“The Salad Oil King” by M. G. Crisci

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The Salad Oil King  is a uniquely American tale of Greed-Gone-Mad. Inspired by real events that took place in the 1940-60’s. An unpretentious, diminutive Manhattan-born high school drop-out named Alfonso Gravenese morphs into one of the great scam artists in American financial history.

Watch “Fonso” graduate from a modest childhood scam into an executive who initially steals hundreds of millions of dollars from Federal domestic and international aid programs. And ultimately becomes a cunning entrepreneur who creates a $14 billion Wall Street scam that halts NYSE trading and destroys two venerable brokerage firms.

Along the way, you meet an unforgettable collection of friends, enemies and accomplices. Notably benevolent Mobsters, a jealous and compliant wife, a vicious yet oddly romantic right-hand man, and a collection of opportunistic Government and Church officials.

And a surprising ending that will leave you wondering.

 

From the San Francisco Book Review:

There’s something about criminal stories that commands our attention. Maybe it’s the chance to look behind the curtain of illegality and see just how someone can manage to pull off a wild scheme. Maybe it’s the curiosity of wondering what goes through someone’s mind and brings them to commit actions the rest of us would never dream of. Whichever the case, the story of Alfonso “Fonso” Gravanese has all the elements needed to be a classic tale of American crime, and it spins out from a master storyteller.

Born in Little Italy, Fonso starts off learning how to con early from watching his father stuff fish full of ice before weighing them to sell to customers. His father’s ambition is to get a little extra money for the family, but Fonso’s dreams are greater, and he has the passion to pursue them. When his father moves from selling fish to having a butcher shop, he finds ways to get more money from that, too, even studying meat carving, so he can find a way to get more meat from each cut and more money from each animal. After his father’s death, he moves on to bigger and better things, finding loopholes in laws that allow him to gain more and more money for himself.||From the first chapters of The Salad Oil King, I was completely hooked. It’s a book that pulls you into a world not only of domestic corruption, but of international politics, one that sprang from The Great Depression to World War II and beyond, showing how one man can take advantage of foreign troubles to line his own pocket. Personal betrayals and struggles only add to the book’s power, as Fonso struggles not only to keep himself on the top when it comes to business, but also to keep his friends and allies.

I’d recommend this book to anyone interested in how corruption can shape history.

“Harold Hardscrabble” by G.D. Dess

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Harold Hardscrabble by G. D. Dess, captures the feelings of frustration and helplessness that many of us experience in our daily lives. These sentiments are embodied in the contemplative, quietly charming protagonist, Harold, who, like Walter Mitty, lives largely in his own world of thoughts and dreams. We follow Harold’s transformation from a dreamer to a man of action as he struggles to discover how to live a meaningful life in a materialistic world.

Harold copes admirably with the many disasters and injustices that assail him on his life’s journey; but when he is finally overcome by circumstances beyond his control, he is forced to take matters into his own hands to attain justice for the all the misfortunes he has been made to suffer. This is a story of a quest for self-realization that unfolds slowly as it builds to its explosive climax.

 

San Francisco Book Review:

Harold Hardscrabble met the love of his life in college. Her name is Carol, the attraction, of a physical and intellectual nature, is immediate. Harold sees Carol as having a controlling personality, but he also sees an endearing quality to her vulnerability. They leave college and get married, moving to New York City and to cramped surroundings in an apartment. Harold is an artist within, who is looking for an outlet to unleash the art in his soul, but practicality and his bride push him to the corporate world. Harold works a variety of temp jobs, but his brilliant mind leads to offers of a full time job in a analytical position. Harold still feels insecure but pushes on with the prodding of Carol. The birth of their two children, Jake and Sarah, makes a move to the suburbs an eventuality. Harold thinks back to his time growing up, his propensity to daydream being the fondest of memories. As his children grow, Harold’s mind turns to the pitfalls of commercialism, materialism, and the lack of reality that haunts his existence. He attempts to explain his feelings to Carol but is met with indifference. His thoughts start to take a toll on his home and career. His life takes a tilt toward the mortal when he is diagnosed with prostate cancer. His battle and its unpleasant effects take a backseat to Carol’s departure. Harold emerges weakened from the cancer, drinking more and looking to de-clutter his existence. Will he ever find happiness? Will he ever overcome his own questions and doubts?

