Tag Archives: Fiction

TRAVELING CAT CHRONICLES

★★★★★

Did you know that cats possess the widest range of vocalizations of any domestic pet? Hiro Arikawa’s wildly popular Japanese novel adds a twist by giving a human voice to a sassy stray cat that let’s us know he has kept himself alive for one full year, without a name and human help, thank you very much. 

The simple story has a deep meaning that becomes clearer and clearer before tenderly breaking your heart in the last forty pages. The two main characters, the sassy cat and his master, Satoru Miyawaki, a gentle man with a quiet nature, remain with me long after I finished this fictional gem.  

The hood of that silver van was my favorite place to sleep. Why there? Because no one would ever shoo me away. Even in winter, the sun made it all warm and toasty, the perfect spot for a daytime nap. One day I suddenly sensed a warm, intense gaze upon me…A tall, lanky young man, staring down at me…

And so began the perfect life from the cat’s point of view. The man would place a little food under the van and the cat would allow the man to stroke him in exchange. This worked right up until the day the cat had a run-in with a hit-and-run driver. 

Satoru rescued the injured cat and the two soon developed a deeply satisfying five-year relationship. Their conversations are charming and will warm your heart. It reminded me of the old tv show, The Odd Couple and the snappy repartee between Oscar and Felix. Satoru, named him Nana, as his tail resembled the Japanese character for the number seven. 

Now wait just a second, Isn’t Nana a girl’s name? I’m a fully fledged, hot-blooded male. In what universe does that make sense?

In a move that surprises the readers as much as Nana, Satoru, now about 30 years-old, tells him they are going to take a road trip together –  to find Nana a new home. 

“Nana, I’m sorry. I ‘m really sorry it’s come to this. I never intended to let you go.”

No need to explain. I’m quick on the uptake… so don’t look so glum, chum.

As they travel from one childhood friend’s home to the next along their journey, Satoru’s earlier story unfolds like an onion; an apt metaphor. Each layer revealing another sad chapter, that somehow, Satoru overcomes keeping his remarkably upbeat attitude. The odd duo crisscross Japan in the hopes of finding a new home for Nana. Each old friend seems willing to accept Nana, often with conditions and a promise to feed but not pamper. At each stop along the way, Satoru manages to avoid revealing the reason he needs to leave Nana. Just when it looks like Nana will have a new home, the cat, fiercely loyal to his master, sabotages the transfer.

In the end, Satoru realizes he just can’t part with Nana. The lonely man and the loyal sidekick take a long tour of the highs and lows of Japan together; traveling from Mount Fuji to the beautiful sandy beaches. Along the miles, the reader begins to understand Satoru’s secrets. As the sun sets on their journey, Satoru will find peace and the reader will have a good cry. 

Highly recommended reading for everyone; not just cat lovers.

 

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LITTLE: a novel

Fictionalized Life
little and quote

What comes to mind when you hear the name – Madame Tussaud? The answer most likely will be wax museum. How did a tiny six-year-old orphan, born in the turbulent atmosphere of 18th century France, become so renowned that we know of her accomplishments today?

Truth be known, even the author found contemporaneous clues hard to find; but it wasn’t for the lack of trying to piece it together. He spent fifteen years searching, including actually working in France at Madame Tussaud’s museum, where he gazed at will upon her original wax works that included the wax heads of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette molded from their freshly guillotined heads. The one original wax work that inspired him the most was the self-portrait Madame Tussaud made of herself in wax.

Madame Tussaud was born Anna Maria “Marie” Grosholtz in 1761. She became Madame Tussaud when she married a scumbag named Francois Tussaud and bore him two sons. But I am getting ahead of myself.

Marie Grosholtz became a servant at the tender age of six-years-old. That meant she didn’t have a life of her own; she was subject to the whims and orders of her employer. She was, in some ways, better off than the starving peasants living outside the towns who suffered indescribable living conditions. She remained controlled by her Master until she was incarcerated and sentenced to death during the revolt. She received a reprieve at the last minute and lived to the ripe old age of 89 years-old.

Marie Grosholtz was abnormally small at birth and unfortunately inherited her mother’s out-sized proboscis and her father’s cup hook chin. By adulthood, she was four feet and smidge tall. This small woman looked like a child with a “Punch and Judy” face.

Marie’s father died from a war injury when she was very young. Her mother, a destitute widow with a tiny child, became a reluctant housekeeper for an eccentric and reclusive doctor whose specialty was crafting anatomically accurate wax models from body parts for medical students. Marie’s mother, grieving and morbidly depressed by circumstances, committed suicide leaving six-year-old Marie, nicknamed Little, in the care of the unorthodox Doctor Philippe Curtius. Curtius would never have won “parent of the year”, but in his own way, he set up Marie for success in the future by training her in the art plaster casting and wax modeling. Together they expanded his trade from body parts to wax face masks, and later, full-head “portraits”.

Benjamin Franklin

The pair moved to Paris where Doctor Curtius hoped to fill his collection with the powerful and famous. Curtius rented space in the home of a seamstress, the Widow Picot, a repugnant character interested only in her own well- being. She was so repelled by the sight of Marie that she forced her to live in a barely habitable part of the kitchen. Not once in the ensuing years did the cowardly Curtius take his tiny protege’s side. The weak-kneed simp, played for a fool by Picot, was kowtowed into giving her control over his collection of disembodied wax heads. Undaunted, the curious and inquisitive, Little, managed to keep an upbeat attitude and found ways to stay useful and involved in the wax business and to be near Curtius.

The crafty Picot, seizing the opportunity to use her ingenuity, brought the wax models to life with clothing and staging them in an appropriate setting. The public lined up in droves to view the death masks of murderers and the provocative faces of  the famous. The income poured in enriching everyone… except Marie.

Marie’s life changed when Princess Elizabeth, sister of King Louis XVI, made an appearance in the museum. The spoiled princess, herself an ugly duckling, took a shine to Marie and invited her to Versailles. Widow Picot and Doctor Curtius were not in a position to refuse the Princess. Once at the palace, Marie was showered with endearments and soon found herself sharing secrets and private time with the Princess. When it is learned that Marie was skilled in the new technique of plaster casting and wax modeling, she had a steady line of the famous and rich interested in creating a likeness of themselves. Sadly, over the years, Marie made the mistake of interpreting attention for affection; she was still a servant, the change, just geography.

The years passed. As the atmosphere outside the palace became more heated, the Monarchy sensed their subjects were ready to revolt and feared for their lives. Marie was abruptly returned to Widow Picot’s home, where things there had changed as well. The Royals weren’t the only people fearful for their lives. The angry crowds were targeting anyone better off or successful.

The world in Paris turned bloody and brutal. Bodies lined the streets. Eager crowds gathered round the guillotine to watch the daily beheadings. The jails were filled with the guilty and innocent alike; Widow Picot and Marie among them. It was truly hell on earth. Imprisoned in a tower, Marie found the strength of character to look beyond her own needs to provide care and compassion for the sickly Widow; throwing aside any bad history between them. I found myself sad when the bewildered and failing Widow Picot’s name appeared on the list to be executed.

Marie was freed from jail through intersession of an old friend in exchange for the grisly task of making death  wax models of the newly executed that included people that she knew intimately from Versailles.

During this turbulent time, a dying Doctor Curtius, found his way home to unexpectedly find Marie there. She cared for him to his death, re-establishing the bond they had long before moving to Paris.

