Tag Archives: Child Abuse

Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka

What goes on in the minds of the people who surround us, individuals who are there but invisible, going about their daily lives while we are involved in our own personal minutia so that even if we notice their presence they are an afterthought?

That is the case in the novel Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka, a murder mystery which slowly reveals the guilty party via the personal reflections of three troubled souls who are somehow interconnected within the borders of the small town of Broomsville located in Northern Colorado. Fifteen year old Lucinda Hayes has been murdered on the carrousel at the playground of the local elementary school found by the night janitor, Ivan, an immigrant from Mexico with a criminal past. Cameron Whitley, Lucinda’s next door neighbor, has been obsessed with this beautiful teen, spending his evenings as a stone statue watching her movements. Cameron’s thought processes are a little strange as he has difficulty relating to others, becoming “Tangled” when situations are ltoo stressful for him to handle. Detective Russ Fletcher, a colleague of Cameron’s dad (a man who deserted his family several years previously), has vowed to watch over his former partner’s son keeping a promise to someone who ended up on the wrong side of the law. Cameron fears he will one day develop the evil characteristics which sealed his father’s fate, despite his inner sense of love for his long departed dad. Then there’s Jade Dixon-Burns, a girl who exhibits no empathy, not since she was rejected by her childhood friend who decided he’d rather hang out with the alluring Lucinda than remain cohorts with his fat, pimply companion from elementary school days. Through their collective thoughts the details of that fateful February night are slowly revealed with their paths intersecting as the surprising truth – clearly visible the entire time – finds its way to the surface.

Slowly is the key word. The reader must be patient as each trail is examined to see if it is a true path or a dead end. The bizarre contemplations of theseo three characters lead us to false conclusions time and again, yet within these premises are the clues necessary to solve the mystery. While I was curious to see how the author would reveal the perpetrator, I do wish she was a bit more purposeful and a little quicker in wrapping up a story which left a few too many strings dangling at the conclusion.

Three and a half stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears as on Goodreads.

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News of the World by Paulette Jiles

In my neck of the woods we all know about Mary Jemison from the Letchwood Park area in New York State who was captured and raised by the Seneca Nation in 1755. While I’ve wondered about her experiences, I’ve never dwelled on what it must be like to leave one world and enter another. News of the World by Paulette Jiles explores this very issue as Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd is given the task of delivering a ten year old girl brought up by the Kiowa to her surviving relatives, an Aunt and Uncle from Castroville, Bexar County outside of San Antonio.

After living four years with a Kiowa family, Cicada, newly dubbed Johanna Leonberger, has no recollection of life with her original parents who were killed by her captors. She wants to go back to the existence she knew and is fearful of this current situation, unsure of exactly what will happen next. The 71 year old Captain is reluctant to take on the arduous 400 mile journey, but has an empathy for the wild child. He attempts to teach her the ways of the “civilized” world, but she consistently breaks the rules, unaware of the taboos of society. Slowly Johanna learns a new way of life as they travel across Texas, and eventually she is able to help out the “Kep-dun” by collecting the ten cent admission to the Captain’s read aloud. His job is to go from town to town, reading bits and pieces of articles from newspapers throughout the world. Avoiding local politics, since the Confederacy lost and this is Texas, he deals with information from far away places such as France or the North Pole, talking about inventions which will change the world, and peaking the ranchers’ interest with information about a huge modernized packing plant in Chicago. In this way the Captain is able to eke out a living in the rough and tumble world of the West in the 1870s. Somehow, in spite of rain and the threat of violence, the two seem to get along, building a grandfather/granddaughter bond. The Captain is leery about what the future holds for his temporary ward, but he does his best to complete their quest.

An interesting tale featuring Texas front and center. Full of details of the landscape and weather encountered in their travels, and the politics and lifestyle faced by the slowly growing citizenship of the newly born state, the author creates a setting reflecting life in the post civil war era. In fact, it seems more emphasis is placed on the land than on the people in the story, although all sorts of characters are met along the way (and some aren’t so nice). Jiles throws in quite a bit of historical information about the issue of land ownership in a section of our country which was once dominated by Spain, as well as some background about the various battles of the era using the Captain’s backstory as a justification for including this into her tale.

As in the book Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry, it amazes me that in such a sparely populated state everyone seems to know each other’s business, in spite of the vast span between towns. More than once when “out on the trail” the Captain is a recognized by some passersby as “The Man Who Reads the News”, a title which earns him respect (in most cases).

