Thursday, October 19, 2017

King Daniel: Gasparilla King of the Pirates by Susan Wolf Johnson

King Daniel: Gasparilla King of the PiratesKing Daniel: Gasparilla King of the Pirates by Susan Wolf Johnson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

King Daniel: Gasparilla King of the Pirates by Susan Wolf Johnson won a (2017) CIPA EVVY Merit Award in historical fiction. My own book, Hopatcong Vision Quest was also a winner, which is how I found this novel. It's a wonderful read, with a complex plot centered on multiple generations of the Westcott family, a wealthy family in the Tampa Bay area of Florida. This is the type of book I love to read on my Kindle, because I can easily search back to where characters were first introduced. Johnson provides a copy of the Wetcott Family Tree in the front of the book, which also helped me keep track.

The Westcott's have their secrets. Discovering what they are makes for a fascinating plot. We have the younger generation represented primarily by Becca, who is trying to break free of the family tradition with a New York singing career, but encounters multiple problems, including a club owner whose interests are not focused on Becca's voice. Her problems are enough to send her back to the Tampa area for help. There's also Becca's grandfather, Daniel, the title character, whose problems are on an entirely different level than hers. Much of this story is about where Daniel is and the character flaws that put him there.

In addition to an intriguing story, the novel provides an introduction to aspects of the Tampa culture I knew nothing about. The region has a children's festival, a music festival, a film festival, an art festival and more, all, as stated on the visit Tampa Bay website: “Named for legendary pirate, Jose Gaspar, who terrorized the coastal waters of West Florida during the 18th and early 19th centuries.” Knowing this makes the story of Daniel's election as “Gasparilla King of the Pirates” even more important.

King Daniel is another great read!

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



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Friday, October 13, 2017

Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker

Emma in the NightEmma in the Night by Wendy   Walker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker is a captivating crime novel with plenty of plot twists. Two young girls went missing three years before the story begins. In the beginning of the book, the younger girl, Cass Tanner, who is now eighteen, has returned and is determined to find her sister. The detective and the psychologist (Dr. Abby Winter), who both worked on the case originally, are back. Abby had a few theories about the family that weren't followed up the first time. She's determined to go down those paths this time.

Cass explains how she and Emma were held for the entire time on an island off the coast of Maine. Although she escaped and made her way back to her family, she offers very few clues as to the location of the island and the couple who held her captive. Meanwhile, Abby tries to locate the island by finding out what she can through interviews with Cass, hoping the young woman will reveal something she didn't realize is important. At the same time, Abby tries to discover facts about the home life that she believes drove the girls away.

What makes this story unique is the author's focus on the mental illness: Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Abby's mother had this disorder and she sees similar signs with Cass' mother. It was fascinating to learn more about Narcissistic Personality Disorder, but there were also times when Ms. Walker explained a little too much and the descriptions of the illness seemed intrusive.

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



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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Never Enough Flamingos by Janelle Diller

Never Enough FlamingosNever Enough Flamingos by Janelle Diller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The second of the 2017 CIPA Evvy award winning novels I chose to read is Never Enough Flamingos by Janelle Diller. It shared the first place award in historical fiction with The Other Side of Him. (My book, Hopatcong Vision Quest won a merit award in the same competition.)

Never Enough Flamingos is a fascinating, well-written novel, set in a Mennonite community in Kansas during the Depression. In the introduction Diller describes Mennonites in the following way:

In a manner of speaking, Mennonites and Amish are kissing cousins, but even that's a risky description since Amish tend not to kiss anyone but other Amish.

The introduction is interesting, especially for readers like me, who know very little about the history of Mennonites. Don't skip it.

Since the Mennonites are a highly religious group, I expected they would be less susceptible to the temptations of day to day life, but this is the depression, there hasn't been rain for way too long, and these are farmers. It's a hard time to live through and hard times not only lead people to make questionable decisions, but they also present other people with opportunities to take advantage.

The title Never Enough Flamingos seemed strange at first, until Cat (the narrator) described her mom as ...a flamingo in a sea of turkeys... and it became clear that flamingos are the people who rise above the failings of the general population, even in hard times. The story is about those people as well as the people who give in to temptation.

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



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Wednesday, September 27, 2017

China Dolls by Lisa See

China DollsChina Dolls by Lisa See
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

China Dolls is the story of San Francisco's Chinatown in the mid twentieth century. As the story begins, America is in the midst of the depression. The plot continues through World War II. What makes this novel fascinating is Lisa See's decision to cover this subject from the points of view of three showgirls.

Grace, Helen, and Ruby, meet at auditions for a new nightclub, Forbidden City, which is located just outside of Chinatown. The idea is to feature “oriental” performers for an “occidental” audience. (Both of those terms were used during that period.) Grace Lee has come to San Francisco from the mid west with the hope of winning a role at the world's fair on Treasure Island, but she didn't succeed. She's on her way to her next option. Helen Fong, who is from a wealthy, local, very traditional, family, hears Grace asking for directions and offers to lead her there. Once there, they meet Ruby Tom, another dancer. All three audition and all win roles.

The three young women become close friends. This friendship is the novel's greatest strength. They help each other through tough times, but also compete with each other, hold secrets from each other, and betray each other along the way.

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


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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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