Tag Archives: death

In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende

In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende explores three individuals whose lives inexplicably intersect via a freak winter storm, a sick cat, and a run to the market for diapers. There’s 60 year old Richard Bowmaster who is living in a fog after tragically losing his Brazilian wife and child. His coworker and tenant, 62 year old Lucia Maraz, has survived her own life of upheavals in Chili, escaping the danger by moving to Canada and emigrating to the United States. Finally there’s 23 year old Evelyn Ortega, an undocumented refugee from Guatemala assisting a disabled boy whose father is involved in questionable business practices.

When Evelyn “borrows” her boss’s Lexus for a quick run to the supermarket, she’s caught in the “wrong place at the wrong time” when Richard’s car skids into the rear of the vehicle. Panicking, she ends up at his home, terrified of the consequences when her temporarily out of town employer returns home. Somehow Louisa and Evelyn end up with Richard in his apartment huddling together through the night while a freak blizzard rages across Brooklyn and into the surrounding regions. It’s not just the minor fender bender, but what’s inside the trunk that has them all in a sweat despite the cold.

Thus begins a bizarre road trip to an isolated location far away from the boundaries of the “incident” to get rid of the evidence. Close quarters and fear create the perfect environment for confidences as the three tell their personal stories and develop an unbreakable bond through this illicit deed. Back in Brooklyn is the “rest of the story” providing closure long after the threesome have resolved their accidental dilemma.

I’d like to highlight Lucia’s tale involving the Military coup d’etat in Chili in 1973 where President Salvador Allende was overthrown by armed forces and the national police. It is not a coincidence that the author’s last name is also Allende since this leader was Isabel’s “uncle” which endangered not only her life, but those of loved ones. I’m sure this particular tale invoked some strong emotions from Isabel’s past when she was actively involved in helping those on the “wanted” list find safe passage, which is inherently reflected in the attitudes and behaviors of the characters in this novel.

There was a lot to take in (almost too much to absorb) as the atrocities in Lucia’s and Evelyn’s childhoods are revealed. It is almost impossible to imagine living a life of terror, waiting for someone you love to be killed, or worse, not knowing whether or not the missing are still alive – not to mention your own dangers in an unstable country. Intertwined is the scenarios of those loved ones who influenced the decisions of the trio.

Without maintaining a specific focus on the immigration issue which is currently stalled in Congress, the reader is still left to ponder the attitude of American society towards undocumented workers who have fled their beloved homeland in order to stay safe, as well as the belligerence towards their children who were brought up in this country and know no other home.

While these timely issues make this a must read book (please note the President mentioned the violent M-13 in his 2018 State of the Union Address), I did have difficulty with the choppiness of the story as the plot flipped back and forth between the three main characters revealing their backgrounds piecemeal. I actually cheated and skipped ahead to read each biography in full (one at a time) which gave me a better understanding of their motivations. Oops, sorry Isabel. Allende had the difficult task of condensing their lives into a relatively brief narrative when each of the characters could have easily filled the pages of their own book (including some of the minor players). The conclusion neatly wraps up the details with a bit of poetic justice and a touch of romance thrown into the mix.

Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley for proving an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Advertisements

The Story of Arthur Truluv by Elizabeth Berg

If The Story of Arthur Truluv was a movie, you’d find it on the Hallmark Channel. Elizabeth Berg has created one of those melodramatic, heart wrenching, over the top dramas filled with the angst of loves both lost and found as three disparate characters find comfort as they form an unusual sort of alliance.

You have the teen girl who doesn’t know where her life is headed living with a father who has been disconnected from his daughter since the tragic death of his wife. Maddy doesn’t seem to fit in with anyone at school and even the new boy indicates he is not interested. Since everywhere she goes her peers whisper and mock, she skips school to spend time reflecting at a local cemetery. She’s not the only one who finds the locale soothing. It is here that Maddy meets octogenarian Arthur Moses, an elderly gentleman who every day brings a bag lunch to his wife’s gravesite to enjoy a meal with his long gone mate. Somehow the two form a connection and Arthur lets Maddy know that he’ll be there for her if she ever needs a friend. Then there’s Arthur’s elderly neighbor, Lucille, who spends her days sitting out on her porch keeping track of all the doings, collecting gossip the way some people collect stamps. Her opinionated manner is excused by her skill in the kitchen, freely sharing her creations with Arthur. Arthur, who mostly eats canned beans and franks (which he divvies up with his cat), sympathizes with the lonely woman as he eats her mouth watering butter orange blossom cookies. Somehow, through a series of events, the three end up facing the future together finding comfort and even happiness as they create a unique sort of blended family transcending the usual mother, father, child homelife.

Add in a kind hearted teacher who reaches out to his artistic, though lackluster student, a lost love who finds his way home, and a skeevy boyfriend who just wants a good time without any commitments, and you have a charming little story perfect for a rainy afternoon.

