Tag Archives: Violence

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.

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Wonder by R. J. Palacio

Children can be cruel, especially middle school age kids. It’s the reason that most teachers choose to work at elementary or high school, they can’t deal with the angst involved with the hormonal surges of pre-teenagers. It takes a special breed to actually enjoy that age group, children who once they find a weakness in their peers have no qualms in exploiting that fact, whether real or imaginary. “Your nose is too big”, “Your hair is greasy”, “You’re too fat”, “You’re too thin”, “You smell”, You’re stupid”, “You’re smart” . . . Now imagine that you really do have a physical “abnormality” which is front and center and impossible to ignore? Wonder by R. J. Palacio explores the reaction of a private school community to August Pullman, a ten year old boy with a rare congenital defect which has distorted his facial features.

August was home schooled, both due to the recovery periods from his twenty seven surgeries and also to shield him from the reactions of his peers. However, by the time he was ready to start fifth grade, his mother wondered if it wasn’t time to consider a school setting, Beecher Prep, a private school in New York City with a “limited” population. August is leery, but he agrees to check it out. Three of his incoming classmates are chosen to show him around prior to the start of the school year. While Jack and Charlotte seem nice, Julian is outright nasty. After much discussion, August decides to give it a go. The whole experience is not an easy one, neither for August, his parents, or his older sister Olivia Pullman. The adjustment involves not just August, but his classmates, as everyone learns to deal with one another – a process fraught with tension, not just from the kids but also from some of the parents. It’s a time of growth for all, and August develops from a spoiled child into a self assured young man over the course of the year despite or perhaps because of the challenges thrown his way.

What I really liked about this well written, age appropriate children’s book (which should also be read by adults) is the narrative approach Palacio uses to tell August’s story. While it was Auggie’s tale to tell, his life also affected others so we get to hear the point of view of various events from his sister Via, her “best” girlfriend Miranda and boyfriend Justin, a couple of August’s friends – Jackalope and Summer, and even his nemesis – Julian Albany. While we mainly hear August’s voice, it was also important to get the perspective of the people who surrounded him.

Even if you go into this book feeling aloof, eventually the uplifting message grabs you and pulls at your heartstrings. While some might question the happy ending, remember that there was a lot of cruelty along the way. I can only imagine what a tear jerker the movie version evokes. I also appreciate how the educators were cast in a positive, supportive light – they even impart some knowledge on the reader. The additional chapter from Justin’s point of view is a good counterbalance with a surprise revelation which creates a positive outcome for all concerned. Although a little lengthy, it’s still a perfect book for fifth grade ELA! Five stars.

This review also appears on Goodreads.

Heartland by Ana Simo

Our heroine was living for ten years off a grant to write a book, which she totally ignored until the last minute, when she began the process only to experience an oddity where she lost the ability to write words – from adjectives to adverbs to vowels and finally to nouns – leaving her unable to proceed. When her backers demanded proof that this book actually existed, she spread the word that she’d fled the country, hiding in her apartment disguised as an Asian gentleman until she finally decided to escape to her childhood retreat. The turning point was running into Mercy McCabe, the woman who stole away her beloved Bebe, the love of her life. Despite the fact that McCabe, after ten years, had broken up with their mutual love interest, our heroine is determined to exact revenge, murder to be exact.

The first step is to convince McCabe to come with her to Judge Wilkerson’s house, a swanky estate at the top of Round Hill in an affluent neighborhood of Elmira which is not too far from the Capital. It is here that our heroine spent her youth as her mother was the housekeeper for the Judge and his wife. Revisiting this haven and establishing a routine of caring for the home, reminiscent of her deceased mother’s tasks, doesn’t deter her from her ultimate plans, even as she comes to care for her companion. Since McCabe is a wealthy SoHo art dealer, she is established as the “owner” of this “rental” property with our heroine the servant, along with the cook/maid, a fellow Latina, who is hired to care for them. Eventually our heroine wants to visit her childhood home in Shangri La, a Hispanic community on the outskirts of Elmira, which isn’t important enough to be included on the area map. She gets caught in a blizzard, seeking inadequate protection from the elements, waking up back on the hill with bandaged frostbitten legs and feet. Unable to walk, McCabe, whose appearance and personality have changed due to an apparent illness, tenderly cares for the invalid over a period of weeks – lovingly washing and bandaging her wounds, emptying her bed pan, and feeding her healthy broths to build up her strength. Our heroine begins to develop positive feelings towards her Protector, but just as she starts to feel better, McCabe disappears without a trace. Frantic to find details of Mercy’s whereabouts, she goes to town visiting the library, “pumping” Mrs Crandall, the librarian, for information (while carrying on a torrid affair in off hours). Despite her desperate attempts to lure McCabe back to the Judge’s house, she still has plans for her execution, setting up a funeral pyre in the old ice house in preparation for the big event. Who shows up when the doorbell rings on Christmas Day is a unexpected climax where the events which unfold culminate in confusion and a less than satisfying ending to this saga.

