Ordinary Grace

ORDINARY GRACE

by WILLIAM KENT KRUEGER

Atria | 2013
Paperback: 315 pages
ISBN: 978-1-4516-4585-9
Genre: FICTION/ Families/Minnesota/Murder/Grief
Review Source: Personal Copy

★★★★★

It was a summer in which death, in visitation, assumed many forms. Accident. Nature. Suicide. Murder. You might think I remember that summer as tragic and I do but not completely so. My father used to quote the Greek playwright Aeschylus. He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain, which cannot forget, falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God. . . . I still spend a lot of time thinking about the events of that summer. About the terrible price of wisdom. The awful Grace of God.

Years ago, Garrison Keillor invented Lake Wobegon, Minnesota and I found myself yearning to live in that simpler time, a town “where the women are strong and the men good-looking and all the children above average”.

In that same vein, William Kent Krueger has introduced the world to his fictional hometown of New Bremen, Minnesota – a small town seated in the valley of the Minnesota River. A town divided by class, prone to racism, and proud of its deep Christian values. A town where the wealthy homes fill the scenic “Heights” and the working class fill the lowland “Flats”. A place so isolated, the Methodist Church fulfills the spiritual needs of other marooned faiths. A community where everyone knows your name and just about everything else about you – or so they think.

From the first page, the first words, I knew that I was going to be transfixed. The book isn’t perfect; I saw the end coming early but it didn’t detract from the story. It is a fabulous coming-of-age story akin to To Kill A Mockingbird. I would like to add that I am not a deeply spiritual person but this carefully crafted book left me filled with wonder.

The story progresses in a linear fashion and you feel you are standing alongside each character as they are tested mentally, spiritually, ethically and morally. Sometimes you will feel the rush of panic or the agony of despair. Other times you will find comfort in the kindness. Above all, you will cheer the small miracles and the frequent signs of ordinary grace. There are some passages that will stay with you long after you finish the book.

Frank Drum, now middle-aged, narrates the story – a story of New Bremen in the summer of 1961 when he was 13 years old and his brother, 11 year-old Jake followed him around like Peter Pan’s shadow. For the rambunctious Frank and insecure stuttering Jake, summer time meant tempting fate on the railroad tracks that traces the river’s edge and “seemed to reach to a horizon from beyond which came the sound of the world calling.

That tragic summer started when a little boy wandered onto the tracks and was killed by an approaching train. We join the Drum family during the funeral as Pastor Drum tends his flock. His daughter, Ariel, is playing the organ and her brother, Frank thinks – There are [musical] pieces I cannot hear without  imagining my sister’s fingers shaping the music every bit as magnificently as God shaped the wings of butterflies.

Little did  anyone know that Bobby Cole’s death was the first of a cavalcade of deaths that would forever change two families – the  Drums in the Flats and the Brandts in the Heights.  Each of them in their own way will learn the terrible price of wisdom. The awful Grace of God.

As the years have passed and all that’s left are memories of that fateful summer and the people, Frank leaves us with this thought that he heard from Warren Redstone, an Ojibwa  native.

 

Highly recommended!

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The Salt Line

THE SALT LINE

by HOLLY GODDARD JONES

G.P. Putnam’s Sons | Sept 2017
Hardcover: 394 pages
ISBN: 978-0735214316
Genre: DYSTOPIAN FICTION
Review Source: ARC e-book from Netgalley and

★★★☆☆

Decades ago, a particularly virulent tick invaded the United States causing a nation-wide epidemic that divided the Old Republic into factions deeper than the Civil War. Most of the survivors retreated behind quarantined barriers in several geographically defined Zones. Each of these  zones devised some method of limiting tick infestations; some more successfully than others. The most secure and safe zone is the Atlantic Zone; rich in resources and power left over from the Old Republic – safe behind the “Salt Line” – a chemically burned area extending several kilometers beyond the guarded perimeter “Wall.”

“A pregnant miner tick releases a numbing agent, which allows her to work without detection. By the time you feel the itching, [she] has settled in place, laid her eggs and died. In a matter of hours the ticks spread through the body, mature and erupt through the skin creating an unbearable itch. The bites can be survived but 45% of female miner ticks carry Shreve’s disease that spreads rapidly, causes total paralysis and death in a matter of days.”

– OLE Training Course

The pervasive  miner ticks are bit players here. Their lethal presence a source of existential anxiety. They are pawns in a much greater threat – domination and greed by the seedier side of human nature.

Four years ago, a private enterprise, Outer Limits Excursions (OLE), began offering expensive three-week guided trips into the Out-Of-Zone. Some of  their clients are enticed by stories of the purple mountains majesty and the abandoned history and culture of the past. Others are seeking the nefarious pleasures unobtainable in the highly regulated Atlantic zone but provided by the Out-Of-Zoners – free spirits choosing to live free of rules and regulations and chancing Shreve’s in the castoff world.

For personal safety, OLE excursions require each client to undergo a regimented three-week training program in survival skills. When ready, they will leave the Zone in a protective SecondSkin microsuit, -given a “Stamp”, an intense burner much like an old fashioned car cigarette lighter used to fry embedded ticks – and assigned a partner who must stay as close as a conjoined twin.

It’s September and the OLE brochure promises a once-in-a-lifetime view of the mountains in colorful foliage and visits to the remnants of the Old Republic way of life. The training is over – the van  has pulled away from the Salt Line – the emptiness- the vast isolation ahead overwhelms them.

Among the 12 clients are a popular jazz musician and his girlfriend, a young techno entrepreneur, and a middle-aged housewife; each with a hidden agenda and a specific purpose for being there other than viewing the scenery.

At this point background stories of key characters have been defined. The clients have been  together for three weeks  and  have established friendships – or at least allies – and enemies among themselves.

A couple of days into the adventure the startled passengers are kidnapped at gunpoint by their guide and force marched to a rustic commune in the Blue Ridge Mountains known as Ruby City. What looked like a three-week sightseeing tour now has turned violent – one of the passengers was shot – two have had been bitten by miner tics – and the future of the remaining passengers looks ominous.

field of poppies.jpgJune proceeded to shake the hand of each of her captives. . . When Marta’s turn came . . . [June] fixed her hazel eyes on Marta’s demanding contact. ‘You look tired’, she said. ‘That trek is a bit much for women our age. I do apologize.’

‘The trek was fine’, Marta managed to say.  ‘The treatment we received wasn’t’

‘I’m afraid that prisoners of war don’t often get the red carpet rolled out.’
‘What war?’, Marta asked.

Buckle up . . . things are about to take off. And no one is who they seem. And no one’s future is guaranteed.

Recommended

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Banned Books Week : 2017

banned books graphic.png

Celebrate 2017 Banned Books Week

 Sept. 24 – Sept. 30

Support the freedom to read with out censorship.

The American Library Association’s
Most Frequently Challenged Book List

Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Typically held during the last week of September, it highlights the value of free and open access to information. Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community — librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers — in shared support of the freedom to seek and express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.

To continue to raise awareness about the harms of censorship and the freedom to read, the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) publishes an annual list of the Top Ten Most Challenged Books, using information from public challenges reported in the media, as well as censorship reports submitted to the office through its challenge reporting form.

Source: American Library Association

My 2017 Challenged Book Selection

What book will you choose?

part-time indian cover.jpg

This year I have selected:

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.

Author: Sherman Alexie
Illustrator: Ellen Forney
Little, Brown and Co.| 2007
Hardcover: 229 pages
ISBN: 978-0-316-01368-0
OCLC: 154698238
Genre: Young Adult Fiction

This young adult book won a 2007 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and has been on the list five times since its publication in 2007.

It was the #1 Challenged Book in 2014.

The reasons cited for the library challenges are: anti-family, cultural insensitivity, drugs/alcohol/smoking, gambling, offensive language, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group, violence and “depictions of bullying”.

  • National Book Award, Young People’s Literature, 2007.
  • Odyssey Award, 2009.
  • Notable Book for a Global Society award winner, 2008.
  • American Indian Youth Literature Award Winner, 2008

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Ban This Book

 

BAN THIS BOOK

by ALAN GRATZ

It all started the day my favorite book went missing from the [school] library. I didn’t know it was missing. Not yet.

Publisher: Starscape/Tom Doherty
Pub Date: Aug 29, 2017

Hardcover: 256 pages
ISBN: 978-0-7653-8556-7
Genre: Juvenile Fiction (Ages 9-11)
Problem Solving/Censorship
Review Source: ARC e-book from Edelweiss

★★★★☆

ALAN GRATZ is a New York Times bestselling author of a number of novels for young readers. This newest book, BAN THIS BOOK introduces young (and older readers) to award winning books that have been challenged or banned in libraries. The book will be released in time for the 2017 American Library Association’s Banned Books Week slated for September 24 – 30.

BAN THIS BOOK opens with the 9 year-old avid library lover, Amy Anne, racing to her school library to check-out her favorite book for the umpteenth time. This day, Amy Anne discovers the book, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler is not on the shelf. 

After a complaint by a concerned parent about the moral messages several books in the library teach readers, the local library board skips protocol and has ordered the books, including From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, removed from the library shelf. The library board will hear public comment about the pros and cons of permanently banning the books at their next meeting.

But – it isn’t inappropriate! . . . It’s a great book! It is my favorite book!

I know, [says the school librarian]. . .Nobody but your parents has the right to tell you what books you can and can’t read. I promise you, I’m going to fight this. . .You can help get it back, Amy Anne. . . .[Tell the library board] why you like that book so much. . .

Amy, a shy and reluctant public speaker, attends the board meeting but fails to summon the courage to speak up.

The librarian reminded the library board they had approved the Request for Reconsideration form and specific procedures for considering the merits of a book but they chose to sidestep the rules. The highly influential community matron’s highly emotional speech won the day.

Amy Anne take matters into her own hands and begins an underground effort to keep the books available to other students. She is caught and suspended from school for three days. The librarian, having had no part in the deception, was fired. Mrs. Spenser, emboldened, goes on a rampage stripping more books off the library shelves.

Mrs. Spenser’s own son devises a way to outsmart his mother and to show the library board the need to follow rules. It takes bravery and courage on the part of all the students to pull it off. As expected, all ends well.

There are many lessons  for children here. Reading exposes situations in a non-threatening way that prepares their own life crisis as they grow up.  They learn that even adults break rules but that rules are necessary and failing to follow them have consequences. Amy Anne shows that finding your own voice and standing up to what you believe in is important. And most importantly, free speech is a guaranteed by the First Amendment and no one but your parents should have the right to stop you from reading something.

Recommended.

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Watch Me Disappear

WATCH ME DISAPPEAR

by JANELLE BROWN

★★★☆☆

IT’S A GOOD DAY, or maybe even a great one, although it will be impossible to know for sure later. By that point they’ll already have burnished their memories of this afternoon, polished them to a jewel-like gleam. One of the last days …before Billie died…

Spiegal & Grau | 2017
Hardcover: 368 pages
ISBN: 978-0-8129-8946-5
Genre: Fiction/Mystery/Missing Persons
Review Source: ARC e-book from Netgalley

Billie and Jonathan Flanagan have been married for 16 years and have reached that stage in their relationship where things have gone stale. Billie rejuvenates herself by trekking in the mountains alone or with a friend. The time comes for a little more “me” time, and she announces she is going alone to a remote section of the Pacific Crest Trail for a few days.

When she doesn’t return, a search discovers her broken phone and a lone hiking boot off the trail. After a lengthy search, she is presumed dead.

A year later, their daughter, Olive, begins to have visions of her mother in various settings that seem to imply her mother is not dead but waiting somewhere to be found. Olive’s erratic behavior and frequent unexcused absences jeopardizes her attendance at an expensive private high school. Some feel it is delayed grief with the anniversary of her mother’s death and others believe she has a medical problem. She is convinced she is a psychic.

Billie cannot be declared officially dead for a year which has left Jonathan in limbo financially. Without a death certificate he cannot receive the life insurance benefits. Shortly before Billie’s death Jonathan had quit his job to follow his dream of writing a book. Now, a year later, without his wife’s income, Jonathan is struggling to pay the bills that include the expensive private school tuition for Olive.

Jonathan has begun the court directed process of “proving” his wife is not dead. In the search through the family’s financial records he discovers secrets his wife has hidden from him. As he peels back the layers of her deception, he discovers a secret life before their marriage.

The mishmash of issues including Olive’s “visions”, financial woes, Billie’s secrets, and Jonathan’s weak-kneed personality seemed so directed and contrived but overall I consider it a nice simple read. If you excuse my vulgarity, the purview of an old woman, I wished Jonathon would grow a pair.

It will come as no spoiler that Billie is still alive, but the reasons why will be a surprise. The ending did make me say, “How about that”. If you are looking for a book with a simple plot that you can take with you to read at the car service center, here you go.

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A Stranger In The House

A STRANGER IN THE HOUSE

by SHARI LAPENA

When they brought you in[to the hospital], you were very disoriented, he begins. Saying things.

She’s anxious now, and wide awake. You kept saying someone’s name over and over. Do you remember that?

She goes completely still. No.

Pamela Dorman | Aug 2017  
Hardcover: 320 pages
ISBN: 978-0735221123
Genre: Mystery/Amnesia/Murder
Review Source: ARC e-book from Eidelweiss

★★☆☆

BLOGGER’S NOTE

I was thrilled when the publisher through Eidelweiss granted permission to preview the book. I didn’t notice when I downloaded it that  a large portion of the book was missing and replaced by strange coding. Always up to a challenge, I decided to see if I could decipher what was going on despite the screwed-up download.

Amazingly, it wasn’t hard at all. The number of characters were few and one-dimensional. The plot fairly obvious from the get-go. The dialogue simple, much like a Robert Parker novel. In other words, an easy read. I do want to note that I rated it only 2 stars but I do so with the caution that I didn’t get the full book to review.

REVIEW

Tom Krupp arrives home from work to discover his wife is not there. Their evening meal is laid out in the kitchen. He notes her purse and cell phone are on the counter. Her car is missing. All very strange and very much unlike Karen’s daily routine.

He begins to call their neighbors to ask if they know Karen’s whereabouts. After a few hours he calls 911 to report his wife missing. His doorbell rings within minutes of this call. Opening his door, he is surprised to find police officers standing there. How did you get here so fast? I just called 911 a few minutes ago.

His wife has been hospitalized after crashing her car into a pole while driving recklessly through traffic. Mysteriously the accident occurred in the unsavory side of town. What was she doing there and what would make her drop everything and head there?

As Karen lies in the hospital struggling to remember what happened, the police discover a murder was committed in an abandoned building near the scene of the accident. Despite their best efforts to make her talk, Karen insists she has no recollection of why she left her home in such a hurry or why she was running scared; scared enough to make her nearly kill herself behind the wheel. The nondescript detectives return time and time again badgering Tom, Karen and Brigid hoping to pin the murder on someone.

Karen’s best friend, Brigid, shows herself to be is a devious conniver who has spend the last two years watching everything that happens across the street in the Krupps household. And poor Tom finds his own past rears up to bite him. The ending is creative and does have an unusual twist.

Truth be told, I didn’t really like any of these characters. Not that it is important that I develop a fondness for the accused, but I don’t like it when I don’t care what happens to any one of them.

Judging from the wild range of ratings by other reviewers, this book either satisfies a mystery appetite or leaves folks with a yawn. Personally, I like a book that has me looking for clues so I can outsmart the author and happy when I am caught off guard and shouting in the end…I didn’t see that coming! Yawn, figured this one out early.

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One Thousand White Women

One Thousand
White Women:

The Journals of May Dodd

Jim Fergus, Author

Rated: ★★★★★

I’ve been hooked from childhood on fiction and non-fiction survival stories after reading Last of the Mohigans by James Fenimore Cooper.

I knew almost immediately that One Thousand White Women would be a book that I would read and reread. It is harsh, heartbreaking, and cruel yet depicts loyalty, friendship, love and strength of character. It reveals the truth that all cultures have good and bad elements capable of extreme behaviors and actions in the interest of their individual survival.

I highly recommend reading One Thousand White Women if you enjoyed the book and/or movie of Dances with Wolves.

The author states, “In spite of efforts to convince the reader to the contrary, this book is entirely a work of fiction. [T}he seed. . . was sown in author’s imagination by an actual historical event: in 1854 at a peace conference. . . a Northern Cheyenne chief requested. . .the gift of one thousand white women as brides for his young warriors.” [T]he request collapsed the peace conference, , , and the brides were not sent. In this novel, the brides were sent.

May Dodd was incarcerated by her parents in a mental institution for the crime of bearing two illegitimate children and loving a man far beneath her station in life . Escaping the horrors of the institution, May joins in the first convoy of brides and begins documenting her new life in a journal with the hopes that her estranged children “might one day know the truth of my unjust incarcertation, my escape from Hell, and into whatever is to come in these pages.”

I am currently reading an advanced copy of The Vengeance of Mothers, a sequel to One Thousand White Women, that will be available in September of 2017.

In September of 1874, the great Cheyenne “Sweet Medicine Chief” Little Wolf made the long overland journey to Washington, D.C., with a delegation of his tribesmen for the express purpose of making a lasting peace with the whites. . . The Indian leader was received in Washington with all the pomp and circumstance accorded to the visiting head of state of a foreign land.

At a formal ceremony in the Capitol building with President Ulysses S. Grant, and members of a specially appointed congressional commission, Little Wolf was presented with the Presidential Peace Medal. . . Expressing himself through an interpreter. . .Little Wolf came directly to the point.

“It is the Cheyenne way that all children who enter this world belong to their mother’s tribe. .  . The Cheyennes  are a small tribe, we have never been numerous because we understand that the earth can only carry a certain number of the People. . . . Because of the sickness you have brought us . . .and the war you have waged upon us, we are now even fewer. Soon the People will disappear altogether, as the buffalo in our country disappear.

“I am the Sweet Medicine Chief. My duty is to see that my People survive. To do this we must enter the white man’s world-our children must become members of your tribe. Therefore we ask the Great Father for the gift of one thousand white women as wives, to teach us and our children the new life that must be lived when the buffalo are gone.”. . .

At exactly this point in Little Wolf’s address, President Grant’s wife, Julia, fainted dead away. . .

Official response to Little Wolf’s unusual treaty offer was swift. . . .Little Wolf and his entourage were packed inside a cattle car and escorted by armed guard out of the nation’s capital. . . In private and after the initial uproar had abated, the President and his advisors had to admit that Little Wolf’s unprecedented plan for assimilation of the Cheyennes made a certain practical sense. . .

Thus was born the “Brides for Indians” (or “BFI” program, as its secret acronym became known. . . [I]n a series of highly secretive, top-level meetings on the subject, the administration decided, in age-old fashion, to take matters into its own hands-to launch[ed] its own covert matrimonial operation. . .by recruiting women out of jails, penitentiaries, debtors’ prisons, and mental institutions -offering full pardons or unconditional release, as the case might be, to those who agreed to sign on for the program. . .

The first trainload of white women bound for the northern Great Plains and their new lives as brides of the Cheyenne nation left Washington under a veil of total secrecy late one night the following spring, [in] early March 1875.

Title: One Thousand White Women
Author: Jim Fergus
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin | 1999
Hardcover: 496 pages
ISBN: 978-0312199432
Genre: Historical Fiction
Review Source: Personal Copy

 

Sequel: The Vengeance of Mothers (will be available September 12, 2017)

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The Underworld

The Underworld

by Kevin Canty

W. W. Norton | March 2017
Hardcover: 256 pages
ISBN: 978-0-3993293050
Genre: Historical Fiction / Mine Disaster
Review Source: ARC e-book from Edelweiss

★★★☆☆

Really happened…In 1972, a fire broke out underground at the Sunshine Mine in Kellogg, Idaho; 91 men died of carbon monoxide poisoning. The disaster had a devastating effect on Kellogg and the nearby communities in Idaho’s Silver Valley. People who were there still vividly remember the events of that day. Source: NPR

Tom Wilkerson and Ron Flory were found 8 days after the fire and were the only survivors. Their story inspired this work of fiction.

When I first saw the title, The Underworld, and read the publisher’s blurb I made a wrong assessment that the book was a fantasy or science fiction. Somehow my brain latched on to the words – “none of the characters that populate the Underworld ever lived. . .” and made the leap to subterranean creatures never before seen.

In reality, the novel, inspired by true events, describes a hardscrabble life in a Colorado company-owned silver mining town in 1972. The cast of characters is small, mainly the Wright family and a few others. All residents are trapped; landlocked geographically, handcuffed by poverty and controlled by tradition. The company owns everything from the homes to the homeowners.

The story opens with David Wright, a college freshman, traveling from Missoula, Montana back to his hometown of Silverton, Colorado to attend a friend’s wedding. David’s easy drive from Missoula on the multi-lane highway ends when it bumps up against the mighty Camel’s Hump. Symbolically, and literally in David’s case, he puts chains on himself and the car’s tires before heading up the narrow mountain road toward home. Toward a place that the unimaginable has happened.

The day expires on the two-lane. . . the chains make a jingly sound that reminds David of Christmas and he sighs remembering all that was lost, everything slipping into the past. He is driving into the past. . .He moves through a whirling tunnel of snow, back and back and back.

From the moment you are born your life is predetermined here.  If you are a woman, you will become a miner’s wife. If you are a miner, your son will be a miner and together you will descend daily into hell praying the mountain will spit you back out at the end of your shift.