My master’s lawyer was the person who told me that there was a will, and the details written therein. “Everything to one person”, he said, “to you.”  

And with that news, Marie, once again, stoically, picked up the pieces and started over, becoming Madame Tussaud. This time she achieved her freedom and thrived. Raising that mighty chin, she was never to be under anyone’s control again.

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LITTLE PARIS BOOKSHOP

This is a story about a floating barge converted to a book store named the Literary Apothecary. Well, maybe not so much about the barge and more about Jean Perdu, the barge owner, who has withdrawn emotionally for over 20 years following an unexplained romantic breakup by his lover, Manon.

Jean Perdu has an uncanny ability and a liability. He instinctively knows just the book to help solve problems for perfect strangers but he hasn’t been able to help his own stunted life. For over 20 years he has a room in his apartment that he has never entered. Behind that door lies the life he once shared with his love, Manon.

A new neighbor, Caroline, a victim of an adulterous marriage and divorce, moves into his apartment building. He reluctantly enters his inviolate “Manon space” to retrieve a table for her. Caroline finds an unopened letter in the table and returns it to him. The sight of that unsealed letter triggers deep memories. When he finally reads the 20 year-old letter, Perdu begins the travel to the bottom of his heart and then slowly begins to make his way up to a fulfilled life.

There is deep symbolism as Perdu takes refuge on his floating barge and releases the boat from its mooring. The journey begins as an escape to sea but as more and more eccentric characters take refuge with him on the barge, he begins to feel again. At first without understanding what he is doing and finally with purpose, Perdu seeks to find out what happened to Manon.

Before Perdu leaves Paris, he and Caroline had begun to sense a strong bond. He strives to keep the embers of this new relationship alive through letters as he seeks to put out the flames from his old life.

The storyline floats through the lens of fiction and non-fiction works shelved on the barge. As Jean and others bring these works to life through discussion, the remarkably crafted quotes tickle a reaction in the reader as well as the characters.

It has taken me a few weeks to mull over my overall feelings for the book. I only rated the book in the end as a three star because I just never really felt pulled into the book. I disliked Manon and finally decided that Jean needed a good slap in the head to have wiled away 20 years of precious life over a lost love. There were some great moments but in the end things just took sooooo long to resolve. Remember, this is just my opinion. I suggest that everyone read the book and come to your own conclusions.

Thank you, Netgalley and Blogging for Books, for the opportunity to read this book and give my honest review.

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VIRGIL WANDER: a novel

VIRGIL WANDER

Leif Enger

If I were to pinpoint when the world began reorganizing itself- that is, when my seeing of it began to shift – it would be the day a stranger named Rune ble

fire hydrant kite

w into our bad luck town of Greenstone, Minnesota, like a spark from the boreal gloom.”

The imaginary town of Greenstone, Minnesota lies somewhere along a remote section of shoreline on Lake Superior. A town that lost its luster and raison d’être after reaching the tail-end of a mining and shipping boom. Long-time residents of Greenstone weren’t surprised when the mines closed and the cargo ships sailed away for the last time. Bad luck has always been around the corner; this was just more of the same.

Greenstone folks are remarkable people. They don’t sit around wringing their hands waiting for the other shoe to drop on them. They just hitch up and help out the person currently caught sideways by the town’s curse. Oh, there are the gossipers, the skeptics, the suspicious, the troublemakers, the confused – but overall decent folks that somehow manage to find purpose enough to stay in the dying town but lack the courage to leave.

icy headlightSo when Virgil Wander, their  part-time town clerk and full- time owner of their decaying local movie theater, skidded off that icy cliff into Lake Superior and his airbag temporarily scrambled his brain, the town sighed, and added his woes to their infinite list of bad luck stories.

This is Virgil’s story to tell. It’s a story about rebirth and second chances. A story of love lost and love found. A story of hope, sadness, compassion, humor, and friendship that forever bonds a town together. There’s a bit of mystery, danger, and intrigue. This is a story told in that stereotypical simplicity of the mid-West; little said but much meant.  It’s a complicated but comfortable story filled with many lovable (and some not so lovable) characters.

It begins the day Virgil wakes up in the hospital after his accident.  He discovers his “storehouse of English had been pillaged” and his cranial gyroscope off tilt. He was most distressed to lose his adjectives but happy to find a few nouns and the essential verbs still there.

His first day back home at the Empress leaves Virgil conflicted. He knows it is his home but everything is off. Struggling to understand his new perspective of himself and the town in general, Virgil absentmindedly takes a walk through town ending up at the abandoned waterfront pier.

Standing on the far edge of the pier is “a threadbare stranger [with] eight-day whiskers and fisherman hands, a pipe in his mouth like a mariner in a fable, and a question in his eyes”. A brightly colored kite is tucked under his arm. The sad old man recently learned that years ago, while on a brief visit to the United States from Norway, he had fathered a child; a son. Returning now, he hoped to meet his son only to learn that he disappeared years ago and is presumed dead.

The two men, each lost in their own thoughts, chatted amicably. Out of the blue, Rune says, “Perhaps you knew my son? He lived here.” Shortly after that, the wind rustled the water and the kite left Rune’s arms to rise high into the sky; as time after time, Rune’s kites will lift the spirits of the town folk during his quest to bring his son alive in memory.

Virgil will fare much better than Humpty Dumpty; he will be able to put most of his pieces back together again. The new Virgil has a bright future and grateful for that second chance.

As for town itself, no worries. The folks learned to face their “hard luck” head on and make lemonade out of lemons. As you flip those final pages and wave goodbye, you will do so with a smile.

Recommended reading for those days when you need a lift into imagination and magic.

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LIES: a novel


It’s a Mummy car. Look, Daddy!
Good spot, matey… It does look like Mummy’s car.
I squinted, trying to make out the
[license plate].

It was her car.
The VW turned into a Premier Inn.
Can we see Mummy?
Can we, can we, can we?

I made a spur-of-the-moment decision
that would change my life.

Let’s go surprise, Mummy.

What’s cuter than a dad and a four-year-old playing car bingo? A kid with his first School Superstar “cerstiff-a kit”. Little Wills spots his mother’s car in traffic and his intense need to share his pride with his mother melts his father’s heart. They track her car into an underground hotel parking garage and bolt upstairs to greet her. Joe comes to a skidding stop when he spots Mel (Mellisa) in the hotel lobby in a heated argument with Ben Delaney, a neighbor. Ben was screaming at her. Joe quickly frog-marches Wills back to the car to wait for Mel.

lies graphicMel swiftly exits the elevator and never sees them before leaving quickly in her car. Once more the elevator door opens and Ben walks out.  When Joe begins to ask about Mel, Ben becomes violent. Refusing to fight the smaller man, Joe gives him a little shove to put space between them, causing Ben to trip over his briefcase and landing on his head on the concrete floor unresponsive with blood trickling out of his ear.

The stress induces a Richter scale asthma attack in Wills. The spare inhaler is not in the car and Wills is in trouble. The two crises force Joe to make a decision – get help for Ben or get help for Wills. Wills wins but Joe does return to find Ben and his car gone along with Joe’s cellphone that he had dropped in the altercation.

With Ben gone, Joe is left to puzzle out the conversation that flipped out Ben. Joe had been pressing Ben about Mel when suddenly Ben shouted, “Just leave it! You have no idea! You’re so f***ing dense that you haven’t seen it, have you?” Just before he fell.

