Monday, June 25, 2012

The Heretic’s Daughter by Kathleen Kent

This is the first that I have read of the Salem Witch Trials and I was horrified that such an event could come from young girls and their fanciful stories.  This story is told by nine year-old Sarah Carrier.  Her mother Martha Carrier was one of the first women accused, convicted and hung as a witch in Salem, Massachusetts in the 1600’s.  Not only is this the story of a horrific event in US history, but it is sweeping family saga.

Kathleen Kent is actually the tenth great-granddaughter of Martha Carrier. These stories were told in her family all through her life. I am so glad she decided to tell them to us in a way that is gripping and compelling.

4 stars (Rated PG-13 for horrific details)

Tallgrass by Sandra Dallas

During World War II, a family finds life turned upside down when the government opens a Japanese interment camp in their small Colorado town. After a young girl is murdered, all eyes (and suspicions) turn to the newcomers, the interlopers, the strangers.

This is her town as Rennie Stroud has never seen it before. She has just turned thirteen and, until this time, life has pretty much been what her father told her it should be: predictable and fair. But now the winds of change are coming and with them, a shift in her perspective.  And Rennie will discover secrets that destroy even the most sacred things.

Part thriller, part historical novel, Tallgrass is a riveting exploration of the darkest—and best—parts of the human heart.

5 stars (Rate PG – could be read by an older teen)

Before You Know Kindness by Chris Bohjalian

One of the blurbs on the cover of this book calls it a multi-layered book.  I second that!  In the first pages of the book Spencer McCullough is shot in the shoulder by his adolescent daughter, Charlotte.  It then takes Bohjalian 120 to get back to that spot in time.  He takes his time setting up the plot so deep and layered that it would be impossible to explain in this small space.  But questions such as: Why did she have the gun?  Whose gun was it? Why was it loaded? Why would she even try to shoot it? Even, What does Spencer do for a living? becomes an integral part of the plot of this book.   

It is a page-turner, suspenseful, at times wryly funny and often humane.  A story of family love and what can happen to destroy a family if allowed.  Wonderful characterizations.  People one cares about and can truly cheer for. 

4 (almost 5) stars (Rated PG-13 for violence and adult situations)

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Lobster Chronicles: Life on a Very Small Island by Linda Greenlaw

After 17 years on the deep-sea catching swordfish, Linda Greenlaw decides to go home to the small island of Isle Au Haut, Maine and try her hand at trapping lobster with her father as her partner.  She tells of life on the island with a winter population of less than 50; of fighting for fishing rights with ‘mainlanders’; of living with her aging parents and her yearning for a family of her own.

Her stories are heartfelt and often hilarious.  Following are a few excerpts that I especially enjoyed.

“Too warm to fall and hug the ground, yet too cool to rise, the steam hung in the air, a condensed mist as thick as melted pearls. “Pea soup,” that’s what old-timers would call this wet, raw oyster world of fog. No, I thought, as I made my way down the dock, this was not Carl Sandburg’s fog that came in “on little cat feet.” This fog had arrived in Stonington, Maine, driving a Mack truck.”

“I don’t know if there is such a thing as a “reading addiction.” But Mom gets nervous when she gets low on reading material. Years ago I mentioned to my mother that two of her bathrooms were out of toilet paper, and the third was on its last roll, to which she replied, “I’m going out to buy books on Friday. I’ll pick some up then.”

After describing her father and Uncle Charlie taking hours to intricately measure and cut a hole to install a stove, she goes on to say, “Charlie’s beauty is in his attention to the smallest of details. Dad, too, has impeccable manners, and is quite deliberate and punctilious in all aspects. My father is so methodical in both word and deed that he would surely drive the average amateur home repairman mad with frustration. The two old men work well together because they share an overzealous enthusiasm for being neither overzealous nor enthusiastic. Dad and Charlie take “measure twice, cut once” and multiply it by a factor that is astronomical.

