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Saturday, February 22, 2014

Orphan Train

Orphan Train
Review of Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

Overview from Between 1854 and 1929, so-called orphan trains ran regularly from the cities of the East Coast to the farmlands of the Midwest, carrying thousands of abandoned children whose fates would be determined by pure luck. Would they be adopted by a kind and loving family, or would they face a childhood and adolescence of hard labor and servitude?

As a young Irish immigrant, Vivian Daly was one such child, sent by rail from New York City to an uncertain future a world away. Returning east later in life, Vivian leads a quiet, peaceful existence on the coast of Maine, the memories of her upbringing rendered a hazy blur. But in her attic, hidden in trunks, are vestiges of a turbulent past.

Seventeen-year-old Molly Ayer knows that a community-service position helping an elderly widow clean out her attic is the only thing keeping her out of juvenile hall. But as Molly helps Vivian sort through her keepsakes and possessions, she discovers that she and Vivian aren't as different as they appear. A Penobscot Indian who has spent her youth in and out of foster homes, Molly is also an outsider being raised by strangers, and she, too, has unanswered questions about the past.

My Review:

This book is part historical fiction and part semi-contemporary. (The contemporary part takes place in 2011.) It was suggested by someone who posts free books on the Barnes & Noble blog and sounded intriguing.
The story alternates between telling the experiences of Vivian Daly and Molly Ayer. We start off with Molly, a seventeen-year-old foster child who is defined mainly by her Goth persona, until she meets Jack.

When Molly is caught doing some unauthorized borrowing of the oldest of the three copies that the school’s library has of Jane Eyre, she is threatened with time in Juvie. But Jack has a plan. Molly will do some community service at Mrs. Vivian Daly’s house, helping her clean out her attic, in exchange for being spared from Juvie. Sounds like a good plan.

But then everything changes when Molly and the ninety-one year discover that they have more in common than they ever realized. Molly goes from foster home to foster home, trying to blend in while still keeping up with her vegetarian diet.

Vivian also got shuttle from home to home but her litany of bad experiences began just before the Great Depression with a ride on the “orphan train.” She too knows what is like to try to fit in and not complain—to feel like she has to apologize for whom she is and the burden that she has unwittingly placed on her caregivers.

The book seems to effortlessly weave these two women’s stories together. Not much has changed since Vivian rode the orphan train and was forced to reinvent herself. Like Molly, she has paid a heavy price just to survive and although she is successful now, she still remembers the time when she had nothing.

I liked this story a lot. I don’t think I would say I loved it but I really liked it. My favorite parts were mostly in Vivian’s story as I mostly identified with her. Though Molly was not as bad as her foster parents thought she was, she did have a bad attitude at times that made it harder for me to sympathize with her. Also the f-bombs were all mostly in the Molly part of the novel and that also turned me off to her character somewhat. Still, she didn’t deserve to be treated the way that Dina and some of the other adults had treated her.

I am recommending this story with the caveat that you want to avoid it if the f-bombs tend to bother you a lot. For me, it never got to the point where I stopped reading but I think someone who is very sensitive to them might be offended.
Contains: foul language, some sexuality (not all of it positive)

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Leave No Stone Unturned

Leave No Stone Unturned (A Lexie Starr Mystery, Book 1)

Review of Leave No Stone Unturned by Jeanne Glidewell

Overview from Lexie Starr, a widowed library assistant, accidentally discovers her new son-in-law, Clay Pitt, may be guilty of murdering his first wife.
Then Lexie's daughter, Wendy, is abducted.
Vowing to bring Wendy home and unravel the truth about Clay, Lexie comes face-to-face with Clay's psychotic mother, a foul-mouthed parrot, a bad-tempered detective, a feisty old B&B proprietor, and a potential suitor.

My Review:

This one smacks of a self-published effort. That’s not a put down but if you look at the cover design don’t you automatically think self-published?

And now I have nearly done what this week’s author did. I have begun with a question and to me this was the strangest part of the book. The question in question (pun intended) is: “Should I warn my daughter that her husband could be a murderer, or go home and file my nails while I sip a cup of strong coffee?”

That first sentence struck me as strange along with the first few pages. However, I wanted to give the author a chance to hook me and she did, it just took a little while. So if you start this one, it is worth it to continue it.

But if you don’t think you can get past the strange beginning well, then that’s your loss. It is a great ride and it does get better.
Our protagonist is Lexie Starr, a widow in her late forties who, as the first line suggests, begins to suspect that her daughter’s new husband is a killer. Of course the fact that she never liked him to begin with has nothing to do with it, right? That’s what she tells us and herself, but she is determined to find out the truth, without telling a lie. Okay, scratch that. It turns out she is going to have to start lying and get good at it quick.

She starts by telling her daughter, Wendy, that she has met a man on the Internet who she wants to go meet to see if she likes him. Wendy is crazy with worry but at least she doesn’t know what Lexie is really doing and where she is (in New York and not South Carolina as she tells her).
By the time she starts talking to the detectives who originally worked the case she has become a writer working on a book or article about the story. And in another incarnation she is an exterminator who rides around in a Corvette.

But when Wendy is kidnapped the stakes are raised as well as Lexie’s doubts about the killer’s identity. Will she find the killer and her daughter before she becomes his next victim? Read and find out. I guarantee you won’t be bored, once you get past the first few pages anyway.