There are few secrets in a mining town; much like Cheers, everyone knows your name. You develop deep bonds and friendships as everyone knows that one day, something is going to happen that will forever change things. The underworld. That cramped, damp, hot darkness of the mine fills all their lives; young and old alike.

Fear, the frayed high tension wire that connects everyone above ground as well as those a mile below hums in their consciousness day and night. It colors everything they think and do. Could today’s kiss good-bye in the morning be the last kiss? They drown their fear in alcohol and bravado.  Most try to live loudly but there are those who withdraw into themselves creating a blank space where they smother feeling and emotion. They love, they hate, they fight, they pray…always aware they live on borrowed time.

It is no surprise that many dream of leaving but few have the courage to climb that mountain; it’s too scary to leave the devil you know for the one you don’t. Those that do leave are often pulled back by the bonds of family and the inability to understand and function in an uncontrolled outside world.

Then one day, it happens. . . 171 miners kissed their loved ones good-bye and headed to their underworld jobs. Life above ground followed normal routines. The instant the alarm was heard throughout the town, time stopped. The town’s worst nightmare had become a reality. Family and friends gather silently at the entrance of the mine and the long vigil begins. From that moment on, life will never be the same again in Silverton.

The fire will kill 91.

Whatever anyone thought they knew about themselves and how they would react to a mine disaster would prove to be wrong, Some will find the strength to start over, others will remain fixed in grief unable to restart a new life. This unfortunate town lost more than 91 souls, it lost its identity, its future. Somewhere, however, seeds of hope sprout for those willing to look for them.

In the difficult struggle to rise up, love will bloom and new friendships will be forged.  Those finding the will to change have a bright new future ahead. Others, will remain focused on the loss and become alienated, bitter and unable to rise from the ashes.

I found this book a fast read. I guess I was drawn into the story by virtue of  hearing about the local mine disaster near my home as a child. The story itself was told in simple terms, nothing floral or poetic, just told things in a manner that conveyed things as they probably would happen in real life.

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The Woman in Cabin 10

THE WOMAN IN CABIN 10

by RUTH WARE

Gallery/Scout Press:  2016
Hardcover: 368 pages
ISBN: 978-1501132933
Genre: Murder Mystery

Review Source: ARC e-book from Netgalley

★★★☆☆

Woman in Cabin 10 is an Agatha Christie style murder mystery on a tiny cruise ship heading into the frigid waters of Norway. It is summer here in north Georgia and the pea soup humidity and oppressive heat have me heading to my recliner with a glass of ice tea. I need an ocean breeze to cool things off. Ready, set, read. When I finished, I felt somewhat disappointed about the ending but nonetheless enjoyed the book.

Laura “Lo” Blacklock, a budding travel journalist, is one of a handful of invited passengers on the tiny luxury cruise ship, the Aurora Borealis, as she sets out on her maiden voyage to Norway. The Aurora, small in stature with only 10 luxury suites, has full cruise line amenities and service staff. The Northern Lights Company and its director, Lord Richard Bullmer, hope to find interested investors and to earn complimentary publicity to further the Aurora’s niche market.

Lo’s apartment is burglarized while she is home just before the launch. The home invasion serves no other purpose than to start the story out on edge. We learn that Lo suffers from life-long panic attacks and chronic insomnia that she treats with antidepressants and copious amounts of alcohol. Despite the untimely severe flare of her panic attacks, Lo heads to the ship self-medicated and hung-over – desperate for sleep. Can you spell C-r-a-n-k-y?

Cabin #9 has been reserved for Lo. As she dresses for dinner she discovers she has forgotten her mascara. Hearing movement next door, she hopes she can get a tube from the resident of Cabin #10. A young woman, dressed casually, answers abruptly, hands a tube of mascara to Lo, and slams the door.

Later that first night, Lo hopes to meet the mystery woman at dinner. The remaining key characters (aside from the crew) in this who-dunnit-it glide, elegantly adorned, one by one into the small formal dining room.  There are two tables arranged to seat 12 people. The one empty seat, Lo surmises, is meant for the mystery woman in cabin #10 who has chosen to skip the meal.

Late one night, Lo hears a scream and the sound like something heavy hitting the water. She races to her small balcony and sees what she believes to be blood on the balcony next door and a hand disappearing into the deep. She rings for security and relays what she has seen and heard. A search is conducted but no one, crew or passenger, is found missing.

Unable to get anyone to believe there is a mystery woman aboard the ship and she was murdered, Lo sets out on her own to find clues. The harder she tries to raise the alarm, the more everyone points to her prescribed drug use, insomnia and heavy drinking to discredit her claims. Yet, someone knows what happened! And they let Lo know she was right. The mystery for the reader becomes- Who is warning Lo to “stop digging”?

The climax of the story seemed to me to have too many loose ends. As the story ramps up in the final pages,what was intended to be tension and suspense felt more like chaos and strange. Too many unconnected events. The story could have been improved with fewer characters and more attention to details but overall a quick and easy read.

Most importantly, as expected, the murderer is disclosed..or were they?

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Sometimes I’m So Smart I Almost Feel Like A Real Person

SOMETIMES I’M SO SMART I ALMOST FEEL LIKE A REAL PERSON

by Graham Parke

No Hope Media | 2017
Paperback
ISBN: 978-9491919039
Genre: Fiction / Millennials / Social Angst

Review Source: Kindle copy provided by the author in exchange for my honest review

★★★★☆

A lot has happened since you left, Eric.

For one thing, I had to deal with this really bad break up. Not one to waste time, I immediately turned to my oldest and dearest friend: Google. After…countless generations suffered this fate before me…[all searching] for the best way to deal with the rejections, the heartache, and that longing to spend the days with [The One], it should be known by now.

Not so.

…opening paragraph in the preface

First off, I loved this book.

As Harold begins to describe his story, it is obvious from the get-go that it’s going to be somewhat of a Debbie-Downer.  However, the author has found a way to make loneliness and love-sickness amusing and entertaining. The book is written in a funny self-deprecating style and has the reader flipping pages to see what emotional hole Harold will dig for himself next.

Harold is a 30 year-old socially challenged accountant who still lives with his mother. Together they share a raucous relationship tempered with love. They rarely see eye-to-eye on anything. His mother is fond of reminding him that it is her house. Harold is quick to point out that he pays rent like any boarder and expects his privacy. Sparks fly and doors slam. The house creaks with secrets that neither one wants to admit are there.

Mom recognizes that Harold has social issues and presses him to date or make friends but goes about it in all the wrong ways. Yet her interference does reap rewards in its own way. Here’s one of my favorite lines:

“When I arrive [home from work], Mom’s already complaining. Sometimes I think she starts before she even opens the door, perhaps warming up by telling the wall to stop slouching and stand up straight.”

The failure to find the answer to his love-sick blues on Google leads Harold to set up his own YouTube video blog.  He first calls it: How to get over someone in 600 easy steps. After reflection he changed it to 27 simple steps to happiness.  Each carefully scripted message is a 5 minute vblog narrated anonymously by disguising his face with a Zorro mask and adopting the online name of Leverage.

Despite his hope to spread his “wise-isms” anonymously, he is discovered by several of his followers. Each discovery leads Harold down another road less traveled in his life. One of his followers, using his “wise-isms” becomes a rival to Harold’s best hope for love. The charming and flirtatious sales clerk, Emma, at the Ye Olde Peanut Shoppe strings Harold along by tweeting all day but giving him the Heisman when pressed for a real date. He becomes so obsessed with Emma that he begins imaginary dialogues with her.

Harold’s wild emotional roller coaster relationship with Emma goes from heart pounding infatuation to friendship fatigue. He eventually finds out about her boyfriend and the futility of his hopes. When she continues to text he begins weaning himself away from her.

So that was Part One of my story, Eric.

I hope you understand why I had no choice but to divert all mental resources away from “attracting The One” and on to something much more important.

There’s less snark and more heartfelt substance in Part Two. He has discovered that what he felt for Emma was just a pipe-dream. Now having cleared his mind of mischief he faces several issues in his life that were in limbo. If I elaborate, it would be a spoiler. Best you find out things for yourself. The tone becomes more serious but no less engaging.

The book ended with a few loose threads but not enough to detract from my overall enjoyment. Aside from the quirky repartees, I liked that Harold “found himself”.

Recommended to any reader who love quirky and comical characters.

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The World of Laura Ingalls Wilder

THE WORLD OF LAURA INGALLS WILDER:

The Frontier Landscapes That Inspired The Little House Books

by Marta McDowell

Timber Press
2017

368 pages
978-1-60469-727-8

Biography/Environment/Botany
ARC provided by Netgalley and Timber Press.

★★★★★

“It is the simple things of life that make living worthwhile, the sweet fundamental things such as love and duty, work and rest, and living close to nature.” 
— Laura Ingalls Wilder

You want to make someone smile?  Start talking about Laura Ingalls Wilder.

“Once upon a time.” Like many children’s stories, Laura Ingalls Wilder opened Little House in the Big Woods with this quiet invitation to readers to turn their thoughts back in time. Hers was a long story, rooted in her father’s and her husband’s, tales of family and farms and nature – a nature that was sometimes inviting and sometimes ferocious. It began in Wisconsin. (World of Laura Ingalls Wilder, pg 17)

Marta McDowell, a New York Times bestseller in her own right, commemorates Laura’s 150th birthday with this enchanting book filled with flowers, photographs and delightful illustrations of the places, people, flora, fauna and homes that filled Laura and Almanzo’s lives.

Don’t be fooled into thinking this is a childish work. The author has crawled beneath the covers of the Little House books and brought the physical world depicted in Laura’s books aliveNo fairy tale here; just hard working pioneers accepting the challenge of working in harmony with nature.

Stand alongside Laura, first as a child, and later as a mother herself, as she gathers berries and nuts from the forest and fields; meticulously documenting what she has found for future reference. Sweat with her as she boils the berries for preserves in a room already sweltering from the summer heat. Hand her the canning jars and the melted paraffin to seal in the fruit and keep out the spoilers. Stand back as she continues with her daily chores – on to fixing a hearty meal for her exhausted husband.

Head out to the forest with Alamanzo and his axe as he clears land for a new home, fields for the crops and domestic animals. As the years progress, observe his willingness to experiment with crop rotations and research new agricultural equipment to expand and improve their livelihood.

Experience the heartbreak of leaving loved ones and good friends behind after calamity has destroyed your hard work. Step up and take a seat in the wagon as they head out; stoically starting over…again and again. Somewhere else. Sit in the buggy and bounce and jostle along wandering through towering prairie grass toward an unknown future.

With all the hard work necessary just to survive, it will surprise you to see how valuable education and literature was to both the Charles (Pa) Ingalls family and later with Laura and Almanzo.  Where did they find the time in each day? Charles nurtured his children with stories about far away places. Laura has provided generations of children with pioneer pride, responsibility, unity of purpose, community spirit and a love for nature and the world. Her books are as popular as ever today.

Meet Laura’s daughter, Rose, named for the sweet smelling prairie flower that infused the air during the Wilder’s courtship. Learn how Rose, a bestselling author, helped her mother hone her own writing talents.

As each chapter was a diorama of a particular home site, I took my time reading the book. My favorite times were sitting on my screen porch overlooking my garden and I found that I shared Laura’s interest in the cycle of life progressing all around me. Laura and I watched birds hatch, flowers emerge from winter sleep, and note the arrival of summer’s sounds.

This dynamic work doesn’t end at Rocky Ridge Farm on the Wilder’s front porch where Almanzo and Laura enjoyed their waning years. It continues with several chapters that include a tour guide to the Ingalls and Wilder homesites today and a handy table listing all the flowers Laura mentioned in her books along with citations to each referenced. Bonus. Sources of heirloom seeds is provided for the inspired gardener.

Highly recommended reading. Here is the perfect gift for a nature loving friend or relative.

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American War: A Novel

American War : A Novel

by Omar El Akkao

Knopf | 2017
Hardcover: 352 pages
ISBN: 978-0-451-49358-3
Genre: Dystopian Fiction

ARC e-book from Netgalley and publisher in exchange for review

★★★★☆

Omar El Akkad is an Egyptian-born Canadian journalist who has reported on the war in Afghanistan, the Arab Spring uprising, and the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States.

NPR Author Interview

Contemporary American Political Climate

In the current American political climate, split between two extremes for the most part, much of the book will seem prescient. This is a reminder that the book is a novel; a story; not alternative facts. It is not an easy book to read, and for some readers, the topic too emotional or draining to handle at this time. I would recommend reading this with an open and questioning mind

Novel’s Background

It’s 2075. America is beset by flooding linked to climate change and the coastal states have lost significant if not all of their landmass. Washington D.C. was devastated by flooding and the northern capital is now in Columbus, Ohio. World wide temperatures have soared and the continental US experiences unbearable heat. Coastal states have water supplies polluted with salt water and irrigation and agriculture has disappeared.

The US Congress passed a bill prohibiting the use of fossil fuels “in response to decades of adverse climate effects, the waning economic importance of fossil fuels”. The southern states rebelled  to protect the waning coal mining industry and to preserve their southern traditions. The protests led to violence and the assassination of the President.

South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi seceded from the Union in 2074 and formed The Free Southern States (FSS) with it’s capital in Atlanta.

Millions of displaced citizens, some from the ravages of nature and others victims of partisan militias, have been forced into refugee camps. The south, now unable to resupply from the north and western states, is reliant on foreign assistance for food and goods. A rabid civil war, using biological and conventional weapons, raged for the next 20 years.

Story’s Focus

Amid this cacophony of war, we follow the Chestnut family through the nightmare. We meet the twins, Sarat and Dana; polar opposites. Dana, beautiful and admired -ever the family princess is contrasted with Sarat, inquisitive, introverted, furious and observant- over-sized in both body and mind. Simon, the typical teenage boy, is caught up in gangs and searching for his place in this war of against humanity. When their father attempts to take the family north for a better life, he is murdered. The children and their mother are forced into Camp Patience, a misnomer if there ever was one.

At this point the story focuses on Sarat in a story that starts out like Katniss in the Hunger Games as she stalks the edges of mental and physical confinement and ends in unimaginable horror. As we follow Sarat through the years at Camp Patience, we meet evil in the person of Albert Gaines. Gaines slowly and carefully uses Sarat’s anger and fury at the cruel deaths and injuries inflicted on her family to mold her into the perfect weapon for his cause.

Sarat’s radicalization should scare the bejesus out of the reader. If you think your child could resist the pressures of a crafty weasel posing as the answer to their mental confusion about the world- think again. And as Sarat carries out her final mission, the truth of how easy it would be to find this same horror in our own time will rock your world.

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Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE

by Gail Honeyman

Pamela Dorman Bks  | 2017
Hardcover: 327 pages
ISBN: 9780735220683
Genre: Women’s Fiction
Review Source: ARC e-book from Edelweiss

★★★★☆

When people ask me what I do…I tell them I work in an office. [I work] for a graphic design company…Bob, the owner [must have felt sorry for me]. I had a degree in Classics and no work experience…I showed up for the interview with a black eye, a couple of missing teeth and a broken arm.

First thing before I write another word…you are going to love Eleanor Oliphant. She’s had a rough life but there’s something very special lurking inside her and she has a quirky personality that makes her endearing.

Pity isn’t a word Eleanor would use about herself. She’s pretty straightforward about everything – one of the first thing you will notice about her is her lack of a mental filter. She is a recluse but when she bumps up against the world she has a way of expressing herself that is unique and sometimes seen as abrasive.

In her first 30 years Eleanor has learned that the world is a cruel place. She only has to look in a mirror to see that half her face was burned in a fire but she has only limited memory of how it happened. She has grown up  in foster homes; passed around like a white elephant gift. It was easier to pack her up and shove her into a new spot than to address why she doesn’t seem to fit into a normal family life.

Yet despite all of life’s misfortunes, Eleanor is perfectly happy just as she is…she sees the world as out-of-step and strange.

I have always taken great pride in managing my life alone. I’m a sole survivor…I don’t need anyone else – there’s no big hole in my life…I am a self-contained entity.

Then two things happen that crack open her self-contained world.

She wins tickets to a rock concert and is star struck by one of the musicians.  This immediate infatuation sends her on a mission to upgrade her image and is convinced that he marry her.

Next, her company computer breaks and she meets a disheveled computer repairman with a gentle spirit and a kind heart. Raymond is the only person in the office that sees her as a person not an object for ridicule and scorn. They begin a routine of lunch hour trips and in time form a social relationship that expands Eleanor’s world.

Eleanor crashes and burns when she learns that her rock star is a jerk. All of her hidden memories of childhood flood back. Her protective shell cracks as she deems herself undeserving of happiness and love. Reaching rock bottom in her life, Eleanor finds the strength to step on that last rung and begin to climb into a brighter and happier future.

As rough as this story sounds, it is not a maudlin book. It reminded me, in a way, of my favorite character in the recent bestseller, Man Called Ove. I was sorry when the book ended but I was cheering and calling out to Eleanor- you go girl! You deserve your new life.

Highly recommended.

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Girl In Snow

GIRL IN SNOW

by DANYA KUKAFKA

Simon & Schuster | 2017
Hardcover: 368 pages
ISBN: 978-1501144370
Genre: Suspense
Review Source: ARC from S & S through Edelweiss

★★★☆☆

Tragedy struck in northern Colorado this morning, where the body of a fifteen-year-old girl was discovered on a [snowy] elementary school playground. The victim has been identified as Lucinda Hayes, a ninth-grade student at Jefferson High School.

Lucinda’s death and the subsequent three-day murder investigation sets forth a firestorm of memories, self-reflection and introspection through three primary protagonists and a host of secondary characters. The three main characters alternate chapters offering different perspectives on the murder and Lucinda’s brief life where Cameron and Russ are told in the third person and we hear directly from Jade.

Fifteen-year-old Cameron Whitley’s first thoughts after learning of Lucinda’s death were that “her shoulder blades framed her naked spine like a pair of static lungs”.  He spends his nights standing still in the dark outside homes watching his neighbors’ candid movements and activities. Lucinda Hayes is his primary interest and over time has become his compulsion. He began his nightly stalking after taking an art class and became curious to people’s lives in candid moments. The community is aware of Cameron’s habits and peculiar behavior; he was considered annoying and presumed as an innocent…until the murder. When stressed, Cameron devolves into a state he refers to as “tangled” and becomes erratic and performs dangerous actions like stealing his mother’s gun for a shooting spree in the woods.

Cameron had started playing Statue Nights when he was twelve years old. The summer after sixth grade, he realized he could pop out the screen in his bedroom window…

Seventeen-year-old Jade Dixon-Burns learned about Lucinda’s death over breakfast and “felt only a foreign lightness: like someone sucked the weight from her legs, taken the terrible thoughts out of her head, softened some sharpness jabbing at her ribs”.  Jade, seen as an outcast and oddball, hated the beautiful, popular and alluring Lucinda. Her hate centers on the fact that Lucinda, just by being attractive, is loved, valued, and appreciated.

We learn the most about Lucinda through Jade’s story. Jade displays a sarcastic and aloof side to the world but we see that she has great strength of character just below the surface. She lives with an abusive mother and sees herself as unlovable.  Her relief valve is her need to write scripts that help clarify her thoughts and feelings.

And she shares Cameron’s need to observe others…she is always aware and watching. She knows things about the murder. She is my favorite character.

Jade Dixon-Burns hates Lucinda. Lucinda took everything from Jade: her babysitting job, and her best friend. The worst part was Lucinda’s blissful ignorance to the damage she’d wrought.

Police Officer Russ Fletcher is stunned. Serving nearly 20 years on the force, this is his first body – his first murder victim. When Russ learns that Cameron is a suspect, he is flung back to an earlier time in his career when he patrolled with Lee Whitley, Cameron’s father, and a promise he made to his old partner to watch over his delicate son. Russ has his own secrets and when revealed, will leave you feeling sad for him.

Officer Russ Fletcher doesn’t know Lucinda, but he knows the kid everyone is talking about, the boy who may have killed her…Cameron Whitley.

Cameron, Jade and Russ lead us to others that play pivotal roles in their lives and we witness the reactions and suspicions of a small town rocked by violence; judgments are made about people and events based on our preconceived ideas and observations that can lead away from the truth.

As a final note, since we are dealing with budding adults with raging hormones, there’s strong references to sexual inquisitiveness and experiences.

In total, it is a complex and twisted story but well crafted. As a debut work, it has pulled together many elements of a true mystery with a flair to the dramatic. There are weak spots in the conclusion and the resolution of the crime but overall a worthy read.

I would definitely read another book by this author.

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The Other Einstein

Rated: 3/5 stars 

Author’s Quote

I confess to beginning this book with only the most commonplace understanding of Albert Einstein and hardly and knowledge of his first wife, Mileva Marić. In fact, I had never even heard of [her] until I helped my son…with a report on…Albert Einstein and it mentioned briefly that…his first wife was also a physicist. I became intrigued.

Marie Benedict’s research about Mileva, her education and scientific promise, and her marriage to the Albert Einstein led her to create a fictionalized account of her life. In telling her story, she has revealed the cultural schism alive and well in the 1900’s world between women defined as breeders and caregivers and men as providers and authority. The author stipulates “whenever possible, in the overarching arc of the story – the dates, the places, the people – I attempted to stay as close to the facts as possible, taking necessary liberties for fictional purposes.”

