is curious, and a truly dorky name, too. Just the sound of the two syllables fits as a descriptor of something or someone that is one step off the sidewalk. But, no—again.
Besides being the feathered feature of our feasts every Thanksgiving, the turkey has more association with people than you’ve been led to believe. Some of their behavior mirrors ours so much, it makes me wonder if someday anthropologists will find a bizarre common ancestor. Kind of a turkey-man hybrid. Wouldn’t that be cool. Maybe this hybrid creature could fly.
By the way, contrary to conventional wisdom, turkeys can fly. At least the wild ones can, up to fifty-five miles per hour for short distances. They can outrun us, too, capable of up to thirty miles an hour for 100 yards. For the record, that absolutely destroys Usain Bolt’s standing. (He could only sustain such speed for twenty meters.) The domesticated birds meant for our dinner tables, though, can’t do any of that. They are like the fattened pampered humans in H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine. Or the plump and coddled humans in WALL-E. Eating and napping are their big challenges. Also just like humans—after they eat turkey. Hmmm . . .
If you squint a bit, the turkey is rather beautiful. The broad spread of tail feathers, the rust and bronze highlighted upper body feathers, the stylish white stripes on the wings. The squinting helps when you get to the head. It has wart-like growths, called carbuncles, all over it. A long red thing dangling from the forehead resembles, in shape and movement, the icky congealed mucus blob swinging from the nose of a sick toddler. That dangly bit is called a snood. As if that weren’t gross enough, they also have a wattle—another dangling bit, this one from the chin. And the toms (males) have sharp spurs for fighting. As in one to two inch spikes. Protruding from the back of their ankles. Do not mess with them. They are powerful. Yes, the American wild turkey is a badass, the Liam Neeson of the bird world.
Studies have shown the toms (males) with longer snoods have more success at mating. Much like their human counterparts, toms most likely give those studies a lot of weight. They probably get envious of each other’s snoods. The hens (females) probably snicker at such tom-foolery, then go back to taunting them. It may be difficult to disrespect the males for long, because—also like humans—related toms will band together to approach the females and court them. They have literal wing men. Only one of the toms gets to mate with the female at that time. Don’t waste your tears on the others. The whole lot of them are as randy as lust-driven teenagers and mate as often as they can get away with it, with any bird who’ll let them. Borrowing from The Bachelor, they don’t even pair up for a single season.
Turkeys eat insects, seeds, and berries. Even aging, fermented berries. That could explain a lot. Turkeys get beer goggles. Just like us.
Gary Roen is an interesting man. He’s an author and a poet. He’s a sci-fi aficionado. And he’s a nationally syndicated book critic. I thought my writer friends and blog followers might like a glimpse into the mind of that mysterious being that strikes anxiety and terror into writers’ hearts . . . The Book Reviewer. (See Gary’s bio after the interview.)
So—Hi, Gary! Let’s commence.
You're a respected book reviewer/critic. How did you get started doing that & what are some of the outlets/sites/journals you submit reviews to?
I began as a book critic, back in 1979, when a friend Pat Flanigan asked me if I wanted to do a science fiction show on WPRK of Rollins College. I had the background of publishing, while Pat worked for WDBO radio. So, for two years we did the show Spaceship PRK.
To promote the show, we expanded our coverage by doing sci-fi book reviews for a weekly publication in Winter Park—while including author interviews on the show, and also alerting listeners to sci-fi events in the Orlando area.
Later I did the reviews by myself, looking for new places to publish. I then aimed higher by writing for the Orlando Sentinel, Baltimore Sun, and the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Today I write for others. Among them are Midwestbookreview.com, Bivouac Magazine, Lake Legal News, The Beach Side Resident, and bUneke Magazine.
What do you like best about reviewing books?
Several things. Of course, the books. I accept all genres from publishers, authors, and PR firms. Meeting authors at events like Fandom Kissimmee, Oasis, and Necronomicon Science Fiction conventions, or library events to promote reading and authors, are a few of the things I really enjoy.
