Book Review: Long Bright River by Liz Moore

Book Review: Long Bright River by Liz Moore (2020) 5 Star *****

This is one of those books that will stay with you for the rest of your life. A police procedural and depressing family saga rolled into a compelling story of love, neglect, abandonment, betrayal, drug addiction, hopelessness, personal weakness, suspicions, and lack of trust, leads us to our main character, Philadelphia Police Officer Michaela (Mickey) Fitzpatrick, emotionally bereft, overwhelmed by responsibility and fears, grappling to find a safe place to call home for herself and her young son. Having virtually never felt reciprocal love while growing up, Mickey finds it difficult to maintain relationships. Mickey and her drug addicted sister were raised by their cold, aloof, hyper-critical, neglectful grandmother after the drug death of their mother and abandonment by their father. Always hungry and cold, inappropriately dressed and most often left to fend for themselves, these sisters struggle through life in what becomes a tug-of-war between adherence to rules and laws and the mean streets of drug ravaged Northeast Philadelphia. Unfortunately, both girls become victims to the predators of the community and streets. Often trusting the wrong people and dismissing the right ones, it’s hard to identify the wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Mickey becomes obsessed by the search for her missing sister. Is she the latest, but maybe yet not found, victim of a serial killer targeting drug-addicted young girls of the street?  Her attempts to solve these crimes and capture the perp, lead Mickey down a path of police cover-up, suspicious behavior, and mistrust of commanding officers, as well as those she once considered friends. This lack of trust irreparably damages Mickey’s relationships. The community does not know what to believe. As these things go, the top brass turns the tables on Mickey so that she is now under investigation by Internal Affairs.

The book is well-written with simple sentences and language, with chapters alternating between past and present. Instead of using quotation marks ( ” ” ) around dialogue, the author uses a dash ( – ) before each line where the character speaks, but does not use punctuation to separate ideas within these lines. It’s a simple technique for the author, but perhaps confusing for the reader.

The author makes a point to show how there is often honor among the down-and-out population of the streets. They can be believed. They know the truth, but can be reluctant to express it for fear of personal safety. Many desperately want to stop their downward spiral, but the pull of the drugs and the pain of withdrawal require great strength with a strong and constant support system. Many of the victims of the street lost the love and encouragement of their family and friends years ago.

Significance of title: The long bright river is where the spirits of these victims of the street congregate en masse with bright shining faces begging not to be forgotten.

Happy ending? Many misconceptions, hidden agendas, lies, and manipulations come to light. Relationships are examined, but not trusted. Truth is revealed, but not accepted. Explanations are given, but not believed. The truth is when kids are emotionally abused, they grow up hating themselves, not their abusers. We cannot shed the negative messages of our childhood. They rear their ugly heads when we least expect it—always the reminder of what we fear is the real us that we try to keep hidden from the world.

Things are resolved, but no happy ending here.

 

Please let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at elainewrites@earthlink.net

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 2020

 

Book Review: Long Bright River by Liz Moore

Book Review: Long Bright River by Liz Moore (2020) 5 Star *****

This is one of those books that will stay with you for the rest of your life. A police procedural and depressing family saga rolled into a compelling story of love, neglect, abandonment, betrayal, drug addiction, hopelessness, personal weakness, suspicions, and lack of trust, leads us to our main character, Philadelphia Police Officer Michaela (Mickey) Fitzpatrick, emotionally bereft, overwhelmed by responsibility and fears, grappling to find a safe place to call home for herself and her young son. Having virtually never felt reciprocal love while growing up, Mickey finds it difficult to maintain relationships. Mickey and her drug addicted sister were raised by their cold, aloof, hyper-critical, neglectful grandmother after the drug death of their mother and abandonment by their father. Always hungry and cold, inappropriately dressed and most often left to fend for themselves, these sisters struggle through life in what becomes a tug-of-war between adherence to rules and laws and the mean streets of drug ravaged Northeast Philadelphia. Unfortunately, both girls become victims to the predators of the community and streets. Often trusting the wrong people and dismissing the right ones, it’s hard to identify the wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Mickey becomes obsessed by the search for her missing sister. Is she the latest, but maybe yet not found, victim of a serial killer targeting drug-addicted young girls of the street?  Her attempts to solve these crimes and capture the perp, lead Mickey down a path of police cover-up, suspicious behavior, and mistrust of commanding officers, as well as those she once considered friends. This lack of trust irreparably damages Mickey’s relationships. The community does not know what to believe. As these things go, the top brass turns the tables on Mickey so that she is now under investigation by Internal Affairs.

