Robert Jones

John Jakes, author of The Kent Family Chronicles and The North and South Trilogy, began a new cycle of historical novels with the best-selling Homeland, “to tell what happened” in America, and the world, during the last one hundred years. Now, for all those readers who followed the stories of Pauli Kroner, Herschel Wolinski, Joe and Ilsa Crown and their children Fritzi, Carl, and Joe Junior and who have since bombarded the novelist with requests to tell what happened next Jakes has completed the long-awaited second novel of the Crown family dynasty. American Dreams is aptly named. Against a panoramic view of American life and culture in transition between 1905-1917, it continues, in vivid detail, the stories of three dreamers previously introduced in Homeland: Fritzi, her younger brother, Carl, and their cousin, Paul. For each one of these protagonists, the American dream is tinged with the same Apollo-like promise a bittersweet blend of happiness and loss. Fritzi achieves the public acclaim she has longed for, but only at the cost of abandoning her dream of a stage career and becoming engulfed in the burgeoning motion picture industry.

Carl, fascinated with machines, pursues a turbulent, out-of-control course that brings him into conflict with Henry Ford in Detroit. He plunges into the maelstrom of the racing circuit with speed king Barney Oldfield and is eventually sent skyward, first as a pilot for a flying circus, then as a mercenary for the Mexican Federalists, and, finally, as a fighter pilot in war-torn Europe.

Paul, the acclaimed author of I Witness History, a book about his experiences as a newsreel filmmaker, loses his job when he defies British law by making public his footage of atrocities committed by the German army. Toward the end of the novel, back in Europe to obtain more war footage, Paul, in a moment of supreme despair, senses that the deaths he is recording are a harbinger of the end of an era that the nightmare of war has “enveloped Europe's golden summers of peace and confidence, turning them to winters of despair and ruin.” But in the midst of this darkness, the novel like America, and like the giddy century which the world is still experiencing rises above despair. The real American dream, perhaps, is emblemized in the rhapsody of hope spoken by music maestro Harry Poland (once known as the immigrant Herschel Wolinski) about Bartholdi's Statue of Liberty: “She says so much, that great lady. She says, ÔWelcome, whoever you are. You needn't be rich, or renowned, there is a place for you anyway.' To me especially, she says, ÔThis is the land where you can realize your wildest dream if you work hard. So go forward, for that's where the future lies . . . ahead of you. You will never find it by going back.'” Reviewed by Robert C. Jones.

John Jakes, author of The Kent Family Chronicles and The North and South Trilogy, began a new cycle of historical novels with the best-selling Homeland, “to tell what happened” in America, and the world, during the last one hundred years. Now, for all those readers who followed the stories of Pauli Kroner, Herschel Wolinski, Joe […]

Dorothy Dunnett does not rest on her laurels. With Caprice and Rondo, volume seven in her House of Niccolo series, she adds still more mystery and suspense to the labyrinthine plots within plots within counterplots that have marked the career of her 15th-century merchant/adventurer protagonist, Nicholas de Fleury. But first-time readers of Dunnett be forewarned: Although the Niccolo series is ably introduced and partially explicated by Judith Wilt, Caprice and Rondo (Wilt's introduction notwithstanding) will be heavy going for someone who has not read the earlier novels in the series.

At the end of volume six, To Lie with Lions, Dunnett's "master dissembler" now in Scotland has finally brought to fruition his most complex project: to wreck financially the country whose gentry terrified and rejected Nicholas's mother and Nicholas himself (see volume one, Niccolo Rising). It is a vengeance that has turned even his closest companions against him, a dire success that seems to ruin him as well as his adversaries. And, as we learn in this next Niccolo volume, it is not just Nicholas at risk. Everyone around him from long-time friends and associates like Julius of Bologna to Nicholas's estranged wife Gelis and their son Jodi faces potential disaster.

Now, as Dunnett's readers have come to expect, the real mysteries and revelations begin, acted out on a playing field that stretches from Scotland to Poland, to Muscovy and beyond. There is, for example, the looming shadow of David de Salmeton (see volume three, Race of Scorpions), the discredited Vatachino agent who is back in favor again this time in Scotland. What are his intentions toward Nicholas and Nicholas's family?

There is Countess Anna von Hanseyck, the loving and beautiful new wife of Julius. But is she who she says she is? The question endures through understandings and misunderstandings, treachery and trust, and finally achieves an answer, of sorts, only after Nicholas learns more about his own identity. And, of course, there is always the riddle of Nicholas, who began as Claes vander Poele, and is now Nicholas de Fleury, former governor of the Banco di Niccolo, whose soul is endangered because of the schemes his busy brain cannot resist.

One of the charms of Dunnett's historical novels is the way Dunnett intermingles her own players with characters "recorded in history." Charles, Duke of Bergundy, Anselm Adorne, Conservator of Scots Privileges in Bruges, and Danzig privateer, Pauel Benecke share a fascinating partnership with Dunnett's own creations: Syrus de Astariis, mercenary commander, Michael Crackbene, shipmaster, Thibault, vicomte de Fleury.