As Joe seeks answers, his warm and fuzzy world begins to fall apart. Ben is nowhere to be found but Joe knows he is alive; he gets regularly cell phone and Facebook messages from him.

Beth, Mel’s best friend and Ben’s wife files a missing person report. The search for Ben gets darker and darker as evidence points to foul play and seems to implicate Joe. On the other side of the equation, Ben’s messages to Joe get more and more taunting and sinister. I am going to destroy you! Mel finally admits she had an affair. All efforts to verify Joe’s claims that Ben has been in contact him are traced back to Joe’s online accounts.

Joe realizes his only way out of this miasma is to find Ben. Against the advice of his newly hired attorney, Joe begins his own private search to clear his name and to save his family.  What he finds confirms what Ben had told him – You had no idea. You never saw it, did you?

Thoughts

I love debut authors and I don’t expect them to rage out of the gate with a blockbuster bestseller. It happens. Not this time. Lies is a easy read, somewhat predicable, and contains elements of mystery and surprise at the end. I found it entertaining and kept my interest. Joe was patently naive and gullible; I think the author was striving for devoted and loyal. Mel, from the beginning, was more worldly and adventurous dusted with a sly and devious capacity to snow Joe. Little Wills was adorable.

Good read for a slow day or long car ride; guaranteed not to make you homicidal.

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OUR HOUSE : a novel

She must be mistaken, but it looks exactly as if someone is moving into her house.

The van is parked halfway down Trinity Avenue, its square mouth agape, a large piece of furniture sliding down the ribbed metal tongue.

Fi watches … as the object is carried through the gate and down the path.

My gate. My path.
Whose things are these?

No one expects to return home from a weekend trip to find themselves homeless, their spouse missing and all of their belongings gone. Fi knew that Bram had issues, but she never saw this one coming!

This clever and dark suspense will have you up all night reading!

Fiona (Fi) and Bram Lawson were separated after she found her husband shagging a neighbor in the kid’s new backyard playhouse. (His second transgression in their twelve-year marriage.) But the martial breakup was based on much more. It always is. Booze, lying, fits of anger, and speeding tickets in Bram’s case.

Anna and Bram reveal the story in alternating viewpoints. Anna, seeking to make sense of what happened, tells her story in a lengthy podcast on a site dedicated to victims; aptly named The Victim. Bram’s detailed story, written while in self-exile out-of-country, is a confessional Word document that begins with a simple bout of road rage that is compounded by one bad decision after another, speeding toward an ending you never saw coming.

The drama is revealed like a cat’s cradle, weaving in misdirection and building intrigue. British writer, John Ruskin, aptly wrote: the essence of lying is in deception, not in words.

Anna, at times, comes across a little too goody two-shoes naive. But there is no doubt that she is caught in a vortex of evil not of her doing. Bram, unable to curb his base instincts, finds himself trapped between a rock and a hard place, spiraling out-of-control.

Other characters latch on to Anna and Bram like leeches pushing them to the edge; some with souls dark as the devil. How do you define a friend? How do you know friend from foe? How far would friendship go if betrayed?

Somewhere in all this miasma, love lives, despite divorce, albeit now reduced to a level of caring and compassion one would have for an old pet. Humming just beneath the surface are age-old moral codes serving as a balance beam between right and wrong. Who will find a way to stay on the beam; and who will fall victim to the “dark side”?

How would you handle a world turned upside down? Internalize it like Bram; suffocating under the weight of deception? Or project it outward like Anna; broadcasting her pain in attempt to find her way out of the black hole where her life disappeared?

Look for the book in August, 2018.  A good read.

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ONE IN A MILLION BOY : a novel

 

Monica Wood
Houghton-Mifflin Harcourt | 2017
Review source : Personal copy

★★★★☆

I was married to Howard for twenty-eight years and yet he made only a piddling dent in my memory… certain others … move in and make themselves at home…

Ona Vitkus, 104 years old. The One-In-A-Million Boy

The eleven-year-old boy scout, never named, is dropped at 104 year-old Ona Vitkus’ door by his scoutmaster for the purpose of “doing a good turn” for a couple of months. Other scouts have been here before; each sent packing on day one after failing to meet Miss Vitkus’ idea of what Sir Baden-Powell intended in his first boy-scout directive  – provide assistance to the elderly. Ona took a look at this boy and sensed he needed her as much as she needed him.

Saturday after Saturday, the boy arrived without fail, to fill the bird feeders, mow the lawn, and empty the trash. Something about the boy enchanted Ona; perhaps it was his sincerity, his enthusiasm and his precocious observation skills. The boy’s mind was a sponge for facts and compiling lists of everything; always in groups of 10. Unable to make friends and bullied in school, he found a friend in Ona.

On one of his visits, he asked Ona to help him with a homework assignment. He needed to gather information from an older person about their life. At first, Ona flinched. She had never discussed her past with anyone, including her husband, and 104 years has a lot of suppressed memories. But she soon agreed to be taped, of course, in 10 separate parts.

This is Miss Ona Vitkus. This is her life story on tape. By the time they reached the ninth Saturday, the pair had plotted a way to enter Miss Vitkus in the Guinness Book of World Records for the oldest licensed driver, taped ten sessions of her life history, identified birds, and shared more in those nine weeks than words – they found they had become the most unlikely of friends. You will fall in love with these two as they look beyond age and see inside each other.

On the tenth week, the boy never showed up. And the week after. He had dropped dead, from an undetected heart problem, while riding his bicycle at 5 am, waiting for sunrise, and listening for the morning chorus.

The twelveth week, his father arrived to complete the boy’s contract with Ona; goaded to do so by his ex-wife for his failures as an absentee father. He didn’t explain his punctual boy’s absence to a puzzled Ona but it doesn’t take a wizard to know when someone is grieving.

When Ona calls him on his silence about the boy, Quinn Porter begins a journey to examine his relationship with his son and the loss of his marriages and two divorces to the boy’s mother, Belle. As the family heals, new love blooms, futures look bright for Quinn in his life as a professional musician, and Ona faces her past head-on with their help. The boy’s presence seems to live at Ona’s house; drawing all these imperfect people together as if his spirit is directing things.

The stories of the boy’s parents and their struggles to deal with the death of the boy is alternated with the boy’s visits to Ona prior to his death. The boy’s story is never told from his viewpoint but reflected in his interactions with others; the exception is the ending of the book. An ending that will have you love the boy even more.

Don’t think it is a sad story. There is sadness but there are so many more smiles than tears. The message I took away? You don’t have to be born into a family, to form one. You don’t have to accept that you can’t improve your life. And people are remembered by the tracks they leave in life. One of my top 10 books this year.

My absolute favorite sections of the book are Ona’s taping sessions with the boy; his voice depicted by an ellipsis. His absent voice as clear as if the text was there on the page. Reminiscence of the parents’ absent voices in the Peanuts cartoons.

If you want a real treat, listen to the book. Ona’s voice and mannerisms reminded me of Estelle Getty’s feisty character, Sophia “Ma” Petrillo, on Golden Girls.

Highly recommended.

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THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW

 

Jane enters the frame – but walking slowly, strangely.
Staggering. A dark patch of crimson has stained the top of her blouse;
even as I watch, it spreads to her stomach.
Her hands scrabble at her chest.

Something slender and silver has lodged there,

like a hilt. It is a hilt.

