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Books I Have Loved 2017

Part of my getting back on the horse, so to speak, involves updating my website and Twitter to reflect more current information. Much to my chagrin, when I looked at the Book page of my website I saw it has been 14 months (!) since I updated that page to reflect novels I recommend. So please go check that page out - the fact that I can recall the plot for each one, after all the hubbub of this past year, speaks volumes :)

Here are a few thoughts on each one.......

The Memory Box - I found the protaganist to be so twisted! If you like twisty female lead characters, here you go!

We Never Asked for Wings - the characters and story line represent a situation and ethnic group not often written about. Was really rooting for this family. 

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk - just loved the story line and the fact that the plot was set against a piece of history I was only peripherally aware about.

The Garden of Small Beginnings - picked this up on a whim and could not put it down. The premise of the story is sad but heartwarming. It's an excellent example of people not being who they appear to be.

And as for Faithful, The Rules of Magic and The Night the Lights Went Out, well, I'm a hardcore Alice Hoffman and Karen White fan so anything they write will always be on my list! :)

Children's Book Review: LITTLE MOUSE'S SWEET TREAT

Recently, I was asked by an author to review her first ever children’s book. The book is titled LITTLE MOUSE’S SWEET TREAT by Shana Hollowell, a Virginia based writer.

I found this book to be a ‘fast read’ which is a great feature as the age group the book is geared towards isn’t known for their patience! The author uses simple sentence structure and short paragraphs in an effort to keep her young readers’ interest. The author also uses rhyme, repetition, and onomatopoeia to help her young readers predict what will happen. She does a nice job using questions to create a journey for the mouse and thus move the plot along. The problem in the story is spot on - what child doesn’t like sweets - and therefore children will be able to identify with mouse’s dilemma easily. The mouse shows persistence which is an important trait for children to learn in order to accomplish goals. I also loved the illustrations! The colors were soothing and didn’t make the pages busy. 

If you are interested in purchasing this book, you can do so through Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

 

 

Accidents of Marriage by Randy Sue Meyers

I’ve had this book on my to-read list for a bit. I am SO GLAD that I read this book. From page one, it held my attention.....I was annoyed at being interrupted while I was reading it. Always a good sign that I’m loving the story!

Ben and Maddie have been married 15 years. They have three children; their oldest being 14 year old Emma. Like any couple that has been in a marriage for a while, the day to day domestic have to’s have taken over and battle against their careers for time. Ben is the head honcho in the Public Defender’s Office; Maddie is a social worker. Ben's behavior is becoming more disturbing, making Maddie and the kids very uneasy when he is around. There is a horrific accident and Maddie is irreversibly injured. Ben has to step in to Maddie’s shoes and step up as a parent and a husband. He struggles all the way around. When Maddie learns of his actions, both pre and post accident, she must decide if Ben can be part of the new life the accident has foisted upon her and the family. 

Ben and Maddie are two strong, well defined characters. I vacillated between liking and hating Ben but ultimately I rooted for him. Because the author writes the novel from the perspective of three characters - Ben, Maddie and Emma - a reader gets to see inside Ben’s head. He is egocentric but self aware. He knows his behavior is horrible and wants to be better to his wife and kids. He struggles to control his anger but it isn’t until he is on the brink of losing his family that he is desperate enough to be apologetic, humble and willing to change. I actually found Maddie harder to like. She is in denial that she is in an abusive relationship. Yet, she spends a great deal of her time in social work counseling women who are in abusive relationships. I understand her reluctance to see her reality but am frustrated that she didn’t take a firmer stance with Ben prior to the accident. It’s when she is physically at her weakest that she finds emotional strength, making some tough choices about the future of her marriage and family. 

The perspective of Emma, their 14 turned 15 year old daughter, is realistic and valuable. The author captures that exterior toughness teen girls like to throw off but also exposes the insecurity and child like tendencies that still exist on the inside. Her entire family, including grandparents and aunt, leans heavily on her. This forces her to feel like she needs to be much older than she is and that conflict leads her to make some choices that are not in her best interest; they mirror some of the things her parents have done. I found her to be the only honest voice about how freaked out she is about her mother’s condition and how ambivalent she feels about her mother being home. 

While I am happily married, I found I was able to identify with this marriage in so far as my husband and I have found ourselves at points in times not as attentive to one another as we should be. The tasks of every day life have, at times, clouded our ability to appreciate the family we’ve created. I think this is reality for a lot of couples and families. This story can definitely be viewed as a cautionary tale to be mindful of safekeeping relationships with these important people.  

Ultimately, this is the story of family who didn’t appreciate that they were a family. It took a tragic event for all to open their eyes and see what they have in one another. The question of whether there has been too much of the proverbial water under the bridge to repair the relationships is what the characters and the reader need to decide.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Really loved the book! As evidenced by the fact that I did nothing that I wanted to get done yesterday because I sat on the couch reading………This was a dark, depressing and at times creepy novel. Pacing was fast; characters are incredibly flawed and ragged. Rachel has to be one the saddest, most pathetic characters I've ever met. It wasn't until almost the end that I started to suspect who the bad guy was. The author did a skilled job of planting seeds of motive in all of the suspects so the reader could see how they all may have been committed the crime. This is a cautionary tale to not take at face value things that we see. 

