Monday, August 12, 2019

Between Earth and Sky

Title:  Between Earth and Sky
Author:  Amanda Skenandore
Publication Information:  Kensington. 2018. 336 pages. 
ISBN:  1496713664 / 978-1496713667

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

Opening Sentence:  "Her past arrived that morning on page ten, tucked between a cross-hatched cartoon of striking trolley workers and an advertisement for derby hats."

Favorite Quote:  "You see life as a straight line. But for us, life is a circle. After something or someone enters our circle, they travel with us foever, influencing us even if they are not physically present. To us, there is no such thing as a goodbye."

Tasunka Ota "Plenty Horses" was a man from the Lakota tribe. In the 1880s, as a child, he was separated from his family and sent to the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania. The school, founded in 1879, was a boarding school for the single purpose of assimilating Native American children into the "civilized" world of the white. No consideration was given for honoring the culture or traditions of the Native Americans. Children were removed from their families and dropped into the schools, and they were expected to be happy at the opportunity.

Plenty Horses was a resident of the Carlisle School for a number of years. He then left and was expected to make his own way in the white world. Years later, in the days following the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1891, Plenty Horses shot and killed Army Lieutenant Edward W. Casey. The history, the why and what happened after is the basis of this fictional account.

Note that the ending is not historically accurate, but the fictional story portrays the sad history in a powerful way. This is history we need to remember and ensure that it can never ever be repeated.

"Nine years I attended Stover School for Indians and was educated in the ways of the white man. But all the education in the workd could not change the color of my skin. I was not a white man and would never be treated as a white man. So I returned to my people. But even there I was an outcast for I no longer remembered the ways of the Indian. For years I lived a lonely life. A shadow life."

These are the words of Asku Muskrat, the main character in this book formulated from Tasunka Ota. The book, however, is more than his story. It centers around Alma Mitchell. She was the daughter of the man who founded and ran the assimilation school which Harry (his given white name) was forced to attend.

Alma's perspective in the book bring power to the message. As a child, she found friendship and acceptance amongst children even as she was taught that she did not belong with them, that she was separate, apart better. Throughout her childhood, she struggled between the taught idea that this school was trying to do its best for these children and the inequities and questions she witnessed. As an adult, guilt and sorrow follows her as she is confronted with the reality of a murder accusation.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” This quote has been attributed to different people. The idea comes to mind today in this book as it does today. In the misguided attempt to assimilate Native Americans, homes and families were destroyed. Children were uprooted from their traditions and thrust into a world that would not accept them no matter what the assimilation lessons. Evil was perpetrated purposefully but also a tragedy was allowed to happen and enabled by those with seemingly good intentions. That is the sad, sad reality of this story and perhaps also of today. A powerful message.


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

Monday, August 5, 2019

We Were Mothers

Title:  We Were Mothers
Author:  Katie Sise
Publication Information:  Little A. 2018. 352 pages.
ISBN:  1503903621 / 978-1503903623

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

Opening Sentence:  "Swooning over a man who wasn't her husband made Cora feel terribly guilty, but how could anyone not swoon over Jeremy?"

Favorite Quote:  "... having a child is a tremendous act of optimism bordering on magical thinking. It was the biggest chance you could ever take."

We Were Mothers would probably better be titled ... We were wives. We were significant others. The book is much more about the relationships these women are in than their roles as mothers. The "drama" is about the children, but the story is really the marital, ex-marital, and extra-marital relationships. All these variations are present in this book, and then some.

The book is written in alternating chapters through four different points of view - Cora, Sarah, Jade, and Laurel. Cora is at the heart of the story. She is married to Sam and mother to twins. Sarah is Cora's mother. Her husband, Cora's father, left her for another woman, and her younger daughter Maggie died at age 22. These two facts have forever altered Sarah's life and have repercussions throughout this group. Jade was Maggie's best friend; she is married to Jeremy, whose main characteristic seems to be his physical appearance. Laurel is Cora's neighbor and is married to a surgeon named Dash (yes, Dash). Yes, they have children or are planning of having children. The plot of the book is about some of these offspring, but the story is about these marriages.

