Friday, September 30, 2011

MODOC (RALPH HELFER) : THE TRUE STORY OF THE GREATEST ELEPHANT THAT EVER LIVED)



Story Description: 

Modoc is the joint biography of a man and an elephant born in a small German circus town on the same day in 1896. Bram was the son of an elephant trainer, Modoc the daughter of his prize performer. The boy and animal grew up devoted to each other. When the Wunderzircus was sold to an American, with no provision to take along the human staff, Bram stowed away on the ship to prevent being separated from his beloved Modoc. A shipwreck off the Indian coast and a sojourn with a maharajah were only the beginning of the pair's incredible adventures. They battled bandits, armed revolutionaries, cruel animal trainers, and greedy circus owners in their quest to stay together. They triumphed against the odds and thrilled American circus audiences with Modoc's dazzling solo performances, only to be torn apart with brutal suddenness, seemingly never to meet again. Hollywood animal trainer Ralph Helfer rescued Modoc from ill-treatment and learned her astonishing story when Bram rediscovered her at Helfer's company. His emotional retelling of this true-life adventure epic will make pulses race and bring tears to readers' eyes. 

My Review: 

“Modoc is a love story, a gut-wrenching afternoon kind of love story that should not be attempted without a full box if tissues within easy reach.” –Detroit Free Free  “…sweeping across the timber land into the gray, misty valleys of the Black Forest…baby sounds!  Below the fog layer, the insistent waits a baby could be heard, their temerity as if from Mother Earth herself. 

And then another voice arose.  Deeper, brassy, trumpety, but still a…baby sound.” 

Thus begins the true story of Modoc.  Bram, borne to Josef and Katrina Gutterstein, and named after Josef’s father, was a beautiful baby boy with blonde hair.  Bram’s blonde hair and features came from the strong Nordic ide of Katrina’s family, and the sweet and gentle warmth radiated so strongly from Josef’s heritage.  They lived in Hangendorf Valley, Germany and Josef just knew that Bram would be would become: “a fine elephant trainer. 

Josef himself is an elelphant trainer working for a small circus in the nearby town of Hassengross.  Emma, had just given birth to her elephant up, “Modoc” and Josef was determined to make Emma’s baby the best trained elephant the world has even seen.  If anyone could do it, he could as his whole family was circus and the last three generations were all elephant trainers when Josef’s own son Bram, was old enough, he would be turned over to him from training and he’d follow in his father’s footsteps. 

I immediately fell in love in love with “Modoc’ and  “Bram”.  This large mammal and young boy had a bond like no other I’ve ever seen.  The closeness, the love, the depth of the relationship was beyond anything I had ever encountered. A most mesmerizing story not to be missed!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

HEART IN THE RIGHT PLACE: A MEMOIR (CAROLYN JOURDAN)

Story Description: 

Carolyn Jourdan, an attorney on Capitol Hill, thought she had it made. But when her mother has a heart attack, she returns home to the Tennessee mountains, where her father is a country doctor and her mother works as his receptionist. Jourdan offers to fill in for her mother until she gets better. But days turn into weeks as she trades her suits for scrubs and finds herself following hazmat regulations for cleaning up bodily fluids; maintaining composure when confronted with a splinter the size of a steak knife; and tending to the loquacious Miss Hiawatha, whose daily doctor visits are never billed. Most important, though, she comes to understand what her caring and patient father means to her close-knit community. With great humor and great tenderness, Heart in the Right Place shows that some of our biggest heroes are the ones living right beside us. 

My Review: 

This was a beautiful, serene, relaxing memoir and I absolutely adored this story!  The characters are real and endearing, each of them carving out a special place in your heart.  And what a gorgeous name of this town “Strawberry Plains”, how delicious is that? 

Writing about a small community where everyone knows everyone else and a hometown family physician, family run is also what makes this memoir so intriguing.  Jourdan writes about her experiences in her father’s medical practice with honesty, integrity, humour, and with a compassionate flair for the people they treat.  No big office buildings with opulent furniture and expensive decorating and big medical bills to match.  Back to a time when the town Doctor often didn’t charge his patients if he knew they were indigent, and sometimes accepting “other” payments like a day of squirrel watching on the property of a man who wasn’t quite right in his mind.  Such a show of respect, compassion, and understanding on the part of Dr. Jourdan was a true showing of his moral beliefs and lessons he never forgot and applied to the very special patients in his practice. 