Anna Fox has been landlocked in her upscale Manhattan apartment by agoraphobia for nearly a year. The novel opens on a Sunday and covers a two-week period in her life.

You might think that it’s not a real hardship to be stuck in an opulent 5-story home, but sometimes the biggest prison is in our minds. Her social life is obviously constrained to visitors and online friendships. Her daily routine includes visits to Agora, a safety net website for others with agoraphobia. She uses her background as a child psychologist as a crutch to help herself as she helps others. Her online handle is appropriately, thedoctorisin. Nice background info about that issue.

Anna has very little contact with anyone in the neighborhood; most are unfamiliar with agoraphobia. She’s thought to be weird, strange, crazy and a drunk … you name it. She does have a physical therapist and a psychiatrist who treat her at home, and an obsessively private tenant renting the basement; but drop-in visitors? Not so much.

Anna is separated from her husband, Ed and their daughter, Olivia. She’s not completely out of their lives; she talks to them every day, usually in the evening – but not before she has fortified herself with several bottles of wine. While speaking to them recently and staring out the window, she observes a family moving into a vacant apartment across the street.

A short time after they moved in, Anna was surprised by visits, one by one, from all three members of the Russell family, the new neighbors in apartment 207. She notes, always in her inebriated mind, all is not right with these people! Ethan, the teenage son, seems depressed, Jane has a secret side, and Alistair is controlling.

One evening, properly stewed on booze and drugs, Anna sees Jane in the window slowly stagger backwards with what appears to be a knife in her chest. She falls out of sight as a dark patch of crimson has stained the top of her blouse. Frantically, Anna calls authorities to report a murder!

The police come to interview her. They have already responded once to an assumed problem at the Russell’s reported by Anna that turned out to be nothing. Furious that no one believes her, Anna begins a campaign to find the truth.

Here’s where the story bursts alive on more than one front…. her personal issues with her husband and the battle to prove Jane’s murder will have you holding your breath.

I hesitated to give the book 4 stars. At times the constant lengthy discussion of her addictions took away from the heart pounding part of the plot. Anna seemed to me to be a very weak character often coming across as whimpering. But in the end I did because there were times that I actually found myself nearly hyperventilating to keep up with the drama. Another plus was Anna’s obsession with classic silent films; you might want to view these yourselves.

Finally, the ending will throw you for a loop.

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TO THE WHITE SEA: a novel

 

★★★☆☆

 

MARCH 18, 1945
TOKYO, JAPAN

We are going to bring it to him, the Colonel said with satisfaction.
Fire. This is what you’ve got to look forward to.
This is what he’s got to look forward to.
Tokyo is going to remember us.

black quotation-mark.jpgWe were close to the bomb line… there was that tension you always feel…when the time comes close to drop. Major Sorbo circles us…and I could see two fires [below us]…where we had hit the city.

The next thing was not fire, though later I realized…had fire in it…The inside of the plane had exploded…Then the nose went down, and I knew we were completely gone; everyone on the flight deck was probably dead. The first thing [I felt] was the cold. There’d been a loud pop, a crack like a rifle, and I was sure I had been hit…the chute was open. [As I floated closer to the ground], the smoke came past me. [I landed and thought], I am now in the land of my enemy.     (Sergeant Muldrow, B-29 Tailgunner)

Like every good bibliophile, I cannot pass a stack of books at a garage sale without stopping. I was surprised and intrigued to find To The White Sea by James Dickey. I knew about Deliverance but I didn’t realize that he wrote other novels; he usually hung out in the library in the 20th Century American poetry section.

The book is a one-man show. Sergeant Muldrow’s story in the opening chapters felt a little stilted as we were given his “Naked and Afraid” background in specific detail. The man has survived on his wits and skills since early childhood with only his “Jeremiah Johnson” father for company in the harsh Brooks Range of Alaska. He operated under one theory – trust no one -ever. Expect the worst to happen any second and always be prepared.

High above Japan, the puffy clouds reminded Muldrow of arctic mountains in Alaska where everything is a sea of white. To survive in that environment requires camouflage; like the snowshoe rabbit, you must become invisible. As he escapes the burning plane and parachutes toward a fiery hell on the ground he faces certain death if captured, he has become the prey. Like the rabbit, he must adapt.

His first days on the ground were pure hell as he blended into the city’s fiery devastation; being a part of the exodus yet always aware of his status – the enemy. He takes account of the Army issued survival kit and finds a silk topo layout of Japan leading north to Hokkaido – cold, mountains, snow. He knows where he must go.

The middle chapters take Muldrow further and further away from Tokyo into the poverty stricken farmlands. As he gains confidence, he is transitioning into a solo predator. Like any beast of prey, he glides seamlessly through the countryside, always on the lookout, always prepared to kill to meet his immediate needs – clothing, food, shelter – always changing his outward appearance to match the locals. Never concerned, never giving a thought to the hapless souls lying dead in his wake.

To The White Sea is a dark story filled with graphic violence. As Muldrow enters isolated and wild land areas, he encounters kindred souls seeking solitude and a reclusive lifestyle. He spent time with them, learning new skills like sewing winter clothing from skins. But in the end, when their usefulness was exhausted, he dispassionately murdered them and moved on.

In the final pages, Muldrow, for the very first time, expresses the slightest bit of humanity and regret. He has made it to the white sea and made a friend of an old man. Together they live in a ramshackle shack hunting daily with the old man’s trained eagles. Life is good. . .until. The day he has expected all his life has arrived. The sounds outside confirm the hunt is over.

It was my time now. I laid my knife in the snow and stood up straight. They fired . . .and the whole ridge sparked and crackled. A bullet went through me but didn’t touch me. It was happening.. . .I made it to where I wanted to be. . . The snow came back .  . .and I will be everywhere in it from now on.

Was this suicide by soldier? Did he mean for death to find him under his own terms?

To The White Sea never garnered the support of Dickey’s first book, Deliverance. Overall, I found it impossible to connect to a man completely hollow of morality. His life is a devolution from civilized man to beast of prey; a dispassionate killer.

The intense descriptions of war and the depth of Muldrow’s inhumanity left me feeling ill. On the other hand, the beauty and silence of winter filled me with peace.

Read it if you are into the dark part of a man’s soul.

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THE IMMORTALISTS

THE IMMORTALISTS
Chloe Benjamin

G.P. Putnam’s Sons | 2018
346 pages
FICTION : Family | Fortune Tellers
ARC: G.P. Putnam’s Sons and Edelweiss

★★★☆☆

It’s a sticky summer day in New York City’s Lower East Side in 1969. Eleven-year-old Daniel Gold overhears a conversation about a mysterious fortune-teller while standing in line at Shmulke Bernstein’s restaurant. He excitedly races home to share the news with his three siblings: 13-year-old Varya, 9-year-old Klara, and 7-year-old Simon.

EXCERPT From Prologue . . .

What exactly does this woman do?
I told you. She has powers.
Like what?
What I heard is she can tell fortunes. What’ll happen in your life – whether you’ll have a good one or a bad one. And there’s something else. She can say when you’ll die.
That’s ridiculous. Nobody can say that.
And what if they could?
Then I wouldn’t want to know.
Why not?
Because. What if it is bad news? What if she says you’ll die before you’re even a grown-up?
Then it’d be better to know so you could get everything done before.

