Welcome to my blog where I share my book reviews
and life along the winding road

Friday, November 8, 2019

The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates

The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coats is a dramatic story about the life of a slave, the underground railroad and the atrocities inflicted on what he calls tasked workers.

The novel is well written and brings to light the plight of slaves living on Virginia plantations, but even in the north freemen are abducted and sold to southern landowners. Hiram, the main character, also has a confusing life as he is the son of a slave but his father was the plantation owner. The title, Water Dancer, comes from his mother's ability to dance while balancing a water vessel on her head.

There was always a fear of the slaves being sold themselves or losing their children and families. This became an even greater fear as the Virginia tobacco plantations hit on hard times when the soil was depleted of nutrients and minerals and the tobacco crops began to fail.

There is also a thread of magic/mystical power running through the book (referred to as conduction) in which Hiram was able to travel from one place to another supernaturally when remembering certain events - I didn't think this enhanced the story and in some ways spoiled it. Hiram also connected with Moses/Harriet Tubman who was showed as also having the gift of conduction.

You can read an excerpt here

Friday, November 1, 2019

Lethal White by Robert Galbraith

A pseudonym for J.K. Rowling, the first I heard of Robert Galbraith was when J.K. Rowling's secret was exposed by an indiscreet wife of one of Rowling's attorneys. Lethal White is part of a series but I didn't find it necessary to read the prior novels first. The characters quickly took shape.

As most of you know, I prefer novels/mysteries to be less than the number of pages of War and Peace, but like the Harry Potter series, Lethal White is over 600 pages! This is not a fast moving hard-boiled crime mystery, so be patient, it will take a while to saunter to the crux of the story.

From the cover:
When Billy, a troubled young man, comes to private eye Cormoran Strike's office to seek help investigating a crime he thinks he witnessed as a child, Strike is left deeply unsettled. While Billy is obviously mentally distressed, and cannot remember many concrete details, there is something sincere about him and his story. But before Strike can question him further, Billy bolts in panic. 

Friday, October 25, 2019

The Reckoning by John Grisham

John Grisham has been a long time favorite author of mine and The Reckoning was another great read. 

Pete Banning is a decorated World War II hero, and the patriarch of a prominent family, but one morning he drove into town, walked into the Methodist Church and shot the Reverend Dexter Bell. The last words Dexter Bell spoke were "if this is about Lisa, I can explain." He wasn't given a chance to explain and that hovers heavily over the whole story. The story unfolds after World War II and covers the courtroom drama of Pete Banning, interspersed with Jim Crow South injustices and a detailed look into Pete Banning's torture and survival in the war torn Philippians. It isn't until the last few pages that we find out Dexter Bell's involvement with Pete's wife, Lisa.

Friday, October 18, 2019

The Story of Arthur Truluv by Elizabeth Berg

Those we consider family aren't necessarily the ones we are born with and Elizabeth Berg, in The Story of Arthur Truluv, puts together a mismatch of people who are each looking for love and mourning the loss of someone.

I'll start off by saying that this is going on my list of favorite reads for this year and I think would open up a lot of conversation for book clubs. The only addition I wish had been in the book is recipes for Lucille's delicious concoctions.

From the cover:
For the past six months, Arthur Moses's days have looked the same: He tends to his rose garden to Gordon, the cat, then rides the bus to the cemetery to visit his beloved late wife for lunch. The last thing Arthur would imagine is for one unlikely encounter to utterly transform his life.
Eighteen year old Maddy Harris is an introspective girl who visits the cemetery to escape the other kids at school. One afternoon she joins Arthur - a gesture that begins a surprising friendship between two lonely souls. . .   

Note: This reminded me a little of A Man Called Ove, but without the grumpiness!

Friday, October 11, 2019

Theodore Boone by John Grisham

Although Theodore Boone, Kid Lawyer by John Grisham is not an adult mystery, it nevertheless is a great read for teens and adults alike. After reading a few intense novels, I often turn to a young adult book for a less involved story and the Theodore Boone series is a great one to pull out and an enjoyable story for those of us who like courtroom dramas.

