Book Review: Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

Book Review: Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan 4 Stars ****

It’s such a pleasure to read a book written on an adult level with sophisticated vocabulary, complex ideas, and memorable phrases. I loved it and was captivated by the story and the writing.

The book starts out in the 1930’s with eleven year old Anna Kerrigan who lives in an apartment in Brooklyn, New York with her mother, father, and developmentally and physically disabled sister, Lydia.  Anna’s mother is obsessed with caring for Lydia. Anna and her father, Eddie have an unusually strong bond, so much so that he often brings his daughter with him when he acts as a bagman for local gangsters and dock and union workers.

He teaches her to be strong, to hide the truth, and keep her mouth shut. Anna brings these qualities into adulthood as she works for a defense plant during WWII. She decides she wants to become the first woman diver to aid the war effort despite the push-back she encounters during training and missions. She excels and becomes well-respected. Anna lives independently and with purpose but the reader is not privy to Anna’s heart and head to really understand how she comes to choose this job over others that might be equally as helpful to society and challenging.

It’s hard not to do Spoiler Alerts when discussing the plot. Let’s just say there are many twists and turns in the story, but yet they are expected. The story is told by a narrator but the action alternates with Anna, her father, and gentleman gangster Dexter Stiles. Lots of back stories on these three. Why? Maybe the author is trying to highlight the complexity of character and how even “bad” people have redeeming qualities in parts of their lives and are capable of great intelligence in specific areas? Maybe a little too much?

The reader sees a lot of street smarts and heroism on the part of characters whose lives are less than admirable. Too much tell and not enough show. I believe the author could have devoted the time to developing Anna’s character with transitions, conversations and diary entries rather than using the narrator to fill in motivations for decisions rather than filling the pages with extraneous details about lesser characters.

The ending? Not really a surprise, but then again….I wanted to hear Eddie’s rationale about some poor choices he made. Why did Dexter Stiles make a sloppy decision that endangered his position? If the author did not want to complete these characterizations, she should not have included the events that led to these questions.

There are also some unrealistic events.  For example, Eddie’s escape, Anna’s strength despite weighing a little over one hundred pounds, Lydia being carried up and down six flights of stairs by one person, near drowning victims not struggling while being saved by Eddie who is not a large man but still demonstrates the strength of a superhero.

 

Please let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at author@elainedonadio.com.

I wish you all a life inspired by the wonder of the world around us. May you find and live your truth, in harmony with people, nature and the environment. May you be a force for good and a source of love and comfort. May the world be a better place for you having lived and loved here.

All rights reserved 2018

 

Book Review: A Clean Death by Adriaan Verheul 5 Stars *****

Book Review: A Clean Death by Adrian Verheul  (2017) 5 Stars *****

A disturbing but seemingly accurate story of wanton violence in an unnamed part of the world where the guys with the biggest guns and the smallest consciences reign supreme. This almost reads like a memoir rather than a work of fiction. Details, explanations, actions, behaviors, and streams of consciousness that seem to reflect the soul of the author are on point—feeling like a recounting of what actually happened rather than a list of fabricated events. This author knows his stuff.

The author, Adriaan Verheul, ” worked as an academic with the Dutch navy, as a United Nations human rights officer and peacekeeper, World Bank official, and independent foreign affairs consultant. His work took him to conflict and disaster zones on four continents. Somehow, he ended up in the business of demobilizing rebels and soldiers after civil war.”

Oliver, the main character, takes a leave from his position as a banker to recover and bring home the body of his father Johan from a God-forsaken jungle land plagued by violence. Johan was on a mission to supply great sums of money to Captain Christmas, a vicious war lord, in exchange for the surrender of guns. Promises were made, but not kept. Oliver discovers that everyone is on the take—from government officials to the police and morgue employees. Want to go home with your father’s body? It will cost you. Want them to tell you who killed your father and why? It will cost you. Want to meet up with the powerful warlord, Captain Christmas,  who has all the answers? It will cost you. The problem is, money is paid out but answers do not flow in.

A clean death is swift and painless without needless suffering. Johan was shot twice in the heart, giving him a clean death, demonstrating that whoever killed him, liked and respected him. It’s almost a sign of affection and deference in a violent society. Hmmm.

