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 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 Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste (Middle Grade)

Book Review: The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste (2015) 5 Stars ***** (Middle Grade)

Ewww. Ughhh. Yuck. Dreadful. Frightful. Absurd. Wonderful. Fun. This is the most ooey-gooey kids book I’ve ever read. Loved it! If your middle grade reader is looking for a fright-night, this is the place! Set on a Caribbean island, “a Jumbie (JUM-bee) is the name for every bad-thinking, sneaky, trick-loving creature that comes out at night with the purpose of causing trouble.”

There are many different types of jumbies: the douens (dwens), La Diabless (LA-jah-bless), Soucouyant (soo-coo-YAH), and Lagahoo (lah-gah-HOO)” to name a few. “The jumbie crawled with ease over thick trunks and gnarled underbrush, even though night in the forest was pitch-black.” Their purpose? To disrupt, terrify, and kill, especially children who disobey their parents and wander into the forest at night or respond to the jumbies’ calling their names.

Feisty, brave, adventurous, confident, twelve year-old Corinne La Mer lives happily with her father, Pierre, after the death of her mother Nicole one year before. It is All Hallow’s Eve when the people of the island pay respects to their deceased relatives. Unwittingly, Corinne unleashes the power of Severine, the meanest jumbie that ever lived. A shapeshifter in the guise of a beautiful woman, Severine entices Pierre with her charms, while administering evil potions to change Corinne’s father into a mean, snarling, gnarling jumbie.

Corinne is befriended and helped by Dru, and the orphaned, homeless brothers Bouki and Malik, as well as the frog whose life Corinne saved at the beginning of the story. Corinne approaches the white witch for help, but her powers are waning with her advanced age and debilitated physical condition. Corinne learns the surprising truth about her mother, Severine, and her ancestry. Corinne wields her own magic with the fruit of the sweetest orange tree in the land, and the stone necklace, a gift from her mother before her death, which Corinne always wears tied around her neck. In the end, life returns to normal with a few exceptions—some happy, some sad.

This book is beautifully written with fully developed action and transitions. The author, born in Trinidad, appears to have a complete and subtle understanding of the subject. The book shows rather than tells, so we learn the characters by what they do and say. Inspired by the Haitian folktale “The Magic Orange Tree” this book contains heroes, villains, magic, tasks and deeds that must be accomplished to save the hero, her family and friends, and the community in which she lives. Our hero never seeks fame but steps up to the task when she realizes she’s the only one who can do it — the journey of the hero!

 

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 Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

Book Review: The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides (2019) 4 Stars ****

You’ll need patience to delve into this psychological mystery. The most important plot points unfold slowly while hints are given as to the surprise ending. Pay attention to the musings and confessions of the main character, Theo Faber, a forensic psychotherapist, and the admonishments (perceptions?) of Professor Diomedes,  director of the Grove, a psychiatric facility in England. Theo applies for and is given a position as a psychotherapist at this facility. He is obsessed with making the silent patient, Alicia Berenson, talk after six years of self-imposed silence after brutally murdering her beloved husband. Theo tells us, “There was no time to waste: Alicia was lost. She was missing. And I intended to find her.”

Relationships intertwine. All characters have secrets. Spouses, psychiatrists ( also psychotherapists), patients, aides, and neighbors are not as they appear. They all have complicated histories with Alicia Berenson. Each one offers up a piece of the puzzle as Theo Faber breaks rules and traditions, employing unconventional methods to get to the bottom of things. An excellent question: What truly motivates him in this seemingly impossible goal?

Alicia refuses to talk, but this formerly acclaimed artist, who has become even more popular after her scandalous act, has painted a self-portrait, entitled Alcestis, which is her non-verbal explanation for her state of mind at the time of her out of character violent episode. Looking for cluesTheo reads Alcestis, a Greek myth. “Alcestis is the heroine of a Greek myth. A love story of the saddest kind. Alcestis willingly sacrifices her life for that of her husband, Admetus, dying in his place when no one else will. An unsettling myth of self-sacrifice, it was unclear how it related to Alicia’s situation. The true meaning of the allusion remained unknown to me. Until one day, the truth came to light—”

Theo is perceived as a person with his act together. Professor Diomedes repeatedly warns him against becoming entangled with his patients so much that the barriers between them fade, and the therapist and patient become one. Theo is convinced that he is above any such danger. He is in control of all things and has no fear of any weaknesses—other than loving his wife way too much. He is obsessed with her, their relationship, her impact on his life. Hmmm.

“What?” is what you will say out loud at the ending which is quite a surprise for most readers, unless you’ve been tracking the opaque clues. This adds a pop to this book and increases its esteem. Otherwise, it might be perceived as tedious reading for some. I believe the ending makes it all worthwhile. Be patient. It’s labeled a psychological mystery for a reason.