Harold Hardscrabble is an excellent, philosophical tale that explores the life of a brilliant, troubled man and his ups and downs. The reader can identify with many of the quandaries that tax the mind of Harold. The existential crises that haunt the titular character make him sympathetic and worth rooting for. The story bobs and weaves but never fails to hold the attention of the reader. A fine read.

“Rage and Mercy: Part One” by Scott Dresden

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“This thrilling book delivers a violent tale that is ultimately as surprising as it is gruesome.” Kirkus Review Sayer didn’t expect his life to go any further than wherever his wealthy clients told him to drive to, until he worked for Diana Westcherry. The young, beautiful, epileptic woman stubbornly imposes her kindness on Sayer, exposing a life that could’ve been, if she’d been his mother. Through Diana, Sayer learns that nothing determines a man’s life more than the mother he was born from. And when drug fiends murder her for purse change, Sayer will slaughter all of them to immortalize her, the mother he was denied. But knowing now that the greatest gift a father could give his child is choosing the mother of his child, he abducts Amanda to create the child he was supposed to be. Rage and Mercy is the story of Amanda and Sayer. Amanda is a born again Christian on a mission to shepherd lost souls to God. Sayer is her black kidnapper, determined to give his future child the white, Christian mother he never had. While there is nothing Sayer wouldn’t do for his future child, Amanda must discover if she can endure impossible horrors to prove that no child of God is beyond redemption.

 

Kirkus Review:

A debut novel, the first installment of a series, focuses on one man’s quest for retribution.

Los Angeles in 2002 is plagued by drug fiends. More than mere addicts, these thugs are a particularly vicious and pathetic group. Readers are told: “There’s nothing a fiend wouldn’t do for the next high.” While such a statement would seem to apply to substance abusers of many eras, these creatures terrorizing the city are more akin to zombies than Alcoholics Anonymous attendees. A case in point comes with the brutal murder of Diana Westcherry, daughter of a wealthy shipping magnate named Vlad. Shortly after she gives a fiend a brownie, she is bludgeoned to death for her kindness. If that were not enough, passing fiends further disgrace her body in ways that are better left unmentioned. What is one to do with such a tragic and disgusting situation? Once he gets wind of what has happened, Diana’s chauffer, a former Marine named Sayer, decides he will take matters into his own hands. He begins killing the fiends with gusto, taking care to carve Diana’s name into their cadavers so that she will be remembered. It would be a dangerous vocation under normal circumstances, but with Vlad’s blessing and financing, it becomes a profitable enterprise. So the stage is set for a story that turns even stranger and grislier as it progresses. Interspersed with grand statements (the idea that “fiends spread their belief in annihilation through their worship of chaos”), it is truly a dark tale from start to finish. Although long conversations can stymie some of the intensity (do not get Diana started on the concept of “self-soothing” or Vlad on the discipline required for love), the reader can never be quite sure what horrific scene lies just around the corner or what new character may surface next. Dresden’s late addition of an attractive, born-again schoolteacher named Amanda offers new opportunities in what would otherwise be a story of frenzied revenge. Of course, if what happened to Diana is any indication, the beautiful certainly fare the worst in a world populated with so many twisted individuals.

This thrilling book delivers a violent tale that is ultimately as surprising as it is gruesome.

 

San Francisco Book Review:

Scott Dresden’s Rage and Mercy: Part One is an intricate fictional work that will engross a reader’s attention start to finish. The murder of Diana, a young, virtuous woman, triggers Sayer, her former driver to embark on the systematic extermination of an unwanted population of drug addicts, referred to as “fiends.” The novel follows Sayer, Diana, Norris, and Adams, the detectives investigating the murders, Margot, a photographer who stumbles across the story, and Amanda, an entwined acquaintance of Diana. Reflective one-liners pop up throughout the narrative, offering thought-provoking concepts, such as “’Catch the devil before you cuff the suspect’” and “’…the most consequential decision a father can ever make for his child is to choose the mother who bears it, and the best fathers do not ask permission or apologize for what they do for their children. I became wealthier than nearly everyone by yielding to no one but my family.’”