While the relationship between the Captain and Johanna is sweet and the author attempts to create a realistic depiction of the times, I had a few issues with this book. Jiles lack of quotation marks to indicate when someone was talking left the reader wondering what was spoken aloud and what was simply a thought, especially when comments were made in the midst of a paragraph. I also had some questions involving the conclusion and how our hero was able to justify his actions and avoid entanglements either with the law or with his stellar reputation. However, kudos to Jiles for featuring a hero from the older generation. It’s nice to have an author revere their elders instead of stuffing them into a nursing home sitting and drooling quietly while they await their death. Captain Kidd was able to hold his own quite nicely in spite of a few to-be-expected aches and pains. Three and a half stars.

This review also appears on Goodreads.

The Blood Red Indian Summer by David Handler

David Handler has written a series of mysteries featuring the investigative duo Berger and Mitry. The Blood Red Indian Summer is Book #8.

Des Mitry has a lot on her plate. She’s worried about her dad who is residing with her while he recovers from open heart surgery. The recuperation was successful, but her tough as nails father, assistant detective of the local police department, has lost his mojo.

Now she has to deal with a football legend who has moved into the New England village of Dorset along with the newscasters and paparazzi waiting for the NFL Champion Linebacker to mess up. As a Connecticut State Trooper, it’s her job to keep the peace and placate the neighbor who doesn’t like the noise and confusion of the new family next door, especially since they’re black.

Checking up on the complaints, Des is welcomed into Tyrone “Da Beast” Grantham’s home and introduced to the extended family who lives there – including his brother, cousin, mother, pregnant wife, sister in law, and father in law. All Tyrone wants is some peace and quiet while he waits out his one year NFL suspension resulting from the negative publicity following a questionable altercation with a charlatan hoping for a nice settlement.

Grantham is very gracious, but watch out if he loses his temper and changes into a beast with the temperament of the Incredible Hulk.

Complicating matters in Des’ life is the arrival of her boyfriend’s parents. She expects a problem since she isn’t white or Jewish like her significant other. Yet she and Mitch Berger get along so well together, in spite of his obsession with movie trivia. Plus Mitch helps her figure out the truth behind the various crimes she investigates. A series of incidents point to Da Beast as the guilty party, and even his own family thinks him capable of murder, but Des needs proof before she can make an arrest.

There’s a lot going on with numerous plots and subplots thrown into the mix making it difficult to keep the various characters straight. The murder happens late in the book, almost as an after thought, and the resolution is abrupt and disturbing. However, Des and Mitch are interesting characters who capture our interest and their eccentric parents add a nice touch despite the tendency for the author to stereotype his characters.

Ultimately, an excess of miscellanea along with a flawed plot distracts the reader and keeps this book from becoming a top notch mystery. Three stars is generous.

The Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

Here are two totally different women, one about 90 years of age and another a junior in high school, yet they unknowingly are kindred spirits due to a common difficult childhood.

The Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline focuses on the practice of “adoption” via a train ride from the East throughout the Midwest where families could choose an orphan child to take home. These new “family members” were often selected to be servants or unpaid hired hands to help on the farm. While this entire concept seems unbelievable by today’s standards, this practice began in 1854 and continued as late as 1929. Documented over the years, many survivors or their families maintain a blog or communicate with each other over the Internet. While some placements were fortuitous, too many created unbelievable hardships which these orphans had to endure.

The main focus of The Orphan Train is on Niamh aka Dorothy aka Vivian whose family is put on a boat leaving Ireland in the hopes of finding prosperity in New York City. Unfortunately, her father still drinks and her bitter, jaded mother is pregnant again, so their existence in the crowded flat is less than ideal. Yet Niamh feels lost when her family literally goes up in smoke and she finds herself a ward of the Children’s Aid Society on the Orphan Train going west to find a family willing to take a chance on a red headed Irish girl of nine or ten. The only thing she has from her past is the cross her Irish grandmother bestowed upon her before giving them all the boot. Despite being used to hardship, her new life is one of servitude in Minnesota, first to a seamstress, then to a large family of wild children, before she runs away from a situation which could only worsen if she stayed. That she survives the ordeal is miraculous, but through a series of happenstances, Niamh finds herself a comfortable life although not free from heartache.

