Small Scottish town in the Highlands in 1950's: a small boy is found dead/drowned in a canal lock one morning. First thought to be an accident, it com...moreSmall Scottish town in the Highlands in 1950's: a small boy is found dead/drowned in a canal lock one morning. First thought to be an accident, it comes out that he was murdered. Although there is not much evidence against him, a Polish man is accused of the accident. He jumped ship and was trying to escape going back to his wrecked and war-torn homeland. The only ones in town really trying to uncover what really happened is the small local newspaper staff.
That's the basic gist of the novel but it was so much more than that. The 1950's small town mentality is really apparent in the story. Joanne, a part-time writer for the newspaper, mother and abused wife can't leave her husband because of the shame and the fear. The town's obvious prejudice and outright accusation of any "others" becomes apparent as they accuse the Polish man, shun his Polish friend, and outcast the town's local Italian newcomers. It's also apparent how bad most of the social systems are: orphanages, elderly people's homes, and prisons.
I think I enjoyed this book though because of the characters and am so glad that there is going to be at least one sequel to the novel which, according A.D. Scott's website is called Tales from the Highland Gazette and will be coming out next year. Joanne's plight and her care of her two daughter who were the last people to see the small boy. The cast of the newspaper: Don, McAllister, and Rob - such great characters. There's a snippet into McAllister's life where his bachelor abode has piles of books everywhere. When Don comes over to his house, here's a quote:
"...grateful that Don hadn't asked if he had read all the books - McAllister had to drop an acquaintance for asking such an inane question..."
Isn't that awesome. I totally get that. There's also a part I loved where at a party they get introduced to American Rock n' Roll and it was just a fun part of the story.
I also loved the Scottish lore, history, and just atmosphere the book has pared with beautiful writing. I will admit that were quite a lot of words and references that I did not understand but it made me read the book more slowly than I might have which I actually liked. (less)
The book starts out with a List of Players which, thank you Robert Parry, I definitely used. I love history but am not a huge Tudor fan as some others...moreThe book starts out with a List of Players which, thank you Robert Parry, I definitely used. I love history but am not a huge Tudor fan as some others out there. So when they refer to, say, the Earl of Devonshire, I know exactly who they are talking about. The time span follows Elizabeth as a small child, through the death of her half brother Edward VI, King of England, to the fateful reign of Jane Grey, to the succession of Queen Mary and through her death to Elizabeth's ascension.
This book is so originally written. I mean, it reads like a play. Not like Shakespeare or anything but it's written in present tense, which as odd as that sounds totally works. There are main chapters but a lot of the chapters have Acts and Interludes which I really enjoyed.
Basically what this all means is that I remember this book like I've seen it played out before me. For instance, when John Dee first meets Elizabeth when they are just children. Elizabeth is crying over the recent death of Katherine Howard by her father, Henry VIII. That scene is just awesome. Then later after they are much older there is a scene I love. John Dee had taught Elizabeth how to send secret messages through groupings of flowers. So when Queen Mary is on the throne and Elizabeth is pretty much under house arrest, Dee sneaks into to see Elizabeth disguised as one of the many gardeners. There they pass flowers back and forth wordlessly and you know they are sending each other messages. I just loved scenes like this in this book.
It also does an amazing job of telling the whole story by not just following John Dee or Elizabeth but by following most of the characters. I found this gave me such a well-rounded view of all the tension and politics going on at the time. It's absolutely amazing that history turned out the way it did. It's shocking all the events these characters went through and survived how they did.
Towards the end of the book, Robert Dudley says something that I just chuckled at because it so fit this book.
"And yet I do wonder how it has all come to pass just as you and Cecil said it would," Robert observes, "like the unfolding of some great drama or history play! It is astonishing!"
I absolutely adored this book and can't wait to read another book by Robert Parry. My only disappointment with this book is that with so many other books on this subject, this gem might get overlooked. (less)
The Queen of Palmyra takes place that fateful summer in 1963 in Mississippi when temperatures got to record breaking highs, JFK and Medgar Evers were...moreThe Queen of Palmyra takes place that fateful summer in 1963 in Mississippi when temperatures got to record breaking highs, JFK and Medgar Evers were assassinated, and the country's racial tensions were at an all time high.
