Sunday, August 7, 2022

The Codebreaker's Secret

The Codebreaker's Secret
Title:
  The Codebreaker's Secret
Author:  Sara Ackerman
Publication Information:  MIRA. 2022. 352 pages.
ISBN:  0778386880 / 978-0778386889

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and the HTP Summer 2022 historical fiction blog tour free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The ocean is far more than water."

Favorite Quote:  "Failure was a given. Accept that and you'd won half the battle."

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


Review

Like Sara Ackerman's other books, the history of this book is of WWII and of Hawaii. The separation between the history and the fiction is explained in the author's note. Station Hypo - the Dungeon in the book - was a real office of classified work during the war. Over 10,000 women worked around the county as codebreakers and translators in support of the war effort. Operation Vengeance to target a Japanese admiral was a key event in the war in the Pacific. There were Nazi spies and those who collaborated with them. In the 1960s, Laurance Rockefeller did indeed open the Mauna Kea Hotel.

From this history, the book builds a two timeline story - one of the war and the 1940s and one of the opening of the Mauna Kea Hotel in the 1960s. Also like Sara Ackerman's other books, the main characters are women, and the 1940s story follows the pivotal role women played in the war effort. 

In the 1940s is Isabella or Izzy. She is a codebreaker, trying to establish herself in a world of men. She is also a sister on a pilgrimage to view the world as her brother saw it before he died in the attack on Pearl Harbor. Her story is one of work, of friendship, and of romance. Primarily, though, it is of the friendship and of her strength. That strength is depicted in her work, in her proficiency in chess, and in her courage in standing up and speaking out.

In the 1960s is Lu. She is Hawaiian born and raised. She calls the mainland home, as she chases a career as a journalist. An assignment to cover the opening of the hotel brings her home. Her journey is one of self discovery and of identifying what she stands for and what she wants out of life.

One connection between the two timelines - Matteo Russi - is clearly set out. His character is an interesting one for it touches on the traumas of war and the scars - both seen and unseen. The book makes a very specific point about the importance of telling his story and those like it to remove the stigma of those scars and to ensure that veterans such as Matteo Russi receive the support and resources to heal. Their service ensures our freedoms and must be honored.

In both timelines, there is a disappearance and a mystery. The book is a quick read that keeps me turning pages. What keeps me reading is not the mystery but the characters. The other connections between the two timelines and the mysteries become clear to me much before the reveal in the book happens. No matter for the discovery by the characters is part of the story. 

This is the third Sara Ackerman book I have read. I look forward to seeing what comes next.

About the Book

A brilliant female codebreaker. An “unbreakable” Japanese naval code. A pilot on a top-secret mission that could change the course of WWII. The Codebreaker's Secret is a dazzling story of love and intrigue set during America’s darkest hour.

1943. As war in the Pacific rages on, Isabel Cooper and her codebreaker colleagues huddle in “the dungeon” at Station HYPO in Pearl Harbor, deciphering secrets plucked from the airwaves in a race to bring down the enemy. Isabel has only one wish: to avenge her brother’s death. But she soon finds life has other plans when she meets his best friend, a hotshot pilot with secrets of his own.

1965. Fledgling journalist Lu Freitas comes home to Hawai'i to cover the grand opening of the glamorous Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, Rockefeller's newest and grandest project. When a high-profile guest goes missing, Lu forms an unlikely alliance with an intimidating veteran photographer to unravel the mystery. The two make a shocking discovery that stirs up memories and uncovers an explosive secret from the war days. A secret that only a codebreaker can crack.


About the Author

Sara Ackerman is a USA TODAY bestselling author who writes books about love and life, and all of their messy and beautiful imperfections. She believes that the light is just as important as the dark, and that the world is in need of uplifting stories. Born and raised in Hawaii, she studied journalism and later earned graduate degrees in psychology and Chinese medicine. She blames Hawaii for her addiction to writing, and sees no end to its untapped stories. Find out more about Sara and her books at www.ackermanbooks.com and follow her on Instagram @saraackermanbooks and on FB @ackermanbooks.

Buy Links

BookShop.org
Harlequin
Barnes & Noble
Amazon
Books-A-Million
Powell’s

Social Links

Author Website: https://www.ackermanbooks.com/
Facebook: @ackermanbooks
Twitter: @AckermanBooks
Instagram: @saraackermanbooks


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

Saturday, July 30, 2022

The Librarian Spy

The Librarian Spy
Title:
  The Librarian Spy
Author:  Madeline Martin
Publication Information:  Hanover Square Press. 2022. 368 pages.
ISBN:  1335427481 / 978-1335427489

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and HTP Summer 2022 historical fiction blog tour free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "There was nothing Ava Harper loved more than the smell of old books."

Favorite Quote:  "Sometimes the things we hold inside of us need to be let out. No matter where you are or who you're speaking with."

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


Review

The title - libraries and spies - draws me to this book. As a reader, I absolutely believe in the power of books to heal and to make a difference. Many histories and stories tell of the role booksellers and libraries played during World War II. This book adds to that canon.

However, although one of the main characters is a librarian, the story is not really about libraries or  books. Ava is recruited for the war effort because of her literary and linguistic background, but this book is definitely more about the "spy" than the "library." She is recruited to gather newspapers and publications to send back to the United States as intelligence. This includes the papers and journals surreptitiously published by the Resistance.

Only once does the book touch on the power of stories. "Though small, Ava knew the importance of those stories. They were a friend in a foreign, lonely place, a liberation of one's mind from the prison of circumstance, an escape from life's most brutal blows."

The other interesting thing about the title is that it highlights only one of two main characters. Many stories use a two character approach to the narrative, sometimes separated by place, sometimes by times, and sometimes by both. In this case, both Ava and Elaine/Heléne are living through the war. Ava is from the United States but serving in Lisbon. Elaine is in Lyons, France in the heart of the Occupation. I am unsure why the title highlights only one of them although the cover features both, and the narrative alternates chapters between their two perspectives.

Elaine's story - the one of Occupation, Nazi atrocities, and loss - is the more emotional one. Portugal at time is neutral in the war. Ava, though emotionally involved and instrumental in Elaine's story, is still one step removed. Based on the title, I do leave wondering if I see something different in the story than what is intended.

Ultimately, it does not matter what the intent is. The story is a compelling one of courage and of a common cause that unites people whose paths may never otherwise cross. Although I have read much fiction surrounding World War II, each new story introduces me to another aspect of that history - both the atrocities committed and the sacrifices and courage of ordinary people. I have never before read one set in Lisbon. So, I learn the role Lisbon and the Portuguese coastline plays in the war efforts of the Allies.

Make sure and read the author's note at the end that explains the research done and the historical basis behind this fiction. Per the author's note, Ava's character is that one someone who may have been. The creation of Elaine's character is influenced by the little known historic figure of Lucien Guezennec. Again, this leads me back to the original question about why the title focuses on Ava. Regardless, the story keeps me reading from beginning to end, and the history is one I am glad I learned.

