When we first meet Emily Shepard she is 17 years old and living on the streets of Burlington, Vermont, living in an igloo made of garbage bags and lea When we first meet Emily Shepard she is 17 years old and living on the streets of Burlington, Vermont, living in an igloo made of garbage bags and leaves. The story of how this happened is the basis of the latest book by Chris Bohjalian.
Written as if we are reading Emily’s journal we learn about her background; the only child of Bill and Mira Shepard who both work at the nuclear plant near her home in The Northeast Kingdom (yes that is a real place in Vermont). When there is an explosion at the reactor Emily’s parents die and her father is suspected of being drunk on the job and causing the accident. Afraid of the anger of the people who are affected by the tragedy and must evacuate their homes Emily runs away, taking on the name Abby Bliss.
This is a very dark and haunting book. Emily’s journey from middle class schoolgirl to homelessness, prostitution, drug dealing and more is heartbreaking. Her story is told in a stream of consciousness form, much as a teenager would tell it, not linear but going back and forth in time and place so at times it was difficult to follow. But through it all I was rooting for Emily to try and make smarter, better choices, but often choices were made for her by virtue of fate or chance. It is also very clear that Emily suffers from a lack of impulse control, which leads her again and again into dire circumstances. When Emily meets a nine year old runaway she decides to help care for him and begins to try and make a home for him. When a medical emergency brings their life on the streets under scrutiny Emily does what she does best, she runs; she runs back home where she confronts her past and an uncertain future.
One aspect of this book I loved was the inclusion of many lines of poetry from Emily Dickinson, who Emily Shepard is obsessed with. They were often very appropriate to what was occurring in the storyline. And kudos to Chris Bohjalian for writing what felt to me like a very authentic teenage girls voice.
Near the end of the book the explanation for the title of the book brought me to tears. It was the perfect ending to Emily’s journey.
Cartwheel is a novel loosely based on the real murder trial of Amanda Knox. For those who don’t know Amanda Knox is an American student charged with kCartwheel is a novel loosely based on the real murder trial of Amanda Knox. For those who don’t know Amanda Knox is an American student charged with killing her roommate while studying abroad. Although I was aware of the case I didn’t follow it enough to know the ins and outs of the crime, so whatever the author chose to portray, change or leave out wasn’t relevant to me. In point of fact this is less about the crime than about the way the media can manipulate people’s perceptions, and how these perceptions can be changed multiple times.
The author’s focus is mostly on the psychological impact of this alleged crime on the accused and her family and a few friends. It also exams how we perceive ourselves can be at odds with how others see us. I think this was her greatest strength. I did have a few problems with her structure, which was often confusing. Flashbacks occurring over a few months alternating with ‘current’ storylines that also occurred over several months. Her writing was frequently beautiful, however the habit of throwing in pretentious dialogue really broke up the flow since I had to stop and look up the words, often multiple times in one sentence. It got very annoying. Nobody talks like that – nobody.
I also had issues with her introduction of characters and leaving tantalizing hints about them and then not following through on them. The ‘boyfriend’ had parents who probably were not who they seemed; the family that hosted Amanda and her roommate may have ties to a criminal element; the prosecutor has a wife who comes and goes with no bearing on the story. All of this just added to a feeling of everything left hanging, especially the resolution (or lack thereof) of the central mystery.
Overall I was disappointed in the execution of what started out as a tantalizing story but fizzled out in the end. I would however try another book by the author because I did love a great deal of her writing – just not enough. ...more
Some books are filled with non-stop action and if that is what you like this is not the book for you. This is character driven and slow moving. It’s aSome books are filled with non-stop action and if that is what you like this is not the book for you. This is character driven and slow moving. It’s a book where nothing much seems to happen, but in truth a lot is going on.
In the small community of Shirley Falls, Maine a hate crime has been committed. There has been an influx of Somali people into the mostly white community and tension is in the air. When Zachary, a teenager from a well-known family, plays what he thinks is a funny prank, things quickly go awry. Soon this prank has evolved into a national incident, a hate crime with the possibility of serious consequences for the young man. When his mother calls on her two brothers to come home and help her we are drawn into the lives of this family over the course of a year.
