Thursday, April 27, 2017

Border Child

Title:  Border Child
Author:  Michel Stone
Publication Information:  Nan A. Talese. 2017. 272 pages.
ISBN:  0385541643 / 978-0385541640

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

Opening Sentence:  "Lilia thrashed and called out, uncertain if she's given voice to her cry or just dreamed the sound."

Favorite Quote:  "We can't shield our children from pain, even if we carry them in a sack against our breasts. Still the bee can sting, the thorn can prick."

As a parent, what would you do to make sure your child had the best life possible? What would you do to make sure your child was safe? Or rather, is there anything you would not do? This is the question at the heart of the immigrant story of Border Child by Michel Stone. In its setup, this book reminds me of Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran.

Héctor and Lilia are parents to Alejandra, Fernando, and a baby yet to be born. They have dreams for their children as does every parent anywhere. They wish for their children a better life than they have, and they are prepared to work hard to make that possible. Sadly, they come from a tiny village in the poverty stricken Oaxaca region of Mexico.

Héctor's dream of a better life leads them north to the United States of America. He crosses the border illegally, hoping to find honest work to provide for his family. Lilia follows, crossing separately. They find work and settle in the Carolinas and make a life. They learn. "People are people ... That's what I learned in el norte. Some good, some bad. Their birth country matters nothing where their hearts are concerned." Their illegal status is discovered, and they are deported. That is the immigrant story.  Note: This piece of Héctor and Lilia's life is the subject of Michel Stone's book The Iguana Tree. Prior to reading this book, I did not know that this book is a sequel. It makes no difference at all. This book is able to stand alone; the story is complete on its own.

The immigrant story sets the basis for the story of parenthood. At the time of their crossing to the north, Héctor and Lilia are parents only to four year old Alejandra. Héctor goes first. Lilia trust her life and her baby's life to a different coyote (a person in the business of helping people cross the border). The coyote separates Lilia from her child, promising her that they will meet again across the border. That never happens, and Alejandra disappears from others.

That grief of loss, the guilt of responsibility, and the hope that Alejandra is still out there somewhere drives this book. Some years later, Héctor and Lilia are back in their village with the second born Fernando and awaiting the birth of their third child. They get a possible lead on Alejandra's whereabouts, and Héctor is off on a quest. This quest leads him away from his family, into the "business" world of the city, and further into an impossible decision.

The ending to this book is a surprise. I did not see that coming. The writing beautifully draws me into Héctor and Lilia's world - their poverty, their struggle, the love for each other, their guilt over Alejandra's disappearance, and their absolute love for their children. All emotions that parents everywhere relate to. Best of all, the book leaves me thinking. What would I do? Faced with Héctor and Lilia's impossible decision, what would I do?

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

Monday, April 24, 2017

My Last Lament

Title:  My Last Lament
Author:  James William Brown
Publication Information:  Berkley. 2017. 352 pages.
ISBN:  0399583408 / 978-0399583407

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

Opening Sentence:  "Now let me see, how to I turn this thing on?"

Favorite Quote:  "For me the thought of my becoming an older version of myself was troubling. What would happen to the person I already was? Would it disappear inside the older one. I wanted to grow up, but I didn't want to let go of what I meant when I thought I or me."

How to describe my reaction to this book? It's tough. I like the story better than I do the book, if that makes sense.

The story is of World War II and its aftermath in Greece. It is the story of Aliki, a young girl who sees her father executed in front of her. It is a story of a young woman who survives through everything life hands her - death, desperation, poverty, hunger, loss of home, loss of love, everything. It is the story of a young woman who feels responsible for one young man, falls in love with another man, and spends her life torn between the two.

It is the story of two young men who both love the same girl. One is a boy with medical challenges in a time and place when mental health and other such medical issues are not and cannot be provided for. The other is a young man who is a refugee, a survivor, and an artist. Through his shadow puppets and his plays, he expresses himself. Between the three of them lies a story of love, jealousy misunderstandings, and all emotions that surround such a love triangle. The story of these three young people is set in the atrocities of war, with executions, bombings, camps, and the plight of refugees.

The story has characters you can feel for. It is a piece of World War II history not often told. It is an emotional, dramatic story. It has all the making of a great, engaging read.

Yet, here is my dilemma. This book fails to engage me. I want to know what happens, but, at the same time, I don't really want to read through the entire book to find out. I am not entirely sure what it is, but something keeps me from fully vesting into this story.