The book is well-written with simple sentences and language, with chapters alternating between past and present. Instead of using quotation marks ( ” ” ) around dialogue, the author uses a dash ( – ) before each line where the character speaks, but does not use punctuation to separate ideas within these lines. It’s a simple technique for the author, but perhaps confusing for the reader.

The author makes a point to show how there is often honor among the down-and-out population of the streets. They can be believed. They know the truth, but can be reluctant to express it for fear of personal safety. Many desperately want to stop their downward spiral, but the pull of the drugs and the pain of withdrawal require great strength with a strong and constant support system. Many of the victims of the street lost the love and encouragement of their family and friends years ago.

Significance of title: The long bright river is where the spirits of these victims of the street congregate en masse with bright shining faces begging not to be forgotten.

Happy ending? Many misconceptions, hidden agendas, lies, and manipulations come to light. Relationships are examined, but not trusted. Truth is revealed, but not accepted. Explanations are given, but not believed. The truth is when kids are emotionally abused, they grow up hating themselves, not their abusers. We cannot shed the negative messages of our childhood. They rear their ugly heads when we least expect it—always the reminder of what we fear is the real us that we try to keep hidden from the world.

Things are resolved, but no happy ending here.

 

Please let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at elainewrites@earthlink.net

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 2020

 

Book Review: Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center

Book Review: Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center (2019) 3 Stars *** (Adult, YA)

Feisty, accomplished, self-motivated twenty-six year old Austin, Texas firefighter Cassie Hanwell starts out with a bang when she clocks sleazebag Heath Thompson, City Council Member, in the jaw, leaving him with a concussion, when he surreptitiously grabs Cassie’s arse while presenting her a valor award at a public awards dinner. Needless to say, Cassie’s once meteoric rise on the road to lieutenant is derailed.

Fate has a way of sometimes opening doors before the last one has slammed itself closed. At her long-hated, estranged mother’s timely, insistent request, Cassie opts to move out of state to picturesque Rockport, Massachusetts to help her  mother who is losing her eyesight, realizing a one year’s absence will help tempers cool and allow her to get back on her horse in the future, so to speak. Fire Captain Harris, after admonishing tomboy, loner Cassie not to giggle, cry or wear lipstick (a totally unnecesassry move), uses her connections to secure Cassie a position in a fire house near her new home. First day at her new job, guess who gets gobsmacked by the hot, sweet, chivalrous rookie Owen? Let’s not leave out the hazing endured by both newbies by this apparently supportive, congenial, fun-loving group. Cassie has multiple opportunities to flex her muscles and display her superior intelligence. She must constantly prove she’s one of the guys, and she does, and wins, of course.

I’m not a fan of romance novels, although I adore love stories like Dr. Zhivago, Out of Africa or even Ghost. This book doesn’t do it for me. Shallow, immature situations, dialogue, actions, and reactions. Sugary sweet forgiveness theme after serious betrayal. This is exemplified by the “bad firefighter” being invited to the parties after he does a number on Cassie and Owen. Also, while Cassie’s mother suddenly abandoned her and her father on Cassie’s sixteenth birthday, when she runs away with the man of her dreams, penitent mom now explains that she was never guilty of betrayal, only abandonment, and both Cassie and her dad are comforted by this news. (???) (Huh?) The Epilogue abruptly closes the most important plot points of the book, which deserve full development, rather than a cursory mention. Was the author meeting a deadline commitment?

This book is so lightweight that it is also appropriate for young adult readers. Lessons learned: Women can be as tough as men. Firefighters, even those whose weaknesses and sorrows may temporarily lead them astray, live by a special code of honor, and always forgive those who have trespassed against them.

“I forgive you for all of it. I forgive you.”
“Why the hell would you do that?”
“Because that’s who I want to be,” I said.

What are the things that are saved in this fire? Nothing that can be put in a box!

