Donna Stramella, author of Coffee Killed My Mother, reviewed my novella, Ransoms Are For Amateurs
There’s nothing ordinary about James White’s novella, Ransoms Are For Amateurs. Actually, the unexpected reveals to both the reader and the characters alike. Clearly, the title suggested a kidnapping, but everything else about the book was unexpected. The kidnapper, police detective, and process–all unexpected. Even the kidnapping victim, little Henry was not the expected target. But the terrified and weak three-year-old was one of the reasons I couldn’t put the book down. What would happen to Henry?
Set in San Francisco in the 1980s, the criminal mastermind behind the kidnapping is Cisco, an evil man who cares not if Henry lives or dies. Like other characters carefully crafted in the story, White develops a unique, multi-sensory character in Cisco. We can feel his large, cruel presence; see his oily skin; hear his afflicted speech. He communicates by handwritten notes and in his own dialect, seemingly a result of his unrepaired cleft pallet. In another unexpected attribute of the character, he is also able to speak clearly, a type of “bilingual” skill that he uses as part of his disguise.
A female police detective is assigned to the case, and with a recent promotion, her lack of experience leading such a high-profile, high-stakes case is overcome by her motivation–even at extreme risk to herself. Identifying the kidnapper becomes a puzzle, even with an eye witness. Were there two men? Was there a single man? Was he young or old?
The pages turn faster and faster, with the reader belted in tightly on an action-packed ride with unexpected turns over and over again. Once you start, you’re in for the full journey. Expect to finish this one in a single 100 MPH sitting!
Elizabeth Gauffreau, author of Telling Sonny reviewed my novel, Borders In Paradise
James White’s Borders in Paradise opens in a one-bedroom, one-bathroom bungalow in West Hollywood, California. The year is 1939. The tiny bungalow is the Gaines family’s version of paradise, after twenty-two-year old Juno (John) and his brother Chassy (Charles) “ran away from that den of thieves and malcontents in Texas to start a new life in
California”–the den of thieves and malcontents being their extended family, of course. Their mother and sister Anita (Neet) join them shortly thereafter.
The novel is divided into four parts, with several changes in narrative stance to provide the reader with multiple perspectives on the Gaines family dynamics and the brothers’ coming-of- age struggles.
Part I is narrated in first-person, alternating between Juno and Chassy. Given the resentment Juno expresses toward his “tall, blond, and handsome” younger brother, alternating first-person narration between the two of them was a wise choice on White’s part. Is Chassy as irresponsible and selfish as Juno says, or does the root of Juno’s discontent really lie elsewhere?
Chassy immediately gets himself ensnared in an ill-advised marriage with a young woman from a well-to-do family who works hard to smooth over his Texas roughness. When Chassy realizes that she has had an ulterior motive from the start, he reacts badly and has to beat feet out of town. He joins the US Border Patrol, where he is blown far from paradise to the Arizona desert.
Parts II and III are in third-person from Chassy’s point of view. He is referred to in these two sections as Charles, reinforcing the need–if not his own desire–to extricate himself from his youthful mistakes and forge some kind of future for himself. By the end of Part III, the Draft Board and another ill-advised encounter with a woman put that future in question. Part IV is narrated by Juno in first-person to bring the novel full-circle to its surprising and satisfying conclusion.
Ultimately, Borders in Paradise is a novel about belonging and personal identity, with family, lovers, and even the government all working to make us over into someone we’re not sure we want to be. The question is, when we finally come to that realization, will it be too late? In the case of the Gaines brothers, you will have to read the book to find out. I would strongly encourage you to do so!