Monday, December 25, 2017

Incendiary by Chris Cleave

IncendiaryIncendiary by Chris Cleave
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Incendiary is the second book I've read by Chris Cleave. I didn't feel it came up to Little Bee, but it is still a very good read. I listened to the audio version which was narrated perfectly by Tracy-Ann Oberman.

This is the story of a working class woman living in London, who suffers a horrible tragedy, then tries to cope. The novel is written in the form of a long letter to Osama bin Laden. Normally, a novel written in the form of letters is called epistolary, but this book deviates from the letter form by including so much description and dialogue that I wouldn't use that term.

The narrator is a brash and imperfect woman, but described in a way that brings the reader into her world enough to create sympathy for her. Here's what she says about herself early on:

I was what The Sun would call a “dirty love cheat.” My husband and my boy never found out, oh thank you, God. I can say it now they're both dead. I don't care who reads it. It can't hurt them anymore. I loved my boy. And I loved my husband...Sex is not a beautiful and perfect thing for me, Osama. It is a condition caused by nerves.

Sex helps her deal with life's problems prior to the tragedy, but afterwards, it isn't enough.

I had a problem with the novel's ending and I also felt there were some conflicts in the way the narrator perceived reality that weren't sufficiently explained by her state of mind. Still, this is a good book. It captured me and I felt it painted a full picture of a young mother who at first was trying to build a life that was a shelter, a place of love. Here's how she described a part of that place.

Our boy had his own room it was cracking we were proud of it. My husband built his bed in the shape of Bob the Builder's dump truck and I sewed the curtains and we did the painting together. In the night my boy's room smelled of boy. Boy is a good smell it is a cross between angels and tigers.

Her own imperfections along with the horrors of life in the 21st century pushed tragedy into her world. This novel is about what happens after that.

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

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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Silver Baron's Wife by Donna Baier Stein

The Silver Baron's WifeThe Silver Baron's Wife by Donna Baier Stein
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Silver Baron's Wife is the last of the CIPA EVVY award winners I have chosen to read. Like the others, it is excellent. The Silver Baron's Wife won second place in the 2017 CIPA Evvy awards in historical fiction. (As I mentioned in the other reviews, my book, Hopatcong Vision Quest, won a merit award in the same competition, which is why I decided to read the other winners.)

This is the story of Baby Doe Tabor (Elizabeth McCourt Tabor) who lived from 1854 to 1935. She was born in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, then moved to Colorado after her first marriage. Her father-in-law gave her and her husband, Harvey Doe, a quarter share of a Colorado mine named the Fourth of July. When she first saw the mine, Lizzy fell in love with mining - “Dropping down into the Fourth of July had, like tasting the communion wafer on my tongue, opened me to a new understanding. If I'd felt betrayed after my confirmation, when Jesus let the fire take everything my family and I owned, a new confidence came over me after my descent into the mine. I was more than ready to believe there were treasures we couldn't see that were ready to be shared.”

Baby Doe was not a popular woman in the area where she lived, because she made some life decisions that were not acceptable at that time. However, Donna Baier Stein decided to write this novel from Baby Doe's point of view and the woman comes off as a strong and sympathetic character. I don't want to include any spoilers in here, yet I do have to say this is a rags to riches story, but doesn't stop there. Stein has created a wonderful character in Baby Doe, someone I will think about for a long time. She also created a wonderful picture of life in a mid-west mining town during the late nineteenth century.

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

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Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Buried Giant by Kazuo_Ishiguro

The Buried GiantThe Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When the Swedish Academy awarded Kazuo Ishiguro the Nobel Prize in Literature, they described his novels as having “great emotional force.” This is the third novel of his I've read and I agree with that statement in The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go, but there is a distance in all the relationships in The Buried Giant, which suppresses the emotions of the characters. One reason for this is due to the theme of lost memories. How can someone feel anything for what they can't remember? A second reason is the setting of England years after King Arthur's reign. There is an an odd mixture of formality and violence which seems to tie back to Camelot. This also dampens emotions.

The Buried Giant does have what I love the most in Ishiguro's writing, underlying themes that are approached in subtle ways. This novel isn't about Axl and Beatrice taking a journey to see their son or about Sir Gawain's loyalty to his mission. It's about aging, lost memories, and approaches to problems that lead to mixed results.