Perhaps, it is the structure. The story is told in the voice of the old woman Aliki looking back on her life. The setup is that Aliki is on of the last of the lamenters, giving voice to the grief and mourning of others. In this book, Aliki does not set out to be a lamenter; it comes to her and from her unbidden. The narration of this story is through Aliki telling her story on tape at the request of a researcher. The chapters of the book correspond to the sides of the cassettes as she records her story. At the end of a side of cassette, the book pulls back to Aliki's present and the impending death of an old friend. The back and forth ultimately makes sense but is somewhat jarring if you don't pay attention to the connection between past and present.

Perhaps, the disconnect in the story occurs because the telling of this tale seems to be mired in details that don't change. The basic story is one of episodes between these three individuals. The dynamics of this triangle don't really shift. They seem to repeat in various forms throughout all the different background situations. For a historical fiction book, this book is very narrowly focused on these three lives, the dying art of lamenting, and the dying art of shadow puppets. The political and war history is on the periphery; it provides context but not the main story. The book is much more about an undiagnosed, untreated mental issue and about Aliki's balance between self-preservation and responsibility.

My parting thought on this book is that in some ways, it reads like a memoir of Aliki's life, her last lament becoming a lament of her own life, if you will.

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

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Miss Mary's Book of Dreams

Title:  Miss Mary's Book of Dreams
Author:  Sophie Nicholls
Publication Information:  Zaffre Publishing. 2017. 320 pages.
ISBN:  1785761765 / 978-1785761768

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

Opening Sentence:  "When I first scribbled those words in my notebook a couple of years ago, I thought that I was writing the end of a particular story, the story of Mamma and me."

Favorite Quote:  "We all have so many different selves inside us, like Grace's set of Russian dolls, made of painted wood. You opened one to find another, and another inside that and another, until you discovered the tiniest doll, not much bigger than a seed or a grain of rice ... Who was the Ella in the centre of it all - the Ella that she was when every other self had been opened up and set aside? That, she thought was what she was searching for."

This is a a book about magic - literally and figuratively.

It is the story of three generations of women - Maadar Bozorg, Fabia, and Ella - and of two sisters Selena and Bryony who enter their lives.

Maadar Bozorg is the storyteller and spell weaver in her homeland in Tehran, Iran. Fabia's story and the beginning of Ella's is told in the book The Dress. In that book, Fabia and young Ella come to York, and Fabia opens a shop of vintage clothing. The book is about hints of the the "Old Country;" about Fabia and Ella having the gift to see "the signals" in the world about situations, emotions, and people; and about the secret messages Fabia embeds in the embroidering or sewing the clothes. This book continues their story.

Although a sequel, this book does stand alone. The story and the characters are easily followed without the background of the first book; in fact, it may add to the mystery and magic about them. This book is Ella's story - her mother's dress shop which has now evolved into Ella's bookshop, her marriage, her young daughter Grace, and a new customer - Bryony - to whom Ella's finds herself drawn.

This book is also about Ella's discontent, a feeling that life is somehow off kilter. Is it that she misses her mother? Is that her writing does not seem to progress amidst the demands of family? Is it her husband's beautiful co-worker? Is it the constant denials of "the signals" she sees emanating from other people? Is it that her vision for her life seems clouded?

This is book about all that but not just for Ella. This book is about each of these women finding a path forward for their lives - their own bit of magic, if you will. "When we finally listen to our instincts, when we're able to listen past all the chatter in our hearts, past all the things that other people tell us, all the advice and information, everything we read or learn and everything we think we should be thinking ... right back to what we feel, deep inside our own bodies ... that, my dear, is the strongest magic of all." For each of the women - Fabia, Ella, and Bryony - this discovery takes a different direction. It becomes a choice of where to live. It becomes a choice of career. For all three, it becomes decisions about relationships. A little actual magic helps things along, but what really draws these different stories together is that for each, it becomes about making that decision for themselves.

You might ask. In the middle of all this, who is Miss Mary? Miss Mary is not actually a character in this story. Her book is. Miss Mary is described as a witch who lived centuries ago. She can to an unfortunate end at the hands of the society she lived in. Her wisdom and her spells were left behind in her book - the book of dreams. This is one of those special books that finds its way to a reader who needs it. Snippets of advice from this fictitious book find their way sprinkled throughout the story of these women.

Strong women. A bookshop. A really special book. A little big of magic. A beautiful combination for a sweet, engaging story. Definitely one for the "feel good" pile of stories.