Carolyn Jourdan has written with such vividness that it was an easy slip into the pages to walk amongst the words and feel them, snuggle into them and experience the Great Smoky Mountain area just like the generations of family who have resided there for years and years.  Jourdan mentioned penning a sequel to Heart in the Right Place and I certainly hope she continues with it and sees it through to completion. I’ll be first in line to pick it up.  I would highly, highly recommend this beautifully written memoir for all ages.  This is the type of memoir that will stick with me forever.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

TINY SUNBIRDS, FAR AWAY (CHRISTIE WATSON)

Story Description: 

When their mother catches their father with another woman, twelve year-old Blessing and her fourteen-year-old brother, Ezikiel, are forced to leave their comfortable home in Lagos for a village in the Niger Delta, to live with their mother's family. Without running water or electricity, Warri is at first a nightmare for Blessing. Her mother is gone all day and works suspiciously late into the night to pay the children's school fees. Her brother, once a promising student, seems to be falling increasingly under the influence of the local group of violent teenage boys calling themselves Freedom Fighters. Her grandfather, a kind if misguided man, is trying on Islam as his new religion of choice, and is even considering the possibility of bringing in a second wife. 

But Blessing's grandmother, wise and practical, soon becomes a beloved mentor, teaching Blessing the ways of the midwife in rural Nigeria. Blessing is exposed to the horrors of genital mutilation and the devastation wrought on the environment by British and American oil companies. As Warri comes to feel like home, Blessing becomes increasingly aware of the threats to its safety, both from its unshakable but dangerous traditions and the relentless carelessness of the modern world. Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away is the witty and beautifully written story of one family's attempt to survive a new life they could never have imagined, struggling to find a deeper sense of identity along the way. 

My Review: 

Twelve-year-old Blessing lives with her mother, father, and 14-year-old brother, Ezikiel in a lovely home a Lagos.  Blessing’s mom works at the Royal Imperial Hotel and her father is an accountant.  One afternoon Mom arrives home from work early and catches Blessings father in bed with another woman.  Dad packs his bags and goes to live with this other woman.  Shortly after, Mom loses her job at the hotel because they only employ “married” women and the hotel now considers her status as “single” so lets her go.  Now her husband has stopped paying the rent on their apartment so they are being evicted and must move to Blessing’s grandfather’s home in the Niger Delta in a small village called Warri. 

Upon their arrival, Blessing is disappointed to discover that they have no electricity, no running water, and no inside toilets.  When she sees where outside she is forced to attend to her bathroom needs she is literally sick to her stomach.  This is going to get some getting used too. 

Blessing even thought that Warri smelled differently than other place she had been.  She said: “The air smelled like a book unopened for a very long time, and smoky, as though the ground had been on fire.”   

Blessings grandmother is a sweet woman but isn’t afraid to speak her mind and her grandfather, Alhaji is a strange man.  After a few days of settling in it’s time for Blessing and Ezikiel to begin attending their new school.  What a total disappointment this turns out to be for both of them.  The school is dirty, the girls bathroom has 7 holes in the floor with no doors or partitions for privacy and one must ‘squat’ over the hole showing their private parts to whomever happens to be in the bathroom at the time; there is no toilet paper, no sink, no taps, and no soap; the place is just utterly disgusting. 

Ezikiel is a smart boy who continues on with his academic studies at the school but grandpa Alhaji doesn’t believe Blessing needs to continue attending school as grandma is going to teach her the way of a midwife so she can follow in her footsteps.  Blessing is totally excited at this prospect and within a short amount of time she attends 6 births and is well on her way to understanding what is required to help birth a baby.  Things seems to be going well for the family until Ezikiel becomes less interested in his studies and is falling under the influence of a group of violent boys who call themselves the Freedom Fighters.  Add to that the fact that Mom seems to be working until late into the evenings, the once happy family is coming apart at the seams. 

This was a great story and I was totally involved with the characters.  Christie Watson, in her epilogue at the end of the story tells us that: “The Niger Delta, known as “the Big Heart” is home to proud people, with good reason.  It is a beautiful land, with extraordinary wildlife, an amazing landscape, bustling cosmopolitan towns, and peaceful villages.  Port Harcourt and Warri are fast becoming centers of cultural importance, with thriving arts and literature scenes, an abundance of restaurants, and independent theater groups.  The Niger Delta is a place of laughter, music, and diversity. 

But the majority of people who live in the Niger Delta survive on LESS than one dollar a day!  They enjoy none of the enormous wealth generated by the oil rich land.  Many people of the Delta have no access to schools, health care, or clean water.  They live with the effects of the environmental devastation caused by the continued gas flaring and frequent ecological accidents, which have amounted to more than one and a half million tons of spilled oil.” 