About the Book

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Last Bookshop in London comes a moving new novel inspired by the true history of America’s library spies of World War II.

Ava thought her job as a librarian at the Library of Congress would mean a quiet, routine existence. But an unexpected offer from the US military has brought her to Lisbon with a new mission: posing as a librarian while working undercover as a spy gathering intelligence.

Meanwhile, in occupied France, Elaine has begun an apprenticeship at a printing press run by members of the Resistance. It’s a job usually reserved for men, but in the war, those rules have been forgotten. Yet she knows that the Nazis are searching for the press and its printer in order to silence them.

As the battle in Europe rages, Ava and Elaine find themselves connecting through coded messages and discovering hope in the face of war.

About the Author
Madeline Martin is a New York Times and international bestselling author of historical fiction novels and historical romance. She lives in sunny Florida with her two daughters, two incredibly spoiled cats and a husband so wonderful he's been dubbed Mr. Awesome. She is a die-hard history lover who will happily lose herself in research any day. When she's not writing, researching or 'moming', you can find her spending time with her family at Disney or sneaking a couple spoonfuls of Nutella while laughing over cat videos. She also loves travel, attributing her fascination with history to having spent most of her childhood as an Army brat in Germany.

Excerpt

April 1943
Washington, DC

There was nothing Ava Harper loved more than the smell of old books. The musty scent of aging paper and stale ink took one on a journey through candlelit rooms of manors set amid verdant hills or ancient castles with turrets that stretched up to the vast, unknown heavens. These were tomes once cradled in the spread palms of forefathers, pored over by scholars, devoured by students with a rapacious appetite for learning. In those fragrant, yellowed pages were stories of the past and eternal knowledge.

It was a fortunate thing indeed she was offered a job in the Rare Book Room at the Library of Congress where the archaic aroma of history was forever present.

She strode through the middle of three arches to where the neat rows of tables ran parallel to one another and carefully gathered a stack of rare books in her arms. They were different sizes and weights, their covers worn and pages uneven at the edges, and yet somehow the pile seemed to fit together like the perfect puzzle. Regardless of the patron who left them after having requested far more than was necessary for an afternoon’s perusal.

Their eyes were bigger than their brains. It was what her brother, Daniel, had once proclaimed after Ava groused about the common phenomena—one she herself had been guilty of—when he was home on leave.

Ever since, the phrase ran through her thoughts on each encounter of an abandoned collection. Not that it was the fault of the patron. The philosophical greats of old wouldn’t be able to glean that much information in an afternoon. But she liked the expression regardless and how it always made her recall Daniel’s laughing gaze as he said it.

They’d both inherited their mother’s moss green eyes, though Ava’s never managed to achieve that same sparkle of mirth so characteristic of her older brother.

A glance at her watch confirmed it was almost noon. A knot tightened in her stomach as she recalled her brief chat with Mr. MacLeish earlier that day. A meeting with the Librarian of Congress was no regular occurrence, especially when it was followed by the scrawl of an address on a slip of paper and the promise of a new opportunity that would suit her.

Whatever it was, she doubted it would fit her better than her position in the Rare Book Room. She absorbed lessons from these ancient texts, which she squeezed out at whim to aid patrons unearth sought-after information. What could possibly appeal to her more?

Ava approached the last table at the right and gently closed La Maison Reglée, the worn leather cover smooth as butter beneath her fingertips. The seventeenth century book was one of the many gastronomic texts donated from the Katherine Golden Bitting collection. She had been a marvel of a woman who utilized her knowledge in her roles at the Department of Agriculture and the American Canners Association.

Every book had a story and Ava was their keeper. To leave her place there would be like abandoning children.

Robert floated in on his pretentious cloud and surveyed the room with a critical eye. She clicked off the light lest she be subjected to the sardonic flattening of her coworker’s lips.

He held out his hand for La Maison Reglée, a look of irritation flickering over his face.

“I’ll put it away.” Ava hugged it to her chest. After all, he didn’t even read French. He couldn’t appreciate it as she did.

She returned the tome to its collection, the family reunited once more, and left the opulence of the library. The crisp spring DC air embraced her as she caught the streetcar toward the address printed in the Librarian of Congress’s own hand.

Ava arrived at 2430 E Street, NW ten minutes before her appointment, which turned out to be beneficial considering the hoops she had to jump through to enter. A stern man, whose expression did not alter through their exchange, confronted her at a guardhouse upon entry. Apparently, he had no more understanding of the meeting than she.

Once finally allowed in, she followed a path toward a large white-columned building.

Ava snapped the lid on her overactive imagination lest it get the better of her—which it often did—and forced herself onward. After being led through an open entryway and down a hall, she was left to sit in an office possessing no more than a desk and two hardbacked wooden chairs. They made the seats in the Rare Book Room seem comfortable by comparison. Clearly it was a place made only for interviews.

But for what?

Ava glanced at her watch. Whoever she was supposed to meet was ten minutes late. A pang of regret resonated through her at having left her book sitting on her dresser at home.

She had only recently started Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca and was immediately drawn in to the thrill of a young woman swept into an unexpected romance. Ava’s bookmark rested temptingly upon the newly married couple’s entrance to Manderley, the estate in Cornwall.

The door to the office flew open and a man whisked in wearing a gray, efficient Victory suit—single breasted with narrow lapels and absent any cuffs or pocket flaps—fashioned with as little fabric as was possible. He settled behind the desk. “I’m Charles Edmunds, secretary to General William Donovan. You’re Ava Harper?”

The only name familiar of the three was her own. “I am.”

He opened a file, sifted through a few papers, and handed her a stack. “Sign these.”

“What are they?” She skimmed over them and was met with legal jargon.

“Confidentiality agreements.”

“I won’t sign anything I don’t read fully.” She lifted the pile.

The text was drier than the content of some of the more lackluster rare books at the Library of Congress. Regardless, she scoured every word while Mr. Edmunds glared irritably at her, as if he could will her to sign with his eyes. He couldn’t, of course. She waited ten minutes for his arrival; he could wait while she saw what she was getting herself into.

Everything indicated she would not share what was discussed in the room about her potential job opportunity. It was nothing all too damning and so she signed, much to the great, exhaling impatience of Mr. Edmunds.

“You speak German and French.” He peered at her over a pair of black-rimmed glasses, his brown eyes probing.

“My father was something of a linguist. I couldn’t help but pick them up.” A visceral ache stabbed at her chest as a memory flitted through her mind from years ago—her father switching to German in his excitement for an upcoming trip with her mother for their twenty-year anniversary. That trip. The one from which her parents had never returned.

“And you’ve worked with photographing microfilm.” Mr. Edmunds lifted his brows.

A frown of uncertainty tugged at her lips. When she first started at the Library of Congress, her duties had been more in the area of archival than a typical librarian role as she microfilmed a series of old newspapers that time was slowly eroding. “I have, yes.”