While the simplistic style fits the subject matter and the rotating point of view between the three main characters gives us a decent grasp of their motivations, I had a problem with the use of present tense to tell the story. Very few are able to use this technique successfully, and Berg, unfortunately, is not one of those authors, at least not in this book. Perhaps modifications were made before publication, since my copy was an ARC provided by Netgalley (in exchange for an honest review). I also felt the ending was too abrupt, I would have liked a little more closure, especially considering the book was only 220 or so pages (and give us some dates, not just clues from the headstones). Of note, however, were the sweet little vignettes from the graveyard, where Arthur was able to relate telepathically with the deceased and share bits and pieces of their life and death with the reader. Three and a half stars.

I Dared the Duke by Anna Bennett (The Wayward Wallflowers, #2)

Perhaps what I liked best about the Regency Romance, I Dared the Duke by Anna Bennett, is the emphasis on the importance of family. Elizabeth Lacey has a strong bond with her two sisters, Margaret and Juliette, as well as her Uncle Alister, Lord Wltmore, who “adopted” them when their parents were killed in a carriage accident. Alexander Savage, the Duke of Blackshire, adores his grandmother, the Dowager Duchess, the only family he has left. Both main characters suffered trauma in their lives involving the tragic death of loved ones with Alex still bearing scars around his neck from the devastating fire which killed his parents. It’s not a wonder that these two find sympathy for one another, but not without first developing a contentious relationship, arguing over the treatment of the chief object of their attention – Lady Blackshire.

At the request of her uncle, Beth has agreed to serve as companion to the elderly Duchess and she resents the Duke’s request to convince her charge to hasten to their country estate instead of remaining in her beloved London. Beth finally agrees to help Alex with his request but only after he grants his grandmother three “wishes”.

Beth quickly discovers that the Duke is a hoax. Although he is ornery, underneath all the bluff is a decent, caring heart. His undeserved reputation as a reprobate who has seduced numerous wives throughout The Ton, is a myth. In fact, his sexual experience is somewhat limited and he is tentative with his romantic liaison with Beth. She, however, only feels the power of their attraction, despite her questions about his intentions. Little does she know that it was his offhand comment which cemented the title – the “Wilting Wallflowers” on the three sisters when they entered society.

Eventually Alex has to reveal the real reason for his concern – he has been the target of numerous murder attempts. Not wanting his grandmother or Miss Lacey accidentally hurt in the crossfire, he pleads with her to move to the safety of the country. By this time the two have become quite “close” and Beth, who likes to be in the center of the action, wants to help discover the culprit’s identity. Of course, chaos ensues.

As in Book 1 (My Brown-Eyed Earl) of the Wayward Wallflower series, in Book 2 the details and vernacular ignore the accepted mores of the Regency Era. Yet the witty banter and easy reading style overcome some of the unlikely plot details. Alex’s behavior doesn’t always mesh with his role as Duke, yet his gruff exterior hiding a compassionate soul is endearing to the reader. While the pig-headed Beth isn’t as likable as her sister Meg, the reader can’t help but root for her happily ever after. A major annoyance is the repetitive reflections by the two protagonists as the author flits back and forth detailing their individual points of view. Some selective editing could easily take care of this exasperating tendency.

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

Still Me by JoJo Moyes

The thing about author JoJo Moyes is she has the rare talent of making the characters in her novels come alive drawing the reader into the story and leaving them anxious to continue their relationship with these “old” friends.

That is why so many of us can’t wait to read Still Me, a continuation of the saga of Louisa Clark which began with Me Before You where she falls in love and “loses” Will Traynor, a quadriplegic in her care. In After You, Louisa tries to recover from her heartbreaking loss but her plans are interrupted by a life shattering fall from her rooftop where she meets Sam, the paramedic on the scene who assures her that she will survive this ordeal.

That’s the story of Lou’s life, one disaster after another, many due to her big heart which opens her up to the hurts of the world. While her relationship with Sam is definitely moving in the right direction, the voice of Will whispers in her ear to live big and experience life – “Live boldly, Clark” – so when the opportunity pops up to move from her home in London to New York City to be an assistant to a high profile businessman’s wife who has some emotional issues, Louisa packs up and heads out for a new adventure.

In Still Me, Louisa does not disappoint as she deals with her host/hostess and tries to find her place within the confines of Manhattan. Her task is not easy, but she has Nathan, the coworker from her time with Will, as well as a friendship with Ashok, the ever present doorman, and his family who are trying to save the local public library in Washington Heights. She even develops an uneasy peace with Mrs De Witt, the crabby neighbor with a pug dog who constantly complains about everything. Maintaining a long distance relationship with Sam is more difficult than either of them expected with complications at both ends, including Joshua Ryan, a dead ringer for Will who keeps popping up in unexpected places. Yet Louisa handles life with integrity remaining true to her own ideals and discovering an inner strength and fortitude which helps her through the ultimate crap life keeps throwing in her path. Her quirky sense of style, including a pair of bumblebee tights, somehow seems right in a city where everyone has their own point of view, and helps her find other fashion enthusiasts who appreciate her vintage tastes.

