Friday, March 23, 2018

March 2.0

In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills by Jennifer Haupt
It's hard to know where to start with this profoundly gorgeous book. Evocative, lyrical, powerful...this book grabs the reader by the throat and forces one to look at the survivors of the Rwandan genocide, and it doesn't let go easily as I found myself continuously thinking of this story well after turning the final page. First, the characters - oh my, the deeply complex, beautifully flushed out people who inhabit these pages: Lillian, a young girl involved in the beginnings of the civil rights movement in America, who eventually moves to Rwanda and starts an orphanage; Henry, the white man Lillian loves during a time it wasn't allowed, a photographer, a father, a wanderer, a lost man; Tucker, a young medical student who comes to Rwanda seeking meaning in his life; Rachel, Henry's daughter and grieving mother, who seeks answers about her father to fill the empty spaces in her heart; Chloe and Nadine, survivors of the genocide, living victims whose life will never be the same; and most importantly, the country of Rwanda, the land of 10,000 hills, whose land is rich with both tradition and hate, the land that needs to heal and regrow. Author Jennifer Haupt, a journalist who gathered the stories of the Rwandan survivors and wove it into a breathtakingly beautiful book, shows great talent in her debut novel. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey
Oh my, what an utterly delightful and unique book from an author I should have discovered long ago. Set in 1921, Bombay, Perveen Mistry is a young woman who works in her father's law firm as the first female solicitor in Bombay, awaiting entrance to the bar. Intensely curious as well as intelligent, Perveen's unique ability to enter purdah (the strictly secluded women's quarters of Muslim women) allows her access to a fascinating world. The three widows who live in a bungalow on Malabar Hill need help with the will of their recently deceased husband; as Perveen gets to know these intriguing women, secrecy and even murder invade the legal machinations. Woven throughout the novel is Perveen's own past history, one that involves a deeply held love, abuse, and her own experience in an orthodox Muslim household which gives her a depth of understanding far beyond the ordinary Farsi attorneys. This is a beautifully written book that showcases a strong woman, an fascinating culture, and a time period of long ago that has echoes of today. It is also a beautiful book to listen to as the narrator is quite gifted - I highly recommend it for your next long car ride:)

Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein
Janesville is the quintessential Rust Belt town: majority white, suburban/rural, dependent upon manufacturing, strong traditions, can-do spirit, and yes, the home of House Speaker Paul Ryan. Yet in the Great Recession of 2007-2008, Janesville has the rug ripped from under thousands of feet as the major employers in town (General Motors, Parker Pens, Lear Corp who made the car upholstery) all shut down. The fallout is what Washington Post journalist Amy Goldstein explores, and it is a strangely gripping read. Strange because at times I felt I was invading peoples' lives, as Goldstein follows a variety of people for years as they struggle through these hard times. Yet she also shows the other 'side' of Janesville as the bank president and other leaders of the community experience and see the destruction of jobs in a completely different light. I came to better understand the frustration with both political parties as Janesville was promised, lied to, and deceived as the people tried to recapture their jobs of yesteryear, a time of high salaries, good health insurance, and dependable pensions, a time that was never to come again. This was a fantastic listen with a great narrator and an inside look at how the recession almost destroyed a community.

White is the Coldest Colour by John Nicholl
The premise of this book is unfortunately quite topical: a respected doctor in a Welsh community preys on young boys, yet the police, child protective services, and parents have a hard time believing such an upstanding citizen could be a monster. The author uses a variety of story strands to tell the story: police detectives investigating a pedophile ring in the area; a family in crisis with a young son who needs counseling; a social worker that knows what is going on yet cannot inform a friend to remove his son from the doctor's care; and the creepy, insane, evil doctor. The problem I had with this book is what I would call "unrealistic predictability.' Instead of focusing on how deft and insidious many pedophiles are at grooming their young victims, the main focus is more on the unraveling of this doctor, as we watch the wheels go spinning off in remarkable fashion as the police close in. The psychiatrist does insanely ridiculous things, yet it seems almost how it goes in this book. The family story is the most compelling, as the parents try to get past an affair and mend their family. The creepy doctor is such a flat character, who shows only his evil side in the telling of this book, that it is impossible to believe anyone in this town would have liked and respected him. And as far as the doctor's own damaged that the ending is completely unrealistic. Potential here, but a miss for me.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Marching Into Spring Reading