Florence Forrest is a young white girl and it is the summer between her fourth and fifth year in school. However, she is way behind in studies because for the past year, her father and mother have been on the "lam" as she calls it, traveling around while her father unsuccessfully tries to hold one job after another. They finally return home to Millwood, Mississippi and that's when things start to crumble.
Florence's father, unbeknownst to her, is part of the Klan which is something her mother abhors. However, her father is a bit of a terror and as their marriage slowly crumbles, he tries to keep Florence close by telling her stories that have deeper darker meanings. Her mother manages a quite successful cake business but Florence starts being pawned off more and more on others, mainly Zenie, her grandmother's black housemaid. That summer, Zenie's college student niece, Eva, comes to stay with them. Florence is made a witness to all and must finally grow up and choose for herself which path she must follow.
I found this to be such an absorbing novel. I normally don't choose to read novels with such obvious serious topics. In the past, I normally tried to read lighter books for an escapism type of enjoyment. But I'm finding that more and more I'm steering toward books with tougher topics. This is definitely one of those novels.
Florence is such an interesting character because of her obvious lack of understanding but she observes everything and tries to figure out what is going on. She's such a neglected character. She is left to fend for herself often and goes long periods of time without food, a bath, or a a change of clothes.
I have to say that all the other characters were so well written as well. Her father, though while a terrifying character, is flawed and realistic. Her mother refuses to stand up and chooses to escape. Zenie and Eva were my favorite characters. Zenie, named after Zenobia the Queen of Palmyra, tells Florence stories about the Queen. While a good influence on Florence, Zenie views the care-taking of Florence as just another job and often refers to the girl as "it". Eva...well you'll just have to read the story to find out about Eva.
I keep wanting to blab about the book so I think this would make a perfect Book Club book. While I've never read The Help, I have read The Color Purple and Their Eyes Were Watching God. (less)
Let me start my synopsis by quoting a piece from the novel: "It had never occurred to me before but everything in New York is built upon another thing...moreLet me start my synopsis by quoting a piece from the novel: "It had never occurred to me before but everything in New York is built upon another thing, nothing is entirely by itself, each thing as strange as the last, and connected."
I love this quote. It depicts New York City AND the novel so very well. Most of the book takes place or focuses on NYC, 1974. We start the story centered around two Irish brothers in the Bronx. The story then skips perspectives, darting around the city but each story is somehow connected to each other. Pivoting in almost each story is the August event of Philippe Petit's tightrope walk between the Twin Towers.
When I first heard about this book, I thought it was going to be a series of interconnected short stories. That's not really what it is. It's a full novel with various perspectives. Front and center is the story of Corrigan, an Irish man of God who moves to the Bronx to work with people in need. Think of Corrigan as an odd modern Francis of Assisi. Corrigan's story is mainly told through the eyes of his brother but we hear from nearby prostitutes as well. Then the story skips to others: an Upper East Side wife, a wealthy judge, a single black mother who's lost her son in Vietnam, an artist who's fifteen minutes has come and gone, and many others.
I can't tell you all the voices in the story without giving away some of the pivotal story, but it's all interconnected. Just like the city. I remember living there and even though there are so many many people, the city hummed as one. If it was a bleak rainy day, everyone was bleak. If it was a beautiful sunny Spring day, everyone perked up. But what intrigued me was looking back into the past life of NYC and it's people. This glimpse in 1974 is not pretty. People were used to being mugged, seeing prostitutes on street corners, and drugged up people daily. I remember hearing stories from my neighbors about heroin needles on the street and the drug running from Jersey. While NYC today is a much cleaner and safer place to be, living there I often turned a blind eye to the darker aspects of the city. I remember one winter's day, seeing a homeless man on the subway going around stealing the coats of other homeless people sleeping on the benches. He had about five coats and was picking up his sixth. But what do you do? I'm not proud to say what I did (turn a blind eye) and what Corrigan would have done is not the same thing.
Was this book good? Yes. Was it a difficult read? Yes. Does it make me think? Yes.