Don’t worry, even though our heroine loses her ability to write, the author, Ana Simo, has pocketed all those verbs, adverbs, adjectives, and nouns and gone into overdrive as she wrote Heartland. When I describe her writing style as verbose and even over the top, I am referring to the act of wading through an excess of verbiage to figure out the plot. To make things even more confusing is the intermix of a dystopia starting with The Great Hunger in 1984 where the world as we know it has experienced some sort of trauma which has destroyed a whole swath of areas, leaving behind what is left of the major cities. None of this, or anything else for that matter, is explained, so the reader must come to their own conclusions. The heroine’s homosexual obsession with her former love interests, both childhood and adult sweethearts, as well as with the current well endowed librarian, seems to feed a mania which borders on insanity. Whether you want to read the ramblings of an unstable woman who rants crazy, racist expletives, depends on your stamina. Despite its relatively short length, this book is not a quick read and I’m not sure if there’s an audience for this psychopathic, violent tale of an imaginary version of our “heartland”. Not for the faint of heart.

Two stars and a thank you to Edelweiss, Restless Books, and the author for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.

Harley Quinn Volume 2 (Issues 8-13): Joker Loves Harley (Rebirth)

It’s a comic book, not the Great American Novel, so have fun.

In this particular set of stories, Harley Quinn Volume 2 (Issues 8-13): Joker Loves Harley (Rebirth), we are taken in all different directions as Harley relates her dreams to her shrink who recommends she take a vacation. So it’s off to Bermuda with Poison Ivy to visit Sy where, surprise, they find themselves in the midst of a nudist colony (all tastefully done). With tears when the vaca is over, Harley must leave her loved one behind and we enter into some dark moments fraught with danger and the appearance of the Joker who claims he has changed. Harley isn’t buying it, but there’s quite a bit of violence involved with lots of blood and guts, a hospital stay, and more than one cold blooded murder. Various flashbacks remind us of previous plot lines which have a bearing on this set of tales and Harley’s friends are there to back her up. Rounding things out are some amusing tidbits involving a Harley Wizard of Oz and some Saving Santa.

While each illustrator has a different take on Harley, all are totally recognizable and appealing, full of sexual innuendos and the color and detail designed to grab your attention.

While I don’t mind the violence, it’s to be expected with such psychotic characters, I object to senseless murders, but with all the gore we see on television and in the movies, perhaps I’m being too judgmental. Just look at how popular Game of Thrones has become where viewers look forward to the predicting the next victim to succumb to death. Written by Amanda Connor and Jimmy Palmiotti with art by Chad Hardin and John Timms.

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

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.

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.

Forbidden Knight by Diana Cosby

Forbidden Knight by Diana Cosby is a sweet little Scottish Medieval Romance, short enough to read in an afternoon, long enough to be chockful of action. Mistress Alesone MacNiven is under the protection of the rightful King of Scotland, Robert the Bruce, when she comes across a group of men on horseback. Not sure if they pay allegiance to Bruce or his mortal enemy, Lord Comyn, she sends a masterful warning shot with her arrow, barely missing the heart of Sir Thomas MacKelloch. Leary of each other’s intentions, Thomas binds the maiden to keep her from escaping so he can verify her story of being the King’s healer. Once truths are revealed, the two find themselves on the way to safety in Avalon to avoid a disaster which would tear Scotland apart. Each has a series of secrets which affect their outlook on life and both feel a growing affection which doesn’t fit into either of their future plans. The road is not easy, not just because of the tough terrain, but also because the enemy is on their tail, and anyone who helps them also becomes a target. While this Medieval tale is full of violence, it is tempered with love as Sir Thomas and Alesone both attempt to reconcile their pasts. Although this is Part 2 of the Forbidden Series, you don’t need to have read the plot of Book1 to gain an understanding of the moral codes of the times.

Although well written and despite the exciting fight scenes, there was a little too much repetition in the intimacy department as the two lovers agonize over their feelings and despair that this is a romance which can never happen. With a lot of teasingly passionate moments, in the end there’s a nice twist which promises a happily ever after in spite of their doubts. The historical background regarding the Knights Templar and the strife over who will rule Scotland is an added plus.

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

This review also appears on Goodreads.