Confused yet? A little bit. It takes work to follow the alternating points of view and to keep track of who's who. The book, however, is a very quick read. Although marketed for its "suspense," the book is more like a soap opera. All the women are victims although some do eventually find their voice. All the men are ... well, to put in one word ... dirt. None of them seem to have any redeeming qualities. The marital relationships in the book range from sad to truly disturbing (reader, beware!). That imbalance of virtuous mothers and terrible husbands is a little too simplistic and too one-sided for me. It keeps the book from achieving greater depth, or, for me, a sense of reality.

The plot of the book is that Cora finds a journal belonging to Laurel's daughter in her house. Of course, she reads it. Perhaps, it is left there with that intent. Perhaps not. Of course, she learns a shocking secret. Then, Laurel's daughter disappears. Of course, one secret leads to a whole host of other secrets surrounding these women. Hence, while the question of what happened to Laurel is not all that mysterious at the end, it is also not truly central to the book. The marriages, relationships, and the secrets of the past are.

The story takes place over the course of the weekend, but the secrets cover a lifetime. The book is a very quick read, but it begins slow as a lot of time is spent on describing the setup & relationships of the lives of these women. Unfortunately, the setup does not successfully establish these women as characters I empathize with. They are in sad situations but unfortunately not particularly likable characters. That is perhaps because the secrets of this book are situational, and that is where the book stays. The characters do not seem to round out into individuals beyond the secret that defines their relationships. At the end, I am left with what appears to be a soap opera of a relatively affluent set of people in a quiet suburban community.


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

Friday, May 31, 2019

Daughter of Moloka'i

Title:  Daughter of Moloka'i
Author:  Alan Brennert
Publication Information:  St. Martin's Press. 2019. 320 pages.
ISBN:  1250137667 / 978-1250137661

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

Opening Sentence:  "A wave of Kona storm clouds rolled across the jagged peaks of the Wai'anae Range, arriving in Honolulu with a cannonade of thunder and the kind of wind and rain Hawaiians called lani-pa'ina, 'crackling heavens.'"

Favorite Quote:  "How can this be happening? This is America. Covenants of trust had been broken, faith in law betrayed."

Daughter of Moloka'i is a follow on to Alan Brennert 2010 bestseller titled Moloka'i, but it is not essential to have read that one first. This book does stand on its own and goes in a direction mostly independent of the original book.

Moloka'i was the story of a young Hawaiian girl, Rachel Kalama, in the 1890s. She is diagnosed with leprosy, now called Hansen's disease. As a result, she is wrenched from her family and sent to a quarantined colony of the island of Moloka'i. Rachel does indeed give birth to a baby girl; the baby is removed from the parent's care and removed from the island. The hope is that the baby will remain healthy, no matter the emotional devastation of the parents.

Ruth is the daughter, brought to an orphanage. After a few years, she is adopted by a family of Japanese heritage. After another few years, the family moves to California. Then comes years of settling in, growing up, and making California and the United States home. Then comes World War II and the distrust of Asians. It brings the reality of being judged "less than" because of physical appearance and cultural traditions. Then comes Pearl Harbor and the label of enemy. All of a sudden, home is deemed not yours, and the family is sent to the government established and government run internment camps. What follows is the years of strife, struggle, and life as essentially a prisoner for no reason other than your ethnic background.

As in his other books, Alan Brennert brings to life a time and place with his vivid imagery and his characters that pull you into the story. The story remains a very personal one centered on Ruth and her family. At the same time, the book makes broader statements that remain true today:
  • "If you ask me ... someday this country is going to regret what it's doing today."
  • "Now FDR says, quote, 'Americanism is not, and never was, a matter of race and ancestry. A good American is one who is loyal to this country and to our creed of liberty and democracy.'"
  • "If America is not willing to honor its principles ... how can I?"
  • "The war is over, and we can move on with our lives. We're owed that much. To live a quiet, ordinary life again."
This conversation has relevance in this historical context, but also in light of the comparisons of strife due to race, religion, identity, and culture today. This is a history that must never be lessened or forgotten. The fact that this book adds to the conversation and provides that reminder make it a relevant book for today.