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

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Monday, December 4, 2017

The Last Great American Magic by L.C. Fiore

The Last Great American MagicThe Last Great American Magic by L.C. Fiore
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Last Great American Magic is a retelling of the story of Tecumseh, “a Native American Shawnee warrior and chief, who became the primary leader of a large, multi-tribal confederacy in the early years of the nineteenth century” (per Wikipedia). In L.C. Fiore's novel there are elements of mysticism interwoven with history in a way that captures the spiritual side to the Shawnee culture. Tecumseh's brother, Rattle, was renamed Prophet after he died and returned to life, which indicates how important mysticism is to the plot.

This novel won third place in the 2017 CIPA Evvy awards in historical fiction. (My book, Hopatcong Vision Quest won a merit award in the same competition, which is why I decided to read the other winners.) All have been excellent books. The Last Great American Magic captured my imagination and kept me turning the pages. It was filled with action and taught me a great deal about the Shawnee people at a time when the Europeans were pushing them off their land. There is violence and hatred, but this is also a story of love. Tecumseh falls hard for a young white woman captured by the Shawnee, even after she returns to her people, and even after she marries William Henry Harrison.

I highly recommend this novel for readers who enjoy stories of Native Americans in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

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

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Sunday, December 3, 2017

Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit by D.M. Denton

Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle SpiritWithout the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit by D.M. Denton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

DM Denton's historical novel, Without the Veil Between / Anne Brontë: A fine and Subtle Spirit, is the story of the Brontë family from the point of view of Charlotte and Emily's younger sister. The title comes from a line in one of Anne's poems, In Memory of a Happy Day in February. The last stanza of the poem is quoted in the afterword of Denton's novel.

As was the case with many nineteenth century families, the Brontës suffered loss. Anne was born in 1820. Her mother died in 1821 and two of her sisters, Maria and Elizabeth, died in 1825. This left the father, Patrick Brontë, an Anglican priest, to raise the three sisters and one son alone. Denton's emphasis on the thoughts and desires of the youngest Brontë sister brings color and life to the pages of her novel. She expresses Anne's concerns in lavish prose that matches the 19th century Brontë style. Without the Veil Between isn't simply a biography, it is a journey back into the day to day lives of one of history's most famous literary families.

Anne's brother, Branwell, was a primary focus of her thoughts due to his troubled lifestyle. He often returned home after his habits left him no alternative.

“Branwell also had the refuge of home for career disasters, but nowhere but drink and opium for those of the heart.”

Early in the novel, Anne desired a relationship with William Weightman, an assistant to her father and a good friend of Branwell's. Her feelings for the young curate were a mixture of her own interest and respect for the effect William had on her troubled brother.

“Branwell had even confided to her that 'Willie' was the best friend he'd ever had – with a wink that caused Anne to wonder if William had admitted something, too. She knew she shouldn't think so. Nevertheless, before she closed her eyes on that day she would be tempted to hold and look at one of her most treasured possessions: a Valentine...”

Of course, the role writing played in Anne and her sisters lives is the most interesting of their concerns.

“Writing and talking about their writing inspired them, and defined them, at least to each other.”

It was, as it is for most writers, a means of escape and a way of dealing with life's frustrations.

“Anne found writing a most natural and constant way to seek relief. Her reason became another’s, a naively optimistic, determined, almost invisible young woman named Agnes, who composed musings out of sorrows or anxieties to acknowledge in a resilient way all those powerful feelings that could never be wholly crushed and for which solace from any living creature shouldn’t be sought or expected. Anne hoped Agnes' story would mark her own passage from a woman of mere occupation to one of true vocation.”

The works of Charlotte and Emily, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, are the two Brontë novels most well known today, but Anne's novels Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall are still taught in schools around the world. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was successful enough during Anne's life to earn a second edition.

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

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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Salt to the Sea by Ruta_Sepetys

Salt to the SeaSalt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The title and cover of Salt to the Sea focus on the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, so I guess talking about it doesn't count as a spoiler. It was, according to Wikipedia, “the deadliest maritime disaster in history.” I was surprised that such a major tragedy has gotten so little recognition in accounts of World War II. 9,400 people died, many of them children. I suppose the reason this disaster is not recalled as often as other catastrophes is due to the fact that these people were mostly German citizens and countries that lose wars don't get to write history.

The other historic event that plays a major role in the plot of Salt to the Sea is the looting of art by the Nazis. The book focuses on The Amber Room, a major collection of priceless art in, again according to Wikipedia, a “chamber decorated in amber panels backed with gold leaf and mirrors.” One of the book's major characters, Florian Beck, was working for Germany as an art expert. After discovering that he had been misled about the purpose of his work, he ran, taking with him a priceless swan, which was Hitler's favorite.

