Wendy's Easy Chair 3
From Wendy's Easy Chair
Wendy is a constant reader, always with a book in her hands or in her ears. She has so many reviews on this site that she has literally filled one page to capacity. So now Wendy is on page number two. She's browsing and touching books, choosing what she should read next ... from her easy chair.
Nick Hornby’s Funny Girl is a romp through 1960 London. Barbara Parker is an aspiring comedienne who thinks she can be the next Lucille Ball. Hornby tells her story while presenting the understandable obstacles: family and friends who wonder what she is thinking – she’ll never make it; the crush of starting out in a dream without financial security; and the nagging fear that creeps in when you doubt for just a fleeting moment that maybe you won’t succeed.
Fortunately, Hornby paints Barbara, who takes the stage name of Sophie Straw, as a strong, determined woman who has the will to conceive a dream and take it to the limit. Hornby’s writing and quick jabs of humor are the first course of the story. The comedy writers Barbara/Sophie encounters, Tony and Bill, are the main course of the story. Their writing needs to hit the mark so Sophie can deliver it properly. They hit the mark. Without giving anything away, I will say that I appreciated Hornby portraying Sophie as a young woman starting out and carrying her story to her golden years. It was the perfect touch.
Funny Girl will not be my favorite Nick Hornby tale, and for that, there will be readers who think I’m crazy. There are classic elements of Nick Hornby – his humor that translates to the page well, his character development – but the descriptions of the 1960s didn’t work for me. They seemed stiff and contrived. Some situations went on for pages and pages when he could have shortened them to a few pages. And honestly, Hornby could have come up with a more original title. BUT, whether she’s Barbara or Sophie, Hornby’s Funny Girl will capture you. But it will be, in my opinion, the writers – Tony and Bill – who are the real stars of Hornby’s latest.
I have not read her other memoirs, but Fuller does an excellent job of filling us in on her family and history without it seeming like a recap. That made me feel at home.In this installment, we follow Fuller through her courtship and marriage to Charlie Fuller. In many ways I think Fuller found in Charlie the parts of her father she loved the most (and isn't that what all daughters look for in future husbands). Her father is the sort of man who knows what he wants and needs, is serious, but also has a side to him that can only allow laughter. Charlie is adventurous, kind and it seems as though he is everything she’s ever wanted. But will that be enough to sustain their lives? As couples do, Alexandra and Charlie struggle deciding where to live. Alexandra also decides she wants to write. Alexandra tries fiction and fails. Eventually, she writes nonfiction and finds her niche. Charlie is successful as well. They decide to leave Africa and move to the States. They wind up in the West. Charlie changes careers and that proves disastrous.As Fuller’s marriage begins to melt away and the U.S. financial crisis begins, Fuller realizes there are changes she must make and none will be easy. We are under no illusions about Fuller’s life, but, we are certain Fuller will survive.Living in Africa for most of her life, Fuller has seen more beauty and sadness than imaginable. Her descriptions of African country sides are breathtaking. The remembered times with her parents and sister are at times hilarious and at times tragic. Fuller’s writing will grab you and not let go. -- Wendy's Easy Chair, March 2015, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
Greer Macallister has created an entertaining tale of an illusionist's life in 1900s America.I'm not telling you anything the book jacket doesn't when I tell you that The Amazing Arden is in a bit of a jam. She is accused of murdering her husband onstage during a performance.Virgil Holt, a local policeman, has big problems of his own and he's not letting go of Arden any time soon. Part of The Magician's Lie is the story of Virgil's meeting with Arden and his determination to get to the bottom of the murder. The other portion of Macallister's novel is to see where Arden has come from and how she ended up in Holt's handcuffs.The Amazing Arden begins life as Ada Bates and Ada Bates begins life as a dancer. Hers is a tough life and when she meets Ray, a vicious young man, Ada takes charge and ventures out into the world. There's something about Ray that is hard to believe and it scares Ada enough that she knows she has to leave her family to get away from him.Ada tries to follow her dream to dance on the stage. Along the way she meets another young man who changes her life as much as Ray, but in a more encouraging way. Clyde is the first person to make Ada believe she's beautiful and talented. Unfortunately, he breaks her heart.After one of her performances onstage, Ada is approached by Adelaide, a traveling illusionist. She needs a worthy replacement for herself and after seeing Ada perform, has decided Ada is the one. There IS a catch, but I'm not going to tell you.Ada becomes The Amazing Arden and builds a rather exciting life. The past comes screeching to the present, and makes Arden realize she has to clean up the past before her future can be what wants it to be.Hop on this train of Greer Macallister's The Magician's Lie and find a novel that will almost remind you of Erin Morgenstern's Night Circus. Deep, rich characters from start to finish and a storyline that will keep you guessing. Delicious way to spend a winter weekend.-- Wendy, January 2015, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
Kate Pulaski is on a plane when she finds out her father is dead. How she handles this news and the subsequent meetings with family are the substance of Reunion.