 

 

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 2020

Book Review: Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover

Book Review: Educated : A Memoir by Tara Westover (2018) 5 Stars *****

Told from a heart broken by wretched memories, the story begins with seven year old Tara and takes us through adulthood. Born and raised in the remote mountains of Idaho in an extreme Mormon fundamentalist/survivalist family, Tara learns to hate herself as she and her family wait for the End of Days. Even after all of her successes, it takes her many years until she can accept herself as deserving of the opportunities and accomplishments afforded her. Carrying emotional and physical scars throughout her life, we see once again that when a child is abused by a loved one, they do not grow up to hate that person, they grown up to hate themselves. The truth is: We never truly escape our upbringing, no matter how far or how fast we run.

The family does not believe in birth certificates, hospitals, doctors, insurance, public education, western medicines, supermarkets, cleaning, organizing, or questioning patriarchal authority. The children are primarily home-schooled to a point, but the education stops before they are reading, writing and doing basic math problems at a level of literacy. Tara is seventeen years old until she attends a school full time. The siblings are divided in their desire to be educated. Three of them, including Tara, desire higher education and life’s work outside of their parents’ closed world. Tara’s father is more accepting of this decision for his sons, but believes Tara’s aspirations are the work of the devil and an abomination against the Mormon religion. Tara is called a whore by her father whenever she expresses a desire to attend school. He does not understand or accept her desire for more than marriage and motherhood.

Tara and her six siblings are expected to work in the family businesses. Living under the thumb and in the shadow of their father’s junkyard/scrap metal and gasoline siphoning businesses occupies their existence. The main problem with Tara’s father? He is bi-polar and unconcerned about the unsafe conditions under which he forces even his young children to work. He refuses to allow protective helmets, heavy gloves, proven-safe equipment, or methodical procedures. He forces them to work with flammables as he unconcernedly uses acetylene torches and other igniters nearby. He even forces ten year old Tara to ride on top of a pile of junk as he dumps it and Tara into a container, impaling her leg with a metal spike. As a result, his children suffer broken bones, burned bodies, brain damage, scarred and disfigured faces and body parts, and loss of limbs and fingers. Name calling destroys self-esteem. Threats of physical violence, not only from Tara’s father but also from one of her bi-polar further brain- damaged- from- accidents brothers, destroys aspirations.

Tara’s father’s stubborn decisions resulted in two serious car accidents while returning to Idaho from a family visit to Arizona. He decided twice to make the long journey by driving through the night. Tara’s father forced one of his sons to drive despite protestations of fatigue. Tara’s mother was seriously brain damaged during this first accident. Even after the tragic events of this first time decision, Tara’s father demanded the same departure from their second trip even though they would be driving into dangerous white-out blizzard conditions. Their car went off the road and the family received serious injuries once again. His reaction? Not his fault. Not a bad decision at all. Things happen.

The main problem with Tara’s mother? Tara’s mother is a celebrated mid-wife and herbalist/healer which serves to bring in most of the family income. Self-centered. No backbone. Untrustworthy. Manipulative. Although she sees the cruel exploitation her husband imposes on her children, she does little to stop him. To add insult to injury, she has a different story for each person she speaks with. She promises her children to back them up, then recants and plays a bait and switch and presents the opposite of the truth to extended family members. She backs up her husband, no matter what.

Somehow, Tara works her way to success by part-time jobs, independent study, self-teaching, attending classes and schools of higher education. Tara receives a lot of help from college professors—guidance, advice, scholarships, grants, and other financial aid, opportunities to study abroad and eventually is graduated from Cambridge in England as a brilliant scholar, and goes on to Harvard for a PH.D. Tara also has an exceptionally beautiful singing voice which she recognizes as a gift. You would think a highly acclaimed scholar with an angelic singing voice would be able to shed her past for a sense of pride. and happiness. But, no. On paper, Tara notes her accomplishments and talents, but this intellectual assessment never makes it to her heart.

Tara is a loner and does not make friends easily. She is unsophisticated in social graces. She wears black pants and a black blouse at a black tie dinner at Cambridge, having no idea how a woman should dress for such an occasion. For many years, she bathed once or twice a week, never using soap. She became a pariah for openly not washing her hands after using the restroom. She never cleaned up after herself, threw out rotted food, washed her dishes, wore anything other than men’s oversized jeans and shirts. She smelled bad. Her home smelled bad. Although Tara knew she did not fit in, she hardly asked for guidance and persisted in being herself, believing that it was her prerogative.