Although several of my favorite players have died before the adventures chronicled in Caprice and Rondo, others have taken their places; and some of the familiar stalwarts seem to have grown in stature.

But the surest sign that the denouement is approaching is the reappearance, in this novel, of Nicholai Giorgio de' Acciajuoli, the Greek whose broken wooden leg was, perhaps, the catalyst that created the House of Niccolo. At a reading given in fall 1997 in Kansas City, Dunnett let drop a tantalizing comment: "In the eighth [and last] volume of the House of Niccolo, I plan to link Nicholas with my Lymond Series." For those readers who have read and re-read, multiple times, the volumes in both series, it makes for almost unbearable suspense to find out how the two will meet.

Dorothy Dunnett does not rest on her laurels. With Caprice and Rondo, volume seven in her House of Niccolo series, she adds still more mystery and suspense to the labyrinthine plots within plots within counterplots that have marked the career of her 15th-century merchant/adventurer protagonist, Nicholas de Fleury. But first-time readers of Dunnett be forewarned: […]

When L.

E. Modesitt's The Magic of Recluce hit the bookstores in 1991, Gordon R. Dickson praised it as “Fascinating! A big, exciting novel of the battle between good and evil, and the path between.” Now, seven years and seven novels later, I'm tempted to say that Dickson woefully understated the case. Modesitt's Recluce series set in a parallel earth-like world where magic and technology conspire and conflict in a constant struggle between chaos and order is more than a story about the battle between good and evil. The saga of Recluce is as rich and complex a creation as Tolkien's Middle-Earth. If you are just tuning in on Modesitt's work, The White Order (eighth volume in the series, with at least one more, Colors of Chaos, upcoming) may pose a bit of a puzzle to you. Its major storyline seems painfully simple: Young Cerryl, orphaned when white mages from Fairhaven killed his amateur-magician father, discovers that he has inherited his father's talent. But the powerful White Order of magicians keeps a close watch on those who experiment with the white magic of chaos, and when Cerryl attempts to find out more about his powers, he is apprehended and brought before Sterol, High Wizard of the Guild. Sterol decides that Cerryl deserves training rather than death although as Cerryl learns during the course of his studies, training in white magic may result in death, if the student mage is not careful. Underneath this story of initiation, however, the novel resonates with echoes of an elusive past and foreshadowings of an uncertain future. Cerryl's education both in magic and in the art of survival offers the first-time visitor a tantalizing, but incomplete, glimpse into a world where much more is happening than appears on the surface.

However, if you are already familiar with Modesitt's Recluce saga, then The White Order is one more fascinating piece to the jigsaw-time puzzle which Modesitt is painstakingly assembling. Indeed, as those who have read at least as far as The Magic Engineer (volume three) have already encountered, in that flashforward episode in the series, an older, more adept Cerryl is one of the council of White Magicians seeking to destroy Recluce. Up to now, both in flashbacks and flashforwards, the conflict in this parallel world has seemed to be between “good” order and “evil” chaos.

With the present novel's focus on Cerryl's training in White Magic, Modesitt changes this emphasis. In doing so, a brilliant new facet appears, best expressed in this passage: “All life composes itself of chaos and order. Yet too many forget that without chaos there is no life. . . . The very light of the sun is white chaos. . . . Within the very sunlight are all the colors of white, the pure chaos from which springs all life. . . . To claim that order is the staff of life. . . is not only false but folly, for the sole perfect order in life is death.” I suspect that the saga of Recluce has many more puzzles to solve not least of which is whether, in Modesitt's parallel world, chaos and order will survive in a delicate balance or annihilate each other in one final, agonizing confrontation. Reviewed by Robert C. Jones.

When L. E. Modesitt's The Magic of Recluce hit the bookstores in 1991, Gordon R. Dickson praised it as “Fascinating! A big, exciting novel of the battle between good and evil, and the path between.” Now, seven years and seven novels later, I'm tempted to say that Dickson woefully understated the case. Modesitt's Recluce series […]

George MacDonald Fraser's hero in this latest history-as-novel entry is Tom Molineaux, a freed slave-turned-pugilist from New Orleans whose skills as a boxer during England's pre-Regency era both captivated and infuriated the "Fancy" (the British boxing and sporting establishment). In 1810, Molineaux, the "Black Ajax," fought and lost a legendary bout against Britain's champion Tom Cribb; in the re-match, in 1811, Cribb again bested Molineaux. There was never a third encounter, but those two titanic battles set both Cribb and Molineaux "aloft and apart; it was a case of Cribb first, Molineaux second, and the rest nowhere."

Cribb retired undefeated in 1822 the first superstar in the history of the sport. Molineaux died in 1818, a broken-down, drunken, prize-ring cast-off ; his chief claims to fame today are the two celebrated fights with Cribb and the fact that he was the first (and, according to Fraser, perhaps the best) in a long succession of great black heavyweight boxers.