It’s unbearably hot in their apartment. Their high-strung Jewish mother is driving them crazy. The four children, desperate for diversion, set out to discover the location of this intriguing rishika. Each child is torn with fear but driven by curiosity, challenge, and excitement to find the fortune teller’s apartment and to learn what she has to say about their future.

They are surprised when the rishika brusquely takes them one-by-one into her apartment; diluting their individual courage. By the time the door opens and, Varya, the eldest enters the room, she is filled with panic and guilt. As the oldest, she feels responsible and guilty about endangering her younger siblings. She becomes terrified to discover that she is alone in the room with the strange woman.

Where are my siblings?
[Outside waiting for you.]

She snaps her fingers and gestures to Varya’s left hand
“We got work to do.”

“Your palm.”
Varya scoots to the edge of her chair and offers her hand to the rishika.
Can you really do it? Do you know when I’ll die?

Before Varya hears that fateful date, the rishika studies her hand in great detail, then abruptly says: January 21st, 2044. (We do not immediately learn the fateful dates for Klara, Daniel and Simon.) The rishika tells her, as she has told the others, not to discuss her revelations.

It is obvious, as the children head home, that each has received disturbing news. A lighthearted childhood adventure used as a diversion to abject summer boredom severs their carefree childhoods. The news each received that day will hang like a pall over their future life decisions. The prologue ends as the Gold family sits around the dinner table that fateful night. The children’s sullen behavior a sign that they have learned of life’s impermanence.

Thus launches this complicated family story told over 50 years in four vignettes. One by one, beginning with Simon, we discover each child has a deep ingrained secret that gets amplified by the gypsy’s prophesy. Their lives are much like our own cycling up and down as we make our way in an imperfect world.  The lesson each of these children learns is that if you worry about death, you will miss out on living: in the end we all die and there’s not a thing that can be done about it. You might as well do what you can to make the best of the life you are given regardless of whether it is long or short.

BLOGGER’S THOUGHTS

I always feel weird when my opinion of a book varies greatly from the majority of reviewers. I liked the book and give it a solid 3 star rating but I found several areas needing a little more meat and depth. The book captured my attention right at the beginning with the promise of magic and fantasy but petered out through the middle delving into hedonism and decisions leading to dark self-fulfilling prophecies. The final quarter of the book rises to a richer and satisfying conclusion and gives hope that change is possible.

[Varya asks the rishika]… what if I change? It seems impossible that Varya’s future is already inside her life like an actress just offstage, waiting decades to leave the wings.

Then you’d be special, “Cause most people don’t.

The author has done her homework with background and historical references. I found the discussion of magical history and techniques fascinating.  The deeply emotional coverage of the emergence of AIDS in our country in the 1980s brought back sad memories of people in my past.  I am reminded of a friend near the end of his life leaving me with these words – Life’s a Bitch and Then You Die.

Recommended for book club discussion.

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The Seven Rules of Elvira Carr

THE SEVEN RULES OF ELVIRA CARR

Published in UK as The Seven Imperfect Rules of Elvira Carr

by FRANCES MAYNARD

 

Image result for british custom cream biscuits

Paul’s dad said I knew more about biscuits [cookies] and their history and packaging than anyone he’d ever met.

I hugged myself at the memory. Mother had never thought I could be an expert at anything.

Genre: FICTION / AUTISM
Hardcover: 393 pages
Review Source: ARC e-book from edelweiss

★★★★☆

REVIEW

Elvira Carr is different. She knows this because Mother has made a point of telling her for 27 years. She has a “Condition” that makes it impossible for her to function unsupervised in the world outside their home.

I needed to be kept safe at home for my own protection. I was far too trusting, she’d said, and a target for predators, and she reminded me of the various Incidents that had happened when I’d ventured out and done things on my own.

Father was always away on business trips to Japan. Elvira knows this because Father’s return brought lovely Japanese themed gifts and colorful descriptions of faraway lands. She enjoyed her time with her father immensely and in a way, grateful to have his undivided attention as a balance to Mother’s rigid routines and snarky comments. Sadly, Father dies of a heart attack while “Abroad” when she was 23 leaving her solely under Mother’s thumb and subject to her acid personality.

Elvira’s life changes abruptly the day Mother, the omniscient ruler of her life, suffers a debilitating stroke and is confined to a nursing home.

Left alone to her own devices, Elvira finds the courage to step out into the world – one baby step at a time – on her own.

Thinking about going to the hospital scared me. I didn’t go to new places very often and, since the Incidents, never on my own.

 Successfully taking that first journey, unaided, and arriving safely at her mother’s bedside, Elvira was very pleased. I’d been resourceful, a word Mother used about herself. She would be surprised when I told her.

Elvira continues to challenged herself to find ways to remain independent and capable of interfacing with “NeuroNormals”. She learns to use a computer and discovers that Mother was wrong!

Mother said computers kept people imprisoned in their bedrooms, not communicating with the outside world. . . . And she thought I’d find learning to use one a struggle [and] I could be targeted by predators. I’d failed to understand what Mother and Father meant [by predators] and they wouldn’t explain.

With the discovery of the Internet and word processing, she can now write her own rules – bye bye Mother’s rules! She falls in love with spreadsheets and sets about identifying seven situations that confound her. She hopes to change her life following these guidelines and enlists the help of friends to identify the reasons behind her difficult interactions.

Rule 1: Being Polite and Respectful is always a Good Idea.
Rule 2: If you Look or Sound Different, you won’t Fit in.

Lacking a filter for innuendo, figures of speech, and deception, Elvira struggles but she never stops believing that she can define her own happy place in the world. 

Rule 3: Conversation doesn’t just Exchange Facts – it Conveys how you’re Feeling. 
Rule 4: You learn by making Mistakes.
Rule 5: Not Everyone who is Nice to me is my Friend.
Rule 6: It’s better to be too Diplomatic than too Honest.

Elvira’s journey will amaze you.

OPINION

The author’s choice to use the first person voice gave Elvira a chance to expose the difficulties facing those with disabilities. I found myself cheering for Elvira’s chance at a real life after her Mother died. Her spunk, sweet nature, and obvious yen for life was inspiring. I wanted to reach out and slap a few people for their attitudes about the disabled as well as give bear hugs to those with grace and understanding.

There are two instances of sexual assault in the story. I felt the author missed the mark when Elvira’s parents failed to provide a life lesson on the dangers of predators and how to spot them. The second “Incident” was more dramatic and left the vulnerable Elvira unable to differentiate between friendly interest and exploitation. This heightened sense of outrage on my part is the result of the #Me Too movement and the deep roots of sexual abuse and gender bias in our modern world. Rule 7: Rules change depending on the Situation and the Person you are speaking to.

I want to end on an upbeat note so I will leave you with Elvira’s closing thoughts as she writes one more rule:

And, Rule Eight: Use the Rules to help with difficulties, to make life easier, to understand what’s acceptable, to enhance your strengths, but after that, . . . do things your way.

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The Book of Polly: a novel

 

THE BOOK OF POLLY

by KATHY HEPINSTALL

Pamela Dorman Books | 2017
Hardcover: 322 pages
ISBN: 9780399562099
Genre: FICTION/COMING-OF-AGE
Review Source: ARC e-book from Edelweiss

★★★★☆

EXCERPT

I’m not sure at what age I became frozen with the knowledge, certainty, and horror that mother would die one day. . . One of my earliest memories was reaching up and trying to snatch a cigarette from her lips. Even then I knew my enemy.