Despite the emotional pain and physical threats she endures during her visits, Tara continues to visit her family periodically, attending funerals and family holiday dinners. Her parents sometimes visit her at school but it always ends badly. She often gives up hope and vacillates between achieving her goals and giving in to her father’s demands of mediocrity and conformity within his extreme belief system. Eventually, Tara walks away and does not look back until she has achieved her highest honors. The price she pays is high. She gains herself but loses her family. In time, Tara reconnects with her two education-minded brothers and an aunt. Her parents have spread the rumor that Tara is demonically possessed and that they fear for their safety. Many of the relatives accept this, so she is permanently ostracized from that group.

This is an amazing story. Hard to imagine that someone in this situation can accomplish so much. It demonstrates how outside help from powerful, well-placed people can turn a person’s life around and put them on a path to success and accomplishment. The sad thing is that Tara tells her story as a robot, lacking emotional connection to her diary entries. It reads like a newspaper account, devoid of feelings. The words are there, but the pain is buried so deep, that Tara must disassociate herself from the events. Although Tara is aware of her amazing accomplishments, she is not happy inside. The book ends as it begins with facts, not feelings. What of Tara’s personal life? It would seem she does not have one.

What was the result of Tara’s education? She now knows that discovery and knowledge do not lead to brainwashing. It’s possible to read and learn, then analyze and dismiss. Exposure does not mean acceptance. This is something Tara wishes her father could accept.

 

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

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 2020

Book Review: The Deserter by Nelson DeMille & Alex DeMille

Book Review: The Deserter by Nelson DeMille and Alex DeMille (2019) 4 Stars ****

Nelson DeMille is back in the game with a wonderful new book co-authored with his son, Alex. Remember Private Robert (Bowe) Bergdahl, the army deserter who captured our attention in 2009? Bergdahl deserted his army post in Afghanistan, where, according to Bergdahl, he was held captive, tortured and horribly mistreated by the Taliban for five years. This book uses Bergdahl’s story as a springboard to the desertion of the fictional Delta Force Army elite Captain Kyle Mercer, whose apprehension is entrusted to CID (Criminal Investigation Division) investigators Scott Brodie and Maggie Taylor. Clues to Mercer’s whereabouts lead the duo to Caracas, Venezuela, a hell hole of corruption, chaos, drug-trafficking, starvation, kidnappings, torture, executions, prostitution, and sexual enslavement of women and children alike. All I can say is this: The authors painstakingly researched their facts and spoke extensively with expats and other people who are in the know. As any fan of Nelson DeMille knows, if it’s in the book, it’s real. Period.

Why did Bergdahl desert in 2009? He says he was disgusted by his commanding officer’s inappropriate conduct. Why did the fictional Mercer desert his post in Afghanistan? He says he and other soldiers were forced to participate in campaigns to slaughter innocent civilians in attempts at pacification. Captain Mercer’s intention was to leave his post in order to report the atrocities to the higher ups. Things did not play out as he had hoped. Army investigators Brodie and Taylor, decorated veterans, experienced in the way things work in the real world, found evidence of these assertions and the subsequent cover-ups, independent of their conversations with Captain Mercer. They sympathize and identify with Mercer’s plight, but as dedicated CID officers, they are intent upon bringing him and other guilty parties to justice. Justice is served in the end, but not how the reader might expect. In real life, Pvt. Bergdahl received a dishonorable discharge from the US Army, but no jail time. Fictional Captain Mercer’s story ends with justice served in a way that makes sense for him and the other characters. The reader might ponder the question: Is there a right and wrong that can be judged when a soldier is bombarded from all sides— physically, mentally, emotionally— beyond the endurance of even the strongest among us?

