Selected Non Fiction Reviews From Fresh Fiction

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WHEN BIRDS ARE NEAR by Susan Fox Rogers

This absorbing collection of memories from a wide variety of writers in the Americas brings us bird observations and tells us a lot about life. Rob Nixon recalls the trip and the guide on the occasion that he saw Spotted Owls. Elizabeth Bradfield, poet, tells us how whale-watching got her interested in seabirds. Andrew Furman muses about the migrating painted buntings that interrupt a domestic discussion by enlivening the bird feeder. WHEN BIRDS ARE NEAR, somehow everything else stops.

NEVERTHELESS, SHE PERSISTED by Pratima Rao Gluckman

Subtitled True Stories of Women Leaders in Tech, this book is a compilation of biopics of women who have worked hard, studied, run homes and raised families, while making it on the technology front. The first story presents Telle Whitney, from Salt Lake City, who went to college in California and did badly in theatre, nearly quitting; until she took an aptitude test which suggested computers would suit her. She had no female computer genius role models or mentors, but her heroine was Sally Ride, astronaut. NEVERTHELESS, SHE PERSISTED describes how Telle completed a PhD at Caltech and went to work in Silicon Valley. With fellow computer scientist Anita Borg she started the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, which held its first conference in Washington DC in 1994. Being surrounded by women computer scientists was a reawakening.

TOMS RIVER by Dan Fagin

A small community in New Jersey had a large proportion of cancer sufferers. Could the chemical plant in town have anything to do with it? This is the true story of a town that took on big business in a situation where there were never going to be any winners. Coal tar, a toxin, is used in making dyes, paint, detergent, adhesives and other items. As long ago as 1846 the Swiss authorities found a factory owner guilty of gross negligence in poisoning neighbouring people by dumping waste full of arsenic into the water system. The great chemical factories of Switzerland and Germany were built beside the Rhine River to dispose of waste. By 1910, bladder cancer in aniline factories was recorded as an occupational disease.

DEADLY RIVER by Ralph R. Frerichs

With a subtitle like 'Cholera and Cover-Up in Post- Earthquake Haiti' we can see that a complex and distressing tale is about to be revealed. DEADLY RIVER focuses on the humanitarian efforts made in the aftermath of the huge earthquake that struck the poor nation of Haiti, which is about the size of Maryland. Haiti is part of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, which it shares with Dominican Republic. French doctor Renaud Piarroux arrived to work there, and author Ralph R Frerichs, who had studied cholera, started following his blogs and reports. The result is their collaboration in this book DEADLY RIVER.

LIONS AND TIGERS AND HAMSTERS by Mark Goldstein

Mark Goldstein began by working summers in a horse breeding farm, while training in veterinary medicine at Cornell. His third summer marked the start of his career with even larger animals. Mark learned that the most important lesson was to respect the animals and his fellow keepers. The lions, blackbuck, buffalo and the others were behaving naturally, and the people had chosen to let them loose and then interact with them.

THE PRICE OF THIRST by Karen Piper

Water is the new oil. With rising populations, shrinking freshwater aquifers and climate changes reducing snowmelt, the demand for this vital resource is ever rising and supply is ever more costly. THE PRICE OF THIRST sets out the situation around the world today and takes a scary look at the future. Karen Piper is a geography professor and professor in post- colonial studies in English at the University of Missouri. Over a decade she travelled and studied to research the supply of water.

Author Interviews

Clare O'Beara
Carolyn Wilhelm and Gary Wilhelm in Dublin, 2019. Photo: Clare O'Beara

Gifted education at home — meet a materials provider and climate change activist

A year ago, homeschooling was for a tiny minority of children. Today, schoolchildren are remote learners. The speed of the onset of Covid-19 has left some parents and institutions unprepared, but plenty of online resources are being made available for free. Nonprofit Sesame Street has made a great deal of downloadable or interactive content available. Schools can set a page of approved material for e-mail homework, or class work guided by a teacher over Instagram, Skype, Zoom and other platforms

Fresh Chat | Tony Schumacher on THE BRITISH LION and a War Ravaged London

Clare: I was impressed by THE DARKEST HOUR, in which we found that the Nazis had won the Second World War, and THE BRITISH LION continues the story of life in Britain during the 1940s. What made you select this time period and alternate timeline? Tony: I sort of feel like I didn’t select the timeline, it kind of chose me! I was looking for the answer to a question I’d asked myself. I realized that the only place I was going to find the answer was on the streets of a war ravaged 1946 London, which was cowed under the Nazi jackboot. I know it sounds crazy, but I had to create that universe, to get to the point where I could be honest in my answer to myself. I’m very glad I did though!