Mileva Marić  was born December 19, 1875 in what is now Serbia. Much to her parents chagrin, Mileva was born with two handicaps that would make her future difficult – a strong independent spirit and a deformed hip causing her to noticeably limp. From her mother’s perspective, her superior intelligence and headstrong ways coupled with an unappealing physical deformity precluded marriage and children- the only options for women at the time. Her father saw that her precocious mind and unlikely marriageability could lead her to pursue a meaningful life in the scientific world; if they would let her in the all-boys club world.

Mileva’s sheltered life with her parents did not prepare her for socializing with others in a more sophisticated setting. She was quickly manipulated by a narcissist classmate, Albert Einstein, who took advantage of her brilliance and naivete. Albert, flagrantly violated social norms of student behavior, skipping class and defying authority. Discriminated and isolated by her male classmates and professors, Mileva was vulnerable to Albert’s attentions and charms. Trapping her in his web, Albert drew on her strengths to finish his education- leaving Mileva, a shell of lost potential, pregnant and without a degree.

Mileva and Albert were passionately in love in their early marriage and reveled as partners in scientific discovery. Mileva openly shared her thoughts and revelations on topics such as relativity; only to see Alfred positing them for himself and singularly receiving awards and accolades. After graduation, Albert’s slipshod work ethic and laissez-faire attitude in college led to poor recommendations and employment rejections. Mileva, during this time, struggled to hold her marriage together.

Over time, Albert’s charm offensive disintegrated as his ambitions were stymied, his flagrant infidelity was discovered by Mileva, his cruel mental abuses and repeated betrayal of  Mileva’s intellectual contributions finally reached a tipping point in a violent physical attack that led Mileva to find the strength to regain control of her own future despite the stigma of divorce and raising children outside of a “normal male dominated household”.

There were moments in reading the book where I just had to get up and do something constructive around the house. My frustration and anger at the meekness she demonstrated and the continued subordinate way she submitted to Albert made me want to reach into the pages and slap her silly. Wake up woman! After dedicating years of her life to scientific study, mere steps from cracking the glass ceiling, she allows Albert to distract and destroy her future.

Mileva Maric Einstein died alone and unknown in a Zurich clinic in 1948.

It was hard to see how many times Albert destroyed her self esteem and self worth. It became a burden to walk in Mileva’s shoes. In the end, we are left without a clear awareness of the impact she left in the scientific world. However, on the plus side, books like The Other Einstein have done much to restore Mileva’s talents and impact on the gender discrimination and scientific contributions. Young women today should read this book to understand what it took to give them the freedoms they enjoy today.

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AND THEN SHE WAS GONE: a detective jack stratton novel

and then she was gone cover.jpg

AND THEN SHE WAS GONE

by Christopher Greyson

Greyson Media | 2016blood-splatter4-md
Paperback: 328 pages
ISBN: 9781683990024
Genre: Murder Mystery
Prequel to Jack Stratton Series

#1 Girl Jacked
#2 Jack Knifed
#3 Jacks Are Wild
#4 Jack and The Giant Killer
#5 Data Jack

Review Source: ARC ebook from Netgalley and Greyson Media Associates in exchange for an unbiased review.

★★★☆☆

Excerpt  From Publisher’s  Blurb….

A hometown hero with a heart of gold, Jack Stratton was raised in a whorehouse by his prostitute mother. Jack seemed destined to become another statistic, but now his life has taken a turn for the better. Determined to escape his past, he’s headed for a career in law enforcement. When his foster mother asks him to look into the girl’s disappearance, Jack quickly gets drawn into a baffling mystery. As Jack digs deeper, everyone becomes a suspect—including himself. Caught between the criminals and the cops, can Jack discover the truth in time to save the girl? Or will he become the next victim?

I am at a disadvantage beginning my exposure to the Jack Stratton mystery series with this prequel. Having said that, I did do a little scouting about the books and learned that Jack, as an adult, obviously achieved his dream of becoming an ace detective.  His path to detective, however, appears strewn with tragedy and emotional baggage that began in childhood and followed him into his future. And Then She Was Gone scours the character list of the other books and gives a back story to those playing integral roles in Jack’s life and career.

We meet Jack Statton shortly before his eighteen birthday. Jack and his best friend, Cameron, have decided to enlist in the military after graduation in order to become eligible for the GI bill. For Jack, the military will be used as a stepping stone toward becoming a police detective. Unfortunately, Jack can’t seem to remember to stay out of trouble. He is fixated on trying to solve the world’s problems and not heeding the advice of the adults in his life.

Like a bloodhound on a scent, Jack plunges recklessly after clues to a recent murder. Tasked by his foster mother in clearing one of her children as a suspect,  Jack gets in over his head and nearly derails the police investigation. He tramples crime scenes. confronts gang members in dark alleys, defies  authorities, ignores his parents advice…in other words…acts like any normal teenager. Immortal and invincible and always right.

My overall feeling started as confusion. Was the series aimed at a young adult audience? There was something in the dialogue that sounded forced. An author trying to make an adult character become a teenager but not quite getting there. The adults, including the police, the murderer and the victim felt like characters in a Charley Brown cartoon going waa waa waa in the background.  Additionally, the author tossed in the kitchen sink covering everything from prostitution to drugs; racial relations to adolescent hormonal overload; homelessness to bullying… a few less hot topics and deeper character and story development would have improved things.

It just seemed to lack that special magic that makes you flip the pages so fast you lose yourself in the story.  Just rated …okay.

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Dimestore: A Writer’s Life

DIMESTORE: A WRITER’S LIFE

by Lee Smith

Algonquin | 2016
Hardcover: 224 pages
ISBN: 978-1-61620-502-7
Genre:  Memoir
Review Source: Personal copy

★★★★☆

I was born in a rugged ring of mountains in southwest Virginia- mountains so high, so straight up and down, that the sun didn’t even hit our yard until about eleven o’clock. My Uncle…used to predict the weather by sticking his head out the window and hollering back inside, ‘Sun on the mountaintop’!  – Lee Smith

Author Lee Smith extends an offer to join her on the porch swing to share intimate details of her life growing up in the heart of coal-country of southwest Virginia. Known for her fictional down-home Appalachian characters in popular fiction such as Fair and Tender Ladies, Dimestore: A Writer’s Story is her first work of nonfiction. Smith lets us know right away that Dimestore is more than a memoir. As the sub-title tells us, it is a writer’s story.

She begins by leading us by the hand into the mountains, down the side trails to hollers and into town where we share her love of the mountain music and the old time religion steeped into the souls of the people. She introduces us to, later famous, musicians that she knew as just “local talent”. It’s not long before you want to be adopted into the larger extended family… a family that accepts you warts and all.

We step inside her father’s Five and Ten Cent Variety Store and peer with her through the one-way window as she sees life in its most candid moments.

Upstairs in my father’s office…[I stood] observing the whole floor of the dimestore through the one-way glass…Thus I learned the position of the omniscient narrator…it was the perfect early education for a fiction writer.

 We chuckle with her at her mother’s desperate attempts to tame the tomboy and provide instruction on lady-like behavior..often involving extended trips to genteel family members …[Mom would send] me down to Alabama every summer for Lady lessons.

And I will admit that the lengthy list of southern cooking treats prized by Mama and her bridge club made me hungry.

But there is a darker side to her life that will surprise you. Both of her parents suffered from mentally debilitating illnesses. Smith turned to intense reading, writing and usually a dog when her parent’s frailties would leave her lonely and dislodged while they were away at local hospitals.

About midway through the book, Smith shifts away from anecdotal stories and introduces the teachers and mentors, not the least of these being the author, Eudora Welty, that help her develop as a narrator of characters gleaned from her own cultural background.

I will admit that I enjoyed the first half of the book more… it is rich with life stories and portraits of small town life that resonated with my own small town past. But for aspiring writers or those curious about what draws some people to a life of imagination and storytelling, this book will perhaps tickle a budding idea that will lead to your own short story or the next great novel.

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Beartown

BEARTOWN

by Fredrik Backman

Atria Books|2017
Hardcover: 432 pages
ISBN: 978-1501160769
Genre: Fiction

ARC ebook from Netgalley in exchange for an unbiased review.

★★★★

Where are our better Angels at such times/ As these? sweet Virgin, breathe awhile!——

William D’avenant, The Unfortunate Lovers
(licensed April 1638, printed 1643)

Late of evening toward the end of March, a teenager picked up a double-barreled shotgun, walked into the forest, put the gun to someone else’s forehead and pulled the trigger. This is the story of how we got there…………

Fredrik Backman, in hockey terms, hit me with a “check to the head”. His previous books feature curmudgeonly old men and quirky women that leave you warm and fuzzy inside. This newest book spins 180° toward the dark side. A small dying town, whose residents are obsessed with ice hockey, pin their hopes of economic revival on the backs of a junior hockey team as they head into a championship game. A town that has lost so much over the years needs a win – no matter the cost.

I ran into a group of friends the other day all excited to tell me that they had just finished Backman’s book, The Man Call Ove and wanted to know if he had any new books. As I looked into their eager faces, I told them about Beartown and I watched their faces deflate. Their reaction, I realized, was my initial reaction when I finished the book…disappointment. But I have had a change of heart.

I expected the author to give me another “bear-hug” book. A warm fuzzy hometown story resembling the 1950’s sitcom with “life is beautiful all of the time” Ozzie and Harriet Nelson nuclear families. Instead, Backman shows us that behind the painted-on-smiles and nothing-to-see here attitudes lies complex characters with flaws and less than lovable qualities. Not everyone ends each day with kiss goodnight and a promise of a bright tomorrow.

Tiny Beartown, isolated physically from the world-at large by dense forests and mountain terrain, resembles a tiny village inside a snow-globe. As long as no one shakes things up, the town turns a blind-eye to anything “unpleasant”; things look peaceful from the outside. When something “unpleasant” does happen, they feel it best to act like it didn’t happen. Don’t make waves. Look away!

You never want to get away from home as much as you do when you’re fifteen…It’s like her mom usually say when…her patience [has worn thin]. You can’t live in this town, Maya, you can only survive it.

As the all important hockey championship match draws near, the atmospheric pressure climbs for the town’s residents. It is now that the author has chosen to rock the town to its roots. Over-involved sports parents with their entitled children, down-on-their-luck townsfolk and greedy power-hungry men have chosen to live life vicariously through the talented young hockey team. The fate of Beartown is placed on the backs of children.

If tensions were high enough, the hockey team’s star player, son of a wealthy and powerful businessman, hosts a raucous party when his parents are out of town. The callous young man targets the daughter of the general manager of the local hockey club and makes a bet with his friends that he can get her to have sex with him. He invites her to the party and she goes, knowing that her parents would not approve, but never suspecting the danger. New to the party scene, the girl becomes drunk and charmed into going upstairs with the boy. Alone… he rapes her.

From that moment the future of everyone in Beartown changes. Some find their better angels and others succumb to their baser natures. New friendships are forged, old friendships are tested and other relationships are severed. Loyalty and love are tested. Marriages flounder, tempers flare, mobs form and unexpected heroes shine. The snow globe has been cracked and the residents of Beartown must look introspectively and make decisions to stay and heal the open wounds or to turn their backs on Beartown.

Recommended as a thought provoking book club selection.

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The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry / The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessey

Harold and queenie Collage

St. Bernadine’s Hospice
Berwick-upon Tweed
Monday, 11 April

Dear Harold,

This may come to you as some surprise. I know it is a long time since we last met, but recently I have been thinking about the past. Last year I had an operation on a tumor, but the cancer has spread and there is nothing left to be done. I am at peace, and comfortable, but I would like to thank you for the friendship you showed me all those years ago. Please send my regards to your wife. I still think of David with fondness.

With my best wishes,
Queenie Hennessy

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, published in 2012 in the US, quickly reached international success. Harold Fry, a dapper Brit from a tiny town of Kingsbridge, finds himself unable to post a letter to a dying friend. Each time he reached a post box, he walked on to another, until he found himself on an unintended walk across England. As he walked on, Harold believed that as long as he walked, Queenie would stay alive waiting for him.

Twenty years earlier, Harold and Maureen Fry were rocked by the suicide of their only child, David. The Fry marriage, already on fragile ground as David slipped further from them emotionally, became a shadow relationship after his death. Maureen became caustic and unlovable.  Harold, unable to express his grief, put his life on remote control, living each day as a robot.

As Harold walked on in his yachting shoes, inadequate footwear for a 600+ mile trek,  he meets many side characters that provide levity, sorrow, inspiration and friendship. Memories of better times become loosened from a locked place his mind and by the time he reaches St. Bernadine’s Hospice in Berwick-upon Tweed he has learned much about himself and has hope for his future. 

After finishing Henry Fry’s pilgrimage,  I wanted more! What was Queenie Hennessy’s backstory? More details please! I wanted to hear things from Queenie’s point of view.

So, I was thrilled when the author deftly crafted Queenie’s story in 2014. This second book, The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy, is written from Queenie’s perspective as Harold walks across England. It is the perfect companion book.

When my book club chose The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy for our March (2017) selection, I thought I would skim The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry to refresh my memory. In the end I found myself re-reading both books in quick succession.

Both books begin with Queenie’s letter to Harold; Love Song includes the entire text of the letter while Pilgrimage hits the high points. It has been 20 years since Queenie suddenly left her job at the brewery. Her recent letter catches Harold off-guard as she writes that she has terminal cancer and wants to tell him, ” Thank you for the friendship you showed me all those years ago.”

As Queenie learns that Harold is walking across England to see her, she is encouraged to write a letter about her life. We learn her side of their relationship through these letters.

Queenie’s unrequited love for Harold, a secret social relationship with Harold’s son, David, and her willingness to sacrifice herself for Harold drove her to leave Kingsbridge in sorrow and grief. With no destination in mind, she simply heads away until she reaches the end of land and faces the ocean. As she walks into the water to drown herself, she stops herself when she discovers the mysterious life beneath the water. She finds an abandoned house on the shore and begins creating a massive sea garden with representations of persons and events from her past. Along the way she finds she is able to make friendships and to live a simple quiet life.

Like the first book, Queenie’s story is filled with hospice patients that show all of us that life isn’t over until the last breath.

As much as I loved Harold’s book, I think seeing their story through Queenie’s eyes was a deeper and richer experience. Describing Queenie’s hospice life and her interactions with the staff and fellow residents is heartwarming and heart wrenching at the same time.

If I go into more detail about either book, I will spoil it for the reader! The stories touched my heart strings. Please do the author the honor of reading both of these books. I highly recommend them.

Sources:
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (personal copy)

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy (Advance e-book provided by the publisher and Netgalley in exchange of my honest review.)

 

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I’ll Push You

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camino-collage

★★★★

I’LL PUSH YOU :

a journey of 500 miles, two best friends, and one wheelchair.

by PATRICK GRAY and JUSTIN SKEESUCK

Tyndale House | June 2017
Hardcover: 272 pages
ISBN: 978-1496421692
Genre: Personal Memoir
ARC e-book from edelweiss in exchange for an unbiased review.

Every once in a while a book jumps off the shelf into your consciousness and you realize it will change your life in ways you never expected!

Two best friends, Patrick Gray and Justin Skeesuck, headed to Spain in 2014 to hike the El Camino de Santiago (also known as The Way of St. James). There was print and video press coverage of their journey but I don’t watch much TV and frankly I missed it all. When I saw this book offered as an advance read, I eagerly checked out the synopsis and investigated clips of the video coverage on You-Tube. I was hooked.

It all began in 2012 when Justin watched a travel program featuring the El  Camino and became inspired to hike it. He shared the taped program along with his desire to do the trail with his best friend, Patrick. Without hesitation, Patrick responded, I’ll  push you.”justin

Why do you ask would he need to push Justin? Justin has a rare progressive autoimmune/neuromuscular disease that has left him unable to move his upper and lower limbs.

The friends realized that this was going to require extraordinary effort on both of them to pull this off.  Justin’s daily medical and personal care would have to be undertaken by Patrick. That full time job would be accomplished after grueling day pushing, tugging, lugging, and carrying Justin through mud holes and over steep mountain terrain.

Two years later, on June 3, 2014 this awesome twosome set on their life altering 34 days journey.

This deeply personal memoir interlaces the arduous hike with personal vignettes of their shared childhoods, personal struggles with addiction, marriages, spiritual growth – and most importantly their love and loyalty to each other. Their relationship defines the meaning of friendship.

As a long distance hiker myself, I acknowledge the bonds and community of fellow pilgrims that develop in the intimacy of a long walk. The reader will be amazed at the selflessness of others to slow their own Camino experience to lend a hand when needed. I personally wasn’t surprised when complete strangers were willing to discuss their reasons for hiking, often exposing their life warts, and to share their difficult internal journey toward personal peace. It happens on the trail but it will probably come as a surprise to the non-hiking community.

Recommended.

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Dodgers: a novel

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DODGblood-splatter4-mdERS

by Bill Beverly

gang-kids-sketched

Crown Publishing | Apr 2016
Hardcover: 304 pages
ISBN: 9781101903735
Fiction/Crime/Coming-of-Age

Review Source: ARC trade paperback from First To Read and Crown Publishers in exchange for an unbiased review.

★★★ easystreet DEBUT AUTHOR

Morning dawns over a Los Angeles suburb known as the “Boxes”. As the early sunlight focuses on the front door of a local drug house, the night U[sers] begin to straggle out of the building. They pass the young street urchins hired as “watchers”. Their only job is to stay alert, awake, and ready to call in an alarm if they observe anything happening in the vicinity of the drug house that seems out of the ordinary. These small gangsters know their jobs and know the rules. Watch everything and everyone! Report anything suspicious or out of place immediately! To mess up was dangerous to their health if not their lives.12930883391149431275blood-scarlet-red-splash-md

As 15 year-old, East, lead watcher, stands guard in front of the building, he hears the sound of rapidly approaching vehicles just as his street scout’s radio squawks wordlessly. Something is wrong and there’s little time to warn anyone inside. Those able, scatter.  The police arrive and mercilessly destroy the house in a hail of bullets; killing an innocent neighborhood child in the melee.

Gang members in charge of the drug house gather for a face-to-face accounting with the drug lord and East’s uncle, Fin.

Fin sat waiting…When he spoke, it was with an ominous softness. What happened? After listening to a report from those inside the house he makes a decision to temporarily close all of his drug houses. Fin dismisses everyone to set that order in motion -except East.

Get up and lock that door. I don’t want nobody walking in on us, what happens next…You wonder what comes next?
There is something you might do for me. You can say yes or no. But its quiet. We won’t talk about it…You keep it till you die.

I want you to go on a drive. At the end of that drive, I want you to do something…murder a man.

East drew in his shoulder and carefully dried his mouth on it… I’m in.
I know you are, said Fin…then shook his head twice, a long shudder…

ramirez-99East’s companions on this delicate mission are his 14 year-old gun-crazed estranged half-brother, Ty, the 20 year-old happy go-lucky devil-may-care, rule flaunting, up-and-comer, Michael Wilson, and the mysterious “pumpkin-shaped” 17 year-old computer geek, Walter. This motley crew of land pirates was hand selected by Fin and as they stand around awaiting their travel orders, it is obvious from the get-go that there is no love lost among the group.

As Ty, Michael, and Walter grouse about giving up their weapons, cell phones and bank cards and receiving new identities, East stands alone processing why he was made part of this group. The group has been told to “blend in”.  Do nothing that would draw attention to themselves and the mission. Stay below the radar at all times. They are “family” headed to a family reunion in Wisconsin dressed in clearance rack Dodger baseball t-shirts.

In [East’s] mind he was boiling it down: Drive the roads. Meet up for guns. But there was nothing to see. Only these boys. Kill a man? More like keep them from killing each other, these three boys, for two thousand miles in this ugly van. That was what they’d brought him in for…

When all you know is the city, “The Boxes” – When you haven’t seen, let alone spoken to more than a handful of whites in your life and suddenly you stand out like black beans in white rice – When you are suspicious of every strange glance or conversation – When you have lived a life where you face danger 24/7…What could possibly go wrong? Answer- Everything.

Reviewer’s Thoughts

Some books are just hard to know where to put your finger on what’s holding you back from expressing your thoughts and Dodgers fits that bill this time around.  The book opens in a housing project where scared little boys find themselves “boxed” into a life determined for them in advance. We meet East and learn straight off that in a world with little hope for the future, East is an oddball out.

East blended in, didn’t talk much…but he watched and listened to people. What he heard he remembered. Unlike the [other boys], East slept alone, somewhere no one knew. He was no fun, and they respected him, for though he was young, he had none in him of what they most hated in themselves: their childishness. He had never been a child. Not that they had seen.

Throughout the cross-country trip to Wisconsin, East stands out as different. Although known for his observation skills, East doesn’t seem to grasp the reason that the other passengers in the car resent him and the mission. Not going to toss a spoiler with more information.

Testosterone and tensions build in the van. In the end, the group fractures. East finds himself alone, freezing, in the middle of a country as foreign to him as the moon.  With little life experience, East doesn’t expect the world to give him a chance, so when he finds a job at a paintball store, he is satisfied to have a cardboard box mat in a warm building at night. He, again, fails to understand that he is entitled to so much more in life. Although East clearly has a criminal history, there is a part of his soul that is good. I ached for him and hoped that he would learn that he was free to grow and step outside the confines of his past life.