This brings us to Davey, a young, idealistic American proponent of an armed citizenry. He believes that guns are for self-protection and disarmament is a tool of the establishment to suppress its people. Davey travels to the City By the Water to verbally support the armed marauders. You see, Davey has no idea of the horrors Captain Christmas and his terror group have inflicted on the innocent: gutting, body mutilations, rapes, beheadings, parents being forced to eat the intestines of their dead children to name a few. Oliver and Davey cross paths. Davey learns his lesson, and returns to the United States as a broken man. On the other hand, this jungle fiasco acts as a magnet for Oliver, capturing his mind and heart.

I tried to surmise the setting by Googling what I thought might be clues: City By the Water, John Cabrero aka Captain Christmas, V6, Skipper Boutique, Colonel Neptune, local drinks mentioned. Nothing. Dead end. (By the way, the author stated in a published interview response that he actually has met people who go by some of these names.) I entered the topography of the region and got a few bites. By process of elimination, I decided war-torn Africa is a likely location. Further research pointed to Democratic Republic of Congo where a heavy United Nations presence led to more harm than good, according to local officials. This is in the midst of Rwandan genocidal Hutu maniacs fleeing to DR Congo, inflicting even more pain and horrors on their already desperate country. Also ignored are the efforts at peacekeeping, reconstruction of country and military, democratic elections, and the aid in rebel opposition. According to the DR Congo government, the helpers didn’t help—just made things worse. Huh? This little bit of history corroborates the events in the book.

I don’t know if I am correct in my guess of settings. Maybe as a clue or a red herring, the cover photo is attributed to a photo taken at the DR Congo. But, what I do know, like the book and as in real DR Congo history, the government benefitted from the chaos, and they were not sincere in wanting it to end.

 

Please let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at author@elainedonadio.com.

I wish you all a life inspired by the wonder of the world around us. May you find and live your truth, in harmony with people, nature and the environment. May you be a force for good and a source of love and comfort. May the world be a better place for you having lived and loved here.

All Rights Reserved 2018

Author Interview: Adriaan Verheul (A Clean Death, 2017)

Author Interview: Adriaan Verheul ( A Clean Death, 2017) 

In A Clean Death we meet the main character Oliver, a conservative banker, who takes a leave from his job in order to recover and bring back the body of his murdered father, Johan, from a God-forsaken jungle nation beset by chaos and horrors. A disturbing but seemingly accurate story of wonton violence in an unnamed part of the world where the guys with the biggest guns and the smallest consciences reign supreme. This almost reads like a memoir rather than a fictional account.

I had the pleasure of meeting Adriaan Verheul recently and was immediately pulled in by the subject matter of his book. Adriaan graciously agreed to this interview which offers further clarification  of an internationally complex plot. Adriaan brings a wealth of background knowledge as evidenced by the series of events. Adriaan Verheul, ” worked as an academic with the Dutch navy, as a United Nations human rights officer and peacekeeper, World Bank official, and independent foreign affairs consultant. His work took him to conflict and disaster zones on four continents. Somehow, he ended up in the business of demobilizing rebels and soldiers after civil war.”

 What is the significance of the title A Clean Death?
Well, the idea was that the death of the Johan character would be clean, quick and painless, in contrast to some of his actions and the morality of his environment, which is dirty and corrupt. His death is pretty much the only clean thing around, as his son, who comes to collect his remains, finds out over time. Also, Johan, the expatriate, dies cleanly but some of the locals are not so fortunate, a reflection on justice in dying.

How has your professional background given you insight into the real life issues on which the story is based?
I spent about five years in countries immediately after war, or still in the throes of ethnic strife or armed rebellion. So, the inspiration for the book came out of my experience in dealing with local, often corrupt officials and rebel warlords, as well as with several international organizations, which have their own dynamics and interests. I have met with characters like Bruno, Captain Christmas or Lampuit, the morgue director, who is as pompous and corrupt as he is fat. Yet, none of the events or characters in the book are real. It’s all made up.

Why did you choose to keep the exact location of the story vague?
Not just the location, but also the ethnicity of the characters in the book. There are two reasons: one, I wanted to avoid a story about a particular country, whether it would be Congo, Uganda, or South Sudan, in order to be free of historical or geographical truths. The situations in such countries are extremely complex and I wanted to make this more about the characters than the location. Two, the horror in such countries has already given Africa a bad name, while in reality what we see are manifestations of human nature. The cruelty that happens in some places in the book, can happen anywhere, has happened everywhere, and through the vagueness, I wanted the reader to reflect on that fact.