Fresh Fiction Blog | Peter Robinson on Inspector Banks, Yorkshire, and the Bane of Writing Crime Fiction

Peter Robinson, author of the Inspector Banks novels, chats with Fresh Fiction Reviewer Clare O'Beara about what's in store for Inspector Banks. Clare: Welcome to Fresh Fiction! Crime readers have been looking forward to the release of your next Inspector Banks book, IN THE DARK PLACES. Yorkshire and occasionally London are the main settings for your books. You've also taken Banks to Estonia in Eastern Europe, keeping up with international crime. However you live in Canada; do you have any plan

Selected Fiction Reviews from Fresh Fiction

Filters & Sorting

A SOLITUDE OF WOLVERINES by Alice Henderson

Best thriller of the year so far. Seriously. This highly intelligent crime tale features mountain landscape, wildlife biology, an abandoned ski resort and a woman with more resources than MacGuyer. My kind of lady. A SOLITUDE OF WOLVERINES awaits wildlife biologist Alex Carter when she arrives in Montana. She has accepted a post of staying alone on a mountainside for the winter months, which she badly needs to restore her confidence. A temporarily distraught man shot up a wildlife refuge opening ceremony in Boston and almost killed her, and her romantic life was in a nosedive already. Time to get out to the back country where she belongs.

PULP FRICTION by Julie Anne Lindsey

Time for another mystery with Winona Mae Montgomery and her Granny Smythe, as they get happily to grips with running a cider shop on the old orchard farm. The outdoor beautiful, dignified wedding scenes framed by apple trees and wildflowers, really took my breath away at the start of PULP FRICTION. Winona is making income from hosting a wedding and doing the catering. She’d have liked the happiness to last beyond the first chapter, though.

SHOT THROUGH THE HEARTH by Kate Carlisle

I thoroughly enjoy the Fixer-Upper Mystery series featuring a talented building contractor, Shannon Hammer. In the latest episode at Lighthouse Cove, the wind of change is blowing. SHOT THROUGH THE HEARTH begins with a marvellous idea to host a conference. Tech billionaire and instigator of the Marigold Foundation, Raphael Nash, engaged Shannon to renovate his lovely old farmhouse home. Lighthouse Cove is nicely located to take advantage of wind and solar power, so she needs to install solutions.

ADEQUATE YEARLY PROGRESS by Roxanna Elden

Brae Hill Valley is a misnamed high school off the interstate in Texas. I learned a lot of rules and regs about attending school in Texas while reading this tragi-comic tale of a year in which the educators, as well as the pupils, are being judged for ADEQUATE YEARLY PROGRESS. Dr. Miguel Barrios is the principal of the school, where everyone is desperately trying not to profile any pupil or teacher as coming from a low-income district – although all the kids do – or underachiever families, which can vary.

FORBIDDEN PROMISES by Synithia Williams

Big money and big ambitions rule the family in the impressive first book in the Jackson Falls series. A hardworking man bought a tobacco farm and made good. Now he throws his aging weight around, trying to control his daughters’ lives. India Robidoux escaped through her talent for violin, but when FORBIDDEN PROMISES opens she’s between orchestral tours and arrives home. Her brother Byron is about to announce that he’s running for political office, and everyone else is under orders to be supportive and suitably demure. If India had known, she’d have stayed away.

THE ENGINEER'S WIFE by Tracey Enerson Wood

Before there was a Brooklyn Bridge there was only a dangerous ferry crossing, fraught with sea tides and icebergs. During the Civil War, no civil engineering projects could be constructed, but Emily Warren marries Captain Washington 'Wash' Roebling, knowing that at the end of the war, this man was going to work in his father’s engineering firm and build a bridge. THE ENGINEER’S WIFE is a fictionalised but carefully researched version of how that bridge was built and how a marriage came together, fell apart, and was rebuilt under all the tensions.

