Saturday, June 15, 2019

Those People by Louise Candlish

Those People.  Louise Candlish. Penguin Publishing Group.  June, 2019; pb, 368 pp.; ISBN #: 9780451489142.

Lowland Avenue is an upper middle class street in a perfect neighborhood, where the residents get along and cherish the Sunday street rules which ban parking and establish a place where children can draw in the streets, ride bikes, skateboard and all in all play without fear of approaching danger from encroaching transportation.
But the peacefulness and perfection are about to disappear.

For Darren and Jodi, a young couple, move into the neighborhood.  Their noise of blaring rock music at all hours of day and night along with their car business manifest in dozens of cars and vans parked on the lawn and around the street immediately draw the ire and complaints of their neighbors.  Efforts at talking out the problem result in the hurling of foul language and angry diatribes. 

At first there are efforts to band together but it turns out that nothing being done is illegal. But the spreading of the neighborly hate is fast spreading through the internet and yielding some protesting articles in  a local newspaper.  However, all of this turns ugly very fast with no change looming on a street fast moving toward attitudes that could become very dangerous.

Finally, a disaster happens with the collapse of a scaffold for renovations and the death of a resident on the street.  Accusations fly and now it’s hard to figure out who is throwing legitimate protests and threats of a response and what turns out to be another death before the end of this riveting but virulently angry novel.

What is most amazing is how what starts out as a disagreement quickly destroys the peace of home owners, frays the tempers and marriages of some, and elicits a response that becomes criminal. Astonishing and violent story that doesn’t end soon enough!

Natalie Tan's Book of Luck and Fortune by Roselle Lim

Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune. Roselle Lim. Penguin Publishing Group.  June 2019. pb, 320 pp.; ISBN: 9781984803252.

Natalie Tan returns home to Chinatown in San Francisco after the death of her mother or Ma-ma.  Her Mom was agoraphobic, never leaving her home until the day she died.  Her grandmother or Laolao was famous for the Chinese restaurant she successfully ran in Chinatown, cooking authentic Chinese dishes that fellow neighbors, families and visitors relished and which they sorely miss.  But the neighborhood is now in a crisis and in danger of disappearing with each bankruptcy or sale that occurs!  Natalie, however, has a rich and audacious dream, an achievable goal albeit fraught with immense challenges!

On opening the restaurant doors, Natalie is struck by the deteriorated condition of the statue of Guanyin, the goddess of mercy and compassion.  Her response? “A revered goddess shouldn’t be treated this way.” It’s clear that Natalie is rejecting her mother’s avid belief in ghosts and demons.  At the same time, a Chinese realtor is banging on the door, intensely and immediately trying to get Natalie to sell the restaurant.  Natalie is made of tougher stuff, although she certainly doesn’t realize it yet. 

Great food with beautiful music makes for a phenomenal combination that makes people, especially Chinese people, happy and successful.  A neighbor gives Natalie a book of Laolao’s recipes – not just any book of recipes but dishes that if cooked just right will bring healing and happiness to the person eating this blessed dish, whether it be of savory dumplings, scallion pancakes, succulent dishes with oysters and so much more.  Natalie also finds a picture of her grandmother and is told a prophecy that Natalie will do the same thing. 

This is the outrageous and oh so beautiful plot of this simple yet profound story, and Natalie sets about making it happen.  For those who are adventurous, the novel also holds recipes of the best of the dishes Natalie prepares.

And to add to the sparkling excitement of this venture is a romantic element for which Natalie is now ready. 

Some might say this is a simplistic story but the ideas behind the preparation of exotic and exquisite dishes, as well as familiar selections, is something desperately needed in these fraught and constantly challenging times.  Roselle Lim gets my vote of confidence for a lovely story that will capture the interest – and appetite – of many, many readers.  Oh, and would love, love, love to see more about Natalie in the future! Happy Reading and Eating because you will be hungry during this memorable read!

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Dreams of Falling by Karen White

Dreams of Falling. Karen White. Penguin Publishing Group.  June 2018; hb. 416 pp.; ISBN #: 9780451488411.

Ivy, Larkin, Margaret, Cecee, Bitty and a host of their former friends fill these pages with mysteries and secrets!

Larkin left Georgetown, South Carolina for New York nine years ago but gets a telephone call noting that her mother Ivy is missing.  While she is traveling home, Ivy is found, fallen through a rotted plank of a staircase in their old plantation home.  Close to the house are moss-covered trees in which one puts ribbons which are inscribed with one’s dreams.  There, the characters discover there are ribbons newly placed which hold mystifying messages or dreams. Who placed them there and what do the ribbon messages mean?