[Polly] had conceived me in something close to a bona fide miracle, when she and her soon-to-be-late husband of thirty-seven years consummated their love for the last time. From the absurdity of that union came the news that my mother received from her doctor three days after my father’s funeral: Polly, [58], was due to have one more child in the year 1992. [Me.] Willow.

Eight months later I  was born, my family already gone like a train pulled out of the station: my father dead, my brother and sister grown and gone. . . 

Don’t you love a book that latches onto your funny bone? My first impression of Polly Haven reminded me of my favorite cartoon character, Maxine; brash, fearless and prickly. This is truly a southern tale filled with a small cast of unique characters much like Fried Green Tomatoes’s Iggy Threadgoode or Steel Magnolias’ “Ouiser” played by Shirley MacLaine.

Willow narrates the book beginning when she is a 10-year-old sharing her feelings, thoughts and emotions about living with a gun-toting, Virginia Slims smoking, foul-mouthed, Margarita slurping mother who loves her dearly; but Polly’s actions, viewed through a child’s eyes make you wonder if she was a spawn of the devil. The novel covers the next six years of their lives. Six years filled with tit-for-tat conflicts between a septuagenarian mother and a teenage terror with a propensity for lying. The narration in a child’s voice is a softening agent for adult topics like alcoholism, marital disharmony, religion and terminal illness and engenders sympathy for teenage angst and budding first love.

One of Polly’s traits that drives Willow crazy is her unwillingness to share her past life – life before Willow – one that includes deeply held dark secrets.  Willow is determined to peel the onion on that story and other guarded truths in order to find a place for herself in the family timeline. Some place where she understands where she came from and where she will be in the future. She is terrified of finding herself alone in the world without – her mother.

Polly’s cigarette habit frightens Willow the most. She does everything she can to make her mother miserable in attempt to ward off the “Bear”, her mother’s term for cancer.  Her efforts to prolong her mother’s life produce some deeply touching moments and some rather explosive reactions between them.

Polly’s over-the-top reactions to perceived or actual attacks rankles school authorities, her equally cantankerous neighbors and the world at-large. That includes the squirrels that invade her precious pecan tree.

I loved this coming-of-age story and I had more than a few hearty chuckles over the neighbor’s cat straddling the rickety fence, the next door neighbor’s free-range undisciplined Montessori twins, Dalton and Willow’s budding romance, and the bond between her brother’s friend and Polly.

Underlying all the spats and bluster lies the meaning of life for all of us. And the feel good ending, seen coming a mile away, reminded me of the last verse of Desiderata:

And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be. And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

Desiderata by Max Ehrman

 

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The Mountain Between Us

 

THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US

by CHARLES MARTIN

 

Broadway Books | 2010
Paperback: 331 pages
ISBN: 978-0-307-59249-1
Genre: Fiction/Survival/Adventure
Review Source: Purchased

★★★☆☆

blue quotation-marks

We climbed into the [small] plane. . .Two minutes later we were airborne and climbing. . . [Look out the window.] The High Uintas Wilderness – the largest east to west mountain range on the continent. . . [E]ver seen the movie Jeremiah Johnson? . . .That’s where filmed it.

Scout_Plane

 [Grover] coughed. . .grunted. . .grabbed his chest. . .

Then, as if he’d done it a thousand times, he pancaked the plane against the mountain.

olympic-mountains

My friend had just finished reading the book The Mountain Between Us and recommended it.  Our “cotton-head” gang of old friends will be heading to the theater to view the movie and she thought we should first read the book. I rated this 4 out of 5 stars but this rating came with mental adjustments from what I expected and what I found between the covers.

Adventure/survival stories snag my attention every time. If they involve struggling in snow and ice, all the better. I was raised and played in the mighty Adirondacks and loved the dead of winter. So I want to clear up something right away – it would be impossible in the real world for these two to have survived.

I suspended my hopes for a heart pounding adventure as I smelled a contrived story ahead. Foregoing expectations of something like Jon Krakauer’s Into The WildI settled down and found the story entertaining in its own way.

flight cancelledAshley Knox, a magazine writer, strolled by Dr. Ben Payne, an emergency room trauma surgeon, in the airport and I knew right away where all this was headed. Pretty woman meets married but separated doctor.  When I finished the book, I was mostly right with my preconceived ideas.

A big bad storm of epic size is bearing down on the western states. Commercial aircraft are unable to de-ice their planes and cancelled all outgoing flights. Dr. Ben Payne has numerous surgeries to perform the next day and needs to leave town. He arranges a flight out with an elderly charter plane pilot. Moments before they leave, Ben sweet talks the pilot into taking a second passenger – the sweet young thing he had been eyeballing in the airport. Ashley had confided to Ben that she was to be married in a couple of days and needed to fly out immediately for a wedding rehearsal.

Conveniently as it turns out, the doctor had attended a medical conference and traveled with his backpacking gear. Great care was taken to detail what was in that backpack. The crusty old pilot, while preparing the plane for flight, takes the time to tell them he stores a sleeping bag under his seat and keeps a fishing pole and hunting bow with arrows on the plane at all times.

-blizzardmaninsnow

Moments before Grover has his fatal heart attack, he tells them that this is the largest god-forsaken wilderness in America. Suddenly, with the pilot dead, the broken plane nearly invisible in the snow, a non-functioning locator beacon, no flight plan filed, and no record of the passengers aboard the plane, the survivors must fend for themselves with nothing more than a bag of gorp for food.

Ashley is severely injured in the crash. She is bleeding profusely from several lacerations and sports a maligned leg caused by a broken femur. Ben has broken numerous ribs and a deflated lung and a history of breathing issues at high  altitude. Disregarding his own problems, he sets Ashley’s broken leg and splints it with parts from the plane. He finds Grover’s fishing gear and sews up her wounds.

The action now slows down and leaves the two survivors with only two options. Stay where they are huddled in the fuselage, no one knows they’re there.  Or head out into the unknown wilderness in a blizzard hoping to find civilization and food.

Ben fashions a sled for Ashley out of a broken wing. He gathers all the survival goodies stored on the plane and stuffs them into the sled with Ashley and heads out in thigh deep snow pulling the sled with a harness created from plane parts strapped over his broken chest. For a month he drags Ashley up and over mountains, across rivers, through subzero weather and frequent snow storms.

Amid the swirling snow, sub-zero temperatures, harsh terrain, and wildlife, Ben assumes the role of porter, doctor, hunter, and guide. Ashley, incapacitated by injuries, can offer little help but her upbeat spirit and sense of humor offers levity in the bleak story. Their repartee is a relief to the danger of the situation. The pilot’s Jack Russell Terrier has also survived the crash and his indomitable personality makes him my favorite character.

Ben trudges hour by hour through the snow thinking of his wife and their last argument that has kept them apart.  When settled for the day, he whips out his voice recorder and dictates long conversations about his day, difficult childhood and of the deep abiding love he feels for her to this very day.

The conversations between Ashley and Ben are interesting and it is easy to see that neither of them will ever forget the strength of character and compassion each exhibited through starvation, pain and the isolation of the wilderness.

There’s a surprise ending.  Sorry no hints. I didn’t see it coming.

.