Why four stars instead of five? The first one hundred pages are written in a tightly restricted style. The roughly middle third of the book starts to let loose. The last third reflects the style and characterizations we are used to seeing from Nelson DeMille. Scott Brodie increasingly becomes the wise-cracking macho man we’ve seen before in the guise of John Corey, DeMille’s most popular character. Maggie Taylor is not convincing as an army investigator. Much too quiet, submissive, fearful until the end, and not enough take charge attitude. My feeling was that these book sections were written by different people. Sure enough! After finishing the book, wanting to know how much of Mercer’s story was also Bergdahl’s story, I watched some You-Tube videos where the DeMilles discussed their collaboration. Nelson admitted he had started off with a different co-author, then switched to his son. They kept the beginning of the book as it was. It was not authentic to Nelson DeMille’s style. Sorry, Nelson, but I have been a fan for many, many years, and I knew it wasn’t you. Next time, re-write from the beginning!

 

Please let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at elainewrites@earthlink.net

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 2020

Book Review: The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna by Juliet Grames

Book Review: The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna by Juliet Grames (2019) 5 Stars *****

Every few years, we come across a book that we recognize as a work of art: a masterpiece for its writing, its story, and its truths. This is one of those books. Spanning a one hundred year period, this fictional story, based on the author’s familial experiences, captures the life, struggles, and emotional turmoil of Mariastella (Stella) Fortuna from her cursed beginnings in Ievoli, Calabria in Italy through her emigration to Hartford, Connecticut in the United States from the 1900s to the present.

The story is told in the third person by Stella’s granddaughter. The emotional anguish is so intense that the third person point of view thankfully protects the reader from a total immersion in Stella’s sorrow, frustrations, and disappointments. The book is so real and the character(s) so relatable, that I felt feisty Stella’s pain, and that of her mother, the sainted Assunta. So much emotion subtly revealed in the nearly 500 page revelation!

The often harsh patriarchal, male dominated society, the rapes, incest, psychological and physical abuses, the near starvation, the ravages and finality of disease, the injustice and absurdity of being ruled and overruled by men who operate without intelligence and with purely selfish motives both on the political front as well as in the home, the prejudices encountered within Italy and magnified one thousand times as experienced upon admission to the United States, paint a picture of suffering, despair, bias, suspicion and mistrust. With the traditions and laws of the land counter to the rights of women, their only recourse is to pray to God for deliverance, justice, and mercy for themselves and their young children since neither the male members of their families nor the government offer protection. The men? With everything stacked in their favor, they confiscate and squander any dowry or work savings from their wives and children with impunity. If women are lucky enough to marry a man with integrity and a brain, the family life can be blessed. If not, everyone is up the creek without a paddle. Many marriages are arranged, or since there is no dating, couples attracted to each other by beautiful, sparkling eyes across the village square are betrothed and married on their second and third meetings. Life for women is a crapshoot.

Where are the streets paved in gold rumored to abound in L’America? Disappointment and disbelief fill Stella’s heart as she views the street below her tenement building in Hartford. Instead, the streets are paved with desperate people, push carts, and shanty town shelters for the homeless.

Stella is ahead of her time. She fears the loss of her autonomy. She wants to live on her own as a single woman in charge of her own life, dependent on her earnings to cover the expenses of rent and daily life. Her father will not allow this. Stella fears marriage, sexual relations, pregnancy and childbirth. She eventually agrees to marry Carmelo, a kind, loving, patient suitor. Stella, being Stella, gives him a run for his money. I had to wonder what Carmelo saw in her to pursue her as his wife despite the cruel way she treated him. This handsome, loyal, solid citizen wanted only her and ignored the scores of eligible women who desired him as their husband. It seems that Stella got the better end of the deal.

As in most Italian families, Stella’s is a closely knit one. Her younger sister, Tina, and her mother, Assunta, are her best friends. Stella manages to live to one hundred years old despite the many scars that bear witness to the numerous near death experiences that would have killed a lesser person. How is Stella even still alive? She believes she is cursed by the ghost of the first Mariastella who died from the flu as a toddler because their miserable, neglectful, self-centered, perverted father refuses to leave his home in the bad weather to call for the doctor. Throughout most of the book, Stella believes her dead sister is jealous of her life, intelligence, and beauty and haunts her existence for living the life she should have had.

