Monday, March 30, 2015

The Narrow Road to the Deep North

Richard Flanagan’s 2014 Man Booker prize winning novel “The Narrow Road to the Deep North” is a masterwork of realistic fiction.  Having read last year’s Booker prize winner, Catton’s “The Luminaries,” and a few reviews of this newest winner on Goodreads, I was prepared to be awed by intimidating prose and literary style, with character and story line appearing as merely well-crafted afterthoughts.  I guess what I’m saying is, I was ready to like this novel in spite of itself.   How fortunate for me that this was not at all the case. 
The novel opens in the near-present with its primary narrator, the aged Dorrigo Evans, a famed surgeon and war hero, musing about his past as he leaves the scene of yet another disappointing marital affair.  Through switchback-style storytelling, the reader learns that Evans grew up in impoverished rural Australia where, as a lover of classical poetry and literature, he earns first a medical degree, and then a rise in social station, via a fortuitous engagement to the daughter of a wealthy family.   Stationed at a coastal base, as a young officer in the Australian military, Dorrigo begins an impassioned affair with his uncle’s young wife shortly before being shipped off to join the allied offensive in the Pacific.    After the surrender of Singapore, Dorrigo, along with his unit, is sent to work as a POW on the famed Thai-Burma Death Railway. It is at this point that the tale takes on new narrative voices as they are introduced.  

The story of Dorrigo and his men, and the story of their Japanese captors, unfolds with breath-taking clarity.  Several times I both longed to, and could not, look away from this novel.  Fans of “Matterhorn,” “All Quiet on the Western Front,” and “All the Light We Cannot See,” will find Flanagan’s novel more than up to the task of matching and surpassing these novels’ contribution to literary history.

Fresh Power

Have you ever heard a believer say, "There has to be something more!"? Have them read any one of Jim Cymbala's books on the Holy Spirit:  Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, Fresh Power.
 In Fresh Power you will learn much about the Holy much so, you will hunger for Him.  Cymbala gives us many precious nuggets:  You honor the Spirit by looking to the Spirit; you accomplish more by waiting for the Spirit; the Spirit is not just about Power, but also Unity and Love! These are just three of many many nuggets.
Fresh Power, above all, shows us how we are to live as contemporary Christians.
Fresh Power is the April 2015 selection for Faith Book Club at the Delphi Public Library.

Down From the Mountain by Elizabeth Fixmer

Growing up in a cult-like religious community has turned Eva into an inexperienced, naïve young woman. Joining Righteous Path at the age of five with her mother, she does not remember much from the outside world and has no idea where her father is or if he has ever searched for her. Righteous path only has 17 members, most of which are women who are all married to their leader, Ezekiel.
This story revolves around Eva who finds out that she is very talented at making jewelry. They make jewelry for profit and make weekly trips to the nearest town to sell their creations. One day, Eva is allowed to make the trip down the mountain and experience the outside world for the first time since she was five. The outside world is scary at first since she was raised to believe all outsiders are heathens and sinners but she comes to realize that this may not be true. If Ezekiel lied about this, what else has he been deceitful about? Maybe he is not a prophet after all.

 Elizabeth Fixmer has done a wonderful job of creating a unique world and telling the story of a girl who transforms throughout the story. The descriptions of Righteous Path are wonderful and paint a scary picture of how it would be to grow up so sheltered and away from the world. After the first few chapters, I could not put the book down and became obsessed with the setting and story and rooted for Eva to realize she was in a dangerous situation and get the strength to escape and take her mother with her. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

A History of Loneliness

Many of you may be familiar with author John Boyne's previous works, among them The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, a moving young adult novel about the Holocaust that was made into a film a few years ago. He's prolific, having written nine adult novels and five for young adults. Boyne has expanded his body of work profoundly with his newest adult novel, A History of Loneliness. This one is set in Boyne's native Dublin and spans the period of recent Irish history in which Catholic priests went from revered and sought after, to hated and villified at the peak of the child abuse scandals that swept the country and indeed the world. The story is told through the eyes of Father Odran Yates, who is a humble and well-meaning priest caught up in the whirlwind of scandal, not because of any direct misbehavior on his own part, but by his unknowing ignorance of signs and signals on which he probably should have acted. His torment is palpable, and as a reader I could feel it, and feel his shame and remorse and empathy for the victims. Boyne is a remarkable writer. At no point does he rationalize or excuse the behavior of abusive priests, but he does make some attempt to humanize them. And he pulls no punches in condemning the Church leaders for their habit of ignoring such issues and instead moving priests around, as if they thought the "problem" would go away. It is indeed heartbreaking to consider the number of young lives ruined. But with Boyne's sensitive and beautiful writing, we can now see how innocent, good priests like Odran Yates were also made to suffer for the wrongdoings of their colleagues. Highly recommended.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Last American Vampire by Seth Grahame-Smith

If you're a fan of alternate history and horror fiction, then you may find Seth Grahame-Smith's novels not only peculiar, but rather amusing as well. His latest work, entitled The Last American Vampire, it the sequel to Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.