The good stuff? Watching East as he sees the beauty of America first hand.  The author, in this debut work, has the American landscape so vividly described, you feel the depressed small villages, the heat in the desert, and the night sky giving way to dawn.

All East’s life the mountains had been a jagged base for the northern sky…He’d never seen them broken into what they were, single peaks dotted with plant scrub and rock litter, and the open distances between.  He couldn’t stop looking…

The suspense and tension rises and falls in the story pulling the reader along. At times it bogs down, but it kept my attention. The violent scenes are tough and real.

One final observation. Boxes. Time and time again, East finds that no matter where you are in this world, people find themselves boxed by life. And he learns that no matter how far you try to outrun your past, it can find you.

Good reading and a good first book. I certainly look forward to future works by this author.

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Himself


himself-cover

HIMSELF : a novel

by Jess Kidd4-leaf-clover

Atria Books |US edition 2017
Hardcover: 384 pages
ISBN:978-1501145179
Genre: Fiction/Irish Mystery

ARC ebook from Netgalley in exchange
for an unbiased review.

★★★easystreet DEBUT AUTHOR

 “So what brought you here?”abandoned-irish-cottage
I wanted a bit of peace and quiet.
Do you know on the map there’s nothing at all around you?
“It’s the arse end of beyond you’re after then?”
Mahony looks thoughtful.
Do you know? I think it is.

“Well, you found it.”

Hang on to the book tightly. Orla Sweeney’s murder in the prologue will tear your heart out. In May of 1950, an Irish teenage mother from the tiny village of Mulderrig, anxiously waits in the woods for the father of her newborn son to arrive. She hopes to obtain emotional and financial support but when he arrives, she receives a death sentence.

His first blow: the girl made no noise, her dark eyes widened. She reeled a little as she bent and put the baby down. The man stood waiting…when she was still…he wrapped her in sackcloth…He laid her in a well-made grave…He remembered that he must also claim their child or his work would not be done. [While he had dispatched the mother] the forest had hidden the infant. Great ferns had unfurled all around the child, tree roots had surrounded him, and ivy had sprung up to cloak him..[s]o that…he could not find the child, however hard he searched.

The child was discovered in the woods and someone from the village mysteriously drove to Dublin, placing him at the front door of the St. Anthony Orphanage cocooned in a basket like baby Moses. His life at St. Anthony’s was smeared by the stigma of his illegitimate birth. Sister Veronica, the bane of his existence, made sure he realized that he was a stain on humanity. He was given the name of Mahony.

There was one ray of sunshine in his life – Sister Mary Margaret. This kindly nun confided to him the true nature of his arrival including the fact that there was a letter with him in the basket; a fact that Sister Veronica rebuked. Sadly, Sister Mary Margaret died when he was 7.  When she appeared before him holding her deadly cancerous tumor in her hands, he would forever have one foot in the world of the living and the dead. This ability to see the dead as they go about their non-corporeal lives plays an important part in Mahony’s life.

Mahony, now 26 years old, is seated at a Dublin pub knocking back a pint when he is approached by a local priest. Sister Veronica has died and a letter in her possession is addressed to Mahoney. “For when the child is grown.” 

Inside the envelope was a picture of a girl with a half-smile holding a blurred bundle, high and awkwardly, like found treasure

Your name is Francis Sweeney. Your mammy was Orla Sweeney. You are from Mulderrig, Co. Mayo. This is a picture of yourself with her. For your information she was the curse of the town, so they took her from you. They all lie, so watch yourself, and know that your mammy loved you.

Pocketing the letter, Mahony heads to Mulderrig to learn what happened to his mother. What made her the curse of the town? Where did they take her?  Who brought him to the Dublin orphanage? Who is this ally that warns him about the town?

When the local bus pulls up to a stop in the sleepy-eyed stillness of Mulderrig, its lone passenger, a rakishly handsome Mahony, steps down from the past to turn Mulderrig upside down. His search will shake out long buried secrets, bring threats on his life and endanger those helping him to uncover the truth. Mahony’s complicated search is alternated with a third-person narrator giving the reader Orla Sweeney’s short life story. We learn things that Mahony/Francis will never know.

Prominent characters include – the town constable, Sergeant Jack Brophy, a “strong square wall of a man…[who has a soothing affect] on the mad, the bad and the imaginative…whether off duty or on” – Tadhg Kerrigan, owner of Kerrigan’s pub, the first to greet Mahony and the first to suspect that his visit has something to do with Orla Sweeney – Mrs. Cauley, “an aging actress and brash anarchist” who arrived at the local inn, the Rathmore House, over 20 years ago and never left.  She spends her final days harassing the local denizens, and Father Quinn, the local corrupt priest, in particular. She bonds with Mahony and they begin a systematic investigation to determine who was his father! And who was responsible for Orla’s fate.

My favorite character is Mrs. Cauley. She holds her head high despite rapidly declining health and failing looks. There’s a fiery spirit inside the broken body that refuses to give up. She seems to have some paranormal powers. Although she can’t see the spirits, she can sense their presence. She lives to twist the knickers on all the hypocritical and devious residents responsible for making Orla’s life so miserable and turned their backs on her in her time of need.

And as we have seen earlier, the spirits long dead float around Mahony, day and night, like long strands of gossamer. Some engage him directly and others just take up space in the story. There’s Miss Mulhearne, “a picture of respectable Irish womanhood” haunting her old school room and is surprised when she realizes that Mahony can see her.  When he learns that she misses what she remembers as poetry, he finds time to join her in the closet and read some to her.  Father Jim, the town’s priest and  a sympathetic friend of Orla Sweeney, died mysteriously, and now haunts Mrs. Cauley’s commode.  And perhaps the most important spirit, the little girl named Ida who witnessed Orla’s burial and was killed as she fled. Her appearances to Mahony provide clues to his mother’s demise.

Lest I have given the impression that the story is leprechauns and scatter brained ghosts, the author has created a malevolent atmosphere throughout the book and there are several scenes of violence and brutality. Woman’s rights advocates will gnash their teeth. Life was pretty rough for women in the 1970s. I know.  I was there. But women in this little village suffered a religion and moral backlash that was horrible.

Jess Kidd, as a debut author, has undoubtedly a highly developed creative mind.  The story is stuffed with unique characters both living and dead. I can’t shake the image of Mrs. Cauley’s ghostly suitor “drop[ping] his underwear and hopscotch[ing] down the garden path, his bare arse winking in the early morning light.

Without question Kidd knows County Mayo intimately and her writing style lifts the Irish brogue off the page. When Mahony first walks into Kerrigan’s pub, Tadhg greets him with “All right so?” And Mahony answers, “I’m grand.”  She’s a “right eejit altogether.” A word of warning to the delicate, words that are most certainly profane in our culture are natural part of local discourse. Their favorite adjective is f***. Here’s a tamer use of that word with a twist. When Mahony asks the ghostly seven year-old Ida her name, she responds with “how the feck should I know?”

There’s something wobbly about the way the story is crafted. The story feels forced or directed by the author, not dictated by the characters. At times, strangely placed vignettes intrude into an important story line. In one instance, Mahony learns important facts about his mother and while fleshing out the details, the author has Johnnie, Mrs. Cauley’s ghostly womanizer, sitting naked next to him. That was strange enough but the author then has Johnnie stands and “saunters to the nearby flower bed scratching his flute“. The juxtaposition of Johnnies’ itchy flute and Orla’s murdered body was downright weird.

All said, I enjoyed the book. It was grand!  Hopefully future works will reduce the number of side stories and useless characters concentrating on deeper coverage of the prime themes. Looking forward to the next book.

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My Name Is Lucy Barton

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My Name Lucy Barton

Author: Elizabeth Stout
Random House
Literary Fiction       ★★★★☆

Jan 12, 2016 | 193 Pages
ISBN 9781400067695

  Ingram Best of the Best
  Indie Next
  LibraryReads
 Kirkus Starred Review
  Booklist Starred Review

ARC e-reader provided by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

BOOK REVIEW REDUX
A year ago I posted a review of My Name is Lucy Barton. My book club will be reading it next month and I decided to re-read the book and to take a look at my last posting. What a sorry self-centered post! The book flushed out some submerged emotions from my own childhood and I responded with a pity party posting. Here’s the review I should have written the first time!

There was a time,and it was many years ago now, when I had to stay in a hospital for almost nine weeks…To begin with, it was a simple story:rocking-chair-penciled I had gone into the hospital to have my appendix out…And then a fever arrived…About three weeks after I was admitted… I found my mother sitting in a chair at the foot of my bed…I had not seen my mother for years, and I kept staring at her…….

Lucy grew up in the tiny rural town of Amgash, Illinois; one of those eyesore communities where homes were visibly decaying and their yards reflected their barren lives. In this hardscrabble community, Lucy’s family stood on the bottom rung of poverty.

Lucy’s childhood was lost in the tension and silence of a family struggling to survive.  Each face etched with hopelessness, just breathing to stay alive in the present, struggling with the past and praying to survive what ever the future would bring. The Bartons lived for many years in a garage with the barest of essentials; starving for physical and emotional warmth. The three Barton children suffered daily, facing harsh discipline while living in dire conditions.

Telling a lie and wasting food were always things to be punished for. Otherwise, on occasion and without warning my parents – and it was usually my mother and usually in the presence of our father – struck us impulsively and vigorously.

Lucy’s father harbored demons brought home from WWII and in unpredictable moments would release the Kraken in a moment of bizarre and uncontrollable behavior that Lucy named the “Thing”. Her mother, a lost soul herself, unable to express love, was torn between her marriage and her children.

Bullied by peers, alone in every imaginable way, Lucy sought refuge in the few books available at her small school. These books took her places she couldn’t have dreamed existed and in the end proved to be her ticket into the larger world. Lucy, without real friends, sought recognition through achievement and excellence at school. Yet at home, Lucy’s academic accomplishments were unacknowledged by her parents – preferring to ignore them in deference to her two siblings who showed no interest in education.

There were moments of kindness in her childhood – a friendly janitor who looked the other way as Lucy stayed late in her warm classroom to do her homework, the teacher who recognized Lucy’s hunger for reading and encouraged her, and a guidance counselor who helped Lucy obtain a full scholarship to college.

She guardedly made friends, flourished in her love of words, and astonished herself when she fell in love… with her husband, William. William, the son of a German prisoner-of-war, had been living on the East coast snared in the clutches of his needy widowed mother. He sought escape in a college in the Midwest. Buoyed by love and promises of a bright future, William and Lucy headed to meet Lucy’s parents with their happy plans to marry and move to New York City.

[My father] looked at William…I saw in my father’s face great contortions, the kind that preceded what as a child I had called..the Thing…My father becoming very anxious and not in control of himself.

My mother said, ‘Your father has a lot of trouble with German people. You should have told us’.

I know Daddy was in the war,,,but he never talked about any of that.

‘Your father doesn’t [talk about it]’

Why is that?

‘Because it wouldn’t be decent. Who in God’s name brought you up?’

Lucy and William did marry and moved to New York City.  They became the parents to two daughters who never knew their grandparents.

Lucy’s parents never came to the wedding and she never saw either of them again…until years later…Lucy went into the hospital with appendicitis. What should have been routine surgery left Lucy hospitalized for nine weeks with a fever of unknown origin. Her husband, terrified of hospitals, stayed home with the girls and worked at shutting out his wife’s needs.  After three lonely weeks, Lucy awoke from a nap to discover her mother seated in a chair by her bed. She stayed by Lucy’s side for five days in her hospital room.

Years after her mother’s visit to the hospital, Lucy attended a writer’s workshop. A prominent author leading the workshop encouraged  Lucy to write her story- warts and all.  She found that opening that door to her past was necessary to finding her way in the future. Central to her life’s story are those five precious days with her mother at the hospital.

As I re-read the book , I found myself reading it more slowly – savoring the words not spoken. The first time through, affected personally by own memories, I had missed what made those five days so memorable to Lucy. There’s a heavy air of loneliness and insecurity in Lucy’s life. But in the end, she has matured, grown, reflected and shed some of her emotional baggage in her efforts to find peace in her heart and in her life. Not everyone will agree with her decisions…but don’t we all have to reach for our true north to find our way?

The first time I read the following words, I missed the point. I saw only a mother who could not express her love to her daughter.  The second time, I felt the love in the silence and between the unspoken words.  This mother and daughter never grew close, shared words of love, or interacted in each other’s lives after the hospital visit. But there was solace in knowing her mother loved her.  As Lucy tells us…She was loved. Imperfectly.  And that was enough.

“Mommy, do you love me?
My mother shook her head. Wizzle, stop.
“Come on, Mom, tell me.” I began to laugh, and she began to laugh too.
Wizzle, for heaven’s sake.”
I sat up and, like a child, clapped my hands.
“Mom! Do you love me, do you love me, do you love me?”
Silly girl…You silly, silly girl.
I lay back down and closed my eyes…”Mom, my eyes are closed.”
Lucy, you stop now. I heard the mirth in her voice.
There was a silence for a while. I was happy.
“Mom?”
When your eyes are closed, she said.
“You love me when my eyes are closed?”
When your eyes are closed, she said.
And we stopped the game, but I was so happy.

Highly recommended. Would make a very good book club selection.

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Normal

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NORMAL

by Warren Ellis 

FSG Originals | 2016black-bug
Paperback: 148 pages
ISBN: 9780374534974
Genre: Science Fiction/Dystopia
Review Source: ARC e-galley

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ARC ebook from edelweiss in exchange for an unbiased review.

★★★spider-linespider

“ Any time you pick up something by Warren Ellis, you know it’s going to be weird and wild and awesome. The same is true for his new novel, Normal, a techno-thriller about two groups of strategists taking on the challenge of the impending end of civilization.” Quoted from Book Riot Community, Goodreads, Nov 16, 2016)

This was my first foray into Dystopian Science Fiction. I’m trying to broaden my reading horizon and dipping into an area that I felt uncomfortable reading and definitely felt awkward reviewing due to my superior lack of imagination.

I’m going to admit that I didn’t have a clue what was going on in the story until I popped into Goodreads and read a few reviews from fans of Warren Ellis. I saw the movie, Red, roughly based on Ellis’ short work with the same name. I never read the book, Red, but I sure loved the movie and was inspired to read Normal when I came across the title in Netgalley.

Thus, sci-fi enlightened, I started the book over again and decided that I enjoyed it…but like goat cheese…once was enough.

“Hand over the entire internet now and nobody gets hurt,” she said, aiming the toothbrush at the nurse like an evil magic wand.” Thus, speaks a patient at a secret facility located amid the coastal wilds of Oregon known as Normal Head.

The world is rapidly moving toward annihilation. Most of mankind slogs along totally uninterested in anything beyond self-starting cars, smart phones or the Internet. The world has become totally reliant on technology. But for those professionals whose careers force them to deal with the strain of facing that mankind is causing their own demise becomes too much and they lose their minds. The purpose of the site is to remove these overwrought professionals from the burdens of technology and placing them in a setting where they can be treated without interference from the outside world, and when recovering from their depression and mental strain, moved into an outer area known as Staging. Those in Staging are in line to return to society after a period of acclimation.

Just like our currently divided political climate, the professionals housed in Normal Head are divided into two camps of thought- foresight strategists (futurists) and strategic forecasters.

“Professional demarcation, “[Lela] said. “Foresight strategists [futurists] on this side. Nonprofits, charitable institutions, universities, design companies, the civil stuff. On the other side? Strategic forecasters. Global security groups, corporate think tanks, spook stuff.”

Adam Dearden, the newest patient, a futurist, arrives at Normal Head, afflicted with a bad case of “abyss gaze”.  Adam had been involved with a worldwide surveillance system whose purpose to was to take the pulse of the world thereby avoiding financial catastrophe before the cataclysm arrives.

Everything is going along smoothly much like One Flew Over The Cockoo’s Nest until one morning, a patient, Mr. Mansfield, goes missing from inside his locked room.  His disappearance is made even more alarming as his bed is filled with writhing black bugs.

The game is on as the building and grounds go on lockdown in the search for Mr. Mansfield.  The social dynamics of Normal Head undergoes an unforeseen upheaval and the conclusion presents thoughts for our own future.

Reviewer’s Thoughts

Once educated to unclear dystopian and non-standard terminology I enjoyed the book. My advice for other sci-fi novitiates, read reviews of any book you are planning to read. Familiarize yourself with the personalities and the synopsis as presented by the publisher and author.

I am rating it ★★★ as I am in no position to compare this dystopian world to the chaos now enveloping our own world. I think it is safe to say that as things stand in reality, I am fast approaching “abyss gaze”.

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Under The Influence…

Yesterday I went under the knife for minor knee surgery. Hard to believe that a snip, scrape, and stitch inside the knee with an arthroscopic Roto-Rooter can relieve that vise-grip pain behind my knee and down my calf.

operating-room-clipart_1500-1600.jpegI highly recommend checking it out if you are having pain! Don’t wait four months like I did – depriving myself of some good backpacking and hiking weather.

It seems I was Under-The-Influence of Self Delusion. No Pain-No Gain-No Maine. That means something to Appalachian Trail hikers. I should amend that to read No-Brain-No Gain-No-Pain.

Now I am recovering  with these gigantic self-inflating pads attached to both calves. (Blood clot averters) Every minute, one leg or the other inflates and deflates with a sound like my Keurig dispensing water.venapro As a matter of fact, this morning I waddled pain-free to my kitchen (thank you, Percocet), put my cup on the platform, slapped a coffee pod in the machine and not once but twice. checked to see if coffee filled my cup. Nope. Then I realized it was the sound of my left leg grinding away. I hadn’t selected a cup size.

I was Under-The-Influence of Sleeplessness. N0 Snooze-No Clues-No Brews.

As far as reading and reviewing for my blog, I have about 5 books started but just can’t seem to stay focused enough to finish them, let alone review them. They are good books and I owe the authors and their publishers reviews for the privilege of reading them in advance of publication.

As I lay here contemplating my navel and knee I think I have discovered my problem. I have been selecting the same type of book- narrative non-fiction or historical fiction with melancholy, war-time, or abusive coming-of age themes.

art-vector-cartoon-of-a-paranoid-woman-reading-the-newspaper-in-shock-krDULI-clipart.jpgI was Under-The-Influence of Social Anxiety. The political atmosphere nationally has soured my disposition and way-laid my mental ability to rise above the drama. What I need is Mental Peace and Quiet. So I had made a promise to myself. Less Screen-Less Screams-Less Bad Dreams.

I owe my blog readers to finish The Other Einstein by Marie BenedictI promised to make that title my first read of 2017. It isn’t that I am not liking the book- I really do– I just can’t get my mind to hold still. I have been reading a great number of books about women struggling to exist in a “man’s world”. See my review of Frontier Grit as an example. The future isn’t looking too bright for women at the moment in our country (let alone around the world). I need to re-trace back to that proverbial tuning fork in the road and change my reading direction to regain my positive vibes. Stay strong girlfriends!

So I have come to a decision that 2017 will be my year to read more amusing and lighthearted fiction for a while. Or some topic that doesn’t overlap with social unrest and divisiveness. That goes back to Less-Screen-Less Screams-Less Bad Dreams.

I am NOW Under-The-Influence of More Charming-No Harming-Less Alarming reads.

bookworm.jpgIf anyone has a recommendation for books like Man Called Ove, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, or The Snow Child send them my way.

Well, how about that -my right leg blowup pad is sounding like a tornado alert and flashing red so I guess it is time to recharge it. Thanks for taking time to read this mishmash if you have reached the end.  Pop pop. fizz fizz or what a relief it is- pain meds.

The End.

 

 

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Frontier Grit

frontier-grit-cover

 FRONTIER GRIT

THE UNLIKELY TRUE STORIES OF DARING PIONEER WOMEN

Author | Marianne Monson
Shadow Mountain | 2016
Hardcover: 208 pages
ISBN: 978-1629722276
Genre: US History/Biography/Pioneer Women

ARC e-book from Netgalley
in exchange for an honest review

★★★★☆

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“What constitutes a frontier?…To me, a frontier is simply a place where your people have not gone before…it might be an unexplored theological issue, …a newly invented technology, or an insight irreconcilable with current social norms.”Marianne Monson, Frontier Grit

As a young girl I was in love with Calamity Jane. Well, actually Doris Day’s version. Whip, crack, away! A gusty woman in a man’s world.

Marianne Monson has scoured American history and selected twelve very special women who left their mark, improved the lives of others and truly reflect the pioneer spirit. Their names may be unfamiliar to you now, but after you read their stories you will never forget them.

Each chapter features one of these remarkable women. All of these women were migrants or immigrants from other countries or other regions of America. But in the end, where they came from wasn’t as important as who they became and how they created a new life for themselves, often in defiance to social norms. Their lives, as a rule, faced unimaginable obstacles and hardships but each refused to be defined by their gender and social roles. And when faced with superhuman odds, they never stayed down for the count when knocked off their feet.

After you meet these incredible women, you might look at your own life and recognize how their sacrifices and courage affected your life today. We owe a lot to the past generations of women willing to take a chance, push social limits and to take a stand. These stories are intended to inspire you; to help you pick yourself up and dust yourself off when you get knocked down.