“Your government needs you,” he stated in a matter-of-fact manner that broached no argument. “You are invited to join the Office of Strategic Services—the OSS—under the information gathering program called the Interdepartmental Committee for the Acquisition of Foreign Publications.”

Her mind spun around to make sense of what he’d just said, but her mouth flew open to offer its own knee-jerk opinion. “That’s quite the mouthful.”

“IDC for short,” he replied without hesitation or humor. “It’s a covert operation obtaining information from newspapers and texts in neutral territories to help us gather intel on the Nazis.”

“Would I require training?” she asked, unsure how knowing German equipped her to spy on them.

“You have all the training you need as I understand it.”

He began to reassemble the file in front of him. “You would go to Lisbon.”

“In Portugal?”

He paused. “It is the only Lisbon of which I am aware, yes.”

No doubt she would have to get there by plane. A shiver threatened to squeeze down her spine, but she repressed it. “Why am I being recommended for this?”

“Your ability to speak French and German.” Mr. Edmunds held up his forefinger. “You know how to use microfilm.” He ticked off another finger. “Fred Kilgour recommends your keen intellect.” There went another finger.

That was a name she recognized.

She aided Fred the prior year when he was microfilming foreign publications for the Harvard University Library. After the months she’d spent doing as much for the Library of Congress, the process had been easy to share, and he had been a quick learner.

“And you’re pretty.” Mr. Edmunds sat back in his chair, the final point made.

The compliment was as unwarranted in such a setting as it was unwelcome. “What does my appearance have to do with any of this?”

He lifted a shoulder. “Beauties like yourself can get what they want when they want it. Except when you scowl like that.” He nodded his chin up. “You should smile more, Dollface.”

That was about enough.

“I did not graduate top of my class from Pratt and obtain a much sought-after position at the Library of Congress to be called ‘Dollface.’” She pushed up to standing.

“And you’ve got steel in that spine, Miss Harper.” Mr. Edmunds ticked the last finger.

She opened her mouth to retort, but he continued. “We need this information so we best know how to fight the Krauts. The sooner we have these details, the sooner this war can be over.”

She remained where she stood to listen a little longer. No doubt he knew she would.

“You have a brother,” he went on. “Daniel Harper, staff sergeant of C Company in Second Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, in the 101st Airborne Division.”

The Airborne Division. Her brother had run toward the fear of airplanes despite her swearing off them.

“That’s correct,” she said tightly. Daniel would never have been in the Army were it not for her. He would be an engineer, the way he’d always wanted.

Mr. Edmunds took off his glasses and met her gaze with his small, naked eyes. “Don’t you want him to come home sooner?”

It was a dirty question meant to slice deep.

And it worked.

The longer the war continued, the greater Daniel’s risk of being killed or wounded.

She’d done everything she could to offer aid. When the ration was only voluntary, she had complied long before it became law. She gave blood every few months, as soon as she was cleared to do so again. Rather than dance and drink at the Elk Club like her roommates, Ava spent all her spare time in the Production Corps with the Red Cross, repairing uniforms, rolling bandages, and doing whatever was asked of her to help their men abroad.

She even wore red lipstick on a regular basis, springing for the costly tube of Elizabeth Arden’s Victory Red, the civilian counterpart to the Montezuma Red servicewomen were issued. Ruby lips were a derisive biting of the thumb at Hitler’s war on made-up women. And she would do anything to bite her thumb at that tyrant.

Likely Mr. Edmunds was aware of all this.

“You will be doing genuine work in Lisbon that can help bring your brother and all our boys home.” Mr. Edmunds got to his feet and held out his hand, a salesman with a silver tongue, ready to seal the deal. “Are you in?”

Ava looked at his hand. His fingers were stubby and thick, his nails short and well-manicured.

“I would have to go on an airplane, I’m assuming.”

“You wouldn’t have to jump out.” He winked.

Her greatest fear realized.

But Daniel had done far more for her.

It was a single plane ride to get to Lisbon. One measly takeoff and landing with a lot of airtime in between. The bottoms of her feet tingled, and a nauseous swirl dipped in her belly.

This was by far the least she could do to help him as well as every other US service member. Not just the men, but also the women whose roles were often equally as dangerous.

She lifted her chin, leveling her own stare right back. “Don’t ever call me ‘Dollface’ again.”

“You got it, Miss Harper,” he replied.

She extended her hand toward him and clasped his with a firm grip, the way her father had taught her. “I’m in.”

He grinned. “Welcome aboard.”

Buy Links

San Marco Books, Signed Copies for Preorders!
Story & Song Books, Signed Copies for Preorders!
BookShop.org
Harlequin
Barnes & Noble
Amazon
Books-A-Million

Social Links

Author Website
Twitter: @MadelineMMartin
Facebook: @MadelineMartinAuthor
Instagram: @madelinemmartin
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Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Point Last Seen

Point Last Seen
Title:
  Point Last Seen
Author: Christina Dodd
Publication Information:  HQN. 2022. 416 pages.
ISBN:  133567991X / 978-1335679918

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:  "Two primal elements dominated this remote area of Big Sur, California:  the Santa Lucia Mountains to the east, and the Pacific Ocean to the West."

Favorite Quote:  "Remember, bravery is being the only one who knows you're afraid."

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


Review

A town named Gothic. The California Coast. A secret scientific mission. A shipwreck. A fortune teller. A movie actress. A brooding hero with a past. A girl with amnesia. A castle with a tumbling tower. A small town where everyone knows everyone. A bad guy. Brain eating bacteria. A festival. A duel.

This book covers a lot of ground. It is more summer romance than thriller although the plot is based on an attempted murder and its repercussions. However, this book is still much more about the two main characters, their brokenness, and the joy they discover in finding each other. Their story is sweet, at times sad and at times funny.

The small town of Gothic is atmospheric and charming, with its host of characters as you might expect in a small town. The legend of Gothic is that on stormy nights, the town disappears. When it returns, it brings back lost souls. This is the backdrop of what I understand may become a series of books centered in Gothic. It'll be interesting to see how the town and the characters develop through the series.

The plot of this book focuses on Adam Ramsdell and Elle. Clearly, Adam has secrets in his past and has chosen an isolated corner of Gothic to call home. He is intense and ever cautious of present dangers. He is an enigma to Gothic residents. At the same time, he is a friend to many and Gothic's unofficial law enforcement until actual law enforcement shows up. He is in essence the epitome of the mysterious, brooding hero.

Elle literally washes up on the beach, almost dead. Adam rescues her. She has no memory of her past but is aware of a terror in her past. Despite that hidden terror, Elle is joyful, embracing the people and the town of Gothic. She has a joy for life that Adam needs. She is self-sufficient but needs protection from her terrors.