Despite the fascinating historic events Ruta Sepetys included in her novel, its greatest strength is the relationships of the characters. Florian encounters, Emilia Stożeka, a young Polish girl who is trying to escape the advancing Russians by making her way west. Emilia follows Florian and they soon encounter a group of refugees also trying to escape the Russians. Florian is on the run, so he's trying his best not to make friendships that might tie him down, but he finds it impossible not to like and respect most of the people he's traveling with. His relationships with Emilia and with Joana Vilkaitė are the most interesting, but the "shoe poet" is also a great character.

Salt to the Sea is from the perspective of innocent civilians caught in a defeated country. Since the plot is about desperate people running for their lives, there's plenty of tension and action. This makes for an exciting read. Another of my favorites about this time period is Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian.

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

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Friday, November 17, 2017

A Pyrrhic Victory: Volume II, Destiny Unfolds by Ian Crouch

A Pyrrhic Victory: Volume II, Destiny UnfoldsA Pyrrhic Victory: Volume II, Destiny Unfolds by Ian Crouch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A Pyrrhic Victory: Volume II, Destiny Unfolds is the second book in a series. I haven't read the first, but it stands well on its own. I chose it because it won a (2017) CIPA EVVY Merit Award in historical fiction. My own book, Hopatcong Vision Quest was also a winner, so I decided to read the others in my category. So far the books have been wonderful and this one continues the trend.

Destiny Unfolds is about the historic role of Pyrrhus, who lived from 318 to 272 BC and rose up to become the King of Epirus, an ancient Greek State, which is now a region shared by Albania and Greece. Although the plot is more about political and military decisions than about character relationships, there are many fascinating aspects to the way the characters treat each other. The advisers and friends around Pyrrhus treat him deferentially, which makes sense given what a powerful man he was. The battlefield opponents treat each other with honor and respect when the fighting is on hold, sometimes to an extent that seems absurd. Even the sexual/romantic relationships of Pyrrhus are decided through politics.

Ian Crouch creates a feeling for the priorities of the powerful in ancient Greece by showing their love of fighting and their rigid definition of honor. He shows us the nature of Pyrrhus by taking us into his method of planning his battles and his reaction to his successes. This is a wonderful book for people who enjoy carefully researched stories of ancient military conquests.

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

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Wednesday, November 1, 2017

An Inquiry Into Love and Death by Simone St. James

An Inquiry Into Love and DeathAn Inquiry Into Love and Death by Simone St. James
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An Inquiry Into Love and Death by Simone St. James is a good read, especially around Halloween. It's a ghost story with a little romance rolled in. Jillian Leigh is an Oxford student in 1920's England when women were just beginning to attend the school. She has to leave her studies to identify the body of her Uncle Toby. Toby was a ghost hunter. He is one of the most interesting characters in the book, especially considering he only appears through memories and notes left behind.

Jillian's parents are busy with their own lives, so it falls to her to go to Rothwell, a town in Northamptonshire, England where her uncle had been searching for ghosts. One of those ghosts was Walking John, a famous local spirit haunting the woods near Blood Moon Bay. While in Rothwell, Uncle Toby fell off a cliff, which is how he died.

Jillian stays at the house her uncle had been renting because she needs to collect his belongings and, also, because the rent has been paid through the end of the month. But there's a reason a ghost hunter would choose to live in Barrow House and Jillian soon discovers the reason.

I loved the setting of An Inquiry Into Love and Death. The story takes place in post World War I, rural England. All of the characters have been affected in some way by the horrible events they've lived through. Some have come out stronger, some damaged, but all are changed. I also enjoyed the romance between Jillian and Drew Merriken, a Scotland Yard inspector in the area investigating Uncle Toby's death. The were both strong characters with their own interests and responsibilities. The one aspect of the plot I did not like was the relationship between Jillian and her parents. Their actions didn't seem believable, especially late in the book when some secrets began to be revealed.

Overall, this is a good ghost story with lots of tension and strong characters.

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

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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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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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Monday, July 24, 2017

Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver

Prodigal SummerProdigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Prodigal Summer didn't hook me at first, but in the end I thought it was another five star read for Barbara Kingsolver. After three chapters, I began to wonder if this was a collection of short stories rather than a novel. The three subplots were disconnected and seemed to reach conclusions rather than push me forward. Also, it took a while for the personalities of the characters to come through, so at first I thought Kingsolver was more concerned with getting a message across about animal behavior than about human behavior. As I read on, I realized that in addition to fascinating facts about luna moths and coyotes, this novel shows the need for human relationships, among old, young, neighbors, in-laws, and all sorts of other people.

