Monday, September 26, 2016

The Brothers' Keepers by Matthew Peters

The Brothers' KeepersThe Brothers' Keepers by Matthew Peters
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Brothers' Keepers is a fast-paced thriller about a race to find someone named Jezebel, who has great significance to the Christian faith. Matthew Peters' novel pits an American president, two factions of the Catholic Church's hierarchy, and the remnants of a Christian movement from the thirteenth century known as the Cathars, against each other, all in pursuit of Jezebel.

Nicholas Branson, the main character in the novel, is in training to become a priest. He's also an expert on Christian history, which has made him an important person to all the forces in search of the critical document. Branson teams up with Jessica Jones, a woman he meets in the reading room of the Thomas Jefferson Building at the Library of Congress. They set out together to find Jezebel.

Although the pace of the writing alone makes this book a worthwhile read, the two aspects I found the most fascinating were :

1. The Cathars and their beliefs. I had never heard of this movement. They believed in both God and Satan and attributed the creation of the material world to Satan. They believed the path to God was found in the renunciation of all material things.
2. The book presents a view of the apostles much different than anything I've ever thought about. To avoid spoilers, I won't say more than that, but I will say the book made me think and I love that in any novel.

The Brothers' Keepers starts with multiple murders and never slows down. There are gun fights, car chases, and dangerous journeys to treacherous places around the world. It's an exciting and fun read.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul, White Horse Regressions, and Hopatcong Vision Quest

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Friday, September 2, 2016

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

The Language of FlowersThe Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The title of The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh emphasizes the idea in the novel that is catchy enough to draw readers. I didn't know meanings were assigned to flowers in nineteenth century England and America before I read this book and I appreciated what I learned about this interesting part of our past. While reading the story, I went out to a few websites to see if this fact was real or fiction, and it is real.

The main story in the novel is about a person, rather than a secret language. It's about Victoria, a naive, uniformed girl who is totally unprepared to make her way in the world. The narrative bounces back and forth between her life as a foster child at age 10 and her life after she's aged out of the system at 18. Much of what happens to Victoria after she's a young woman is predetermined by what happened to her as a child. So telling the story in this non-linear way reveals her background slowly and keeps the suspense well.

Victoria has a hard life, but some things work out for her. She is placed in the home of a woman who owns a vineyard. This woman, Elizabeth, has also had a hard life and understands Victoria's behavior in ways others can't. It is Elizabeth who teaches Victoria about the language of flowers. Later, at age 18, Victoria takes a job working for a florist, Renata, who also turns out to be a caring person.

The theme of The Language of Flowers can best be summed up by this quote from the book: Perhaps the unattached, the unwanted, the unloved, could grow to give love as lushly as anyone else.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions

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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty

The Husband's SecretThe Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Husband's Secret focuses on three women and their families. The women are connected through St. Angelus elementary: Cecilia's daughter, Polly, attends there, Rachel is the school secretary, and Tess is transferring her son, Liam, to that same catholic school. These women each have an issue in their lives that is troubling them. Tess is going through marital problems, Rachel's son has told her he's moving halfway across the world and taking her only grandchild with him, and Cecilia has discovered a letter from her husband that is to be read only after his death.

The men in the novel are on the outskirts of the lives of the three main women. Cecilia seems to have a solid marriage, although, as the book goes on, she learns she doesn't know John-Paul as well as she thought she did. Rachel has spent years mourning a daughter, Janie, who was murdered when she was in high school. Her grief has kept her at a distance from her son, his fiance, and their child. And Tess learns something about her family that takes her by surprise and rocks her marriage. She keeps her husband, Will, out of her life as much as she can. Tess meets an ex boyfriend at St. Angelus and rekindles her relationship with him. Connor, the ex, is the most well written character among the men, but still not as emotionally clear as any of the three main women.

What makes this book a wonderful thriller, is the way Liane Moriarty reveals facts to some of the characters without revealing them to all. Because we readers know the secrets, we turn the pages in horror as characters act in ignorance. Another technique of Moriarty's is to mix the mundane with the alarming. Between school registration, an Easter hat parade, and planning for a pirate party, Moriarty gives us murder, betrayal, and a steady stream of lies. Once this novel gets going, it's hard to put down.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions

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Friday, August 19, 2016

Miami Morning by Mary Clark

Miami MorningMiami Morning by Mary  Clark
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Miami Morning by Mary Clark is the story of an ordinary person, a teacher, Leila Payson, who finds a purpose that defines her life. The novel is exceptional in a number of areas, one of which is the beautiful way Clark describes Miami from the context of the issues on the narrator's mind. Here's an excerpt that is a good example of what I mean:

She trotted beside lacy borders of waves washing ashore, intoxicated by the sharp scent of iodine and mineral aroma of fresh-churned sand. The rolling waves made her think of the invisible waves that traveled between human beings and while the ocean waves were strong and substantial, and still carried an insistent power as they neared the shore, they were nothing compared to the magnificent intricacies and complexity of human interaction and communication. And we are only just beginning to learn how that works, Leila reminded herself.