What a sad reality for the people of the Delta, so rich in so many ways, but so poor in others.  I would highly recommend this book for everyone.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

SHELTER (FRANCES GREENSLADE)

Story Description: 

From an impressive new literary talent, a heartbreaking, lushly imagined novel that explores the deep bond between two very different sisters whose world is shattered when their mother mysteriously abandons them.  Before their father died, Maggie and Jenny’s life felt nearly perfect. Seasons in their tiny rural home were peppered with wilderness hikes, building makeshift shelters and telling stories by the fire with Patrick and Irene, their doting father and beautiful, quick-to-laugh mother. But not long after Maggie's tenth birthday, Patrick is killed in a logging accident—and a few months later, Irene abruptly drops the girls at a neighbour's house, promising to return in a few weeks. She never does.  

Left in the care of a childless couple, Maggie and Jenny learn to depend on one another, keeping alive the faith that their mother is coming back. Yet as years start to pass, and the girls go to school, fall in love, and begin to grow apart, Maggie struggles with the mystery of what could have happened to their once warm, loving mother to make her abandon her daughters. And when the girls find themselves facing a crisis too overwhelming to handle alone, Maggie finally decides it is time to heal their fractured family at any cost and she takes off to try to bring their mother home at last.  

Told in Maggie’s strong, plucky voice, Shelter celebrates the love between two sisters and the complicated bonds of family. It is an exquisitely written ode to sisters, mothers, daughters, and to a woman’s responsibility to herself and those she loves.  

My Review: 

It is very hard for me to give a proper review of this book as I couldn’t finish it.  The story was quite boring, didn’t have anything interesting to say, and was very slow paced. 

The story is set in beautiful British Columbia and some of the descriptive narrative was nice but too much just ruined it.  Perhaps someone else will have better luck than I did reading this.

Friday, September 16, 2011

THE NIGHT CIRCUS (ERIN MORGENSTERN)


Story Description: 

In this mesmerizing debut, a competition between two magicians becomes a star-crossed love story. 

The circus arrives at night, without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within nocturnal black and white striped tents awaits a unique experience, a feast for the senses, where one can get lost in a maze of clouds, meander through a lush garden made of ice, stand awestruck as a tattooed contortionist folds herself into a small glass box, and gaze in wonderment at an illusionist performing impossible feats of magic.

Welcome to Le Cirque des RĂªves. Beyond the smoke and mirrors, however, a fierce competition is underway--a contest between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood to compete in "a game," in which each must use their powers of illusion to best the other. Unbeknownst to them, this game is a duel to the death, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. 


My Review: 

Erin Morgenstern has done it!  “THE NIGHT CIRCUS” has definitely lived up to the hype and hoopla.  This is a purely magical and enchanting story that will fit the bill for every reader.  The prose is beautiful but not too simplistic, the fantasy images are easily understood and so vivid and almost real.  The descriptive narrative is so clear and concise that one’s mind easily slips into the circus at night as you experience the words on the page with such clarity and vividness that it’s startling. 

The love story that takes place between two illusionists is at once real and tempered with just the right amount of verbage to keep you guessing and wondering to the end.  It’s fairy-tale atmosphere that makes this romance a slow-burning ride to the conclusion. 

THE NIGHT CIRCUS was utterly flawless and Ms. Morgenstern is well on her way to becoming a well-known, respected, and talented author.  For a debut novel it surpassed the mark by millions!! 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

BACK OF BEYOND (C. J. BOX)

Story Description: 

Cody Hoyt, while a brilliant cop, is an alcoholic struggling with two months of sobriety when his mentor and AA sponsor Hank Winters is found burned to death in a remote mountain cabin. At first it looks like the suicide of a man who’s fallen off the wagon, but Cody knows Hank better than that. Sober for fourteen years, Hank took pride in his hard-won sobriety and never hesitated to drop whatever he was doing to talk Cody off a ledge. When Cody takes a closer look at the scene of his friend’s death, it becomes apparent that foul play is at hand. After years of bad behaviour with his department, he’s in no position to be investigating a homicide, but this man was a friend and Cody’s determined to find his killer.  

When clues found at the scene link the murderer to an outfitter leading tourists on a multi-day wilderness horseback trip into the remote corners of Yellowstone National Park—a pack trip that includes his son Justin—Cody is desperate to get on their trail and stop the killer before the group heads into the wild. Among the tourists is fourteen-year-old Gracie Sullivan, an awkward but intelligent loner who begins to suspect that someone in their party is dangerous.  

In a fatal cat and mouse game, where it becomes apparent the murderer is somehow aware of Cody’s every move, Cody treks into the wilderness to stop a killer hell bent on ruining the only thing in his life he cares about. 

My Review: 

Cody Hoyt is a Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s Department Investigator in Montana.  A friend of his, Hank Winters, has been killed in a house fire and Cody is suspicious of the evidence. 

With a flask lying near the body it is assumed that old Hank was drunk.  However, Cody knew differently as Hank was Cody’s sponsor from Alcoholics Anonymous. 