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

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Long Black Veil

Title:  Long Black Veil
Author:  Jennifer Finney Boylan
Publication Information:  Crown. 2017. 304 pages.
ISBN:  0451496329 / 978-0451496324

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

Opening Sentence:  "This was a long time ago, before my first death, and none of us now are the people we were then."

Favorite Quote:  "There are so many things I'd like to explain. That when I was young I did not have the language to describe the workings of my own heart. That if I had it all to do over again, I would have told my truth from the beginning. That the struggle to find a connection between the people we have been and the people we become is not some crazy drama unique to people like me. It's all of us."

August, 1980. Philadelphia. A wedding. A museum. An abandoned penitentiary. Six friends - Rachel, Quentin, Tripper, Maisie, Wailer, and Casey; a younger sibling - Benny; and a teacher - Herr Krystal - go exploring the ruins of the Eastern State Penitentiary at night. Why? Who knows. It seems like a teenage prank except that this is a group of college friends the day after celebrating the wedding of two in the group. It never quite makes sense to me, and let's just say it proves to be a bad decision.

One of the group never emerges.

July 1987. The group has, for the most part, scattered, not necessarily because of the events of that night but just because that is how life goes sometimes. One of the friends makes a dramatic decision about their life, again not necessarily because of the events of that night but because it is the right choice for a life. The connection back to that fateful night is incidental at this point.

September 2015. A body is discovered at the penitentiary. Not just any body but the body of the one who disappeared all those years ago. Another member of the group is accused of murder. A friend can bear witness that the accused is not the murderer. However, that defense of a friend could cost this person their own carefully built life.

Confused yet? Me too. The book very quickly introduces many characters and the relationships between them. The same cast of characters appears in all three time periods; however, people change, and relationships shift. At the same time, the characters seem not to mature much beyond that night twenty-five years in the past. It is, at times, difficult to keep every thing straight; it is even more challenging to vest in any one character's story.

Eventually, this story is really about one member of the group. It is about coming to terms with one's own identity. It is about making the choices that are right for yourself. It is about a tough choice between the safety of self-preservation or the risk to help a friend and let the truth emerge.

The issue is that all these choices really have nothing to do with the dramatic event that begins this book. As such, the two stories compete with each other. On the one hand, this book is about an individual emotional journey of self-discovery. This is a journey about identity and about giving voice to your true identity. That by itself has the potential to be a powerful story. This is the "character" part of the book.

On the other hand, this book is about a murder mystery and about a group of friends who survive a severe trauma. As a reader, I expect that trauma to leave an impact, and the story of subsequent time periods to deal with that impact. It really does not. This is the "plot" part of this book. Unfortunately, the two do not go together, making this a challenging book for me.

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

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Idea of you

Title:  The Idea of You
Author:  Amanda Prowse
Publication Information:  Lake Union Publishing. 2017. 332 pages.
ISBN:  1503942333 / 978-1503942332

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

Opening Sentence:  "Are you nervous, sweetie?"

Favorite Quote:  "When you have kids you watch them grow, love them, guide them and have days when you could happily abandon them, but every day is your training ground and every month, every year merges into the next, and it happens fast."

The main idea underlying The Idea of You by Amanda Prowse is the definition of "you." The dedication to the book points the way. "The Idea of You is dedicated to every women who has known the pain of miscarriage, who has felt her hopes and dreams of motherhood end without warning. Maybe she is like me and is unsure of how to grieve, how to mourn something that was never whole, and yet touched her soul in a way that is difficult to describe." The "you" in the book is clearly a child lost. Sprinkled throughout the book are Lucy Carpenter's musings addressed to a baby girl - a child lost.

Lucy and Jonah meet. Lucy is recovering from a broken relationship and meets Jonah at the christening of a friend's baby. The rest, as they say, is history. They fall in love, marry, and look forward to a long and happy life together. They also look forward to raising a family together. Pregnancies come but sadly are followed by miscarriages. Lucy's sadness begins to overshadow other aspects of her life, her career, and her marriage.

Everybody surrounding Lucy seems to be a parent. Her sister has her brood. Her co-workers have kids. Even Jonah has a teenage daughter from a previous marriage. This compounds the sense of isolation that Lucy feels.

What is the meaning of motherhood? Is it giving birth that makes you a mother? Is it something else? This sense of grief, this longing, and these questions are the poignant basis for this book. The emotion definitely comes through. However, two things keep this book from having a more powerful impact for me.