Kate’s father, Stan, couldn’t have decided to kill himself at a worse time. Kate is in the middle of marriage that is hitting the skids and she’s so far in debt there’s almost no chance she’ll get out. Her husband, Peter has tried to get her on track. She hasn’t seen Elliot, her brother or Nell, her sister, in a while, though they do keep up with each other by phone/text. This is the extent of her involvement with family.
Stan married several times, fathered children and divorced. His ex-wives converge on the funeral and add to the already huge mess that was hidden and then uncovered during the course of the days leading up to and the funeral itself.
We meet Elliot and Nell, each with their own set of issues with themselves, their lives and each other. Not uncommon in families, siblings play the “Mom and Dad liked you best” scenario and what usually results is dredging up of old wounds and scars that never fade into adulthood. Here Kate finds that what she thought true about her father and siblings (both the “old” siblings and Stan’s latest child) is that what we think we know is often in error. And Kate also realizes that though she thinks she and her father are nothing alike, this couldn’t be farther from the truth.
One of the parts of Reunion I like is that the ending is not what I expect to happen, but it is what I’d like to happen. In Reunion, Pittard has done a good job of presenting families and extended families in an honest light and shows doubters that in the end, you can really only count on your family. -- Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
Every time a Colm Tóibín novel is released it is cause for celebration in the reading rooms in my home. He is one of the few writers who can do it all in my opinion: nonfiction, short stories or novels. He joins coveted spots on my bookshelves with Stephen King, Barbara Kingsolver, Pat Conroy and Nelson Demille.
Nora Webster is the story of a woman widowed in Ireland in the sixties. She marries Maurice who she’s loved forever and who she thinks will be with her forever. As a teacher, he is respected and mostly revered. Together they have four children (two girls away at school; and two younger boys). When Maurice dies, Nora is adrift. She’s stayed home with the children, kept house and made a wonderful home. She’s never thought about money. Maurice always provided. Now, she is thrust into a mode she’s not accustomed to – how much does it actually cost to run the household? She makes a huge decision and sells their weekend home. The older children struggle to understand. The younger children are still in shock from their father’s death. It’s unusual, but Nora has to think about how to feed her family. Remember, this is the sixties. Eventually, she goes back to a company she worked at before she married Maurice. It’s a family run business. The owners all know Nora’s situation and are eager to lend a hand. Their motives are questionable, but, again, that’s my opinion. Maurice’s family is a constant presence and honestly, Nora puts up with the dropping in unannounced and the interfering with the children’s choices. Nora’s aunt becomes somewhat of a pain (sorry, sorry – she’s just obnoxious, in my opinion). After all, Nora’s been a mother for years – she really doesn’t need help with the sort of parenting they are pushing – she may need some help being a widow. She needs help stabilizing the children. Suffice it to say that Nora has her hands full, finding her way. It is exciting to see her blossom and grow as an individual. Nora realizes she has a voice, as a singer, as well as being able to stand up for herself, be strong. Tóibín makes no grandiose moves in the Nora Webster, but we see his skill in weaving together a story about mothers and their children (specifically, mothers and sons – Tóibín’s specialty), politics of the time, societal issues, and how sometimes we simply must find our own way. Tóibín is a truly a master. How wonderful it was to have a story told without fits and starts in points of view. It was a feeling of satisfaction as I closed the back cover. If you are behind on reading Colm Tóibín, take heart – he’s got a decent amount of material for you to sink your eyes into. Begin anywhere. Start with Nora Webster and work your way back – it’s your choice. Either way, you will not be disappointed. -- Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
Five Days Left by Julie Lawson Timmer is a gripping novel. There’s no other way to state it. It grips you (and you’ll be gripping the book, let me tell you).
The two protagonists are Mara and Scott. They become acquainted in an online forum for "non traditional families" and each are experiencing life-altering situations.
Mara is suffering from Huntingdon's Disease; it has progressed to the point where her physical and mental decline will begin to escalate. These thoughts go through Mara's mind: “I am going to die. Do I simply keep trying or would it be better to die before it gets too bad? But how do I leave my family? I will miss everything. But I can't bear the thought of my family seeing me become someone other than the person they know and love.” Mara's husband, Tom, is supportive in every way he can be. How can he keep Mara positive and hopeful and help their young daughter understand the changes happening to her mother?
Scott is a teacher who is fostering a former student's younger brother. There are ups and downs, but overall, it's been a fantastic time for Scott and the child. Scott's wife, Laurie, has been supportive and when it's apparent that the time fostering the child is coming to an end, Laurie can hardly contain her excitement. It’s not that she hasn’t come to love the child, it’s just that she is finally pregnant with her and Scott’s natural child and she wants to make this time precious.