Nearer the end, Stella looks at another person as the source of the curse. A person who is always there in the nick of time to save her from certain death. A person who lives vicariously through Stella’s accomplishments and kindnesses. Are Stella’s conclusions misguided? Can negative energy create disaster in someone’s life? What happens when using protection against the evil eye doesn’t work because the culprit appears as an innocent, indispensable and loved, and is never suspected as a source of malevolence?

Each death or near death experience coincides with the natural progression of Stella’s life. Chapter headings have two titles: one for the cause of the near death and one for the corresponding stage in Stella’s life. Cognitive Development, Growing Pains, Education, Immigration, Marriage, Motherhood, Change of Life, Dementia all bring terrible physical disfigurement. Somehow, each tribulation serves to strengthen Stella rather than diminish her. She openly becomes overwhelmed near the end of her life and resorts to wine and solitude as an escape. This complex character has not come through life unscathed. Is the saying wrong? Does God give some people more than they can bear?

 

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 2020

Book Review: The Bitterroots by C.J. Box

Book Review: The Bitterroots by C.J. Box (2019) 3 Stars ***

The crime thriller of the year? Huh? This is the first time reading a book by this author, and it will be the last. Pleasant, easy to read but nothing special. I’m amazed by the number of 4 and 5 star ratings on Goodreads. You might like it more than I did. I can only share my reaction: Ho-hum.

Cassie Dewell, a former hero North Dakota cop who unjustly got the shaft, now runs her one woman private investigation agency in Bozeman, Montana. Cassie now works long, irregular hours and feels guilty about leaving her fourteen year old son in the care of her aging former hippie mother, who torments her grandson by wanting him to eat granola and care about something other than his cell phone. Cassie owes Rachel Mitchell, a family friend and criminal defense attorney, a big favor, so Cassie reluctantly goes to depressing Lochsa County in Bitteroots territory to confirm evidence in the rape case of forty-three year old family outcast Blake Kleinsasser, accused of assaulting and raping his fifteen year old niece. The Kleinsassers are a wealthy family of cold-hearted, arrogant, intimidating turds. Cassie has her work cut out for her when she arrives in this corrupt county run behind the scenes by the Kleinsassers through the puppet sheriff and his department flunkies.

A string of civil rights violations, threats of violence, virtual kidnapping, false imprionment, breaking and entering, confiscation of personal property, attempts at murder do not deter Cassie from her goal. Not only is she broke, but she doesn’t have much in the brains department as evidenced by how many times she refuses to go home while she is still alive, rather than in a body bag. Is Blake Kleinsasser really guilty or did his family fabricate a story and supply dubious proof of Blake’s guilt? Eldest son. Inheritance edicts. Cassie now has her doubts.

The Bitteroots are part of the mountain chain which make up the Rocky Mountains. I believe the title reinforces the idea of solid barriers to relationships, sibling rivalry and anti-social behavior as endemic to this family, right to its core, from the grandfather, to his sons, grandsons, granddaughter and great granddaughter. Oh, and the mother of this battling crew is an apt learner. Hint: The men are overt but the women are covert. That’s all I’m saying. No spoilers, please.

With all of this, the characters are flat and stereotypical. Relationships are sprung on us without any foreshadowing. Some bad guys are suddenly good and some good guys are suddenly bad. The story lacks suspense. The ending is like an epilogue although not entitled as such, leaving the reader wondering the fate of some endearing characters like Ben, the sweet lady in the jail, and Jody Haak. They were betrayed but their resolutions were not offered. And what about the wacky hippie grandma? Isn’t she entitled to a nodding goodbye?

 

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 2020

Book Review: The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz (YA) (MG)

Book Review: The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz (2016) (Young Adult) (Middle Grade) 4 Stars ****

This book is a take-off on The Canterbury Tales. Set in France in 1242, we are told the story of three amazing children and a dog by a variety of characters, each of whom adds a section to the story. The book is compelling, with many messages on many different levels. The sometimes bawdy humor and double entendres with the intense story line may be more appropriate for a Young Adult reader. Any fan of medieval history will be enthralled by this story. Many events and characters are based on historical facts and people who actually lived, but the author does take liberties with combining story elements for dramatic effect.