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

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Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

The Maltese FalconThe Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The classic hard-boiled detective novel, The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett, was one of the earliest books in that genre. The main character seems cliche at times, but only because so many imitations have followed. According to Wikipedia: “Raymond Chandler's character Philip Marlowe...was strongly influenced by Hammett's Spade.” There are many lesser known examples as well.

The main women in the story, Ruth Wonderly, Effie Perine, and Iva Archer, are all drawn to Spade's tough personality, but each in her own way. They are clearly from decades past, but they are fully developed, interesting characters. The same is true of the men, although I thought Kasper Gutman (the fat man) was a little weaker than the others. There were some implausible aspects to the plot, but everything came together in the end.

I listened to the audio while on a trip with my wife and daughter. The book was narrated by William Dufris and I was impressed by his reading. He was influenced by the film and did a wonderful Peter Lorre imitation while keeping true to all the other characters as well. It's a great book to listen to while driving.

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

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Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

The Dog StarsThe Dog Stars by Peter Heller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I listened to the audio of The Dog Stars by Peter Heller and wondered why the narrator, Mark Deakins, seemed to pause between every phrase. When I looked at a written version, I discovered the reason. There were lots of short sentences. Here's an example:

There is a pain you can’t think your way out of. You can’t talk it away. If there was someone to talk to. You can walk. One foot the other foot. Breathe in breathe out. Drink from the stream. Piss. Eat the venison strips. And. You can’t metabolize the loss. It is in the cells of your face, your chest, behind the eyes, in the twists of the gut. Muscles, sinew, bone. It is all of you.

The reason for this style seems to be that the main character spends a lot of the book alone, thinking about his life and life in general. To get that internal thought process across, Heller resorts to moments that get close to stream of consciousness writing. It took a little while to get used to his style, but once I did, it worked.

Hig is a widower who loved his wife. He is living in a world where most of the people have died from a flu epidemic and a blood disease that followed the flu. In this dystopian world most everyone is out for themselves, fighting off any strangers that show up in their territory. Hig lives with two companions. The first is Bangley, a violent man who believes in killing anyone who shows up in his territory. The second is Hig's dog, Jasper, with whom he shares all his thoughts.

Hig is a pilot with a working Cessna. He flies patrols along the perimeter of the area he and Bangley have declared their own. If he identifies intruders, Bangley kills them. They appear to have a lot of ammunition and a decent amount of airplane fuel.

The world they live in has problems beyond the flu and blood disease. The climate is changing and certain species are extinct or nearly extinct. There are no more trout and very few, if any, elk. However, other animals such as deer are still prevalent enough to hunt.

The novel's greatest strength is the depth of the main character's thoughts. He spends a great deal of time thinking about his past life and the limited possibilities for his future. For example:

Life and death lived inside each other. That's what occured to me. Death was inside all of us, waiting for warmer nights, a compromised system, a beetle, as in the now dying black timber on the mountains.

At times the novel feels like an outdoor life story, dwelling on the joys of fishing, hunting, and being alone in the wilderness. It also spends a decent amount of its words on radio technology, airplanes, and guns, which, along with the point of view remaining with Hig, gives it a macho feel. I had a few issues with the plot, mostly with the random changes to the world, but also one specific incident late in the story that had a simple way of being much less dangerous than it was. I won't say more than that, but I had trouble believing Hig didn't think of it.

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

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Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Stranger You Know by Jane Casey

The Stranger You Know (Maeve Kerrigan #4)The Stranger You Know by Jane Casey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don't consider it fair to review a book I haven't read from beginning to end, so I don't do that. But I will read a book that is a part of a series even if, as in this case, it is #4 and I haven't read #1 through #3. I believe a good novel should stand on its own. The Stranger You Know (Maeve Kerrigan #4) had enough in it to keep me reading, but probably would have been better if I'd read the earlier books. Rob, the man with whom Maeve is in a relationship, was gone throughout most of this book, so I didn't get to see that aspect of her character. Also, this story is focused on Josh Derwent, a character who might have been more sympathetic if I'd read the other books. The way the crime was solved depended a bit too much on theories working out through luck, although reading the other books wouldn't have helped that issue.

