Tuesday, August 30, 2016

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood

We first meet Wavy Quinn as she's being placed into her aunt's care by child services following the arrest of her parents.

Wavy is just a slip of a girl ; tiny, neglected and distrustful of most. She refuses to speak or eat meals and is prone to sneaking out at night ; wandering the streets, slipping into peoples homes and taking small objects or food. Due to this behavior, her aunt has a meltdown and Wavy is passed on to her grandmother where she resides until her parents are released from jail.

One evening while stargazing, she happens to startle a biker while on a country road and he loses control of his motorcycle, wrecking on the loose gravel. The accident victim is Jesse Kellen and as it turns out, he happens to work for Wavy's father. A friendship is soon forged between the girl and the thug who becomes the one true, consistent and stable force in Wavy's life.

Greenwood's writing style was very enjoyable ; as the characters narrated each chapter. Honest, very raw, beautiful and yet uncomfortable and troubling,  this book will have you questioning your own opinion regarding love, loyalty and overstepping boundaries.

Cathy Kesterson

The History of Great Things

Structured as an interweaving of two faux-biographies, The History of Great Things by Elizabeth Crane is the most refreshingly honest portrayal of a mother and daughter relationship that I've read in years. Lois's career as an opera singer has always been her driving force in life. Unfortunately, this force has left little time for developing a close relationship with her daughter, aspiring writer, Betsy. When Lois falls ill, it appears the clock is ticking on this strained relationship, inspiring Betsy to perform an experiment - the two will write each other's life story, as they imagine it would have happened. Piecing together the facts they know about each other and filling in the holes with the fiction they believe could have happened, a mother's and daughter's true feelings about each other begin to shine through.

Taking the story one step further, Crane brilliantly structures the novel as if each author is taking her turn reading their chapter to their subject, and adds in the conversational objections, questions, and clarifications the mother-daughter duo interject at their defenses. This takes the reader beyond a simple view of the women through each other's eyes and actually shows them the depth of their strained relationship via their interactions. It becomes clear very early in the novel which character has paid more attention to their subject's actual life and personality - or at least which one imagines they have - though the reader can certainly sense a shift in the women's understanding of each other as their stories unfold to reveal Lois's illness and continue on to reveal their predictions for the future.

This novel was at times touching, hilarious, and frustrating. Sometimes it was all of these at the same time as I tried to sift through the fiction to reveal the facts and decide for which character I should feel more sorry or more hopeful. However, as wonderfully as Crane portrays this mother-daughter dynamic, what she does even better is force the reader to further evaluate their own relationship with their parents. A must-read, if you aren't afraid of what you may discover.

Monday, August 22, 2016

A Man Lies Dreaming by Lavie Tidhar

Alternate history often explores the darker what-ifs of our past. A popular theme is “What if Germany won World War II?” In his book, Tidhar flips that idea on its head and asks “What if Hitler and the National Socialist Party lost the 1933 election to the Communist Party?” Sounds good, right? No Hitler. No Nazis. No racist ideologues. Not quite.

A Man Lies Dreaming is alternate history told in the style of Raymond Chandler. It’s 1939, and London has become a place of refuge for Germans (including former Nazis) escaping Communist Germany. Wolf, a former-Nazi-leader-turned-private-detective, is so hard-up for cash that he takes a case from Jewish heiress Isabella Rubenstein, whose sister was to be smuggled in from Germany weeks before. During his search for the young woman, Wolf finds himself dealing with former Nazi colleagues, human traffickers, Jewish extremist groups, and even a serial killer. This is all set against a backdrop of the rise of British Fascists and Oswald Mosley’s imminent election as Prime Minister. Mosley has risen to power on a xenophobic, anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic platform. Eerily reminiscent of Nazi storm troopers, his Blackshirts are terrorizing Jews and immigrants, beating them in the streets without provocation or cause. In a strange twist of fate, Wolf finds himself more closely allied with the Jewish immigrants than with the fascists who had once looked to him for inspiration.

Tidhar’s account of Wolf (a thinly disguised Hitler) is both a deeply unsettling tale of the depth of human depravity and the blackest of comedies. Wolf’s lot in life is not an easy one, and at times it is easy to find oneself empathizing with him. Readers might find it difficult to reconcile finding common ground with someone who we know perpetuated such terrible acts, but it is in this humanizing of the monster, watching him become a victim of the laws he would have enacted, that we are reminded that tyrants do not come to or hold power on their own. There is a good chance A Man Lies Dreaming will make you uncomfortable at times, but it will also make you think.  
-Portia Kapraun

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Harvest of Rubies by Tessa Afshar

I have made a wonderful discovery: Tessa Afshar! She is amazing and I want to gobble up everything she writes. Her stories are tender, humorous and full of spiritual pearls (lessons for life). She researches well the times she is writing for, and she makes her characters come alive. Another of Tessa's novels is Land of Silence, which I highly recommend too.