The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton, Bryan Stevenson, and Lara Love Hardin
Powerful. Heart-wrenching. Inspirational. Anger-inducing. Hopeful. In other words, this is a "do not miss" book to read. Told by an innocent man who spent thirty years on death row in an Alabama state prison, this book will do what Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson did; it will shake you to the core, make you question the idea of 'justice' in America, and give you hope that regardless of what society does to a person, it is still possible to be human. Ray Hinton was a 29 year old man who was just cutting his mom's lawn one day when he was arrested; subsequently convicted by a white prosecutor, white judge, and all white jury, through his words Ray shows us life on death row, the choices he makes to turn from bitterness to compassion, and the incredible help he gets from Bryan Stevenson and the Equal Justice Initiative to fight for his release. It is a rare book that can make one rage one moment, cry the next, and then squeeze one's heart to produce an incredible admiration for one human; The Sun Does Shine is that rarity. It is a perfect choice for a book club, a person interested in social justice, but more importantly, it is the must-read book for someone who thinks they know everything about how justice works in America and is willing to let the blinders be ripped off their eyes.

Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney
Hold onto your black, twisted, psychological thriller hat - this book is a DOOZY! Heck, just look at the title. The main character, Amber, is in a coma, she believes her husband has fallen out of love with her, and yes, sometimes she lies.  And that is just the beginning. Told in three different time periods, debut author Feeney does a masterful job of stringing the audience along: Amber's story of "Now," as she experiences her present coma and all the visitors to her hospital room; Amber's story of the previous week prior to her car accident that precipitates the coma; and diaries from a long-ago childhood that tell of a poverty-stricken, loveless, abusive childhood and her best friend. An ex-boyfriend makes an appearance, while the husband and sister play pivotal parts, making one wonder what happened in this 'idyllic' adult life. The red herrings along the roadside are thick and plentiful, and you will find yourself crashing against them throughout the pages of this short, crisp, well-told thriller. I began this book on a Saturday morning, and closed the cover that same night while my husband wondered if my nose was ever going to rise from the pages. It is that kind of book. It will make a reader question the narrator (is she reliable or is she stringing us along?), question the ending (did this really just happen or did I miss something earlier?), and question when the next book by this author is coming out. In other words, this book is a HIT.

The Plea by Steve Cavanagh
This is one of the best legal thrillers I have read since I turned the first page of The Firm by John Grisham. And no, I am not exaggerating; it is seriously that good. Cavanagh, an Irish writer who nails the New York voice of his main character, Eddie Flynn, knows how to fully development all his characters so that one can root, laugh, and worry for them. Eddie is a lawyer on the seamy side of NYC, but really, he's a conman, raised by a father who knew how to run a good grift, but taught Eddie to only run a con on corrupt people who deserve to be cheated, not on good humans who are just trying to survive. Yes, Eddie is that kind of main character; he is corrupt when he needs to be, wily as a fox, loyal to the core, and has a moral center that I wish more people had. Eddie loves his wife, and she is being threatened as this book begins. He must get a young dotcom techie billionaire to plead guilty to murdering his girlfriend in order for Eddie to get his wife out of the trouble she's in. But what happens if Eddie senses that the billionaire is incapable of being a killer? And the chase begins...the chase to the truth, the chase for who the real bad guy is, and the chase for all the pieces in this puzzle to find their place. I could not put this book down; it kept me voraciously turning pages late into the night. I just need this publisher to hurry up and get the subsequent sequels into print here in America.

All the Beautiful Girls by Elizabeth J. Church
The description of this book was a bit deceptive, in my opinion. Touted to be a book about a resilient girl, faced with adversity, who heads to Las Vegas in the 1960's to be a costume-wearing, dripping with jewels and feathers, showgirl, I would say this book is far more about the sexual abuse of a child, in great detail, and her battle against a variety of demons, both exterior and interior, to find some peace. Yes, there's some intriguing scenes that beautifully describe the showgirl lifestyle, the stars of the 60's club scene, and the rampant drugs and free sex of the 60's era. With that said, it is an admirable plot idea, that fell flat for me. Lily (aka Ruby Wilde in Vegas) is fairly likable, but thinly drawn; I did not find myself rooting for her as much as I should have, as I did not have a deep sense of who Lily actually was as a young girl, or as a grown woman. Complexity in characterization all around was lacking for me. And while I understood the focus on physical beauty in the Vegas showgirl life, if I heard one more time that Ruby was devastatingly gorgeous, I was going to yack. Every plot 'twist' was pretty predictable, with very little to keep my interest. I would recommend The Clay Girl by Heather Tucker if you want to read about complex characters dealing with serious child abuse and the heroic avenues a young girl will go to in order to save herself. This one was a miss for me.