The main plot is about workplace politics. In this case, the worker, Maeve Kerrigan, is a detective with the London police and is called on to be part of the team investigating a serial murder. However, she's told that while working on this case she is not allowed to have any contact with her regular partner, Josh Derwent. Although Maeve Kerrigan listens to direct orders, she has a mind of her own and, if circumstances require her to ignore the orders, she doesn't hesitate. There's a team leader who has her own set of issues regarding Derwent. She's a minor character in this book, but I thought her relationship with Kerrigan was intriguing.

Jane Casey's decision to emphasize situations that could occur in any workplace is an interesting choice. There was more tension in wondering if Maeve would get caught than there was in wondering if the murderer would get caught. A lot of time was spent on Josh's background, which helped explain his interest in this particular serial murder, but it didn't explain his personality, which came across as obnoxious and self-absorbed.

Overall, The Stranger You Know is an interesting book and Maeve Kerrigan is a well written character. It's a good read, but I would suggest starting with the first book in the series.

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

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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

A Constellation of Vital PhenomenaA Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are two skills I admire most in the authors I read: the ability to write thoughtful, beautiful prose and the ability to write a page turner. The odd thing is these skills work against each other. Beautiful prose slows or even stops readers, while well crafted, functional prose, along with a unique, fascinating combination of plot and characters pushes readers forward, demanding their attention even when they're exhausted and worried about getting up for work the next day.

Anthony Marra's skill with language is evident on every page in A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. Here's an example:

...the absence isn’t immediate, more a fade from the present tense you shared, a melting into the past, not an erasure but a conversion in form, from presence to memory, from solid to liquid, and the person you once touched now runs over your skin, now in sheets down your back, and you may bathe, may sink, may drown in the memory, but your fingers cannot hold it.

As with all Marra's quotes, this is my favorite until I read the next one.

The plot covers the brutality of the Second Chechen War, with some reflection on the First Chechen War. I know surprisingly little about wars in which the USA wasn't a participant, so the subject matter was riveting. And the complex characters care about each other in a desperate manner that seems to fit a war zone. There is plenty of sacrifice mixed with fear and hatred, enough to produce a number of excellent, interrelated, emotional subplots.

It's not a page turner, but I couldn't stop thinking about it.

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

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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Faithful by Alice Hoffman

FaithfulFaithful by Alice Hoffman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I'm looking for something interesting to read and I'm not in the mood to experiment, I often turn to Alice Hoffman, one of my favorite writers. She's written over thirty books and the ones I've read have all been good (The River King, The Red Garden, The Third Angel, and, The Dovekeepers). Faithful is another example of well developed characters set in an interesting plot.

Shelby Richmond and her best friend, Helene, are in a car accident just before they are to graduate from high school. The weather was bad, with icy roads they should have avoided, but Helene insisted and Shelby, who was driving, gave in. After the accident, Helene was left comatose and Shelby is wracked with guilt.

“People say if you face your worst fear, the rest is easy, but those are people who are afraid of rattlesnakes or enclosed spaces, not of themselves and the horrible things they've done.”

The story is about Shelby's path after that life changing event, but more than that, it is about her relationships with the people who help her along the way.

My favorite character is Ben Mink, a classmate of Shelby's who suffers with the more common insecurities of teenagers. While in school, he felt like a dork, but was enamored of both Shelby and Helene. After the accident, he became Shelby's friend/drug dealer, with an emphasis on the first of those two roles. It is fascinating to watch him grow over time and to see how he helps Shelby deal with her issues.

I had an issue with the way Hoffman chose to end the book. Without discussing specifics, I will say she seemed determined to avoid making the novel ending too pat. Although there was something going on throughout the story that pointed toward the ending Hoffman chose, it wasn't fully developed and felt as if it had come out of nowhere (deus ex machina). But this was minor, considering the overall beauty of the book.

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

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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Shadow Queen by Sandra Gulland

The Shadow QueenThe Shadow Queen by Sandra Gulland
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Shadow Queen starts out as a tale of seventeenth century French theater, with a plot that follows the life of Claudette des Oeillets, a child of actors. Claudette's family is suffering through hard times and is forced to live in a campsite they've set up near a cave. They finally get a break, an opportunity to perform for Gabriel de Rochechouart de Mortemart, the Duke of Mortemart. Because Claudette's mother once had a minor role in a production of Le Cid by Corneille, they are to perform that work. They have, however, a very limited cast, just Claudette and her parents. The performance naturally has its issues, but it is here that Claudette meets Athénaïs de Montespan, the novel's title character and here that the novel really gets going.