Five Days Left is a masterpiece told in the alternating views of Mara and Scott. As those of you who read my reviews know, I’m not usually a fan of alternating POVs. Most often I find this method the lazy storyteller’s way of piecing together a story. Timmer’s success with alternating POVs for me is because the stories are linked only through the parallel timelines of their situations. Each event is separate to Mara or Scott. Except that each is facing a deadline of five days left. You will feel as though you are right there with Mara and Scott. You will want to offer advice, solace, anything to help them get through the pain.
Beware, as much as I love Five Days Left and recommend it, you must know there are heart-wrenching scenes that will leave you weeping. Keep the tissues handy. This is not a sappy story. It’s real and could happen to any of us at any time. -- Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
I'm not sure what I expected when I picked up this book. I know I didn't expect to be as drawn in as I was to this town's story. Rene Steinke has written an excellent novel about how a town copes when bad luck and bad business collide.
The town of Friendswood is anything but friendly. Sure, it's got all the requisite trappings of small town life - football heroes, backyard barbeques with neighbors - but when push comes to shove, most of the town folks run into their homes and hide.
Leah is the exception. She latches on to the tragedy and proceeds to find out what exactly is happening in her town. Her perseverance is what ropes us in and carries us through the end. It starts when her daughter, Jess, becomes seriously ill after finding a black and oozing substance in the backyard. Jess eventually dies and more people get sick. Various cancers and other fatal diseases attack the town. People move away. They die anyway. Leah's husband, Jack, divorces her. Leah starts digging and finds evidence implicating the nearby oil company. Ultimately, Leah cannot let go of what she thinks she must do in her daughter's name. She is drawn deeper into despair and oftentimes mistrusts what she knows is true. She fights against those who are constantly looking for what's due them and use God as a means to advance in life.
At the same time Leah is uncovering clues to the ailments, Willa, a teenager struggling to fit in, is gang-raped and refuses to come forward and accuse the rapists. They are all important to the town, of course, given they are on the high school football team. Only Dex, a classmate, also struggling to fit in, knows what really happens and tries to make it right.
Steinke illustrates the many ways people use to survive this life. Not everyone does it in the same way. Some run away; some stand and fight. Some struggle between right and wrong; good and evil. Some acquiesce. Steinke holds nothing back.
Step into the town of Friendswood. I promise you a thought-provoking experience you won't soon forget. -- Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
I would bet quite a few of us remember our mothers as the caretaker of the family. She was the person who holds it all together. Our culture today is different. Fathers take part in the caretaking. Such is the case in Heather Gudenkauf's latest novel Little Mercies.
Ellen Moore is a successful and respected social worker. It's important to remember she is respected. She and her husband Adam have a typical crazy busy life when a couple have children and both parents work. Ellen has a full schedule most days as the sort of social worker who is in the field as a children's advocate. When tragedy strikes Ellen's home, she relives every decision she's made as a children's advocate and realizes how quickly an ordinary day can turn upside down and change her family's life forever.
As we get to know Ellen, we also meet 10-year-old Jenny Briard who lives with her father. Admittedly, he tries hard, but falls just short of being what we would probably consider an acceptable parent. Okay, maybe he's a long way from being an acceptable parent, but we get the impression he loves his daughter. One day Jenny's life comes off the tracks and she, too, must come to grips with the curve life throws her. Her father isn't there to help. She is forced to take charity from unlikely sources and must survive with little but her wits and a cell phone. A chance meeting in a diner brings Jenny's and Ellen's lives together and even though neither of them wants what the other has to offer, they come together in such a way that is heart-warming.
I'm a Gudenkauf fan. I can read her books in a couple of sustained sittings. It's heaven because Gudenkauf's writing is unpretentious and gets to the meat of the matter quickly, engaging her readers from the start. I would be shocked if you don't see yourself in her novels. In Little Mercies she shows us how our past actions follow us always, how we can never dismiss the smallest detail in our day-to-day existence, and the importance of love and trust and all the little mercies.
If you met John Knox on the street you’d probably like him. He seems likeable. He’s big, handsome, at ease with himself. Grace Chu wouldn’t allow such an easy assessment.
Knox and Chu are the focus of Ridley Pearson’s The Red Room which is a continuation in the story of John Knox and Grace Chu who both work for Rutherford Risk a company that gets things done of a dicey nature. Their boss, David Dulwich acts a little cagey on the latest assignment, and puts both Knox and Chu on guard. They are both taken into the Red Room which is supposedly a safe room where details about assignments and such can be discussed without fear of discovery. Neither Knox or Chu have been in this room before – why now?
