When we left Hank and Julie at the end of Gap Creek (published in 2000), they were leaving Gap Creek and heading back up the mountain to begin anew. H...moreWhen we left Hank and Julie at the end of Gap Creek (published in 2000), they were leaving Gap Creek and heading back up the mountain to begin anew. Having survived a very rough first year of marriage, they were full of hope and love and the future seemed bright. And, indeed, the future does seem to have been good to them. In this sequel, narrated by Annie, one of their daughters, some 25 years after the events in Gap Creek, Hank and Julie have created a family, are financially stable, and overall seem to have been doing well in the years since we last saw them. How did they get there? Don't ask me.
Here is what we learn about those years: after leaving Gap Creek, Hank and Julie at some point moved back there, and then left again, when Annie was about 5 years old; Hank was able to find steady work in the '20s by building summer cottages for rich people; with steady work, he gained confidence; and they have 4 children. Why did they return to Gap Creek? Why did they leave again? Dunno. I suppose the stories must not be very interesting, since the only family lore Annie seems to know are things that happened when her parents were newlyweds - in other words, stories we already know if we read Gap Creek. A sequel doesn't have to describe every detail that we've missed in the lives of the characters, but it's almost as though Morgan's imagination just totally failed him and he just doesn't know what happened to his characters in those 25 years. In which case, quite frankly, this book needed a different title, because the road from Gap Creek is not at all the story it tells.
That being said, the writing is, of course, beautiful and evocative of Appalachia in the late 1930s and into WWII. As a stand-alone book, this would have been a lovely read. As a sequel, it just doesn't hold up.(less)
Reading this book felt a little like watching a silent movie: some jerky, indistinct action, interspersed with text that's supposed to illuminate the...moreReading this book felt a little like watching a silent movie: some jerky, indistinct action, interspersed with text that's supposed to illuminate the dialogue you can't hear, but doesn't necessarily help bring the story into focus.
The story begins as Eva's mother takes her to her father's house for the first time, where she meets her half-sister Iris, and is in for some nasty surprises about her father. Eva and Iris escape to Hollywood, where Iris has some initial success in becoming a starlet, before she is black-balled by the industry. Beginning to widen the cast of characters, Eva and Iris move to New York where the bulk of the action takes place. But why do people choose to go with them? Why do others join the little group in New York? Explanation of motivation is sorely lacking in the narrative. Instead, we are asked to accept, for example, that someone with a long and successful career as a make-up artist in Hollywood would just give that up to join two girls he hardly knows on a cross-country trip. Ok, yes, he felt about what happened to Iris, but I'm sorry, I just don't buy it.
I also felt like the narrative followed the wrong character. Eva just isn't very interesting. I'm not sure that I would have found Iris to be all that more compelling, as she comes across as shallow and self-involved, but at least she has agency in her own life. Eva just sort of drifts along, and seems to almost willfully not understand what's going on around her.
And yet, by the end of the book, I understood where the title came from, and what Bloom was trying to do. It was a satisfying ending, if not a satisfying beginning or middle.(less)
What if the Cuban Missile Crisis had not been peacefully resolved? What if the Soviets had detonated nuclear bombs over Long Island? And what if your...moreWhat if the Cuban Missile Crisis had not been peacefully resolved? What if the Soviets had detonated nuclear bombs over Long Island? And what if your family was the only one with a bomb shelter? This is the premise of Todd Strasser's book.
But this is not a philosophical treatise. We aren't asked actually asked "what would you do if...". Rather, we are presented with the situation as it is, and through Strasser's very vivid writing, asked to put ourselves in the shelter and experience it through Scott's eyes.
Neither is this a political treatise. Strasser keeps the focus so tight on Scott, his first-person narrator, that we can't even quite tell what's going on politically or militarily. We only know tensions are rising on the world stage. It's a very realistic portrayal of how the world looked to a 12 year old in 1962, but the technique has it's pitfalls as well, the biggest one being that I am not 12 years old and would have liked a bit more insight into what was going on in the wider world.
Although this lack of information bothered me while I was reading the book, looking back, it seems almost a nitpicky complaint about a book that is so strong and readable.(less)
I enjoyed George Bishop's first novel, Letter to My Daughter and was excited to read this book, his second. I was not disappointed. Bishop explores si...moreI enjoyed George Bishop's first novel, Letter to My Daughter and was excited to read this book, his second. I was not disappointed. Bishop explores similar themes in this book, as his narrator looks back on his childhood and the lives of his parents.
Alan Broussard, Jr. looks back on his freshman year of high school, when he fell in love for the first time, his father was his science teacher, his parents' marriage fell apart and came back together, and the comet Kohoutek didn't quite show up. Bishop is adept at bringing his characters to life and managing all of the threads of his narrative. The story isn't complicated or startling, but it's believable and satisfying.(less)
Now with the elite Special Operations Executive, Maggie continues her somewhat maverick approach to acts of derring-do on behalf of His Majesty with a two-pronged mission in Berlin. Unfortunately, most of the people she encounters during her exploits there fail to come alive on the page. Add to that less-than-convincing mission details and some entirely-too-coincidental meet-ups, and this adventure just doesn't measure up. But MacNeal has already proven that she has what it takes in this genre, so I'll continue to hope for good things in future Maggie Hope adventures.
Two additional notes: First, this book shouldn't really be called a mystery, since there is no mystery to be solved. Second, MacNeal shouldn't feel the need to rip off scenes from tv shows, although I'm sure it was entirely an unconscious thing on her part. She chose one of my favorite scenes from an excellent show (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), but I was still very disappointed. Her writing is strong enough without resorting to copying, even from the greats.(less)