Which character best captures your philosophy?
None. But if I would have to choose it would be Oliver, the son, who struggles a bit in understanding the environment of his father, that is so much different from the comfortable suburban environment where he had settled, and then has a hard time coming back home. I have made such transitions, back and forth, quite a few times myself.

If your book were to be made into a movie, which actors would you choose to play the lead roles?
I guess Clooney as Johan, really any thirty year old actor for Oliver, maybe Barkhad Abdi (the pirate in Captain Phillips) as Captain Christmas, Scarlett Johansson as Vashti. I am sure, however, that casting directors could do a much better job. The setting would have to be overwhelming as well, big skies, big mountains, deep forest, etc.

Tell us about your writing process and how you brainstorm ideas.
I take a long time to work on the plot and the characters, about a year. Then once I start writing I make adjustments as I go along. I change the plot to fit the character development and the other way around. Very often ideas come to me unexpectedly. I wake up at night or am under the shower and the light goes on. ‘This is what so and so should say or do and for these reasons and to this particular impact on the story.’ In a few cases, I let the text flow to a point Where I do not know what to do next, so I stop writing and wait until I have processed the next steps.

Why did you choose to end the book the way you did? In re-reading your final product, what, if anything, would you change?
I wanted the book to be realistic. Very often international interventions are incapable of bringing about change. So, in the book, change happens as a result of local, domestic dynamics. Ultimately, Johan’s murderer is perhaps an obvious suspect, but the real question is whose bidding he was doing. Things are rarely what they seem. If I would change anything, I might perhaps have a little more action in the beginning.

What message do you want to send to the world?
Unintended consequences rule the world. We, as individuals as well as the human race, do not know what we are doing. You plan one thing, the other thing happens. We invent plastic, then we destroy the ocean. You enter into a relationship and things happen that you did not predict. Johan tried to disarm Christmas’ rebels but gets sucked into corruption and gets killed. Difficult moral choices, in particular, can go disastrously wrong. At the same time, we can’t help ourselves and in order to go forward we need to make those choices. Also, I believe the story of A Clean Death has never been told through a novel, which I  believe is a much better vehicle to convey complex stories at the human level, than academic studies and official reports (which I used to write).

What story ideas for your next book are floating around your mind?
A few. I have worked on a plot for a suburban drama around a home owners association, as well as on a plot about the assassination of a third-party presidential candidate who threatens to undermine the two-party system in the US. More promising, however, is a sequel type book about a man (Oliver, perhaps) who lives in three different social worlds and has a hard time adjusting in moving among the three, trying to keep them apart. He tries to escape but he can’t. At the same time, I am translating A Clean Death into Dutch, my mother tongue.

Any final thoughts?
Thank you for doing this. It was fun to do and I hope your readers find it interesting.

 

Thank you, Adriaan, for adding insight to your work by graciously agreeing to this interview.

A Clean Death is available on Amazon in printed and digital formats. 

Please let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at author@elainedonadio.com.

I wish you all a life inspired by the wonder of the world around us. May you find and live your truth, in harmony with people, nature and the environment. May you be a force for good and a source of love and comfort. May the world be a better place for you having lived and loved here.

All rights reserved 2018

Please Borrow My Books From the Public Libraries!

Great news! Printed copies of my books can now be borrowed from Queens, Nassau and Suffolk County Libraries in New York. Request an inter-library loan!

Queens Libraries—Bay Terrace, Central(Jamaica), and Whitestone 

Nassau Libraries—Manhasset, Port Washington, Syosset

Suffolk Libraries— East Hampton, Huntington

The digital copies are available in Queens Public Library and may be available in other library systems throughout the country. If your library cannot provide access to these books, please ask them to purchase in digital or paperback formats to add to their collection.

The Science Project
The Ocean’s Way
Who Do Voodoo?
The Ocean’s Way Poetry Companion
Sojourn Into The Night—A Memoir of the Peruvian Rainforest

Happy reading! If you do decide to borrow my books from the library, please remember to write a review on the library website.

Thanks,

Elaine

Please let me know how you do. I’d love to hear from you author@elainedonadio.com.