While the storyline involving Zachary and the ramifications of his act are the center pole of the story it is the relationships between the siblings that are the heart and soul of the book.
Jim is the elder brother and Bob and Susan the younger siblings are twins. Their relationship has been strained over the years; their father died when they were young and one of them has been blamed for the accident that took his life. That one day informs the rest of their lives.
This is a beautifully written character story of the way family can pull us together and tear us apart. Through the crisis of Zach’s arrest we become privy to the details of the three siblings life. Jim is the high-powered attorney with the beautiful wife and perfect family. Bob is the affable brother who is very liberal and works as an attorney in Legal Aid, quite the opposite of Jim. Susan is the one who, unlike her brothers, never left home and is the one who seems completely adrift in the world. Little by little the characters reveal themselves to us, as we learn more about their lives. Everything gets turned around again when one sibling makes a confession that changes everything for the siblings. While Zach’s case eventually comes to an end, the changes in the Burgess family are just beginning.
I love character studies and I loved this book. I enjoy subtle storytelling and stories about the love/hate relationships siblings often have with each other. I especially enjoyed the writing; in many places it reminded me of the simple yet beautiful writing of Kent Haruf and his Holt County series. Without seeming to try Elizabeth Strout can reveal a community as well as a family by slowly entwining their stories. One of my favorite books this year. ...more
I have a lot of conflicting feelings about this book. On the one hand it’s a well-written look at family relationships in varying connections; siblingI have a lot of conflicting feelings about this book. On the one hand it’s a well-written look at family relationships in varying connections; siblings, husbands and wives and parent and child. On the other hand it’s very dark, with really unlikeable characters and some improbable scenarios.
The story takes place during the course of a dinner at a very exclusive restaurant. Two brothers, Paul and Serge and their respective wives Claire and Babette are having a night out, but it becomes clear that this is anything but a casual dinner. There are undertones and hints of something very serious involving their children, cousins that seem to have done something very bad and most likely of a criminal nature. The book is told through the voice of Paul, who seems rather staid and unremarkable. It soon becomes clear that Paul has secrets that are slowly revealed and lead to the questioning of his reliability as narrator.
At the start of the book I was very engaged and felt that this would maybe turn out to be the psychological thriller that was advertised. The story soon became bogged down in so many details of the dinner and the restaurant that the suspense slowly drained away. I really didn’t need to know the name of every dish and drink ordered, descriptions of the manager, the serving people, the owner and how the food was prepared, ad nauseum. I found it peculiar that people would leave the table for what seemed like long periods of time and nobody remarked on it. It just started to get tiresome, waiting for something, anything to happen. By the time things to start to happen it’s a just a little too late and I didn’t care very much.
While the book does provide some interesting topics to contemplate, including the lengths a parent will go to protect a child, for me it was a slog to get there and in the end I found the resolution a little unbelievable. ...more
Seven years ago I read Me & Emma, a book that broke my heart and I often thought about what happened to Carrie Parker and her younger sister Emma.Seven years ago I read Me & Emma, a book that broke my heart and I often thought about what happened to Carrie Parker and her younger sister Emma. Now comes What Happened to My Sister, which picks up shortly after the events in the first book. I strongly recommend reading Me & Emma prior to this book.
Carrie and her mother have moved on, but Emma is a subject not to be mentioned at all. Unfortunately for Carrie much in her life hasn’t gotten any better. Her mother is an alcoholic and is both negligent and abusive, Carrie spends her days foraging for food and trying not to set her mama off. Your heart breaks for this poor little girl but fate intervenes in the form of Honor Chaplin Ford and her daughter Cricket. Realizing that things are not quite right with Carrie they take her under their wing, even though they are dealing with a recent family tragedy of their own.
This book is so heartbreaking and frequently a difficult read. Child abuse is never easy to read about and Carrie’s matter of fact way of dealing with her mother is just painful to think about. Carrie is a character you cannot forget and care about so deeply, hoping she finds some happiness in her life.
Despite really enjoying the book I do have a complaint and that is the ending. It was a bit too melodramatic and came completely out of left field; it didn’t feel realistic to me. Although not a cliffhanger it does leave open the possibility of another book. ...more
This book is built on a very simple question; “What Would You Do?” and then proceeds to delve into the consequences of the action taken.