The author encourages you to read more about each woman by conveniently placing a bibliography at the end of each chapter.

I already knew something of Nellie Cashman, gold prospector, as her story coincides with a branch in my family tree. Indulge me as I give you some personal information that places Nellie Cashman in Dawson City.

In 2005, I was gifted a copy of a book by the authors, Ed and Star Jones entitled, All That Glitters: The Life and Times of Joe Ladue, Founder of Dawson City. Joe Ladue was one of the earliest pioneers in the Yukon and my Great-Grand Uncle. “Uncle Joe” filed his application for a 160-acre town site on July 27, 1896. As luck would have it, a major gold discovery was made in Bonanza Creek, a little more than a mile from the new town site shortly after he filed.

As the Jones’ wrote, “Cashman might be considered the feminine counterpart of Joe Ladue. A petite, pretty woman with jet black hair and dark eyes, she was gifted with a stamina and toughness denied most men.”All That Glitters, pg 45.

nellie-cashmanWhen news of the Klondike strike reached Nellie Cashman in 1897, ” she put together a $5000 grubstake” and hot footed to the Chilkoot Trail. “Arriving in Dawson, City, she opened a store in the basement of the Hotel Donovan and a restaurant called Delmonico….She acquired No. 19 Below Discovery on Bonanza Creek and it proved a prudent investment. All That Glitters, pg 46

SO….You want to know more about Nellie?  And remember!  She is just one of twelve stories! You’ll have to get a copy of Frontier Grit.  The Yukon story is just a piece of this incredible woman’s life.

Recommended for all young girls, women and enlightened men.

  

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My Girl

my-girl-cover

My Girl

Author | Jack Jordan
JJP | 2016
Paperback: 226 pages
ISBN: 1532815387
Fiction / Suspense

Source: ARC e-book via Netgalley
in exchange for an honest review.

★★☆☆☆scared-woman

I’m not going mad. Someone is taunting me.
I’m not doing this. I would remember.
I’m not losing my mind.

Paige Dawson’s life has spiraled out-of-control. Preferring to drown her grief and hide from reality, Paige has relinquished her self-respect and dignity to remain in a drug laden and alcohol stupor.

For the first few seconds after she woke, Paige Dawson lived in a world where her husband Ryan was snoring lightly beside her, and her daughter Chloe was sleeping peacefully in the next room. When reality slowly trickled in…[she] reached in the dark [for] the tray of tablets…and picked up the half-empty wine bottle and took a swig.

Ten years ago, her only daughter, Chloe, 14 at the time of her abduction, was murdered savagely. After an exhaustive search, Chloe’s dismembered arm was found frozen in a nearby river, fingertips reaching to the sky for recognition. Her husband, Ryan, had tried to rescue Paige from her despair but at some point lost his own will to live. Two months ago, he slashed his wrists in the bathtub forever scarring what was left of Paige’s sanity with the image of his lifeless body.

Ryan’s mother, Paige’s father and her cleric brother, Maxim offer support and counsel but nothing seems to stop her from her self-destructive path. Her repeated social misconduct during her blackouts only further alienates her from help when she begins to question strange encounters and disturbances in her home.  No one believes her when she reports someone has been in her house and removed items, cut her husband’s face out of every photo album, and cleared her daughter’s room of memorabilia.

As the story gains steam, I was ready for intrigue and some intense suspense. But it wasn’t long before I felt like I was in a train wreck that just wouldn’t end. Wild and crazy things happened that showed great imagination but they seemed to come out of no-where. One twist caught me by surprise but after the shock of discovery, I was disappointed that we weren’t given background on the reason for the character’s behavior.

The author has great potential and unquestioningly has writing talent. Hopefully, as his literary career matures, he will better develop his characters lives and avoid repetitive actions intended to create suspense but serve only to dull the story. Keep writing, Jack Jordan. I will look for your next book to see where you have strengthened your focus. You’ve got what it takes, kiddo. Keep trying.

Jack Jordan is the bestselling British author of two novels: Anything for Her (2015) and My Girl (2016). He describes himself as introvert disguised as an extrovert, an intelligent person who can say very unintelligent things, and a jack-jordan-authorself-confessed bibliomaniac with more books than sense.

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The Curse of Cursive

Is this all you can read cursive-writing-blogon this page?

Several years ago, my husband and I attended a week-long program with a group of teenagers from several states.  The program, sponsored by several trail associations, introduced the kids to the Appalachian Trail and provided hands-on experience on trail building. As part of the orientation, we were to write down several questions aimed at getting to know each other better. We teamed up with one adult to one kid. The young man I met was amazingly eager to get started with the project. When I handed him my question, his face fell.

My question wasn’t that difficult! I asked if he had been aware of the Appalachian Trail before he was recommended for this special program. He handed me back my question and said, “I’m sorry.  I can’t read this”. I was taken aback and then quietly asked if my handwriting was that bad! He smiled and told me he couldn’t read cursive.  His school no longer teaches cursive. Of course, never being shy, I blurted out…

“You gotta to be kidding me!”

That was my first experience with the loss of cursive writing in our kids lives but it certainly wasn’t my last.

When I returned home from the program in New Hampshire, I spoke with a friend who teaches school here in Georgia about my experience. My jaw dropped again when I learned that it was becoming a national issue not just isolated to my student’s home in Massachusetts.

I began an experiment, because quite frankly, I still couldn’t believe the news. When I checked out at my local grocery store, if my bagger was a young person, I asked if they could read cursive. More often than not I would learn they could, but their younger siblings could not. Most said their parents taught them at home.

This information led me to dig deeper into the reasoning to stop teaching cursive. After reading several articles about the change, I learned those in favor of dropping cursive feel that it is antiquated and takes valuable time from teaching new technologies. There has been an increase in computer related skills and less emphasis on grammar, punctuation and spelling.(Picture an old librarian cringing right now.)

Those preferring to continue to teach cursive cite the educational disadvantage to those unable to read cursive writing. Imagine college students unable to do archival research or grandchildren unable to read grandma’s notes in the family bible or grandpa’s old love letters to grandma.

There are, of course, many more advantages and disadvantages to learning to read and write in cursive style. Some feel that cursive is a faster way to write. I have included an article from edweek.org that seems to have a somewhat balanced discussion if you want to read more.

Why don’t the Common Core Standards Include Cursive Writing

My personal feeling, as a retired librarian, is sadness. As I sat here, freethinking, I realized that future generations may have lost the ability to learn about the personal lives of their ancestors. Having spent hours, myself, scouring old census records, diaries and dusty photo albums, I can’t describe my feelings. When reading letters my great-great grandmother wrote trying to obtain a civil war disability pension for my great-great Grandfather, a disabled Union soldier, I was reduced to tears. (She was successful.)

My question to fellow bloggers, friends, family and complete strangers… What are your feelings about this change in children’s education? Do you have anecdotal stories to share? Do you have an opinion..one way or the other? I would love to hear your thoughts. Vote if you like as well.

Itzey’s Mom

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The Heart of Henry Quantum

The Heart of Henry Quantum.jpg

The Heart of Henry Quantum: A Novel

Autbroken-hearthor: Pepper Harding
Gallery Books| 2016
Hardcover: 288 pages
ISBN: 978-1-5011-2680-2
Genre: Fiction/Relationships

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

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In the bestselling tradition of A Man Called Ove and the beloved film Love Actually, a quirky, socially awkward man goes on a quest to find his wife a last-minute Christmas gift and encounters several distractions—including bumping into his ex-girlfriend who was the one who got away. http://www.simonandschuster.com/row-of-hearts

Having read A Man Called Ove, I was so excited to find another quirky novel that promised to bring me some much needed lighter reading. I have tended toward heavy social issues recently.

The book is arranged in four parts featuring Henry, Henry’s wife, Margaret, and Daisy (Henry’s brief affair).

An unknown friend of Henry narrates what transpired for each of these three people in the same 24-hour period. It is December 23. Christmas is fast approaching and Henry awakens at 7:35 am and remembers that he has nothing for his wife, Margaret, for Christmas. Margaret impatiently waits for Henry to leave for work, occasionally sniping at him on general principle. Finally he leaves at 9:15 am and Margaret dresses to meet her lover, Peter.  At 2:24, Daisy bumps into Henry out shopping for Channel #5 for his wife and sparking memories.

So far so good, huh? Well let’s back up to Henry at 7:35 am and I am sorry but I have to put you inside his mindstream to grasp where I am headed next in this review. As I read the following run-on sentence I found myself feeling short of breath.

However, when he reached for the soap his hand froze mid-grab because the water bouncing off his shoulders made him think about the miraculous impermeability of his own skin, and this made him think of the wonder of nature, which, when he thought about it, included the entire cosmos, and thus the Hubble telescope came into his mind and the pictures of the galaxies he had seen at the NASA booth at the Sausalito Art Festival back in September, particularly whirling-dervishthe Sombrero Galaxy, which actually did look like a sombrero, and this led him to recall something that had been drilled into his head since junior high school, namely that life travels at 186,000 miles per second, and when you look at a distant object, say, the Sombrero Galaxy, what you are actually seeing is how the object appeared millions of years ago (in the case of the Sombrero Galaxy, thirty million years ago) and not how it is now; in fact, who could say what it looks like now?

I seriously toyed with the idea of not finishing the book but I had to see where it was going so I kept my inhaler handy and moved into Margaret’s day in Part Two.

I assumed that Henry was the only character that would have his own galaxy inside his head, but our narrator felt we needed to watch Margaret dress for her adulterous rendezvous. I’ll spare you the details but, trust me, it rivals Henry’s shower scene for the world’s longest run-on sentence. Margaret turns out to be a heartless narcissistic *itch revealing itself when stuck in traffic near the Golden Gate Bridge. Someone is threatening to jump and traffic is tied up back to infinity.

Anything happening yet? she asked. I don’t know [answered another motorist].
It seems to me if you want to kill yourself, go ahead….
If the person is going to jump they should get on with it!
She bolted from the car, vaulted over the traffic barrier, bulldozed her way through the bleating crowd…leaned out as far as she could over the icy waters…and screamed at the top of her lungs, Let the f***ing *itch jump!

Daisy’s a mess and a little more likable.  Maybe because she is not speaking in run-on sentences. Nevertheless if you have stayed with the book thus far, you are now subjected to the histrionics of woman looking back at the whata-coulda-shoulda’s of a brief affair.

Overall I just couldn’t see any meaningful plot and I was overwhelmed by drifting off into topics that made no sense to the story. The publisher, Simon and Shuster, tells us that the author, Pepper Harding, is a pen name of an author that has written books on totally different subject matters. This book, to me, felt contrived, as though the author was delving into a subject matter she wasn’t comfortable describing.  Having written my feelings and sense of the book, I must say there have been others that have written glowing reviews, so if you feel inclined, please pick up a copy and see what you think for yourself.

I don’t like to leave a book with a rough review without finding something positive. Having lived near San Francisco myself for a while, I enjoyed the tour of the city. Almost made me want to hop a plane and go back for a visit.

I want to thank Galley Books (imprint of S & S) for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for my honest review.

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The Bone Sparrow

the-bone-sparrow-cover-with-frame

The Bone Sparrow

Author: Zana Fraillon
Disney (Hyperion)| 2016
240 pages
ISBN: 978-1-4847-8151-7
Genre: Fiction/Refugee Families
Audience: 9-12 yrs /Grades 3-7

Rated: ★★★★☆

TRUE FACTS about Australian Detention Camps

Exerpt from theguardian.com

Sunday 24 July 2016
Authors Ben Doherty and Patrick Kingsleybaxter-detention-sign

…[P]eople who arrive in Australia by boat without a visa seeking asylum are sent to either Nauru or Manus Island, where most are held in indefinite, arbitrary detention. They are told they will “not, under any circumstances, be settling in Australia”, but there are no other viable resettlement options for them…

The United Nations has found that Australia’s immigration detention regime breaches international law, amountidetention-fenceng to arbitrary and indefinite detention, and that men, women
and children are held in violent and dangerous conditions.

One asylum seeker was murdered by guards on Manus Island, while another died because there were no appropriate antibiotics to treat infection.

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Book Review

When you see photographs of this beautiful planet from space, it is hard to imagine how the inhabitants of such a wonder can be so cruel and heartless toward one another. You have to ask yourself…Why? Why does it happen? Why does the world allow it to continue? Why does the world look away? Much like Boy in a Striped Pajamas by John Boyne where a privileged boy learns about life on the inside a concentration camp, Bone Sparrow includes a view of life from the inside of a detention camp by a young girl, Jimmie, living on the outside.

Bone Sparrow is a work of fiction aimed at a young audience and narrated by a ten-year old Rohingya boy born in an Australian detention camp. Subhi has never seen what life is like outside the chainmail fence. His known world is a canvas tent, wind-borne desert sand, extreme heat, little water, deplorable food, scarce medical attention, no schooling and abuse. He has never met his ba (father) who was imprisoned in Myanmar (Burma) for the crime of being an ethnic minority. His pregnant Maá (mother) and sister, Noor (Queeny) were forcefully removed from Myanmar and floated up to Australia in a refugee boat hoping for security and a new life. Instead, they found themselves permanently erased from a world that refused to accept them, living in an hellish limbo filled with danger and violence.

When we first meet, Subhi, after ten long years of hardship and despair, his Maá has retreated into a catatonic state. His older sister, Queeny, having known the real world, is often querulous and difficult, snapping at Subhi as she struggles to accept her fate as a non-person. Yet, we see a softer Queeny serving as a protector and educator to her little brother. One of her great gifts to Subhi was teaching him to read and write. Subhi has seen pictures of the outside world in old magazines strewn around camp but he has no sense of what he is viewing.

Subhi is an intelligent, perceptive, kind, and loving child with a wild imagination that keeps hopes smallest ember alive as he refuses to let his mind turn to “mush”. He listens in rapt attention to traditional stories of the Rohingya people shared by his mother, sister and fellow refugees. These stories fill his nights with vibrant dreams of a magical Night Sea that brings him gifts and visits from sea creatures.

As his mother mentally and physically slipped into a world of her own, Subhi longs to hear her voice once again enchanting him with these traditional stories and stories about his ba. He despairs when the stories begin to fade from his memory. He feels that he will not recognize his ba whenever he shows up at the camp, something he tells anyone that will listen.

One night, in a semi-wakeful state, Subhi thinks he sees a strange young girl standing in his tent. The girl turns out to be real. This young motherless girl from a poor neighborhood near the detention camp, intrigued by stories of how wonderful life is for the refugees inside the camp, sneaks under a weak spot in the wire fence to check things out for herself. In time, Jimmie and Subhi form a close and endearing friendship. Jimmie appalled by the reality of camp life brings Subhi hot chocolate and treats on her fairly frequent visits. The reader will never forget when Subhi tastes hot chocolate for the first time!

Subhi closest friend, Eli, an older boy, involves him in a prohibited intra-camp supply exchange that provides excitement and danger. When Eli’s behavior and exchange system has tested the “Jackets” to their limit, despite being underage, Eli is moved into the dangerous adults-only zone. In time, Eli and others develop plans to let the world know of their existence and plight, leading to some deeply disturbing retribution by the “Jackets”.

As the novel concludes, Subhi has survived the unimaginable.  The camp has been discovered by the outside world and there is reason to hope that at some time in the future, life will improve. He is compelled to carry on the legacy of those who have lost their earthly lives in this genocide of the Rohingya by creating a new story that will be passed along to future generations.

I find my notebook and pencil and I start to write. The letters flow from deep inside me… And my head fills with memories and stories from so long ago that fences weren’t even invented yet… All those stories swirl through my head, but… I tell them to wait. Because first I have to write the most important story of them all. The story which isn’t even a story. The story that has to be told, no matter how hard it is to tell.

Subhi, ten-year Rohingya boy
Australian Detention Camp

I was deeply moved by this small YA novel. It has a message for the world at-large and should be read by readers of all ages. Personally, I have been sheltered in my comfortable life. When the news of the world becomes overbearing, I flip a switch and it goes away.  We owe it to the forgotten and neglected in this world, to recognize their plight and in what ever way possible to provide hope.

Highly recommended reading.

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Wilderness: A Novel

olympic-mountainswilderness-cover

Wilderness

Author | Lance Weller          easystreet DEBUT AUTHOR
Bloomsbury USA| 2012
Hardcover: 304 pages
ISBN: 9781608199372
Genre: Historical Fiction
Review Source: Personal Copycivil-war-quote
Rating: ★★★★☆
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The old man began to tremble, though the wind was still mild and the rain still warm. He could not help but see, once again, war’s sights and hear war’s sounds and know, once more, war’s hard gifts that are so difficult to live with after the war.

After Lee surrendered in 1865, Abel Truman raced westward hoping to outrun the memory of the sights and sounds of war. When he found himself as far west as possible on the beach of the Pacific Ocean, he built a driftwood shack. For many lonely years he lived surrounded by the memories of the now long dead from his previous life.  His sole companion was an old dog that wandered into his life and they loved each other unconditionally.

On what would be his last morning in that idyllic setting, while scouring his beach for washed up treasures, Abel came across a blue door that triggered a tsunami of emotion and loss that drove him to the edge of despair. As casually as picking a flower, Abel burned his home and began to walk without purpose or forethought into an unknown future, dragging with him his heavy past.

“A fire burned from the little stone-lined pit…the night before he left…The old man did not yet know that he was going but he felt something inside him shift. The dog sensed his despair and knew what the old man did not… that he would soon try a thing and fail…The dog also knew that they would not return.” 

Abel’s story is complicated and must be savored slowly to capture the author’s true purpose. The story is so much more than the Civil War. Yes, the Civil War scenes are severe but hidden in the carnage is the individual humanity of each soldier. The reader is made to lie down in the dirt, crawl inside the mind of each character, and become a witness to history. When Abel’s torturous nightmares flare, it is as though you are remembering with him. We find in the heat of battle that each man reveals his true nature. Here’s a snippet from a battle scene with the battle-hardened Abel and David Abernathy, a young man, facing his first fight.

David’s knuckles were white upon his rifle, barrel and stock. His eyes stung with sweat…He was distantly aware [that] his spectacles had slid down the long thin line of his nose until he eyed the coming battle over their moon-round tops. A spattering of bullets sent sprays of dirt over him…[Abel] reached out one grimy finger and gently pushed David’s spectacles back up his nose, then patted his shoulder with an air of the paternal…Abel, good-naturedly nodding toward the field said, ‘When you do fire, point it thataway.’

Let’s head back to Abel’s last journey as he encounters others for the first time in many years. He finds that mankind hasn’t changed. The world is still a dangerous place and his body, scarred from war, is repeatedly mauled by miscreants, tossed aside like a broken doll. But he also finds good Samaritans willing to nurse him back to health often jeopardizing their own safety.

As Abel fights his aging body and the elements, he too, exhibits his strength and courage – his ability to spit in the eye of death. And as often as he has been dragged back to the land of the living, he offers the same care to others.

Weller has crafted each secondary character so well that you smell their fear, recognize their intentions and applaud their courage and sacrifice. As Abel faces winter’s wrath, keep a sweater handy as you will feel the frigid elements to your core.The story is riddled with loyalty, caring, brutal savagery, racism, pain, redemption, and finally, peace.

Lovers of the movie and/or the book, Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier, will be drawn to Wilderness.  I forgave the author for challenging this old man and his dog with so many perils. At times, it did seem so over the top, but I will admit to a few tears and flushes of frustration, anger and futility as I struggled to embrace Abel and offer comfort and friendship.

Highly recommended for those willing to take on life’s roughest edges head-on.

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Help Me Pick A Book For January Poll Winner is…

Underground Railroadthe-other-einstein-cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TIED
The Other Einstein and The Underground Railroad

So using the scientifically approved method for selection,
I flipped a coin.

The Winner:

THE OTHER EINSTEIN

thank-you-clipart

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Orphans of the Carnival

orphans-of-the-carnival

Orphans of the Carnival

Author | Carol Birch
Doubleday | November 2016
Hardcover: 352 pages
ISBN: 9780385541527
Genre: Historical Fiction/Entertainers
Review source: Advance Reader E-book

★★☆☆☆

Where do you begin when you leave a book in an emotional trash heap?

I fell in love with the cover immediately and still think it is one of the best I’ve seen this year.  And certainly the flashy promise in the press blurb worked its magic on me. I leapt at the chance to read the book.

The dazzling new novel, evoking the strange and thrilling world of the Victorian carnival, from the Man Booker-shortlisted author of Jamrach’s Menagerie.

Let’s start with some true facts. The protagonist in the novel, Orphans of the Carnival, was a real person. In 1834, a native Indian woman living in western Mexico gave birth to a child so fiercely abnormal the mother feared her daughter was the result of supernatural interference and fled with the child into the mountains. Upon discovery two years later, the child, covered from head to foot with dark black hair and an ape-like face was abandoned by her mother and placed in an orphanage. The child was found to be highly intelligent and blessed with a sweet disposition. A local governor adopted the child tojulia-flyer serve as a maid, caretaker to an elderly family member, and an in-house oddity. In 1854, upon the death of her charge, the child left to return to her native tribe. Somewhere in that journey, she was discovered by an American showman and was convinced to join him for a life in the world of human curiosities thus enabling her to fulfill her dreams of seeing the world outside her small village.