First, this book is about Lucy. Lucy's emotions and thoughts are all about Lucy. This is especially true in two scenarios. It is true in how the character of Jonah is treated in the book. With each miscarriage, he too loses child. Warranted, the loss of a mother carrying that child is different, but nevertheless, a father experiences grief as well. However, that does not really come through in the book. This is about Lucy's loss, and Jonah comes across as a little too understanding and a little too perfect in his support. Lucy's focus on Lucy is also clear with her response to a teenager in crisis. Lucy walks away to deal with her own grief and her own emotions. The reality of being an adult - a parent by the fact of giving birth or by choice of love - is that you help the child first. As such, while I sympathize with Lucy's losses, she comes across as a somewhat self-absorbed character.

Second, the resolution of this book steps away from the grief and loss of miscarriage. Hints are dropped throughout, but, at the same time, that second story line seems out of place. It is still about profound loss but not the same loss. As such, the book becomes about two main themes, and the second overshadows what initially draws me into the book. I wish the book had explored more its initial theme of miscarriage and its impact on not just the woman but the family who experiences it.

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

Monday, April 10, 2017


Title:  Lola
Author:  Melissa Scrivner Love
Publication Information:  Crown. 2017. 336 pages.
ISBN:  0451496108 / 978-0451496102

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

Opening Sentence:  "Lola stands across the craggy square of backyard she shares with Garcia."

Favorite Quote:  "Today is for deceit, the calming salve one spreads over wounds not to make them go away, but to forget they are there."

I picked this book to read with a great deal of hesitation. I looked at it on different lists and different venues offering galleys and walked about. My concern was that this would not be the book for me. The world of the gangs of south central Los Angeles is a violent and brutal one. I was concerned that a story set in that world would be too violent for me. Yet, something about the description kept pulling me back to this book.

The idea of a female gang leader in a world still completely male dominated is intriguing. The idea of a book based on such a female character is intriguing. "Lola spent the first twenty-three years of her life, until she met Garcia, figuring out how to make sure men didn't feel threatened by her. It is a skill that has served her better than any chocolate cake recipe every will." So, my curiosity won out over my concern, and I was fortunate enough to get an advance copy the read. The world of gangs and drug cartels is out of my comfort zone, but I am glad I did read this book.

First, the little stuff. The logic and facts of this book could use some research and editing. Certain medical details and certain inconsistencies in descriptions can easily be corrected. However, in light of the character and story, I look past the details. A little annoying, easily fixable, but ultimately able to be ignored, at least for me.

Now to the story and the characters themselves. The book both is and is not what I expected.

The world described is violent and brutal. This is not a book for the faint of heart. Prostitution, drugs, murder, bribery, beatings, violence against women, racial tensions, corruption, and child abuse are all a part of this book. How could they not be? These are the unfortunate realities of this world, and this at times make this a very uncomfortable book to read.

What is more unexpected is the character of Lola. She is most definitely not the damsel in distress. She is more the knight in shining armor. Different, sometimes conflicting sides of her character are explored. On the one hand, she is the unstated leader of the Crenshaw Six, a rag tag gang looking to break into the big leagues of the drug zones of Los Angeles. As such, she has a cool, rational mind and a ruthless nature. She makes tough choices, including punishing her own as a means of establishing and maintaining her credibility.

On the other hand, we see a compassionate woman with love in her heart. The compassion shows both for those she calls her own and those whose lives touch hers in some way. Her conflicted feelings towards her mother, the balance between being her brother's protector and his boss, her relationship with Garcia, and her pure love for Lucy all help round out the other side of this gang leader.

Ultimately, this is book about a strong woman in extreme circumstances who manages not just to survive but thrive and carve a life out for herself in a man's world. Considering this is Melissa Love's debut novel, I look forward to her next character. Lola certainly leaves and impression!

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

Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane

Title:  The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane
Author:  Lisa See
Publication Information:  Scribner. 2017. 384 pages.
ISBN:  1501154826 / 978-1501154829

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

Opening Sentence:  "'No coincidence, no story,' my a-ma recites, and that seems to settle everything, as it usually does, after First Brother finishes telling us about the dream he had last night."

Favorite Quote:  "Anguish. Courage. Sacrifice. This is mother love. This is what I must find in myself now."