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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

THE
ABSOLUTELY
TRUE
DIARY of a PART-TIME INDIAN : a novel

Author: Sherman Alexie

Little, Brown and Co. 2007
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Hardcover: 229 pages

The Office for Intellectual Freedom of the American Library Association reports that The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian appears on the Top 10 List of Challenged or Banned Books in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014.
Reasons: anti-family, cultural insensitivity, religious viewpoint, drugs/alcohol/smoking, gambling, offensive language, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group, violence, depictions of bullying.

Author Information

Sherman Alexie

The title tells it like it is. Sherman Alexie was born a Spokane Indian. He grew up where the book is set, on a reservation – the “rez” – in Wellpinit, Washington State. He was, like his central character, hydrocephalic at birth, “with too much grease inside my skull”. And in his teens he attended Reardan High School, off the reservation, near the rich farm town, where all the other students were white. Many authors hum and ha when asked if their fiction is in any way autobiographical. This one makes no bones about it and yet skillfully manages to transform his actual experience into a novel. True fiction. Absolutely.

Source: https://theguardian.com/books/2008/oct/04/teenage.sherman.alexie

Excerpt

 Arnold Spirit, Jr says:

I was born with water on the brain. . . My family thinks it as funny when the doctors. . . sucked out all that extra water with some tiny vacuum. . .

My brain damage left me nearsighted in one eye and farsighted in the other so my ugly glasses were all lopsided. . . I ended up with [42] teeth. . . Ten more than usual.

My head was so big. . . the kids called me Globe.

And oh, I was skinny. . .[but] my hands and feet were huge.

I also stutter and have a lisp. . . Every body on the rez calls me a retard. . . Do you know what happens to retards on the Rez? We get beat up. . .

Every kid wants to go outside. But it’s safer to stay at home. So I mostly hang out alone in my bedroom and draw cartoons. . . [I] draw because I want to talk to the world. And I want the world to pay attention to me. . .

[I] draw because I feel like it might be my only real chance to escape the reservation.

I think the world is a series of broken dams and floods and my cartoons are tiny little lifeboats.

Book Review and Comments

Life on the impoverished Spokane Indian Reservation is rough on everyone but especially difficult for 14 year old Arnold Spirit, Jr aka Junior. His physical oddities and stuttering make him the perfect target for the mean spirited bullies on the “rez”.

Trapped by poverty and the effects of rampant alcoholism, he finds safety turning inward and dreaming of a better life off the reservation. He hides out in his room with his favorite books and resorts to writing about his life events – drawing relevant cartoons that express his deepest feelings and thoughts. One of my favorite cartoons depicts his parents lives if they were not handcuffed by culture, poverty and alcohol.

Determined not to be identified by his culture and circumstance, he never gives up hope to be seen as an individual on his own merits. We learn of his joys and sorrows through his diary.

Junior’s diary entries are written after the fact. They are openly honest and matter-of-fact; not offered as excuses or for shock value. They are sometimes startlingly emotional, often lonely, and at all times, written with unabashed candor and filled with optimism and hope.

As a child of two alcoholics, Arnold has seen first hand what alcohol can do to a family – hunger is a constant as Dad leaves to get bread and comes back drunk. His beloved Grandmother, who never touched a drop of alcohol, was run over by a drunken friend of Arnold’s father. His father’s friend was later killed in a drunken fight. His sister, Mary, and her husband were inebriated when they died in an accidental house fire.

FACT:   A popular blog on Native American life says that alcoholism is a disease that takes root like a parasitic plant that can affect every aspect of life, even including the potential death of its host. It seems appropriate that this candid view of the subject by Junior presents readers with an opportunity to view the ramifications of alcohol abuse and alcoholism.

Junior’s life takes a turn when he begins his first day in high school and he is issued an ancient textbook that he discovers had been used by his mother in the past. Faced full-on with the dead-end future he could expect from the inferior education on the rez, he reacts by pitching the text book injuring his teacher, Mr. P.

A week into his school suspension, Mr. P comes to visit him at home.  Junior, expecting Mr. P’s wrath, is surprised, when Mr. P says –

When I first started teaching here. . . we beat rowdy [students]. That’s how we were taught to teach you. We were supposed to kill the Indian [in you] to save the child. . . We were trying to kill the Indian culture. . . I want to say you deserve better. . . If you stay on the rez, we will kill [the spirit] in you. . . You have to take your hope and go somewhere where other people have hope.

Arnold is disheartened by his father’s dependence on alcohol but he never doubts that he is loved by both of his parents. He tells them how important it is to him to leave the rez and transfer to the  high school twenty-two miles away for a better education. His father supports his decision although he knows that Junior will face deeply entrenched racism. His best friend on the rez, Rowdy, gives him a black-eye and a swollen nose as a going-away gift.  He might have been the victim of bullying on the rez but his leaving the culture in his rear-view mirror now labels him a traitor. Indian families follow tradition and stay together.

[His first day at the new school begins with] the white kids. . .arriving for school. They surround me. Those kids aren’t white. They were translucent. . .They stared at me like I was Bigfoot. . .[Their school mascot] was an Indian, thereby making me the only other Indian in town.

Junior/Arnold has a very hard time on all sides of his new life battling bullying and insults on both fronts. But as time goes by that first year, the “white” Arnold begins to emerge from his repressed rez cocoon at the new school excelling in academics and sports. He also finds racism, bullying, violence, drugs, girls, and hormonal explosion with exposure to raw sex.

FACT: According to the The Children’s Assessment Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan it is estimated that 40-85% of children will engage in at least some sexual behaviors before turning thirteen years of age (Friedrich, et al, 1991). It is believed by experts that 80% of children have masturbated by the age of three (Parenting, 1997). Children need to learn about sexuality. If children do not receive information about sexuality from their parents, they will receive it from their peers, TV, magazines, movies and other media, which may provide them with misinformation and cause confusion. 

I understand that some parents will prefer that their children acquire sexual knowledge at a time and place of their choosing. However, I am an old woman and I can affirm that when you learn about sex is usually far earlier than your parents think you are ready.

Junior’s life on the rez remains downcast until tragedy strikes his family and the entirety of the Spokane reservation pulls together in their grief and he is accepted back into the fold – with reservations- pun unintended.

By the end of his Freshman year, Junior/Arnold has a girlfriend in town and has his life on the reservation. He has learned many lessons during the year.  The view of the “white’ town, seen as a meca for educational advancement, turns out to be less than perfect- normal in its own way. The problems that plague the reservation may differ based on culture, but all communities have their good points and their bad. He has learned first hand how  poverty can make you feel inferior to those with money for new clothes and fast food. But he also learns that love and friendship can be color-blind.

I think that Arnold/Junior sums it all quite nicely. Yup. A cussword, Often my favorite.

format_quoteI used to think the world was broken down by tribes, I said. By black and white. By Indian and white.But I know that isn’t true. The world is only broken into two tribes: The people who are assholes and the people who are not.

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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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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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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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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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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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Dodgers: a novel

dodgers-cover

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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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

black-bug

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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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 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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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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The Never-Open Desert Diner

Never-Open-Desert Diner3

The Never-Open Desert Diner

by James Anderson

(originally published by Caravel Books in 2015)

Crown | March 2016
Paperback: 304 pages (978–1-101-90652-1)
Genre: Fiction/Utah/

ARC: Blogging for Books in exchange for an unbiased review.

★★★★☆

desert road polaroidThe highway ahead lolled in sunlight.

rte 117It was mine and it made me happy. It didn’t bother me that it was mine because no one else wanted it.

