A Big What If

All the Way with JFK: An Alternate History of 1964All the Way with JFK: An Alternate History of 1964 by F.C. Schaefer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What if a tip to the Secret Service made Oswald’s bullet miss by inches? How would Kennedy have dealt with Castro in the aftermath of the Bay of Pigs? Would Johnson have ever been president? Could we have been spared the ‘Great Society’? These musings are adroitly explored in this intelligent and well-researched alternative history that covers the period from 1963 to 1999. What would the world look like today?

All the Way with JFK is written in first person from the viewpoints of several fictional players. A Marine colonel advises Kennedy on how to deal with Castro. A Texas oilman promotes Barry Goldwater for president. A lobbyist tries to push the Civil Rights Act through Congress. A young Republican woman works on the Goldwater campaign. Each tells a piece of the story in his or her own voice. This is an interesting approach that Mr. Schaefer has made to work very well even though this reader thought the book would have been improved with a few less voices. I found that it took a few paragraphs to remember who was telling the story when a new chapter began. However, it’s the plausibility of the ‘what if’ is what makes this a great read.

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Not Genesis Redux

Noah's WifeNoah’s Wife by T.K. Thorne

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Na’amah is different from the others in the village. Her hearing is uniquely acute as is her memory, but she lacks womanly skills such as weaving and spinning. Noah is a bit of an odd duck who lives outside the village where it’s convenient to steal logs from the beavers with which to build boats. He sees Na’amah in the market and smitten by her beauty, so he asks her father for her hand and receives it with the understanding that he will wait three years to take his bride who was young even for those days. Na’amah’s older brother, Tubal, is an abusive bastard who resents the fact that their mother died giving birth to Na’amah.

The one thing Na’amah loves to do is tend the sheep. She often shares the task with her childhood friend, Yanner, who develops a strong desire for her and conspires with Tubal to prevent her from marrying Noah. The plan is if she isn’t a virgin, Noah will reject her, so on the eve of the wedding, Tubal engineers for Yanner to forcibly rape her. For good measure, they also attack Noah and break his leg. Na’amah flees the village and is captured by slave traders before she reaches the sanctuary of the Mother Goddess’s cave.

Noah’s Wife is an engaging story that put me in mind of The Clan of the Cave Bear. As historical fiction, it resonates with verisimilitude and is not a retelling of Genesis. An unusual dynamic among the characters permeates the story in a curious way. The setting and the customs of the people seem real enough. Na’amah is a convincing and likeable character. The prose is clean and flowing if a little flowery for this reader’s taste. Ms. Thorne is fond of using unconventional verbs to describe actions in nature and more metaphors than I prefer. Most readers will find her style lovely and descriptive. There are scenes that I thought went on a little longer than was needed, but it did not diminish my enjoyment of the book.

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Slow and Tedious

Tabula Rasa (A Lambeth Group Thriller)Tabula Rasa by Gordon Bickerstaff

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Zoe is a super spy, which makes her a threat to the plans of an aristocratic family bent on world domination. The plan is to thwart climate change by slashing the human population to a scant fraction of its current level and replacing political leaders with scientists. The attempt to eliminate Zoe didn’t go well because the woman who the conspirators thrashed within an inch of her life was Zoe’s friend, Toni, who was staying in the flat for a few days. When Zoe finds her friend battered, raped, and near death, she called her brother, Michael, who arrived to consult about what should be done. After a disturbingly long discussion, they called an ambulance. Zoe vowed revenge and was assigned by her somewhat hands-off handler, Cairn, to get to the bottom of the scheme. Using a hapless academic, Gavin, as a foil she penetrated the Duke’s ancestral Silsden Estate, which was the headquarters of the monstrous plot. Posing as Gavin’s fiancée, Zoe was lured to the Silsden’s yacht on which she is tasered and left in the sea to drown. How will she save the world?

For a book that labels itself a thriller, this one moves very slowly. Tabula Rasa is part of a series, but it offers no back-story to help it stand alone. There are some references to old times in Bosnia, but I never discovered what the Lambeth Group was, whose side they were on, or who they worked for. There are orders from the Prime Minister and mention of SAS training, but the Silsden bad guys also have police on the payroll and tacit protection of the British aristocracy. I remain in the dark about who is fighting whom. Young Gavin flip-flops multiple times, and Zoe vacillates between wanting to sleep with him and wanting to kill him. She even momentarily gets on board with the dastardly plan except for the sticky detail of killing over six billion people. Mr. Bickerstaff’s prose makes no concession to point of view. It comes from the direction of whichever character appears on the scene. I found one case where the viewpoint switched within a single sentence. I hate posting a negative review, but I cannot be false. This was a letdown that went on way too long.

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