Knox’s expertise is art and Dulwich wants Knox to use a buyer Knox has used before, but this piece of art is completely out of the usual price range. And Dulwich insists that Knox is in close contact with the buyer for at least five minutes. Why? Chu is on the assignment for her expertise in computers and finance. She can do amazing antics with a computer and dig about someone’s finances in record time.
So, what is the real mission this time and why does it all feel wrong most of the time and right only a fraction of what it should?
I’m late to the Pearson party – this is the first book of his I’ve read, but not the last. Pearson’s writing is crisp; his dialog sharp and snappy. His characterizations are vivid and real.
Sit back. Put your feet up. Turn off the phone. Forget about chores and errands. Crack open this gem of a suspense novel and buckle up. Prepare for the read of your life. Better tie down your hair – just in case.
As awful as this sounds, I completely judge a book by its cover – at least in the beginning. My first impressions of Butler’s Shotgun Lovesongs were: who in the heck chose this horrible cover; who chose this corny title; and lastly, how am I ever going to make it through this novel? I’ve said it before – I don’t mind being wrong and boy, was I wrong all over the place with my initial assessment of Shotgun Lovesongs. Butler has taken a universal storyline - how are friendships affected when everyone is all grown up – and made it extraordinary.
Henry, Kip, Ronny and Leland grew up together in the small town of Little Wing, WI. Henry and Ronny stayed in Little Wing, but Kip and Leland decided to move on, at least temporarily. Kip moves on to high finance and Leland becomes a popular recording artist. Eventually, both Kip and Leland come back to their roots and the trip is not easy for either, though Leland’s story becomes the focus of Shotgun Lovesongs.
Henry marries Beth and their marriage seems to be rock solid, though Henry’s life as a farmer/dairy man is never easy, Beth is always there to provide support even when money is tight. Ronny was successful as a rodeo rider, but an accident has left him not quite up to what he was before. He, too, has settled into adult life in Little Wing.
Everyone in Little Wing is proud to claim Leland as one of their own and when Leland comes back for an extended visit and announces that he’s marrying Chloe, a popular actress, his friends rally behind him. Kip, by this time has come home to, with the intention of restoring the mill to a income-producing mall of sorts. But, all is not as it seems. Kip is married and his wife, Felicia is having a difficult time with small town life. Leland is not as settled as it once appeared.
The balance of the novel digs deep into friendships developed in childhood and how they either succeed or don’t and the causes for both. Told in different points of view (can anyone write a simple straight narrative anymore), Butler has masterfully captured this in a magnificent book that is not to be missed. If you don’t read another debut novel in 2014, you owe it to yourself to read Butler’s Shotgun Lovesongs. -- Wendy, May 2014, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
The Sun and Other Stars by Brigid Pasulka takes us to the town of San Benedetto in Italy where we meet Etto, a young man struggling with his life and the deaths of his brother and mother.
Etto’s brother, Luca is a premiere soccer star on his way to glory when he is killed in an accident. Their mother is gone soon after. Etto’s father owns a butcher shop and loses almost any will or desire to keep up the shop. He spends hours at the local bar watching soccer and being with everyone but his living son. Understandably and probably subconsciously, Etto does what he can to be noticed by his father while numbing the pain of loss. He throws himself into the business, though he’s not nearly the butcher his father is, and makes a point of changing sections of the shop knowing full well, his father will not, and does not, approve. Etto has less than no interest in soccer.
Everything starts to take an unlikely turn when a well-known, but scandalized Ukrainian soccer player slides into town and takes up residence on the edge of San Benedetto. Yuri and his sister, Zhuki keep a low profile, but they have to eat. Etto meets Zhuki when she stops in the shop. Etto is smitten; however, Zhuki plays it cool. No one but Etto realizes who’s in town. Soon Etto is invited to spend time with Zhuki and Yuri in a most unusual way (the best writing of the book and clearly the most entertaining) and Etto’s life begins to look very different to him.
The Sun and Other Stars is a love story, but it is clearly not the main part of the novel. It is rather Etto’s story of getting his life on track, gaining his father’s respect, realizing that everything happens for a reason and we are only ones who can change. Yuri’s arrival in San Benedetto is key to helping Etto begin to believe that life is a gift. Zhuki and Yuri succeed where the townspeople do not. It’s not that the townspeople haven’t tried, it’s just not getting through to Etto.
Pasulka does an adequate job of creating a story, a situation. The Italian she liberally uses throughout is contrived and lessens the impact of the novel. There are sections of the novel that read quickly and others that plod on. Pasulka’s storytelling becomes frustrating when she dangles answers to questions we have about Luca’s and his mother’s death, only to have the full answers shoved at us as she gallops to the end of the novel. However, it’s worth the effort to overlook the uneven writing and join Etto as he realizes that making every day count, loving fiercely and forgiving are some of the best parts of life.
