Monday, July 8, 2024

River Sing Me Home

River Sing Me Home
Title:
  River Sing Me Home
Author:  Eleanor Shearer
Publication Information:  Berkley. 2023. 336 pages.
ISBN:  0593548043 / 978-0593548042

Rating:   ★★★★

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The soil on the island was fertile, but everything laid down shallow roots."

Favorite Quote:  "Mary Grace lifted her eyes to the sky, perhaps to where she felt her God would be. Rachel did the same, even though she did not believe in a sky-god. She felt that if any god or gods existed, they would be diffused throughout everything and everyone on earth, neither benevolent nor malign, but simply existing, drawing everything together, living and dead."

The Emancipation Act of 1834 has come into being in Barbados. On that day, the master of the plantation announces that though, they may no longer be slaves, all the former slaves are now apprentices. They must must work for him for another six years to pay for their freedom before they can leave. "Freedom is just another name for the life they have always lived."

Rachel is a slave on the Providence plantation. One by one, her children either died or were sold away. Rachel is a mother. What comes next for her? Apprenticeship? Continuation of life as it has always been, just with a different title? Rachel runs, the call of freedom and the glimmer of hope driving her while fear follows her every decision. "She shielded herself from the world as best she could. Every time she saw white skin, her hands would tremble. This was the read power of slavery, the long shadow it could cast after its formal end - that even with all this distance between her and Providence, Rachel still lived in fear."

Freedom, hope, and fear are the themes of the book, not just for Rachel for all whom she encounters and all that she discovers about the lives of her children:
  • "Every freedom had its price."
  • "This is why me don't like to do it... Think about the past. The memories too painful. The hope hurt. All I want to do is live the life in front of me, because it's a miracle me make it here."
  • "Hope hurts."
  • "Hope led you to dream things that could not be, like freedom wrestled from the white man's unwilling hands, or a family reunited."
  • "Freedom mean something different to me. The search, that is freedom."
Rachel travels far in her search. To some extent, her story and the fate of each of her children becomes symbolic of the experiences of so many - those who died or were killed, those who found safety, those who made unthinkable compromises to survive, and those who continue the search.

Reading this story as that of one family cause me to ponder the connections and convenient segways that allow Rachel the path she follows. However, reading it as symbolic allows me to put aside the coincidences and rather focus on the different paths each individual story takes and the immense loss and tragedy. Ultimately, this is story of a mother's love and the lengths to what that love will go and sacrifice to protect and save her children.


Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Monday, July 1, 2024

In the Hours of Crows

In the Hour of Crows by Dana Elmendorf
Title:
  In the Hour of Crows
Author:  Dana Elmendorf
Publication Information:  MIRA. 2024. 288 pages.
ISBN:  0778310493 / 978-0778310495

Rating:   ★★★

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and a publisher's blog tour free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "I was born in the woods in the hour of crows, when the day is no longer but the night is not yet."

Favorite Quote:  "She doesn't deserve your kindness... No... She does not deserve my kindness, you're right. But it's not about what she deserves. It about who I am as a person."

***** BLOG TOUR *****


Review

This story of seeking justice is a story set in Appalachia with a decidedly gothic feel.

Weatherly Wilder, an orphan being raised by her grandmother is a Death Talker. As explained in the book, she has a gift (curse?) that she can talk death out of someone dying. The side product of that is something called Sin Eater Oil, a product that has magical properties all its. Weatherly is successful most of them. The cases in which she isn't are the ones that haunt her. Why does she fail? What boundaries and restrictions does her gift have?

Her cousin Adaire can see the future except, it seems, in one case. Adaire is killed while out on a bicycle. An accident? Or something more sinister?

Tied up in Weatherly's story are her grandmother, the stories of her parents, her friends who seem to love and accept her for who she is, and Rook - a creature who is at times boy and at times a crow. Weatherly's story and Rook's are inextricably linked.

The crux of the book is Adaire's death and Weatherly's refusal to believe that it is an accident. The story brings in the past and brings in the powerbrokers of the town, who have their own history with the Wilder family.