The reader also touches base with characters from both of the previous novels along with some new faces, allowing us to bone up on the “gossip” about their current doings. While you don’t need to be familiar with the first two books in the series, there are constant references to previous events which might be confusing to the first time reader. It is surprising that so much has occurred over the three year span between the beginning of book one to the end of book three, but the whirlwind of activity makes for some fine reading.

Even though I was able to predict a lot of the hassles Lou faced, there were still a few “ah ha” moments, but either way, as a lover of soap operas, I couldn’t wait to discover the details of the next chapter in her life (and I wasn’t disappointed). I am aching to discuss my favorites parts of this story, including the letters, but am resigned to wait for my friends to catch up and read Still Me for themselves. Five stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.

Lincoln on the Bardo by George Saunders

I don’t ever remember making this much of an effort to read a book before. The first time I picked up George Saunders’ novel, Lincoln on the Bardo, I was halfway through the book when I stopped reading after realizing that I just wasn’t getting a complete picture and was too confused to continue any further. I was also having difficulty categorizing this avant garde piece. Not magical realism despite the graveyard setting with the apparitions moving the plot forward, nor a horror story even though the ghostly characters, whose features reflect the moment of their death, come with a complete set of questionable behaviors, but a tale without any narration, purely quotes from both the living and the dead – a dramatic farce, of sorts, without any stage directions, depicting events through the “dialogue” as the players disclose their personal sagas.

The “plot” begins at the White House where Mary Todd and Abraham Lincoln are hosting a gala, feting the community with all manner of delicacies, while upstairs their son Willie, who has contracted Typhoid, lies dying instead of being on the mend as the doctor had promised. The death of their beloved son leaves not only the Lincolns bereft, but also touches the hearts of all those who knew the young lad. While the community mourns along with the President, many castigate the parents for continuing with the celebration at such a time. All this is explained through quotes from various publications and diaries depicting the event, with numerous contradictions about the details – there was a full moon, the moon was new, it was a cloudy night, the sky was clear, etc. The funeral was well attended and little Willie was laid to rest in a borrowed Crypt. Lincoln, unable to accept the loss of his son, visits the graveyard, removing the deceased boy from his casket to hug and caresss the lifeless form, promising to return. All this is based on true events.

Next comes Saunders extrapolation of the dead who have not gone into the beyond, remaining in the “Bardo”, a sort of holding center. The spirits watch this aberration of behavior, wondering. Willie wants to remain in the graveyard awaiting his father’s promised return, but the three main characters, Roger Blevins III (suicide victim) Hans Vollman (possible heart attack), Rev Everly Thomas (appalled at his future awaited fate) urge him on to the afterlife. Young ones are not to stay behind, although others have chosen to remain, not trusting the beyond. Each lost soul wants to share their particular tale of death with the lad, in the hopes that his luck might touch them as well, with an undertone that Willie might yet return to his old life through the power of his father. Never before has anyone touched, let alone hugged, a body after being laid to rest. It is this unusual feat which draws everyone close to the boy. As the story unfolds the reader is exposed to the idiosyncrasies of the graveyard where the souls still exist, returning to their “sick boxes” each day, even as their bodies decay, resisting the call from those who try to trick them into leaving the mortal realm.

This extremely confusing book needs some explanations before the reader opens the first page. With so many characters, it is difficult to follow so I decided to give the audiotape a try. Still, with a multitude of voices, (166, including the numerous quotes, many from real sources), I needed to simultaneously read the book as I listened to get the gist of the story. Only then could I decipher what was actually happening.

I must say that deciding to use this large number of separate narrators to tell the tale was a moment of brilliance. While some of the readers are unknown, many are A list actors with big names such as Nick Offerman, David Sedaris, Ben Stiller, Julianne Moore, Susan Sarandon, Bill Hader, Megan Mullally, Ben Stiller, Don Cheadle, and even the author, George Saunders, taking part. Nick and David, portraying the main characters, did a phenomenal job, with their interpretations bringing the graveyard to life. While Saunders had a credible performance, he could not compete with the other two actors who definitely earned their pay. The others taking on smaller roles were delightful, especially Bill Hader and Megan Mullally portraying foul mouthed white trash who lived in the black community, allowing some discourse on the slavery issue. As I followed along with the text, the words came alive in a way my mind could never imagine, especially some heart felt sections when the true plights of the “victims” are finally revealed.