Any fan of psychology and psychotherapy will enjoy this book. The mind often creates its own reality. Can we truly let go of our pasts and the incidents and people from our childhoods? Or do these memories stay with us, waiting for the right moment for revenge?  Hmmm.

 

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 2019

Book Review: The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen

Book Review: The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanem (2019) 4 Stars ****

We’ve got a supernova book here! Hot commodity! Steven Spielberg bought the film rights in 2017—two years before the book was finished! Shades of the movie Gaslight, and the book The Woman In the Window by AJ Finn, this psychological thriller will have you asking, in the words of Aretha Franklin’s song, Who’s Zoomin’ Who? Four stars because I often had to re-read to keep the plot points and characters straight in my mind. A lot of alternating between points of view and past and present time, made this a labor of love. A lot of work, but well worth it!

After their wedding, the couple move from Manhattan to Westchester County, a suburb of New York City. Living the life of luxury, Nellie gives up her job as a pre-school teacher/ waitress, and devotes herself to the seemingly impossible task of becoming pregnant. As time goes on, Nellie becomes fat, bored and boring, and her beloved husband finds himself a prettier, younger, less complicated and needy (he thinks) replacement. Nellie is not taking this sitting down and obsesses over interfering in the new couple’s marriage plans. Nellie’s actions are overt and covert, but she is not the only behind the scenes, in your face,  manipulator. The line forms on the right! Only Nellie’s best fried and aunt are as they appear. The rest of the cast have agendas and manage to keep their motivations and shenanigans hidden.

By the way, what is the significance of the title? Is there more than one wife? Which wife is between Character A and Character B? Is there a Character C and Character D with the same problem? Character E and Character F? Is this a theme that circulates from beginning, middle to end? Hmmm. Maybe, maybe not.

Sabotage, interference, surveillance, tapped phones, and confrontation go undetected or are sloughed off as the work of perceived enemies. Those who appear guilty are probaby not. But yet, we have Nellie and Richard competing for the role of injured party. Can you guess who the real victim is? Can you guess what motivates the perps? Can you guess how many times Richard has played out this scene? Do you know whose aborted pregnancy comes back to haunt her? Probably not. The plot is so complicated with red herrings and wild goose chases that the reader is taken off track, and must manually be put back. I’d still like to know how Steven Spielberg knew ahead of time that this would be a great book for a movie adaptation. Are the authors that good, or does Spielberg have the instincts of a bloodhound when it comes to these things?

I look forward to the movie. Any ideas for actors to play the roles? If you have anything to share, please get in touch.

 

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 2019

Book Review: The Chestnut Man by Soren Sveistrup

Book Review: The Chestnut Man by Soren Sveistrup (2018) 4 Stars ****

A shining example of the Nordic Noir, also Scandi Noir, genre, this Scandinavian fiction crime novel hits all the elements. If you’re a fan of The Dragon Tattoo series, you’ll love this book. Set in Copenhagen, Denmark, Detectives Thulin and Hess are assigned to a guesome murder case which soon is recognized as the work of a serial killer with ties to a an abduction/ presumed murder of a twelve year old girl the previous year. This girl is the daughter of a high ranking government official, so no stone is left unturned in the investigation. Although no body is ever found, a local psychopath confesses to the crime, and is imprisoned in a psychiatric hospital. This new serial murderer leaves a token of his presence—a small doll made of chestnuts and matchsticks—at the scene of every crime. It is said of the chestnut man, “If you find one, he’s already found you.”

The detectives look to the imprisoned killer for help in solving the case. This manipulative, lying psychopath is no help, but the detectives follow the until now, overlooked leads, which very slowly unlock the mystery. The victims are deemed neglectful or abusive mothers by their killer. Although no evidence of mistreatment is evident to outside observers, the killer accuses them as such, and upon deeper police investigation, the truth comes out. The victims die a horrible, torturous death as punishment for their sins against their offspring. The exception to this rule is the government official who apparently does not fit the stereotype. So, what’s her story? Lots of red herrings to distract the reader forn the truth. Lesson learned: Beware of high ranking officials who don’t have to account for their time and whose decisions seem counterproductive to the task at hand.

The detectives demonstrate a classic push and pull, unrequited sexually tense, love/hate relationship—swinging from cooperation and respect for their partner’s strengths to impatience and secrecy in following leads and sharing theories. Impatient, aloof, ambitious, single mother Thulin resents being paired with Hess, a methodical, outside-the-box thinker, a reject from Europol who has been sent to Denmark as punishment for some previous professional mistakes. Although not usually working together, each one manages to bring the case closer to resolution. When push comes to shove, their underlying loyalty to each other is proven when they endanger themselves to save the life of the other.

Typical of its genre, language is simple and direct without descriptive or literary techniques to detract from the facts. Chapters vary in length: the short ones used for chase scenes and excitement, long ones for explanation or narrative.