The gothic story has an interesting setting in rural, Appalachian Georgia. The setting of the book, however, fades into the background as this book is very much about the characters and the magic of death talker, future teller, shape shifters, and more. The book is also about family - the one we want or choose and the one that does not want us. The setting is almost irrelevant other than being a small town where everyone knows everyone and everyone is connected to everyone.

What I find most fascinating about the book is the relationship between Weatherly and her grandmother and the revelation of the decisions that her grandmother makes. I wish the book revealed more of the story of the grandmother and developed more of her character. For as vital a role as she plays in the book, her character remains relatively one dimensional - Weatherly's mean grandmother.

The solution to Adaire's death, as you might expect lies in the past. However, given the small cast of characters and given the clues revealed about Weatherly's gift, the connections of the past are not a surprise when the big reveal does come. I wish for a twist but there is none in that regard. Nevertheless, it is an interesting, dark, gothic tale.

About the Book

An engrossing and atmospheric debut that follows young Weatherly Wilder as she uses her unique gift to solve her cousin’s mysterious murder and prove her own innocence, set in the beautiful wilds of Appalachia and imbued with magic realism.

In a small town in rural Georgia, Appalachian roots and traditions still run deep. Folks paint their houses blue to keep the spirits way. Black ferns grow, it’s said, where death will follow. And Weatherly Wilder’s grandmother is a local Granny Witch, relied on for help delivering babies, making herbal remedies, tending to the sick—and sometimes serving up a fatal dose of revenge when she deems it worthy. Hyper-religious, she rules Weatherly with an iron fist; because Weatherly has a rare and covetable gift: she’s a Death Talker. Weatherly, when called upon, can talk the death out of the dying; only once, never twice. But in her short twenty years on this Earth this gift has taken a toll, rooting her to the small town that only wants her around when they need her and resents her backwater ways when they don’t—and how could she ever leave, if it meant someone could die while she was gone?

Weatherly’s best friend and cousin, Adaire, also has a gift: she’s a Scryer; she can see the future reflected back in a dark surface, usually her scrying pan. Right before she’s hit and in a bicycle accident, Adaire saw something unnerving in the pan, that much Weatherly knows, and she is certain this is why the mayor killed her cousin—she doesn’t believe for a moment that it was an accident. But when the mayor’s son lays dying and Weatherly, for the first time, is unable to talk the death of him, the whole town suspects she was out for revenge, that she wouldn’t save him. Weatherly, with the help of Adaire’s spirit, sets out to prove her own innocence and find Adaire’s killer, no matter what it takes.

About the Author

Dana Elmendorf was born and raised in small town in Tennessee. She now lives in Southern California with her husband, two boys and two dogs. When she isn’t exercising, she can be found geeking out with Mother Nature. After four years of college and an assortment of jobs, she wrote a contemporarty YA novel. This is her adult debut.

Excerpt

Excerpted from IN THE HOUR OF CROWS by Dana Elmendorf. Copyright © 2024 by Dana Elmendorf. Published by MIRA Books, an imprint of HarperCollins.

PROLOGUE

I was born in the woods in the hour of crows, when the day is no longer but the night is not yet. Grandmama Agnes brought me into this world with her bare hands. Just as her mother had taught her to do. Just as the mother before her taught. Just as she would teach me. Midwife, herbalist, superstitionist—all the practices of her Appalachian roots passed down for generations.

And a few new tricks picked up along the way.

Before Papaw died, he warned me Grandmama Agnes was wicked. He was wrong. It wasn’t just Grandmama who was wicked; so was I.

I knew it was true the night those twin babies died.

“Weatherly,” Grandmama’s sleep-weary voice woke me that night long ago. “Get your clothes on. Don’t forget your drawers.”

My Winnie the Pooh nightgown, ragged and thin, was something pillaged from the free-clothes bin at church. Laundry was hard to do often when water came from a well and washing powders cost money. So we saved our underwear for the daytime.

My ten-year-old bones ached from the death I talked out of the Bodine sisters earlier that day, the mucus still lodged in my throat. I barked a wet cough to bring it up.

“Here.” Grandmama handed me a blue perfume bottle with a stopper that did not match. I spat the death inside the bottle like always. The thick ooze slipped down the curved lip and blobbed at the bottom. A black dollop ready for someone else to swallow.