The child’s name was Julia Pastrana and in her short lifetime became one of the world’s best known curiosities.

The author has done her research. The major facts known about Julia Pastrana are in the novel. I know this because I was affected enough to learn more about the real Julia. Believe me, Julia’s life story coated with the fictional embellishments will rip your heart out.

I was appalled at the horrors and mental cruelty she suffered at the hands of greedy carnival men and “respected” medical authorities that repeatedly reported that she was a hybrid human. There’s no doubt that this fiction represents Julia’s reality.

julia-pastranaIn the real world, one well-known New York medical authority examined her and declared she was a half-breed of human and orangutan origin. This wasn’t a new idea. Two hundred years earlier a Dutch doctor stated that orangutans were born “from the lust of Indian women, who mix with apes and monkeys with detestable sensuality”.

Each time Julia stepped on a stage and faced the hordes of gawkers ostensibly interested in her singing voice and her talented dance routines, she knew, and you, the reader knows they are just there to stare at her face. Her greatest desire in life was to be loved and for people to see her, to see beyond the hairy body and the “world’s ugliest face”. Her single most need was the answer to a simple question…Am I Human?

Julia’s final manager, Theo Lent (and husband) must have been a real son-of-a-bleep.  The author presents him from two sides- the face of the carnival barker who lived to make money off his “precious possession” and the lonely friendless leech marrying to force Julia to remain with him. When tragedy strikes, Lent shows his true colors and they are not pretty.

A misfit modern day junk collector finds a discarded broken doll and her fictional story reveals itself to have links to Julia. Overall, this added story was a distraction to the emotional turmoil surrounding Julia and her unfortunate life. I believe that sticking to Julia and the other poor unfortunate souls in this macabre world of entertainment would been better. In my advance reader copy,  Rose’s story breaks into Julia’s story making it difficult to keep track of the narrative. Having said that, the ending of the book was a complete surprise to me.

I wanted to give this book a 3 star. In so many ways, it probably deserves it. The first half of the book had me flipping pages. The story just repeated itself over and over. New city, new show, same old cruel taunts and jeers. Midway I found myself ignoring Rose’s story and just reading to finish the book. As much as I flinched at every cruel word flung at the unfortunates, I never felt a depth to the characters themselves.

I do want to thank Netgalley and Doubleday for the advanced readers copy. This review reflects my own personal views and reaction to the novel.

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Notorious R. B. G. : The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Notorious R. B. G. :notorious-rbg-with-frame

The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg

AUTHORS  |  Irin Carmon & Shana Knizhnik
PUBLISHER  |  Dey St (Wm Morrow) | 2015
Hardcover: 227 pages
ISBN: 978-0-06-241583-7
Memoir / Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Review Source: Personal Copy

★★★★☆

 truth

During the February, 2016 memorial coverage of Justice Antonin Scalia, I found myself drawn to a photograph taken in India in 1994 of Justice Scalia and Justice Ginsburg together lumbering along waving from atop an elephant.scalia-ginsburg-elephant It stopped me in my tracks as I knew they represented the yin and yang of the American Justice System. Was it conceivable that they were friends outside their hallowed chambers? What was my little 5 ft tall Jewish icon of Women’s Rights doing hanging around the man that declared that the constitution didn’t bar sex discrimination?

That question rattled around in my brain and prompted me to look into her biography. I needed to know more about Ruth as a person, not just a Supreme Court Justice with fancy collars and a fiery pen. There are some great choices available, including books written by Justice Ginsberg herself, but I fell in love with Carmon and Knizhnik’s Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

This glossy picture strewn work brings RBG to life in short but thorough stories of her progression from Kiki, the baton twirling teen, deeply in love with the adventurous and independent Nancy Drew books to present day, a strong and resilient Supreme Court Justice not afraid to stand up and fight for human rights.

RBG, born in 1933, began her steady growth toward gender independence fighting as she states, with three strikes against her, “[I was] a woman, a mother and a Jew.” But as she fought for her own survival and career, she wasn’t as yet a strong advocate for feminism. As a college professor, Ruth, inspired by student activism, joined a national movement that has steadily over tme moved toward not just women’s rights but equal rights for all regardless of gender, race, or social status.

Ruth began to fight her way into a “man’s world” pulling all women along with her. She knew the importance of staying focused and educated on issues. She formed her own style. Pick your battles. Fight hard but not loudly or brash. Permanent change must be achieved through baby steps, carefully. When you have something to say, say it with a steady hand and carefully chosen words. Your voice will be heard over the din.

format_quoteAnger, resentment, indulgence in recriminations waste time and sap energy.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg

As much as I was fascinated by all the legal briefs and dissents that Ruth presented, the most important message I got from the book is best said by the two people perched on top of that elephant so many years ago.

“Call us the odd couple,” Scalia said. “She likes opera, and she’s a very nice person. What’s not to like — Except her views on the law.”

[Likewise, Ginsburg could acknowledge her differences with her good friend Nino while still admiring his peppery prose.] “I disagreed with most of what he said, but I loved the way he said it,”

George Washington University event, 2015

These two people, at odds in their legal lives, can also see the human side of each other and share the richness of friendship and love.  In our current political climate, Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg have shown the importance of civility, respect and friendship.

I am going to jump in here with a diversion from the book and a personal comment.  As we head into a new world in America, my best guess istrump-ginsburg-rant that Justice Ginsburg will not be deterred by tweets or taunts. She will stand with her principles and continue to represent all of us to the best of her ability.  Highly recommend reading.

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Help Me Pick A Book

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MY TO-READ SHELF IS OVERFLOWING

Help me pick my first book in January

I have narrowed my choices to these five books:so many books

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A GENTLEMAN FROM MOSCOW
by Amor Towles

From the New York Times bestselling author of Rules of Civility—a transporting novel about a man who is ordered to spend the rest of his life inside a luxury hotel.
In 1922, Count Alexander Rostov is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, and is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him entry into a much larger world of emotional discovery. Brimming with humor, a glittering cast of characters, and one beautifully rendered scene after another, this singular novel casts a spell as it relates the count’s endeavor to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be a man of purpose.“And the intrigue! … [A Gentleman in Moscow] is laced with sparkling threads (they will tie up) and tokens (they will matter): special keys, secret compartments, gold coins, vials of coveted liquid, old-fashioned pistols, duels and scars, hidden assignations (discreet and smoky), stolen passports, a ruby necklace, mysterious letters on elegant hotel stationery… a luscious stage set, backdrop for a downright Casablanca-like drama.” –The San Francisco Chronicle

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THE OTHER EINSTEIN
by Marie Benedict

In the tradition of The Paris Wife and Mrs. Poe, The Other Einstein offers us a window into a brilliant, fascinating woman whose light was lost in Einstein’s enormous shadow. It is the story of Einstein’s wife, a brilliant physicist in her own right, whose contribution to the special theory of relativity is hotly debated and may have been inspired by her own profound and very personal insight.

Mitza Maric has always been a little different from other girls. Most twenty-year-olds are wives by now, not studying physics at an elite Zurich university with only male students trying to outdo her clever calculations. But Mitza is smart enough to know that, for her, math is an easier path than marriage. And then fellow student Albert Einstein takes an interest in her, and the world turns sideways. Theirs becomes a partnership of the mind and of the heart, but there might not be room for more than one genius in a marriage.

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#3

TO THE BRIGHT EDGE OF THE WORLD
by Eowyn Ivey

An atmospheric, transporting tale of adventure, love, and survival from the bestselling author of The Snow Child, finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

In the winter of 1885, decorated war hero Colonel Allen Forrester leads a small band of men on an expedition that has been deemed impossible: to venture up the Wolverine River and pierce the vast, untamed Alaska Territory. Leaving behind Sophie, his newly pregnant wife, Colonel Forrester records his extraordinary experiences in hopes that his journal will reach her if he doesn’t return–once he passes beyond the edge of the known world, there’s no telling what awaits him.

The Wolverine River Valley is not only breathtaking and forbidding but also terrifying in ways that the colonel and his men never could have imagined. As they map the territory and gather information on the native tribes, whose understanding of the natural world is unlike anything they have ever encountered, Forrester and his men discover the blurred lines between human and wild animal, the living and the dead. And while the men knew they would face starvation and danger, they cannot escape the sense that some greater, mysterious force threatens their lives.

Meanwhile, on her own at Vancouver Barracks, Sophie chafes under the social restrictions and yearns to travel alongside her husband. She does not know that the winter will require as much of her as it does her husband, that both her courage and faith will be tested to the breaking point. Can her exploration of nature through the new art of photography help her to rediscover her sense of beauty and wonder?

The truths that Allen and Sophie discover over the course of that fateful year change both of their lives–and the lives of those who hear their stories long after they’re gone–forever.

Underground Railroad#4

THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD
by Colson Whitehead

Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hell for all the slaves, but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood—where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned—Cora kills a young white boy who tries to capture her. Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.

In Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor—engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But the city’s placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.

Like the protagonist of Gulliver’s Travels, Cora encounters different worlds at each stage of her journey—hers is an odyssey through time as well as space. As Whitehead brilliantly re-creates the unique terrors for black people in the pre–Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is at once a kinetic adventure tale of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share.

the-wonder-cover#5

THE WONDER
by Emma Donoghue

An Irish village is mystified by what appears to be a miracle but may actually be murder in the next masterpiece from New York Times—bestselling author Emma Donoghue.
A village in 1850s Ireland is baffled by Anna O’Donnell’s fast. A little girl appears to be thriving after months without food, and the story of this ‘wonder’ has reached fever pitch.
Tourists flock in droves to the O’Donnell family’s modest cabin, and an international journalist is sent to cover the sensational story. Enter Lib, an English nurse trained by Florence Nightingale, who is hired to keep watch for two weeks and determine whether or not Anna is a fraud.
As Anna deteriorates, Lib finds herself responsible not just for the care of a child, but for getting to the root of why the child may actually be the victim of murder in slow motion.
A magnetic novel written with all the spare and propulsive tension that made ROOM a huge bestseller, THE WONDER works beautifully on many levels—as a simple tale of two strangers who will transform each other’s lives, a powerful psychological thriller, and a story of love pitted against evil in its many masks.

Thanks for your help
I’ll let you know the results in a week!

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Dead Wake

dead-wake

Dead Wake: 

The Last Crossing of the Lusitania

Author | Erik Larson
Crown Publishing Group | 2015
Hardcover: 448 pages
ISBN: 978-0307408860
Genre: Non-Fiction/World War, 1914-1918

★★★★☆

 

nyt-lusitania“THE ADMIRALTY’S focus was elsewhere, on a different ship that it deemed far more valuable.” 

Erik Larson, Dead Wake

Who wasn’t moved by Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in the bow of the Titanic, arms spread, leaning into the wind? That heartbreaking love story of mismatched social class lovers and the tragic maritime disaster moved me to read a more serious work from that same time-period, Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania.

I thought I knew the basics about the sinking of the Lusitania. It was torpedoed by a German submarine, Americans traveling aboard the liner were killed, and angry America joined the war. Those facts are true but they are not as they seem.

Erik Larson writes in a Note to Readers in Dead Wake:

I first started reading about the Lusitania on a whim…What I learned both charmed and horrified me. I thought I knew everything there was to know about the incident, but, as so often happens when I do deep research on a subject, I quickly realized how wrong I was.

Sifting and digging through countless documents, records, pictures, letters, interviews and memoirs, Larson has brought this tragedy to life and in doing so has revealed how little we really knew of that fateful day. One historical event that has been reduced in time to a sentence or two in most history books, now comes alive (without embellishment) using only the facts and words of the people intrinsic to this event. The author says, I’ve really tried to strip my writing of as many adjectives and adverbs as I possibly can. Each new fact or story is presented like a detailed slideshow slipping around in time -before, during and after- the sinking. There were so many intricate details unearthed it was a difficult book to review!

Larson sets the stage by placing the Lusitania majestically docked bow-first at Cunard Steam Ship Company’s Pier 54,  in Manhattan with Captain William Thomas Turner proudly standing at attention on the bridge. While the ship loads pacaptain-turnerssengers and supplies, Larson reveals the life of the Lusitania from inspiration to shipwreck.

The Cunard Steam Ship Company, based in Liverpool England, proudly promoted the gem of their fleet, the Lusitania, reputed by many to be the epitome of all that man knows or has discovered or invented up to this moment of time.” Like the Titanic, three years earlier, was considered unsinkable. The Titanic disaster did highlight the need for additional lifeboats and safety gear and these and other modifications were made to the Lusitania allaying any fears the passengers had about a maritime incident.

Dead Wake steps back and forth in time bringing the reader up to speed on the political climate and causes of the First World War that began on July 28, 1914 when Austria declared war on Serbia. Other European nations, bound by treaties and alliances, lined up to form a divided Europe recognized as the Allied Forces (France, the United Kingdom and Russia) against the Central Powers (Germany and Austria-Hungary). Suspense was created as Larson describes the delicate timeline for the United States entry into the fray for the Allied Forces.

While the First World War is better known as a brutal killing land-war fought in the trenches, Germany’s development of submarine warfare threatened to destroy a key ally – Great Britain.  As an island nation Britain relied on seaborne commerce for everything and as the war pressed on into 1915, British military and civilians vessels were lost with increasing numbers. Winston Churchill, then the First Lord of the Admiralty, was determined to save Britain with the help of the United States by any means necessary and for as long as it would take to convince them of Britain’s need.  President Woodrow Wilson, knee-deep in grief and depression over the loss of his wife, and the American public were equally determined to keep the United States out of the war.

On February 4, 1915, Germany stepped up their maritime action by issuing a proclamation designating the waters around the British Isles an ‘area of war‘ in which all enemy ships would be subject to attack without warning. Thus far, passenger liners, had escaped unscathed.

On that beautiful morning of May 1, 1915, as the Lusitania was poised to leave Manhattan, the German Embassy in Washington ramped things up in the Atlantic by posting a notice on the shipping pages of the New York newspapers cautioning that vessels flying the flag of Great Britain, or any of her allies, are liable to destruction and travels sailing on such ships do so at their own risk. 

Cunard responded to the warning by issuing the statement that the Lusitania was the safest boat on the sea…too fast for any submarine. No German war vessel can get her or near her.

As the Lusitania begins her fated crossing, we are given a slideshow tour of the ship itself from 1st Class cabins down to the boiler room. The slideshow takes us through the passenger list peering openly into the lives of famous passengers and the travel plans of the not-so famous. We learn why, in the heart of a vicious war, they felt the need to leave the safety of America. We watch laughing children play hop-scotch, observe a traveler’s gaze as the crew practices hoisting life-boats into position, smile as Dwight Harris fingers the engagement ring in his pocket he dreams of presenting to his beloved, sit in the bleak quarantined room with a worried mother concerned for her sick child, listen to mothers sharing stories about relatives and friends waiting for them to arrive…….

For the first time, we ride shot-gun with a U-Boat 20 Captain and his crew as he navigates around Britain to reach his place in infamy. We sit in the ultra-secret Room 40 where the British Admiralty use confiscated German code books to decipher submarine wireless transmissions and track them right up to the hull of the Lusitania. We question why they repeatedly fail to warn Captain Turner of the danger. We watch in horror as the the U-Boat 20 Captain disturbed by what he has done, turns his sub away from the Lusitania, unable to witness further, the catastrophe through his periscope.

We see Captain Turner miraculous tossed into the sea and returned to land to face a grueling trial. Those trial proceedings will make you grit your teeth.

One of my little pet peeves? I didn’t need to know quite so much about President Wilson’s grief and the burgeoning love life he discovered on the other side.

In the end, the reader will be left with a shocked sense of what really happened. My opinion of some players changed radically; some for the good and others disgustingly. I will admit I shed a few tears for the families and friends trying to locate their missing loved ones; and in that search, Larson gives us some good news as well. I guarantee at least one story will make you chuckle.

The people we meet have now achieved immortality, lifted from the pages of history as more than a footnote. Highly recommended for history buffs and readers interested in life in the 1900s. The descriptions of the period costumes and opulence of the Lusitania alone make this a worthy read.

Thanks to Edelweiss and Crown Publishing for the Advance E-reader copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion and review.

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Second Mrs. Hockaday


The Sesecond-mrs-hockaday-covercond Mrs. Hockaday

Author | Susan Rivers
Algonquin | January 2017
Hardcover: 272 pages
ISBN: 978-1-61620-581-2
Genre: Historical Fiction/Civil War

confederate-flagbook-lists-starred-review

★★★☆☆

August 19, 1865

Dearest Mildred, Of all the misgivings to which we women are prone, none is more pernicious than the suspicion that we were too easily won.civil-war-woman

Much like Fair and Tender Ladies (Lee Smith) or the Color Purple (Alice Walker), The Second Mrs. Hockaday is told in letters, diaries and correspondence. The book is loosely based on fact.

The book opens with a letter written by Placidia Fincher Hockaday from the Holland County, South Carolina jail dated July 20, 1865. The letter is addressed to her cousin, Mildred. The details of her incarceration are left out of the letter.

She reminisces in that letter about the memorable April day she first met her husband, Major Gryffth Hockaday, when she was 17. “On my deathbed I shall remember that April day if I remember anything at all…”

She had spent most of the memorable day riding a spirited horse and arrived back at her father’s farm, sweaty, dirty and wild-haired. She discovers her father talking to a mysterious Confederate officer, taller and thinner [than father] with a wind-burned face as craggy as a shagbark stump.

The Major stays with the Fincher family overnight to attend Placidia’s step-sister’s wedding. We learn that Major Hockaday’s first wife, Janet, died recently leaving a child, Charles. The morning after the wedding, Placidia’s surprised father tells her the Major has made an offer of marriage. Placidia’s relationship with her step-mother and step-siblings is strained and her father is dying. Believing a better future lies with the Major she accepts the offer of marriage despite only meeting him hours before.

The newlyweds arrive at the Major’s farm and it is not the vision Placidia expected.  The farm is failing, rundown, and too few slaves to work it properly.  Two days after they arrive, the Major is called back to war service leaving the 17 year old bride alone in this new strange world to tend an infant and manage the affairs of a failing Southern farm.

Two years pass before the Hockadays reunite. The Major, headstrong and trigger-tempered arrives to discover that his wife has born a child in his absence. The child died. His immediate reaction was fury and he accuses Placidia of murder. He presses charges and she is arrested.

Placidia’s life and that of the Major’s over those two years of separation are told in correspondence that flips back and forth in time between wartime and their lives after the war, producing a somewhat disjointed story line. The truth behind Placidia’s accused crime isn’t revealed until near the end and is as heartbreaking and ruthless as you imagine it must have been.

As a reflection of the times, the story poignantly describes the plight of the slaves, the horrors of war and the struggles of all Southern families to survive during and after the war. Their stories are heartbreaking. There are secondary characters that will turn your stomach. There are moments that will leave you filled with hope for the future. I found the final chapters had the most meat and were worth the long tease to what really happened to Placidia. The “crime” would prove to be a dark personally held secret that percolated behind the ether of daily life through three generations.  In the end, the reader is left to wonder if Placidia’s final decision was wise.

My overall opinion was very positive. The violent scenes were handled carefully; accurate enough to be honest but not extreme enough to be overly graphic. I would recommend the book to anyone interested in historical fiction.

I would like to thank Netgalley.com and the publisher, Algonquin Books/Algonquin Young Readers, for the ARC e-reader in exchange for my unbiased review.

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Looking For Alaska

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# 1 Challenged Book In 2015

looking-for-alaska
Looking For Alaska

Author | John Green
Dutton Bks | 2005
Hardcover: 256 pages
ISBN: 978-0-06-245660-1

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Genre: Fiction/Interpersonal Relations
Audience: High School

PRESS RELEASE – 2005

Before.
Miles “Pudge” Halter is done with his safe life at home. His whole life has been one big non-event, and his obsession with famous last words has only made him crave “the Great Perhaps” even more (Francois Rabelais, poet). He heads off to the sometimes crazy and anything-but-boring world of Culver Creek Boarding School, and his life becomes the opposite of safe. Because down the hall is Alaska Young. The gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed up, and utterly fascinating Alaska Young. She is an event unto herself. She pulls Pudge into her world, launches him into the Great Perhaps, and steals his heart. Then. . . .
After. Nothing is ever the same.

Challenge History
Looking for Alaska, first published in 2005, was John Green’s debut young adult novel. The American Library Association awarded the book the  Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature in 2006. Visit the link Awards and Challenges for more information about this book and book challenges in general.

The first challenge to the book occurred in 2008 when the book was used as course material in an 11th-grade English class in a high school near Buffalo, N.Y. Some parents challenged its usage in class because of its liberal portrayal of students drinking, smoking, using explicit language and having sex. The school board ultimately voted to keep the book in the school curriculum

Following the phenomenal success of John Green’s A Fault In Our Stars in 2012, Looking for Alaska received a second look by many and soon appeared on the NYT children’s paperback bestseller list at #10.

The American Library Association received  270+ different titles challenged in 2015 but the most challenged book was Looking for Alaska. The ALA has summarized the challenges as offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group. Other challenges to the book focused on religious objections.

John Green’s Youtube defense of challenges

My Review

First off I was disappointed (tongue-in-cheek) to learn that the story wasn’t about the cold northern state, Alaska; I had hoped. Alaska is a “gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed up, and utterly fascinating classmate” (according to the publisher) not an Alaskan musher.