Harvest of Rubies is a biblical historical novel taking place in the time of Nehemiah the prophet. Sarah is the main character, an unusual woman for her time because she can read and write, knows many languages and can keep the books of her father's business. The problem is is that she is a woman.

As time progresses, Sarah finds herself in the Persian court, serving as a scribe. Her story is enthralling in its development especially when she is given a husband not of her choosing.

Sarah evolves throughout the story and eventually learns how rubies are made and that she is a ruby herself, formed by the Lord. It is a beautiful story and I wanted to re-read it as soon as I finished, wanting more of Sarah and Darius her husband. Much to my delight, there is a book 2: Harvest of Gold! Can't wait to read it.  ~ Review by Patsy Scott

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Out of the Darkness: My Journey Through Foster Care

This was a very touching story.  I personally know several girls who could have written this book.                                                    

   Kailamai was from a family of deep depression, misery, heavy drinking, drugs, and abuse. She lived with her mother, sister Amanda, and her mother's many boyfriends.  Kailamai found her safe haven in school and books.  While overweight, she was often bullied. The school counselor, Deborah, was able to get Kailamai to trust her, and there was something about Deborah's sincerity that soothed Kailamai.  The floodgates holding back her pain were bursting at the seams and she could no longer hold it in.   After that, Kailamai's life was never the same.

  She was in 14 different foster home by the age of 16.   Her first home was with Daniel and Laura and their daughter, Crystal. Being with a close-knit family was confusing at first but she soon felt Daniel and Laura's love during her 18 months there. Kailamai always felt guilty for not being with her birth mother, although every time she returned home, she would end up in hospital and placed in another foster home.

Kailamai worked hard to get herself through school with help from foster parents Scott and Loretta. She graduated from college with an Associate's degree and is currently in her senior year majoring in Business Administration, with a double minor in Justice Studies and Communication.  She now helps many children who are living a lifestyle similar to what she experienced throughout her childhood. 

Author's note:
Forgiveness is powerful.
It is beautiful

Saturday, August 06, 2016

This is Where it Ends by Marieke Nijkamp

A harrowing tale of violence that unfolds in a high school, This is Where It Ends tells the story of 54 minutes of terror caused by a school shooter. Told from four different perspectives, Nijkamp delivers a captivating story that engrosses the reader until the last page.
Typically, I do not enjoy reading novels told from more than one perspective but it gives this story more depth and detail that draws you into the drama that has been going on between the main characters and the shooter. One of the main characters had dated the shooter and reminisced on their relationship and the signs she may have missed that showed something deep was happening with this individual. They had a deep connection and intense relationship and it brings up confusing and hurtful feelings for her.  Another main character is the sister to the shooter and although they were not always close, she is able to explain their upbringing and explain possible triggers that may have led him to snap. Not only do you find out about the hardships the shooter went through, you see a few different views of why this could have happened. There is never an excuse as to why young people bring guns to school and kill, but when these things occur everyone does want to know why and find out who they were and how they were raised.
One of my favorite parts of this story was the relationships between all of the characters. They were not all friends but during this situation, they fought for and protected each other. The selflessness that some of the characters showed was incredible. I could never imagine being in such an emotional and devastating event but they do happen in this world often. These situations tear families, friends and communities apart and reading about one, even fictional, is an emotional experience. Overall, this book is not for anyone who cannot handle violence or death but was a story that engrosses you while provoking thoughts and emotions.


Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Don't Believe a Word by Patricia MacDonald

     Eden Radley has just received word that her mother has killed herself and her severely disabled young son.  Eden has had a strained relationship with her mother since her mother left her father, Hugh Radley, and her nine years ago to run off with a much younger man, Flynn Darby.

     Eden's mother, Tara, and her stepfather had moved to Cleveland, Ohio.  The reason for the move was to be closer to medical help for Tara's and Flynn's severely disabled young son, Jeremy.   Tara had reached out to Eden on the night of her death by texting Eden and wanting to talk to her.  Eden had not answered her mother's text, and now that Tara and Eden's half brother are dead, Eden is riddled with guilt.                                                                                                                                                                                                         
      Eden decides to go to Cleveland, Ohio, for the funeral and discovers there is so much she did not know about her mother and her half brother and of course, Mr. Flynn Darby. The more she learns about Flynn Darby the more Eden is determined to prove that her stepfather has killed her mother and her disabled half brother.

     Don't Believe a Word is a chilling fast-paced psychological thriller with twists and turns that keeps you wanting to learn more about the main characters and why they are doing the things they do.  How do you know who to trust and what the outcome to the story will be?  A good book worth reading and an ending that is a real shocker!