It smelled of rotting flesh and tasted like fear.

Sin Eater Oil, Grandmama called it, was like a truth serum for the soul. A few drops baked into a pie, you could find out if your neighbor stole your garden vegetables. Mixed with certain herbs, it enhanced their potency and enlivened the superstitious charms from Grandmama’s magic recipe box.

On a few occasions—no more than a handful of times—when consumed in full, its power was lethal.

Out in front of our cabin sat a shiny new Corvette with hubcaps that shimmered in the moonlight. Pacing on the porch, a shadow of a man. It wasn’t until he stepped into the light did I catch his face. Stone Rutledge. He was taller and thinner and snakier back then.

Bone Layer, a large hardened man who got his name from digging graves for the cemetery, dropped a pine box no longer than me into the back of our truck. He drove us everywhere we needed to be—seeing how Grandmama couldn’t see too good and I was only ten. The three of us followed Stone as his low-slung car dragged and scrapped the dirt road to a farmhouse deep in the woods.

An oil-lit lamp flickered inside. Cries of a woman in labor pushed out into the humid night. Georgia’s summer air was always thick. Suffocating, unbearable nights teeming with insects hell-bent on fighting porch lights.

A woman at the edge of panic for being left in charge greeted us at the door. Pearls draped her neck. Polish shined her perfect nails as she pulled and worked the strand. Her heels click-clacked as she paced the linoleum floor.

Grandmama didn’t bother with pleasantries. She shoved on past with her asphidity bag full of her herbs and midwife supplies and my Sin Eater Oil and went straight for the woman who was screaming. Bone Layer grabbed his shovel and disappeared into the woods.

In the house, I gathered the sheets and the clean towels and boiled the water. I’d never seen this kitchen before, but most things can be found in just about the same place as any other home.

“Why is that child here?” the rich woman, not too good at whispering, asked Stone. Her frightened eyes watched as I tasked out my duties.

“Doing her job. Drink this.” Stone shoved a glass of whiskey at her. She knocked it back with a swift tilt of her head, like tossing medicine down her throat, and handed back the glass for another.

Tiptoeing into the bedroom, I quietly poured the steaming water into the washbasin. The drugged moans of the lady spilled to the floor like a sad melody. A breeze snuck in through the inch of open window and licked the gauzy curtain that draped the bed.

When I turned to hand Grandmama the towels, I eyed the slick black blood that dripped down the sheets.

We weren’t here for a birthing.

We were called to assist with a misbirth.

Fear iced over me when I looked upon the mother.

Then, I saw on the dresser next to where Grandmama stood, two tiny swaddles, unmoving. A potato box sat on the floor. Grandmama slowly turned around at the sound of my sobbing—I hadn’t realized I’d started to cry. Her milky white eyes found mine like always, despite her part-blindness.

Swift and sharp she snatched me by my elbow. Her fingers dug into my flesh as she ushered me over to the dresser to see what I had caused.

“You’ve soured their souls,” she said in a low growl. I looked away, not wanting to see their underdeveloped bodies. Her bony hand grabbed my face. Her grip crushing my jaw as she forced me to look upon them. Black veins of my Sin Eater Oil streaked across their gnarled lifeless bodies. “This is your doing, child. There’ll be a price to pay for y’all going behind my back.” For me, and Aunt Violet.

Aunt Violet took some of my Sin Eater Oil weeks ago. I assumed it was for an ailing grandparent who was ready for Jesus; she never said who. She said not to tell. She said Grandmama wouldn’t even notice it was missing.

So I kept quiet. Told the thing in my gut that said it was wrong to shut up. But she gave my Sin Eater Oil to the woman writhing in pain in front of me, so she could kill her babies. Shame welled up inside me.

Desperately, I looked up to Grandmama. “Don’t let the Devil take me.”

Grandmama beamed, pleased with my fear. “There’s only one way to protect you, child.” The glint in her eyes sent a chill up my spine.

No. I shook my head. Not that—her promise of punishment, if ever I misused my gift. Tears slivered down my cheeks.

“It wasn’t me!” I choked out, but she only shook her head.