Although Cody was taken off the case because of his connection to Hank, he firmly believes his friend was murdered.  Cody, via his friend on the force, Larry, finds a few scary links of cross country murders with the same modus operandi and decides that a serial killer is heading to Yellowstone Park where Cody’s teenaged son is. 

I found ‘Back of Beyond’ to be a little too slow in the beginning but really picked up once we hit Yellowstone Park.  Overall, it was a fairly good book but I wouldn’t read it again. 


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

DINNER AT THE HOMESICK RESTAURANT (ANNE TYLER)

Story Description: 

Pearl Tull is nearing the end of her life but not of her memory. It was a Sunday night in 1944 when her husband left the little row house on Baltimore’s Calvert Street, abandoning Pearl to raise their three children alone: Jenny, high-spirited and determined, nurturing to strangers but distant to those she loves; the older son, Cody, a wild and incorrigible youth possessed by the lure of power and money; and sweet, clumsy Ezra, Pearl’s favourite, who never stops yearning for the perfect family that could never be his own.

Now Pearl and her three grown children have gathered together again–with anger, hope, and a beautiful, harsh, and dazzling story to tell. 

My Review: 

Anne Tyler is an extraordinary author with the talent to create quirky characters and develop a great storyline. 

Pearl Tull is 85-years-old and on her deathbed.  Pearl and each of her three children all give different viewpoints about their dysfunctional family.  Pearl is only in her 30’s when her husband, Beck, walks away from her leaving Pearl to raise Ezra, Cody, and Jenny on her own.  Pearl has her own issues but so does each of the kids – all clearly strange in some manner.  Her biggest problem, aside from her quirky nature, is taking her feelings out on the children. 

Pearl always felt something was amiss with each of her children in some sort of perverse way that she couldn’t quite put her finger on it.  Each child seemed to have a “trademark flaw”.  Cody was prone to rages; Jenny was flippant; and clumsy Ezra hadn’t really lived up to his potential.  She wondered if her children blamed her for something and it really bothered her that not one of her children “possessed a shred of curiosity.” 

This family is so dysfunctional that almost everyone can identify with them in some way.  There is so much to this story that it’s hard to sum up without going on for pages and pages.  There isn’t a word or paragraph wasted, so no plodding through unimportant detail. 

This was my first Anne Tyler read and I’ll definitely be picking up Ms. Tyler’s other novels! 


Sunday, September 11, 2011

NATURAL ORDER (BRIAN FRANCIS)


Story Description: 

Joyce Sparks has lived the whole of her 86 years in the small community of Balsden, Ontario. “There isn’t anything on earth you can’t find in your own backyard,” her mother used to say, and Joyce has structured her life accordingly. Today, she occupies a bed in what she knows will be her final home, a shared room at Chestnut Park Nursing Home where she contemplates the bland streetscape through her window and tries not to be too gruff with the nurses.

This is not at all how Joyce expected her life to turn out. As a girl, she’d allowed herself to imagine a future of adventure in the arms of her friend Freddy Pender, whose chin bore a Kirk Douglas cleft and who danced the cha-cha divinely. Though troubled by the whispered assertions of her sister and friends that he was “fruity,” Joyce adored Freddy for all that was un-Balsden in his flamboyant ways. When Freddy led the homecoming parade down the main street , his expertly twirled baton and outrageous white suit gleaming in the sun, Joyce fell head over heels in unrequited love. 

Years later, after Freddy had left Balsden for an acting career in New York, Joyce married Charlie, a kind and reserved man who could hardly be less like Freddy. They married with little fanfare and she bore one son, John. Though she did love Charlie, Joyce often caught herself thinking about Freddy, buying Hollywood gossip magazines in hopes of catching a glimpse of his face. Meanwhile, she was growing increasingly alarmed about John’s preference for dolls and kitchen sets. She concealed the mounting signs that John was not a “normal” boy, even buying him a coveted doll if he promised to keep it a secret from Charlie. 

News of Freddy finally arrived, and it was horrifying: he had killed himself, throwing himself into the sea from a cruise ship. “A mother always knows when something isn’t right with her son,” was Mrs. Pender’s steely utterance when Joyce paid her respects, cryptically alleging that Freddy’s homosexuality had led to his destruction. That night, Joyce threatened to take away John’s doll if he did not join the softball team. Convinced she had to protect John from himself, she set her small family on a narrow path bounded by secrecy and shame, which ultimately led to unimaginable loss. 

Today, as her life ebbs away at Chestnut Park, Joyce ponders the terrible choices she made as a mother and wife and doubts that she can be forgiven, or that she deserves to be. Then a young nursing home volunteer named Timothy appears, so much like her long lost John. Might there be some grace ahead in Joyce’s life after all? 