HOW THE LIGHT GETS IN by Jolina Petersheim

Ruth Neufeld is Irish, and she married a good man; one who cared for orphans in the Colombian mountains she visited. But he's been killed in a terrorist atrocity, and she's staring at the walls of his family's stone church in the Wisconsin Mennonite community. At this point, cuddling her children, missing Chandler terribly, she can't imagine HOW THE LIGHT GETS IN to life ever again. Ruth's in-laws manage a cranberry farm, and while this is far from anything the bereaved mother has known, she decides to stay awhile. Her insecurity and lack of knowledge about customs are easily overcome by helping women make apple pies, helping men feed Clydesdales; all cousins and neighbours of her husband. The children Sophie and Vi need time and peace, and she has no idea how she would support them in the world of work. But maybe she doesn't have to. The boggy ground and cranberry harvest can always do with more hands.

THE BOOK WOMAN OF TROUBLESOME CREEK by Kim Michele Richardson

Troublesome Creek, Kentucky, in the hardscrabble 1940s is the setting for this social history tale, an extraordinary accomplishment by Kim Michele Richardson. THE BOOK WOMAN OF TROUBLESOME CREEK is one of those admirable, determined ladies who rode a horse or, in this case, a mule, up and down mountain trails to deliver a library service to isolated homesteads. Miss Cussy Mary Carter is made even more extraordinary by a fact which had me going straight to Google; her skin is blue.

FREEING FINCH by Ginny Rorby

Morgan is a nice kid, but lonely. Mom passed away and now there’s just stepfather Stan and his new wife Cindee, and Maddy, the senior lady whose house is in the woods. And a stray dog. FREEING FINCH is a novel for every age group from middle grade upwards. Have you seen the short film, ‘The Boy With Green Hair’? I think we all saw this great American parable growing up. Morgan, who gets nicknamed Finch at the start, is similarly different and looking to be accepted in class, and everywhere else in the neighbourhood. Finch is a girl, but her dad saw her born looking like a boy, and can’t accept that Finch never felt like a boy. While kids are small they can all wear t-shirt and shorts and nobody questions, but in school Finch wants to be accepted as a girl, and the other kids are starting to query her identity. She’s eleven, but not many people can just let her be herself.

WHITE TRASH by Alexandra Allred

In WHITE TRASH the quality of the writing stands out from the first page. Like Harper Lee immortalizing her home town, the good and the bad, Alexandra Allred vividly describes the people of Granby, white trash or not. Theresa Franks celebrated winning her college scholarship by leaving small-town Texas behind. But at twenty-four, unexpectedly a mother, she limps home to the petty gossip, her babysitting mother, and a job with the paper. Male students do not risk the dreaded pregnancy trap, and the efforts of women to escape are derided by locals. "Just like all the other girls in this town," sneers the garage attendant, who barely finished high school.

RUNAWAY MURDER by Leigh Hearon

RUNAWAY MURDER brings Annie Carson down to California where, as a Western horse trainer, she knows she is out of her depth. Her pals Patricia Winter and Liz Faraday, keen dressage riders and horse dealers, invite her down for a weekend of luxury and networking. The two former movie stars own a dressage stable with the utmost in modern facilities -- solar panels to run the air conditioning -- and regularly put up groups of equestrians during competitions. But Annie isn't long on the premises (feeling out of place), when tragedy strikes. The police are called to a car accident and someone who was riding a horse recently has been killed. They suspect foul play. I have to say the death upsets me, and I'd barely met the victim. Some people's deaths seem to elicit no sympathy and others make the reader want to find out what happened, personally if necessary.

THE KILLER COLLECTIVE by Barry Eisler

Well, thank you, Barry Eisler, for burning out my eyes. If that sounds like torture, don't worry; all the man did was write a book that was very, very hard to put down. THE KILLER COLLECTIVE combines characters from some of Eisler's thriller series and places them in equal danger, forcing them to combine talents against a many-headed enemy. Livia Lone, the main character, is a Seattle cop. I like police procedural series and Livia stars in the narrow subset of anti-police procedurals since she is both a police officer and using her knowledge of procedures to commit crimes. For reasons she justifies, of course. In order to avenge the slavery and death of her sister, and her own early slavery, she now harms sex offenders, especially those targeting children. And that is what proves the inescapable lure that might get her killed.