Tom and IsabelThis book is built on a very simple question; “What Would You Do?” and then proceeds to delve into the consequences of the action taken.
Tom and Isabel live a simple and secluded life on Janus Rock, the lighthouse island between the Southern and Indian Oceans. Tom seeks the seclusion of the life of a light keeper as a way to help him deal with the horrors he has seen on the battlefields of The Great War. He lives there for several years, alone until he meets Isabel on shore leave and soon they are married and living alone on the island. They have a happy life, until Isabel suffers several miscarriages and the still born birth of a son. When a boat runs ashore on the island, with a dead man on board and a screaming baby found still alive a decision is made that will have consequences for many more people than just Tom and Izzy.
This book is beautifully written, from the descriptions of the island and life in such seclusion, to the despair of a mother losing her children, to the unbreakable bond between mother and child. It also addresses the lengths some will go for those they love, despite their better judgment.
I could not put this book down; it was one of the most heartbreaking books I have read in a very long time. Even when I began to see where the book was heading I couldn’t help but wish for a better outcome. What seems a simple choice can destroy more than one family, as well as other loved ones, including the one person you never meant to hurt at all.
At the end of the book I thought many times about the “what if’s” and how things could have ended so differently. And the very end of the book had me in tears. This is Ms. Steadman’s debut and all I can say is wow and I hope she has another book as compelling as this one in the works.
Imagine sitting down to dinner with your family turning on the news and learning that your son has just killed the leading Democratic contender for thImagine sitting down to dinner with your family turning on the news and learning that your son has just killed the leading Democratic contender for the presidency. This is the nightmare that becomes Dr. Paul Allen’s life.
Paul Allen is a successful doctor, married to a younger second wife and the father of two young boys. He is also the father of Daniel, his son with his first wife Ellen. Now twenty Daniel has dropped out of college and is estranged from both parents. He’s become a drifter, searching for meaning to his life. At the time of the assassination Daniel has not spoken to anyone in his family for months.
The book is told from two viewpoints, that of Paul who is determined to prove his son’s innocence. He goes from theory to theory trying to understand what happened to his son, believing his son is the scapegoat of a large conspiracy plot. From Daniel’s viewpoint we learn of the months leading up to the shooting and how he has always felt like his father’s “shadow son”.
While I read this book in a few days it wasn’t an easy read. Paul is a decent man; he is a good father to his two young sons and tried hard to be a good father to Danny. As most parents can attest as much as you may love your children there are days when you may not like them. But when push comes to shove you will do anything to save that child, even if it puts everything and everyone in your life at risk. Danny is a confused young man, not unlike many other young men of his age. It was hard to read his painful steps to that fateful day, to not want to reach out to him in some way. As Paul continues his quest for answers you begin to wonder how much this quest is about his son or about easing his guilt about putting his career and new family ahead of that child, the one he left so many years earlier. Throughout it all one question hovers in the back of your mind – what would you do?
This was a very taut story, but a few plot twists were a little illogical and a little judicious editing would have helped. Overall it was a good book, and one I would recommend. ...more
I love a good ghost story and The Night Strangers seemed like a good bet for one of those curl up and be scared tales. On some levels this book did de I love a good ghost story and The Night Strangers seemed like a good bet for one of those curl up and be scared tales. On some levels this book did deliver on the creepy story but on a number of other levels it didn’t work.
The opening pages of this book are the most realistic descriptions of a plane crash I have ever read, and the most terrifying. When Chip Linton survives the crash of the plane he piloted and 39 passengers die he sinks into PTSD. As an effort to rebuild their life Chip, his wife and two daughters move to an old house in New Hampshire, a house that has a mysterious door that is securely closed with 39 bolts. And so the hauntings begin.