Having gotten over my disappointment, I looked at the bones of the book. Unlike most novels, the book is uniquely arranged in one continuous story-line. No separate chapters.  Breaks in the timeline are spliced into the story by bold headlines – a countdown to some unknown event beginning with one hundred thirty-six days before. This layout did keep me reading page after page always looking for clues, ever aware that something significant is going to happen. A very useful tactic if encouraging a reluctant reader.

My overall impression was positive. I thought the book was age-appropriate for senior high school students. Parents of younger children should probably read the book in advance and make their own decision if their child is mature enough or prepared for some of the themes. The sex scenes and underage drinking reflect the mind of the intended audience as they transition from youth toward adulthood; even if as a parent, you would like to keep your child innocent and close to home. It is my opinion the book could provide a medium through which a parent and child can discuss sensitive topics at a time when it is hard to talk about anything with your child without sulking or surly rebellion.

I particularly liked that Miles’ father, an alumnus of Culver Creek, having been a mischief make himself, advises Miles, “Don’t do anything stupid…No drugs, No drinking, No cigarettes.” While Miles had no initial interest in these activities he was so anxious to belong that he was willing to suspend his better judgement at times.

The heaviest topic, suicide, threads through the story, often disguised as bluster and bravado. Again, with teenage suicides the third-leading cause of death for young people ages 15 to 24, the book provides an avenue for discussion about the symptoms and signals of teenage depression.

I was struck by the deliberate absence of parental contact and limited supervision by school staff during the school year; parents and teachers for the most part seemed to speak in the Peanuts cartoon “wah wah wah” voice as background noise. The “Eagle”, Mr. Starnes, dean of students, appears as a nocturnal guard against late night mischief with little interest in the life of students exhibiting social problems.

By and large, one of the best themes of the book was the world religions class. Miles was not raised in a deeply religious setting but he is intrigued by the metaphysical nature of the class. It speaks to why he reads biographies to learn people’s last words and to his reason for attending this school- searching for the Great Perhaps. The topic of death and the meaning of life is central to the story. As Miles “Pudge” Halter absorbs his thoughts about the meaning of life, the reader follows Alaska’s personal torments toward tragedy.

Mr. Hyde posts Simón Bolívar’s last words, often quoted by Alaska, on the chalkboard as a source for class discussion and reflection.

“Damn it. How will I ever get out of this labyrinth?”

The author places each character in a myriad of labyrinths. Each labyrinth, whether Miles’ efforts at developing friendships, Chips disapproval of the wealthy day students, or Alaska’s deep history of family tragedy and sorrow, lends itself to self-reflection and/or shared dialogue.

When the unexpected event happens and “the before” ends and “the after” begins, life is altered for each character. As in life itself, the characters learn how tenuous the future really is and their self-discovery in response to the “event” casts a bright light on friendship, loyalty, trust, love, religion and reality.

Despite the dark overtones, the book has many positive messages.

The world religion class receives their final exam question two months in advance and the characters’ reflections and discussions on the topic are thought provoking.

What is the most important question human beings must answer?
Choose your answer wisely, and then examine how “Islam, Buddhism, and Christianity attempt to answer it.

Pudge’s final exam begins…

Before I got here, I thought for a long time that the way out of the labyrinth was to pretend it doesn’t exist, to build a small, self-sufficient world in the back corner of the endless maze and to pretend that I was not lost, but home. But that only led to a lonely life accompanied by the last words of the already-dead, so I came here looking for the Great Perhaps, for real friends and a more-than-minor life.

And ends with…

Thomas Edison’s last words were: ‘It’s very beautiful over there.’ I don’t know where there is, but I believe it’s somewhere, and I hope it’s beautiful.”

I spent an inordinate amount of time thinking and writing what has turned out to be a lengthy discussion of this “banned book.” If this book has such a lasting impression on me personally, I hope it is helpful and enlightening to others as well.

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The Lost Girls

 

lost-girls-cover

The Lost Girls

by Heather Young

WM Morrow | 2016
Hardcover: 352 pages
ISBN: 978-0-06-245660-1
Genre: Fiction/Suspense

Hardcover ARC won from LibraryThing/Early Readers and  ARC e-reader from Edelweiss in exchange for an unbiased review.

★★★★★

Wow!

It has been a long time since I picked up a book that I read straight through the night and I was invested in the characters deeply enough to cry at the end. And to think this was the author’s first book!

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I found this notebook in the desk yesterday…It was as though it had lain in wait…until now … sixty-four years [later]. Since Lilith’s passing…the story of that summer has been mine alone, to keep or to share. I am the last…I hold secrets that don’t belong to me…Better to let it be, I tell myself…But this notebook reminds me that it’s not so simple as that…So I will write my family’s story, here in this book … I will tell it as fully as I can, even the parts that grieve me…Lucy Evans

Lucy Evans’ great-grandfather, leaving the coal mines of Wales, arrived in America, and improved his status eventually co-founding Williamsburg, Minnesota. The Lost Girls covers five generations of women in this prominent family. Lucy’s family, along with six other Williamsburg families, owned a summer retreat on a remote lake. A local mixed-race family owned a restaurant and lodge that was central to the social life of the lake residents. In the fall of 1935, as the temporary residents on the lake prepare to head back to town in advance of the harsh Minnesota winter, Lucy’s six-year old sister, Emily, disappears in the dead of night. Lucy’s distraught and overprotective mother never returns to Williamsburg and she, along with the two remaining sisters, stay at the lake- always leaving the light on for Emily.

Sixty-four years later, Lucy, the last of the Thomas Evans family still lives at the lake, and knowing she will soon be gone, decides it’s time to tell her family’s story…warts and all.  Lucy leaves the Evans estate to her grandniece, Justine, along with the notebook revealing all the family’s dirty secrets.

The book alternates from Lucy’s first person narration with the third person narrator focusing on the life of Lucy’s grandniece, Justine after Lucy’s death.  As Lucy shares her story we begin to see how the sins of the past generations have deeply scarred Justine’s life in the present.

Lucy’s story is so compelling that Justine’s story seems weak at first but as the book progresses Justine’s family issues become as important as the search for the truth about Emily’s disappearance. As the two stories converge, putting the book down is nearly impossible!

The novel is emotionally hard at times. The isolation, loneliness and emotional distress of each character is palpable. Both Lucy and Justine’s family secrets are slowly revealed but you can still feel them viscerally just below the surface from beginning to end. Would the story have changed if each succeeding generation not borne only girls? What draws each of the girls to a toxic spouse? Is there a way to save Justine and her girls?

The book is so well written that it is hard to believe it’s the author’s first work of fiction! The descriptions of the lake and the woods make you feel as though you are witnessing things through three-D glasses. Lucy’s penchant for writing children’s books about Emily are works of art in themselves. There are so many layers to this book but the reader never gets lost in the story; just hungry to know more…Love, loyalty, friendship and family bonds are tested and the conclusion of the book will leave you stunned.

Highly recommended.

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Clancys of Queens

clancys cover.jpg

by Tara Clancy

tara-clancy-1

Hardcover: 256 pages
Crown Publishing | 2016
ISBN: 978-1-101-90311-7
Genre: Personal Memoir

★★★★☆

Print ARC won via LibraryThing/Early Readers and e-copy via Netgalley in exchange for an unbiased honest review.

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
queens

Recipe For Self-Deprecating
Coming-Of-Age Memoir

Take one five-year old Irish-Italian school girl from New York City (Queens) with the energy of the “Roadrunner” and the mischievous bent of “Wile E. Coyote”; a self identified whirling dervish with a penchant for mayhem.

Pass her around Queens like an invitation to a “progressive dinner”.

Start her out weekdays in the care of her Italian grandparents, Rosalie and “Ricky” Riccobono and their geriatric relatives and neighbors on 251st Street in Bellerose, Queens. Indulge her free spirit and fill her days with love and a generous dose of Rosalie’s Italian salty invectives.

[I enter the kitchen and sneak up on Grandma as she is about to tell me to do something.] I’m a few feet below Grandma’s sight line…her head slowly swiveling left, then right, then left again with a fixed, fuming gaze, looking like a cyborg in a housedress. Right before her eyes start pulsing red and she turns real-life Terminator, her head tilts down and there I am, standing at her heels and choking down a laugh…[She starts her instructions as she always does with her favorite opening cussword. She means nothing by it, it’s just her catch-all punctuation.]

Weekday evenings hand her over to her loving and patient mother for the quiet solitude of each other’s company. As quiet as life can be with a dervish in the house.

Two weekends a month gift her to her caring father, a dirt-poor Irish-American police officer and his pull out sofa bed in his one-room converted boat shed near Jamaica Bay. Saturday evenings, the two sit high above the crowd in the Crow’s Nest at Gregory’s Bar and Restaurant in Broad Channel, Queens collecting treats and high fives from the regulars.

ps133-logoThe other two weekends place her in the back of a stretch limo, alone, to arrive at the luxurious Bridgehampton estate of her mother’s boyfriend. Incongruously parked at the formal entrance of the main house is her plastic electric Power Wheels pickup charged and ready for her first tour of the estate grounds.

Stir together blending all characters into one big extended family that protects, loves and supports our little dervish as she crashes and blasts her way through grade school, middle school and into high school. Tara goes through schools like Imelda Marcos does shoes.

Tara tells her story as if she is riding the subway sharing anecdotes over time to a seatmate. Each story awash in a fresh memory that exposes more of herself not deeply but openly and often with humor. Along the way we learn a lot about Queens and meet some wonderful people with colorful nicknames such Uncle Jelly, Mumbling Joe and Jimmy the Hat. (Wait until you meet Rosemary. Sorry no hints. Won’t spoil the surprise.)

The story is not all fun and games. She openly shares her darker issues such as alcohol abuse and the struggle for sexual identity but she always finds a way to tell it with tongue-in-cheek humor. In true New York style everything and everyone feels larger than life but the overall emotion that rings through the clatter and clutter is unconditional love. Tara has a way of expressing her love for her parents, grandparents and extended family in all her stories that makes you want to head to Grandma Rosalie’s for Christmas dinner.

Believe me you are in for a surprise when you read what turns her life around at the end!

Recommended.

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Night Watch

night-watch-cover

NIGHT WATCH

 by Iris and Roy Johansenblood-splatter4-md

St. Martin’s Press 2016
Hardcover: 352 pgs
978-1250075970
Kendra Michaels #4


★★★☆☆

 

ARC e-book from publisher via edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

genre-mystery

format_quoteAbduction?…I have to let them find me…If I can’t talk you out of this, I’m going to go over possibilities you might fact in captivity…I learned a lot while I was being held by the Taliban…Kendra sat down opposite her at the table. I’m listening…

Iris Johansen started her literary career with straight up romance fiction evolving into the historical romance vein; I am allergic to the romance genre so I avoid them preferring something more rough and tumble. When I read the synopsis of Night Watch, I learned Johansen had turned her talents to crime fiction. I was happy to receive an advanced reader e-book from the publisher via Edelweiss so I could preview this genre change for myself.

Night Watch is the fourth book in the Kendra Michaels series and I was concerned it would leave me at a disadvantage in Kendra’s back history. It turns out this newest book has flashbacks, including details about Kendra’s blindness and the miracle experimental surgery that restored her sight, that makes this book a stand alone work. During her sightless years, Kendra developed extraordinary abilities of smell and hearing. Born with an insatiable curiosity, she uses the miracle of sight along with her overly developed senses to see the world more intimately and acutely than Sherlock Holmes. Her observational and cognitive skills are often used by law enforcement in crime scene investigations.

This newest mystery centers on the disappearance of the doctor that restored the teenage Kendra’s vision. Kendra, ever grateful and loyal to a fault, makes the search for the missing doctor her life’s mission.  As the story picks up steam some very quirky characters including a young former military female private investigator and a sexy and wealthy former FBI agent help her in the search. The obligatory bad guys are really bad and you just know they are going to get their comeuppance in the end.

The first half of the story was kind of ho-hum to me but when things did start to develop I couldn’t put the book down.  Yet in the end, I am not sure I liked Kendra. I couldn’t see what the playboy FBI agent saw in her to make him fly around the world to help her. Just because something is fictional and suspends belief doesn’t mean they have to come across like Flat Stanley; they could have a little more character development.

It was a comfortable read on a night where I needed a quick read that didn’t strain the brain. I will admit that I read well past my bedtime to finish it.  So I guess in the end I would recommend it as a place filler between a heavy non-fiction and your next epic novel.

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Banned Book Week

Banned books image.jpg

Celebrating the Freedom to Read:
September 25 – October 1, 2016

Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read…[It] highlights the value of free and open access to information. Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community; librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types, in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.

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http://www.ala.org/bbooks/bannedbooksweek

I was naive as child to assume I could have access to any book I wanted to read as soon as I was able to read it.  Back in the dark ages of the 1950’s, I thought I was a real big shot when I mastered Fun With Dick and Jane. It wasn’t until high school that I learned that some books offend some people and those people didn’t think I should make my own reading choices.

The American Library Association’s Office of Information Freedom began collecting data about challenged and banned books in 1990 and that list of 20,000+ is just the tip of the iceberg – it doesn’t include unreported challenges.

If you want to see a list of the most popular titles listed by challenge reasons, visit the link to the ALA in the graphic above.

Each year, I choose a title from the latest list of challenges and read it for myself. This year’s selection is:

LOOKING FOR ALASKA

by John Green.

looking for alaska.jpg

AWARDS
ALA Best Book for Young Adults
Top 10 ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Readers
2005 Booklist Editors’ Choice
Kirkus Best Book of 2005
2005 School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age

CHALLENGE REASONS

Offensive Language
Sexually Explicit
Unsuited for Age Group

 

New York Dutton | 1st Ed. 2005
Hardcover: 350 pages
Genre: Fiction
Audience: Secondary School (High School)

Stayed tuned for my review and thoughts in the coming weeks. If you choose  to read a title from the banned books list I would love to hear about it!

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News Of The World

news-of-the-world-cover

NEWS OF THE WORLD

by Paulette Jiles

Harper Collins | 2016
Hardcover: 224 pages
ISBN: 978-0-06-240920-1
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: ARC E-book from edelweiss

★★★★cowboy

 

There has always been a soft spot in my heart for stories best read around a campfire. I have shared time in the woods, fire crackling, sipping hot cowboy coffee with the Virginian, Rooster Cogburn, and now Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd.

It’s 1870, the late, great War of Northern Aggression or Civil War, depending on your allegiance has ended. The Captain, now 70, like most of the men of his era, having survived the war, must now find a way to endure the hardships of postwar life. In his younger years he had been a printer but the war had taken this life from him. These days, he finds the alluring smell of printer’s ink on his hands on papers printed by someone else. His wife, long dead, his children now grown, he makes his living drifting through Texas frontier towns reading the news of the day to news hungry townsfolk willing to pay 10¢ to escape Texas for an hour.

Known to be a man of honor and respectability, Captain was approached at one of his readings in northern Texas about returning a recently recovered orphan, captured 4 years earlier by Indians, 400 miles south to her family near San Antonio.

capturedtitle

Johanna Leonberger was six years old when she was taken captive by the Kiowa after witnessing the savage murder of her parents. Now four years later and fully assimilated into tribal customs, Johanna has been torn from her loving Kiowa mother, and ransomed for fifteen woolen blankets and a set of silver dinnerware to the US Army. This blond haired blue-eyed ten year old having locked all memory of her first life in that dark place in the mind where horrors hide finds herself alone in a strange world where people sleep with roofs over their heads and wear shoes.

Agreeing to deliver the young girl to her Aunt and Uncle’s care, Captain Kidd begins the three-week trip with the challenge of harnessing Johanna’s trust. The arduous journey through flash floods and hostile territory is filled with marauding bandits of all stripes. Along the way, the limits of loyalty, friendship, bravery and honesty are tested. Many endearing side characters will warm your heart and a few bad men get western justice along the ride. Pure Western with heroes and heroines that will leave you smiling You might even learn something new in the news of the world.

Recommended!

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The Book of Harlan

 

bookofharlan-cover

The Book of Harlan

by Bernice L. McFadden

Akashic | 2016
Paperback: 400 pages
ISBN: 978-1-61775-446-3
Genre: Historical Fiction

Review Source: ARC from publisher for unbiased opinion.

black-white-notes

★★★★☆

Harlan Elliott arrived on Christmas Eve, right there on the parlor floor between the piano and the Christmas tree [1917]…
[He] kept his eyes closed for two whole months…Considering how his life would turn out, perhaps Harlan knew, even in infancy, just what the universe had in store for him.

I have struggled for days over this review.  Not that I didn’t like the book or had any trouble finishing it; the pages seem to turn themselves. I loved it. The chapters were short (and presented in the third person).  The difficulty arises because there is so much to discuss! The book’s timeline spans everything from the end of slavery to the moon landing. There were so many themes! Blues/Jazz, Racial discrimination, Abandonment, Drugs, Cultural Identity, War/Holocaust et al.
bw-bk-cropped-with-text

Harlan’s life is sprinkled through world events like one of those children’s popup books. Each time he pops up, it’s been years since we last heard about him. Harlan repeatedly faces life altering challenges, mostly brought on by himself and a few hoisted on him by society. As he plows through other people’s lives in his devil-may-care attitude, he leaves heartbreak and sorrow in his wake. There were times I would like to have reached through the page and played wack-a-mole to get him to grow up.

A number of interesting characters intersect Harlan’s path. Gwen, a naive girl, misunderstanding that sex is not love. Lizard, lost in his cultural identity but tied to Harlan through their mutual love of music. Lucille, his mother’s best friend whose living large life plays an important role in so many ways. His “Banty rooster” mother, Emma and his hardworking father, Sam, desperate to help Harlan overcome his demons. John Smith, a childhood friend, who Harlan loves like a brother from another mother. And my favorite, Louis Armstrong, whose heart and soul makes everyone’s day beautiful.

colored-only-sign[The Harlam band bus arrived in Augusta, Georgia and discovered all the colored-only hotels full. As the band prepared to settle in their bus seats for the night, Harlan sleepily says…]

“We passed a hotel not a mile down the road with a vacancy sign!  Boy, this ain’t Harlem…This here is Jim Crow territory…That sign is for white-folks only.”

Storyline
Harlan’s grandfather, The Reverend T.M. Robinson of the Cotton Way Baptist Church in Macon, GA had come a long way from his slavery days in Charleston.  The Reverend had hitched his star to Jesus and in no time his successful ministry provided a high quality life for his wife and children in the “highfalutin” colored section of town.

The Robinson’s youngest child, Emma, a gifted pianist, enjoyed the niceties provided by her father’s success but somewhere in the mystery of conception had picked up some stray gene that drove her to sample the seamier side of life.  When her biological timer went off in her teen years, she began a secret relationship with Sam Elliott, a local carpenter. The lovebirds kept their tryst going right up until she blew her father’s mind with the news she would need a shotgun wedding.

The teenage newlyweds weren’t ready for adulthood let alone parenting. Emma’s itch to leave Macon was stronger than her need to care for her new child. They had no clue where they were headed but it had to be out of Georgia and that meant leaving little Harlan to be raised in the same environment she was escaping.

Harlan, much like his mother, enjoyed a carefree life in the Robinson home. He learned early on that he liked getting his own way and to hell with everyone else’s feelings. His grandparent’s failure to hold him accountable for his behavior or to develop empathy and compassion would haunt all his future relationships. He achieved his happiness by modeling his grandfather’s self-important behavior. (This self-aggrandized manner would later drag friends into situations they would most likely never do otherwise.) When he was 11, his beloved grandfather died.  This death and the unexpected decision by his grieving grandmother to hand him over to his parents care marked the first of many times he would be forced to forge “a new life.”

Sam, Emma and Harlan moved to the epicenter for Negro jazz and blues music, Harlem. Emma had big dreams of emulating her best friend,  Lucille, a popular Negro recording singer, making her mark in the heady world of the Harlem Renaissance.

jazzmenWhile living in Harlem, Harlan discovered his inherited music talent following in love with the guitar. When he dropped out of school at 16 to pursue a musical career, Lucille took him on band tours through the United States. With little supervision and poor adult role models, Harlan found drugs, alcohol and sex. These new vices drew him deeper and deeper in their grasp until he no longer was reliable to the band. You don’t bite the hand that feeds you; Lucille fired him.

While nursing a grudge, Harlan befriends another musician named Lizard and in time the two form the Harlem World Band.  In 1940, the band headlines at a cabaret in France. The group is shocked to see that Paris is colorblind with no whites-only barriers. But there is the unsettling concern among the French citizenry that the marauding Nazis might choose to invade France. Harlen sees the music still playing and the booze flowing and believes he will be long gone before trouble arrives.

When trouble arrives shockingly quick, the Nazi flag and soldiers fill the streets, Harlan refuses to take it seriously. He has a ticket booked on a steamer for New York in a couple of days. Harlan sweet talks his terrified friends into partying heartily right up until the time to leave. Heading back to the hotel after a crazy night of partying, a man steps from the shadows and asks for a light. The rest of the group recognizes the Nazi uniform and senses the danger but Harlan, as usual, has to pull the tiger’s tail. In the may-lei, the women race away but Harlan and Lizard are beaten and taken captive.