Each chapter incorporates another layer to titillate and enthrall readers. Dresden’s work requires a mature audience to appreciate and comprehend the graphic material woven throughout the novel. Dresden boldly engages the themes of rape and murder in a very candid, up-front manner, while avoiding the tendency of some authors to romanticize the acts. Moreover, he considers these themes through the lens of motherhood in a manner not typically utilized. Readers will have to decide for themselves the character, composition, and impact of a “good” mother. Situations like this arise throughout the narrative, encouraging readers to reconsider self-determined truths, like where the boundary between good and evil truly falls. Readers may find themselves sympathizing with, or even rooting for, the vigilante as he tries to avenge the honorable life stolen before its time.

Rage and Mercy: Part One will leave readers on the each of their seats anxiously awaiting the next installment of Dresden’s premier work. Clearly identified as Part One, the novel leaves many questions unanswered at the close of the first installment. How deep into the story will Margot probe? What will happen to Amanda after she escapes captivity? Will Sayer walk away before his vendetta consumes him? We can only hope Scott Dresden does not delay. Rage and Mercy: Part One weaves an elaborate narrative of deceit, desire, hope, and destruction that many readers will instantaneously begin again. Ideal for sunny days at the beach or stormy nights with some popcorn, this book will prove an excellent addition to any adult’s reading list.

“Tunnel Kids” by Werner J. Egli

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This is the story of a boy of about fifteen who travels through Mexico to the borders of the USA. Set in the 1990` s, at the beginning of the story the main character, Santiago Molina, reflects on his early life in a small village near the town of San Cristobal de las Casas in the east of Mexico. Soldiers have killed his father, his older sister has run off with a boyfriend, and now tensions between himself and his mother have caused him also to set off on the long trip to the States. After walking for several weeks he reaches Mexico City, where he is beaten up by a gang and then by the police after being arrested for stealing. Eventually, he is found by an unexpected benefactor who turns out to be a leading barrister and campaigner for justice, and who takes him home to his family and his large estate. Santiago is happy but leaves after venturing back into Mexico City to shoot the police officer who assaulted and abused him. The police are now after him. On reaching Nogales he joins in with the kids who live in one of the floodwater tunnels running below the city of this border town. The girl he is in love with is drowned in a flash flood. To start a new life he has to get to the end of the tunnel, on the other side of the border.

From the San Francisco Book Review:

Composed in beautiful, sensual, and lyrical language, Tunnel Kids by Werner J. Egli is an engaging story of Santiago Molina, a fifteen-year-old boy who leaves his small village near San Cristobal de las Casas and travels to Mexico City to start a new life. But his journey doesn’t end in Mexico City because Mexico is just another stop that propels him further toward the United States.

The story starts with a powerful, disquieting memory and reminiscences from the narrator’s childhood, including the inciting incident of Sta Claus whom the author describes as a gringo and his attempt to touch his elder sister improperly. The narrative moves on pretty fast and different conflicts are introduced. The author’s father is killed. His sister runs off and, unable to live in peace with his mother, he runs off to start a new life abroad. But as soon as he reaches Mexico City, things go awry for him. He is beaten by a gang and the police and arrested for robbery, but a kind man of justice takes him to his opulent home. The protagonist is fueled by a sense of revenge and goes after the police officer who abused him. But he finds himself in a place where there is no life, the floodwater tunnel of Nogales, where many children live and where he falls in love and loses the love of his life to the cold hands of the flood. To survive, he will have to travel to the end of the tunnel.

Tunnel Kids is a wonderful story, told in a powerful, clear, and exciting voice. The story is told in first-person narrative, and the author seems to have a unique mastery of this narrative style. The beautiful prose is enticing, featuring very powerful descriptions that capture the setting and the culture in vivid detail and clarity. I enjoyed the emotional insights and the psychological depth of the story as well as the internal conflict. The protagonist is a character who readers will love. It is also interesting to notice how the themes of love, family, death, crime, and adventure are seamlessly woven into the story. It’s a page-turner, an exciting and delightful read.

“Gideon: The Sound and The Glory” by

Unsung heroes and murderous villains, hidden forever in ancient shadows, now leap to life – blazing onto the pages of revelation. Gideon, a lowly woodcutter, is blessed by an angel to be the savior of all Israel. He does not know why or how and shrinks from this dangerous mission. The commandment to conquer the Midian Empire as one man seems all but impossible. But Gideon’s confidence grows as God guides his every step until he stands fearless and faithfully fulfills his destiny as, “A mighty man of valor.” The fierce warriors, burning towers and devastated cities contained in Gideon’s Journey, are but silver threads that weave into a sweeping tapestry of ancient intrigue. Running through and stitching together the entire saga is The Lord of the Covenant, or The Baal-Berith, also known as Gideon’s mysterious Ephod of Gold.