After this rich and dramatic opening the book goes astray. The house has a very sad history and the residents are eccentric in the extreme. This is where the story seems to go off the tracks. Rather than focus on Chip and weather or not the ghosts that haunt him are real or an offshoot of his PTSD the tale veers into a story of possible witches and covens with a very unhealthy interest in Chip’s two daughters. They also seem to be harboring a number of secrets about the family that lived in the hosue previously. Emily, Chip’s wife, despite uneasy feelings begins to trust these distinctly bizarre people taking the easiest path rather than cope with what is going on with her marriage and her children. So while the first storyline about a man being haunted by his past and/or ghosts the second storyline is about vaguely sinister herbalists. Chip’s story was often mesmerizing, the story of Emily and the townspeople was often boring, repetitive and these characters had no depth and were often laughable. In addition Emily was a supposed business powerhouse, yet as a mother I found her naïve beyond belief and often far too trusting of people she barely new taking over the care and upbringing of her daughters.
The final denouement was such a let down and so unsatisfying it actually made me angry. It’s not a good sign when I want to throw my Kindle against the wall. (I refrained)
This was my first book by Bohjalian, an author that I know is extremely popular. I will probably try another book by him, there were enough flashes of depth in Chip’s story and the opening sequence had me completely drawn in and horrified at the same time. I do think that I will read the reviews of these books very carefully before choosing. ...more
I really enjoy books set in cultures that are foreign to me; I always feel I learn so much and my life is enriched in some way. I was looking forwardI really enjoy books set in cultures that are foreign to me; I always feel I learn so much and my life is enriched in some way. I was looking forward to this book since I know very little about Korea and the Korean culture. In that regard I did learn a great deal, however I was disappointed in this book.
The basic storyline is about an elderly woman who is separated from her husband in a busy train station and her families search for her over several months.
The main issue for me was the second person narrative, where everyone is spoken to or about as ‘you’ and it was quite difficult to figure out who was speaking and whom they were speaking about, I found this style very distracting. In addition I didn’t care for most of the characters. The grown children were self-absorbed, the father was selfish and the missing mother was extremely self-sacrificing, to the point of martyrdom. Also it seemed as if there were more than a few health issues with the missing mom that were continually overlooked or ignored, it was inevitable that something was going to happen to her.
Although the book is rather short it was often tiresome reading and despite my enjoyment of learning about Korean culture most of the rest of the book was tedious at best ...more
Oh my goodness, I cannot believe how much I loved this book. I couldn’t put it down, laughed, cried and read it over two days time, to the exclusion oOh my goodness, I cannot believe how much I loved this book. I couldn’t put it down, laughed, cried and read it over two days time, to the exclusion of just about everything else.
Cornelia Brown is a tiny sprite of a woman who loves old classic movies; in particular The Philadelphia Story. When Martin Grace walks into her coffee shop one day, looking so much like Cary Grant it’s unbelievable, Cornelia goes out with him and begins to fall in love. What she doesn’t know is that Martin has a few secrets he has yet to share, and when one is revealed to be is eleven year old daughter, Clare, Cornelia begins a journey that changes her entire life.
This book was pitch perfect, with two amazing characters in Cornelia and Clare, people you just wish you really had in your life. The secondary characters were all wonderful, and fleshed out people. The movie and poetry references were so clever and I was completely bewitched by this book. I was also very pleased to know there is a sequel, entitled Belong to Me, and I have it and have already devoured half of it. I’ll be back with that review shortly. My first 5***** book of the year (I’m cheap with that rating)...more
Johanna Moran based her debut book on what she believed was a true story, it was in fact an abstract made to point out a loophole in the laws at the tJohanna Moran based her debut book on what she believed was a true story, it was in fact an abstract made to point out a loophole in the laws at the time. Nevertheless it is a provocative look at what happens to innocent people caught up in tragedy and punished by society for things out of their control.
In 1890 Henry Oades takes his wife Margaret and his two young children from England to New Zealand to pursue a new job. They have been living there for several years and now have four children when Margaret and the children are kidnapped by the local Maori Indians. When it becomes apparent that his family is dead a broken Henry decides to start anew in San Francisco, California. After several years Henry has begun to heal, marrying a young pregnant widow, Nancy Foreland. One morning Nancy answers a knock at her door that sends the new family into a tailspin; Henry’s family is back from the dead.