I'll end this review with something Colum McCann wrote at the end: "The world spins. We stumble on. It is enough." (less)
The story revolves around Bartholomew Fortuno, dubbed "THE WORLD'S SKINNIEST MAN" in P.T. Barnum's museum in New York City. P.T. Barnum is the same gu...moreThe story revolves around Bartholomew Fortuno, dubbed "THE WORLD'S SKINNIEST MAN" in P.T. Barnum's museum in New York City. P.T. Barnum is the same guy from Barnum and Bailey Circus. It's 1865 and the Civil War has just ended and President Lincoln has just been shot. But this story isn't about Lincoln or the Civil War. It's about the Curiosities (the freaks and oddities as they were called) who actually lived in the Barnum's museum.
Bartholomew Fortuno is considered a True Prodigy, one who was born with his "gift." But his world is rocked when a mysterious veiled lady arrives under cover and is rumored to be a new act. From that moment on, Fortuno's life will never be the same.
I absolutely loved this story of Bartholomew Fortuno. The entire time period and feel of New York City and the Museum comes alive, but it's Fortuno's story, as well as the other Curiosities, that I fell for. Fortuno struggles with past and with his future as he grows in character and as a man.
I had briefly heard about P.T. Barnum's odd museum which later on burned to the ground. A few years ago, some CUNY students recreated the museum online in a wonderful interactive site. If you've never checked out the Lost Museum website, I urge you to go check it out.
I loved that Ellen took pains to include authenticity into the book. For example, every once in a while there are hand written letters or Notices for the museum performers.(less)
While vacationing at a resort in Alaska, Jenna and Robert Rosen lost their only young son in a boating accident and his body was never recovered. Two...moreWhile vacationing at a resort in Alaska, Jenna and Robert Rosen lost their only young son in a boating accident and his body was never recovered. Two years later, back in Seattle, Jenna is still unable to come to terms with the guilt and grief over his death. After an angry fight with Robert, Jenna spontaneously drives to Bellingham where she catches the ferry to Alaska knowing she must deal with his death in her own way.
Jenna arrives in Wrangell, the home of her Tlingit grandmother who passed away years earlier. There she meets a few characters who help her search for answers to her son's death and disappearance including Eddie, an injured fisherman who develops quite the crush on Jenna. While searching for answers, Jenna becomes more and more a believer in the Tlingit lore and legend surrounding kushtaka spirits: shape-shifting otter spirits believed to steal the souls of lost people.
I am having a hard time deciding how I like this book. I liked it. I didn't love it. There were too many hard topics to make it really enjoyable but I was sucked into the story anyway. My husband said it's not as engaging as The Art of Racing in the Rain, but we both devoured the story anyway. When I wasn't reading the book, he was.
I think the biggest thing to note is that this is an older book of Garth Stein's and it shows in the writing which is not as fluid as The Art of Racing in the Rain. But I completely loved the Alaskan setting and the Tlingit spirit lore. Garth Stein is part Tlingit and I loved that he really put work into the Alaskan setting.
The hard part about reading this book is the topics of death, grief, and guilt and how they can wreck, ravage, and pull apart a family. It was a great book for discussion between my husband and I though. I found that I had more sympathy with the husband and thought Jenna was insanely selfish while my husband felt they were both mildly awful in their selfishness.(less)
Michael Gates Gill had been working for over twenty-five years as an ad agency director. He was born into a life of privilege and being in the Yale cr...moreMichael Gates Gill had been working for over twenty-five years as an ad agency director. He was born into a life of privilege and being in the Yale crowd, pretty much given his job and that was that. In one fail swoop -- he loses his job, his marriage, has a child outside of his marriage, and is diagnosed with a brain tumor. I mean...wow. And sometimes I think I have it hard! Down and out, he manages to get a job at Starbucks and his eyes are opened to a world where deadlines and blackberries are out, and being happy and helpful are in.
Honestly, the first two chapters were the best ones for me. For some strange reason, this book fell into my lap at the best time. Right now, my husband and I are contemplating a lot of changes. My husband has a master's degree in mechanical engineering and after working in the field for some years, he just has never enjoyed it and usually just plain hates it. So he's thinking about going back to school for something he actually wants to do. How scary but exciting! Actually, yesterday he put in his two weeks at work.