When Leila started her career, she had her struggles. But she took advice that she needed and she grew from experience. By the time the story starts, she is considered one of the best teachers in her school by the critics who matter most, her students. One of those students, Raoul, begins to struggle in her class and Leila's life changes. Raoul is losing his hearing due to a genetic predisposition in his family. She supports him by trying to discover ways he can lead a normal life and by fighting the people who only want him to accept his limitations. Leila discovers through Raoul and through other friends that she can bring a sense of satisfaction to her life by helping the disabled find and maintain the value of their own lives.

As Leila discovers her calling, we get to meet her friends, to watch her weave her way through complicated romantic relationships, and to listen to her dealing with the frustrations in her career. But it is her discovery of purpose that brings magic to this novel. Leila is an ordinary person who learns to do extraordinary things and in the process our own understanding of issues concerning disabled people matures and grows.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions

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Saturday, August 13, 2016

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

My Brilliant Friend (The Neapolitan Novels, #1)My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

 Despite My Brilliant Friend's prologue (which isn't resolved in this volume), the novel is not a book with a plot that captivates and I believe that's why it has received some fairly harsh reader reviews. But it has also received high levels of praise for its fully detailed characters. What My Brilliant Friend offers is an elaborate coming of age story about two young women who grow up in a working class neighborhood near Naples, Italy. Elena Greco, the narrator of the book, spends the vast majority of her words telling the readers about Lina Cerullo, her best friend. Readers get to know Elena through her thoughts and Lina through Elena's opinions of her friend. Sometimes Elena's views are a little off and we're surprised when Lina's dialogue reveals the truth. One example has to do with the novel's title. I won't say how.

The girls, who are in primary school when the book begins, are both extremely bright and very competitive as well as true confidants for each other, leading to a relationship that is a mixture of admiration and jealousy.

What I found most interesting was the part their environment played in their lives. Their culture was sexist and violent, but their families responded to that culture in different ways. For this reason, Elena had more opportunities than Lina and much of the story is about Lina's reaction to this situation.

My Brilliant Friend deals with problems all young woman face, with family, ambition, and sexuality, but also with issues unique to women living in a culture that doesn't respect them. In that sense, it reminds me of books such as The Blood of Flowers and Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. It's a perfect novel for someone who wants a book to make them think, but not for someone looking to get lost in a plot.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions

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Saturday, July 30, 2016

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

 Life After Life is a unique book that makes its readers think.

It reads differently than most other novels. It isn't a reincarnation story, which I was led to believe by friends who know I write past life mysteries. Instead it is based on Eternalism which, according to Wikipedia, is ...the view that each spacetime moment exists in and of itself. But it differs from Eternalism because Ursula, the novel's main character, begins to feel déjà vu moments and causes events to change.

It took me more time to get into this book than any other I've read this year. There are a couple of reasons for that. First of all, it takes a little more than a third of the book before any of the characters begin to show a sense that things have happened before. Because of this, the story felt as if Kate Atkinson was repeating herself for no reason. Secondly, due to the repeating events, which occur with differences, it's hard to keep the flow of the plot straight. My wife and I like to tell each other what's happening in the novels we're reading. With Life After Life I kept relating events that happened, then the following day I would talk about other events which occurred because the prior events had NOT happen. Also, some characters were major in one life path and were barely mentioned in all the others.

Characters have to grow for any novel to be worth reading. As Life After Life progresses, Kate Atkinson solves this dilemma by placing the entry point of each of Ursula's stories later in her life. We get to see her as a child early on and, later, as a young woman. That works well, but implies that each life kept the changes that occurred in previous go rounds, which is odd if no one remembers what changes were made.

Life After Life is set during World War II and in the years leading up to that horrible period of world history. It has a subplot touching on some of the personal connections members of the English upper class had with Germany. This decision brings tension and tragedy into the work and keeps the pages turning. Yet in the end it is the philosophy and the thought stimulated by the philosophy which makes it a good read.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions

Monday, July 18, 2016

The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson

The Summer Before the WarThe Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Summer Before the War is the first Helen Simonson novel I've read, which puts me at odds with many of the other reviewers who came to this book after reading Major Pettigrew's Last Stand. I liked Summer enough to read Pettigrew and I intend to do so soon. It took a while for me to get into the characters, but once I did, I loved them, especially Beatrice Nash.

The novel is about people trying to live their lives as best they can, finding the right mixture of selflessness and self interest. The Edwardian period in England was a time of change. It was still a society limited by a class system, but the working class was becoming more powerful and the suffragette movement was growing. Because of the setting it is natural that bigotry is a theme. The plight of an intelligent woman trying to live an independent life is important and so is the situation of people born into lower classes, in this case gypsies.

Beatrice, the daughter of a moderately successful writer, is a teacher with aspirations of following in her father's footsteps. However, there are plenty of narrow minded people who don't believe a woman should have any career, especially one requiring the expression of ideas. Meanwhile, her best student is Snout, a gypsy boy with a great gift for many subjects including Latin, which she teaches. He faces the same type of impediment, but for class rather than gender. The book also touches other serious issues I don't want to reveal in a review.

While dealing with the problems of the era in which she lives, Beatrice also deals with relationship issues. She starts out the book thinking she wants a life as a career oriented spinster. But that can't last because she's all too human. This is a wonderful book written about an interesting era and the problems of people who have to live in those interesting times. It's called The Summer Before the War, but the title is a bit deceptive. There are war scenes.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions

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