The story is told from the detectives’ point of view. Both are main characters but not clearly defined as such. The landscape, weather, and mood are dark, reflecting the sad events but also indicative of the struggle, disappointments, and unhappiness of the detectives who soldier on, despite their internal conflicts. Their hearts are broken from their past and present lives, but they do their jobs for the good of society and for the victims and their families. The outside bleakness mirrors the bereft interiority of the detectives. Nordic Noir contrasts society’s veneer of a simple, controlled life with the underlying sub-culture of sexual misconduct, murder, anger and other strong emotions leading to grotesque murder.

A combination of police procedural and psycho thriller, this genre is not for everyone. Although it always contains vicious and anti-social behavior, the lack of emotional language allows the reader to be one step removed, so that the depraved events are presented in an objective, factual manner, allowing the reader to be a casual observer rather than pulled into the emotions of the scene. I would say this technique of unemotional language makes the violence more palatable.

 

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 2019

Book Review: Quantum by Patricia Cornwell

Book Review: Quantum by Patricia Cornwell (2019) 2 Stars  **

Patricia, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! You screwed up. No nice way to say this. Maybe you got tired of your hugely popular character, Dr. Kay Scarpetta? Did you think your readers had enough of her and didn’t want to read about her investigative crime solving role as a medical examiner? No, no, and no! Send this new character, Capt. Calli Chase, back to cardboard land—send all her associates with her—and forget about any sequels, prequels, or whatever. Get back to what you do best. Yes, I know Dr. Kay was surrounded by haters, liars, saboteurs, competitors, frustrations, and disappointments. It pained me that every person in her life—beloved husband and niece included—lied to her, kept important things from her, manipulated and used her. But, hey, Patricia, you created these relationships! Then you transferred the same horrendous personal relationships to Captain Calli Chase! Your mistrust of people, women in particular, is apparent.

Back to Quantum and Capt. Calli Chase. NASA pilot, quantum physicist, cyberscience investigator, potential astronaut candidate starts off investigating the possible security breach involving a rocketship soon headed to outerspace from Langley Mission Control, Virginia. Calli and her supervisor/good friend, Fran, go to  investigate the beeping alarm, but no evidence of the problem can be found by Calli. We have two miltary, gun-toting women, but Fran is afraid of dark tunnels where the alarm is beeping, has anxiety attacks, and refuses to enter the place of the possible breach, yada, yada, yada. Can you believe this? Calli is an even more superior woman because her boss is a total waste. PUHLEEZE! By the way, the reader never finds out the cause of the breach. Lots of internal musings, but no answer. It appears the author intends to answer this and other pertinent questions in her next novel. ( I won’t be reading it.)

Calli and her identical twin sister, Carme (pronunced Karma) are the only offspring of two genius career military types. ALL of them are secretive, noncommunicative, aloof, and often MIA without explanation. As children and teenagers, Calli and Carme would exchange identities for fun without being caught. Calli believes Carme may have breached the dark tunnel without leaving any trace. But, maybe not. Dick, the head honcho and Calli’s dear long-time friend, suspects Calli might really be Carme, so doesn’t trust her with any information. Since Carme is MIA and no one seems to know where she is or if she’s in danger, Calli is worried, but maybe not, since they are competitors for the one astronaut opening, and Carme has undermined and tricked Calli repeatedly in the past. Maybe Dick knows, but he’s not talking. Maybe Calli’s mom or dad know, but they’re not talking. Fran says she doesn’t know, but maybe she’s not being truthful.

In the end, the rocket is launched successfully with a glitch in the system which is corrected in the nick of time by an unseen, unknown person. Carme? Maybe, maybe not.

Instead of developing the main character, the author spent two years studying every technical piece of information about rocket launching and put everythig in the first one hundred pages of the book! An experienced author such as this should know better than to do this. Callie is not relatable or a sympathetic character. The book reads more like a text book than a novel. There is no conclusion other than the rocket launched. By the way, I was 75% through the book before I realized that the possible rocket launching sabotage was THE problem in the book. So many loose ends and so many extraneous, beside the point space fillers!

I found myself skipping paragraphs to move myself along. The book is written in the first person, so Calli’s musings made her appear neurotic—almost an incomprehensible stream of consciousness at times—back and forth between her thoughts and the almost non-existent action around her. The story takes place mostly inside Calli’s head—not a desirable place to be.

The author does not do well with laborious research resulting in a truckload of facts. She becomes bogged down by them and loses her creativity. She did the same thing with her book about Jack the Ripper. So much disturbing research, by the author’s admission, depressed her and was transferred to the tone and content of that book, as well as into her personal life. It would seem the weight of the facts overwhelmed Patricia Cornwell in this book also.

 

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 2019

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