“We must cleanse your soul from this sin and free you from the Devil’s grasp. You must atone.” Grandmama rummaged through her bag and drew out two items: the match hissed to life as she set fire to a single crow claw. I closed my eyes and turned away, unable to watch. That didn’t stop me from knowing.

The mother’s head lolled over at the sound of my crying. Her red-rimmed eyes gazed my way. “You!” she snarled sloppily at me. Her hair, wild, stuck to the sweat on her face. The black veins of my Sin Eater Oil spiderwebbed across her belly, a permanent tattoo that matched that of her babies. “The Devil’s Seed Child,” the lady slurred from her vicious mouth. The breeze whipped the curtains in anger. Oh, that hate in her eyes. Hate for me.

Grandmama shoved me into the hall, where I was to stay put. The rich woman pushed in. The door opened once more, and that wooden potato box slid out.

The mother wailed as the rich lady cooed promises that things would be better someday. The door closed tight behind us, cries echoing off the walls.

I shared the dark with the slit of the light and wondered if she’d ever get her someday.

Quick as lightning, my eyes flitted to the box, then back to the ugly wallpaper dating the hallway. My curiosity poked me. It gnawed until I peeked inside.

There on their tiny bodies, the mark of a sinner. A crow’s claw burned on their chest. Same as the Death Talker birthmark over my heart. Grandmama branded them so Jesus would know I was to blame.

That woman was right—I was the Devil’s Seed Child.

So I ran.

I ran out the door and down the road.

I ran until my feet grew sore and then ran some more.

I ran until the salt dried on my face and the tears stopped coming.

I was rotten, always rotten. As long as my body made the Sin Eater Oil, I’d always be rotten. Exhausted, I fell to my knees. From my pocket, I pulled out the raggedy crow feather I now kept with me. I curled up on the side of the road between a tree and a stump, praying my wishes onto that feather.

Devil’s Seed Child, I whispered, and repeated in my mind.

It was comforting to own it, what I was. The rightful name for someone who could kill the most innocent among us.

I blew my wish on the feather and set it free in the wind.

A tiny object tumbled in front of my face. Shiny as the hubcaps on Stone’s car. A small gold ring with something scrolled on the flat front. I quirked my head sideways to straighten my view. A fancy script initial R.

“Don’t cry,” a young voice spoke. Perched on the rotting stump above, a boy, just a pinch older than I. Shorn dark hair and clothes of all black.

I smiled up at him, a thank-you for the gift.

“Weatherly!” A loud bark that could scare the night caused me to jump. Bone Layer had a voice that did that to people, though he didn’t use it often.

Over my head, a black wisp flew toward the star-filled sky, and the boy was gone. I snatched up the ring and buried it in my pocket as Bone Layer came to retrieve me. He scooped me up as easy as a doll. His shirt smelled of sweat and earth and bad things to come.

Grandmama’s punishment was meant to save me; I leaned into that comfort. Through the Lord’s work, she’d keep me safe. Protect me. If I strayed from her, I might lose my soul.

Grandmama was right; I must atone.

The truck headlights pierced the woods as Bone Layer walked deeper within them. Grandmama waited at the hole in the ground with the Bible in her hand and the potato box at her feet.

Stone and the rich woman watched curiously as they ushered the mother into their car. The wind howled through the trees. They exchanged horrid looks and hurried words, then fled back into the house, quick as thieves.

Bone Layer gently laid me in the pine box already lowered into the shallow hole he done dug. Deep enough to cover, not enough for forever.

“Will they go to Heaven?” I asked from the coffin, as Grandmama handed me one bundle, then the other. I nestled them into my chest. I had never seen something so little. Light as air in my arms. Tiny things. Things that never had a chance in this world. They smelled sickly sweet; a scent that made me want to retch.

Grandmama tucked my little Bible between my hands. I loved that Bible. Pale blue with crinkles in the spine from so much discovery. On the front, a picture of Jesus, telling a story to two little kids.

“Will they go to Heaven?” I asked again, panicked when she didn’t answer. Fear rose up in my throat, and I choked on my tears. Fear I would be held responsible if their souls were not saved.

Grandmama’s face was flat as she spoke the heartless truth. “They are born from sin, just like you. They were not wanted. They are not loved.” Her words stung like always.

“What if I love them? Will they go to Heaven if I love them?”