Told in the alternating voices of Meg and Nancy this book explores what happens to a man who tries to do the right thing and is brought to trial for bigamy. It raises a lot of questions and evoked a lot of emotion in me. It was really hard not to see that each of these women had valid points in thinking of themselves as the rightful wife. After a number of years of trials and retribution a balance is finally struck, but it isn’t a perfect solution.
I thought Ms. Moran did a very good job in depicting the two women, they each have very believable characterizations, unfortunately I think Henry’s character doesn’t have as much depth. This is definitely a book that would inspire a lot of discussion for any book group and I would certainly read another book by this author. ...more
I read Emma & Me several years ago and thought it was an amazing story, so I was ready to like this book, but I really, really disliked it.
SamanthI read Emma & Me several years ago and thought it was an amazing story, so I was ready to like this book, but I really, really disliked it.
Samantha Friedman is locked in a loveless marriage with her extremely distracted husband. Looking to feel something Samantha begins a flirtation that leads to more. Her teenage daughter Cammy has been looking for happiness in all the wrong places; since learning she was adopted she has made friends with a questionable group, is taking drugs, drinking and having risky sexual encounters. Both women are desperately trying to escape their lives and eventually do, but in totally unexpected and shocking ways.
I have no problem with sad books, or books that deal with difficult subjects, but first and foremost I need to care about the characters. With the exception of Cammy there was nobody in this book I liked. Sam was so self-absorbed in her own search for happiness she does not see her daughter crying out for help over and over again. Bob the father is a one dimensional nobody that evoked no feelings in me at all. Craig, Sam’s possible boyfriend is a sneak and a liar. The only one I cared about was Cammy but her downward spiral became increasingly difficult to read.
Unrelenting in its bleakness this was not an enjoyable read, after turning the last page I was just glad to be done with this depressing story....more
When I was thirteen I read this book and loved it. I was Francie in my mind. We lived not far from Brooklyn and while not as poor, shared many of theWhen I was thirteen I read this book and loved it. I was Francie in my mind. We lived not far from Brooklyn and while not as poor, shared many of the same problems.
The book has always been a fond memory for me. This month it was chosen as a group read for my reading group. Although I rarely re-read, I decided to see if the book was as good as my memory said it was. To my delight it was still as wonderful as I remembered. Only this time I had a bit more sympathy for the mother Katie, then I did the first time. Seeing the book through the eyes of a mother, I admired more of the qualities I saw as harsh those many years ago.
Betty Smith writes with such detail, that one can see the streets of Williamsburg as seen through Francie's eyes. The Nolan's are a family that literally lives the American dream. They start the book in dire poverty, yet each generation accomplishing more than the one before. And they have the most important gift of all, the love and support of family. Today this would no doubt be labeled a dysfunctional family, with an alcoholic father, a mother leaving her children unattended, an aunt who is a little too free with her favors. Yet we love the Nolans, and root for them through thick and thin.
Francie Nolan loved reading and the library above all else. I am now the grown up Francie, still trying to read every book in the library. I am glad I took the time to re-read this one. Francie Nolan will be a part of me forever. ...more
The town of Bedford, Maine is dying, little by little. The paper mill is closed; families are leaving looking for better lives; the kids that live theThe town of Bedford, Maine is dying, little by little. The paper mill is closed; families are leaving looking for better lives; the kids that live there cannot wait to graduate high school and get out. Liz Marley is one of those girls hoping to leave behind her family and sister Susan. Susan is the specter of the town; wandering around, not speaking to anyone and somehow invading the thoughts of all the people in the town. When Susan falls to her death in a terrible accident all the dark secrets of Bedford and its inhabitants begin to come out; the dead start to rise and madness is taking over little by little.
I don’t read much horror anymore, but The Keeper sounded promising and it was a freebie for Kindle. It actually started out quite well, reminiscent of Stephen King’s early novels set in small town Maine; unfortunately somewhere about halfway through the storyline became too violent, too choppy and at times in the midst of all that too boring with a lot of repetition and far too much detail. The biggest problem for me is that I didn’t care about most of the people in the book, whenever I felt a connection is was too fleeting and soon I just wanted to get to the end, which unsurprisingly was anti-climatic. I rated it two stars because it did start out well and since it is a debut maybe future books will be better; I like to give new authors the benefit of a doubt.