Then there is Molly Ayer who also has a keepsake necklace, hers consisting of three charms on a chain which her Penobscot Indian father gave her just prior to his accidental death. Her mother, due to her own issues, is unable to care for her daughter and thus Molly ends up in the foster care system, for all practical purposes an orphan. A difficult teen who gets in trouble for minor infractions purposely rebelling with her piercings and goth appearance, she finds herself doing community service at Vivian Daly’s home, helping the old woman clean out her attic. At first the whole task is a chore, especially since the boxes full of artifacts containing memories from a prior era are simply unpacked, examined, and reboxed. Yet each item has a story and in just a short bit of time, the bitter Molly discovers that she is not the only one with a tragic youth. As part of a school assignment, Molly records Vivian’s tale and the story unfolds along with the items in the attic as the book moves seamlessly from past to present and back again. Through the telling, a relationship develops which soothes them both and makes for a satisfying reading experience, despite the quick wrap up and open ended conclusion.

While I did have a copy of the book for reference (I especially appreciated the photographs and list of resources), I actually listened to the majority of the story on tape (CD) performed by Jessica Almasy and Suzanne Toren. I felt the Scottish accent of the young Niamh, which disappeared over time, added a dimension to the tale which my imagination couldn’t provide with simply reading the written words.

Although Kline used some exaggerated stereotypes to forward the plot, the emphasis (and obvious research) on the historically accurate Orphan Train and its effects on the lives of children such as Niamh was a riveting subject. Four stars.

The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende

I suppose the question must be asked if passion really exists. Not a flame which burns long enough to last through a one night stand, nor a longing which disappears after six months, but a love which transcends time and distance and continues even after death.

The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende Is a novel fraught with angst as two parallel love stories unfold, each full of obstacles with must be overcome in order to find fulfillment. Our tale begins at Lark House, a retirement home in the San Francisco Bay Area where octogenarian Alma Belasco resides. A rich eccentric with a secret past, she has eschewed all her former lavish existence and lives relatively humbly in a small cottage at the home continuing her silk screening avocation, now a hobby. Yet a mystery surrounds her puzzling disappearance for days at a time. Where does she go and who sends her the weekly orchid and the perplexing double enveloped letters?

Then there is Irina Basili who is barely able to eek out an existence assisting at the home and washing dogs in the evening so as to afford the rent at the overcrowded boarding house where she resides. She, too, has a secret past which she holds close. Alma hires Irina to help out and, as a bonus, Alma’s grandson Seth visits more often, not only to see his beloved grandmother, but also to spend time with the woman who has captured his heart. The smitten young lawyer takes it upon himself to write Alma’s memoir with the help of Irina who assists him in deciphering clues into the secrets of his grandmother’s past. Alma watches over the two, approving of Seth’s love choice and encouraging them both to find happiness together. Additional characters are added into the plot as slowly the secrets are revealed giving the reader an understanding of the motivation behind each character’s actions.

From the annihilating destructive results of the holocaust to the dehumanizing confinement at the Japanese Internment camps to all the devastatingly forbidden secrets, Allende explores the various stages and types of love found amidst the joys and sorrows of a life well lived. Going back and forth from the present to past events, with interspersed letters from Alma’s Japanese Lover, Ichimei Fukuda (the gardener’s son from childhood days), giving further clues as to the author’s intent, the reader unravels the events which have affected the fate of both Alma and Irina. It is hard not to feel empathy towards the two as tragedy affects the trajectory of their lives. While we always hope for happy endings, there is a bitter sweet flavor as the story concludes with a touch of magical realism, yet we wouldn’t have it any other way. Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley and Atria Books for providing an ARC of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

A Whisper of Desire by Bronwen Evans (Disgraced Lord Series, Book 4)

Despite the contentious, destructive marriage of her now deceased parents, Lady Marissa Hawkstone, who once rejected true love, decides to seek it out after she sees the loving relationship her brother Sebastian, the Marquis of Coldstone, has with his new wife Beatrice. As her first season comes to a close, everyone anticipates her engagement to the attentive Lord Rutherford, but he is secretly only attracted to her dowry and an increased allowance from his father. Maitland Spencer, the fifth Duke of Lyttelton and one of the six Libertine Scholars accidentally overhears the cad bragging about his real motivations while making love to his mistress.

At one point Maitland considered Marisa as a possible mate, but his randy feelings towards her scares him off. Yet the choice is taken from him when at the same ball the two are drugged and end up naked together in one of the bedrooms in Lord Dunmire’s house. The Duke does the honorable thing and marries his best friend’s sister.