Her wrinkled lips tightened across her yellow and cracked teeth, insidious. “You must atone,” she answered instead. Then smiled, not with empathy but with pleasure; she was happy to deliver this punishment, glad of the chance to remind me of her power.

“I love them, Grandmama. I love them,” I professed with fierceness. I hoped it would be enough. To save their souls. To save my own. “I love them, Grandmama,” I proclaimed with all my earnest heart. To prove it, I smothered the tops of their heads with kisses. “I love them, Grandmama.” I kept repeating this. Kept kissing them as Bone Layer grabbed the lid to my pine box. He held it in his large hands, waiting for Grandmama to move out of his way.

“You believe me, don’t you?” I asked her. Fear and prayer filled every ounce of my body. If I loved them enough, they’d go to Heaven. If I atoned, maybe I would, too. I squeezed my eyes tight and swore my love over and over and over.

She frowned down on me. “I believe you, child. For sin always enjoys its own company.”

She promptly stood. Her black dress swished across the ground as she moved out of the way. Then Bone Layer shut out the light, fastening the lid to my box.

Muffled sounds of dirt scattered across the top as he buried me alive.
Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Friday, June 21, 2024

Brotherless Night

Brotherless Night
Title:
  Brotherless Night
Author:  V. V. Ganeshananthan
Publication Information:  Random House. 2023. 368 pages.
ISBN:  0812997158 / 978-0812997156

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "I recently sent a letter to a terrorist I used to know."

Favorite Quote:  "Tell the UN, tell the Red Cross, tell the newspapers that we are dying, they said. What was it like? Oh, they told us, we die on the beach. We die in the sea, swimming for rescue, and we die in the sand. We dig bunkers for shelter and they becomes graves. Our bodies bleed and shatter and burn. We are leaving our elders and children behind us."

Sri Lanka is a small island nation in the Indian Ocean off the coast of India. Geographically, Sri Lanka is only about 25,000 square miles - a little bit larger than the state of West Virginia; its population in about 20 million people - about the population of the state of New York.

The biggest ethnic population in Sri Lanka is the Sinahala. The largest minority is the Tamil. According to legend, the Sinhala claim to be descendants from the earliest settlers of Sri Lanka. The Tamil claim an equally long history in Sri Lanka. The two groups are divided religiously and ethnically.

Sri Lanka became an independent nation in 1948 with the departure of the British control from the Indian subcontinent. Since that time, the relations between the Sinhala and the Tamil have been strained. Riots have occurred throughout the nation's short history, with the Tamil working for an independent homeland and the Sinhala working to keep government control.

In 1983, the country went into Civil War - the government and army representing the Sinhala, and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (the Tamil Tigers) representing the Tamil nationalist interests. Black July is the name given to a pogrom in 1983, where thousands died and many more were injured and even more were left homeless.

This is the story of Black July and its aftermath. It is the story of how extremism grows and takes root on all sides of a political dialogue. It is the story of how the divides becomes larger and larger. It is the story of a young girl - Shashikala - and her brothers. It is the story of how her family's life turns into a "brotherless" night.

Told through the voice of Shahikala, the book talks directly to the reader with a repeated refrain of you must understand:
  • "Imagine the places you grew up, the places you studied, places that belonged to your people, burned. But I should stop pretending that I know you. Perhaps you do n to have to imagine. Perhaps your library too, went up in smoke."
  • "The unholy, untranslatable fear. You tell yourself that you are prepared, but then the terror rises inside you."
  • "I want you to understand: it does not matter if you cannot imagine the future. Still, relentless, it comes."
  • "You want to go on in some sort of peaceful life, but there was never a peaceful life. That was a myth."
  • "You are thinking, as anyone would, as everyone has, at least in passing. about what you would have done. If I were in his shoes, I would never, you have said to yourself; or perhaps you are sure you would have done exactly the same. There is no way to know, truly, without standing where we did."
  • "You must understand: there is no single day on which a war begins. The conflict will collect around you gradually ... You will not even be able to see yourself in the gathering crowd of those who would kill you."
  • "Perhaps you know all of this already; perhaps I am telling you a story you already understand. What I wouldn't give for that to be true! But we both know it isn't."
  • "Whose stories will you believe? For how long will you listen? Tell me why you think you are here, and that will."
As with Island of a Thousand Mirrors, this book leaves a lasting impact. Reading it at this moment in history perhaps magnifies the impact as these tragic words continue to resonate in conflicts around the world. Despite the repeated pleas for understanding, we do not understand.


Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Empire of Ice and Stone

Empire of Ice and Stone
Title:
  Empire of Ice and Stone:  The Disastrous and Heroic Voyage of the Karluk
Author:  Buddy Levy
Publication Information:  St. Martin's Press. 2022. 400 pages.
ISBN:  1250274443 / 978-1250274441

Rating:   ★★★★

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "In early September 1912, a sinewy, sun-seared, elfish-looking man disembarked a steamer at the Port of Seattle with stunning news He encountered a previously unknown tribe of red-haired, blue-eyed, light-skinned 'Eskimos' of Scandinavian origin who'd never seen another white person."

Favorite Quote:  "In the end, Captain Robert Abram Bartlett, ice pilot and master mariner, remains the hero of the Karluk saga, and Vilhjalmur Stefanson its villain."

The Kurluk was one ship - the flagship - in an Arctic expedition in the early 1900s. The ship and its crew met a tragic end; nearly half of those aboard died after the ship became trapped in ice on its way to meet up with the rest of the expedition at Herschel Island.

This book is truly the story of two men. Canadian Vilhjalmur Stefannson was the leader and the planner of the trip. Robert Bartlett was the captain of the Karluk. The difference in outlook, leadership, and actions of these two men is the key to this story.

Shortly after the ship became trapped in ice, Vilhjalmur Stefannson left the ship, ostensibly to hunt for food and to seek help. He never looked back. When he reached a safe point, he went on to pursue his own objectives, leaving the Karluk and its remaining crew to fend for itself.

Robert Barlett, on the other hand, remained with the ship and crew until the ship sank. He ten led a march across the ice to seek help. Weather prevented rescue. However, eventually 14 crew members were rescue.

History has had differing opinions on the decisions of these two men. Read this telling and see what you think. This book offers a very clear opinion.

The book presents much detail about the set up of the expeditions, explaining where care was taken and where it was not. It describes the backgrounds of some of the key team members and what led them to join the mission aboard the Karluk. The details of life on the water and survival on the ice conjure vivid images that place me on board that ship. The mundane details of day to day life. The threat of fire. The lack of food. The idea of drifting where the ice takes you with no control over your direction or destination.

The descriptions of the interactions - teamwork, arguments, and fights - among the crew are a case study in group behavior, especially in close quarters and such dire circumstances. The book also tells of the other heroes and villains of this expedition beyond the two men primarily remembered by history. The research for this book, to my knowledge, was done through notebooks, journals, and archives. The book, however, includes conversations and dialogue. It is unclear how that is created, but, to my guess, it is created, turning this history into a story. It makes for much easier reading.

Perhaps most fascinating of all are the book's descriptions of the Artic conditions - the ice and the weather.  To me, the ice itself is as much a character of this history as any human being. For all the horror this expedition goes through, the descriptions of the ice are stark and beautiful in their own way. It is a reminder of the power of nature and the importance of human beings to always be mindful of that power.


Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Thursday, June 13, 2024

The Stolen Book of Evelyn Aubrey

The Last Book of Evelyn Aubrey
Title:
  The Stolen Book of Evelyn Aubrey
Author:  Serena Burdick
Publication Information:  Park Row. 2022. 352 pages.
ISBN:  0778333108 / 978-0778333104

Rating:   ★★

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "This will go on forever, life and death, stretching out over the expansive body of water, chill and slick and seductive against my skin."

Favorite Quote:  "Those are the moments that make up a life. You choose what you look at and there is always something beautiful. That is your beginning. Notice the moments and you will find, that you are no longer waiting for your life to begin. You will find that you were there all along. That you had already arrived."

The book description tells you the story of this two time line book.

The Past:  Evelyn is a writer. She marries a writer. He suffers from writer's block. He steals her book and markets it as her own. Evelyn decides to find a way out.

