Monthly Archives: December 2014

Book Review: The Forgotten Garden

By Kate Morton.
Like The House at Riverton, this novel’s twists at the end aren’t too surprising. But like Riverton, this book isn’t read for the twists or surprises…it’s read for the complexity of the characters and how different lives intertwine.
I find it interesting that two of this author’s works focus on lost family histories. The marketing talks about secrets, and there are plenty of secrets in this. But that’s not the real point behind this exploration. It’s about reclaiming what was lost to different generations by those secrets.
Lives, even my own, are impacted when family members decide to not discuss some event or element of their histories. Generations are changed by those choices. It seems like it’s for the greater good but in the end, it leaves people with less. Even when they don’t know what’s missing, they know something isn’t there.
The author gives us a very satisfying ending by providing answers for the quest of her characters. In this case, two generations are required to unearth the fullness of their own histories. Really a very well told story that I enjoyed.
The only flaw was the number of point of view characters. In combination with the time shifts, it made the opening section (about 100 pages) more difficult to follow at times. Stick with it and you’ll be rewarded.
Want to read more fiction like this? Try Message Stick, a novel of generations lost and found in unlikely places.
4 stars!

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Eliminate 3 Things That Sabotage Your Writing Time

I’ve been an author and book editor for twenty years. After working with thousands of authors, I’ve found the top three things that sabotage writing time. Luckily, I’ve also learned how to eliminate them!
1. The Business Called Busyness. Busyness is horrible. It feels like we’re doing something, that we’re taking care of business in our lives, but really we’re just engaged in busywork. The next time you find yourself vaccuuming or on social media instead of writing, make a choice. What is more important to you? A new page or a new post?
2. What Will Mama Think? OK, maybe you’re not worried about what your mother will think of what you’re writing. But you might be concerned about how your friends will react to that X-rated sex scene or the serial killer plot you’ve put together. Don’t worry about what Mama thinks. Write what’s true to the story. Trust me, everyone will love you for it.
3. Chapter 5 Doesn’t Track with Chapter 1. So what? Fix it later. For now, just write. Keep a separate notepad beside your computer and jot down things you have to go back and fix. While you’re in the flow state, don’t interrupt that flow with all those logical nags the judge in your mind sends up. Make a note and keep writing.

Book Review: A Reliable Wife

By Robert Goolrick.
This was the first book I’ve read by Goolrick. Based onother reviews I’ve seen, it looks like a love it or hate it kind of book.
I can understand why. The characters have a lot of complications…they want one thing and do something to confound their own goals. And then they repeat their mistakes endlessly, as proven by their pasts.
But this book isn’t entrenched in their pasts. It follows them step by painful step as they enact more mistakes, knowing they are mistakes, and then try to correct course despite the pain those corrections will cause.
A very nuanced look at people who have done some terrible things to cause pain to others and themselves, and their efforts to finally, before it is too late, make something right. Even if it’s a small thing, even if it’s already too late.
And that makes for a novel that is well worth reading.
4 stars!
Like this book? Try He Drinks Poison, a thrilling and complex examination of dark impulses. A sensual read that brings light into the darkness.

Book Review: Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch

This is one of those books that, when you finish the last page, you say, “Wow.” The emotional pull of the protagonist’s journey really is that strong.
I read this as a review copy provided by the publisher (ebook only). I liked it from the first page. Yes, the protagonist is not the most likeable guy in the beginning…but that is a critical element to the plot as it unfolds. And there is enough sarcasm (which I truly enjoy) in what he says and thinks to make the reading enjoyable no matter how much you dislike the guy.
It turns out that his dislike of others creates problems for him as a doctor. It’s kind of like that black humor police officers and emergency workers develop because they have to. With a darker twist, yes, and one that is worth reading deeply to understand his view.
The story provides plenty of character development before the tragic event his daughter suffers, all with enough hints at the events to come to keep you moving forward in the narrative. When it finally happens, there is a chaotic reaction on his part and by the people around him. The other characters have also been ramping up the chaos before the event even happens, so when it strikes, the impact is all the more severe.
The true payoff for readers comes when the protagonist responds…in various ways…to the event. He and his wife take one track to help the daughter while the father works on his own in different ways to find justice. In the end, he doesn’t truly find justice but he does create his own. The justice he creates makes peace for himself, his family, and others.
This is a well-drawn portrait of a father-daughter relationship. It’s a story for today in so many ways. For the reader who understands that not all characters are likeable, Summer House provides a rich payoff.
5 stars!
Want more fiction that tackles violence against women? Try He Drinks Poison.

Book Review: The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell

There were times while I was reading this that I thought perhaps the vast amount of history could have been cut. A thousand-page novel…really? When is that actually necessary?
Well, it is for this book.
I had also thought at times that the dialog could have been trimmed up for pacing. But then I also considered that the author was handling the dialog that way for a purpose, and that eventually the purpose would be revealed. It was, in the last 100 pages when the protagonist retreats to his sister’s house and spends a bizarre few weeks there in isolation.
So, the two elements that I thought maybe could have been trimmed in the end revealed themselves as masterworks by the author. I don’t want to say much more because, despite this being 1,000 pages long, there’s actually not much I can detail without providing spoilers.
Know this one thing: The most important revelation comes literally with the last sentence. The entire work…how the history is handled, that dialog, the protagonist’s journey through the war as well as his personal events…all come together in that single masterful last sentence.
This is a brilliant novel. Well worth the dedication to read all 1,000 pages.
5 stars!
Another novel that works with historic evil is Message Stick, a contemporary novel that reveals how the Australian government tried to destroy Aboriginal culture in a near genocide.

Book Review: Divergent by Veronica Roth

I only got to page 80. There just wasn’t enough meat to hold me. By meat I mean character development and descriptive details. Usually you see less of that in YA books but this one was just bare bones, and thin bones at that. No real understanding of who the character is, and the descriptions of the individual events weren’t drawn well enough to hold my interest until the character really began to develop. And by page 80, one of those things should be well enough drawn to pull readers forward…that wasn’t the case here.
1 star.

Book Review: Stolen by Lucy Christopher

A debut YA novel that is exceptional in so many ways. When Gemma is kidnapped while traveling with her parents, she is swept from England to the Australian outback by a man who has stalked her for years. The novel is written as an extensive letter crafted by Gemma to her kidnapper, and is especially thoughtful, poignant, and compelling perhaps because of the letter’s sharp and cutting intimacy.
Although Gemma first hates both her kidnapper Ty and the outback, she slowly warms to both. Part of this is through the wearing down of her defenses that are so typical among kidnap victims (even the narrative discusses the Stockholm effect wherein victims begin to identify with their captors). More importantly, though, this wearing away comes from Gemma’s reflections on her situation and her own past.
The outback offers beauty to those who look. I know this personally because I spent six months camping alone in the outback; as a woman, everyone thought I was crazy or bold to the point of suicidal. But the journey was spiritual, and much of Gemma’s journey resonates with my own lessons.
Too, Gemma considers how she never really appreciated her parents or their love when she had everything. Stripped away from them, she recognizes that she was blind to what they had to offer. As she explores both the beauty of the outback and the very real pain Ty suffered before he began to stalk her, she matures in a way few people will unless they too suffer intense trauma.
This novel has much to offer. From the way it is written to the storyline itself, it’s well worth the time for YA and adult readers alike.
5 stars!
For more on the outback and its depth, try Message Stick, a novel that won two national awards, or Seven Sisters: Spiritual Messages from Aboriginal Australia, which pairs Aboriginal dreamtime tales with essays on what these ancient stories can teach modern people.