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A Book Review: Santa Claus Goes To Haiti

Not exactly Santa Claus, but close enough.

Joseph Courtemanche has recently released a beautiful book that combines so many themes that are near and dear to me. It is titled Nicholas of Haiti and is available at Amazon in paperback and kindle. There is also an audiobook featuring the author’s own voice.


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What I Love About Nicholas of Haiti

There are three specific things I love about this book.

  1. A major plot theme is human trafficking. My first novel, The Little Girl Waits, is set against the problem of child sex-trafficking, and as such it shares a kinship with Nicholas of Haiti. Slavery still exists in the world, and this book wants you to do something about it.
  2. I enjoyed the action scenes. This is not a spy novel or a thriller per se, but it definitely has one or two Ethan Hunt moments. Those are some of my favorite moments.
  3. The setting of Haiti intrigued me. I have never been there, but the book is so immediate that I FEEL like I have walked through Cite Soleil or talked to the orphans at Titanyen. Specifically, I liked the behind-the-velvet-curtain feel of the missionary work in Haiti.

There is lots more good stuff. Courtemanche obviously enjoys the simile comparison, and some are real howlers. I noted the one found on page 70, “Nick dove down into the narrow space between the door and the bank, the violent flow of water battering him against the wreckage like an angry bully interrupted while mugging an old woman.” I am not sure what an interrupted angry bully is like, but man, that is some kind of sentence. In the context of the whole scene, it is extraordinary. I also liked the discussion questions at the end of the book, which could be useful in a book club. I liked the building of secondary characters and even tertiary characters. There is one particularly delightful scene that, at first read, doesn’t further the story, but that is a wrong impression. The scene involves an elegant French restaurant in the middle of a shanty town. Those characters, and that scene, give the story depth and life beyond the rat-a-tat of action and adventure which makes a book about amazing and unreal things feel actual.

What You Will Love About Nicholas of Haiti

I think you will love at least two aspects of this book.

  1. You will love the transformational nature of the main character. Nicholas Bacon changes dramatically from start to finish.
  2. You will love the little girl, Violene. She will stay with you after you’ve forgotten about Nicholas.

Who Will Not Love Nicholas of Haiti

Some people will not love this book, and the is okay. Everything is not for everyone. I don’t think you will like this book if :

  1. You don’t like supernatural stories. Nicholas of Haiti has supernatural elements and things which are ‘impossible’ in the strict sense of the word. If that kind of action bothers you, then, perhaps, you should read something else.
  2. If you like Amish love stories, don’t even think about reading this book.
  3. People who get annoyed when church people or Christian people don’t behave in the ‘stereotypical way’ might not appreciate certain parts of this book.
  4. People who have an anti-catholic bias might not like this book, either.

Those things aside, I recommend Nicholas of Haiti–if for no other reason it offers a different kind of Santa Claus.

 

 

 

A BOOK REVIEW OF “A FALL OF SPARROWS”

Last night I completed A Fall of Sparrows, the debut novel from Paul J. Bennett and published by Athanatos Publishing Group.    It took me a little over a week to read, but a novel of this length I would normally have finished quicker.  Easter got in the way a bit.  I read the Kindle version, which is available for a steal at $4.99.3dfront-trim-small  I would rate the book at PG-13, because of the war violence.  There is no profanity or explicit sexual content.

Synopsis:  In the middle of the American Civil War, a school teacher turned rugged Confederate soldier named Will Seymour has a worldview shifting experience when he encounters a young runaway slave girl named Evaline.  Will becomes Evaline’s protector, committed to the mission of escorting her safely through hostile Confederate territory to the North, where she can continue on her way to true safety in Canada.  Along the way they counter dangers, many adversaries, and battle constant hunger and lack of supplies.

Who Would Like This Book:  People who love historical fiction, literary fiction, nature writing, Civil War enthusiasts, people interested in race relations, idealists, and people who like journey stories.  If you are a fan of The Outlaw Josey Wales, you’d probably like this book.

What I Really Liked About Sparrows:  There is much to like, but four things stand out.  First, Bennett does a great job with his history.  He completely nails the food shortage and scarcity of the Confederate Army, as well as the overall picture of life in Virginia during the war.  Second, sometimes the prose soared to superb heights as he described the natural surroundings.  To me, it felt at times, a little Thoreauish.  Third, Bennett tells a complete story that holds the readers suspense from the first page to the last.  Many first time novelists lose their way in the midst of their story, losing the juice of the original idea.  Bennett avoid this pitfall by sliding the main characters in and out of new dangers and challenges without changing the nature or essence of the story.  Four, I love the idealized way I can read back into the racial and sexual component of the tale.  Even though it is historical, the relationship aspects of it are shockingly contemporary.

What I Found Difficult in Sparrows:  Not much, but there are a couple of things that I didn’t find so pleasing, but these are mostly personal preference issues.  One, Bennett uses dialect for Evaline’s speech.  I’ve worked with dialect in some of my writings in the past, and know how hard it can be to write, but as a reader, I’ve decided I don’t like it.  It distracts from the story instead of adds to it.  Second, I think Will’s transformation from one worldview to another is rushed.  As a reader, I would have liked to spend more time on that process, and I think it would have taken Will, a life long slaver from Georgia, longer to work through that than the couple of pages afforded it in the text.

What I Found Fascinating:  It is obvious to me that Bennett loves firearms.  Some of the most detailed descriptions in the whole book are about the different rifles, guns, pistols, and such that were in play during the Civil War.  Whereas most writers might simply say that, “He loaded his rifle” Bennett gives us a description of the loading action of the individual rifle, its firing mechanism, how the minie ball fired, the color of the smoke, and who in the army might carry that kind of weapon.

I also found the brief epilogue fascinating.  I can’t tell if it is Bennett telling us as the reader that this is essentially a true story, or if it is a part of the story itself.

Final Analysis:  I highly recommend A Fall of Sparrows.