Employing a variant of William Faulkner's use of multiple narrators, Fraser gives us the rise and fall of Tom Molineaux through the statements (as recorded by an unidentified interviewer) of 16 witnesses real, fictitious, and anonymous. The entire spectrum of society is represented, from Prinny (H.R.H. the Prince of Wales) to Senora Marguerite Rossignol (lady of fashion and independent means). Even Captain Buckley ("Mad Buck") Flashman, late of the 23rd Light Dragoons, makes his bow, with a spate of rodomontade and gossip reminiscent of the performances of his more famous offspring, Harry (the notorious centerpiece of Fraser's Flashman Papers).

The most moving witnesses, however, are those members of the Fancy who were closest to the Black Ajax–the retired pugilists and trainers and instructors and managers and promoters whose statements transform the story of Tom Molineaux into a drama with tragic dimensions. The voice of Bill Richmond (former slave, retired pugilist, and fight promoter) foreshadows this tragic element. Before the second fight with Cribb, Richmond comments, he had told Molineaux that, even when black people are free, they "will always think like slaves until one of them wins . . . some thing which the white man believes belongs to him alone. The Championship of England is such a thing . . . and I tell you, when a black man wins it, he will have changed the world."

Tom Molineaux lost that second bout, and during the remainder of his brief life, he lived out the doom that the voice of Paddington Jones (retired pugilist and former light heavyweight champion of England) pronounced for him: "There never was a pugilist with greater gifts, or one who squandered them so foolishly. He could have risen to the heights . . . why, for a moment he did. But there were two fighters he never could beat. One was Tom Cribb, and the other was Tom Molineaux."

George MacDonald Fraser's hero in this latest history-as-novel entry is Tom Molineaux, a freed slave-turned-pugilist from New Orleans whose skills as a boxer during England's pre-Regency era both captivated and infuriated the "Fancy" (the British boxing and sporting establishment). In 1810, Molineaux, the "Black Ajax," fought and lost a legendary bout against Britain's champion Tom […]

To police investigators, the significance of a criminal's first victim is clear: The first victim is generally the one that is handled carelessly. It's only later the criminal mind thinks to start making better preparations, thinks to plan more carefully. When the crime being investigated involves the death and possible murder of illegal immigrants, that sloppy criminal mentality may be the only thing working in Lou Boldt's favor.

Readers of Ridley Pearson's previous thrillers will be familiar with the adventures of Boldt, John LaMoia, Daphne Matthews, and others associated with the Seattle Police Department. Pearson, the winner of the first Raymond Chandler Fulbright fellowship at Oxford University, does not let down the pace in this intricately plotted suspense thriller that teams up Boldt with an uncomfortable mix of television news reporters and Immigration and Naturalization Service officers all with different agendas.

Pearson's trademark cameo characters add spice and verisimilitude to the story line: Chinese matriarch Mama Lu who, in the world of jazz, is a ballad, not bebop ; Dr. Virginia Ammond, the Seattle Aquarium's expert on the scales of the Snake River Coho; Doc Dixon, the medical examiner who, digging in a grave for evidence, complains, It's not in the job description! Once again, Pearson combines violent action with careful attention to detail and fascinating glimpses of cutting-edge forensic science to craft a story that moves from the dark territory of dockside gangs and casual violence to the domain of corruption in high places and the murderous significance of the first victim. Robert C. Jones is a reviewer in Warrensburg, Missouri.

To police investigators, the significance of a criminal's first victim is clear: The first victim is generally the one that is handled carelessly. It's only later the criminal mind thinks to start making better preparations, thinks to plan more carefully. When the crime being investigated involves the death and possible murder of illegal immigrants, that […]

David Michaelis notes, in this handsomely illustrated and carefully detailed biography, that the artist acclaimed as dean of American illustrators did not want to think that his future reputation depended upon his narrative painting. Even though, by 1942, his name was stamped on the spines of a long shelf of literature, more than a hundred volumes, Newell Convers Wyeth still felt after 40 years of picture making that everything he had done seemed insufficient. Part of the reason for that sense of inadequacy was that, all his life, N.C. Wyeth wanted to shake the dust of the illustrator from his shoes and emerge into the art world as a real painter. Following Wyeth's death, October 19, 1945, in a car-train collision, the magnitude of his work still appeared ambiguous if not misunderstood. The Washington, D.C. Evening Star wrote: Thousands of people admired his achievements without comprehending why they were good. On the other hand, he was a painter's painter, an illustrator's illustrator. But those qualities that made him supreme as an illustrator are just those qualities that distinguish Wyeth as a real painter. Through his narrative paintings for Treasure Island (1911) to those in The Yearling (1939) in masterpiece after masterpiece of illustration Wyeth thrilled the viewer with the danger and excitement of seeing

David Michaelis notes, in this handsomely illustrated and carefully detailed biography, that the artist acclaimed as dean of American illustrators did not want to think that his future reputation depended upon his narrative painting. Even though, by 1942, his name was stamped on the spines of a long shelf of literature, more than a hundred […]

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