Contains: some language- very mild though

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Love Thy Neighbor

Review of Love Thy Neighbor by Mark Gilleo

Overview from Clark Hayden is a graduate student trying to help his mother navigate through the loss of his father while she continues to live in their house near Washington DC. With his mother’s diminishing mental capacity becoming the norm, Clark expects a certain amount of craziness as he heads home for the holidays. What he couldn’t possibly anticipate, though, is that he would find himself catapulted into the middle of the terrorist operation. As the holiday festivities reach a crescendo, a terrorist cell – which happens to be across the street – is activated. Suddenly Clark is discovering things he never knew about deadly chemicals, secret government operations, suspiciously missing neighbors, and the intentions of a gorgeous IRS auditor. Clark’s quiet suburban neighborhood is about to become one of the most deadly places on the planet, and it’s up to Clark to prevent the loss of hundreds of thousands of innocent lives in the nation’s capital.

My Review:

I really don’t know where to start on this one. It is not a bad story but there were just several things that I didn’t like about it.

First off the title seems a bit misleading. It seems to suggest a Biblical story but the story itself is about a Muslim terrorist cell in residential neighborhood. Clark, our main character (at least I think that is who the author intended him to be), returns home from grad school to take over the care of his mother from a neighbor woman only to find that the neighbor who has been taking care of her while he was gone, might be a terrorist.

The main character is not very strong. This is the reason why I felt unsure as to who really was our main character. Was it Clark? Or the neighbor Ariana? If you reason that Ariana is “the bad guy (or is it girl),” then I suppose that would leave you with Clark. Yet every time someone crosses paths with Clark or Ariana we seem to suddenly shift to his or her POV until he or she comes into contact with one of them or sometimes even with another secondary character. In fact, there are so many new characters introduced throughout the novel that I had a hard time keeping track of them all.

Then there were the f-bombs. Too many of them in my opinion though I know I have read books with more of them but it seemed to be a bit too much.

Finally Clark struck me at times as being unlikable. He seemed to have some disrespect for his love interest and the fact that she forgave him for so many errors was not all that believable. But I guess the hero is always forgiven, even when he’s a jerk, just because he is the hero. I mean we see that Clark has a good side but it really doesn’t come out much in his relationship with the love interest and since she seems like a smart lady who doesn’t need him, why would she put up with that? It doesn’t make sense.

On the plus side, the story has an interesting premise. In the beginning the author explains how a residential address used by two 9-11 conspirators was reported by his own mother as a potential terrorist cell and was never even recorded by the FBI, or was it the CIA? The point seems to be that the author used this as a spring board for the plot of the book wondering what would have happened if someone were to follow up on an alleged terrorist cell living in suburbia.
And there is also plenty of action. The story was engaging, except where I got confused and mostly complex enough not to be trite. However because of the problems I mentioned earlier, I am not recommending this book.

Contains: foul language, violence

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Wondrous Strange

Review of Wondrous Strange by Lesley Livingston

Overview from Since the dawn of time, the Faerie have taken. . . .
Seventeen-year-old actress Kelley Winslow always thought faeries were just something from childhood stories. Then she meets Sonny Flannery. He's a changeling—a mortal taken as an infant and raised among Faerie—and within short order he's turned Kelley's heart inside out and her life upside down.
For Kelley's beloved Central Park isn't just a park—it's a gateway between her ordinary city and the Faerie's dangerous, bewitching Otherworld. Now Kelley's eyes are opening not just to the Faerie that surround her, but to the heritage that awaits her . . . a destiny both wondrous and strange.

My Review:

And I go off the path I have been on lately to review a story called Wondrous Strange which is part of a series of the same name. It is the first book in the series and is based loosely, I think, on Shakespeare’s play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
I won’t go into the details of the Bard’s play, you’ll have to read that one for yourself if you’re interested, but most of the main characters are featured in this story. Because of the writer’s attempt to make it so the reader will not miss the fact that this story is connected with the Shakespeare play; the story is a little slow to start. We begin not with our opening action but instead with what are presumably are main character’s notes on the Shakespeare play which her theater group will perform in very off, off Broadway production.
This is actually the biggest negative for the book since it is the first thing that the reader sees when he or she gets past the Table of Contents and begins to read the story. I for one had no idea why I was being given a summary of Shakespeare’s play along with “Kelly’s notes.” I kept asking myself, what does this have to do with this book? Who the heck is Kelly and why should I care about her notes? I actually thought of quitting right then and there but thought I should at least give the author some time to make her point.
I am sure glad that I did because overall it is a really good story. I then discovered that Kelly is the main character. She is a young girl who is following her dream of being an actress. Cliché, I know but she is not a typical wanna-be actress as we soon discover. In fact, she is not even mortal though she does not know this yet.
She finally gets a break when the lead actress, to whom she is an understudy, gets sick and cannot play the part. But it doesn’t start off well. And in an effort to relearn her lines, she goes to Central Park to practice where she meets Sonny. Sonny is no ordinary mortal either and he is drawn in by her “firecracker” energy. He makes the mistake of talking to her and their relationship just kind of snowballs into love from there.
Unfortunately there are others who want a piece of Kelly and not for all the right reasons. Sonny needs to figure who they are before it is too late while keeping up his job as a Janus guard for the Faerie King Oberon. The ensuing tale is quite a ride and manages to hold out the suspense right up to the end which is why I am recommending it.
Contains: some language though not excessive