Voiced by an unforgettable and heartbreakingly flawed narrator, Natural Order is a masterpiece of empathy, a wry and tender depiction of the end-of-life remembrances and reconciliations that one might undertake when there is nothing more to lose, and no time to waste.
My Review: 

Joyce Sparks lived with her husband, Charles, and son, John, in Balsden, Ontario, Canada, a small town of 40,000 people.  Now 86 years old, Joyce resides at the Chestnut Park nursing home and shares a room with 82 year old Ruth Schueller.  Ruth can’t communicate with Joyce because she is mute.  Marianne, Joyce’s niece takes care of all her finances.  Marianne is Helen’s daughter, who was Joyce’s sister. 

Joyce met her husband, Charlie, at the dance pavilion one summer night.  He was shy and she was lonely.  They married 6 months later but a few months into the marriage Joyce began to wonder what they had in common.  Joyce was still fixated on her pre-marriage friend Freddy Pender who everyone said was “fruity”.  However, Joyce and Charlie stayed together and had their son, John. 

John was an odd boy from the beginning and when in kindergarten his teacher, Miss Robinson, approached Joyce.  She pointed out that she was “concerned” because John liked to play with dolls, the kitchen set, and lined up with the girls to be chased by the boys when playing tag.  Joyce does not dare tell Charlie any of this.  Did Joyce ever suspect that her own son might be a homosexual?  You bet she did but chose instead to keep the Curly Q Sue doll she bought him hidden from Charlie, her family and friends, only allowing John to play with her when Charlie was at work. 

Joyce tried all of John’s life to demand privacy and secrecy.  Even from her own husband she hid his homosexuality.  But in her own mind, she only focused on him being gay and never really expanded her mind about John in other ways.  Admitting to anyone, even herself that John died of AIDS was an impossibility.  She allowed a 4-letter word to carry so much weight. 

I loved this book and read it in one sitting.  All the characters were well-developed and everyone seemed “real”, to be human.  From her sister, Helen, to her friend, Fern and Mr. Sparrow, and to Freddy and Walter, they all had their own voice and a real uniqueness about them. 

Having said all that, I was really disappointed with the ending of the book.  First, I didn’t expect the story to end where it did and secondly, it ended very abruptly.  I felt a bit ripped off at the end, but I suppose you could always imagine in your mind your own ending.  A great book overall and I would highly recommend it to anyone, as I really did love it.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

ONE LOVELY BLOG AWARD!!


Wow...what a surprise to learn that I was awarded my "fourth" blog award!!!  Crystal of "Just Another Book Lovin' Girl" at http://abooklovingirl.blogspot.com/2011/09/one-lovely-blog-award.html has bestowed this wonderful honour upon me.  THANK YOU so very much Crystal, I deeply appreciate it.  And folks, PLEASE be sure to visit Crystal's blog, you'll love it!

There are two very simple rules that accompany this award:

1.  Share "7" facts about yourself and...
2.  Pass this award on to "15" other deserving blog owners

"7" Random Facts About Me:

1.  I dislike summer.
2.  I'm terrified of junebugs.
3.  I have 3 dogs (German Shepherd, Black Lab and a Chihuahua)
4.  I've been married for "32" happy years.
5.  I have two sons.
6.  Retired from nursing (not retirement age...forced retirement due to injury)
7.  I miss working terribly

Now, drum roll please.....my "15" bloggers to receive this award (in no particular order) are:

1.  Marybeth P (Manhattan Reader) at: http://headstrong-tomgirl.blogspot.com/ 

2.  Stephanie (Five Alarm Book Reviews) at:  http://fivealarmbookreviews.com/ 

3.  Ange (Moonlight Reader) at: http://ange-moonlightreader.blogspot.com/ 

4.  Karis Jacobstein (YA Litwit) at: http://yalitwit.blogspot.com/ 

5.  Heather Palazzolo (Heather's Opinion On All Things Book Related) at:
      http://hpreviewsbooks.blogspot.com/ 

6.  Dana Burgess (Let's Book It) at: http://letsbookit.blogspot.com/ 

7.  Kimberly Maloney (Historical Fiction Obsession) at:
      http://historicalfictionobsession.blogspot.com/ 

8.  Kelli Wheelwright (E & K Family Book Review) at:  http://www.ekfamilybooks.blogspot.com/

9.  Rhiannon Paille (Rhiannon Paille) at:
      http://rhiannonpaille.blogspot.com/

10. Laurie Carlson (Laurie Here) at: http://www.lauriehere.blogspot.com/

11. Bea Charmed (Bea's Book Nook) at: http://beasbooknook.blogspot.com/

12. Sharon Henning (Gently Mad) at: http://beasbooknook.blogspot.com/

13. Mike Draper (Mike Draper) at: http://mikedraperinguilford.blogspot.com/

14. Mary (Bookhounds) at: http://www.maryinhb.blogspot.com/

15. Ottilie Weber (Ottilie Weber) at: http://ottilieweber.blogspot.com/

CONGRATULATIONS to all of you!!!  As for everyone else, I sincerely hope you'll visit each of the above named blogs because they truly are "lovely"!!