I wanted to love this book. Years ago, I read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See and absolutely loved it. I have since read her other books, but none have managed to capture the intensity or feeling of that first book. I keep coming back though because I love the ideas of her books. I love learning about cultures and about how people - their hopes, dreams, and fears - are the same the world over no matter how different their ways of life, their beliefs, and their choices may seems. I love that they focus on strong women carving out their place in life. I am still hoping that one captures the depth of that first book.

This book also sets up a premise of a culture to explore and a strong heroine to feel for. It is also a story of mothers and daughters. Li-Yan is a member of the Akha minority in China. She and her family live in a remote village and have farmed tea for generations. And not just any region or tea of China. They are in the great tea mountains of Yunnan region and produce what has become well known as Pu'er tea.

Li-Yan lives with her parents, her siblings, their spouses, and children. The family unit work and live together, eking out a living gathering and selling the tea from their groves each day. The family is part of the broader family of the village. Respect for and following of the Akha traditions is the rule they live by.

Li-yan is different. She does well in school and asks questions - even about centuries old traditions.  You might say she is somewhat of a rebel. This is her strength, but it also lands her in trouble with her village traditions. The book begins when Li-Yan is ten and traces the trajectory of her life into old age. A defining moment is when Li-yan finds herself single and pregnant at age seventeen. She breaks with tradition and secretly puts the baby up for adoption. So many turning points of her life stem from that one decision and from the family's tradition of being tea growers.

I enjoyed the first half of the book more so than the second. The first half is about Li-yan's journey to define herself, apart from the traditions from which she comes. It is about reconciling love for family and community that is separate from her thoughts on certain Akha traditions. The first half is also about relationships. My favorite character is actually not Li-yan but her mother. She is Li-yan' mother, matriarch of the her family, a village elder, and the village midwife. She is central to Li-yan's story and displays a quiet strength and wisdom that is inspiring. I wanted to know her story and her perspective, but the book is very much Li-yan's story.

The pace of the first half is unhurried including plentiful descriptions of the setting, the business of tea, and of culture. The one thing that is troubling in the first half are some of the traditions of the Akha people the author chooses to highlight. Let's just say, the impact is disturbing. It does leave me wondering why it is necessary to include other than to shock. It sets a background for Li-yan's story, but Li-yan's story of being an unwed mother would work without that added negative. In today's world, where so many are quick to identify differences and find fault, it would be better if the focus had stayed on the same-ness of human experience, whether in a cosmopolitan first-world metropolis or a tiny, off-the-grid village in China. It is what unites us that should be given light not what may divide us, at least in a work of fiction.

The second half of the book completely shifts pace and focus. The book is still about tea and the big business of tea. However, the book travels far and wide from the insular feeling of the first half. The second half seem jammed with story lines. An old acquaintance enters again. A friendship results in rivalry and worse. Economic boom and bust happen in the world of tea. These are just some of the more "global" events, not even the more personal twists and turns of Li-yan's life.

For me, the first and the second half of the book don't match up in style and story line. Sometimes, less is more, and the deeper and slower pace of the first half works better in this case. The book is still enjoyable in its entirety, but some of the depth is lost to the momentum and speed of the second half.

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

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage

Title:  Hourglass:  Time, Memory, Marriage
Author:  Dani Shapiro
Publication Information:  Knopf. 2017. 160 pages.
ISBN:  0451494482 / 978-0451494481

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

Opening Sentence:  "From my office window I see my husband on the driveway below."

Favorite Quote:  "I cannot bring myself to even idly wish any of it - not even the most painful parts - away. Eighteen years. Change even one moment, and the whole thing unravels. The narrative thread doesn't stretch in a line from end to end, but rather, spools and unspools, loops around and returns again and again to the same spot. Come closer now and listen. Be thankful for all of it."

The words that come to mind reading this book are nonlinear, personal, intimate, quiet, and reflective. Dani (aka Daniele Joyce) Shapiro has been married to "M" (aka Michael Maren) since 1997 - nineteen years. He is a screenwriter; she is an author of novels, memoirs, and magazine articles. They are parents to a teenage son Jacob.

This slim book is a reflection and commentary on marriage. It is also about how and what we choose to remember and how and what we choose to forget. It is about survival, perseverance, and compromise. After all, a marriage takes work from both spouses to foster, nourish, and grow the relationship. Dani and M together persevered through their child's serious illness; now, they persevere through the teenage years. M gave up his career as a news correspondent partly because of her fears for his safety. She worries that perhaps that was too great a sacrifice. They cheer on each other's successes and worry when career and other individual challenges arise. This is about marriage with all that entails about two people and two families coming together to create a new life.

