Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Miller's Valley: A Novel by Anna Quindlen

Miller’s Valley: A Novel.  Anna Quindlen. Random House Publishing Group. April 2016. 272 pp.  ISBN#: 9780812996081.

Anna Quindlen is back in her best form! Roosevelt’s Dam is threatening to flood Miller’s Valley.  Speculators want to fix the situation but in the process they want to develop the area by building new homes and displacing residents who have lived here for generations.  Mimi’s family is determined not to sell but the pressure is intense.  However, the physical threat to Miller’s Valley is epitomized in the troubles within Mimi’s own family.  The story is narrated from an older woman, Mimi’s point of view but starts when she was only ten years old.  This is one spunky young girl who handles each difficulty with wise thinking and phenomenal endurance for one so young.

Mimi’s Dad stands by her through thick and thin but that changes after he has a debilitating stroke.  Her Mom favors one of the two brothers, one of whom marries and moves away and the other who is torn apart after serving in the military in the mid-60s.  Mimi’s Aunt Ruth has become a recluse.  In spite of all these problems, this story is told with a very real, human attitude that never falters, that never overwhelms the characters or readers.  No, the decisions aren’t always perfect but there are no perfect lives, which is why these characters move us so deeply.

The story continues as Mimi sets about to do research once she reaches high school on the dam and what it really means for Miller’s Valley to accept the proposed changes by strangers who are seeking to recreate their home territory. To say more would spoil a lovely story.  Even LaRhonda, Mimi’s supposed best friend, is very real in her selfishness and more.

Much like readers’ lives, these characters with their mixed motives and actions evolve from confusion to clarity, from distance to unquestionable loyalty.  Anna Quindlen is gifted in capturing and depicting the essence of people’s lives that really matter and this novel is another expression of that reality. In spite of its wrap-it-up ending, this story is definitely a memorable read that this reviewer highly recommends.

Between Black and White: McMurtrie and Dale Thrillers 2 by Robert Bailey

Between Black and White: McMurtrie and Dale Thrillers 2.  Robert Bailey. Thomas and Mercer. March 2016. 399 pp.  ASIN#: B013FS57KG. 

Pulaski, Tennessee was the birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan between 1865 and 1866.  Bocephus Haynes saw his father murdered by the Klan one hundred years later, in 1966, in the most gruesome way one could imagine, a way that scarred Bo forever.  For years he returned to the place where his father died on every anniversary of the horrendous death.  For years he swore he would have revenge. 

Pulaski is a town that had a certain pride in the Ku Klux Klan but also a definite contemporary embarrassment about it all.  So on the night when Bo gets viciously drunk and goes to the infamous place for the awful anniversary visit, Andy Walton is found murdered.  Bo had believed Andy was the person whose voice Bo recognized the night his father was killed.  Now, after Bo has been heard raging about an “eye for an eye…”, he is accused of murdering Andy and  the prosecution is aiming for the death penalty.

But a crack lawyer, Rick McMurtrie, is determined to defend Bo, also a former successful lawyer, and sets about to prove Andy’s death was a framed killing.  The reader will be amazed at the facts that bit by bit are revealed, some that are utterly astonishing as to who was actually at Bo’s father’s death.  It also emerges that there’s a lot of pocket-to-pocket support and crime happening in Pulaski and those who get in the way are judged to be quickly and easily dispensable.

To say more would spoil a lot of twists and turns that keep this crime thriller dynamically vibrant and skillfully moving.  The reader is never sure as to how it will all, or if it will, be resolved on the final page.  McMurtrie is a skilled investigator whose inquiries make him a target as well from the involved ne’er-do-wells of Pulaski, Tennessee.  Hope lies in the few decent human beings who still believe in justice by legal means and not by individual action.  Fine novel that is a terrific read!

Lilac Girls: A Novel by Martha Hall Kelly

Lilac Girls: A Novel.  Martha Hall Kelly. Random House Publishing Group. April 2016. 496 pp.  ISBN#: 9781101883075.

Caroline Ferraday comes from a rich family and has no need to work.  However, she is a volunteer at the French consulate and is passionately dedicated to helping French refugees and especially raising money and clothing for French children without family or friends.  For the Germans under Hitler are ravaging Europe and is now headed for France, causing many to attempt to flee to America.  Caroline is about to become enamored with a married well-known actor, whose family will also become victims of Hitler’s aggressive policies.

The reader needs a very strong stomach for what follows.  Kasia Kuzmerick wants to act like a grown-up and begins to accept low-level jobs for the Polish resistance.  One admires her courage and tenacity and yet every move she makes seems to foreshadow eventual capture and imprisonment.

On the other hand, we meet a very young German doctor, Herta Oberheuser, whose training has been limited to dermatology since female doctors are almost unheard of in Germany.  Desperate to use her knowledge and skills, especially as a surgeon, she signs up for government service and winds up in the Ravensbruck concentration camp for women.  At first she is appalled at the horrors she witnesses and is expected to perform herself.  Eventually she succumbs to cooperation because her own imprisonment is the only option left for refusing to obey orders.  What is fascinating about this story is the fact that both women must do things they abhor in order to survive.  The consequences of these choices, however, turn out quite different after the war eventually ends.  Being a survivor isn’t always enough of an excuse.

These women are outstanding heroines in their fierce belief in hope, hope they will come out of their experiences whole somehow and hope that justice will prevail.  Such an attitude is easy to blithely state when detached from intense suffering but indomitably brave when called to compromise or silently live in physical, mental and emotional agony.

Lilac Girls: A Novel is a novel every reader will never forget.  That, after all, is the purpose of recounting the realities of WWII and the Holocaust, including those non-Jews who bore the ferocious, tyrannical policies of Hitler carried out by his henchmen and women.  As painful as the story described hits the reader, it is a starkly told tale that must be told, lest we forget! Highly recommended historical fiction!