The book remains grounded in Ruth's story for it continues beyond the war and winds its way back to Rachel and to Ruth's birth. That is a particularly poignant moment in the book, and also the point at which I think the book should have ended. The book continues on in Ruth's life, but it begins to feel like it is creating an ending for each character, which to me is unnecessary. Aside from this facet, Daugther of Moloka'i is another memorable book from Alan Brennert, and I look forward to seeing what he writes next.

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

Monday, May 27, 2019

The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls

Title:  The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls
Author:  Anissa Gray
Publication Information:  Berkley. 2019. 304 pages.
ISBN:  1984802437 / 978-1984802439

Book Source:  I received this book through the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "You do a lot of thinking in jail."

Favorite Quote:  "Handing them off ... and disappearing ... because you think you've lost yourself along with everything else .. that's almost easy. Showing up, when it's everything you can do to crawl and claw your way through this life? That's hard. That much I've done. I'm doing it right now."

Girls and women hunger for many things. There is the universal need for physical nourishment, and then, there is the hunger for love, protection, caring, belonging and other needs often left unsaid.

The understanding that this is the theme of the book comes slowly. The book is slow to start and slow to unfold especially as it seems to begin in the middle of the story. It starts as a woman goes to jail. The crime is unclear. The motivation for the crime is unclear. What is clear is that parents are going to jail and leaving behind daughters.

My initial thought is that the past is going to be unraveled. How did this family at the junction of the Saint Joseph and Portage Rivers in New River Junction, Michigan, get to this point? Hence, initially, I am confused. In fact, the facts of the crime, the motivation behind it, and its impact are never really delved into. That is something I would still like to know, but it does not really matter. At some point, the fact that I want to know becomes a testament to the fact that I am pulled into the story and the characters have become real.

Althea, Lilian, and Viola are the older generation. Kim and Baby Vi are Althea's teenage daughters. Althea and her husband Proctor are arrested, prosecuted, convicted, and sent to jail for a crime no one could imagine them committing. Althea, Lilian, and Viola's stories go back to the their childhood and their own dysfunctional childhood. Those childhood experiences also create the women they are today and their reactions to the current situations. Reader beware, some of the images of that childhood are disturbing. The story becomes about taking the experiences that form you and then creating yourself - the person you choose to be:
  • "Sometimes life can pull a lot out of you, Althea. Just squeeze you dry. And if you don't have a way to get back whatever's good and precious to you, it's like losing your soul."
  • "Some things that happen to you, or the way somebody treat you, sometimes it ain't got nothing to do with you ... That's something it's important to learn. Before you get too old and can't let loose the burden of them things."
  • "Sometimes it's good to view the past from the distance of another time."
Kim and Baby Vi's story is one of the love-hate relationship that can often exist between teenage girls and their mothers. "Daughters carry the hopes & promises of their mothers." Their story is also one of loss - loss of their parents, loss of a community that turns away because of the parent's crimes, and loss of childhood taken away by an adult world. Ultimately, for Kim, the story is also one of guilt.

The best thing about this debut novel is that the characters become real. They develop into complete individuals. In some ways, the cover of the book replicates that. Initially, I look at it and see an abstract image. Then, gradually I see the the curves and edges of the images. Then, it seems that all of a sudden, faces emerge. This book is an impressive debut, and I look forward to seeing what Anissa Gray writes next.


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

Friday, May 24, 2019

The Girls at 17 Swann Street

Title:  The Girls at 17 Swann Street
Author:  Yara Zgheib
Publication Information:  St. Martin's Press. 2019. 384 pages.
ISBN:  1250202442 / 978-1250202444

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

Opening Sentence:  "I call it the Van Gogh room."