Our favorite vamp, Henry Sturges is back and  grieving the death of his beloved friend, Abraham Lincoln. Recruited by Adam (oldest vampire amongst the undead) of the Union Headquarters to investigate the grisly deaths of vampire ambassadors from around the world, Sturges jumps into his task with both fangs extended and the rest is history.

Through vivid narration and historical photographs (which add depth and faux authenticity), Grahame-Smith  weaves tales of  Henry's adventurous journeys and of those whom he meets along the way; including Bram Stoker, Nikola Tesla and Mark Twain.

A curious read which will provide readers with a vampiric twist in regards to historical events during the evolution of the United States.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Swan Gondola by Timothy Schaffert

Set during the lingering summer of the 1898 Omaha World’s Fair, this magical novel is told in the voice of the actors, hucksters, pick-pockets, and con artists who lurk behind the facades of the renowned ‘New White City’.  On the fair’s opening day, ventriloquist Ferret Skerrit plans to hustle up some serious cash performing with his dummy, Oscar. But those plans are quickly waylaid when he lays eyes on the enigmatic Cecily. From that point forward, Ferret is consumed with meeting her and hangs his every hope on the chance that he will see her between her portrayals of Maria Antoinette at the mid-ways Chamber of Horrors. Finally, he arranges a moonlight rendezvous at the swan gondola where he and Cecily launch their unusual, addictive and ill-fated relationship.

This novel brims over with lush and eccentric characters who earn their way in life by the most unusual occupation; pretending to be someone else. Every character is out to make a buck and even their fortune by capitalizing on the hopes and expectations of this international event. In ‘The Swan Gondola’ author Schaffert has created such an intriguing story that is inhabited with complex and colorful characters that now, weeks after I finished the novel, I still think of them and this book. If you decide to read this book and want to read another by this author, the library has ‘The Coffins of Little Hope’ in electronic format. 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Best of Me by Nicholas Sparks

    In the spring of 1984, high school students Amanda Collier and Dawson Cole fell deeply in love.  Though they were from opposite sides of the tracks, their love for each other seemed to defy the realities of life in the small town of Oriental, North Carolina.
     Dawson was a loner from a violent and infamous local family.  Amanda a golden girl from a well-to-do family with plans to attend Duke University. Amanda saw something in Dawson that spoke to her rebellious and passionate heart.
     As the summer of their senior year came close to an end, events would tear the young couple apart setting them on different paths.  Now, twenty-five years later, Amanda and Dawson are summoned back to Oriental for the funeral of Tuck Hostetler, the mentor who once gave shelter to their high school romance. As Dawson and Amanda carry out the instructions Tuck left behind for them, they realize that neither of their lives have turned out the way they planned and they still feel the same passion for each other that they had when they were in high school.
     A compelling story of young love that makes everyone want to believe that endless love is possible.  Nicholas Sparks is one of the world's most beloved storytellers. The following books written by Nicholas Sparks have been adapted into major motion pictures: The Notebook, The Last Song, Dear John, Nights in Rodanthe, Message in a Bottle, A Walk to Remember, and The Best of Me.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

The Whites

If you enjoyed the cop novels by W.E.B Griffin (Badge of Honor series) or those by Ed McBain (the 87th Precinct novels), then I believe you would enjoy The Whites.  Written by Henry Brandt (pseudonym for Richard Price), it is set in New York and is an intelligent, dark and  disturbing novel.  The title refers to criminals who don't pay for their crime because of a technicality.

In the mid 1990's Billy was a member of an anti-crime group called the "Wild Geese".  They were a group of seven young cops sent to the worst precincts in the East Bronx.  Now five of them are left and meet monthly as friends. Some became good detectives and earned a gold shield, and all of them moved up except Billy.   He gained notoriety when he shot  a ten year old boy accidentally while struggling with a druggie high on angel dust.  Because of that shooting, he was transferred from one dead end job to another.  Now years later he is a Sergeant and a member of the Manhattan Night Watch detectives who respond to all crimes committed after midnight.  His team responds to a slashing death at Penn station.  When it is discovered that the victim was once a suspect in a long ago murder, Billy's past begins to catch up with him.

This case ends up involving members of the "White Geese", busting up friendships and putting Billy's family in harm's way.  Some reviewers thought the book starts too slow, but Brandt/Price builds up the story and the characters brick by brick. If you want an intelligent crime novel that rivets you to the page, then I would highly recommend this book.