I have a great deal of admiration for authors who can tell a story seamlessly from the perspective of three different characters. Being able to keep character personalities consistent, the plot lines, and in this case the timing, straight takes a lot of attention to detail. Getting the inside scoop on more than one character, how she thinks and feels about people and situations, gives the reader the opportunity to be invested in more than one character and thus way more engaged with the story. 

Tempting Fate by Jane Green

In the teaching profession, there is a school of thought that the way you get reluctant readers to read is to provide them with literature they can relate to. Not all students can identify with the works of Shakespeare or Hemingway. You need to provide students with pieces that are not traditionally taught in a classroom, like BRONX MASQUERADE or CRANK. When I finished this book, what immediately came to mind was that, maybe for the first time ever, I really understood this argument from a reader’s perspective.  

I absolutely LOVED this story. I related to all of it, except the one night stand aspect. Having said that, I totally understood Gabby’s motivation for engaging in the flirting and letting it escalate to the inevitable one night affair.   We are the same age, married about the same amount of time, relocated with no family close by, letting go personal ambitions for the family. I appreciated that the author gave Elliot’s, Gabby’s husband, reaction and subsequent internalization of the affair and its consequences. She made him a good guy but not a saint and I found I was interested in him just as much as I was interested in Gabby. She also extends the impact of the affair to the friendships Gabby and Elliot had. The author didn’t make their best friends’ reactions cookie cutter or expected. They didn’t take the high road; they too made choices that had unpleasant ramifications. The novel is genuine.

For me, it is one of those books that stick with you, that make you think, and that maybe even make you keep a more open mind towards a person who commits adultery. Marriage is many things but it is never a 50-50. And it does happen in a marriage that some major decision gets made by one partner without fully caring about the other partner’s position or feelings. Sometimes the motivation for an affair is less about sex or the thrill of getting away with something and more about what is going on with a person emotionally at a particular period of time in their life. And that moment in time is the accumulation of events and decisions up to that point and the way these have impacted/influenced the person. 

 

Book Reviews: John Grisham

SYCAMORE ROW by John Grisham.

I've never, ever read a Grisham novel. No particular reason why except the plots were not something that interested me. Until I read the publisher's summary of this novel. I added this to my very long list of books I want to read and there it has sat. But recently, in between book club selections, I picked this up and decided I'd give it a try.

I really liked it! Even though it was over 600 pages long it read very quickly. It grabbed my attention from the get go and I found that I wanted to keep reading even after I put it down for the day. My most favorite part of Grisham's writing is his characters. I very much enjoyed them and felt their unique personalities came off the page. Even though this is connected to his previous novel, A TIME TO KILL, I found I didn't need to have read that to understand the backstory that Grisham uses to explain relationships and motivations in this story. The author provides enough of the history from that novel so the reader doesn't feel left out. The only aspect of the writing that I felt was weak was the reason why Seth Hubbard did what he did. I figured this out/guessed pretty early on. But even knowing that I didn't really know how the court case was going to work out until it did. 

Will I go back and read something else he wrote? Probably not. But I have no hesitation in telling people that I did read this and I recommend it. 

 

 

Book Review: BURIAL RITES by Hannah Kent

The author, Hannah Kent, imagines the story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir who was found guilty, along with two others, and executed (beheaded) for murdering Natan Ketilsson and Pétur Jónsson. The novel is based on a true story that took place in 1828 Iceland; this was the last execution in that country. Through meticulous research and reliance on the country’s strong oral tradition, the author builds a story around what led up to and the reason for the killings. 

Agnes is sent to live with the family who occupies the farm in Kornsá while she waits to learn when her execution will take place. Initially, she shares her story, starting from her birth, with Assistant Reverend Tóti who is the religious person she asked to be assigned to her as she prepares herself for execution and, eventually, the family. She tells them that she met Natan, a reputed medicine man/sorcerer and womanizer, at a farm she was working on; he befriended and then seduced her. He asks her to come to his very remote farm, Illugastadir, to be his housekeeper and oversee Sigga, a maidservant already living there. Shortly after she arrives, Agnes begins to realize that Natan hasn’t been truthful with her - not about her role at the farm, Sigga’s relationship to him nor about himself. Natan’s reputed lover, the poet Rosa, shows up one day with her child by Natan on her hip and gives Agnes, albeit not very friendly, a warning about Natan. Their nearest neighbor, Fridrik Sigurdsson, begins to make visits with occasional long periods of stays. He is a 19 year old mean tempered, jealous young man who ends up developing a relationship with Sigga. As the long, bleak Icelandic winter progresses, the relationships shift and become very tense, ultimately culminating in the murders.

The author does an eloquent job painting a bleak, harsh, and lonely picture of life in the northern part of Iceland. She achieves this in large part due to her repetition of images: fires fueled by dung, the constant unpleasant odor of animals and dirty bodies, temperatures so cold that ice forms while characters sleep. Inter dispersed between chapters are copies of correspondence between the various officials in charge of carrying out the punishment. There is such a matter of fact tone to these documents it sends shivers down the spine; that men could talk of putting to death two people so unemotionally has an almost nightmarish quality to it.