The plot is that of madmen hunting both of them - for different reasons and in different ways. In the midst of this, love blossoms and it is the story of both of them overcoming the darkness in their past. Disclaimer:  The book does have scenes of violence. Reader, beware. Even with that, the overall feeling of the story is the sweetness of a small town love story. The violence is very real, but the focus remains the characters and their relationship.

Throw in some twists about bad guys showing up and even family secrets. Overall, it makes for a fun, summer read. At the end, I hope that things work out for all the characters - Adam and Elle and perhaps even more so the characters of Gothic. The side characters - the town patron, the fortune teller, the actress, the curmudgeon, the teenager, the restaurant owners, and even the police officer - are entertaining and memorable on their own. I look forward to following the tales of Gothic.

About the Book

From New York Times bestselling author Christina Dodd comes a brand new, standalone suspense about a reclusive artist who retrieves a seemingly dead woman from the Pacific Ocean...only to have her come back to life with no memory of what happened to her. With a strong female protagonist, a chilling villain, and twisty secrets that will keep you turning the pages. Perfect for fans of Lisa Jewell, Karin Slaughter and Sandra Brown, POINT LAST SEEN, will have readers keeping the lights on all night.

LIFE LAST SEEN
When you’ve already died, there should be nothing left to fear… When Adam Ramsdell pulls Elle’s half-frozen body from the surf on a lonely California beach, she has no memory of what her full name is and how she got those bruises ringing her throat.

GIRL LAST SEEN
Elle finds refuge in Adam’s home on the edge of Gothic, a remote village located between the steep lonely mountains and the raging Pacific Ocean. As flashes of her memory return, Elle faces a terrible truth—buried in her mind lurks a secret so dark it could get her killed.

POINT LAST SEEN
Everyone in Gothic seems to hide a dark past. Even Adam knows more than he will admit. Until Elle can unravel the truth, she doesn’t know who to trust, when to run and who else might be hurt when the killer who stalks her nightmares appears to finish what he started…

About the Author

New York Times bestselling author Christina Dodd writes "edge-of-the-seat suspense" (Iris Johansen) with "brilliantly etched characters, polished writing, and unexpected flashes of sharp humor that are pure Dodd" (ALA Booklist). Her fifty-eight books have been called "scary, sexy, and smartly written" by Booklist and, much to her mother's delight, Dodd was once a clue in the Los Angeles Times crossword puzzle. Enter Christina's worlds and join her mailing list at www.christinadodd.com.

Excerpt

Excerpted from Point Last Seen by Christina Dodd. Copyright © 2022 by Christina Dodd. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.

two
A Morning in February
Gothic, California

The storm off the Pacific had been brutal, a relentless night of cold rain and shrieking wind. Adam Ramsdell had spent the hours working, welding and polishing a tall, heavy, massive piece of sculpture, not hearing the wailing voices that lamented their own passing, not shuddering when he caught sight of his own face in the polished stainless steel. He sweated as he moved swiftly to capture the image he saw in his mind, a clawed monster rising from the deep: beautiful, deadly, dangerous.

And as always, when dawn broke, the storm moved on and he stepped away, he realized he had failed.

Impatient, he shoved the trolley that held the sculpture toward the wall. One of claws swiped his bare chest and proved to him he’d done one thing right: razor-sharp, it opened a long, thin gash in his skin. Blood oozed to the surface. He used his toe to lock the wheels on the trolley, securing the sculpture in case of the occasional California earth tremor.

Then with the swift efficiency of someone who had dealt with minor wounds, his own and others’, he found a clean towel and stanched the flow. Going into the tiny bathroom, he washed the site and used superglue to close the gash. The cut wasn’t deep; it would hold.

He tied on his running shoes and stepped outside into the short, bent, wet grass that covered his acreage. The rosemary hedge that grew at the edge of his front porch released its woody scent. The newly washed sunlight had burned away the fog, and Adam started running uphill toward town, determined to get breakfast, then come home to bed. Now that the sculpture was done and the storm had passed, he needed the bliss of oblivion, the moments of peace sleep could give him.

Yet every year as the Ides of March and the anniversary of his failure approached, nightmares tracked through his sleep and followed him into the light. They were never the same but always a variation on a theme: he had failed, and in two separate incidents, people had died…

The route was all uphill; nevertheless, each step was swift and precise. The sodden grasses bent beneath his running shoes. He never slipped; a man could die from a single slip. He’d always known that, but now, five years later, he knew it in ways he could never forget.

As he ran, he shed the weariness of a long night of cutting, grinding, hammering, polishing. He reached the asphalt and he lengthened his stride, increased his pace.

He ran past the cemetery where a woman knelt to take a chalk etching of a crumbling headstone, past the Gothic Museum run by local historian Freya Goodnight.

The Gothic General Store stood on the outside of the lowest curve of the road. Today the parking lot was empty, the rockers were unoccupied, and the store’s sixteen-year-old clerk lounged in the open door. “How you doing, Mr. Ramsdell?” she called.

He lifted his hand. “Hi, Tamalyn.”

She giggled.

Somehow, on the basis of him waving and remembering her name, she had fallen in love with him. He reminded himself that the dearth of male teens in the area left him little competition, but he could feel her watching him as he ran past the tiny hair salon where Daphne was cutting a local rancher’s hair in the outdoor barber chair.

His body urged him to slow to a walk, but he deliberately pushed himself.

Every time he took a turn, he looked up at Widow’s Peak, the rocky ridge that overshadowed the town, and the Tower, the edifice built by the Swedish silent-film star who in the early 1930s had bought land and created the town to her specifications.

At last he saw his destination, the Live Oak, a four-star restaurant in a one-star town. The three-story building stood at the corner of the highest hairpin turn and housed the eatery and three exclusive suites available for rent.

When Adam arrived he was gasping, sweating, holding his side. Since his return from the Amazon basin, he had never completely recovered his stamina.

Irksome.

At the corner of the building, he turned to look out at the view.

The vista was magnificent: spring-green slopes, wave-battered sea stacks, the ocean’s endless surges, and the horizon that stretched to eternity. During the Gothic jeep tour, Freya always told the tourists that from this point, if a person tripped and fell, that person could tumble all the way to the beach. Which was an exaggeration. Mostly.

Adam used the small towel hooked into his waistband to wipe the sweat off his face. Then disquiet began its slow crawl up his spine.

Someone had him under observation.

He glanced up the grassy hill toward the olive grove and stared. A glint, like someone stood in the trees’ shadows watching with binoculars. Watching him.

No. Not him. A peregrine falcon glided through the shredded clouds, and seagulls cawed and circled. Birders came from all over the word to view the richness of the Big Sur aviary life. As he watched, the glint disappeared. Perhaps the birder had spotted a tufted puffin. Adam felt an uncomfortable amount of relief in that: it showed a level of paranoia to imagine someone was watching him, but…

But. He had learned never to ignore his instincts. The hard way, of course.