You must read Ishmael Beah’s new novel, Radiance of Tomorrow. I don’t usually tell you what to read (okay, sometimes I do), but this novel affected me in a way no other novel of its type has since Scott Simon’s Pretty Birds.
Beah’s Radiance of Tomorrow is set mostly in the town of Imperi. A civil war has just ended and the townspeople are slowly returning to Imperi to try to regain their lands, their homes and their lives. The elders of the town are, of course, who most of the other residents turn to for advice, reassurance and solace. There is a group of young people headed by a quiet, daring young man, known as Colonel, who the residents turn to when something extra is needed.
Life is on its way back for Imperi when another former resident, Bockarie, returns to his hometown with his family to start anew. As Bockarie and his friend Benjamin are completely involved in teaching at the local school, a mining company comes to Imperi and takes over everything. The residents are harassed, their women are raped and their land is destroyed. Bockarie and Benjamin can not support their families on a teacher’s salary, especially when they are paid sporadically and the head master turns out to be a cheat. Bockarie and Benjamin succumb to the lure of more money working for the mining company. The residents of Imperi are forced out of their homes again.
Radiance of Tomorrow is packed with rich storytelling, memorable characters and writing that will leave you eagerly turning the pages. Granted, you will not be undisturbed by Beah’s story, but you will also not be unmoved. You will cry at the atrocities done to people and rejoice at the sense of community and survival brimming from these characters. -- Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
Cash has done it again with This Dark Road to Mercy. With A Land More Kind than Home, Wiley Cash established himself as a powerful novelist and has continued his success with This Dark Road to Mercy.
Easter and Ruby Quillby’s mother is dead. Their father, Wade Chesterfield, a former minor league baseball player, signed away his parental rights years ago. Easter and Ruby have no one who knows them except perhaps for their court-appointed guardian, Brady Weller, a disgraced cop.
Chesterfield’s failed baseball career has made his life difficult. He is at his lowest when he comes across an unexpected, but dangerous windfall and plans to get his girls back. To do this, Chesterfield must steal them from the children’s home they’ve lived since their mother’s death. Topping off the main cast of characters is Robert Pruitt, who played minor league baseball with Chesterfield and has his own reasons for meeting up with Chesterfield.
We follow Chesterfield across the country with Easter and Ruby as they attempt to break free from the past. This fractured family must find a way to trust even when each breaks that bond at every turn. Weller and Pruitt are in hot pursuit of Chesterfield’s family, in separate ways and with separate motives. Weller and Pruitt have something to prove to themselves and those around them.
You can see the complexity in Cash’s story, can’t you? Cash uses multiple points of view with Easter, Weller and Pruitt to tell the story and, I will say, he does an excellent job in my opinion. As you know if you’ve read my other reviews, I’m not wild about storytelling using multiple POVs. However, I have discovered several authors who are helping me see the value of this method and the skill necessary to do it well. Cash is one of these authors. Cash’s writing and dead-on dialog complete this extraordinary tale.
This Dark Road to Mercy is about loyalty, trust, friendship, the power of family and love. If you haven’t read A Land More Kind than Home, Cash’s first novel, then pick it up now. Read his books one after the other. You won’t be disappointed. Wouldn’t you rather spend a few hours with good books? I guarantee you’ll read these two books at a record pace. These are No Chores Today (NCT) books so get comfortable with Wiley Cash and your beverage of choice. Everything else can wait.
(Read my review of A Land More Kind than Home on Redbery’s website: Wendy’s Easy Chair, page 2.)
Vacationland is a book of linked short stories that will have you laughing, crying and wanting more. Meg Machutova, a painter, is one common thread throughout the stories, but the more dominant thread is Naledi Lodge, a once thriving resort consisting of multiple cabins and eccentric characters filling each one. Meg owns the lodge in present day and we get to know her past through the stories.
Don’t expect a chronological telling, oh no, Stonich wants you to experience Meg and Naledi Lodge on her terms and really, you won’t want it any other way. Each story’s title is a foreshadowing of what you will discover in the heart of the story – a wonderful appetizer to the main course that is the story itself.
I usually have favorite characters when I read and Vacationland is no different: Meg, who loves the lodge; Jon Redleaf, a handyman sort of guy – a constant; Ursa Olson, a delightful, sturdy woman who makes us laugh – a genuine, loving person; Polly McPhee, a writer who routinely visits Naledi Lodge to finish her writing and whose private life becomes horribly complicated; and of course, Vaclav, who is Meg’s guardian – a little gruff, but a truly good person.