How many books are submitted to you for review? Do you review them all? If not, how do you decide which ones you'll read?
The number would be staggering, if I took a count, because there are so many that come in from all kinds of different avenues. No, I do not review all of them, but, yes, I do read all of most of the books I write about. The only time I don’t is when it’s too confusing for me to understand, as many self-help books often are. I will state, ‘I did not finish this book because . . .’ and I explain the reason.
As to how I decide? Several things are important to me. First—is the cover. (Okay, Victoria here. Please reread that last sentence. As a cover designer myself and, having conducted presentations on effective covers, I know this to be true. It's so, so important! Sorry. Back to you, Gary.) It has to entice me to want to open the book. Then the first paragraph has to grab me, and the author has to tell a story with a beginning, middle, and an end.
After reading one, do you ever decide to not review it? Why?
No. Once I have read it all, I go with a review. Sometimes when I’ve read a bit of one, I decide to not write about it, because it may be poorly written, be too confusing for me, or use certain words too many times and slows down the progression. I call it the Danelle Steele rule of thumb, because she uses and, but, and suddenly too many times each page. Last time I counted 18 times on the first 3 pages. Another problem I see is too many characters in a novel—or with the same letters for first names. Example: Sara, Sally, Shannon, and Sue. All female characters causing me to go back and figure which one is which.
How would an author approach you for a review? Or do you only accept books from trusted sources, say a publicist, agent, or publisher?
The first way to not get a review is come to my house and present it to me at my door or in my driveway.
(Sorry folks—interruption. That sound you hear is Victoria spitting out her coffee with laughter. Eh-hem. Okay. Better now. Carry on, Gary.)
Now, I will accept in many ways. PR firms like Maryglenn Mccombs’ Dowling Press—who sent me your book, JORDAN. I also talk to authors through social media like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Or friends of mine, who are authors, have new books out, and they ask if I would review it.
Now, another way to not get reviewed—very simply—is constantly sending me the question of, “What do you think of my book?” or “When are you going to review it?” Sometimes, in a heartbeat, I will send it back to you. In two cases, I did, because of the lack of courtesy on the part of the author. One author did not like that it took over two months from the time he gave me his book at a library event. Later, I gave his book back to him when we were at the same event.
Another thing that will not get you anywhere is attacking me on social media because I have not immediately reviewed your book. Authors have to understand when dealing with anyone of the press—that it takes time, and they are not the only person a press person deals with.
You're a writer yourself. How does reading so many other books affect your own work?
I believe it made me a better writer. I grew up reading the Ian Fleming James Bond novels, Andre Norton, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, and many different genres, instead of just the science fiction that I write in.
Your newest is Slotski's World. Tell us about it and when it will be released.
Slotski’s World, and its companion, Journey, are available from
https://www.legacybookpublishing.com/prime/authors/gary-roen/, any bookstore, or
Amazon.com for ordering or in Kindle format. Both collections of science fiction short stories have been a lot of fun to write and promote. Much of my work comes from things I overhear from people or what I’ve seen of news events.
An example is Cycles, in Slotski’s World, where a husband and wife return home from a day of shopping to find their home completely gone. That came from a brief news story on a local station about a couple in Texas who had that happen. I just expanded it a little bit. Or the story, Everything, came from something as simple as a girl I observed. She was on her cell phone and told me she would just die if she did not have her cell phone, because it is everything to her.
What advice would you give a new novelist?
Keep writing. Find someone you feel comfortable with to edit your work, check out writer groups in the area, go to book-related events of all genres, and stay in touch with other writers by social media. If you are in college, take courses. I took courses from Susan Hubbard and Pat Rushin at University of Central Florida and learned my craft so much better in everything I write. Carry around notepads to write down things when you are out and about. Much of my work comes from things I hear or see, and when something comes to me, I have it to refer back to. When you come in contact with an author on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram sign up to be a follower, because then you can get tips from authors and author-related sits. Do not write to be the next Stephen King or whatever—be yourself. Do not write to have it become a movie or TV show. Know who your target audience is. Example: Is this for kids, YA, Adults, or a combination?