The Present:  Abigail lost her mother at a young age and does not know who her father was. She finds a photograph that suggests that Evelyn Aubrey was her great-grandmother. She goes to Godstow, England to find the answers of the past.

The Conclusion:  Was Evelyn Aubrey murdered as London society believed? Or did she have "another plot up her sleeve?" Given that the information Abby finds states that she is descended from Evelyn Aubrey further clarifies the answer to this question.

The book description does a disservice to the book. The fact that the book description lays out the story and its eventual conclusion means that there is no surprise to the book. There is no mystery as to Evelyn's outcome, just the journey of how. The description would be more effective if the book then introduces a surprise or a twist that stems from the descriptions but adds an unexpected element. This book does not. It proceeds exactly as you might surmise from the description, leaving me as a reader unsatisfied.

In the story of the present, Abby is a challenging character to invest in. She is thirty one years old and able to walk out on a job. "In her head she had good reasons for doing things, but as soon as she started explaining herself, they didn't seem logical anymore. She was uncommitted, bad at making decision, bad at her jobs, at her relationships." She lives with her grandparents and yet walks out on them to begin this search. "Not telling them where she was going was a heartless thing to do, but she wasn't going to risk being reasoned with." Yet, somehow, in this search, things seem to go her way from the ability to drop everything and fly to England to instant invitations to stays in people's homes.

Evelyn's story begins as a surprise. Evelyn walks out on an engagement based on a whirlwind romance with William Aubrey. Her parents agree to Evelyn's marriage to William and endow them with property. William's betrayal, his theft of her work, and society's acceptance that the work had to be his follow the social paradigms of the time. For the historical relevance, for the journey of an author, and for the struggles of a woman asserting her rights, Evelyn's story is the more interesting one of the two timelines. However, as I seem to know the ending before I begins, it loses something. I wish there had been a surprise.


Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Sunday, June 9, 2024

Lessons

Lessons
Title:
  Lessons
Author:  Ian McEwan
Publication Information:  Knopf. 2022. 448 pages.
ISBN:  0593535200 / 978-0593535202

Rating:   ★

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "This was insomniac memory, not a dream."

Favorite Quote:  "A shame to ruin a good tale by turning it into a lesson. That could be for later."

Ian McEwan is an author who has long been on my to read list. The rave reviews his books receive. The awards he has received. His involvement in issues on a world stage. Recommendations from friends. Lessons is the first of his books I am reading.

Unfortunately, I struggle with the book from its very beginning. The book begins with a boy at boarding school. A teacher, an individual in a position of authority, propositions him. The book then jumps to the boy as an adult, and his wife has abandoned him and their young child.

These two events at the very beginning of the book are shocking, not because such things don't happen. They do. However, they are shocking because there should be an intensity of emotion that accompanies the occurrence of these events, the telling of this story, and, for me, the reading of this story. Yet, for me, there is not. In fact, my reaction is to want to look away. I put down the book and don't pick it up for days. I pick it up and then put it down again. It is a challenge for me to get through.

The book description states, "Epic, mesmerizing, and deeply humane, Lessons is a chronicle for our times—a powerful meditation on history and humanity through the prism of one man's lifetime." The book does indeed cover a lot of history - time and place from the end of World War II to present day. Unfortunately, the main character - the lens through which the history is narrated is not one I find I can relate to. His life and hence the book seems to meander through this history, sometimes with no purpose and no sense of direction. As it meander, many characters - too many - float in and out of the story, making it even more of  a challenge to follow. I do not find myself engaged in the main character's story to want to see how it turns out for I am unsure it even does "turn out" into a cohesive, satisfying conclusion.

Certain books leave a feeling that perhaps the reader is not "clever" enough to follow or understand the depths the author is trying to reach. To me, that is not a fault of the book but an indication that I am not the reader for the book. Perhaps, I will try a different book by the author. Perhaps not. This one was not for me.


Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Saturday, June 8, 2024

Days of Wonder

Days of Wonder by Caroline Leavitt
Title:
  Days of Wonder
Author:  Caroline Leavitt
Publication Information:  Algonquin Books. 2023. 320 pages.
ISBN:  164375128X / 978-1643751283

Rating:   ★★★★

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and a publisher's blog tour free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Ella stepped through the prison gate, blinded by the sun and the hard blue of the sky, frantically searching the crowd for her mother."

