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: The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie

Book Review: The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie 4 Stars **** (1993, 2005, Prologue 2013) (Adult and mature Young Adult)

It’s impossible not to hear the underlying plaintive cries of this book that presents itself as a work of fiction when it captures the very essence of people who have lost their once proud cultural identity and are hardpressed to find something to replace it. This book is a collection of inter-connected short stories that won the PEN/Hemingway Award. The award winning movie Smoke Signals, released in 1998, is based on the short story “What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona” from this book.

Set in the late 20th century on an Indian reservation in Spokane, Washington, we meet a group of people beset by poverty, alcoholism, drug addiction, racism, and isolationism from the society outside their reservation. Further complicated by limited education, unstable and absent parenting and home life, a lack of positive role models, and a fear of the unknown outside world, the characters go in circles with the nothingness of their lives. Ambition and challenge are short-lived with characters reverting to their comfort zone of doing nothing and going nowhere. The reader has a sense of time standing still. Nothing changes—it only has the appearance of change.

Victor is one of the main characters of the stories. The significance of the title may revolve around him and his message. The Lone Ranger represents the white man and Tonto represents the Indians. Victor, who is a Spokane Indian, and his girlfriend, who is white, attempt to coexist and love each other but fight constantly in a doomed relationship. As with The Lone Ranger and Tonto, there is respect and appreciation for each other but the two worlds rarely overlap with their different cultures, expectations, and coping mechanisms. Neither side wants to be like the other. Add this to personal weaknesses, and in the words of Rudyard Kipling, “Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.”

The beginning chapters of this book contain some of the most beautiful, imagistic, evocative writing I’ve ever encountered with a command of language that is exceptional. As the reader approaches the end, the writing becomes inconsistent as if the author stopped trying or caring and just put anything down on paper to fill space. Is this a metaphor for the lives and human condition about which the author writes?

 

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 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: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Book Review: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (2017) 3 Stars  ***

I decided to read this book when I discovered that Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington of Scandal fame collaborated to produce this book as a mini-series on Cable TV in 2020. This book is true to Reese Witherspoon’s preoccupation with struggling mother-child relationships and women’s insecurities about how they are perceived by other women and members of the closed, competitive societies in which they live. This book reminded me so much of the dialogue in Big Little Lies, a Reese Witherspoon HBO production, that confusion ensued and I was half-way through the book before I realized that I was in fact reading a different book, although a not so very different concept. How could I confuse the two? That’s exactly my point.

The story is set in wealthy, planned, idealistically Utopian striving Shaker Heights, Ohio between 1997-1998. There were so many characters and intersecting, overlapping sub-plots that I was never sure if there was actually ever a main character. Everyone’s life, every decision, every action impacted so many others it was hard to determine who the biggest bad wolf was. Everyone had a secret. Everyone was betrayed. Everyone hid behind lies, evasions, denials. Everyone used someone to cover up or uncover things they had no business knowing or doing. Everyone made decisions and stuck their noses in other people’s business, oblivious and uncaring, creating a chain reaction that ruined people’s lives, destroyed relationships, magnified instability, encouraged chaos, and exemplified self-serving, uncommunicative, dishonest, traitorous behavior.

The significance of the title? Yes, there are little fires deliberately set at the beginning. Perhaps symbolic, little fires might also describe the characters lack of commitment for any period of time. Sparks fly initially, then die out. What doesn’t come easily is abandoned.

The ending? Three people leave town and the ones that remain continue along their merry way. Anything that was extreme and supposedly earth-shattering and heart-breaking was ignored, swept under the rug, so life went on as if nothing happened that shouldn’t have. Lose a baby? We’ll buy another one. Lose a daughter? Maybe I’ll look for her in the future when I have some time. My secret’s out? Let’s skip town and go hide somewhere else.

Nobody is accountable. No one pays the piper. Too busy running, hiding, lying, covering up, laying blame on someone else.

Is this supposed to be a learn-from- negative- events book? I don’t think so. Stereotypical characters, lacking depth and dimension. It’s way too shallow for my taste. I’m pretty sure I won’t be watching the mini-series. I resent people and characters who are careless with other people’s lives. That’s just me.

 

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 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

Book Review: Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

Book Review: Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell (YA) 4 Stars ****

Set in 1986 Omaha, Nebraska, sixteen-year-olds Eleanor and Park initially meet each other on the school bus. Eleanor, being the new kid— unattractive, ill-at-ease, poorly dressed, defensive— finds herself the butt of many jokes from the bus and school bullies. Park comes to her defense and soon develops a crush on Eleanor. Eleanor returns the feelings.

The story is told in alternating short narratives which reinforces how different these two characters are from each other. Eleanor is Caucasian, sloppily dressed, wild red curly hair, from a highly dysfunctional, poor family with four siblings and her mother’s drunken husband spreading fear on a daily basis. Eleanor’s mother tries passively to protect her children. Eleanor receives very little encouragement and often bears the brunt of her step-father’s anger which we later learn comes from sexual tension on the stepfather’s part.

Park is a handsome Caucasian-Asian, trendy, well-liked, popular, from a middle class functional family with one brother and two parents who love and respect each other. Park’s mother works as a hairdresser from her home and shares the parental power in the household. Park is guided, encouraged, and treated fairly.

What do they have in common? They both are in some Honors classes together and they share their love of music and poetry. Eleanor loves Park’s steadfast loyalty and Park loves Eleanor’s quiet strength in her difficult situation.

This is a sweet, realistic story of tentative romance demonstrating how sometimes painfully opposites attract. Chapter One starts off with a whole lot of cursing—”It so fucking does!”—”You’re full of shit.”—”Jesus-fuck…”—to name a few. Thankfully, this is not repeated in the rest of the book. The sex scenes are not explicit—mostly very tender undressing, touching, kissing—without intercourse or oral stimulation.

The reader learns that what appears to be may not actually tell the story. Secret, negative actions were attributed to the wrong people. Sometimes people don’t have choices in their lives. For example, if someone dresses “funny” it may mean that’s all they have from donations in clothing boxes, hand-me-downs, clearance merchandise. Not wearing make-up? Some parents do not allow it, so it’s not always a personal choice. You get the idea. Unless we walk a mile in someone’s shoes…

The ending, although realistic in many ways, is not satisfactory. Eleanor is sheltered but she closes herself off to contact with Park. It all hurts too much and she cannot seem to find the words except on the last page when her postcard message “just three words long.” What three words? The reader must surmise. Also, Eleanor does not share any information about her new circumstances at her uncle’s home other than she is enrolled in school to finish the last month before summer vacation. I wanted to hear more from Eleanor, but it seems she is just not capable of sharing her life. The separation from Park and her siblings is just too much to bear.

We believe Eleanor’s siblings and mother may also have been extricated from the horror they lived. For me, it’s unconscionable to show examples of neglect, abuse, and hopelessness and not give explicit information as to how these characters are given a helping hand. After all, this is a story of fiction, not real life, so I do not want to continue to unnecessarily feel the heartache for these characters when the story is finished.

 

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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