Friday, September 9, 2011

STOLEN (LUCY CHRISTOPHER)

Story Description:

You saw me before I saw you. 

A girl:  Gemma, at the airport, on her way to a family vacation. 

You had that look in your eyes. 

A guy:  Ty, rugged, tan, too old, oddly familiar, eyes blue as ice. 

Like you wanted me. 

She steps away.  For just a second.  He pays for her drink.  And drugs it. 

Wanted me for a long time. 

He takes her, before she even knows what’s happening.  To sand and heat.  To emptiness and isolation.  To nowhere.  And expects her to love him. 

Written as a letter from a victim to her captor, this is Gemma’s desperate story of survival.  Ty has Stolen her body.  Against every instinct screaming inside her, will he also steal Gemma’s heart? 

My Review: 

Sixteen-year-old Gemma is kidnapped from the Bangkok airport by a man named, Ty, after he drugged her drink.  Gemma has no idea where she is when she wakes up but she’s terrified.  She discovers that she is living in the middle of a desert in Australia in a home that has been stocked with supplies to care for her for several months. 

The entire book is written in the form of a letter written to Ty, from Gemma.  The author did a fantastic job of placing the reader in Gemma’s shoes – you felt what she felt.  I myself, felt so sorry for Gemma, not only for the predicament she was in, but for her many failed attempts at escape.  It was heartbreaking. 

I wasn’t sure how I felt about Ty.  I suppose I really despised him but he had such an unbelievably horrendous upbringing that part of me couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. 

The one nice redeeming factor of this Young Adult novel is the fact there is no rape, no sex, and no torture which is a bit unusual in these types of cases.  This was one of those books that really “got me” because I loved it one minute and hated it the next.  The real makings of a good story!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

THE GIRL SHE USED TO BE (DAVID CRISTOFANO)



Story Description: 

When Melody Grace McCartney was six years old, she and her parents witnessed a brutal act of violence – and then were lured into the Witness Protection Program.  And so Melody lost her identity, her home, her family, and ultimately her innocence.  She’s been May Adams, Karen Smith, and countless others.  But the one person she has always longed to be is Melody Grace McCartney. 

Now, twenty years later and still on the run, she’s stunned when a man calls her by her real name.  Jonathan Bovaro, the Mafioso sent to find her, knows her, the real her.  It’s a thrill Melody can’t resist, and she goes with him willingly, defying the feds.  To the Justice Department, she’s just a pawn in their war against the Bovaro family.  But as dangerous as Jonathan is, he gives Melody the opportunity of a lifetime: the chance to embrace her past and present, and choose a future all her own. 

My Review: 

Although 253 pages, I read this in one sitting, I couldn’t take my eyes off the pages.  Twenty-six-year-old Melody Grace McCartney was only six-years-old when she and her family were placed into the Witness Protection Program after they witnessed a horrendous murder committed by someone in the notorious Bovaro family.  Melody has had many aliases over the past 20 years and is currently known as, Sandra Clarke.  

Sandra is a high school math teacher living a comfortable life but decides one afternoon that she’s tired and bored of being Sandra and wants yet another move.  She phones her Protection Agent, one Randall Farquar, and tells him she received a phone call from someone with a New York accent who said:  Sing me a song, Melody.”  Of course this never really happened but Sandra wanted another new life. 

When she arrives at the Federal building she is disappointed to learn that Randall is retiring and won’t be handling her case any longer and introduces her to Marshal Sean Douglas, her new ‘protector/locator’.  After a long conversation and reading through her file, Marshal Douglas and Melody hit the road for another relocation.  While staying overnight in a motel, Melody awakens to a male voice saying: “Melody Grace McCartney!” with a knife pressed to her throat.  Who is this man and what does he want?  She finally realizes the man is none other than Jonathan Bovaro, the Mafioso sent to find her.  Melody is actually thrilled and she just can’t resist and decides to go “willingly” with Jonathan because she’s tired of running and never being who she was born to be.  As dangerous as Jonathan is, he gives Melody a once in a lifetime chance – the chance to embrace her past and present, and then choose her very own future. 

The writing was flawless in the novel and the story just flowed like a river.  I absolutely fell in love with both Jonathan and Melody and really wanted them to become a couple, to be engaged and then to marry.  How crazy is that?  The man is a killer, his family killed her parents leaving her alone and with a lifetime of assumed names and occupations, but once you read this story, you’ll understand where I’m coming from.  Any woman would want the type of ‘relationship’ that Jonathan and Melody end up having. 