I wish you all a life inspired by the wonder of the world around us. May you find and live your truth, in harmony with people, nature and the environment. May you be a force for good and a source of love and comfort. May the world be a better place for you having lived and loved here.

All rights reserved 2018

Save the Date: Book Signing— Barnes & Noble, Stamford , CT

Please join me!

                                  

Saturday, January 5, 2019
11:00am-6:00pm

Stamford Town Center  
100 Greyrock Place
Stamford, CT
203-323-1248

 My Book Titles
The Science Project
The Ocean’s Way
Who Do Voodoo?
The Ocean’s Way Poetry Companion
Sojourn Into The Night—A Memoir of the Peruvian Rainforest

Please visit my website elainedonadio.com for study guides aligned with state standards for science, social studies, and literacy.

All rights reserved December, 2018.

Book Review: Sadie by Courtney Summers- (YA) 5 Stars *****

Book Review: Sadie by Courtney Summers (2018) YA) 5 Stars *****

This book is an important read for women with children at home.

Holy Moly! This story is gut-wrenching like a punch in the heart when you least expect it. The book is half pod cast and half novel. The story unfolds in alternating objective pod cast format and the contrasting first person account as told by the main character, Sadie, a nineteen year old troubled girl living in a trailer park in Cold Creek, Colorado, population 800. Sadie’s thirteen year old sister, Mattie, has been murdered and Sadie knows who did it. Sadie is determined to hunt this guy down and pierce his side with a switch blade. She overcomes a myriad of obstacles to find him. “I’m going to kill a man. I’m going to steal the light from his eyes…” The story with the truth of the situation unfolds slowly.

Sadie’s mother is a deadbeat runaround—alcohol, drugs, party girl, shunning responsibility for her young daughters while bringing a long list of men home and oblivious to what’s going on. In particular, there’s Keith, as he is now calling himself, who poses as a God-fearing stand up guy when he is actually a violent pedophile who has put the moves on Sadie since she was a little girl. Why didn’t she tell her mother? Keith said he’d move on to Mattie if she didn’t keep her mouth shut. Sadie’s mom and Keith break up after he has a chance to turn his attention to young Mattie. Coincidence? As their mom abandons them, Sadie obsessively takes on the role of the caretaker of her little sister, dropping out of high school and hiding their secret from Child Protective Services. Sadie agonizes over her guilt in Mattie’s situation because Sadie refused Keith’s advances when she just couldn’t take anymore. Unfortunately, Sadie knew Keith would go to Mattie but her need to protect herself in that instant overtook her need to protect her sister. The girls are grateful for their next door neighbor and surrogate grandmother, May Beth, who provides them with food, love, and guidance. Sadie has made Mattie her life obsession, but Keith returns to the trailer park years later with intentions of victimizing Mattie. Suddenly, Mattie is dead.

Sadie disappears from the scene. A devastated May Beth enlists the help of the at first reluctant pod cast announcer/ investigator, West McCray, to find the missing Sadie. “I can’t take another dead girl.” May Beth’s words convince West McCray to follow clues across state borders to find Sadie. Sadie uncovers a covert pedophilia group and a conspiracy to help keep Keith’s many false names and identities secret. In the end, Sadie has her wish but the author leaves us with an ambiguous conclusion as to Sadie’s fate. This drove me crazy!

This book is an important read for women who invite men into their homes, especially when children of any age are left alone with these strangers. Of course, this is not true of everyone, but ladies, keep your eyes and ears open. If your kids don’t like the man in your life, they might be hiding things that are too terrible for them to share. Keep the lines of communication open.

 

Please let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at author@elainedonadio.com.

I wish you all a life inspired by the wonder of the world around us. May you find and live your truth, in harmony with people, nature and the environment. May you be a force for good and a source of love and comfort. May the world be a better place for you having lived and loved here.

All Rights Reserved 2018

Goodbye My Sweet Oliver-Rest in Peace

Yesterday our hearts were broken. My sweet GrandDog, Oliver, passed into the next realm from complications from intestinal lymphoma. He was two years old. May eternal light shine upon him…

Oliver, you will never be forgotten. I cannot imagine a day can go by without tears being shed. You will always be loved and missed. There is a hole in our hearts that can never be filled.