Jeanne, Jacob, William, and Jeanne’s reincarnated greyhound Gwenforte travel as a group to Mont Saint-Michel to eventually stop a book burning of some 20,000 Jewish books, including Torahs, as ordered by King Louis IX and the Queen Mother. Initially running for their lives, the children meet up, finding comfort in one another. They encounter problems and people in trouble along the way. Each child uses a special power to save the day: Catholic Jeanne—visions of the future and a steadfast heart; Jewish Jacob—the healing power of prayer and herbs; part-Muslim, part Christian William—his super strength and unusually large size; reincarnated Gwenforte— the ability to protect Jeanne. As the populace becomes aware of the powers of this group, some believe them to be saints and others, especially the king’s forces, believe them to be agents of the devil. Separated from their parents by violence, each child must rely on strength of character, cunning, cooperation, good luck, and the help of the other children and a powerful adult.

In the end, returning to their families is not an option. Jeanne, Jacob, and William go their separate ways to live out their lives and fulfill their destinies.

The story is compelling and well told. I’m not sure about the attention span o middle grade readers on this on. Probably, twelve and up would be a more suitable age even though the book is labeled as middle grade. It was somestimes difficult to know which character was telling the tale at a specific time. I often had the feeling that the author was giving hints as to a secret identity since there was often a lot of evasiveness in answering questions of validity of knowledge.

This book encourages God, religion, cooperation and acceptance among the different faiths, and the concept that a few bad people in a religion or government should not condemn the whole group. I do recommend it, especially in our world of intolerance for those who do not believe as we do.

 

Please let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at elainewrites@earthlink.net

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 2020

Book Review: The Girl Who Could Not Dream by Sarah Beth Durst (Middle Grade)


Book Review: The Girl Who Could Not Dream by Sarah Beth Durst (2015) (Middle Grade) 2 Stars **

Cutesy! Inappropriate! Help! I’m trapped in the land of too, too cute for words but at the same time, a creepy story with creepy characters who invade dreams and kidnap, bind and gag little girls and set kidnapped creatures against each other to fight to the death. What??? Picture stepping into a toddler’s My Little Pony show mixed with a violent video game meant for tough twelve year old boys. There’s a big contradiction for me. This book is labeled middle grade, but it is written on the level of an easy reader. The character is a twelve year old girl, but I cannot see how any twelve year old reader can be enthralled by this story.

By the way, I found this book on a list of often-read, most requested books. This scares the heck out of me!

This book is saccharine sweet but angry at the same time. This age group should not read about writhing in fear, bound and gagged little girls, but at the same time, what 10-12 year old modern kid wants to read about sparkly flying ponies with names like Glitterhoof, friendly Monster and smelly monsters, and countless furry pink bunnies as the rescuing army of the kidnapped parents and hapless children and creatures imprisoned in cages. “Come along, children and furry things,” Glitterhoof said as he trotted up the stairs. This is how the rescue party begins their quest in a middle grade book?! ? How is this appropriate reading for this age group?

The plot: Twelve year old Sophie lives with her parents in a three story building which houses The Dream Shop, a book store on the ground level, an illegal dream store in the basement, and two uppermost floors with the family living quarters. Sophie’s parents distribute dreamcatchers to each customer who purchases a book. since they offer free replacements, when the dreamcatcher is returned for repairs, the parents take it to the distillery in their basement where, unknown to their customers, it’s put through a distiller where old dreams and nightmares are liquefied and bottled for sale to people who live vicariously through the dreams of others to experience terror, adventure, heroism, happiness, success and love. Basically, we have parents who manipulate customers, steal their most private thoughts and fears, and who then benefit financially from this invasion of privacy. Sophie and her unlikely crew go on a quest to save her kidnapped parents and the girls from the clutches of Mr. Nightmare, a predator with a kind face and polite manners. In the end, it all works out (in the author’s mind).

Personally, I would not be happy for my grandchildren to read this book. Besides being a confusing conglomeration of bits and pieces from too many age groups, I find the messages to be morally bereft. In the end, there’s no remorse on the part of Sophie’s parents who continue to exploit and manipulate. This is not OK.

Maybe the author is sending a hidden message through this smokescreen of fantastical creatures? I see unresolved anger, mistrust, manipulation, suspicion, lies, and a lack of accountability. So, what’s the message? No one has a right to interfere with your dreams?  Is this the only way the author could send this message to her readers? Ho-hum.