He stepped into the restaurant doorway, and from across the restaurant he heard the loud snap of the continental waiter’s fingers and saw the properly suited Ludwig point at a small, isolated table in the back corner. Adam’s usual table.

Before Adam took a second step, he made an inventory of all possible entrances and exits, counted the number of occupants and assessed them as possible threats, and evaluated any available weapons. An old habit, it gave him peace of mind.

Three exits: front door, door to kitchen, door to the upper suites.

Mr. Kulshan sat by the windows, as was his wont. He liked the sun, and he lived to people-watch. Why not? He was in his midnineties. What else had he to do?

In the conference room, behind an open door, reserved for a business breakfast, was a long table with places set for twenty people.

A young couple, tourists by the look of them, held hands on the table and smiled into each other’s eyes.

Nice. Really nice to know young love still existed.

There, her back against the opposite wall, was an actress. Obviously an actress. She had possibly arrived for breakfast, or to stay in one of the suites. Celebrities visits happened often enough that most of the town was blasé, although the occasional scuffle with the paparazzi did lend interest to the village’s tranquil days.

She wasn’t pretty. Her face was too angular, her mouth too wide, her chin too determined. She was reading through a stack of papers and using a marker to highlight and a ballpoint to make notes… And she wore glasses. Not casual I need a little visual assistance glasses. These were Coke-bottle bottoms set in lime-green frames.

Interesting: Why had an actress not had laser surgery? Not that it mattered. Behind those glasses her brown eyes sparked with life, interest and humor, although he didn’t understand how someone could convey all that while never looking up. She had shampoo-commercial hair—long, dark, wavy, shining—and when she caught it in her hand and shoved it over one shoulder, he felt his breath catch.

A gravelly voice interrupted a moment that had gone on too long and revealed too clearly how Adam’s isolation had affected him. “Hey, you. Boy! Come here.” Mr. Kulshan beckoned. Mr. Kulshan, who had once been tall, sturdy and handsome. Then the jaws of old age had seized him, gnawed him down to a bent-shouldered, skinny old man.

Adam lifted a finger to Ludwig, indicating breakfast would have to wait.

Ludwig glowered. Maybe his name was suggestive, but the man looked like Ludwig van Beethoven: rough, wild, wavy hair, dark brooding eyes under bushy eyebrows, pouty lips, cleft in the chin. He seldom talked and never smiled. Most people were afraid of him.

Adam was not. He walked to Mr. Kulshan’s table and took a seat opposite the old man. “What can I do for you, sir?”

“Don’t call me sir. I told you, call me K.H.”

Adam didn’t call people by their first names. That encouraged friendliness.

“If you can’t do that, call me Kulshan.” With his fork, the old guy stabbed a lump of breaded something and handed it to Adam. “What do you think this is?”

Adam had traveled the world, learned to eat what was offered, so he took the fork, sniffed the lump and nibbled a corner. “I believe it’s fried sweetbread.”

Mr. Kulshan made a gagging noise. “My grandmother made us eat sweetbread.” He bit it off the end of the fork. “This isn’t as awful as hers.” With loathing, he said, “This is Frenchie food.”

“Señor Alfonso is Spanish.”

Mr. Kulshan ignored Adam for all he was worth. “Next thing you know, this Alfonso will be scraping snails off the sidewalk and calling it escargots.”

“Actually…” Adam caught the twinkle in Mr. Kulshan’s eyes and stood. “Fine. Pull my chain. I’m going to have breakfast.”

Mr. Kulshan caught his wrist. “Have you heard what Caltrans is doing about the washout?” He referred to the California Department of Transportation and their attempts to repair the Pacific Coast Highway and open it to traffic.

“No. What?”

“Nothing!” Mr. Kulshan cackled wildly, then nodded at the actress. “The girl. Isn’t she something? Built like a brick shithouse.”

Interested, Adam settled back into the chair. “Who is she?”

“Don’t you ever read People magazine? That’s Clarice Burbage. She’s set to star in the modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s…um…one of Shakespeare’s plays. Who cares? She’ll play a king. Or something. That’s the script she’s reading.”

Clarice looked up as if she’d heard them—which she had, because Mr. Kulshan wore hearing aids that didn’t work well enough to compensate for his hearing loss—and smiled and nodded genially.

Mr. Kulshan grinned at her. “Hi, Clarice. Loved you in Inferno!”

“Thank you, K.H.” She projected her voice so he could hear her.

Mr. Kulshan shot Adam a triumphant look that clearly said See? Clarice Burbage calls me by my first name.

The actress-distraction was why the two men were surprised when the door opened and a middle-aged, handsome, casually dressed woman with cropped red hair walked in.

Mr. Kulshan made a sound of disgust. “Her.”
Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Sunday, July 24, 2022

The Secret Keeper of Jaipur

Title:
  The Secret Keeper of Jaipur
Author:  Alka Joshi
Publication Information:  MIRA. 2021. 384 pages.
ISBN:  0778331857 / 978-0778331858

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

Opening Sentence:  "It's opening night of the Royal Jewel Cinema, which shines as brilliantly as a gemstone."

Favorite Quote:  "We know things about people ... because we go into their homes, the place where they are most vulnerable. That does not mean that we can divulge what we have seen or heard to everyone we know. There's more power in keeping a secret than in betraying it."

The Henna Artist brought us to 1950s India. The British Raj had just ended in 1947. The British Crown ruled the subcontinent from 1858 to 1947. Then came independence and the creation of the countries of India, Pakistan, and eventually Bangladesh. Culturally, the British left their mark on the countries, the government, and particularly on the lifestyles of the rich. The women were often the unspoken matriarchs in what was essentially a male-dominated society. The women wielded power but subtly. So, the idea of a woman make her own way is an even stronger one.

That book introduced sisters Lakshmi and Radha and was definitely more their story than a story of the history of the time. This book moves forward in time and becomes the story of Malik, Lakshmi's protégé. Lakshmi and her husband settled in the hill station of Shimla, but she has arranged for Malik to be an apprentice in the Facilities Office at the Jaipur Palace. Malik leaves behind Lakshmi in Simla but also Nimmi, a young woman he has met. That relationship is just beginning.

While an understanding of the prior book and the characters is helpful to this one, it is not essential. It is possible to enjoy this story on its own as it is more Malik's story than anyone else. Malik was a child in The Henna Artist. In this, he is a grown adult character. He is also the tie between Lakshmi and Nimmi.

The story moves between Simla and Jaipur and shifts between Lakshmi's, Malik's, and Nimmi's perspective. The plot of the book unfolds at different levels. The main project the Facilities Office is working on the opening of a grand cinema. The project completes. However, the book begins, and on opening night, the balcony collapses. Questions abound. How does this happen? Who is responsible? Who will be accountable? How will palace politics play into the outcome?

The palace politics, intrigues, and secrets become a layer of the plot. Who knows who? Who know what about who? Who wields the power? Who thinks they wield the power? It brings Lakshmi back to a world that she leaves far behind when she settles in Simla.