Favorite Quote:  "Her mother used to tell her the the most important forgiveness was God's, but to get it you had to first get the forgiveness of the person you had wounded. You had to ask once, then twice, and then a third time, and if you weren't forgiven by the person, then God, at least would forgive you."

***** BLOG TOUR *****



Review

"I still look back in wonder at that summer." The "days of wonder" in this book are a summer in which young love begins, a family forms, a dispute occurs, and it all ends in tragedy. Fast forward several years. A young woman is released from prison. A mother tries to hold on and define who she is without the family unit. A young man discovers truths he has long not seen. 

Ella and Jude meet in school. Young puppy love or something much stronger? Either way, they both create a world onto themselves. Jude's father does not approve. Ella's mother somewhat does not or does in an effort to be part of the glow of their relationship and to maintain the family she longs for. She has her own history, having been disowned by her Hasidic Jewish family for what they considered an unforgivable sin. It has always been Helen and Ella. Now, she thinks it is to be Helen, Ella, and Jude.

As the book description states, Ella is accused of attempted murder of Jude's father. She is sent to prison. She is pregnant, and the baby is given up for adoption. What truly happened that night? Where did Jude go? Why did he never return?

Six year later, Ella finds herself out of prison and heading to Ann Arbor, where she thinks her daughter may be. Ann Arbor brings the baby's adoptive family and the issues there that Ella finds herself involved in. In addition, the shadow of her past haunts her. In addition, her relationship with her mother shifts as they both navigate this world.

Ultimately, this melodramatic story is about the women - Helen, Ella, Marianna, and even Angie (you have to read to find out who Angie is). It is about the sacrifices and the struggle to define a life, each for themselves. Helen, who now has the opportunity to define herself beyond the scared single mother abandoned by her family. Ella, who went to jail as a child and emerges as a women haunted by the past but looking for a future. Mairanna, whose marriage is not what she thought it was. Angie, who finds her love to have a past buried in secrets. It is also the story of a young man, who makes a tragic mistake as a child which is then exacerbated by abuse from an unforgiving father. As a result, the boy grows into a man who perhaps cannot forgive himself.

The book is melodramatic. However, the relationships, particularly of mother with daughter, are explored with care and ring true. The grief Helen, Ella, and Marianna suffer at the hands of the "system" and of the people in their lives rings true. The idea of forgiveness - for others, from others, for ourselves, and from ourselves rings true. For me, this is a memorable story.

About the Book

New York Times bestselling author Caroline Leavitt returns with a tantalizing, courageous story about mothers and daughters, guilt and innocence, and the lengths we go for love.

As a teenager, for a moment, Ella Fitchburg found love—yearning, breathless love—that consumed both her and her boyfriend, Jude, as they wandered the streets of New York City together. But her glorious life was pulled out from beneath her after she was accused of trying to murder Jude’s father, an imperious superior court judge. When she learns she’s pregnant shortly after receiving a long prison sentence, she reluctantly decides to give up the child.

Ella is released from prison after serving only six years and is desperate to turn the page on a new life, but she can’t seem to let go of her past. With only an address as a possible lead, she moves to Ann Arbor, Michigan, determined to get her daughter back. Hiding her identity and living in a constant state of deception, she finds that what she’s been searching for all along is a way to uncover—and live with—the truth. Yet a central mystery endures: neither Jude nor Ella can remember the events leading up to the attempted murder—that fateful night which led to Ella’s conviction.

For fans of Miranda Cowley Heller’s The Paper Palace and Allegra Goodman’s Sam, Caroline Leavitt’s Days of Wonder is a gripping high-drama page-turner about the elusive nature of redemption and the profound reach of love.

About the Author

Caroline Leavitt is the award-winning author of twelve novels, including the New York Times bestseller Pictures of You and Is This Tomorrow. A book critic for People magazine, her essays, articles and stories have been included in New York magazine, “Modern Love” in the New York Times, Salon, and The Daily Beast, among others. The recipient of a New York Foundation of the Arts Award for Fiction and a Sundance Screenwriters Lab finalist, she is also the co-founder of A Mighty Blaze.


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