Sarah Stonich has made me a believer in linked short stories collections. I’ve been dabbling in them for a few years (I thought Pam Houston’s Waltzing the Cat was extraordinary), but I’ve always been cautious. I was intrigued from the first words of “Separation.”
I do have a word of advice. Make sure you have an object to grip when you read “Disembarkation.” It is probably the most riveting story in the collection. Just thought I’d tempt you a bit – you know – offer an appetizer, so to speak. -- Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
The Curiosity will go down as one of my favorite books of 2013.
Dr. Kate Philo is a scientist with an exploration team in the Artic. They are searching for frozen creatures to bring back to life using reanimation. The team has had success with much lower life forms. Now, Dr. Philo and her team uncover a man frozen in ice. He’s clearly not from this century. The project is headed by Erastus Carthage who, it must be said, is one of the more horrible humans to have lived in literature. He wants to “bring Subject One back to life.” He never once thinks about the frozen man as anything but “Subject One” and how he must reanimate Subject One to get the recognition Carthage is certain he deserves. Because Carthage is egotistical, he must have an audience, hence, he has employed a carefully selected journalist – who doesn’t think too much past how Dr. Philo looks in a wetsuit and how he’s going to have the best coverage of whatever is going to happen. You guessed it: he thinks he deserves it too.
Subject One is Jeremiah Rice, a former judge and explorer, born in the 1800s and obviously frozen during an expedition when he fell overboard. There is much to admire about Rice as we learn more about him through the eyes of the other characters as well as the judge himself. A humble man, he lived a simple life until he decided to go on the expedition.
Kate watches Rice emerge and has a difficult time separating the scientist inside herself from the compassionate woman she is. She falls from Carthage’s grace and is relegated to the nightshift, but it is while on the nightshift, Kate observes more than a man coming back to life with the aid of science.
We meet scientists who are brilliant, but decidedly odd, wacky and just plain out there. Some befriend Kate and Jeremiah while others think only of the project. There are religious fanatics determined to stop the Lazarus Project at all costs. Who will you side with? What would you do?
Savor this novel a good, long time. - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
I am a Colum McCann fan. He could write musings on the inside of an empty ice cream container and I’d read it. This sets the tone for the review I’m about to write – just so you’re prepared.
McCann is a master storyteller who weaves an extraordinary tale spanning 150 years, multiple countries and all while he introduces us to rich, multi-faceted characters who are related in some way. Toss in a touch of history and the novel is complete. McCann has done an enormous amount of research and has given us a robust, jam-packed novel.
The novel begins in 1919 with two aviators testing this new form of travel from Newfoundland to Ireland. In the course of preparing for the flight, Jack Alcock and Teddy Brown meet Emily and Lottie Ehrlich. Emily is a reporter and Lottie becomes a photographer.
Jump back to 1845 and we meet Frederick Douglass in Ireland just as the potato famine is in full swing. Why is he there? He meets Lily, a domestic who he will see again much later. How did they feel about each other?
Jump forward to 1998 to meet Senator George Mitchell who is introduced to…well, I’m not going to tell you. Suffice it to say that McCann’s novel moves effortlessly back and forth through a century and a half, skillfully intertwining characters we’ve known in history and fictional characters, who meet the historical characters, and their stories for a lush, inviting and captivating novel.
The novel ends in 2011 with a twist that left me content. I will be surprised if you tell me you weren’t riveted an unable to do chores. I began to mop the floor in the middle of Transatlantic and when that proved cumbersome, I tossed the mop aside and finished the book.
Perhaps best known for Let the Great World Spin (you MUST read it), McCann has written another superb novel in Transatlantic, destined to give readers goose bumps through the last sentence.- Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
The Last Camellia is a wonderful comfort read. It’s an old fashioned mystery with solid characters (heroes and villains alike) and enough red herrings to make your head spin – in a good way.
The story begins right before the outbreak of WWII with Flora who manages her parents’ floundering bakery. Flora also knows much about flowers and is forced into doing a job for a ring of flower thieves. She must travel to England, posing as a nanny for a wealthy family in order to find the much wanted Middlebury Pink Camellia thought to be in the family’s garden.
When Flora arrives, her innocence seems to get the better of her, but she takes to the children and the beautiful garden. The patriarch of the family is reclusive and the household servants protective. There is clearly more going on than meets the eye. Flora puts off looking for the camellia and as the months go by, the thief who pressed her into service becomes more and more demanding, while threatening Flora’s family in the U.S. Flora disappears.
In present day, we meet Addison, married to Rex, whose family now owns the estate. Addison has a past Rex doesn’t know about and certain elements from that past leach into their lives. Addison, it turns out, is also a gardener and spends much of her time exploring the garden as well as the house. The housekeeper is the same one who knew Flora and she is still as protective of the family from Flora’s time as she was then. The housekeeper tries to keep Addison from certain parts of the house, but Addison finds an old gardener’s notebook and discovers there is much more to the garden and the elusive camellia.