How important is it to market your books? Isn’t that for the publicity departments and PR firms?
It’s crucial you learn to do some things on your own, because publicity departments of mainstream publishers have only so much time and money to devote to you. PR firms only work with authors who are doing a lot of this themselves. There is only so much you can expect from them.
At first it can be hard, but you can take the attitude I did so many years ago. What’s the worst that will happen? You will be told no. Ask yourself—what have you got to lose? If you are shy, get over it and take on a little at a time, because you control what happens to your books. I now use social media to promote my books and ask if I can be a guest on a talk show or event. I have been told no, so I look up somewhere else to ask. The internet is a great resource, but it is not the only place to promote your books.
I was amazed at a comic convention in Coco, Florida, that an author I talked to while waiting to be a guest on the show, Hanging With the Web, did not even consider being on because his books are on the internet. I think, duh, how do you get people to check you out, if they do not know how to find you?
I am a person who is always learning. It amazes me how many people think they ended their education in school. I will continue to do so as long as I can. Much of what I teach to writers are things I learned by getting out and doing it on my own. There was no classroom, no lesson plans, other than feeling my way back in 1973, when my parents and I entered the world of publishing with my dad’s true crime book, Murder Of A Little Girl. Later, I sold it as a paperback version retitled, A Little Girl is Missing. His next one, Evidence of Murder, propelled me to be an agent. I did so, but had too many writers with so much attitude, that I refocused my attention to my own work of short stories and being a critic, as well as a consultant. Most of all, I am pleased with the direction my life has taken and am on the course I’ve known since attending Boone High School.
Thank you, Victoria for having me. This has been a lot of fun.
Authors can contact me through:
firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, https://www.linkedin.com/in/gary-roen-1a6261149/Log into Facebook | Facebook, Gary Roen (@bearbeatle) | Twitter
Gary S. Roen is the author of two collections of science fiction - Slotski’s World and Journey (Legacy Book Publishing)—as well as co-author of Cats, Cats, and More Cats (Royal Fireworks Press.)
He is the author of two books of poetry. The Forgotten Father Coping With Grief (Taylor and Seal Publishing) and Look at Me World (Chateau Publishing). His work has been included in the short story collection, Computer Legends Lies and Lores (Ageless Press), and online magazines including Anotherealm, and Mercury Sky. He is also the author of a satirical play entitled Vamp.
Roen is also a nationally syndicated book critic/writer/consultant, who has been writing for close to 45 years. His syndicated reviews have appeared in hundreds of daily, weekly, and monthly, publications that currently include Midwest Book Review, The Beachside Resident, Orlando Advocate, St. Cloud in the News, Osceola News-Gazette, Bivouac Magazine, and Arrhythmic Souls.
His articles have run in Living Well and Live Wisely, bUnike Magazine, The Beach Side Resident, Strange New Worlds, Crime Book Digest, Eleven Magazine, Backstage Pass, and West Orlando News.
Over the many years of his career, Roen has been a book salesman, a publicist for several publishing houses, and an agent working with authors and publishers in the true-crime field.
He has been a regular on-air contributor to many different types of radio and TV shows throughout the United States.
He’s worked for numerous companies in the field of market research, in Central Florida, as an independent contractor. This gave him many diverse experiences that have often found their way into his fictional stories.
In days long past, people knew, by the time a child was around five or six, whether or not the kid had all its marbles in the right places. Imagine, continuing the marble thread, the normal ones’ brains looked like a neatly set up game of Chinese checkers. Each marble precisely placed in its appointed spot. And such a child followed the rules, did what they were told.