This is a story of both the seventeenth century French court and of seventeenth century French Theater. There are famous characters like Corneille, Moliere, Racine, Louis the XIV (The Sun King), and, of course, The Shadow Queen - Athénaïs de Montespan. Claudette is also a real, historic figure. The strength of this novel is the depth of character Sandra Gulland shows in Claudette. The book is from her point of view, so everything we know about everyone else is filtered through Claudette's perspective. Gulland has chosen to make her a sympathetic character, which may or may not be true, but works great in the book.

This is a fun read, although it starts a little slow. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys French history.

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

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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Flight of Dreams by Ariel Lawhon

Flight of DreamsFlight of Dreams by Ariel Lawhon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ariel Lawhon has clearly done her research in Flight of Dreams. The detailed descriptions of the Hindenburg are fascinating, especially of the areas that present risk.

Schulze leads them to the opposite door, also glass, and into the smoking lounge. If the rest of the ship is luxurious, this room is opulent. Priorities, Gertrud thinks, the Zeppelin-Reederei knows whom to indulge. Leather benches and armchairs line the perfectly square room, leaving the center open. Hand-painted murals of early hot-air balloons decorate the walls. Small square tables are set with playing cards and poker chips. Carpet, such a dark blue that it looks like spilled ink, covers the floor.

The focus in the preceding paragraph is about pampering the rich, but the smoking area is carefully insulated and ventilated - for safety. When one of the crew lights a cigarette in a different area, Emilie (A stewardess who is one of the main characters) reacts:

“It's a bad idea, don't you think?” Emilie asks, as she stands inside the kitchen door, propping it open with her foot. “Striking a match in here? You could blow us all to oblivion.”

Later, Emilie is scolded for allowing children to play with a toy car with grinding gears that can create problems:

“Sparks! How could you let them play with something that sparks? Have you forgotten where we are?”

It's clear that the authorities recognized the dangers inherent with the Hindenburg and have decided to deal with them by establishing rules, rather than rethinking the concept.

Lawhon chose to write about “the real people on board,” people who didn't have much in common with each other. Perhaps this is the reason I thought the characters' personal stories were less interesting than the details of the airship. I never found the subplots about romance, competition, or desire for advancement to be believable. There was, however, one great exception. The Hindenburg was owned by the Nazi government in Germany, a fact that was made clear by the swastikas painted on the tail. A few of the passengers were not happy with the Nazis and were reacting in their own way to their displeasure. I liked the subtlety and the variety of their shared vexation.

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

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Monday, March 6, 2017

The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis

The DollhouseThe Dollhouse by Fiona  Davis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fiona Davis has written an interesting novel about the life of Darby McLaughlin, a young, single woman who, in 1952, moved to New York City to attend Katherine Gibbs, a secretarial school. She has a reservation at the Barbizon hotel for Women and plans to stay there while she studies. When she arrives, she learns that the floor where the secretarial students stay is full, so she's been placed on a floor with women who are studying to become models. This is her first bit of bad luck, because most of the models look down on Darby, whom they consider plain and awkward. One of them even puts Darby in a dangerous situation. When Darby finally befriends someone, it is Esme, a maid in the building who treats her well, but has a reputation for acting wild.

The book bounces between Darby's story in the fifties and the story of Rose in 2016. Rose is an investigative reporter whose career and personal life have both taken downturns. Her boyfriend decides to go back to his wife and children, leaving Rose alone and without a place to stay. Meanwhile, she's lost her job as a television newscaster and is working for an internet news startup. Her salary is lower and she doesn't have as much exposure, but she has some freedom to explore the stories she finds exciting. This leads to her interest in some elderly women who have been living at the Barbizon for many years, since before it was converted into condominiums. Rose sees a story in the lives of these women, specifically in the life of one who always wears a veil to cover a facial scar.

I love the structure of the novel, with the present day story involving an investigation into the story set in the fifties. (I use a similar technique in my own novels.) I found the Rose plot less interesting than Darby's, but liked the way Rose discovered aspects of Darby's story through her investigation. The history of the 1952 setting rang true, especially the romance and often seedy nature of the jazz clubs and also the women whose limited opportunities left them with a belief that finding the right man was their only path to a successful life.

