This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel
Seattle author Laurie Frankel weaves a powerful story of a family built outside the expected social constructs of 'family.' Mom is the breadwinner, an ER doctor, and dad is a writer, storyteller, and equal caregiver for their family of five, four boys and baby Claude. Yet as Claude grows, Rosie and Penn see their child as a shy, withdrawn little boy, not realizing that an extroverted, giggly little girl is dying to be seen outside the biological boundaries and rules. As the story unfolds, we see the struggles of the family to help Claude become Poppy, we hear the ongoing metaphor of dad's fairytale of Grumwald and Princess Stephanie as these characters help the children navigate life, and we become completely enveloped in this family as the scene changes from Wisconsin, to Seattle, and even to Thailand. The pressure on all the family members to keep Poppy's secret becomes unbearable, resulting in far more than what is expected. Fascinating supporting characters bring even more magic to this story: the delightful social worker, Mr. Tongo, who helps Penn and Rosie see parenting in an often hilarious yet realistic way; the quirky four boys in the family and how they embrace not only their new sister, but their own social oddities; and my personal favorite, K, the medic/nurse/refugee in Thailand who puts Claude/Poppy's life in perspective with Buddha and the multiple lives we live. As Frankel weaves the fairytale motif throughout this gorgeous book, I was in awe of her ability to show us the depth of this family; often I found myself thinking "Yep, this is exactly how a family sounds after an awkward school dance." Laurie Frankel has written a beautiful new book, coming out January 24, with an author visit at Village Books here in Bellingham on January 27. I will be in the front row, ready to applaud this incredible story of what makes us family, and of the message to love and accept and not to judge and condemn.
The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill
Written in 2007 by a Canadian writer, this book won numerous awards and critical acclaims from our neighbors up north; the strength of the main character is breathtaking and inspiring. Aminata Diallo is stolen from her African village in the 18th century, after watching both her parents killed by the slavers, and experiences the horrific journey overseas to the islands off South Carolina. Working in the indigo fields, but taken in by the mistress and taught to read, Aminata has doors opened to her that are closed to the other slaves. This sweeping historical fiction covers six decades of 'Meena's' life: her work as a midwife and scribe in Charleston, her escape to New York city, the exodus to Nova Scotia of the Loyalist slaves during the Revolutionary War, the new adventures to re-settle Sierra Leone by free men and women, and her work with the London-based abolitionists at the beginning of a new century. Based on accurate and compelling historical accounts, Lawrence Hill creates a woman who is strong, intelligent, compassionate, loving, and the ultimate portrait of a survivor.
The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti
If I were to just scratch the surface, this is not my kind of book. It has guns, and I mean a lot of guns; it begins with a child shooting a gun, chapters about each of the twelve bullet holes placed on Samuel Hawley's body, and minute description of his large gun collection. However, below the surface, this is a powerful story of a wounded man, both physically and emotionally, loyalty to friends and family, and the unending search for love in this world. I honestly did not think this book would be as deep as it became; I was figuring a bang-bang, shoot-em-up thriller, but I was so wrong. The story swerves back and forth in time, spooling out the story of Hawley's life through each of his twelve wounds: his beginning steps into the criminal world, the marriage and loss of his wife, his complicated relationship with his daughter and mother-in-law, and his search for heroism. Tinti is a talented author, who uses the threads of Hercules and his twelve labors, the desire to be heroic when one is riddled with flaws, and the call of not only nature but the wisdom in the stars to show each character the way home, both literally and figuratively. Do not put this book down, do not skim the surface and think it is a thriller - dive deep and swim through this rich and exciting book. It is well worth your time.
My Last Lament by James William Brown
I had such high hopes for this book; set during an interesting time period and dealing with a different side of WWII, it unfortunately did not live up to expectations. The main lead, Aliki, tells the story of her life through a cassette tape recorder, always beginning with her current life in her village and then proceeding backwards in time to the 1940's in Greece. Brown's characterization never delves deeply enough for me to care about Aliki, nor to understand her love for Stelios, the young Jew who hides in her basement, or her relationship with Takis, a neighbor boy with serious mental issues. I kept waiting and waiting and waiting for Brown to dive in, to force me to see these characters, to wish better for them, to want them to strive for more, to cheer them to survive, yet all I felt at the end of each chapter was "Meh." Not a reason to keep turning pages, unfortunately.