Through it all, of course, is Malik's story. He started as an abandoned street urchin. Lakshmi, while never adopting him formally, became his mother. He is now a young man starting on a career and looking to see where he can take it. At time, he is conflicted between what might be good for his career and what is right. He is also conflicted between where career and growth takes him and what and who he leaves behind.

All of this set in the midst of the beautiful Pink City and the colors, tastes, and sounds of India makes for an engaging story beginning to end. I understand that this is to be a trilogy with the third segment, The Perfumist of Paris bringing us back to Radha's story. The current expected publication date is March, 2023. I can't wait.


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

Monday, July 18, 2022

The Edge of Summer

The Edge of Summer
Title:
  The Edge of Summer
Author:  Viola Shipman
Publication Information:  Graydon House. 2022. 368 pages.
ISBN:  1525804812 / 978-1525804816

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and the HTP Summer 2022 beach reads blog tour free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "My mom told everyone dad died, along with my entire family - grandparents, aunts, uncles, and all - one Christmas Day long ago."

Favorite Quote:  "If there's anything I've learned through all of this is that there are many patterns to life. One is cut and created by our parents, who seek not o only to make us in their own image but also to design a better life for us. Another pattern is cut and created by each of us in an attempt to become our own person, unique, different from those before us. And yet another, as I've learned, was cut and created by people we never knew, and we try to live inside of it, even though it no longer fits us. Each pattern fits our bodies at different times in our lives. But it's our hearts, minds and souls that are constantly growing, changing, evolving, shifting, and we rarely consider what patterns works best for them."

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


Review

About half way through, the book defines its title. "One moment, I am facing the stunningly beautiful dunes that line the entire coastline, a ring of gold against the water. And then the next moment, I face the horizon, blue on blue, sky meeting lake. I feel as if I'm floating on the edge of infinity. I feel as if I'm floating at the edge of life. The edge of summer."

The description at that point is a literal one as Sutton Douglas swims off a boat in beautiful Michigan. It is also, however, a figurative one taken from the last sentence - edge of life. Sutton Douglas is at a turning point. Raised by a single mother, Sutton is devastated by the death of her mother. Her mother was her sole anchor in life. Her death during the COVID-19 pandemic means that Sutton did not even get to say good bye. However, even in that fierce love, Sutton knows that there were secrets. It was always just her and her mother, with no other family. After her mother's death, Sutton discovers that this may not be so.

Also due to the pandemic, Sutton's job and career has shifted and may not recover. Sutton is a designer, whose clothing is based around buttons - a love she inherits from her mother along with her sewing machine and her collection of buttons. However, the pandemic and the shift in life with people staying home has depleted the demand for what Sutton designs.

At a crossroads, she discovers what might be a connection to her mother's past. This brings Sutton to the small town of Nevermore, Michigan.

Now, the story shifts to that of a small town. Everyone knows everyone. Everyone knows everyone's business. There is a revered town benefactor who might have secrets of her own. Friendships and a romance bloom for Sutton as this small town envelops her in its embrace.

Her journey of self-discovery and discovery of her mother's past continues. The ending is not really a surprise. However, perhaps it's not meant to be as the book is about the journey. For me, the one gap in the story is the actual story of the past. The book explains what happens, but I want to know the why. I want to know why and how the characters from the past make the choices they do and how they end up where they do. That seems perhaps an even more emotional story than Sutton's. It feels as if Sutton's is a sequel to what came before except that it is not.

I suppose that is a testament to the storytelling that I invest in it enough to want to know more. The vivid, idealized descriptions of the Ozarks and the Michigan coastal communities grounds the book and helps bring it to life. I want to know more about the characters, and I want to visit the places described. As always, Wade Rouse, aka Viola Shipman, tells a sweet story of family and place that makes me want to read more.

About the Author

VIOLA SHIPMAN is the pen name for internationally bestselling author Wade Rouse. Wade is the author of fourteen books, which have been translated into 21 languages and sold over a million copies around the world. Wade chose his grandmother’s name, Viola Shipman as a pen name to honor the woman whose heirlooms and family stories inspire his fiction. The last Viola Shipman novel, The Secret of Snow (October 2021), was named a Best Book of Fall by Country Living Magazine and a Best Holiday Book by Good Housekeeping.

Wade hosts the popular Facebook Live literary happy hour, “Wine & Words with Wade,” every Thursday at 6:30 p.m. EST on the Viola Shipman author page where he talks writing, inspiration and welcomes bestselling authors and publishing insiders.

About the Book

Bestselling author Viola Shipman delights with this captivating summertime escape set along the sparkling shores of Lake Michigan, where a woman searches for clues to her secretive mother's past


Devastated by the sudden death of her mother—a quiet, loving and intensely private Southern seamstress called Miss Mabel, who overflowed with pearls of Ozarks wisdom but never spoke of her own family—Sutton Douglas makes the impulsive decision to pack up and head north to the Michigan resort town where she believes she’ll find answers to the lifelong questions she’s had about not only her mother’s past but also her own place in the world.


Recalling Miss Mabel’s sewing notions that were her childhood toys, Sutton buys a collection of buttons at an estate sale from Bonnie Lyons, the imposing matriarch of the lakeside community. Propelled by a handful of trinkets left behind by her mother and glimpses into the history of the magical lakeshore town, Sutton becomes tantalized by the possibility that Bonnie is the grandmother she never knew. But is she? As Sutton cautiously befriends Bonnie and is taken into her confidence, she begins to uncover the secrets about her family that Miss Mabel so carefully hid, and about the role that Sutton herself unwittingly played in it all.

Excerpt

BUTTONHOLE

A small cut in the fabric that is bound with small stitching. The hole has to be just big enough to allow a button to pass through it and remain in place.

My mom told everyone my dad died, along with my entire family—grandparents, aunts, uncles, and all—one Christmas Day long ago.

“Fire,” she’d say. “Woodstove. Took ’em all. Down to the last cousin.”

“How’d you make it out with your little girl?” everyone would always ask, eyes wide, mouths open. “That’s a holiday miracle!”

My mom would start to cry, a tear that grew to a flood, and, well, that would end that.

No one questioned someone who survived such a thing, especially a widowed mother like Miss Mabel, which is what everyone called her out of deference in the Ozarks. Folks down here had lived hard lives, and they buried their kin just like they did their heartache, underneath the rocky earth and red clay. It took too much effort to dig that deep.

That’s why no one ever bothered to check out the story of a simple, hardworking, down-to-earth, churchgoing lady who kept to herself down here in the hollers—despite the fact me and my mom both just appeared out of thin air—in a time before social media existed.

But I did.

Want to know why?

My mom never cried.

She was the least emotional soul I’d ever known.

“How did you make it out with me?” I asked her countless times as I grew older, when it was just the two of us sitting in her sewing room in our tiny cabin tucked amongst the bluffs outside Nevermore, Missouri.