From the Seattle Book Review:

Warriors and violent battles are present throughout Biblical times and beyond. Fueled by hatred of other tribes, the struggles for land, treasure, and resources permeate the landscape. The warrior Barak wages a vicious battle to take the village of Ophrah. With a little help from a female warrior named Jael, the tide of the battle turns. He is successful, but casualties are many. The casualties include the brothers of Gideon, a smart, unassuming woodcutter. Nothing much is expected of him; he is married to a woman who his father picked out. He is enamored of a young woman he encounters in his village named Drumah. She is set to be sacrificed to the God Baal. Gideon is visited by an Angel with a message from God. Gideon destroys the altar and saves Drumah from certain death. Gideon is chosen to fight for the Israelites. Gideon assumes command of his fellow people in battles against the people from the East such as the Midianites, who have fought for land in many pitched battles. Gideon is motivated by his brothers’ brutal deaths. He fights despite hunger and refuses help from cowering tribes. Gideon and his rag-tag group emerge victorious in their skirmishes. He takes vengeance on those who refused to help, emerging as a hero in his village. He takes Drumah as his concubine, along with many women he saved as well as widowed. He also sires many offspring, but his victory comes at a price that will echo throughout the coming years and decades with the Ephod of Gold. The worship of a new idol curses the family of Gideon, where one son engages in tyrannical rule. The son’s reign is typified by fear and power plays which include the wholesale slaughter of many brothers. By the time of the emergence of the underdog David, will the curse of this idol be broken? Gideon: The Sound and the Glory is a vivid and violent take on the religious strife that spanned the BC era. Greed, paranoia, jealousy, and lust are the overwhelming characteristics running through the veins of the men who highlight this book. Violence is seen as a necessary means to an end, whether in war or in power-grabs. The false idol that is worshiped only brings about doom and destruction to the worshiper. An interesting historical fiction read that will make a companion read to the Bible. A-!

Ostium Mini Episode: EMU #2 – Lost

Dave has some more secrets and personal details to share in this second EMU episode: Lost.

Written and performed by Alex C. Telander.

If you want more Ostium, why not become a patron on our Patreon page, where for just $2 a month you’ll get access to an exclusive brand new mini episode every two weeks (and this includes all through the offseason); and during the regular season of the show you’ll get access to new episodes a full week before everyone else. Alternatively, you could also make a one-time donation and help support Ostium on this site.

And if you wouldn’t mind leaving Ostium a review on whatever app or program you use to listen to podcasts and that way people can see what you’re saying to convince them to listen to Ostium.

Thanks for listening and see you in two weeks.

“Agents of Dreamland” by Caitlin R. Kiernan (Tor, 2017)


Caitlin R. Kiernan’s Agents of Dreamland has everything you X-Files buffs could want: FBI agents, clandestine government groups, conspiracy theories up the wazoo, a mystery shrouded in an enigma sworn to secrecy, and the possibility of one really terrifying alien species.

In a ranch house close to the Salton Sea on the San Andreas Fault, east of San Diego, the brainwashed Children of the Next Level await their carefully scheduled transcendence under the commands of the cult leader, only there’s something much scarier going on here than drinking some strange Kool-Aid. A day later beyond the very distant orbit of Pluto, the New Horizons probe suddenly loses contact with the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory.

Meanwhile, in a town in Arizona made famous by an Eagles song, a covert government agent known as the Signalman meets with a very strange woman. The Signalman has been in this line of business for a long time; he’s seen a lot, but the events unraveling in his life and his world right now are a whole new variety of terror. He was at the ranch house and saw the end of it all there, while wearing a high-level contamination hazmat suit. The woman has information for him, she has seen so much and seems to know the future, next to her the Signalman feels like a small child, but he has to do his job. And do what he can to keep the wheel turning.

For a short novella, Agents of Dreamland has so much packed into it, it feels like a full novel, and by the end the reader may be wishing for another two hundred pages. Told through back and forth chapters, it’s a story that forces the reader to put the pieces together and it’s not until the very end that the full puzzle shows itself.

Originally written on April 28, 2017 ©Alex C. Telander.

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