Harlan and Lizard are sent to Buchenwald Concentration Camp where they encounter the “Bitch of Buchenwald”, the wife of the Commandant. Ilse Koch loves to torture and she does it so well. This portion of the book is heavy and hard to read. Harlan survives five years of torture before the Allies rescue him.

The feisty Harlan has been replaced by a shell of man finding it safer to bury the horror. To talk about it would be reliving it. His parents and friends do what they can to try to reach him but he has retracted into a world none of them can comprehend.

The ending is bittersweet with a twist of revenge and shred of hope.

Highly recommended.

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The Life We Bury

the-life-we-bury

format_quoteI remember being pestered by a sense of dread as I walked to my car that day, pressed down by a wave of foreboding that swirled around my head…If I had known how that drive would change so many things- would I have taken a safer path?

The Life We Buryblood-splatter4-md

by Allen Eskins

Seventh Street Books | 2014
Paperback  | 300 pages
ISBN: 978-1-61614-998-7
Genre: Fiction/Murder Mystery
Review Source: Personal Copy

★★★★  4/5 stars

blue-ridge-readersThe first time I water-skied (and stayed upright) I remember the exhilarating thrill of being pulled up rapidly onto the surface of the water and the feeling of flying out of control in the wake of the boat.

The opening paragraph of The Life We Bury left me feeling that I was up on my skis and heading into one hell of a story, as it too, careened out of control. Allen Eskins’ debut novel measures right up there with the best for suspense and drama. Things start out small and build and build until you are holding your breath as the plot reaches its climax. And the final chapters bring you back to a soft landing with a real feel good ending.

What makes this book so special to me are the well crafted parallel story lines.  The hardships of a self-funded college program are difficult enough but Eskens has tossed Joey other battles such as abuse of the disabled, parental alcoholism, mental illness, caregiver stress and the emotional struggles of dealing with an out of control bi-polar mother.  Other topics that certainly were explosive and thought provoking include vivid descriptions of Vietnam service and religious fundamentalism.

Joey Talbert, 20, recently left home in the dead of night, not to join the circus he says, but to avoid the heated argument certain to occur if he told his mother he was leaving to attend college. The hard part was leaving behind his beloved severely autistic brother, Jeremy Naylor. His wildly erratic alcoholic mother, Kathy Nelson would have pitched a fit if she had had a chance to stop him.

His decision to attend the University of Minnesota was so last minute that his class choices were limited and he had to fulfill his English language requirement with Biography English.  His term project was to interview an elderly person to “tell about the struggles and forks in the road that made them who they are.”  Without living grandparents he needed to find an elderly person pronto so the obvious place was a nursing home. Hillview Manor had more than its share of elderly but only one resident still had all his marbles, Carl Iverson.

Carl Iverson had arrived at Hillview Manor straight from Stillwater Correctional Facility where he served 30 years of a life sentence for the horrific rape and murder of a teenage cheerleader. Carl’s life sentence would end soon as he was dying of pancreatic cancer. With little choice, Joey reflected that at least his biography project of the life and times of a deranged murderer would be unique. While he waited to see if Carl would agree to be interviewed, Joey did research on the murder.

“I found a picture [of Carl Iverson] in the bowels of the University of Minnesota’s Wilson Library… The archive room had the feel of a tabernacle, with millions of souls packed away on microfilm like incense in tiny jars, waiting for someone to free their essence to be felt, tasted, inhaled again, if only for a moment.”

The moment they meet sparks fly. In a scene somewhat less traumatic than Clarice and Hannibal Lector, Carl and Joey agree to answer each other’s questions honestly – quid pro quo.  And thus begins a hair-raising experience that nearly costs Joey his life. Carl’s biography evolves into much more than a college project and as the suspense builds you want to hold Joey back… don’t go there!

Threaded through the main arc of the story is a tender friendship that eventually leads to a deepening love relationship between Joey and his neighbor, Lila.  And I just had to save mentioning my favorite part until the end – the deep love between brothers. Jeremy’s story brought tears to my eyes.

Highly recommended.  Fabulous book club selection!

AWARDS

Winner—Rosebud Award, Best First Mystery Novel
Finalist—Edgar® Award, Best First Novel
Finalist—Anthony Award, Best First Novel
Finalist—Minnesota Book Award, Best Genre Fiction
Finalist—Barry Award, Best Paperback Original Novel
Finalist—Thriller Award, Best First Novel
Best Books of 2014 (debut), Suspense Magazine
Best Debut Novel of 2014, MysteryPeople
A LibraryReads pick, October 2014
Library Journal Editor’s Pick, fall 2014
Amazon Editor’s Pick, “Books We Loved” 2014

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The Invoice

The invoice

The Invoice

by Jonas Karlsson

Hogarth/Crown| July 2016
Hardcover: 208 pages
ISBN: 978-1-101-90514-2
Genre: Fiction/Humor/Satire

ARC Paperback from LibraryThing/Early Readers in exchange for an unbiased review.

Published as “Fakturan” in the short story collection Spelrelerna by Wahlstrom & Widstrand (2011)

★★★☆☆

Having read several emotionally draining books recently I went on a search through my to-be-read books and decided it was time to read something lighter and fluffier. I picked up the tiny book, The Invoice, and read the book synopsis I had printed out when I received it from the publisher.  The blurb described the book as hilarious, profound, and achingly true-to-life- Jonas Karlsson’s new novel explores the true nature of happiness through the eyes of hero you won’t soon forget.

Sounded perfect to me!  So let me get it off my chest right away. I didn’t find it hilarious and profound. In some respects it felt achingly true-to-life. My overall impression was that it should have been left as a short story.

Now with all that negative bluster let me tell you what I did like about the book.

Description
The unnamed Swedish protagonist lives a very simple life. By day he works part-time at Jugges Flicks spending most of his time staring out the window or re-watching classic films. By night he dines on take-outs from the same restaurants, favors the same ice cream parlor and reminisces over good times with a lost love and old friends that have married and moved on. He loves his low-rent apartment with the crushed cushion couch.

A strange letter appears in his mail one day that, at first, seemed a joke. The letter was an invoice from some outfit called WRD and claimed he owed 5.7 million kronor for EH. The figure was so outrageous and the abstract nature of the invoice had to be a joke or at best a mistake so he tossed it aside. But soon a second invoice arrived with added interest for late payment from a debt collection agency and he was rattled to his core.

Calling the help line for WRD resulted in an experience familiar to anyone calling a major customer service number...your expected wait time is..…..  “What can I do for you?” Must have been a mistake. “No mistake.” I didn’t order anything. “Don’t you read the papers, watch television or keep up the news?”  I had to admit I didn’t. “Well“, she said. “It’s time to pay up.”…What am I supposed to be paying for? “Everything.” What do you mean…everything? “Look around you..” I see clouds, people, children playing, trees… “What do you feel?”  Happy.  “What do you smell?” Something cooking, garbage, flowers… “Do you imagine all that is free? I thought so. “Being alive costs.

The remainder of the book describes his thoughts, telephone conversations with the customer service clerk named Maud, and his interactions with the honchos at WRD.

Just so you won’t go crazy trying to find the meaning of WRD and EH I will tell you. WRD is World Resources Distribution and EH is Experienced Happiness. Every human has been sliced and diced through some complicated system that evaluates their life from birth to present resulting in the cost of acquiring their EH.

My thoughts and feelings
As I said earlier, I didn’t find the satire hysterically funny. But then, I don’t usually read satire. I did find the time he spent as a young man with his girlfriend, Sunita, lovely but immature. His siphoning friend, Roger, needs to get a job and his own life. Our Swede misses his mother and has buried his grief. And the story has a happy ending. No need for a tissue or regret.

So in the end I did have to admit that I had some deep personal thoughts about happiness and what is “true” happiness. As I live a life somewhat remote and hermit-like myself, I did question whether I was happy (I think so) or am I keeping conflict away and outside.

So here’s what I concluded. If you are taking a flight, riding shotgun on a long trip, or basking in the sun and want an easy read this book is for you. It took about 4 hours to read. I read slowly. It won’t offend you and it might cause you to reevaluate your place in the world.

P.S. I hate anonymous characters so I decided to call him Olaf in my mind.

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Managing Bubbie

hot bubbie

Bubbies book

 

Managing Bubbie

by Russel Lazega

Managing Bubbie netgalley

CreateSpace| 2015
Hardcover: 244 pages
ISBN: 978-1499126297
Genre: Memoir/Jewish Culture/Holocaust

ARC  E-book from Netgalley in exchange for an unbiased review.

★★★★★ 5/5

Winner of 20 Book Awards!

“I vant you should make this book.”

Shortly after Lea Lezega’s grandson, Russel, finished college, his Bubbie tells him, again she might add, he must write about her life. It would make them all millionaires! She is certain! Years pass before Russel grabs a pen and starts researching truth from fiction in Bubba’s stories. Ten long years of interviews and document searches confirm that Bubbie indeed led one hell of a life.

And tell the story her eynikl, Russel Lazega has done!  Bubbie would be very proud! Hang on to your reading glasses… As Bubbie says,My life – oy! my life is full of crazy stories.”

Lea Lazega, the ultimate Jewish Bubbie to her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, is straight out of a Neil Simon play with over-sized tortoise-shell glasses and that instantly recognizable Yiddish accent percolating invectives at one or more family members.  The book opens in Miami in 1987 with Bubbie telling Cousin Leon some far-fetched theory that Ronald Reagan is her long-lost half brother. Trying to follow Lea’s logic feels like running headlong through a corn maze blindfolded.

Nearing the end of her “golden years”, Bubbie finds her body failing her unrivaled spunk and she is as offended by its physical weakness as she was by the murderous Nazis. Despite her better interests she struggles to be the manager of the situation, not the managed. Her family struggles to keep her out of trouble. She has always done what she wants regardless of the rules of civilized and uncivilized society. It is a battle of wits and Bubbie, as she has done throughout her life, wins!

No assisted living facility in Florida will accept her …She’s worn out 6 already…2 in one month! She’s been blacklisted. “She just won’t follow the rules!” Yet in the midst of trying to make her final years comfortable and hitting brick walls,  the younger family members see the strong amazing woman that towed her young family threw hell and back to outwit the Nazis as they muscled their way through Europe.

Lea was born in 1911 in a small desolate Polish village, a child of a skirt-chasing flirt determined to become a world famous entertainer and an iron-willed mother striving to turn her man into a husband. Her parents had just returned to Poland following a five year stint in America; one of Isaac’s misguided efforts to become rich and famous gone horribly awry. There was one good thing that did happen in America. Esther gave birth to Lea’s sister, Evelyn making Evelyn a US citizen and at the first opportunity she returned. Lea, growing up in Poland, a young victim of anti-Semitic bullying and discrimination vowed to follow her sister. I promise mineself then that I’m going to America- No matter vat, I’m going to follow my sister to the greatest country in the world- America.

Lea’s first chance at a new life took her to Brussels, Belgium where her menial sewing factory job didn’t improve her living conditions but it did provide her freedom from her battling parents and the bullies. Soon after, she married a timid tailor and life was rosy with Lea in charge. When rumors of German mistreatment of Jews in far off European countries sifted into everyday conversation in Belgium, Bubbie’s radar told her she needed to leave Europe and head to America.

With one ear to the ground for safety for her family, Lea haunted the halls of governments from Belgium through France and into Spain to obtain those all important documents needed to reach America. Bombs crushed cities, Nazis prowled the streets and countries fell but Lea never lost sight of her goal. So many close calls but always outwitting the enemy. Hunger and abhorrent living conditions never slowed her drive. As always, rules never applied to Lea. Line up, sign up, hands up…not Lea. Her winter passage on foot through the deadly Pyrenees mountains into Spain with her babies was awe-inspiring. And in the end, Lea planted her flag- in America.

Russel has done a phenomenal job of telling Bubbie’s life scattering humorous moments in America with her life during the Holocaust. I guarantee you will cheer her victories and huddle with her in those terror filled moments-just inches from death. He vividly describes Lea and the children cowering behind a large rock in the Pyrenees too afraid to build a fire for warmth against Bubbie’s fury at Ed McMahon for telling her falsely she had won $10 million dollars. Sue him Russel, sue him for me!

I can’t say enough good things about this book. Highly recommended for book clubs.

I conclude with one more story from Bubbie. Listening to President Reagan on TV visiting a War Memorial in Europe. Reagan: For four long years, much of Europe had been under a terrible shadow…Free nations had fallen, Jews cried out in the camps, millions cried out for liberation…Bubbie with a tearful eye and a broken smile answers, “Oy, Brother you don’t know the half of it.”

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The Sunlight Pilgrims

Sunlight PilgrimsThe Sunlight Pilgrims

by Jenni Fagan

Hogarth/Crown | 2016
Hardcover: 288 pages
ISBN: 978-0-553-41887-3
Genre: Fiction/Survivalism/Dystopias

ARC Hardcover from Blogging for Books and E-copy from edelweiss in exchange for an unbiased review.

★★★★☆

format_quoteThere are three suns in the sky and it is the last day of autumn-perhaps forever…Parhelia...Some say it is the end of times…Icicles will grow to the size of narwhal tusks, or the long bony finger of winter herself… Penitents. B-blizzardmaninsnow.jpglin’-drift. Owerblaw…Snowflakes cartwheel out of the sky……..

Sunlight Pilgrims-
Prologue

The melting of the polar ice has reached its most extreme. Worldwide temperatures are plummeting rapidly. Winter has arrived early and getting worse every day without any uptick. Experts say it might never leave. Temperatures dropping as winter advances -15°F… -30°F … -70°F. Sea water contaminated with fresh water and frozen as far from shore as can be seen with the naked eye. Snowfall depths are unprecedented worldwide. Many believe a new Ice Age has begun.

A setting this catastrophic would seem to be the focal point of the story when in reality it is only the set dressing; choosing to focus instead on the minutia of humanity and three individuals specifically amid the uncertain future of the planet.

quoteDylan McRae, 38, mourns the recent deaths of his mother and grandmother. If his heavy grief wasn’t burden enough, he learns their home and source of family income, an old London movie theater named Babylon, has gone into bankruptcy. His mother’s will contained surprising news of a caravan he now owns in a small Scottish caravan park in the middle of God knows where.  She asked that he spread both women’s ashes in a remote Scottish village, his grandmother’s birth place. Gathering up what belongings he could fit into his mother’s old suitcase including Grandmother Gunn in an ice cream container and Mum in a sandwich box he heads north facing the rapidly approaching deep winter. His plans are to sell the caravan after fulfilling his mother’s last request and head back south to some where warm like Vietnam or Cambodia.

Upon arriving at caravan #7 on Ash Lane he briefly spots a young girl in the window next door. Later in the night he is awakened to a strange noise and discovers a sleepwalking woman hoovering up the street before entering the caravan next door. Reentering the street with a dust-cloth she reaches up and polishes the moon.

The young girl next door is 12 year old Stella Fairbairn. Precocious, bold, foul mouthed and outspoken, Stella arrives on his doorstep to quiz Dylan about his arrival and relationship to the last visitor to that caravan; Vivienne- his mother. Stella has been a girl for the past thirteen months.  Previously she was a boy named Cael. Stella has always felt she was a girl. No doubts. She is bullied at school and obsessed about the changes puberty will bring locking her inside a male body forever.

Constance Fairbairn, Stella’s mother and the moon polisher, is a free spirit and a survivalist answering to no one.  Stella believes she knows just about everything and should go back to teaching. Was she a teacher? We don’t learn if she was but she does have a great deal of trivial knowledge. Constance earns her living removing furniture from the homes of the dead and scouring the town dump for items to be re-purposed.  Her life style and romantic choices have made her the central focus of town gossip primarily for maintaining two on-going and simultaneous 20 year affairs… the result of which yielded young Stella…or as her father prefers Cael.

Constance’s story is more obscure as she has pretty much found her own voice and is happy with her life. We learn what we know about her past from the conversations between Dylan, Stella and other minor (but very interesting) characters. Dylan finds a sketch book left by his mother and discovers family secrets that shake his world and the reason his mother bought that particular caravan. Stella begins to shed false friends unable to support her transgender status at the same time yearns for love and acceptance often daydreaming of a normal life as a wife and mother.

As Dylan, Constance and Stella’s lives are revealed in the light of day, winter shrinks their days and threatens their very survival. When they venture outside, we learn that amidst the approaching apocalypse there is sublime beauty only nature can provide.

Thoughts

  • Transgender coverage was very real and will perhaps give many readers a different perspective and hopefully more compassion and empathy. For me personally, I guess I never realized how brave and courageous someone would have to be to present themselves openly and honestly to the world.
  • Grief has no time limits. Dylan’s story dragged on and on just as it does in real life often stressing friendships and relationships.
  • Love.  Many unique perspectives of love.
  • Survival. Are any of us ready to face a new Ice Age. How would you behave trying to feed your family or keep them warm temperatures at -70°F and with over 10 feet of snow trapped.  The world is trapped. Would you survive?

In the end I was glad that I had done some research on the book before I read it.  It helped to know that the pace of the book would be very slow. As I expected in a true tragic situation, simple life goes on amid life altering outside influences.

Recommended.

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Entwined:

entwined cover
Entwined-

Joyce Wallace Scott

Beacon Press
2016
215 pages

978-0-8070-5140-5
Memoir/Twins

ARC: Hardcover copy from Library Thing’s Early Readers in exchange for an unbiased review.

★★★★★

Few times in my life can I claim to be speechless and really mean it! joyce and judyThis is one of those times. The lives of these two remarkable women will affect you forever.

Joyce Wallace Scott wrote this heart-wrenching memoir to honor her beloved twin sister, Judith. Judy was born with Down’s Syndrome and developed Scarlet Fever as an infant that left her with undiagnosed deafness. Judy, unable to respond to verbal test questions, was thought to be severely retarded with an IQ of 30 and without the ability to live a meaningful life. At 7 years old, under the advice of doctors, she was made a ward of the State of Ohio and discarded like a factory reject. Judy was taken away in the dead of night without any warning to her twin, Joyce, and warehoused for 35 years in the most inhumane circumstances.

The first seven years of their childhood, Judy and Joyce were bonded in a voiceless communion. Too young to understand the cold and seemingly heartless parenting of their mother, Joyce became more than a twin by accepting the role of guardian and caregiver to Judy. With the abrupt severing of their union, Joyce, over the next 35 years, struggled with the ever present loss of “her other self”. As young child, Joyce’s visits to Judy are heartbreaking as she has to continuously beg an adult to take her.

In her search for a way to fill the void, Joyce makes several bad personal decisions, one that results in abandonment by her mother at a time in her life she needed her most. Despite all of her own pain, Joyce never loses sight of Judy’s loveless circumstances.

As an adult, Joyce takes action to become Judith’s guardian welding the two hearts together again. In seeking the best board and care arrangement for Judy, Joyce also learns about Creative Growth Art Center, where adults with disabilities are given free reign to express themselves in the arts. Judy slow rolled into the program but when she found her artistic medium she ignited.

In the last 18 years of her life, this lovely little woman found her voice using fiber art. No one understood Judy’s language or what inspired her work but everyone can feel the message emotionally and visually. Although Judy died in 2005, her silent art can be heard in museums all over the world long after her death.

I find it impossible to describe the resilience and strength these twins revealed throughout their lives.  I highly recommend this memoir be added to every library collection and would make a superb book club choice.

 

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Smooth Operator

smooth operator

Smooth Operator

by Stuart Woods and Parnell Hall

G.P. Putnam’s Sons| August 2016
Series: Teddy Faye #1 (with Stone Barrington)
Hardcover: 339 pages
ISBN: 9780399185267
Genre: Fiction/Suspense/Private Investigators

ARC: E-book from First To Read in exchange for an unbiased review.

★★★☆☆

Galloping Galoshes! Why haven’t I gotten back to Stuart Woods’ books sooner? They always entertain and take you on a suspenseful run through the underworld. Over time I drifted away from my tried and true favorite authors to sample debut authors and different genres. Thanks to First To Read and Penguin Random House I was offered a chance to read Smooth Operator prior to publication.

It felt like I had run into an old friend at the supermarket! The kind of friend where it may have been years since you saw each other but you just pick up conversation like it was yesterday.

Smooth Operator begins a new series featuring Stone Barrington’s friend, Teddy Faye. Much like Clancy’s Jack Ryan or Ian Fleming’s James Bond, Teddy Faye is a master at lethal force and one man wrecking ball.  A former CIA agent, Faye “could disguise himself as anyone” and appear as a distinguished head of state or a bumbling investigator like Colombo.  Before leaving the CIA, he eliminated any trace of his existence. “For all intents and purposes, Teddy Faye had ceased to exist.” And he preferred it that way.

When the college-aged daughter of the Speaker of the House is kidnapped, Faye’s status as a phantom agent makes him the perfect person to unravel this unfathomable mystery. As he threads his way through the waste waters of the criminal world to save the girl, the mystery deepens, the US Congress is threatened and bullets fly.

What can you say about a good cheesy story that has you flipping pages?  There are weaknesses. If you haven’t read previous Stuart Woods books you might not understand the much beloved friendships between fan favorite characters appearing here to help introduce Teddy Faye to the world of “secret agent man”.  Personally I am willing to suspend judgement on the somewhat thin plot lines and the tendency for the story to bog down in places.  Can’t wait for the next book! Just met the guy. Have to give him a chance to get up to speed.

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