She would never answer immediately, no matter how many times I asked. Instead, she’d turn over one of her button jars or tins, and run her fingers through the buttons as if they were tarot cards that would provide a clue.

I mean, there were no photos, no memories, no footsteps that even led from our fiery escape to the middle of Nevermore. No family wondered where we were? No one cared? My mother made it out with nothing but me? Not a penny to her name? Just some buttons?

We were rich in buttons.

Oh, I had button necklaces in every color growing up— red, green, blue, yellow, white, pink—and I matched them to every outfit I had. We didn’t have money for trendy jewelry or clothes—tennis bracelets, Gloria Vanderbilt jeans—so my mom made nearly everything I wore.

Kids made fun of me at school for that.

“Sutton, the button girl!” they’d taunt me. “Hand-me-downs!”

Wasn’t funny. Ozarks kids weren’t clever. Just annoyingly direct, like the skeeters that constantly buzzed my head.

I loved my necklaces, though. They were like Wonder Woman’s bracelets. For some reason, I always felt protected.

I’d finger and count every button on my necklace waiting for my mom to answer the question I’d asked long ago. She’d just keep searching those buttons, turning them round and round, feeling them, whispering to them, as if they were alive and breathing. The quiet would nearly undo me. A girl should have music and friends’ laughter be the soundtrack of her life, not the clink of buttons and rush of the creek. Most times, I’d spin my button necklace a few times, counting upward of sixty before my mom would answer.

“Alive!” she’d finally say, voice firm, without looking up. “That’s how we made it out…alive. And you should feel darn lucky about that, young lady.”

Then, as if by magic, my mom would always somehow manage to find a matching button to replace a missing one on a hand-me-down blouse of hers, or pluck the “purtiest” ones from the countless buttons in her jar—iridescent abalone or crochet over wound silk f loss—to make the entire blouse seem new again.

Still, she would never smile. In fact, it was as if she had been born old. I had no idea how old she might be: Thirty-five? Fifty? Seventy?

But when she’d find a beautiful button, she would hold it up to study, her gold eyes sparkling in the light from the little lamp over Ol’ Betsy, her Singer sewing machine.

If I watched her long enough, her face would relax just enough to let the deep creases sigh, and the edges of her mouth would curl ever so slightly, as if she had just found the secret to life in her button jar.

“Look at this beautiful button, Sutton,” she’d say. “So many buttons in this jar: fabric, shell, glass, metal, ceramic. All forgotten. All with a story. All from someone and somewhere. People don’t give a whit about buttons anymore, but I do. They hold value, these things that just get tossed aside. Buttons are still the one thing that not only hold a garment together but also make it truly unique.”

Finally, finally, she’d look at me. Right in the eye.

“Lots of beauty and secrets in buttons if you just look long and hard enough.”

The way she said that would make my body explode in goose pimples.

Every night of my childhood, I’d go to bed and stare at my necklace in the moonlight, or I’d play with the buttons in my mom’s jar searching for an answer my mother never provided.

Even today when I design a beautiful dress with pretty, old-fashioned buttons, I think of my mom and how the littlest of things can hold us together.

Or tear us apart.

Buy Links

BookShop.org
Barnes & Noble
Amazon
Books-A-Million
Forever Books
Powell’s

Social Links

Author Website
Twitter: @Viola_Shipman
Facebook: Author Viola Shipman
Instagram: @Viola_Shipman
Goodreads


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

Friday, July 15, 2022

The Poet's House

The Poet's House
Title:
  The Poet's House
Author:  Jean Thompson
Publication Information:  Algonquin Books. 2022. 320 pages.
ISBN:  1643751565 / 978-1643751566

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:  "Before I met Viridian, I didn't know any  poets, any real poets."

Favorite Quote:  "Carla, you need to get over the idea of supposed to be be. You need to develop your own standards, your likes and dislikes. That's part of critical thinking."

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


Review

A young woman Carla meets a group of poets and literaries. Carla has a learning disability and has always hovered in the shadow of that:
  • "I didn't want to feel like a problem everybody had to solve. You could get tired of all the encouragement."
  • "I wish I could live my life so that I didn't disappointment anyone."
  • "Because it makes me feel like a special needs child."
She chooses a career - landscaping - that allows her to use her strengths while not relying on what she considers her weakness. This job brings her to the home of poet Viridian. Here, Carla is introduced to a world she felt was always closed to her. "I don't read poems, I can't. I mean, I have a learning disability, I have trouble with reading even basic stuff. But when I heart you read them, it all made sense. It all ended up inside me."

So begins what I would call this coming of age story. Through these poet's, Carla is introduced to her own potential. Those around her do not see the attraction of the poet's house, but Carla is drawn more and more to that world for it opens possibilities she has never imagined for herself.

This story takes a while to settle into. There are many characters surrounding the poets. With the title focused on the poets, that is where I first focus my attention. I find it somewhat challenging to keep the characters and the relationships straight. This was even more so because it went into the poets' past and the past came forward to meet the present.

Eventually, I realized that it is possible just to let that aspect of the story flow. It takes a while to realize that the story is really Carla's. The rest ebbs and flows around her. That's when I settle into the story and follow Carla's journey of growth and self discovery. It's interesting that the character sounds so very young. She is in her twenties, but at times, she sounds considerably younger. The character development really shows the impact of conditioning on confidence and self-esteem.

I appreciate the fact that the book features a main character who is differently abled, and that the growth of the character is about the discovery of the possibilities given the right resources and mentors. In this way, Carla's youthful depiction adds to that discovery. The message of every child and every person being given the path to reach their potential is such an important one.

The fact that art - especially art with words - is the vehicle for Carla's growth of course resonates with this reader. I believe in the power of words to alter lives, and this book personifies that.

About the Book

New York Times bestselling author and former National Book Award finalist Jean Thompson has long been considered one of our most celebrated literary novelists. The author of fourteen works of fiction and the recipient of Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, Thompson is known for her graceful and beautifully crafted writing, which has been compared to both Alice Munro and Joyce Carol Oates. Algonquin is thrilled to welcome this beloved writer to our list with the publication of The Poet's House, (Algonquin Books; Publication Date: July 12, 2022; $26.95) a witty, delightfully entertaining novel about a young woman who gets swept up in the dramatic, passionate, and often insular world of writers. Both wry and wise, THE POET’S HOUSE is an insightful look at the literary scene – sometimes petty, sometimes transactional, sometimes transformative – and a coming-of-age story about the paths taken to find one’s true passion.

It has been a long, hot summer in Northern California, and Carla, in her early twenties and working as a landscaper, feels unsatisfied and aimless. When she is hired to work at the home of Viridian, an aging poet, both lauded and lovely, Carla is introduced to Viridian’s eccentric group of friends—and most importantly to the beauty and power of poetry—and her life changes drastically. She becomes enamored with Viridian – whose reputation has been defined by her infamous affair with a famous poet, Mathias – and the complicated dynamics of the art world. She develops a new hunger for words, and for life. As a fight emerges over the last cycle of poems Mathias wrote before he died, Carla gets drawn in. Does she even belong in this world? How much will she sacrifice for a group that may or may not see her as one of their own?