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

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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Man in the High Castle by Phillip K Dick

The Man in the High CastleThe Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've read a number of comments about the Amazon series The Man in the High Castle, most of them very favorable. So I decided to read the book the show is based on. The novel, of the same name, was written by Phillip K. Dick and published in 1962. The “what if” question behind the story has to do with what life would be like if World War II had been won by the Axis powers. The USA is now split in three: The eastern section controlled by Germany, the Western section controlled by Japan, and a neutral zone in the middle. Life is full of propaganda, assassins, and racial / religious bigotry, resulting in slavery for some and imprisonment or death for others. Life goes on, but with different rules. Some people hide their identities so they can work. Those lucky enough to belong to the approved groups still have to demean themselves when dealing with the conquerors.

PKD's ideas are fascinating and more focused on believable scenarios than a lot of the “B” movies, the ones that feature jack-booted thugs marching all over America. My one, big complaint concerns the plot. The book includes a number of stories about people with interconnected lives. All the stories start out in interesting ways, but stop without conclusions or fully connecting. Maybe that's why the Amazon executives decided to base a series on this novel. However, I feel the book would have worked better if it had been longer.

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

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Thursday, February 9, 2017

After You by Jojo Moyes

After You (Me Before You, #2)After You by Jojo Moyes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After You often refers back to Me Before You. The novel stands on its own with most of the plot lines, but I would advise readers to read the books in their intended order. You should, however, read them both. I love Jojo Moyes' writing, especially the way she handles her main character, Louisa Clark.

Louisa is an insecure young woman who has been though a very depressing experience, leaving her without a person she loved. She has moved out of her small English town and is now living in an inexpensive London flat, working as a waitress in an airport bar/restaurant. She's unhappy at her work and lonely when she's away from it.

The story starts with an accident, in the same manner as Me Before You. When I read the beginning, I worried that this book would be a rewrite of the first novel, from a different point of view. But the story took a different turn and I was glad I didn't give up on it.

The connection to the previous book comes through a character introduced later in the story. It's a good choice because it presents Louisa with a challenging situation she needs to grow into, while keeping much of her focus on the past rather than the future.

The plot is a bit disjointed, but comes together in the end. I also had trouble with one of the subplots, because it seemed unrealistic (that's the most I can say without including a spoiler). Yet overall the story works. It presents choices and challenges for Louisa that show her growing and changing.

After you is a good sequel and I recommend it to anyone who enjoyed Me Before You.

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

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Monday, January 30, 2017

Ursa Rising by Sheila Englehart

Ursa RisingUrsa Rising by Sheila Englehart
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When Ursa Rising begins, the ex members of the once popular band, Ursa, are in BAD shape. Their problems include cancer, a paralyzed spouse, a jail term for statutory rape, an extreme case of guilt, and a rhythm guitarist who has been dead for ten year. Their drummer, who is still trying to make it in the music business, faces problems getting work because there is a widespread belief in an “Ursa curse.”

Then Vanessa, the daughter of the rhythm guitarist, comes back into their lives, intent on filming a documentary about her father by exploring the lives of the others in his band. She's nineteen now. They haven't seen her since she was nine. Benny, the keyboardist/lead singer welcomes her into his home and, by doing so, into all their lives. Vanessa's style is to film as much as she can, mixing interviews with candid moments. She often leaves her camera rolling while she and the men go about their daily routine. The novel takes off from that spot with twists and turns that would be spoilers if I chose to write about them.

Sheila Englehart's writing shows a solid knowledge of both film making and the business of rock music, in particular the backstage side of performing. The negatives of life on the road are exposed as well as the beauty of having a goal worth the sacrifices. A healer named Eden shows up a little ways into the novel. Her life is an interesting comparison to the life Benny led while Ursa was big and to his current life as well. There's an underlying question in their stories, of what success is. Is it recognition or quality?

I also love the way many of Englehart's characters speak, as if maintaining their image is as important as communication. Here's a sample:

Slowly the coughing calmed, and he could breathe again. All was quiet for a couple of minutes before Chris blurted, “We gotta get Lucy.”
“Who's Lucy?” Vanessa asked.
“Love of my life. I had her at the audition. They wouldn't let me take her in the ambulance.” He coughed some more. “I gotta find out if she's still there or if one of the guys took her home.”
“Guitar,” Benny said to Vanessa. “We need to get him something for that cough.”

Ursa Rising is a fun read that's hard to put down. It offers a chance to go backstage with some fascinating people.