So, while still a bizarre book, I finally was able to finish and appreciate the author’s intent, with the last quarter of the book providing some hope and inspiration about life beyond the grave, although there are still a myriad of questions which I would like the author to answer. Since this book utilizes an unusual format to advance the plot, It was a shock to hear Lincoln on the Bardo won the 2017 Man Booker Award, (especially considering an American won last year as well). I wonder how many other readers will take the time necessary to appreciate this offbeat book and Saunders’ unique approach to literature.

Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Orhan’s Inheritance by Aline Ohanesian

Opening Blurb: Grandfather Kemal is found in a vat used to color the kilim rugs he sells, meaning he literally “dyed”.

Orhan’s Inheritance is the perfect title for Aline Ohanesian’s premiere novel about a young man, Orhan Turkoglu, who inherits the family business when his DeDe dies. His bequest is unusual since a father usually passes his property to his son, not his grandson, but the 1990’s are modern times even in Turkey. Yet traditions remain strong and Mustafa threatens to take Orhan to court and challenge what he considers a bogus will. It’s not that the father wants to run the family business, he’s never earned an honest days work, it’s just the principle. Orhan fears his father will either neglect the business or sell it and waste the money, negating all his efforts to create a successful company.

However, that is not the gist of the story. The most unusual aspect of the will is that the deed to their family home is to be transferred to 87 year old Seda Melkonian, an unfamiliar name belonging to an elderly women living in an Armenian Nursing Home in Los Angeles, leaving him, his father, and his aunt without their beloved residence. Seda is the key to Orhan’s true inheritance and he travels across the ocean, his grandfather’s sketch book in hand, to have this stranger sign papers so he can keep his childhood home in the family as well as discover the mysteries of his Dede’s past.

Bopping back and forth between present and past, the reader is exposed to the genocide perpetuated against the Armenians living in Turkey during the waning days of the Ottoman Empire, when the Turks sided with Germany in World War I. The Armenian Death March, where able bodied men were murdered or imprisoned and women, children, and the elderly were forced to leave their homes and walk to the Syrian dessert, is prescient to the treatment of the Jews by the Nazis. Similar to the attitudes towards those of the Jewish faith, the Turkish people resented the affluence of their Armenian neighbors – angry at the fees they charged when lending money, angry that they were Christian instead of Muslim, angry that the women were seen in public without covering their bodies (wearing a bonnet was not enough), angry that their success make them feel somehow lesser. So when the Turkish Army took action, the populace remained mum, even though it was their former friends who were taken away and shot as traitors. They blamed it on the war where casualties are to be expected, but there is a difference between war and genocide, a fact that needs to be acknowledged when a population of 1.7 million is reduced to 300,000.

Based on the memories of the author’s grandmother, Orhan’s Inheritance gives us a glimpse into the mind set of those who live in Turkey, a modernized Middle Eastern country with one foot still in the past.

A thank you to Algonquin Books and Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. 4 stars.

Elves (Volume 1) – Part 1: The Crystal of the Blue Elves by Jean-Luc Istin and Kyko Duarte, Part 2: The Honor of the Sylvan Elves by Nicolas Jarry and Maconi

A few years ago Elves was published in France (Elfes) and now it’s making its appearance here in the United States. Volume 1 contains two separate stories, Part 1: The Crystal of the Blue Elves by Jean-Luc Istin and Kyko Duarte about the Blue Elves who live by the sea and Part 2: The Honor of the Sylvan Elves by Nicolas Jarry and Maconi dealing with the Sylvan or Forest Elves. There are three other subsets of Elves to be published in a future edition.

The trouble with this series is that it takes awhile to grasp the cast of characters. While the graphics are spectacular and help the reader interpret the story, there is still a lot of confusion. Part of the problem in the first story is that these are three plot lines which eventually intersect, however, the story flits from one to another in a jarring fashion, taking a moment or two to figure out which part of the plot is front and center. While in the second story there is also a bunch of back and forths which make it difficult at times to figure out who’s who or what’s what. Too many gaps in the story only adds to the confusion, requiring an explanation which is nowhere to be found. It’s as if there was a prequel we all missed. Some backstory please before you throw us into the mix. Eventually we get the drift, but only after a frustrating start.

In both stories there’s a lot of backstabbing and double crossing along with a few deceptions which change the outcome of the saga, although there are some honorable characters who leave us with hope for an eventual resolution. The various evil creatures such as the ork mercenaries are horrifying, but as least they are easily identifiable as the enemy. It’s when the “good guys” turn out to have a hidden agenda and double cross their so called friends that the stories reflect a dark theme.

Full of blood, violence, and death, not everything turns out with a happily ever after ending. It’s just not that kind of book. With a better narrative and smoother transitions, this would be a superior series. The colorful, intricate art work illustrating the two stories could easily be developed into an adult animation (there’s nudity along with the violence) for the small or large screen. Three stars.

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