Maitland, also known as the Cold Duke, lives a very regimented life, especially in regards to his sexual relations which he only allows to occur once every three days. In this way he can keep his passions under control so he doesn’t end up like his deceased disease ridden monstrous father who resorted to rape in order to satisfy his needs. Unfortunately, Marisa, although a virgin, is not such an innocent having witnessed various acts by her rakish brother. While Maitland is content to leave his new bride alone on their wedding night, Marisa has other ideas and enters his room to seduce him into his husbandry duty. Maitland’s lustful reaction to her beauty horrifies him and the Duke vows to ignore her charms until an appropriate amount of time has passed. She doesn’t understand why he rejects her advances and thinks there must be something wrong with her. Both seek Sebastian for advice, although the Marquis feels uncomfortable discussing his sister’s sex life.

How the two come to terms with married life is complicated by the continued search for the woman seeking to destroy the lives of the six friends. While the villainess has been ultimately unsuccessful in the first three volumes of the Disgraced Lord Series, she is happy with her results in book four, A Whisper of Desire, envisioning further revenge against the two remaining bachelors.

If book one had too few plot details, this story is jammed full of twists and turns. Of the books thus far, this one really dwells on the seedier sides of life, and includes erotica usually reserved for a different genre. On the plus side, the reader gets to discover more about the six Libertine Scholars and their spouses as well as being introduced to some new characters who will play a role in future novels in the series. However, this book is not a happily ever after Regency Romance since it includes some unfortunate heart wretching events which threaten to mar the lives of those involved.

Despite the chock full plot, the author Bronwen Evans still has a tendency to repeat her message, first through thoughts then through repeated explanations to other characters. She also continues to gloss over the reality of the Regency era with modern dialogue and opinions which don’t fit the times. Not only are some of the events over the top, there is simply too much action for one book and it gets a bit overwhelming at times. Yet, despite the flaws, I think this is the best book so far. While the reader usually is safe in believing “alls well that ends well”, Evans leaves us with some doubts as to whether all the friends will survive through the end of the series. Three and a half stars.

Thank you to Netgalley and Loveswept for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D Schmidt

Gary D Schmidt must have lived in Ancient Greece during a former life since he has developed the concept of tragedy into an art form in the new YA book, Orbiting Jupiter. Get out the hankies, this one is a real tear jerker. The parenting gene will go into overdrive as we read about motherless Jack whose father gets his jollies by beating up his only son. Then, while accompanying his dad on a plumbing job in an upscale neighborhood, Jack meets Madeline. After that the thirteen year old walks seven miles each way in all sorts of weather to spend time with this girl who quickly inhabits his heart. Then one day she kisses him and they end up together in the biblical sense. He gets caught and is sent away for his sins, first at one facility and then to a real killer institute. Inbetween times he discovers that Maddie has become pregnant and then that he has a daughter called Jupiter, named after their favorite planet.

All this information comes out later, but in the beginning of the story we meet Jamie and his folks who have decided to welcome Jack as a foster child into their home on an organic farm. Jack, who rarely speaks and remains skittish after some ugly events back at the home, gradually opens up as he interrelates with the farm animals and responds to the true affection provided by the Hurd family.

Yet it’s a long road from damaged to healed, and not smooth sailing for any of the participants as Jack seeks a path to wholeness through the idea of reuniting with his baby daughter. There is no sugar coating to the injustices found in bureaucracy or the nastiness of middle schoolers when they discover a weakness in a fellow student. Jack has too much baggage to be readily accepted by his peers although his abilities are recognized by some caring adults (finally a positive voice about the role of teachers in the life of their students).

This story is told through the voice of twelve year old James Hurd who grows to care for his “roommate” and continually demonstrates that he has Jack’s back, in the face of dangerous or threatening situations. Even though this story evolves around kids, don’t expect smooth sailing or happy endings.

Now don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed this book, but the plot reads more like my favorite soap opera where evil awaits around every corner with little pockets of hope for positive outcomes in impossible situations. Contrived might be a good word to describe this heart breaker. Also, Orbiting Jupiter is almost too short with some events occurring so rapidly that the reader can’t get a grip on what’s happening until it’s all over, in spite of anticipating this very outcome.

Although written for a YA audience, Orbiting Jupiter will appeal to the younger crowd, especially when they see it is less than two hundred pages. Well written, but easy to read, Schmidt doesn’t dumb down his dialogue and tackles some issues rarely talked about but of concern to young teens. Four stars.

Thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.