Favorite Quote:  "There is no tragedy to suffering. It is, just as happiness is. To be present for both, that is life, I think."

Two perspectives...

"I do not suffer from anorexia, I have anorexia. The two states are not the same. I know my anorexia, I  understand it better than the world around me. The world around me is obese, half of it. The other half is emaciated. Values are hollow, but meals are dense with high fructose corn syrup. Standards come in doubles, so do portions. The world is overcrowded but lonely. My anorexia keeps me company, comforts me. I can control it, so I choose it."

or

"I did not choose anorexia. I did not choose to starve. But every morning, over and over, I choose to fight it, again."

17 Swann Street is a fictional place. It is an in-patient treatment center in Saint Louis to help those with eating disorders such as anorexia heal / grow / change / transition / .... from one to the other. The stories and the journeys are as diverse as the women themselves. Some are successful; some are not.

This is the world Yara Zgheib pulls me into. Yara Zgheib is a Fulbright scholar and a PhD in International Affairs. She is fluent in English, Arabic, French, and Spanish. She has also fought her own battle against anorexia. This work, her debut fiction novel, comes from that reality.

Anna Roux is one of the girls at 17 Swann Street. She was a professional dancer in Paris. Love, marriage, and her husband's job bring her from Paris to Saint Louis, Missouri. The loss of dancing, the move, loneliness, and so many other fears send Anna in a downward spiral, dealing with anorexia and depression. She is forced - from love and from fear - to seek treatment.

At Swann Street, she meets the other women, each battling her own demons. She continues to be surrounded by her husband's love. She continues to struggle toward recovery.

At one point, Anna notes, "How little of an eating disorder the naked eye can actually see." This book  tells the story from Anna's perspective, from inside of the eating disorder. The idea of a bite creates extreme fear. The isolation she feels takes her far away even though she has love and support. Each moment feels like a battle. She bears witness to the struggles of others; her successes and failures symbolize whether or not she will succeed or fail. Time with her thoughts brings back memories of the past and the unresolved emotions that surround childhood trauma.

Anna's journal like story is punctuated by notes from her medical file. The matter of fact, unemotional recording of her conditions is the jarring context in which I read her story.

The story and the characters are compelling. I feel myself at 17 Swann Street as if the world outside fades away as these women struggle moment by moment. The women and the place becomes real to the point that I wonder if the place actually exists - not treatment centers which I know do but this actual place which I know does not. I hope that Anna will recover but fear that she may not.

A memorable story!


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

Monday, May 20, 2019

Here and Now and Then

Title:  Here and Now and Then
Author:  Mike Chen
Publication Information:  MIRA. 2019. 384 pages.
ISBN:  0778369048 / 978-0778369042

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

Opening Sentence:  "No pulse beat beneath the skin."

Favorite Quote:  "Look, it's possible to start over. Completely over. You survive, you adapt. You can find love and be happy and live. You can do that while still honoring your past - even when your past is taken from you. The only thing you can do is run with it and turn it into something good."

What would you do to protect your child? For most parents, the answer requires no thought - anything and everything I possibly could. The question and, for the most part, the answer is universal. It provides the emotional connection to a story about a father and his daughter.

For Kin Stewart, the question becomes all the more complicated because his daughter was never supposed to have been born. Kin has lived for eighteen years in San Francisco. He is happily married and a father to a teenage daughter Miranda. He has health issues, including blackout and memory loss.

What he shares with no one is that he knows the reason why. He is actually from the year 2142. He was sent back in time on a mission and got stranded there. He has been stranded for all this time. His health issues are a time travel illness. Now, a team has arrived from 2142 to "rescue" him. In 2142, he has only been gone for a few weeks, but for him, it's as if a lifetime has passed.

The question is does Kin want to be rescued? He has a wife, a child, and a life now. He also has one in 2142, but he does not remember that life or that family. He wants to choose the one he knows and loves.