From the cover:
In the small city of Strattenburg, there are many lawyers, and though he's only thirteen years old, Theo Boone thinks he's one of them. Theo knows every judge, policeman, court clerk and a lot about the law.
But Theo is suddenly dragged into the middle of a sensational murder trial, a cold-blooded killer is about to go free, and only Theo knows the truth.

1. Kid Lawyer (2010)
2. The Abduction (2010)
3. The Accused (2012)
4. The Activist (2013)
5. The Fugitive (2015)
6. The Scandal (2015)
7. The Accomplice (2019)

Friday, October 4, 2019

The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak

The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak begins when Catherine the Great is first brought to the court of Russian Empress Elizabeth.

The young princess Sophie of Prussia spoke neither Russian, nor French (the chosen language for nobility) when she first arrived and her mother was of little help as to the ways of the Russian Court. The treacherous Empress Elizabeth (daughter of Peter the Great) soon changed the young girl's name to Catherine and groomed her to become the wife of Elizabeth's nephew and heir.

The story is told through the narration of a book-binder's daughter, Varvara, who is taken in by Empress Elizabeth when her parents died. She is recruited as a court spy and with her access to all areas of the palace she becomes a friend and confidant to Catherine.

Choosing a spy to tell the story, gives the reader an inside look at all areas of the Russian court. Catherine had very little recourse against Empress Elizabeth who took Catherine's children away as soon as they were born and gave her access only for a few minutes less than ten times a year. Although Elizabeth is painted as a vain and vicious woman, she has also been known to bring about The Age of Enlightenment in Russia. Balls and masquerades were her passion and when she died she left behind 15,000 dresses (other dresses were passed on to her ladies' maids during her lifetime).

Catherine and her husband had little affection for each other and she amused herself with lovers. During most of the book Catherine is despondent in her rooms and has very little contact with court life.

I found so many characters confusing as they were referred to with both names and titles. It wasn't until I reached the end that I found a list of characters in the Russian Court, which would have been more helpful at the beginning. Even so, not everyone is listed there and the descriptions are sparse for each character.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Idaho by Emily Ruskovich - Ending leaves unanswered questions

Idaho by Emily Ruskovich was not quite what I expected. I've always thought of Idaho with mostly flat agricultural lands, not hills and mountains. Emily Ruskovich, in an interview, mentioned that a lot of the experiences in the novel were her own as a child living on a mountain and bathing in trash cans. But there are other reasons why I found it wasn't what I expected. If you like a novel that ties up all the loose ends and answers questions to the major part of the story, you will be disappointed. (see spoiler alert below). I found it was like chasing rabbit holes.

The novel is told from differing points of view and is not a linear timeline - it skips around a lot with both time and characters and I found it took a little while to adjust to when the story was taking place. Bewildering was a word used by another blog review.

However, this novel has won many awards and is obviously well liked.

From the cover:
Ann and Wade have carved out a life for themselves from a rugged landscape in northern Idaho, where they are bound together by more than love. With her husband's memory fading, Ann attempts to piece together the truth of what happened to Wade's first wife, Jenny, and to their daughters.

Spoiler Alert:
There are several characters that are thrown in that you feel will be significant to the story, but aren't. The death of May and the reason Jenny killed her daughter is never explained. It does touch on a version from Ann that she thought May was singing a song that disturbed Jenny and she lashed out in anger, but that doesn't let the reader know Jenny's thoughts and why she did it. We also never find out what happened to June. I also thought it was odd that they changed the name of their first child from Lily to June within the first few months after she was born. They named her after a person who had been deceiving Wade's father and extorting money from him. This leads to the reader thinking June has been found when they receive a letter with "June" on the envelope.
Ms. Ruskovich's reasoning for not explaining May's death is that a shocking death is an unanswered question that the living victims are forced to chase forever. Knowing the reason doesn't alleviate anything. She also feels that a high percentage of "lost" children are never found and that it would be miraculous to find June and would not be truthful to the statistics.