Remember that old game, Mouse Trap? The one that looked like a Rube Goldberg contraption? (If you haven’t heard of him, Google him. So much fun.) Levers, flippers, scoops, and raceways had marbles flying everywhere. The child whose brain did that didn’t fit in very well. They disobeyed and explored forbidden places and thoughts. Were they geniuses or just idiots?
Depending on the village culture, the ones with the flying marbles didn’t fit in. If they were simple-minded, but could be relied upon to complete easy tasks, they were trained to do so. If they were a danger to others, too much of a burden, or just scared the townspeople because of their differences, they were disappeared.
Yup. You heard me. Oh, no one spoke about it. There are veiled references to such things in historical records, but stories survived about disabled or deformed newborns being left out in the woods for the wolves. Babies with problems were bad omens. Whacky behavior was a sign of stupidity. A child who couldn’t speak made it to the age of six, but constantly pointed at the sky and screamed. Along came a period of non-stop rain that killed all the crops, and subsequently, most the animals. Poor kid got blamed as being an evil spirit who brought the disaster. Yeah, he didn’t survive. That was from an arcane entry in a church record.
Seems barbaric, doesn’t it? Ah, but it turns out, during most of human history, we’ve rejected anyone who was differently abled. More modern times brought ways of locking away the disabled-from-birth kids, but they were still out of sight.
Unless, of course, you were rich or powerful. It’s the same old story. People haven’t changed. If you were a member of what my one son calls the lucky sperm club, your chances of survival were way better.
Okay, okay. I get it. So far, this is so not funny. See, I’m here to make sure you realize how good you’ve got it. It all makes me especially happy that my siblings and I were born in the twentieth century. I hate to think of how those middle ages villagers would have treated my siblings and me. We exhibited some pretty dopey behavior, and we weren’t rich. So . . .
We had a neighbor, who, I’m quite sure, wanted all six of us taken away somewhere. Anywhere. Had she been the head of an ancient village, my siblings and I would’ve been disappeared, for sure. Her children behaved with decorum. They didn’t roll in the mud. They didn’t race bicycles downhill with no hands. They never fell out of trees. We were loud and boisterous. We made messy mud and leaf sandwiches in our pretend deli on the side porch and tried to sell them. Once, after witnessing my brother chasing my screaming sister around the yard—he was attempting to hit a bee, that had apparently decided it loved her, by whipping a rope at her as they ran—our neighbor ranted at my mother but good about her disgraceful progeny.
That brother is now a Ph.D. So, I wonder how many children, how many incredibly smart people, were discarded on the cutting-room floor of human history? I have to believe those villagers of old would’ve definitely left us in the woods.
Traditional mysteries aren’t usually my thing, but a friend recommended Alyssa Maxwell’s Gilded Newport Series, so I gave it a try.
Murder at Ochre Court is the sixth in this series. Although I haven’t read the first five, it didn’t matter. I was able to get into the story right away and easily understand who the main character was and her background.
Emma Cross is her protagonist, a rather courageous young woman for her time—the late 1800s. This book begins in July of 1898 with Emma having an interesting meet up with none other than the famed journalist Nellie Bly.
Emma is a newspaper reporter and wants more than anything to write about real news, not just the doings of those fantastically wealthy and privileged members of the 400. Emma is a distant cousin to the Vanderbilts, and as such, does have access to those families.
The settings are wonderful, and Maxwell truly transports the reader to that gilded age. The magnificent mansions, clothing, manners, servants, food, carriages, and community at large are all described very well.
The death/mystery Emma winds up investigating in this book is quite unique. I won’t reveal the who or how, but you won’t see it coming. The method used to murder the victim is absolutely ingenious and so appropriate to the time frame.
So, yes, I will be going back to read the earlier books in this series, as well as the subsequent ones. I found it a delightful escape read and highly recommend it. Here's a link to her website:
This Woman's Experience is a series of blog posts about what growing up, and life in general, was like for women who were born before 1965. It's intended to show the young women of today how it used to be. We can't go, and we can't let them, go backward.