 

Please let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at elainewrites@earthlink.net

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 2020

Book Review: Ghost by Jason Reynolds (Middle Grade)

Book Review: Ghost by Jason Reynolds (2016) (Middle Grade) 5 Stars *****

Finally! A kids book award finalist that truly deserves serious consideration. A book that excels in its story, messages, characterizations, relatable experiences, and … ta da…is well-written! Seventh-grader Castle Cranshaw, has nicknamed himself Ghost because of his now you see him, now you don’t ability to run away from danger. With a school file folder filled with examples of Ghost’s bad behavior, we have a perfect example of a kid gone wrong who has no idea how to fix himself. Two local, upstanding men serve as role models when they  literally and figuratively, save Ghost’s life.

Raised in poor, rundown Glass Manor by a loving, striving mother, lonely, troubled Ghost suffers from the memory of his now imprisoned drug-addicted father shooting at him and his terrified mother three years earlier.  Seeking refuge at the local convenience store owned by elderly, hard of hearing Mr. Charles, Ghost and his mother are hidden in the back storeroom while Mr. Charles calls the police. Ever since that horrific day, Ghost stops in daily to see Mr. Charles and to buy a small bag of his favorite sunflower seeds.

Ghost tricks the school track coach into allowing him to do a test run even though try-outs had passed. True to his name, Ghost impresses the coach with his run and, with his mother’s permission, is invited to join the track team. Mrs. Cranshaw is skeptical at first, but acquiesces after Coach Brody promises to kick Ghost off the team at the first sign of trouble in school or if his grades are negatively impacted. The daily structure and strict rules of conduct imposed on the team members turn Ghost’s life around.

This improvement in behavior comes slowly since Ghost does not know how to ignore a fight. The victim of constant teasing because of his ill-fitting clothing, cheap sneakers, bad haircut (done by his well-meaning, broke mom), lack of friends, cringe-worthy butt of jokes neighborhood, jailed attempted murderer of wife and child imprisoned druggie father, Ghost has to deal with more than he can bear. He loves his mother and knows she’s doing all she can. As a matter of fact, this hospital cafeteria lady is studying to become a nurse with online courses. This makes Ghost very proud.

Let’s get back to Ghost and his poor choices. Immediately after being allowed on the track team, Ghost manages to stay out of trouble for seventeen hours and two minutes. Ghost knows there’s a lot at stake but he can’t seem to help himself. Knowing Ghost’s background, the school principal cuts him some slack involving an altercation between Ghost and a school bully who pushes all of ghost’s buttons by reciting a list of Ghost’s most embarrassing family secrets and throwing a piece of greasy chicken at him during lunch. Coach Brody also decides to go easy on Ghost after hearing the details.

Ghost’s sneakers are old, ill-fitting and an improper choice for running track. Ghost’s shoelaces become untied during a race, causing him to trip and fall. He can barely contain his embarrassment and decides to cut down his high-tops with scissors to make it easier to run. Needless to say, this plan backfires since running is not easier and the insults and teasings come in by the truckload. In Ghost’s desperate, misguided way of thinking, now the only solution is to steal a pair of beautiful running sneakers. He manages to leave the store unaccosted, but no one is buying the story about the gift from his mother explanation.

When Coach Brody goes to the local sporting goods store to purchase new team uniforms, he is shocked to see a still photo shot from the store surveillance camera on a bulletin board showing Ghost escaping with his stolen merchandise. The coach confronts Ghost and takes him back to the store in shame and pays for the sneakers with his own credit card, a string of warnings, and much-needed lectures.

Ghost, who has not had too many people to count on in his life, begins to trust the adult males around him and to seek their counsel. He has friends, belongs to a team, and is admired by his classmates. His attitude and expectations have changed.

At the end, Ghost proudly runs a race in his new uniform and new sneakers, with his mother, aunt and cousin cheering him on from the bleachers. Who wins? No one knows. The author does not tell us. I believe the goal is to improve Ghost’s self-esteem to a point where it doesn’t matter whether or not he wins this time, because he can win in the future. Ghost is an all-around winner and we can only hope he will now follow that path through life.

 

Please let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at elainewrites@earthlink.net

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 2020

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