The plot in this latest novel by Karen White is simple and yet oh so complex.  Larkin obviously felt very insecure and incapable when she lived here as a child.  However, everyone else remembers her as a forward, more than capable and amusing child and teen, to the point that her strengths made others feel less capable and even inferior.  So the memories of her former friends emerge more as confessions, envy and slightly critical of her for leaving.  South Carolinian relationships seem quite binding and even at times slightly oppressive which adds to the mystery in each scene as it unfolds.

Ivy never recovered from losing Ellis, her first husband and deepest love; her artistic abilities and kindness to all are noteworthy.  Cecee is the preacher’s daughter who along with the others went on a phenomenal trip to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, when a teen that changed her life forever.  Bitty, another artist, seems to be a follower but has her own past relationships and dreams that never quite unfolded as she wanted.

As the tales unfold about the past, will new romantic interests emerge?  Will Ivy come out of unconsciousness or not?  Larkin spends a great deal of time discovering things about her mother from other people.  As she talks to her unconscious mother in the hospital, Ivy is internally hearing it all and responding mentally.  Only when these dreams, scenes and discoveries are fulfilled in the way they must can each character truly let go of the past and embrace the present.

Dreams of Falling is another lovely story penned by the talented Karen White!  This is fine, interesting and endearing historical and contemporary fiction for all to thoroughly enjoy.  Nicely crafted and recommended reading!

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

The Favorite Daughter: A Novel by Patti Callahan Henry

The Favorite Daughter: A Novel. Patti Callahan Henry. Penguin Publishing Group.  June 2019. pb, 368 pp.; ISBN: 9780399583131.

Lena (Colleen) Donohue proceeded to walk to her wedding and instead accidentally walked in on an act of betrayal that ultimately changed her life forever.  She loved her hometown of Watersend, South Carolina but fled to New York on that traumatic day.  One can leave to New York and begin a successful life as a journalist but can one forget one’s true “home” and return without having to deal with her immense pain and inability to forgive?  Can one learn to trust again and perhaps even learn to love without waiting for another disaster to follow?

When Lena’s brother Shane begs her to come home to help with their Dad, who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease.  Of course, she returns but does everything she can to avoid her sister Hallie.  That’s not really possible but they realize concern for their father must take top priority. 

So they decide to throw a 60th birthday for their father and to create a memory book that spans Virginia, Ireland and South Carolina, so that he can remember and refer to it frequently before his memory declines completely.  In the process of doing this, the family discover secrets very close to Lena’s heartache and how their parents coped with their sense of betrayal and forgiveness.

Eventually Hallie will have that conversation she’s always wanted to have before Lena ran away to New York but not until many terse, sniping words pass back and forth between the two formerly very close sisters.  Yes, home is more than just a place.  It’s a location where all the ups and downs as well as the acts and words that destroy and bind happen, albeit a wee bit contrived. The personalities are spunky and tender in just the right spots.  It will trigger the reader to contemplate what one considers to be one’s own precious memories!

The Favorite Daughter is a good read, a story brimming with passion, love, hate, forgiveness and renewal.  It’s also a lovely story of a beautiful part of the country which is described in all its lush greenery, marshland and seaside.  A very nice summer read!

Where I End and You Begin by Preston North

Where I End and You Begin. Preston Norton. Disney Press.  June 2019; pb and e-book, 416 pp.; ISBN: 9781484798355.

Ezra Slevin is one very anxious, crazy and sleep-deprived teenager and his friends are as crazy as he is in singular ways.  His main objective these days is to get up the guts to ask Imogen to the prom.  Imogen is a beauty, although rather nerdy, who is more into helping her friends than impressing them with her dazzling, blond looks.  Her best friend, Wynonna, thrives on making fun of Ezra and thus proves to be the foil that keeps Ezra from ever getting close enough to Imogen to ask her the big question.

On a night when their class was to gather to watch a solar eclipse, they manage to get caught sneaking into the local high school. The punishment – play a role as a member of the other sex in a Shakespearean high school production. But more importantly is that Wynonna and Ezra further on in this out-of-control dramatic presentation wake up in the other person’s body.  Not only are they freaked out by this occurrence but they over time also decide that it’s funky enough that they want to keep doing it.

During the switching Ezra discovers Wynonna’s secret crush on his good friend.  Finally they work out a deal to keep switching bodies in order to get a romantic relationship they want.  There’s plenty happening through this unique plot to compel questions and ponder the idea of gender identity and how it affects males and females.  And what happens when one switches gender and wants to stay there?