Jio’s writing is crisp with perfect dialog for each period of the storyline. The Last Camellia is the perfect anytime read. - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
Marriage and parenthood are two parts of life that most of us begin with little or no training and experience. Thea Goodman opens her novel, The Sunshine When She’s Gone by hitting us head on with a couple juggling the joys and pains of marriage and parenthood.
John and Veronica are the proud parents of Clara. John wakes up on a Saturday and decides it’s a good time to let Veronica sleep in. He gathers up Clara and a few baby necessities and trots off in search of coffee and breakfast. Oh – and he does take some money from their cash stash. Clara’s delivery had been a tough one and the first few months of Clara’s life were exhausting. Veronica needs the chance to sleep in and have time for herself. John can do this for her.
Veronica has taken charge of every aspect of Clara’s life from car seats and cribs to special formula. Now, that may not seem unusual; however, the control has spilled over to every aspect of their marriage and, frankly, it is a bit chafing and confining. John is giving Veronica the opportunity let loose a bit and, well, he’s letting loose too. He’s giving himself the chance to spend time with Clara without Veronica’s watchful eye.
Now, John’s intentions are good, heartfelt, really, but when he finds the corner coffee shop closed, he makes the decision to grab a cab and…go to the airport! What follows is a weekend where nothing happens as we expect (I think the characters are caught off guard as well) and life twists John and Veronica into making choices neither of them would make under normal circumstances.
What would you do in their situation? What has sleep deprivation done to you? How does exhaustion affect our lives? Find out how John and Veronica cope. Take a trip with John and Veronica and discover what happens before and after. - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
Characters and their situations are the life blood of a great novel. Heart of Palm is a great novel. You will be wrapped up immediately in the lives of the Bravo men, Dean, Frank, Carson and Will from the moment you meet them and the women unfortunate enough to love them. Sounds sappy and sloppy, but believe me, it’s not.
Heart of Palm had one of the longest prologues I’ve ever encountered, but it set the stage beautifully for the relationship between Arla Bolton and Dean Bravo. She is the tall, svelte, elegant young woman and he is the handsome, devilish bad boy some women fall for effortlessly. I won’t tell you just how badly their relationship starts off because, honestly, it was one of those moments where I was completely caught off guard (and this was in the first 50 pages!) by what a writer created. I confess here that I yelped when I read it. Yes, yes, I said, “yelped.”
The middle of the book follows the trials and tribulations of Frank and the quietly-getting-louder feud with his brother Carson and what Frank should do about the proposition he and his family receive. Frank is torn between what he should do and what he wants to do. Really, isn’t that how it is for us all? Here we are shown what has happened throughout the history of the Bravo family and what has made them who they are today.
Just past the middle of Heart of Palm, Laura Lee Smith kicks the story into high gear and increases the speed with which you will turn the pages to find out exactly what is going to happen. By this point of the novel, forget about getting anything else done until you close the book after the last page.
As I read Heart of Palm, it felt warm and familiar. It dawned on me by page 250 that Laura Lee Smith writes in much the same style as Richard Russo and that made me love the book even more. Smith writes real people (many we know) and situations completely true to life. How many times in our own lives are we taken from what we know and trust to something new, foreign, but hopeful? For me – almost every day. - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
The U.S. is finally being treated to an excellent variety of international authors right at our fingertips. Camilla Läckberg is such an author. Her latest novel, The Stonecutter is set in a small fishing village of Fjällbacka. This setting was perfect for a murder where everyone suspects everyone. Gossip, dissension and more gossip make discovering the murderer even more difficult. There are so many bad people running around this village, you’ll need a scorecard. Ah, there are nice folks as well, but, of course, I can’t tell you anything more.
When the police are notified that a little girl has been found murdered on the shore, Detective Patrik Hedström, is on the scene. He recognizes the child as his wife’s friend’s child, Sara, and begins the hunt for the killer with emotion in addition to his skill as a detective.
Läckberg masterfully weaves in the past with the present as we follow Patrik on his search for Sara’s killer. How is a stonecutter’s story that begins in 1923 related to this modern day mystery? I love an author who can tell a story, create out-of-the-ordinary characters, use dialog (of course, I understand an excellent translator is key here) and yet give us a mystery with symbols and themes. It's plenty to satisfy the reading purist in us all.