When I was in my early twenties, I divorced my first husband after three years of marriage. He had this rather bad habit of sleeping with just about any woman he liked the looks of - if he could.
If you've read this series so far, you know that it was drilled into me to be a 'good wife' and overlook a lot. We got married, had a two-week honeymoon (That was its own disaster - a story for another day), and immediately moved from New Jersey to the panhandle of Florida.
The problems began right away. He'd say he had to work late, then come in at 2 AM reeking of beer, saying he and another guy he'd been working with were just too wired afterward to go home and sleep. Oh, a young alcoholic, you'll no doubt surmise. This was in the late seventies. There were no cell phones, no internet. I didn't dare call his work to ask to speak to him. I was afraid to. I told myself at the time it was because I didn't want to seem like an insecure wife and cause his buddies to tease him about his 'nagging' spouse. Years later, I acknowledged the real reason was I was afraid of what I'd find out. Which I eventually did find out anyway. Get ready for a shocker - he wasn't working late.
The beer ploy had been concocted and perfected by him and his friends when they were in college. Clearly, it only worked when they'd managed to find girlfriends/spouses like me - women with zero confidence or self-worth.
He'd make dates and take women out after work. Or he'd go to a bar and pick one up, then go back to her place - or do it in the car if she had nowhere for them to go. And he'd make sure to have beer, but doubly made sure his clothes smelled of it, too, to cover up any perfume or other - eh-hem - residual odors.
We moved six times in those few years of marriage. Everywhere we lived, weird circumstances happened that he'd explain away. I, being too intimidated, too insecure, too whatever - would buy the stupid explanation and just internalize the hurt. Squash it far down and pretend I didn't know what I was starting to understand very well.
At the same time, he began calling me horrible names, criticized my looks (called me a whale body), and refused to have sex with me. (in retrospect, that was a blessing, as Lord knows what diseases he might have steeped himself in.)
Women called the house giggling and asking to speak with him. Women would show up at our front door and, when I answered it, would have shocked expressions on their faces and mumble some hasty response like, "Oh, I must have the wrong apartment." Once, my ex ran past me to answer the door, stepped outside with the woman, took a few minutes talking to her, then came back and told me she was looking for - whatever else - and he merely tried to help her out. A stronger woman would have said bullshit to herself and gone right out there with her arms crossed and wedge herself into their 'conversation'.
I was too afraid to do that. To find out what was going on. I pushed it back, way back, in my brain and pretended everything was fine. I understand too well - now - the reasons I did that.
There are so many stories I could tell about that man and his cheating, but the blog post would be way too long. Some were actually pretty hilarious in hindsight, though not this one - I found a fake fingernail between the sheets of our bed when I felt something against my leg. (I didn't have fake fingernails.) I'll never forget what it looked like - lavender/purplish polish, and it had been chewed a bit. When I confronted him about it, he blamed it on our roommate (one of his college buddies who had his own room and bathroom on the other side of the apartment.) I knew that was bullshit, but accepted his excuse and kept that fake fingernail in the bottom of my jewelry box for years to prove to myself I hadn't imagined it.
After three years of his baloney, I finally left him. It wasn't easy. Thank God we were in Hawaii by then. I loved it there.
The point of this is not to garner pity for me. Legions of people have far worse happen to them - mine don't even tip the scale. I am long over all these things, made my changes, and am a different person now.
The point of this is to illustrate the bad choices a person makes when they are insecure and don't think they matter at all. They'll put up with almost anything, because they don't feel they deserve anything better. Insecurity begets more insecurity, which begets really, really, stupid life choices.
By the way, I wasn't done with my stupid life choices. I went on to make many more before I realized I could change my life.
Don't belittle or denigrate your children - especially not your daughters. It has life-long, drastic consequences. Thank you.
This Woman's Experience is a series of blog posts about what growing up, and life in general, was like for women who were born before 1965. It's intended to show the young women of today how it used to be. They need to know this.