We are also in the middle of trying to move out of our apartment, even though our lease isn't up until this next summer. I've been pretty sick for about a year now with allergies and eczema. My doctor thought it was a food allergy but I am convinced now that it is due to a ton of mold in our apartment. I didn't have proof though until I pulled our Christmas tree box down from our closet and it was stuck to a ton of mold on the wall. Yeah. That is disgusting. So we are changing it. Getting out so we can get healthy and happy.
So when Gill wrote that if you are less than thrilled about what you are doing...change it!! -- well, that just spoke right to me. Don't wait until something drastic, like a brain tumor, makes you change how you live. We decided that while it's extremely scary to change our life to be happy, it's definitely more scary to stay where we are. One of his chapters or "lessons" is "Leap...With Faith", and that is just what we are going to do.
The rest of the book was, I thought, a nice memoir-ish about what Michael Gates Gill has been through and what he's learned. I especially enjoyed the sections on learning from your father and mother. His father was a writer for The New Yorker and just seemed like such a character. Even though his father passed away a few years ago, he is still continuing to learn from his example. I loved that. My husband and I both lost our fathers to cancer but I still think my father was an amazing example of what a husband and father should be. And our moms, well, they are just amazing ladies.
I don't know what I would have thought about this book had I not been in this place in my life. All I know is that I am glad I read it when I did.(less)
The Creed of Violence starts out on the Texas/Mexico border in 1910. Mexico is rumbling for revolution which is a problem for both countries because o...moreThe Creed of Violence starts out on the Texas/Mexico border in 1910. Mexico is rumbling for revolution which is a problem for both countries because of Mexico's much-needed oil fields (hmmm...sounds eerily familiar). John Lourdes is a young agent in America's Bureau of Investigation (early FBI). His job is to take the criminal known as Rawbone and travel with him and a truck full of weapons across the border into Mexico undercover. Rawbone is working with the Bureau to gain immunity. Problem? Aside from the obvious dangers of working undercover in a country on the brink of revolution, Rawbone is John Lourdes dead-beat father. John Lourdes knows this. Rawbone does not.
I really enjoyed this book for two reasons: the setting of the novel and the relationship between father and son. I could totally see why The Creed of Violence is being adapted in to a movie. What a violent and vivid portrait he paints of Mexico, the revolutionaries, the violence, and America's intervention into the fray. The setting sucked me into the novel but it was really the relationship between Rawbone and John Lourdes that kept me reading.
Here's the first line of the book which is about Rawbone:
"He was born in Scabtown the day Lincoln was assassinated at Ford's Theater."
I love how it starts out. Rawbone is a criminal and a common killer. He never knew his father and his prostitute mom died when he was young. Left on his own he turned criminal. Honestly, I kind of liked him. He was sort of funny with a type of wit that made him a likable character. John Lourdes, ironically, had a similar sad upbringing. Rawbone was married to his mom and then took off when Lourdes was young. His mom passed away shortly after. But instead of turning criminal like Rawbone, Lourdes joins the Bureau of Investigation. He's angry at Rawbone and really wants to see him dead.
But their journey together changes them. And that's the part of The Creed of Violence that I enjoyed. I'm excited to see how this book will be adapted to the big screen. I wonder who would portray Rawbone and John Lourdes. (less)
I love this novel. I'm not sure if I love it because I had no expectations or what, but what a beautiful book. Beware: If you are the type that might...moreI love this novel. I'm not sure if I love it because I had no expectations or what, but what a beautiful book. Beware: If you are the type that might tear up while reading a book, this is one of those books. The idea behind the story is based on events in the author's life. You can read his idea for the book here.
The story follows the life of a dog named Giv. The book is composed as the story of Giv's life written by one of Giv's many owners, Sergeant Dean Hickok. From Giv's birth, by chance, fate, or luck, he gets passed on from person to person, from experience to experience. The blurb from the press release by Americans Speak says "The Forrest Gump of dog books." I'm not sure about all that, but boy does Giv go through some stuff. He's in Dallas with some struggling musicians checking out the book depository, he's there through Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, and he's there for an Iraqi war vetran.