Sit back, get ready to ride along with Patrik as he fishes out the red herrings Läckberg tosses in the story, works around and through the inept police Patrik is forced to share the case with and discover that sometimes family can be deadly. Notice I didn’t tell you to “sit back and relax.” There will be none of that. - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
Christa Parravani’s memoir of her twin sister’s life is a challenging read. Cara, Christa’s sister did not have an easy life. Clearly, the best part of her life was having Christa as her sister and twin. Those of us who have (or regrettably, some of us, had) sisters, know what it’s like to have this bond. I can’t even imagine the closeness of twins, but, to have a sister is to have someone close to tell everything to: a sounding board, a confidant, someone who knows all your history – well, there’s nothing better.
Cara and Christa are as close as twins can be – even down to fooling people by flipping identities. As children, they suffer a broken home, but maintain their closeness – in fact – use it to get through that tumultuous time. As adults, they marry men who are probably not the best choices. They attempt to make a go of marriage; however, when Cara is raped, she begins to spiral into the worst place imaginable.
Christa is there to try to help Cara. Cara becomes addicted to heroin – even becomes an expert at finding prescription drugs without a prescription. Christa has continued with her life, but is always close by to Cara. Unfortunately, there is not much to be done and Cara’s life is spoiled beyond repair.
In the last several years, I’ve broadened my reading horizons and now read most every genre. The memoir has become a favorite of mine. But I find I must be careful. There are cathartic reasons people write memoirs and not everyone who writes a memoir is a writer. Parravani’s writing is most times disjointed and I was never certain if this was a lack of expertise or a method to show how incoherent life was during Cara’s fall. I admit, I’m a fan of linear writing for memoirs; and this was definitely not linear. There is not much joy in this book, but Parravani does show us the joy, power and magnificence of having a sister. She also illustrates that she was able to find happiness after her sister’s death. - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
What gauge do you use to measure your life? What constitutes a good life is obviously different for all of us. For some it’s a luxurious home, for others, having a steady job makes for a good life. For still others a good life means adequate food every day, a decent home, health or someone to love.
For Ann Barons, the good life appears to be money, status and the perfect body weight/size. She flaunts it all to everyone, even her family. Her family have gotten used to her obsessions with having the best clothes, the biggest house and the least amount of body fat. When her mother, Eileen, calls to ask Ann for help because Ann’s father, Sam, is ill, well, Ann just rolls up her sleeves, tells Eileen to come ahead and then proceeds to redecorate the guest house. She launches into organized control. Control, it’s all about control.
As Ann prepares for the parents’ arrival, we learn there is much behind why Ann and her family (husband Mike, children Nate and Lauren) only see Ann’s parents at Christmas. Ann resents absolutely everything about her childhood and we discover why she has molded her adult life as she has. Eileen is grateful for the assistance Ann has provided, but has no understanding as to why Ann refuses to accept Eileen’s offerings of delectable food, conversation and gentle advice. Eileen does her best to be unobtrusive as she attempts to know her adult daughter better and enjoy her grandchildren while she is the caregiver for her ill husband.
Kietzman has hit the mark with The Good Life. Her writing is crisp, tight and full of almost perfect dialog between three generations of characters. Those readers with elderly or ill parents or family members will embrace this remarkable story of understanding, forgiveness and the willingness to give each other room to breathe. How do you measure the good life? - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin
Kate Baron knows her daughter. So, when the dean from Amelia’s school calls to tell Kate that Amelia has been caught cheating on an English paper, Kate knows it’s a lie. The dean tells Kate she must pick up Amelia immediately because she has been suspended. Kate’s world falls apart when she’s delayed arriving at the school and finds out that Amelia is dead. The word is Amelia has jumped off the school roof. Kate knows her daughter, and she knows that’s not true.
Kate is temporarily swept up in the police’s cursory investigation that rules Amelia’s death a suicide and closes the case. It isn’t until a short time later when Kate begins receiving anonymous text messages indicating that Amelia didn’t jump from the roof that Kate realizes she’s known that all along. What follows is a mother’s relentless pursuit of the truth.
Even though Kate works long hours as an attorney, she and Amelia have a solid mother-daughter relationship. After Amelia dies and Kate begins to sort out the parts of Amelia’s life that she didn’t know. When Kate refuses to accept the sloppy police investigation, Kate begins on her own. She uncovers text messages from someone named “Ben.” She uncovers other messages and emails that lead her to more questions than answers. But with the help of a new police detective, Kate’s on the path to finding out what really happened on that roof.
Reconstructing Amelia is definitely a No Chores Today book. McCreight has written a book that makes us turn the pages so quickly, we create windstorms. In the age where it seems everyone knows everything about everyone because of a need to connect, what happens when the really important information remains hidden? McCreight’s style is wonderfully varied depending on the narrator as she deftly mixes in pages of text messages and social media pages as well as conventional prose to develop characters and unfolding action. Superb, thought-provoking, riveting. Don’t even think about not reading this book. - Wendy, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin