Shellie’s quick take: A sweet yet dark and mind-bending coming-of-age romance about a sensitive and small...moreOriginal review posted at Layers of Thought.
Shellie’s quick take: A sweet yet dark and mind-bending coming-of-age romance about a sensitive and small clown who is traveling with a circus during the 1960s.
Shellie’s description: It’s a slightly bizarre novel based upon the experiences of its relatable main character Webern (Bernie) Bell. What is special about Bernie is that he is only about 4 feet tall and has a hunch on his back. Not a typical person physically, he is, however, a natural fit as a circus clown for a small traveling show. While riding his unicycle near his home, he is discovered by the show’s dramatic owner, Dr. Shoenburg (Dr. Show for short). Dr. Show recognizes Bernie’s talent and propositions him for the circus. Bernie is happy to leave behind his childhood home to join the troupe, because he’s always felt like he doesn’t fit into a “normal” life. Within the circus he meets Nepenthe, the lizard girl, and falls in love; and finally he feels at home.
As this crazy story about love and growing up unfolds and events push him to face his inner workings, it becomes apparent that Bernie has his demons to work through – but he has his work cut out for him. Things become out of the ordinary when Bernie faces issues of death and has to question his identity, his familial attachments, his heart and some other weird happenings that he experiences.
Shellie’s thoughts: This is a terrific story with fun characters. I was completely intrigued about the main character Bernie, who is a sensitive soul and easy to like, which creates a desire to continue reading the story. Consequently I would say that this is more of a character-driven novel rather than action based, although it has its drama with its far-fetched ideas and happenings. It is certainly weird fiction, though what I liked best about Goldenland Past Dark is that it also feels realistic – well, almost.
In addition I particularly enjoyed the author’s simple and straightforward writing style which also sucked me in. Very clear and thoughtful, the writing just flowed for me. It’s a writing style that is relaxing without having to reread parts or to look up definitions for words.
I’d recommend this for fans of the circus and for those who enjoy likable yet non-mainstream characters - for example a bearded lady, a chimpanzee who’s behavior is almost human, a lizard girl with a disfiguring skin condition, and a grandmother who captures, cooks, and eats raccoons. It’s especially for those who want realism included within surreal events. 3.5 stars for this heartfelt and offbeat novel. I will definitely be looking for more from this author.(less)
Look past the cover to find a down-to-earth, mildly spiritual (Catholic), yet contemporary look into the l...moreOriginal review posted at Layers of Thought.
Look past the cover to find a down-to-earth, mildly spiritual (Catholic), yet contemporary look into the life a commitment-phobic middle aged male nurse. When he finds himself “home” for the first time in 20 years he is forced to decide what is truly important to him. With strong threads containing mental illness and disabilities, internal and external conflicts, sweet humor and more - it’s one of my favorite “uplifting” reads of the past year.
About: Sean is a nurse who has spent most of his adult life in areas of the planet where there are more people than resources. Places where people are grateful for what little help a medical professional can give them even if it’s only a little more time to live. Sean has chosen this hard yet satisfying life because he is running from internal demons - a fear that he has inherited a nasty form of dementia called Huntington's disease. Sean doesn’t want to know if he has the disease, refuses to be tested for it, and has “a plan” once the symptoms begin to appear.
When he receives a letter from his sister while still working in Africa, she directly states she needs him to return to take on his share of their family responsibilities. So he does, but not entirely based upon the letter. It appears the fates have conspired to bring him back home since he’s completely burned out and his back is aching so badly - so back to Boston it is.
Needless to say things are not the most functional with his family. There are A LOT of complications. His aunt (the family Matriarch) is loosing her memory, his sister deserves some of the freedom he’s enjoyed over the years (she too may have the disease) and she is resentful. But the most significant “complication” is his pre-teen nephew, who is in a precarious transitional period, and in desperate need of support. And then there’s the dog.
Thoughts: This was a rewarding and slightly funny read with its real-life aspects that takes the tone from sweet to unsentimental. There are the shocking parts about nursing in a third world country, and dealing with the devastation of dementia, abandonment, alcohol abuse, and childhood psychological disorders. This book is a real mix of true-to-life problems with complex emotions and entanglements associated with them. But they are handled seriously and with a soft touch by the author.
The story has a mild element containing Catholicism. Appropriately so, since the main character - Sean’s da/dad - is from Ireland. And since the characters are of Irish decent there is also a fun part where several of the characters take a trip to Ireland. This may intrigue many readers and I enjoyed it quite a lot.
But I think the best part of this story are the characters. They are complex, well developed and mostly likeable; even the prickly ones, giving a literary feel to the novel. It’s being marketed as women’s fiction (look at the cover), but it’s more than that. I can say that men may enjoy this novel too if they can get beyond its cover’s femininity, and its obvious design for attracting women. Publishers have to sell books and women buy the most.
Just a few mild complaints - The Shortest Way Home is another one of those reads where there is a light romantic element which was slightly too “mushy” for me, and also several of the sex scenes left me with a misplaced guffaw (not my favorite reaction for a “romantic interlude”). However, it was an engrossing and entertaining read. I devoured it in a few days and give it a 4-star rating. (less)
A tragic page turning story that has madness, and themes of water and fire at its core...more3.5 stars actually. Original review posted at Layers of Thought.
A tragic page turning story that has madness, and themes of water and fire at its core.
About: This is the second version of Vincent Zandri’s award nominated story first published in 1995. It’s a heartbreaking thriller with a broken main character named Mary Kismet. She has a family history of mental illness, her first baby drowned accidently in the household bathtub and her husband has subsequently left her. As she struggles to keep herself together, her only solace is her weekly visit to her psychiatrist, who has overstepped his professional boundaries. But he too has his secrets, which he is unable to share. The question is: will it take Mary over the edge?
Thoughts: The above is the first part of a heart-stopping story which although interspersed with some happier moments spirals down, becoming more convoluted until its heartbreaking ending. Told in an unusual writing style, Zandri is both down to earth and unique in his word usage. He also does a fine job of taking the perspective of a woman on the edge or sanity.
With its theme of water running through the novel, there is a drowning and a trip to Venice as key events. So be prepared to be taken on a trip to Italy and more, where you have to keep reading to find out what’s going to happen next. I enjoyed this novella, give it a 3.5 stars, and recommend it for those who enjoy tragic thrillers.(less)
Shellie’s quick take:A fast paced, complex but easy-to-read science fiction romance st...moreOriginal review written by Shellie posted at Layers of Thought.
Shellie’s quick take:A fast paced, complex but easy-to-read science fiction romance story that had me quickly turning the pages. It has a believable alien, cool science oriented “time warps”, and a wonderful, strong and likeable female lead. It was nominated for a Philip K. Dick Award and is an unbelievable .99 cents at various ebook retailers. What a deal!
Shellie’s description: On a distant planet in the distant future, our heroine Siggy Lindquist has grown up on a planet that is much like ours but where trips to other nebulas and galaxies, and other futuristic phenomena are the norm. However, this world is recognizable and Siggy has a life similar to a regular girl (excluding her beautiful and unusual contrast of brown skin and white hair), with her various interests and life events. For example, she is a terrific dancer and believes she is going to marry her childhood sweetheart.
The drama starts when Siggy graduates from high school and her dreams for the future fail unexpectedly; she accepts an undesirable job on a distant planet knowing that this may be her only option of getting away from her heartbreak and earning a living. It’s not by any means a dream job – since Siggy will be doing janitorial work in a maximum security prison/hospital for the criminally insane. That the inmates are the absolute bottom of the heap when it comes to human nature is an understatement; worse yet is that they are brilliant. Get in, get it finished, and get out is her motto. But when the “Director” of the prison requires Siggy to ascertain information from the patients for research, things get a bit more complicated.
Then to twist things nicely there are the aliens called “Speedies” - who do everything that humans can except much faster - who are occasionally attacking the planet. It all creates a story even more wonderfully convoluted than what I have summarized here.
Shellie’s thoughts: Emily Devenport is one of those unusual writers who writes complex plots in a way that makes them feel easy to read and simple. Broken Time was one of those books for me. I did not struggle with it or have to re-read any parts because it flowed, yet it’s layered with intriguing plot lines, subplots and themes. The only negative thing I can say about this book is that I could see it easily being a third or more longer; maybe there will be a sequel?
I like science fiction anyway – especially science-based science fiction – and I loved this book. It does help that I also enjoy books with a wonderful strong female character, and Siggy certainly fits the bill; it is also nice to see great science fiction written by a woman. I also love the dark psychological aspects, including the insane yet brilliant inmates that give the book a taste of horror.
That is five big pluses in my opinion, so I cannot recommend this book enough, especially for those who like science-based science fiction, those who enjoy romance and are perhaps looking to try out the sci-fi genre, and perhaps for fans of Lois McMaster Bujold. It was a 4.5 star read for me. I will definitely be reading more from this author with her accessible but complex writing style.(less)
A fable-like novel with a variety of relatable characters, addictions as a subject matt...moreOriginal review posted at Layers of Thought.
4.5 stars actually!
A fable-like novel with a variety of relatable characters, addictions as a subject matter, and a kind, intelligent, yet very overweight protagonist that one cannot help but adore. His opening line draws you completely in with: “The first thing you should know about me is that I am colossally fat.”
About: Two characters tell this story - Arthur Opp and Kell Keller - and as more characters immerge heartfelt entanglements develop.
We have Arthur Opp, who describes himself as immense. He continues on in resignation as he cannot leave his home in fear of the reactions to his appearance from others. He is depressed and damaged, but it’s clear from his voice that he has a contemplative and considerate nature.
The story begins as he writes a letter to the unrequited love of his life, Charlene, to tell her his predicament and to re-establish contact for a glimmer of hope for a change in his life. He soon finds that she has a teenage son, Kell Keller, who is in his last year of high school. Kell is to become the other of the narrators.
As these two characters tell their stories the reader glimpses, in small pieces delved out slowly, how their lives interconnect with each other in significant ways.
Thoughts: Written with a variety of interesting techniques via letters and by narration from the two main characters, the text flows well, sucking in the reader. Liz Moore expresses Arthur Opp’s character skillfully and surprisingly; it’s admirable that she could have so much insight into the psyche of such a man and create such a likeable and lovely character. I want to be friends with Arthur Opp.
I listened to it in audio, with some occasional reading of the text too. (The hardcover edition is a small and an easy-to-handle size and the audio version is exceptionally well done). It’s literary fiction since it is exceptionally thoughtful with loads of in-depth character development. Yet it has some of the narrative elements of genre fiction so there is some of the natural ups and downs – which caught me into the drama so I had to keep reading it.
It’s a wonderful book for group discussion, since it may dispel many negative notions about individuals with weight problems, health issues, and addictions - giving readers so much to talk about. And it’s a hopeful tale too, with a subtle moral. I just loved it. A definite cure for the dark story doldrums. Recommended for anyone who loves sweet endings that one will probably not guess. I give this lovely book a 4.5 stars. (less)
Quick take: A nicely paced urban fantasy about werewolves. It includes a strong romanti...moreOriginal review posted at Layers of Thought.
3.5 stars actually
Quick take: A nicely paced urban fantasy about werewolves. It includes a strong romantic element, a religion particular to werewolves and insanity.
Description: Andrew Dare is a werewolf with a horrific past. His life is spent finding and punishing other werewolves that break the social laws of the werewolves in Northern America. Essentially the second in command for a wolf-pack that resides on the Eastern side of the United States, it’s when he finds a lone female wandering in his pack’s territory that the story begins. She calls herself Silver since she has been injected with silver yet has miraculously survived – and from Andrew’s encounter with her it’s apparent she has gone mad. She rambles mindlessly to a phantom and has not eaten or bathed in some time. She refuses to let him help her. Eager to put this drama to rest, Andrew does his best to do the right thing and attempts to find out Silver’s story. It appears that the monster that’s injected her may also be tracking others. So the entire werewolf community may be at risk for an identical fate and Andrew decides he must find the killer before another werewolf is victimized.
In alternating story lines from both Silver and Andrew, the reader finds out the mystery of Silver’s torture and the identity of the monster that is stalking her. This is all told with an increasing emotional involvement between the two main characters.
Shellie’s thoughts:Silver is a dark, emotional and thoughtful story. What I particularly liked is that there is no other magical system or paranormal creatures complicating things (in this first of three books anyway). And the werewolf mythology is based upon what most readers already believe about werewolves, making it so the reader can immediately jump into the action of the story.