Last summer, Dani Shapiro wrote a column for The New York Times titled "When You Write a Memoir, Readers Think They Know You Better Than They Do." That is quite a mouthful for a title, but true. As the article states, "When I write a book, I have no interest in telling all, the way I absolutely do long to while talking to a close friend. My interest is in telling precisely what the story requires. It is along the knife’s edge of this discipline that the story becomes larger, more likely to touch the “thread of the Universe,” Emerson’s beautiful phrase."

The book Hourglass establishes that intimacy between author and reader. It makes me forget that I am reading a carefully crafted piece of work and makes me feel as if I have a window on her life. Fact, fiction, or otherwise, it doesn't really matter. What makes this a great book for me is the reaction it elicits in me. The craft of Dani Shapiro's writing makes it feel real and heartfelt. It also begins in me a reflection on my own life. I may not remember the specific details of this book over time, but that feeling of quiet reflection will linger.

I do feel that this is one of those books whose reception will depend on where the reader is in his or her life. That is true of all books, but it feels more true of this one because it is a reflection on an institution like marriage and because of its meandering, quiet pace through memory. This is not a memoir with a linear timeline or a plot; it is more like picking through a photo album, drifting from memory to memory until an image more expansive than the photographs themselves forms.

This is the first book I have read by Dani Shapiro. I look forward to reading more.

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

Sunday, April 2, 2017


Title:  Himself
Author:  Jess Kidd
Publication Information:  Atria Books. 2017. 384 pages.
ISBN:  1501145177 / 978-1501145179

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

Opening Sentence:  "His first blow:  the girl made no noise, her dark eyes widened."

Favorite Quote:  "Words are capable of flying. They dart through windows, over fences, between bar stools, and across courtyards. They travel rapidly from mouth to ear, from ear to mouth. And as they go, they pick up speed and weight and substance and gravity. until they land with a scud, take seed, and grow as fast as the unruliest of beanstalks."

Who is Himself in this story? Is it Mahony who comes to the village of Mulderrig looking for his past? Is it the culprit in this mystery - the unnamed man on whose brutal actions the book opens? In the etymology of Irish English, the pronouns "himself" and "herself" can be used as "he" or "she" might be. Is Himself here? Is Himself the guilty party? Is it Himself? And so on. The terms are often used in this way to refer to someone of importance.

Why the language lesson? Because the language and cultural background is the charm of this book. It is what makes this murder mystery out of the ordinary. The plot is a fairly simple one. The book open on a murder being committed. Fast forward years later. Mahony, an unknown young man comes to a small village. Why? His stated reason is to get away from city life. The real reason is to search for his past, to find a murderer, and perhaps to seek vengeance. The small town setting gives rise to a whole host of eccentric characters. Some would help him; others have something to hide and would like to see him disappear. Slowly, the layers are peeled back, revealing connections and relationships until finally the murderer is revealed. A dramatic conclusion ensues.

What makes this book intriguing is the setting and the background of Irish folklore. Ghosts sometimes lead the way for those who have the gift of "sight." A tree protects a baby from a murderer. Magical places exist - "a low-tide island you could wait years for and still never see. This wasn't a coincidence; it was a benediction." A Brigadoon, perhaps?

The cast of characters is what you would expect in a small town novel. Mahoney is the handsome, sultry "bad boy," with his leather and cigarettes. Shauna is the small town girl who's been hurt before. Mrs. Cauley is the village matriarch (of sorts), holding court. There is the town busybody, the priest, and the town "bogeyman." A little quirkiness, a little humor, a little romance, and a little magic draw the characters together in the story. Ultimately, though, the book has too wide a cast, and the "good" characters are drawn out with much greater detail than the "evil" characters. It takes a while to get the characters - living and dead - and their relationships straight to settle into the story. The fact that the book moves between two time lines - Mahony's and his mother's - with overlapping characters exacerbates this issue.

The book sets up the folklore and the background beautifully. The beginning is colorful and atmospheric. However, the story itself flounders. It seems to loop through the same spot. The pace is slow, and the characters, plot or setting don't really build. About part way through, I find myself losing interest in the characters and the outcome.

Overall, the plot is a little scattered and falls a little short of the build up. However, I love the premise and setting and enjoy the descriptive writing.

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