Thursday, May 30, 2013

Falling to Earth

The Tri-State Tornado of 1925--which traveled 219 miles, spent more than three hours on the ground, devastated 164 square miles, had a diameter of more than a mile, and traveled at speeds in excess of 70 mph--is unsurpassed in U.S. history. History Channel: This Day in History
This is the event on which Kate Southerland builds her stunning and unnerving debut novel. Her story begins on March 18, 1925 in fictional Marah, Illinois where Paul Graves, age 35, is enjoying a contented life he has built with his wife Mae.  Former high-school football star, father of three young children, devoted son and owner of thriving Graves Lumber, Paul seems to have it all. And that is exactly what the residents of Marah soon realize after the twister devastates every home and every family BUT the Graves. Southerland’s novel takes a careening path through the lives of the Graves and Marah residents, turning the tables on who are the victims and who are the survivors. This novel made me realize just how tedious our daily lives would become if we either had no place to claim as home or if our home is in the midst of destruction. A great novel for discussion and timely too.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Revisiting Afghanistan

This book has already received a great deal of prepub attention, and the author is already well-known to most readers, but Khaled Hosseini's new novel, his third, deserves yet another mention here. And the Mountains Echoed takes us back to Afghanistan for a story of two siblings separated at a young age. The book is sprawling, with numerous characters, settings, and time frames to keep track of. But as usual, Hosseini weaves a thread through the pages that is fairly easy to follow, and brings it all together at the end. He is such a talented storyteller. It is a simple story, really, of a family pried apart in a battered, struggling country that endures one devastating war after another. If you think you are weary of reading stories in such a setting, don't dismiss this book. The story, which spans about 60 years, is ultimately uplifting and life affirming. And the characters are drawn so completely--some endearing and some not--that you will feel as if they are in the room with you. They each have their own critical part to play in the story. Don't miss it.

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Guilty One

     As Lisa Balllantyne makes clear about her first novel, she has no experience in the field of law or social work, or psychiatry, so she had to do a lot of research for this book.  Though, it is set in England, this story of a child killing possibly by another child is relevant on both sides of the ocean.  The story focuses on exploring guilt and how past guilt affects out present day lives.
      Daniel Hunter is a London solicitor hired to defend a very troubled 11year old boy who is accused of killing a neighbor child.  Sebastian reminds him of himself at that age because he too was full of anger and could have ended up in a similar situation.  Daniel's anger stems from being forced to live in one foster home after another because his mother is a drug addict. 
     At the age of 11, he was sent to a farm in Brampton owned by Minnie who sells eggs and jellies to support herself and takes in foster children who need a strong hand and a lot of love.  Even though he grows to love the farm, he runs away several times to try and find his mother.  He is afraid she will die it he was not there to take care of herMinnie has her own feelings of guilt and sadness.  Both her daughter and husband are dead under circumstances she refuses to talk about and to cope she turns to alcohol.
     Eventually, Minnie adopts him.  She teaches him to take pride in his work and in school and sends him off to college.   But Minnie does the unforgivable and lies to him about his mother.  When Daniel finds out the truth, he refuses to have anything more to do with herAs the story opens, Minnie has sent him a letter asking him to come home for one last time as she is dying.
     During the trial, Daniel allows himself to reminisce about the past with his mother and then with Minnie.  He is very drawn to Sebastian whom he sees as having the same abusive childhood as he had. But does he or has he misjudged Sebastian?  
      I could not put down this book-well I did but I did not want to.  The story of Daniel and Minnie is especially powerful.  Sebastian's story is sad.  The author quotes Victor Hugo at the front of the novel "The soul in darkness sins, but the real sinner is he who caused the darkness".

Monday, May 13, 2013

Endangered by Eliot Schrefer

When Sophie's parents divorced, she was eight years old, and moved with her father to Miami.  Now  she spends every summer with her mother in the Democratic Republic of the Congo at the bonobo sanctuary.  Her mother has spent her life building this sanctuary which takes in the orphaned bonobo apes, and raises them to be released into the safety of a bonobo reserve on an isolated island in the Congo river far to the north of the Kinshasa sanctuary.  Bonobos are close cousins to chimpanzees and were called pygmy chimpanzees until 1954 when they were renamed bonobos.  The Congo  river separates the homeland of the chimpanzees and gorillas on the north side of the Congo from the bonobo homeland on the south side of the Congo.  Bonobos are a gentler and less hostile ape due to their separate homeland with fewer competitive species to share the jungle.  But they are endangered due to the extreme poverty of the people of the Congo, who hunt them for meat and kill the adults then sell the orphans on the streets to make money.
Fourteen year old Sophie saw one of these bonobo orphans,  being dragged through the streets  as she was  being taken to the sanctuary from the airport in Kinshasa.  She demanded the driver to stop and she paid the peasant for the orphan to rescue him and take it to her mother.  This was the beginning of Sophie's summer and it would be the most dangerous summer of her life.
Her mother gave Sophie the responsibility of being the surrogate mother for the orphan, Otto.  He was close to death, and it would be her job to nurse him back to health.  The attachment between the two quickly changed Sophie's life forever.  
A month after her arrival, her mother left Kinshasa to take the adult orphans up north to the reserve to release them back into the wild.  The next day, the volatile government was overthrown,  and soon  rebel soldiers invaded the sanctuary, brutally killing all the staff.  Sophie and Otto survived by entering the sanctury jungle area that was surrounded by a solar powered electric fence.  The bonobos who lived within this fence were not yet ready for release into the reserve, but were possibly as big a threat to Sophie as the rebels if they rejected her entering their world.
Sophie learns to live with them, to eat what they eat, sleep in their tree nests, and stay well hidden from the rebels until the electricity in the fence died, and Sophie knew she must get away before the rebels discover that it is off.  She finds herself, and the bonobos who follow her, making their way outside to escape certain death.  But the journey to find her mother leads through many heart-stopping dangers.   Sophie must use all her strength, courage and knowledge of the Congo to survive. Now she is the one who is endangered!

Monday, May 06, 2013

Chris Fabry Writes Another Outstanding Book!

Not In The Heart by Chris Fabry does not disappoint!

Truman Wiley, a washed out news reporter, father and husband, is running, no hiding, from the reality of his own failures. But there is something he can't totally block out and that is the fact that his son may soon die if a heart transplant doesn't come through and soon.

Wiley's estranged wife throws something surprising into the pot and that is the opportunity for Truman to write the story of a death row man who is actually wanting to donate his heart to Wiley's son!

As execution time gets closer, Wiley and his daughter, who is helping dad write the story, discover some surprising evidence that just might prove the death-row man is actually innocent.

Truman Wiley is forced to face the question:  must an innocent man die for his son?  In the process, he must face the personal question of what is "not in his heart" but could be.  With that decision the destiny of many will be changed forever!