You Know When the Men Are Gone

Siobhan Fallon

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Although I was a Navy brat, not an army brat, there is much I could relate to in these stories of the families left behind when the men are deployed. Although they are presented as fiction, each story rings true to life, as Fallon writes about women trying to raise a family alone, men wondering what their women are up to, and the difficulties of readjustment to a spouse returning after a long separation. There’s friendship and community for the wives, but each has to make her own way, and no matter how much support there is, each is essentially alone.

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The Thread That Binds the Bones

Nina Kiriki Hoffman

The Thread That Binds the Bones (The Chapel Hollow Novels) by [Hoffman, Nina Kiriki]

Those Chapel Hollow people are different, but it doesn’t do to remark on it. People who do, well strange things happen to them. Best just pretend you don’t see. That’s what the people in Arcadia do. Best not to stir things up.

Then a drifter, name of Tom Renfield, comes to town. People like him, but they figure he won’t be around long. Drifters come, and drifters go. He probably wouldn’t stay around long if it hadn’t been for Laura. She’s come back to town for a wedding at Chapel Hollow and hires Tom to drive her there. That’s the beginning.

Seems that Tom, while not of Chapel Hollow, has some powers of his own. Powers as strong as any of the Chapel Hollow people.

This delightful book by Hoffman explores the people of Chapel Hollow and their relationship with the small town of Arcadia in a delightful mix of magic realism and love.

Murder on the Last Frontier

Cathy Pegau

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Warned that the Alaskan frontier is no place for a woman, Charlotte Brody comes to visit her brother Michael, a doctor, in Cordova. Cordova is a rough and ready place, but Charlotte, coming to forget her past, finds it a breath of fresh air. Her feminist views and independent actions soon pit her against her budding attraction to the law in the town, as she meddles in the investigation of the murder of a local prostitute.

I enjoyed the descriptions of the frontier town, and Charlotte’s clash with the local law and her staid brother rang true. I enjoy a strong heroine, and Cathy Pegau delivers.

 

When You Are Engulfed in Flames

David Sedaris

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The usual collection of humorous essays, except toward the end where he turns to his attempt to stop smoking. Anyone who has gone though this can sympathize with his struggles. Only somehow Sedaris makes it seem funny.

When he is writing about his family or his life in foreign countries, Sedaris brings his own skewed take on life.

IMHO he’s a lot funnier than Bill Bryson.

Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century

Peter Graham

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When I saw Heavenly Creatures, the movie made about the murder of the mother of Pauline Rieper with the assistance of her friend Juliet Hulme, I had no idea that Juliet would eventually take up writing murder mysteries under the pen name of Anne Perry.

When the connection was made, my curiosity was piqued, and I wanted to know more about the two girls and their life before and after the murder. I found the movie to be sympathetic to two very disturbed young women and not at all sensational. If this book is to be believed (and I believe it), two girls would probably have never committed such a crime if they had never met each other and were threatened with separation.

Both live reclusive lives now, Perry in Scotland, and Rieper (under the name of Hilary Nathan) in a small village in England. Both seem content to stay out of the spotlight, and we will never know why two ordinary schoolgirls committed one of the most famous crimes in New Zealand history.

I Know This Much Is True

Wally Lamb

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This book starts off with a horrific incident. Thomas, Dominic’s twin brother, enters the public library, takes a large knife, and cuts off his hand. He believes that that will draw attention to the Iraq war and stop it. It draws attention, all right, and lands him in an insane asylum. It falls to his brother to help him. Dominic, the ‘sane’ brother, has had the burden of his disturbed brother all his life.

In the course of this book, we learn about the twins, their Italian immigrant father, the burdens that people carry, and what it means to love one another. Although I felt the ending was just a little too pat, the journey made it worth it.

Wally Lamb has a wonderful gift of empathy for initially unsympathetic characters, and he carries the reader along a voyage of discovery, deeper and deeper into each character, until we share his understanding.

A book worth reading and rereading.

 

Dawn

Olivia Butler

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I don’t read much science fiction nowadays, unless it’s a reread from my younger days. I’ve been hearing so much about Olivia Butler, I decided to give her a try when her books became available for a discounted price. Wow, is she good. The book, the first of a trilogy, tells the tale of a human woman, Lilith, who is awakened aboard an alien ship. Earth has experienced an apocalyptic event, and a handful of humans have been preserved by the Oankali. Now it is time for them to prepare to return to earth.

Lilith’s struggle to accept the aliens, to help her fellow humans to prepare for return to earth, and to be willing to bear children who may not be quite human, is the bulk of the story of this, the first of a trilogy. I am eagerly reading the second book, Adulthood Rites to find out what happens next.

The Sport of Kings

C.E. Morgan

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I first read about this book in New Yorker Magazine, and I was so intrigued I had to buy a copy, even if it meant spending $9.99, instead of the $1.99 which is my usual top price. I don’t regret the money I spent. I got my full value and a little more. This is an epic story of two men, Henry Forge, the owner of racehorses, and Allmon Shaughnessy, the half-black/half-white groom who works for him. Linking them is Forge’s headstrong daughter, Henrietta.

Morgan patiently works her way up to the present by writing of the generations that result in Henry owning the horses he does, and the backstory of Allmon. That creates a problem for the reader. The book feels too damned long. I would gladly have foregone much of the backstory to get to the meat of the present.

I was willing to persevere to the end because the writing is so good, but trimming the story would have resulted in a shorter book that was equally well-written. Maybe next time. Definitely a writer to watch.

The Blinds

Adam Sternbergh

Intriguing concept, well written, good world building. An isolated Texas compound, built out in the middle of nowhere, populated by criminals and innocent witnesses. No one knows which category they fit into because their memories have been wiped. They are free to leave, but there’s nowhere to go.

Things go terribly awry about 80%  into the book, and the wheels fall off when the shooting starts. People start to die. As I found out more and more about the characters, I cared less and less. Sternbergh reminds me of Dean Koonts. He writes will but is short on ideas and imagination.

I’m glad I was given this book and didn’t waste my money on it. I don’t even regret the time I spent reading it. The first 80% entertained me enough that the time wasted on the last 80% didn’t annoy me that much.

My Name is Mahtob

Mahtob Mahmoody

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Mahmoody chose not to use a ghostwriter when she wrote this plodding memoir, and I think that was a mistake. There is an interesting story about her life waiting to be told, but this isn’t it. The best parts overlapped with her mother’s account, Not Without My Daughter, but my interest dropped off sharply after that. Basically nothing much happens to Mahtob after she and her mother return to America. She lives in fear of her father, but none of those fears materialize. He does attempt to reach out to her, but she rejects every attempt to reconnect with him. I would have too, but this doesn’t make for high drama. She converts to Christianity, which would have driven her father wild, but this also is told in the most trite way.

She obviously is an intelligent and educated woman, but she is still a prisoner of her past.