                                                               April 21, 2016 – December 11, 2018

Book Review: The Doorman’s Repose by Chris Raschka

Book Review: The Doorman’s Repose by Chris Raschka
4 Stars ****   (MG and YA)

It’s been ages since I’ve read a SATIRE and here is a new and modern example to serve as a model for students of writing. Not only is it entertaining, but the reader learns about the idiosyncracies of living in a doorman apartment building in the Upper East Side of Manhattan. What fun!

Satire:  the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.

Anyone who knows anything about a doorman building knows the doorman knows EVERYTHING that goes on. Packages, deliveries, visitors, daily habits are all under the nose of this very special person who presides over his realm and stands guard over those who enter. Relatives and friends of the residents become acquaintances of the doorman and in turn, all become interconnected. According to Mr. Bunchley the doorman, ” a connection is made when at least one party would feel the lack of the other.”

The funny thing, of course, is the privileged, quirky lives of the residents. Unusual demands must be addressed without upsetting anyone. The book is divided into ten stories about the doorman, crazy? or maybe not? Fred who presides over the pigeons, the requisite opera singer who loses her voice at an inopportune time, the walled up music room, the cultured, educated mice who spread their time among the different apartments and who travel to the country during the summer, the revered Number 2 elevator named Otis, the temperamental boiler, hot water for baths and tea, and the doorman’s repose—a state of rest, sleep, or tranquility—which comes after all is said and done.

The book is written with a tongue-in-cheek. So serious about nothing really. So accepting of the craziness that abounds. So true in its portrayal of this segment of New York City life.

I recommend this book to serve as a model for satire. It’s appropriate for middle grade and young adult readers. Cute. Different. Unique.

Please let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at author@elainedonadio.com.

I wish you all a life inspired by the wonder of the world around us. May you find and live your truth, in harmony with people, nature and the environment. May you be a force for good and a source of love and comfort. May the world be a better place for you having lived and loved here.

All rights reserved 2018

 

Book Review: The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore

Book Review: The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore (MG) for reading level, (YA) for content 5 Stars *****

What a terrific book for sophisticated MG and YA readers! This book is totally modern with its Harlem slang, supportive lesbian mother, mostly absent caring father with a new girlfriend, an idolized older brother who was shot to death in a nightclub in the Bronx, gang bangers who terrorize the younger, unassociated kids, conflicted desire for a better life, friends who teeter on the edge between right and wrong, friendship with an autistic girl which started out as dislike, rivalry, then evolved into a healthy cooperation to achieve excellence and fame, and a helpful community center counselor. This book has it all.

Twelve -year-old Wallace (Lolly) Rachpaul, who  lives in Harlem in the upper east side of Manhattan, is obsessed with keeping his possessions from being “confiscated” by the thugs who frequent 125 St. Despondent over the death of his twenty-year-old brother, Jermaine, Lolly begins to give up on life and loses interest in his school work. His only interest is constructing buildings with his individual Lego kits. When Steve, a young man who serves as a positive role model for the neighborhood boys, gives Lolly a book for Christmas entitled A Pattern of Architecture, Lolly is inspired to innovate. He combines all the Lego pieces, integrating the blocks from all the kits, with his imagination on fire. His mom’s girlfriend brings bags full of Lego pieces from her job at a toy factory. Ali, the counselor at the community center, encourages Lolly to build with his Legos and gives him a private room to construct the imaginary alien world of Harmonee. From this activity, Lolly utilizes math and creative writing. The other kids become involved and Lolly’s mutually beneficial relationship with autistic Big Rose begins. Lolly and Big Rose find a common area in which to gain public recognition.

At the end, Lolly is able to come to terms with his brother’s death, his parents’ separate lives, his loyalty in friendships that don’t always run smoothly, and his desire to excel in life and avoid the trappings of the life around him. Lolly tells us how much he has changed from the beginning of the story, “Since then I had learned the most important thing: the decisions you make can become your life. Your choices are you.”

 

Please let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at author@elainedonadio.com.

I wish you all a life inspired by the wonder of the world around us. May you find and live your truth, in harmony with people, nature and the environment. May you be a force for good and a source of love and comfort. May the world be a better place for you having lived and loved here.

All rights reserved 2018

Saturday, March 14, 2020- Barnes & Noble, Massapequa, NY 12:00-4:00pm

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