The concept of this story, that a “protected witness” would willingly go with a “killer” is almost beyond comprehension, but believe me, it works.  And who knows, in Melody’s   situation, with your feet in HER shoes all these years, you just might make the same choice.  This was definitely one book well worth reading!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

THE OUTSIDER (ANN H. GABHART)


Story Description: 

She thought she was content – until a love from the outside world turned hers upside down. 

Gabrielle Hope and her mother joined the Harmony Hill Shaker community in 1807.  The community promised stability and devotion that Gabrielle wholeheartedly embraced.  But when a local doctor must be brought into Harmony Hill from the outside, he sets into motion a chain of events that will challenge Gabrielle’s loyalty to the Shakers. 

As she falls deeper into a forbidden love for this man of the world, Gabrielle must make a choice.  Can she experience true happiness in this simple and chaste community?  Or will she abandon her brothers and sisters for a life of the unknown? 

Soulful and filled with romance, The Outsider lets you live within a bygone time among a unique and peculiar people.  This tender and thought-provoking story will stay with you long after you finish the final chapter. 

My Review: 

Gabrielle Hope and her mother, Martha, entered the Harmony Hill Shaker community when Gabrielle was just 14-years-old.  Now it’s January of 1812 and Gabrielle is 19-years-old and has had five years to get used to being separated from her mother.  The Shakers do not believe in marriage and do not allow husbands/wives to stay together, nor can either keep their children near, they are housed and raised in a different area of the community and rarely seen. 

After a fire breaks out in the Harvest barn, Doctor Brice Scott, an outsider comes into the community to care for, Nathan, whose legs have been badly burnt.  While there each day checking on young Nathan, the Doc sees Gabrielle and almost instantly falls in love with her.  His distractions are causing a great deal of grief for Gabrielle from the head sister, Mercy, and after having been seen kissing him in the forest, she is punished by having to be shadowed 24-hours-a-day by the surly Sister Helen for five long months.  Sister Mercy wants to ensure Gabrielle keeps her mind on her prayers and tasks within the community and off of Doctor Brice Scott. 

When the Doc heads off to war with Nathan, his heart and thoughts are of Gabrielle and how he is going to rescue her from the Shaker community upon his return from war, if he makes it.  But will she give up what she’s known for the past five years and step out into the outside world, a world she no longer knows and fears?

Monday, September 5, 2011

THE GIRL IN THE GARDEN (KAMALA NAIR)

Story Description:

When Rakhee Singh is just ten years old, her world is shaken irrevocably when her beautiful yet troubled mother spirits her away from her father and their Minnesota home to visit her ancestral estate in an Indian village untouched by the centuries.  It is there that Rakhee meets her enigmatic relatives for the first time, seeks adventure with her three cousins, and learns the devastating truth about why her mother fled the childhood home she loved.  During the course of that scorching summer, Rakhee will discover, in the mysterious jungle behind the house, a walled-up garden holding a terrifying secret.   It is a secret that will expose long-hidden family skeletons and forever influence her beliefs about fidelity and love. 

My Review: 

Rakhee Singh is about to graduate with a master’s degree from Yale School of Architecture and then begin what she hopes will be a promising career at a design firm in New York.  She is also engaged to be married, but this night she is on an airplane back to India.  She left her boyfriend the diamond engagement ring and the written story of why she was leaving without saying a word to him.  Rakhee, in her note that was attached to story, said she couldn’t marry him until she unbound “…the demons that were under her bed” and that she could not marry him until she had “banished them.”  She signed the note, left her address in India and hoped he would understand. 

You see, Rakhee had pretty much led him to believe that she’d only ever been in Plainfield, Minnesota where she grew up.  He had no idea whatsoever that Rakhee had spent an entire summer when she was 10 years old in Kerala-Malanad, India.  Malanad was a rural village in Kerala, located at the southernmost tip of India.  What occurred that summer kept me bound to the pages like a duck on water until I was done.  Even though my copy is the large print version, I read all 477 pages in one sitting with only short breaks for tea! 

The story that emerged the summer Rakhee was 10 will stay with me forever!  I adored Rakhee, such a caring, intelligent and extremely caring and understanding girl for her age.  I loved the other characters just as much, especially Tulasi and Krishna.  This story reminded me so much of Rohinton Mistry’s ‘A Fine Balance’, which I also thoroughly enjoyed. 