When my first ex and I were newly married (1978), we attended a work party with some of his new (male) work acquaintances. Everyone was in their early twenties. Some of the guys were married also, and their wives, like me, dutifully stood in a conversation group with them, nodding along like vapid bobble heads. It was what you did back then. Many of us had jobs, too, but no one ever asked about those, or our lives, or anything else concerning us. It was all about the men.
My ex went to get another drink, and one of the other men started staring at me. It became uncomfortable enough that I'm sure I was turning red. Finally, I asked him why (in a mousy little voice) he was doing it.
He smiled a weird, sideways smirky smile and said, "I'm just waiting for the pencils to drop." The other men laughed uproariously with him. The women didn't say a word. I was pretty naive and did not understand the reference. I gave him a questioning look that, I think - in retrospect - he interpreted as an admonishment. At least I hope so. But I just felt stupid and embarrassed.
I didn't know what he'd said to me. I sensed it was inappropriate and knew I couldn't tell my then husband, or it might cause a problem at the work party. And of course, my duty was to not disrupt or cause issues. My duty was to be a stepford-type wife. So I said nothing. There was no internet then. No where to look up such a thing. I mean, I wasn't about to ask the local librarian about that one. We'd moved far away from our families and friends. So I let it go.
Years later, I heard a reference to the same type joke and finally understood it. The guy was commenting on my breasts. They were perky. Of course they were. I was twenty. I suppose it doesn't seem like a life-changing event - and it wasn't. It was just one more little thing that we used to put up with. Today's 20-year old woman would likely have told the jerk to go eff himself, but back then it was drilled into many of us that a wife offending or disrespecting (by not tolerating) his co-worker could have dire consequences for a young man's advancement prospects. So we smiled pleasantly.
Greed. Power. Money.
The cause of most human atrocities are rooted in those three words. The pursuit of more money, always more, relentlessly more, is a twisted sickness that infects people. Money buys power. Money buys respect.
Money buys - safety? Maybe not.
Author Tom Straw has a smart defense attorney, Macie Wild - trying to prove her client's innocence on a murder charge - teaming up with an ex-cop, Gunnar Cody, who has serious skills (think Jack Reacher skills) and a great surveillance set-up, plus a scary-good IT guy - when her case intersects with his work.
Unfortunately, Wild's and Cody's investigation exposes them to the rotten, brutal, and deadly underworld of Russian oligarchs, whose insane amounts of stolen money and the subsequent influence it buys - even in the supposedly 'safest' corners of the American legal system - turns their investigation into a dangerous adventure.
There's a lot of action - at times, it felt I was inside a Mission Impossible movie - and there is a romantic element. What Straw does nicely is making the romantic element develop slowly, so when the two of them actually do something about it, it feels natural, more realistic - more deserved. Too many other novels of this type simply throw the characters into bed as soon as possible, which always feels forced and takes me out of the story. Straw doesn't overdo it, either.
In the end, Macie, for all her worldly experience to date, is shocked by the extent that money can corrupt. It's sick, and it's a condemnation of humanity - that in thousands of years of watching people screw themselves and entire populations in the pursuit of power and money - most of today's humans haven't learned a thing.
There were a couple of drawbacks. Straw's writing style in this novel is to combine different characters' dialogue, thoughts, and actions into single paragraphs, which made me have to frequently go back and reread for clarity. Who said that? Wait. Who thought that? Wait. Who did that? I would have read this book much faster if that hadn't been an issue.
The other was Cody's motivation to pretty much drop everything - from the get-go - to spend his time, resources, and money to help Macie with her case. It wasn't explained, and, I felt, didn't make sense. He didn't seem the kind of guy to fall head-over-heels in love at first sight and, because of that, risk his life and his resources in response.
But, I can suspend disbelief when the story is interesting, so - I did.
I believe the only way to get through the slings and arrows life throws at all of us is to find the humor.