I, on the other hand, am the prime example of the roughshod slam-banger, having learned a great deal of impatience from my best and oldest friend, Alden Leeman. Had Alden and I taken on the chore of installing a new stove in my folk’s house, we would have cut three or four holes through the wall for the vent by now, and all of them would have been wrong. (Not just wrong, but way off.) Where my father required a jigsaw, Alden would need a chain saw; my father, sandpaper, Alden an ax.”

Her stories feel genuine, true and just plain enjoyable.  I really loved the book.

4 stars (Rated PG – for language.)

The Forever Year by Ronald Anthony

Jesse Sienna, in his 30s, has never known his father the way he wanted to. Mickey Sienna, in his mid-80s, finds himself facing an uncertain future after his wife of 50 years dies. In a move that stuns even himself, Jesse asks his father to come live with him-an arrangement that begins disastrously.

Then Mickey starts telling his son the story of a remarkable woman Mickey once loved, a story that has stunning implications for the young man's current relationship with an equally exceptional woman. And in sharing this powerful part of the past, father and son are changed in ways neither could have imagined.  

I really wanted to love this story.  It starts out strong and when Mickey starts telling his story of his first love, you think, “Yes, now it’s getting good.”  It’s just that the story seems to fall flat and you figure out how his story ends so that when it comes, it is almost anti-climatic. 

3 stars (Rated PG-13 for some mild sex scenes)

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Lost Wife by Alyson Richman

Josef and Lenka meet and fall in love in Prague in the early days of WWII.  They quickly marry so Lenka can be added to Josef’s family in order to immigrate to the United States.  When the time comes to leave Lenka makes an agonizing decision not to go. 

The ship Josef’s family is on is hit by a torpedo and Lenka’s sees the list of those lost in the newspaper that mistakenly lists Josef’s entire family when Josef is alive and makes it to the United States. 
Lenka goes with her family to a Nazi ghetto of Terezin and eventually to Auschwitz.  After the war she is listed among those believed dead. 

The following is not a spoiler as it is told in the very first pages of the book.  They meet again at the marriage of Josef’s grandson and Lenka’s granddaughter.  The story of the book is the voyage both of their lives take in believing that their ‘one true love’ is dead.

The part of the book concerning the Holocaust was fascinating to me as it told stories I had not heard before. Lenka is an artist and she actually works as an artist in the camps.

I loved this book! I will admit that I am a fan of anything concerning the Jewish people; this book captured me and took me along with it.  I devoured the book.

5 stars (Rated PG-13 for mild sex talk and Holocaust horrors)

The Bride's House Sandra Dallas

Another winner by Ms. Dallas!  This was a little different than her usual as it spans three generations of women from the same family.  Nealie  Bent is a young girl who ran away from her mean, abusive father and ends up working in a boardinghouse in the mining town of  Greenwood, Colorado.  She attracts two very different men.  Will Spaulding, the rich, well-bred young man whose grandfather owns the mine and Charlie Dumas, a coarse, large, lumbering miner.  On her dates with Will, they watch the building of a large, beautiful home being built.  Nealie decides it is so exquisite it can only be for a bride, thus the name of “The Brides House”.  Nealie dreams of living in the house with Will, but life doesn’t always go as planned.

For Pearl, living in the Brides House is akin to living in a mausoleum, as her father had made it into a shrine to the woman he loved, not allowing and changes to the house or their lives.  When the enterprising Frank Curry comes into her life and asks for her hand in marriage, her father sabotages the union. 

Susan is the latest in the line of strong, willful women.  Will the secrets buried in the Brides House help her or keep her from the man that she loves.

It’s a gripping story.  A blurb on the front of the book states, “Putting down a Sandra Dallas novel is nearly impossible.”  I totally agree. I stayed up way too late at night reading this book.  The only complaint I have is that the first section about Nealie ended too soon, but then again, maybe that was on purpose…..hmmm??

4 Stars (Rated PG for adult situations)