There are many literary and historical allusions that come up in many conversations – all accomplished with a funny and insanely humorous style that never lets up.  While this story takes place about ten years ago, the issues are more than relevant to today’s concerns with sexual identity and how we treat each other depending on one’s gender, some great and some forcing prolonged reflection on the not-so-nice ways that have become questionable parts of today’s culture.

This is a sharply plotted, wittily crafted, crazy and funky story perfect for today’s teens and, perhaps, adults as well!!!

Cleverly crafted and presented, Preston Norton!!! Keep writing!

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Once More Unto the Breach: A Novel by Meghan Holloway

Once More Unto the Breach: A Novel. Meghan Holloway. Polis Books. Copyright May 14, 2019, pb, 320 pp.; ISBN: 9781947993600.

Rhys Gravenor is looking for his son in WWII-torn Paris.  He deeply regrets his last conversation with his son, Owain, who declared his “conscientious objector” status and was called a coward by his father.  Now, he carries a letter from his son in his pocket while searching for him. Rhys fought in WWI and knows the horrors of war but is alarmed and horrified by what he observes in cities and towns around Paris.  The cruelty and barbarity displayed by the Germans cannot fail to leave nightmarish scenes etched upon the memory of any and all observers. 

In his search, Rhys is joined by an American nurse and now serving as an ambulance driver, Charlotte Dubois has her own memories and secrets but proves to be formidable, brave and a person of impeccable honesty.  The upshot of this revealing story is that Jewish children are being sought out for destruction, and Owain is part of the Resistance trying to save them by getting them out of the country.  In the midst of it all is a man, Henri, who is also seeking Owain in order to recover missing works of art that Germans are stealing and moving to their own facilities.

In the search by all, hundreds of executed individuals are found slaughtered and left without burial.  Works of art are found hidden and awaiting transport.  Wounded German soldiers are found near death.  Remaining Parisian residents and other town survivors are slow to speak but loyal to those whom they know are honorable people.

Rather than being a factual account of what is mostly already known by most people, Once More Unto the Breach is told starkly with honesty, tenderness and tribute to those who risked and suffered so much to stop the senseless torture and murder being inflicted on France by German soldiers and leaders.  It also includes numerous scenes of the loyal and lovable dog Otto which will warm your heart amidst the chaos. 

This is a thriller novel easily rated as a 5/5.  The author successfully endeavors to show all sides of a war that at one point has no winner but only too many losers.  This is remarkable historical fiction you won’t soon forget.  Watch for more from this skilled author who knows how to craft a great story!

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

How Not to Die Alone by Richard Roper

How Not to Die Alone. Richard Roper. Penguin Publishing Group. Copyright May 28,  2019, pb, 336 pp.; ISBN: 9780525539889.

Andrew is a 42-year-old man who is a bachelor.  He works for the Death Administration Council.  What that basically means is that when a person dies without anyone, Andrew must check out if there are any family, any cash or bank accounts to pay for the funeral, and stay until the body is sent to the morgue.  But Andrew is a good soul, albeit pathetic, who even goes to the funeral of the deceased.  The intriguing part is that as this story begins, he lies through his teeth to his coworkers, saying that he is married, has two children and works in a posh home in an upper-class neighborhood.  One could understand that but he makes it worse by adding to the story frequently to the point where his peers are dying to meet his family and visit his phenomenal home.  The saving grace for a very difficult first few chapters is that Andrew has a ripping, great sense of humor in spite of his pathetic lies.

Two occasions mark the turning point for Andrew.  One is a new co-worker, Peggy, who is married with two daughters.  At first, he is intent on helping her to adjust to her new job which is the same as his job.  Little by little, with some innocent but increasingly revealing conversations, he finds himself realizing he’s falling in love with her.  She has a bad marriage that’s little by little falling apart and he discovers he really cares what happens to her. 

At the same time, he has a strange relationship with his own family, especially his sister who wants him to face his past.  Sally and Andrew had a close but fraught relationship and she blames him for the fact they have grown apart.  A tragedy happens and Sally’s ex-boyfriend is convinced Andrew is responsible because Sally worried so much about him.  What the boyfriend wants is a wake-up call for Andrew.

The plot evolves and doesn’t quite go where everyone expects, but it can be said that Andrew is a new person as a result of the experiences he has with Peggy and Sally.

Hang in reader because this is a story that can’t be quickly forgotten and therein lies its redemptive qualities for both the characters in the story and the reader who is made to question and think about relationships and people.  Interesting, annoying but redeemable contemporary fiction!