HOME ON HUCKLEBERRY HILL by Jennifer Beckstrand

Sometimes when I read an Amish romance, I wish people had more of a sense of humour. No such lack is apparent in this enjoyable account, which begins on a sixth wedding anniversary in Wisconsin. Mary Anne Neuenschwander can't have children, and she's fed up with her husband working and fishing and paying no attention to his lovely young wife. When Jethro comes HOME ON HUCKLEBERRY HILL he discovers Mary Anne has taken the tent and a few household items, and set up a quilt factory near the barn. Where's my dinner? is his reaction, but she says she's left him. They are not allowed to divorce, but nothing says they have to live in the same house.

Selected Science Fiction Reviews from Fresh Fiction

Filters & Sorting
Book cover - The Ministry For The Future by Kim Stanley Robinson

THE MINISTRY FOR THE FUTURE by Kim Stanley Robinson

Regular readers of the future-set stories of climate change, economics, and human ingenuity which characterise Kim Stanley Robinson’s major works, will be keen to pick up his latest opus. A surprise for me as an Irish person is to meet Mary Murphy, the head of Swiss-based Ministry for the Future, who loosely resembles Mary Robinson, Ireland’s former President and UN Commissioner on Refugees. She is in this position because this Mary is so nice that nobody could hate her. In 2023, Frank May, an aid worker, is the sole survivor from a town near Lucknow struck by a disastrous Indian heatwave.

TABOO TECH by Joy V. Smith

Lacie Leigh Collier is a born spacefarer; her parents and their friends are all explorers and archaeologists, jaunting around the galaxy as they hunt out examples of old-style TABOO TECH. The reader is left rather in the dark as to what this is or why it's taboo until gradually we understand that either previous generations or alien species have created sentient machines, and these are generally feared. The Interstellar Guard keep a close watch on anyone exhibiting suspicious behaviour or gadgetry, and this means most of the adventures have to be kept under wraps.

HALF WAY HOME by Hugh Howey

Five hundred colonists are abruptly woken from sleeper pods when a fire starts in the AI-controlled unit. But not all of them make it out to safety. We gather right away that this fits the ‘colony planet goes badly wrong’ trope. Then I realised that there are few planets in literature where the endeavour goes well. Maybe it’s like the quote that all happy families are alike but all unhappy families are unhappy in their own way. So how does bestselling author Hugh Howey distinguish his characters? Well, for a start, he plants suspicion that the AI computer really wanted to kill all of them.

NOVA by Margaret Fortune

Lia Johansen tells us her story; she was a prisoner of war. A settlement has been reached with the Tellurian Alliance and she is going to be dropped off at New Sol Space Station to begin a new life, after two years of uncertainty. NOVA describes the location very well, from the manufactured environment to the endless vista of space. Lia has no family or home left. The Celestian guards don't give the ceasefire much chance of holding, so it's important to get the refugees somewhere secure. Then what awaits her?

THE DARK INTERCEPT by Julia Keller

Violet just wants to get on with her life, it's not easy being the daughter of the man who invented New Earth and is now its president. She's not sure why her dad, Ogden Crowley, distrusts the policeman she fancies, Danny Mayhew. She's watched Danny on camera chasing wrongdoers down in the slums of Old Earth, and Danny's brother Kendall invented the Intercept. Some people, though, think of this computer system as THE DARK INTERCEPT. Everyone now has an implanted computer chip, and the Intercept reads and stores their emotions. It can even be deployed to provide an emotion to disable a dangerous man on the run.

HELL'S END by Ally Blue

Life on a space station is a struggle for survival. The Government is fighting the Families and somewhere in the gutters run the discards, young thieves, starving and stealing by light-cycle, hiding by dark-cycle. Rejected by his street gang in HELL'S END, young Tuck makes for tenuous safety in a war zone. Before long he's captured however, and hauled off to the house of the l'Arisians. Ivan, a government squad leader, is tasked with retrieving Tuck. Why, he doesn't know. He leads the mission among water purifiers and air recyclers, with bolt guns, sizzlers and EMPs as his weapons.

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