The writing in “The Girl In The Garden” was brilliant, intelligent, fluid and flowed beautifully like a stone being tossed upon the water and watching the concentric circles of water teaming out one after the other.  “The Girl In The Garden” could be a best book of 2011 and in my opinion, ranks right up there with ‘The Help’ and ‘The Kitchen House’.  This is an unbelievable accomplishment for a "debut" novel!  Kamala Nair writes with the passion and talent of a well-seasoned author.

Thank you Kamala Nair for one of the most beautiful and entertaining stories I’ve read this year!!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

MISTIK LAKE (MARTHA BROOKS)

Story Description: 

Sixteen-year-old Sally is the only survivor when a car full of teenagers plunges through the ice to the bottom of Mistik Lake.  Many years later, Sally’s daughter Odella is left wondering whether the accident is to blame for her mother’s life as a sad alcoholic who eventually abandons her family and flees to Iceland with another man.  Odella, her father and two younger sisters are almost overwhelmed with grief and confusion until three people provide help and healing in unexpected ways:  Jimmy Tomasson, with whom Odella embarks on a passionate and tender love affair; Odella’s great-aunt Gloria, the keeper of family secrets; and an eccentric middle-aged butcher named Gerald. 

This stunning new novel from Governor General’s Award winner Martha Brooks explores what happens when you don’t have the courage to follow your own heart, and what can happen when you do. 

My Review: 

After reading Mistik Lake, which won the Canadian Library Association Young Adult Award, I now understand why it shocked the pants off a Grade 8 teacher who had wanted to use the book as a Literacy Circle Book.  I personally enjoyed the book thoroughly, loved its characters and their development in the story, but the book does deal with some mature themes that may make some people a tad uncomfortable. 

We have an alcoholic Mom who abandons her family and has children from 3 different men; Aunt Gloria who is a lesbian; a young boy with a schizophrenic Mom; and a family full of grief and confusion.  For a Literacy Circle Book, this would just be too many “major” themes to deal with for some kids all at once.  Considering children develop and mature at different rates, what one child may be ready to deal with at a certain age, another may not.  Also, I personally think, having had children of my own go through the school system, that some of the parents I knew would take issue with some of these themes being taught in a novel in the classroom.   

I still highly recommend this book for any adult and any young adult age 16 and over.  Martha Brooks is a good Canadian author who has written some other great books for kids.  This was very, very well done and at only 206 pages, it was a quick enjoyable read.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

ESCAPE (BARBARA DELINSKY)


Story Description : 

Emily Aulenbach is thirty-two, a lawyer married to a lawyer, living and working in Manhattan.  An idealist, she had once dreamed of representing victims of corporate abuse.  Now she spends her days in a cubicle talking on the phone with victims of tainted bottled water – and she is on the bottler’s side. 

But it isn’t only work.  It’s her sisters, her friends, even her husband, James, with whom she doesn’t connect in the way she once did.  She doesn’t connect too much in her life, period. 

Acting on impulse, Emily leaves work early one day, goes home, packs her bag, and takes off.  Groping toward the future and following her gut rather than her mind, she heads north toward a New Hampshire town nestled in the mountains.  She knows this town.  During her college years she spent a watershed summer here.  If she were to map out the turns she’s taken in life, this would be the spot where she had first gone wrong.  Painful as returning feels, she knows that if she is to right her life, she has to start here. 

My Review

Thirty-two-year-old Emily Aulenbach was a lawyer living in Gramercy Park, New York with her husband, James, who is also a lawyer.  They don’t have pets or kids because they’re trying to work to put in their hours now so they can eventually take things a bit easier later.  Emily was tired of her job and tired of her life so she ups and leaves work one morning within an hour of arriving.  Once home, she packs a bag, hops in the car and begins driving.  She has no idea where she is headed as long as it is away from New York and the busyness that is her life there. 

Emily spent a couple of nights in some small town motels and tried to think “where” she wanted/needed to go and then it struck her.  If she wanted to figure out who she was, then she needed to “… go back to the place that had set me on this course” and it wasn’t New York.  It was “Bell Valley”, nestled in a valley in the state of New Hampshire.  It had been ten years since Emily had been there and her last memory of the place was “…breaking up with Jude,” her first love.  As Emily thought of Jude, she began to cry and wondered if she was crazy for coming? 

Everyone is worried:  James, her boss, her Mom, her Dad, friends, co-workers and anyone else who has also known the same-routine Emily.  This was totally out-of-character for her, but she really needs to find out who she is and what it is that she really wants.  

Just prior to her arrival in Bell Valley, Emily received a letter from Jude telling her that he is returning to Bell Valley as well.  Will Emily be able to resist her first deep love, will she return to James or divorce him, and what about her well-paid lawyers’ job? 

As painful as it feels to be back in Bell Valley, Emily knows that if she is ever to make her life work, then she has no choice but to start here where it all began.