Kin, however, is not given a choice. "We're all different people all through our lives, but that's okay, as long as you remember all the people you used to be." Kin is asked to forget, his wife and daughter labeled an aberration that should never have been.

Now, the dilemma is how can Kin adapt to life "back home" in 2142. That life presents its own friendships, relationships, and love. However, how can he simply walk away from a wife and child he has loved and built a life with?  The dilemma deepens when his daughter is threatened. What to do? How to balance the pull of both of his lives and of the wonderful people in both of his lives? Can he save both?

Add to this premise the assumption that all moments in time exist simultaneously. Thus, it is possible to return to any moment in time. The cardinal rule in Kin's work has been to cause no disturbance and alter nothing such that the future remains unaltered. This, of course, is the rule he breaks by building a life in what, for him, are years stranded.

From this premise, Mike Chen builds a story that is part adventure and party emotional family story. Science fiction and family drama make for an interesting mix. I expect what Kin will want to do as a father. However, I completely do not expect where this book goes and how the ending brings it full circle.

"I'm asking you to take a leap of faith. Sometimes when nothing makes sense, it's the only thing you can trust." That's pretty much what I feel about this book. Take a leap of faith and enjoy the ride.


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

Friday, May 17, 2019

Talk to Me

Title:  Talk to Me
Author:  John Kenney
Publication Information:  GP Putnam's Sons. 2019. 320 pages.
ISBN:  0735214379 / 978-0735214378

Book Source:  I received this book through the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Ted Grayson has been pushed out of an airplane."

Favorite Quote:  "Alone with their thoughts. The bravest thing. Today we would do anything to run from our own thoughts. The noise of our minds, the voices. So we check the phone, the text, the email, the alert. Why look inside for the answer when you can look outside?"

This book begins as if picked from the headlines these days. A news anchor - a man with a long, well respected, public career - makes an entirely inappropriate comment to a young woman. The moment is captured on camera. The video is posted online. It goes viral. The commentary comes from all sources, reviling the man.

Initially, I am not sure that I want to read fiction about today's headlines. I don't know that I want to follow along on a conversation between his defenders and his accusers. Who is right? Who is wrong? Who wins? Who loses? The reality of that is enough to not need the fiction right now.

Much to my surprise, the book turns in a different direction - a far more compelling fiction. The book turns into a story of a father and a daughter. "Why are we here? What's the point? After we are stripped bare, naked before the world, after everything is taken away, all we have is our children. And we have two basic, fundamental jobs as parents. To love them. To protect them." It also becomes a commentary on quickly changing public opinion especially as influenced by today's overabundance of "news" sources and open forums on which to state that opinion. "The history of the world is the history of miscommunication."

The personal story is that of Ted Grayson, an almost sixty-year old TV anchor. He has seen considerable professional success and is well respected in this field. His personal life, however, is a shambles. His time on the road as a reporter and his focus on his career leaves him estranged from his family. Claire, his wife of thirty years wants a divorce.  His daughter Franny harbors a lifetime of regrets and resentments. At the same time, Franny wants to somewhat follow in her father's footsteps. Her career is beginning; she writes for an online website. It purports to be "news" but is truly aiming for the sensationalist clicks. Her father's downfall offers Franny a chance to build her own career as her boss offers her the opportunity to write and publish a interview. Where the conversation between father and daughter goes, I leave to your imagination or reading. What a sensationalist website does with that conversation, I also leave to your imagination or reading. Bonds are broken and healed.

The broader social commentary of this book is all about social media and its "news". The basis of this book is a casually made video that is posted online and that goes viral. Ted Grayson's fate is decided in the court of popular opinion based on this video. A sensationalist website preys upon a private conversation to gain "clicks" and exacerbate the situation. What they do may be legal, but ethics is a whole other question. Public opinion, just as quickly, turns on another video.

We knows this happens. Unfortunately, we see it in the daily headlines these days. This book does a great job of laying it out as a story. It is really this process that is the story of this timely book. The book is entertaining but does leave me reflecting on this very serious reality.


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