Although at first the plot description may sound rather simple and perhaps familiar, Silver has great pacing, emotional and social depth, and compelling complications, so it pulls the reader along quickly. As the plot becomes increasingly involved and the relationship between the two main characters develops, the reader gets deeper insight into the characters’ inner workings. Also included are some added twists; the main character Silver is emotionally and physically damaged (essentially handicapped) and yet conversely is still a strong lead; she is experiencing hallucinations which have a life of their own and actually become a character; and the author brings in a spiritual/religious element (a religion that is specific to the werewolves) giving the story another dimension and adding to the complexity of the emotions.
On the negative side Silver does have an ending that is predictable and I did have slight trouble getting into the writing. It took me several chapters before becoming comfortable with Held’s style, which I would consider sparse and engaging.
Definitely for those who enjoy romance, books that include werewolves, fans of Carrie Vaughn’s Kitty Norville series, and anyone who enjoys a good story. Silver is for readers who are looking for drama and emotions around the main characters rather than just an action-oriented story (although there is quite a lot of that). I give this debut novel 3.5 stars. It would have been 4 stars if not for my few quibbles. A promising debut, I will definitely be looking at the books the author writes in the future since I believe that she will only get better at her craft. (less)
A well organized, easy to read (and skim) book on ways to prevent Alzheimer's. It includes advice on diet, physical fitness, memory tests, and mental...moreA well organized, easy to read (and skim) book on ways to prevent Alzheimer's. It includes advice on diet, physical fitness, memory tests, and mental exercises to help memory and retention. As well, there is an extensive bibliography.
Included is information on the what they do know about the disease: what are its known causes, the known statistics around one's genetic propensity for getting the disease, and statistics regarding one of the newest drug used in the treatment of Alzheimer's.
This is a book for anyone who is concerned that he/she may have the disease and distinguishes between normal memory loss in the aging process and the actual illness. There is a difference.(less)
A contemporary and historical mix that’s based around two story lines separated by 100 years. Its complex main characters, intriguing plots, and amazing equatorial African settings (which includes lions and gorillas) immerse the reader into its pages. The question is: how will these two characters be linked together in the end?
About: The historical story line is set in 1899 when Jeremy, a young American Engineer, travels to Africa in order to manage a team of 700 men constructing a railroad line in the heart of the continent. The workers are brought in from India to work on the line which is being built for access to the area for “Western” settlers. As the railroad workers battle the inhospitable drought-torn environment and malaria-causing mosquitos, they are ravaged by two 400 pound lions. The lions target the workers, just as they have been targeting the African natives. Jeremy, the only person with a gun, feels responsible for protecting “his” workers and begins to hunt them. As he becomes entwined with a native African tracker, who helps him find these elusive man-eating cats, the entire area remains terrified as one human per night is taken, killed and devoured by the starving lions.
In the parallel story which is set in the year 2000, Max, an ethno-botanist, has been commissioned to travel to the Congo by a US pharmaceutical company. She is to find and bring back a special plant that contains a chemical which may help victims of heart attacks and strokes. While searching in the mountain forest she becomes inextricably involved with the team of scientists who are living among and studying a wild gorilla family whose survival is in question. Max also finds that she too may be in danger.
Thoughts: Three Weeks in December is a terrific read and I think it has many elements which would be perfect for group discussion due to its layered and controversial themes. Audrey Schulman addresses environmental issues, gender issues, racial issues, and includes one character with a disability, making this a rich book, ripe for discussions.
It is a wonderfully descriptive story of equatorial Africa, with visions of the Savanna and jungle mountain areas, including interesting flora and fauna. While reading I kept thinking about the similarities of humans to gorillas, the complex and huge number of unknown plants that may have life-saving chemicals in their leaves, and the contrast with the torrid, dusty and dangerous areas where the lions reside. I could not help but think how easily a huge hungry cat could make us part of their menu.
The best part of the book is its complex characters, each with interesting personal attributes, giving the story depth and color. I learned from an online interview with the author that creating these characters took her some time and included repeated re-writes. A link for that interview is included on the blog.
I thoroughly enjoyed Three Weeks in December, with its exotic setting, complex characters, and in-depth relationship with the native animals and African environment. For me it was one easy-to-read story where I lost myself, my favorite type of book to read. I will be including Schulman’s other novels on my “to-be-read” list. I completely loved her writing style. I give this wonderful book a 4.5 stars.(less)