Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Other Side of Him by Alice Rene

The Other Side of HimThe Other Side of Him by Alice Rene
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After one of my novels won a 2017 CIPA Evvy award, I thought it might be fun to read the other winners in the historical fiction category. The Other Side of Him by Alice Rene won one of the two first place awards. I loved the book!

In the beginning Rene's writing felt a little rushed, as it jumped among short glimpses of Claire's younger life, living with her brother and her poor, single, immigrant mother in a Chicago housing project. But after Claire moved to San Francisco, the novel settled into a careful study of her life, a young woman working first on a bachelor's degree then a master's degree in social welfare.

The novel is set in the 1950's, a time that presented a number of problems for women trying to establish careers and dealing with limiting expectations from society. Claire also faces family issues common to second generation Americans.

Claire's brother, Tom, moved to the San Francisco area before she did. After she had lived on the west coast for some time, Tom set her up with Greg, a man he met at a gym. Greg had many wonderful qualities, but also, as the title states, another side. The slow, careful way Greg's personality is revealed through Claire's point of view is the greatest strength of this wonderful, intense story. I couldn't put it down.

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


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Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Midwife's Confession by Diane Chamberlain

The Midwife's ConfessionThe Midwife's Confession by Diane Chamberlain
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Midwife's Confession is the second novel I've read by Diane Chamberlain. I criticized the first, Secrets She Left Behind, for covering too many topics. Confession also had many topics thrown at the reader, but this time they worked. The writing was tighter in this book and the topics connected. They are all directly or indirectly about relationships between parents and children. But the most important reason this book works so well is the powerful confession itself. No spoilers here. If you want to know what it is, you need to read the book.

Chamberlain's characters are strong. She seems to have a solid understanding of how thirteen year-old girls think and how they relate to their mothers. There are a few coincidences and events that occur at precisely the right time to advance the plot, but the overall story is a great one. It caught me and kept me reading.

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


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Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Wednesday Wars by Gary D Schmidt

The Wednesday WarsThe Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Wednesday Wars is a YA novel about Holling Hoodhood who happens to be Presbyterian. This is important because every Wednesday afternoon everyone else in Mrs. Baker's seventh grade class attends either catechism class or Hebrew school, leaving Mrs. Baker and Holling alone. The book is his coming of age story, with a focus on his relationship with his teacher. It takes place in the sixties and is filled with reflections on a troubled time in our history, specifically the effect of the Vietnam war on the people at home. But it also speaks to the universal problems of boys as they age into teenagers and try to understand their relationships with girls, friends, family, and special teachers. The plot is a little sweet, but catchy. It's fun to watch Holling grow in his understanding of life and to think about what he learns in ways that are a mixture of youthful innocence and wisdom beyond his years.

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


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Friday, August 18, 2017

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

The Sense of an EndingThe Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Sense of an Ending starts out with the reflections of a retiree, Tony Webster. He is thinking back to his days in secondary school: his teachers, his friends, and his relationship with his first girlfriend, Veronica Ford. Then the novel takes a twist when one of his childhood friends dies and Tony is forced to reacquaint himself with Veronica and the history they share. The Sense of an Ending is a powerful, psychological novel about relationships and memories that clash with reality. The plot and style reminded me of The Secret History by Donna Tartt, another novel I loved.

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


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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Sirens Over the Hudson by MJ Neary

Sirens Over the HudsonSirens Over the Hudson by M.J. Neary
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

MJ Neary’s book Sirens over the Hudson follows the lives of a number of people with too much money and too little respect for themselves or others. The plot focuses mostly on the spoiled children of rich investment bankers and people who work in the media. Yet the adults have their own share of problems. Marital affairs are common, but less as results of broken marriages than as efforts to fight boredom or advance careers.

The story follows Gregory King, a high school student of partial turkish descent (a fact he takes pride in). Gregory climbs a tree to spy on his friend Stephen Schussler, a straight A student and accomplished athlete, while Stephen is having sex with his girlfriend, Cyntie van Vossen. Gregory decides he wants what Stephen has and Cyntie, who doesn’t appear to have much will of her own, goes along with Gregory’s wishes. Trouble ensues.

Although the book covers racism, assault, and islamophobia, among other controversial topics, its primary focus is on the problems faced by people who have everything except purpose. It’s a book that makes its readers think.

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


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Saturday, August 12, 2017

The North Water by Ian McGuire

The North WaterThe North Water by Ian McGuire
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The North Water is a violent, brutal novel, but also a beautifully written one. Here's a quote: The ache he feels is his body speaking its needs, talking to him—sometimes a whisper, sometimes a mumble, sometimes a shriek. It never goes silent; if it ever goes silent then he will know that he is finally dead...

The story is about Patrick Sumner, a British, army surgeon who lost his position due to a combination of bad decisions and bad luck. His options are so limited he signs up as a medic on a whaling ship with a crew that has more than its share of corrupt sailors. Henry Drax is one of the harpooners and a brutal man, willing to do anything for a chance at riches. What plays out is both upsetting and fascinating.

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


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Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese

Cutting for StoneCutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I almost gave up on Cutting For Stone. The beginning of this long novel had too many detailed descriptions of medical procedures and seemed to spend more time than necessary on the back stories of some of the characters. But once the twins were born, it became a great read. It is a story about growing up and surviving in Ethiopia during a time when the country was suffering from fighting among power hungry, ruthless leaders. There is a lot of information about the wretched conditions in Addis Ababa, which is fascinating, especially when set in a hospital. But this is also a story of love and ambition in many different forms. The mixture of politics and human emotion reminded me of one of my favorite books, The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera.

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


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