While the book is about a dog named Giv, it's also about the people he meets. Memorable characters. Heart-wrenching characters. It's about the free-will, undying spirit of man and man's best friend. I loved how the idea of the act of rebellion, not always a bad thing, was a piviotal aspect of the book and the character of Giv. Boston Teran wrote rebellion as "the power to choose freely who one will or will not be". I like that. As he points out, America was founded by rebels and there's a little bit of rebel in us all.
I find it hard to write about this book and not sound cheesy or blubbery...but I can't help it. I really loved it. I was really surprised how much I liked it. It's not a book I would have picked up on my own but I am so glad I was sent it. (less)
This book is a bit of a trip. Take chick-lit, a bit of romance, Irish historical-fiction, and time travel and mix it all up, throw in a little bit of...moreThis book is a bit of a trip. Take chick-lit, a bit of romance, Irish historical-fiction, and time travel and mix it all up, throw in a little bit of Irish wolfhound and you've got Now & Then. And I totally enjoyed it. **Warning: The dog plays a fairly small part in the story.**
Anna O'Shea is a bit of a mess. Her father abandoned the family, her brother has anger issues, her nephew has just landed in jail, and her husband left her for another woman after three failed pregnancies.
Joseph O'Shea is a bit of a mess. He's sixteen, unpopular at school, and only good at wrestling, not the most popular sport at school. His father just got into a huge car accident while on his way to pick up Joseph from jail and his aunt, Anna, is furious with him.
Enter the time-travel. How? Why? Read the book!
Anna and Joseph get whisked back in time to country Ireland, 1844. Just one year before THE potato famine. And they get separated. Anna is injured and is taken in by some of the country people. Joseph gets taken for a non-Irish Canadian and is taken in by a wealthy Englishman. And of course, they both fall in love with someone while in historic Ireland. Anna and Joseph have to find each other, figure out what happened and why, and how to get home...if they still want to go home.
What I liked:
I enjoyed the sections narrated by Anna. I really liked her and just wanted her to be happy. I loved the historical setting in Ireland. The way the Irish were suppressed by the British landlords and what they had to do to survive was fascinating and horrible at the same time. I love that it was kind of realistic too. Anna got beat up quite a bit which I don't think you'd find in a romance novel. I mean, at one point she looses some teeth. O yeah.
What I didn't like:
Ok. I think the cover and blurb is so misleading. I thought this book would be more dog-centric, right? Wrong. Well, mostly wrong. There is a dog. An Irish wolfhound name Madigan. He has more to do with Joseph's part of the story. But just a bit. Madigan's importance really only comes out at the very end. And speaking of Joseph, he was so annoying. I guess he's a sixteen year-old but still. Hmm...I guess that is it.
While it wasn't the story the cover led me to believe it was, it was still a fun time-traveling ride. I have to admit I'm a sucker for Irish history so that was a huge bonus for me. (less)
In 2003, two thirty-something friends take a vacation to Granada, Spain to enjoy the town and take lessons in flamenco dancing. Sonia is in a love-les...moreIn 2003, two thirty-something friends take a vacation to Granada, Spain to enjoy the town and take lessons in flamenco dancing. Sonia is in a love-less relationship with her husband and has taken refuge in her weekly flamenco classes. During her trip, she meets an elderly waiter who proceeds to divulge the torrent history of Granada and Spain during the Spanish Civil War which started in 1936 in an army coup led by General Franco. The story revolves around one family's tale, the Ramírez family who's daughter Mercedes was a talented flamenco dancer and who's son was a famous bullfighter.
The first part of the story was ok. I'm more of a historical fiction fan so I was impatient to get to the Ramírez family's story. But it did drive home a point that many of us are not too familiar with Spain's story during this time period.
When it was time for the Ramírez family's story, I almost thought I wasn't going to like this book. The story is definitely laid out as a narrative with few actual dialogue pieces. I'm not used to this type of story telling. I thought it was a bit too removed and distant. BUT...then I got into the story. Victoria Hislop paints the town of Granada with such vividness that I can almost see the streets. Mercedes was such a beautiful character living for two things: flamenco dancing and her love for the gypsy guitarist Javier. Long after the story ended I still think on the Ramírez family, just one of thousands of families who's lives were ripped asunder by the Spanish Civil War and Franco's regime.