“After a lifetime of authorship, I wanted to pay tribute to the enterprise of writing itself, as well as cast an affectionate eye on some of the excesses and bad behavior that can accompany it,” explains Thompson. “With THE POET’S HOUSE, I hope I’ve achieved a balance between the comedy of the human goings-on, and poems themselves, which can inspire and transform us.” Thompson lives outside of Chicago and has instructed creative writing for decades, including the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Reed College, and Northwestern University.

"Jean Thompson is a national treasure,” says Dan Chaon. “She's the kind of writer who can make you laugh and cry at the same time. . . [her] work is full of insight and wisdom and a deadly keen eye for the foibles and self-deceptions of her characters. THE POET'S HOUSE is yet another indelible masterpiece in her oeuvre."

About The Author

Jean Thompson is the author of fourteen books of fiction, including the National Book Award finalist Who Do You Love, the NYT bestseller The Year We Left Home, and the NYT Notable Book Wide Blue Yonder. Her work has been published in the New Yorker, as well as dozens of other magazines, and anthologized in The Best American Short Stories and the Pushcart Prize. She has been the recipient of Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, among other accolades, and has taught creative writing at numerous colleges around the country.


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Wednesday, July 13, 2022

The Son of the House

Title:
  The Son of the House
Author:  Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia
Publication Information:  Dundurn. 2021. 304 pages.
ISBN:  1459747089 / 978-1459747081

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

Opening Sentence:  "We must do something to pass the time, I thought."

Favorite Quote:  "Forgiveness, I found, was easier on the mind, the soul, the spirit, even the body, than bitterness."

This book begins with a kidnapping of two women in the Nigerian city of Enugu. However, the kidnapping is not the story of this book; it is the vehicle through which the story is told. The two women are captive in a room. To pass the time, they begin to share their life story with each other. One is a story of privilege. The other of poverty. Little do they know that their lives and their stories intersect in a way that neither could imagine.

The title is about a man - the son of the house. The boy accentuates the stress of an Igbo family, the quest for a male heir, and the lengths to which a family will go for a male heir. So often, the fate of a woman is dependent on her ability to give the family an heir. Some men seek out second and third wives in search of an heir. After the birth, the child belongs to the father not the mother.

Despite the title, the story itself is not about the boy or about men. It is about the women. It is the story of girls and then women over the course of four decades living and surviving, and, at times, thriving, in a patriarchy. Nwabulu is orphaned at a young age and goes into service as a housemaid at the age of ten. Disaster after disaster and trouble after trouble seem to follow her. Julie is educated and privileged. She lives alone but is the well kept mistress of a rich man. She has no intention of marrying him, but keeps her status and lifestyle through essentially a lie. Both in their own way are survivors.

The story of strong women surviving is a compelling one. The story of their grief and of their resilience time and again is a compelling one. Through it all, the book is also a window onto Nigerian - particularly Igbo - culture and traditions. As it is not one I know much about, I enjoy the learning. I realize that fiction is not history and that a story is one perspective. Yet, even given that caveat, I enjoy learning that one perspective. As the author's note states, "The idea to write this story came from a true-life story my mother told me about a young child whose path cross mine for a short time during our childhoods ... That story struck me deep in my heart and made me think about how traditions and customs, such as those obtained in the places I explore in my story, can draw us together but also have long-long, life-changing, and resounding impacts. It also made me think about how we all come from the stories that we tell ourselves; of our families, out contexts, our countries and where we came from."

I love the exploration of how traditions define us and how the stories we tell ourselves define us. This book is a compelling and moving debut. I look forward to reading more from the author.


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

Monday, July 11, 2022

Take My Hand

Take My Hand
Title:
  Take My Hand
Author:  Dolen Perkins-Valdez
Publication Information:  Berkeley. 2022. 368 pages.
ISBN:  0593337697 / 978-0593337691

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:  "A year never passes without me thinking of them."

Favorite Quote:  "The past doesn't work that way. You can't just make it disappear. You can't pretend certain things didn't happen."

Montgomery, Alabama, 1973. The history behind this book is the case of the Minnie Lee and Mary Alice Relf, ages 12 and 14. A federally funded clinic in Montgomery, Alabama provided "care" which supposedly included birth control. These girls were poor, black, and mentally incapacitated. The parents were convinced to allow birth control to "protect" the girls from the boys of the neighborhood. Under false pretenses, the illiterate parents provided consent for the medical "care." The girls were sterilized using a tubal ligation. 

Historical statistics show the staggering number of women and minor girls sterilized in this way. A disproportionate number of procedures were on women and girls who were incapacitated in some way; the theory of eugenics and the aim of preventing the genetics of incapacity from passing forward underlied those decisions. The statistics further show the disproportionate number of these procedures performed on women and girls of color. The Relf sister became the face of a lawsuit by the Southern Poverty Law Center agains the US government as these programs were federally funded.

This is the absolutely horrifying history of the United States less than fifty years ago that is the basis of this story. "It is important to note that Take My Hand is not a retelling of these events; instead, I have used the historical record as inspiration to imagine the emotional impact of this moment others like it." (author's note) This book fictionalizes the story through the eyes of a nurse - Civil Townsend. Young and idealistic, Civil joins the Montgomery Family Planning Clinic out of school in the hopes of making a difference in her community. This brings her to the Erica and India, two sisters who are part of her case load.

Civil becomes personally invested in this family and starts asking questions and attempting to improve their lot. What she discovers and what happens next alters her life and their lives forever. Tied into the history of the girls is Civil's own life and her decision at one point in her life to have an abortion - one that was not legally available for it was before Roe v. Wade. Civil's own history becomes wrapped up in the emotion of the reproductive rights of these girls who are too young to even consider reproductive rights at their age.

The book tells this story from Civil's perspective but from two different points - at the time of the events and decades laters as she is retiring from her career not as a nurse but as a physician. This two timeline perspective causes jumps and makes the story at times somewhat challenging. However, that is a minor point to the emotional impact of the story and the history.

What I also appreciate about this book is that it does not end neatly. Life is not neat, and there are often no answers and no resolutions or absolutions to be found. Life goes on, despite sadness, joy, guilt, and all other emotions and despite retribution and justice and despite things that, once done, can never be undone. History must be told and studied and remembered if only to ensure that certain facets of it are never  repeated. An important book and an important conversation as reproductive rights of women are again called into question.

From the author's note... "My hope is that this novel will provoke discussion about culpability in a society that still deems poor, Black, and disabled as categories unfit for motherhood. In a world inundated by information about these tragedies and more, I still passionately believe in the power of the novel (and its readers!) to raise the alarm, influence hearts, and impact lives."


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