Ben Jones
Ben’s Desert Moon Delivery Service

This gem has been sitting on my to-read shelf and from the minute I opened the cover and read the first few pages I couldn’t stop reading.

Ben Jones, a 38-year old independent truck driver, is our narrator and he begins his story on the road from the cab of his sixteen wheeler. Ben’s delivery route is on Hwy 117, a remote 100 mile stretch of high desert that dead-ends against a mesa just outside of an old coal mining town. Like the road itself, the inhabitants of Hwy 117 have dead-ended there by choice burrowing into a solitary existence with no desire for interference or contact with the outside world. Like a high-stakes poker game they keep the reasons they are there to themselves and repel interference from the barrel end of a gun.

I knew everyone of them, though the sum total of every word ever exchanged between us might not equal what could be squeezed on the back of a drugstore postcard…Conversation in the high desert was parceled out like water and often with less enthusiasm, each drop cherished for the life it represented.

There’s the side characters that make you smile at there comments and cringe at their lives.  Meet John the Preach and owner of the True Value and the First Church of the Desert Cross. Spring through fall, John walks up and down Hwy 117 carrying a heavy 10 foot tall wooden cross. There’s the Lacey brothers, Fergus and Duncan, living in two sand-scoured red railroad boxcars mysteriously set in the desert sand. There’s the pregnant homeless teenage waitress, Ginny, determined to dig herself out of an undeserved tragic life.

Ben’s life is no less isolated than the misfits, lonely cattle ranchers and hermits on Hwy 117; the only difference is his life is on wheels and the others hide in the sagebrush and gullies. Abandoned on an Indian Reservation wrapped in an old red Indian blanket, shuffled through foster homes until finally adopted by an elderly couple. The search for his birth parents ended on the porch of the health clinic when a former nurses aide remembered seeing a young Jewish social worker from a local mental health facility there the morning he was found.  Being a Jewish Indian lent to a lonely and bullied life growing up. A brief rough patch with alcohol and violence led him to the desert to escape further digression into a wasted life.

Finding his calling on Hwy 117 as friend and trucker made him happier than any other time in his life. Sadly, his life on the road is threatened as so many of his customers owe him money that he now faces the loss of his truck through bankruptcy. As he stresses over his money woes, Ben’s personal life changes overnight with a discovery and an unexpected chance at true love.

We ride shotgun with Ben and our first stop is a delivery behind the Oasis Diner, long closed and now known to locals as the Never-Open Desert Diner. Young Walt and Bernice Butterfield ran a very successful diner right up until the day Walt was away and Bernice was assaulted by four men. Bernice never recovered from the assault and spent her days sitting at the same table in the corner staring into the distance at her lost future.  After Bernice died Walt closed the diner to the public but keeps it alive inside and out- spit polished and shiny. Walt, now 79 years-old is still strong and sturdy. Known for his take-no-prisoners attitude, violent temper and his sledge hammer fists solution to perceived slights now spends his days in a Quonset hut with his vast motorcycle collection. Walt figures prominently in Ben’s story.

Stopping to relieve himself along the highway, Ben discovers an old road he has never spotted before. Seeking privacy he wanders down the road to discover one abandoned house in a maze of lots and roads from an undeveloped housing project. He wanders over and relieves himself on the house as he peers curiously into a window. A woman’s face is peering out at him startling him.  He makes a hasty retreat.

Unable to forget her face, Ben chances a second visit to the abandoned house to find the woman and apologize for watering her wall. Peering in a window to see if she is still there, Ben spots a naked Claire Tichnor playing a stringless and bowless cello with intense concentration. This time he is greeted on the porch by a gun barrel and snarl. Over time these two form a complicated love relationship. Clair is hiding from her husband and harbors a dark secret.

Mysterious encounters with strangers befall Ben that ultimately involve Clair and Walt Butterfield and lead Ben into potential legal trouble with the local police. And along the way, Ben takes his sixteen wheeler into areas of rough desert that no truck has gone before.

My thoughts
I was surprised to learn the book was highly praised in major review sources such as the Washington Post, Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus Review when it first appeared in 2015 but received tepid marketing by the original publisher.  Crown Publishing has given it a second chance at success in 2016 .

Some book reviews from sources such as Goodreads.com have disliked the stark style of writing reminiscent of Robert Parker’s character Spenser. Personally I loved it. It felt true to the desert setting. In a land of dry sand and blistering heat you wouldn’t want to waste your breath trying to explain yourself.

The prose was so well done that I felt I could taste the blowing sand and feel the scorching sun blinding me.  The heavy rains and flooding arroyos reminded me vividly of my flooded home in west Texas years ago.

In conclusion, I would recommend the book highly.  I’ll leave you with part of the author’s dedication.  If you like the following authors grab a copy of this book for your next vacation or business trip.

Dedicated in memoriam to the following authors for creating characters who became some of the best friends I’ve ever had, real or imaginary:

John D. MacDonald for Travis McGee
Robert B. Parker for Spenser
Stephen J. Cannell for James Rockford.

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My Summer With Gramps

My Summer With Gramps

My Summer With Gramps

by Ignatius Ryan

CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform | Nov 2014
Paperback: 330 pages (978-1503221512)
Genre: Fiction/Coming of Age

ARC:  NETGALLEY in exchange for an unbiased review.

★★★★

Want a crash course on world history, American civil rights, religion, economics, philosophy,  modern day politics… and much more?  Grab your bike (don’t forget your helmet) and ride on over with the boy to Gramps house.

The nameless narrator, a 13 year old boy, hasn’t seen his Gramps for at least eight years although as he says, “I seem to remember him fondly“.  The reader is left pretty much in the dark about the bad blood between the boy’s parents and Gramps and the long silent years. If their relationship was like my family, who can remember why.

It’s the end of the summer, the boy’s parents are going through a rough patch together, and his mother tells him he needs to visit his grandfather.

Go see your grandfather,” she suggested in a way that sounded distinctly like an order…”It will be a nice surprise for him.” …So here I was riding along this bumpy trail… I reached Grandpa’s …house [and] I spotted him in a rocking chair.

I stepped up on the porch and said,”Howdy, Grandpa!”
Grandpa cracked an eye open and said,”What brings a young lad like you over here on such a find summer day?”

What was probably intended as something to do one fine day to get him out of the house turned into a summer’s project by Gramps to cram a lifetime of knowledge into the boy’s memory.

Warning to the reader.  You will want a dictionary and perhaps a tab open on your computer to www.dictionaryofobscuresorrows.com  The boy won’t be the only one learning a thing or two.  At least once during each visit Gramps uses some highfalutin word which prompts the boy to ask what? 

I got to Gramps about noon.  I was beginning to think my constant bloviation had driven you away.”  Boviation?  “Yes, pompous speechifying.”

The boy is an information sponge and Gramps is a walking encyclopedia.  As the summer progresses each of them undergoes significant character development.

As a proud Baby Boomer myself, I enjoyed Gramps style of music always playing on the old radio somewhere in the house.  Couldn’t help myself but start humming a very familiar tune to my old ears.  I wasn’t too happy that Gramps enjoyed his “jug” so often but he had some quirks that were very endearing.

And I personally want to thank Gramps for introducing me to a new word: snollygoster. Look it up.  A very apropos word for this political season.

Enjoyed the book tremendously although at times I had to admit I was overwhelmed with Gramps bloviation.

 

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