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

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Friday, January 20, 2017

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

The VegetarianThe Vegetarian by Han Kang
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Vegetarian: A Novel by Han Kang is a powerful book, one that is difficult to put down. I read it based on a Goodreads recommendation, without knowing much about the story. At first, I thought it was about the life of a woman in a conservative society. After that, I thought it was about a victim of mental illness. Then, I thought it was about the reactions of the people around a person suffering from mental illness. In the end I came to the conclusion it is about all those things and more. There are some graphic descriptions of sexual acts that are appropriate for the novel, but very disturbing.

The book is divided in three parts. Although some sections are written from the point of view of the main character, Yeong-hye, for the most part these sections are from the perspective of Yeong-hye's husband, Yeong-hye's brother-in-law, and Yeong-hye's sister. Yeong-hye is the perfect wife, which means she complete's her tasks well and lives a passive life. Her only act of rebellion is found in her resistance to wearing a bra. Then she has a dream, a surreal dream she interprets as a call to become a vegetarian. In American society this doesn't seem like a radical decision, but apparently it is in Korean society. Also, Yeong-hye does not replace the food she's determined to avoid with vegetables that provide necessary nutrition. She becomes emaciated, causing some bizarre and outrageous reactions from the people around her.

The Vegetarian was written in Korean. The language is concise and compelling. Since I read the English version, it's hard to know how much of the text is Han Kang's work and how much is due to Deborah Smith's translation, but the final result is impressive. Here's a selection:

Yells and howls, threaded together layer upon layer, are enmeshed to form that lump. Because of meat. I ate too much meat. The lives of the animals I ate have all lodged there. Blood and flesh, all those butchered bodies are scattered in every nook and cranny, and though the physical remnants were excreted, their lives still stick stubbornly to my insides.

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

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Thursday, January 12, 2017

Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

Maisie Dobbs (Maisie Dobbs, #1)Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you're looking for a mystery with great suspense, or for a lead character who has flaws she needs to overcome, Maisie Dobbs probably isn't the book for you. But if you are looking for an interesting, romantic, story set during World War I and in the years following, you'll like this one.

Maisie is an extremely beautiful woman with superior intellect, compassion, and intuition. She does show one human failing toward the end of the novel, but most of the book's interesting character flaws are found in the people around Maisie, not in her. And even the minor characters seem to come around to the right way of thinking or have a good excuse for not doing so. There's a social climber who works for the war effort in a dangerous situation and a party girl who volunteers for the service. I won't mention others, to avoid including too many spoilers.

The story starts out with a typical mystery, a man believes his wife is having an affair and hires Maisie Dobbs to check on her. But the book takes a long detour back to the war years, where we get to learn about Maisie's time as a battlefield nurse. There's a wartime romance as well as an interesting friend, who serves as an ambulance driver.

The book also deals with the separation of classes that existed in England. Maisie plays a role in Winspear's portrayal of that era's social discrimination, giving the reader something to think about.

I listened to the audio and enjoyed it. The narrator, Rita Barrington, did a wonderful job and Jacqueline Winspear writes with a clear, interesting style that isn't overdone. It doesn't gets in the way of the story, yet she uses colorful language appropriate for the period.

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

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Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children, #1)Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Before I read Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children I'd heard it was the next Harry Potter. I suppose that's a valid claim, since they are both YA novels with odd schools requiring something akin to magic just to get there. I haven't seen the Peregrine film yet, but plan to soon. The Rotten Tomatoes ratings are above average, but not as high as the first Harry Potter film. It will be interesting to see how far this idea can go.

I enjoyed this novel, especially Jacob's relationships, first with his grandfather then with Emma, one of the students at the Peregrine school. Jacob starts out as a lonely sixteen year old who has trouble fitting in. He only has one good friend and is working at a job he hates because it is his family's business. He loves his grandfather, but long since lost his belief in the wild stories the old man tells. Then a tragic incident causes Jacob to be on the other side of unbelievable stories.

His story is so strange he doesn't believe it himself. On the advice of a therapist he's been seeing, Jacob goes on a trip with his father to a remote island that was central to his grandfather's tales. Here's where he meets Emma and the rest of the peculiar children. Jacob's relationship with Emma also feels real, with the appropriate awkwardness for two teenagers who like each other, but have their own backgrounds and agendas.

The plot includes time manipulation, which is, in this case, a complicated form of time travel. Every time travel book I've ever read has some conflicts and this one is no exception. Overall it's a fun read, with a well written plot. I recommend it to anyone who likes YA novels.

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

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