NEWS OF THE WORLD by Paulette Jiles: A Review

Paulette Jiles is a San Antonio poet, novelist, and memorist.  In this 2016 publication, she describes in poetic, vibrant wording the realities and hard times of the western frontier.

She tells the story of Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, aka “Captain” and “Captain Kidd,” a “reader of the news” of the world. Captain Kidd travels from frontier town to frontier town  in a wagon bought from a snake oil salesman, which has the faded letters, “Curative Waters” on its side. Captain brings news of the world to each town, reading from newspapers from New York, London, and other hub cities.  He censors and edits his performance readings depending on the politics and conditions found in each town. My Oral Interpretation professor would certainly have given him an A+, for he keeps his rough, uneducated audiences spellbound by the sound of his voice.Early in this page-turner, he takes on the task of returning a ten year old white girl, held captive by the Kiowa since she was a tiny child to her relatives in a small Texas town.  He accepts this assignment on moral grounds as well as for the few pieces of gold coin that he is given. However, Johanna, the child, wants nothing more than to remain a Kiowa, having no memories of her life as a white child. Eventually, early childhood memories and language begin to surface, and she comes to call Captain “Kantah,” Kiowa for grandfather.  Their relationship is the focus and theme of the book.

A sub-theme is dimes, silver dimes. This is the price of admission for Captain’s readings.  They eventually save Captain and Johanna’s lives when they have to use them for ammunition. A memorable encounter in the middle of the novel is when Kiowa braves appear, and Johanna is faced with the strongest decision of her life.  Will she choose to go back to the Kiowa with the warriors? Captain faces his own decision as well: What would be best for Johanna?

The epilogue is most satisfactory. Loose ends are tied up and the reader feels good with outcomes, the decisions made, and what happens to characters he/she has come to love.

This is definitely a 5 out of 5 points book, which has action, excellent characterization, and an appeal that will keep you up late reading.

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ALL THE BIRDS IN THE SKY: by Charlie Jane Anders, A REVIEW

This unusual/weird novel is set in the near future and goes forward from there. Patricia Delfine and Laurence (“without a ‘w’ “) Armstead, the two protagonists meet in junior high.  They both are misfits among their peers–he, because he is working on an AI computer assembled in his bedroom closet and has invented a time machine that can move one two seconds in time; and she,  because she can talk to birds and other animals and is branded as a witch by her classmates. These two unusual, unlikely “friends” unite against strange antagonists and typical middle school harassment.

This book is science fiction which explores the themes of magic vs technology, the fate of planet Earth, and the complexities of friendship. As the cover asks, “Will they find love? Will they save the world? or, Will they destroy it?” The book is further described as “…wacky, sexy, scary, weird, and wonderful…” I found the novel to be all of the forementioned. As I read the book (and it didn’t help that I was reading it during the craziness of Hurricane Harvey) I wondered if both kids or their guidance counselor, or I, the reader, was crazy.  Many times I expected the author to end with an explosion of the planet and then the seventh graders’ denouement of, “And, then I woke up from my dream.” The author had in mind a much more complex yet satisfying ending. I would rate it five stars out of five stars and pay my compliments to the author.

THE BEAT ON RUBY’S STREET: A story for teens, pre-teens and everyone, A Review

Jenna Zark’s (author of A Body of Water) 2013 publication taught me more about the Beat Generation, Beatniks of the 1950s, and especially about “Beat Poetry” than I learned in an undergraduate class on Modern Poetry, which explored the subject. It is a fine book told from the point of Ruby, an eleven-going-on-twelve year old girl who lives in The Village in New York. She seems to be a “typical”pre-teen who has a “typical” cat, Solange.  Her mother, Nell, aka “Little Nell” is an artist, and her father, Gerard, aka “Gary-Daddy-O” is often on the road, playing bass. As Ruby tells us about The Beat Generation, “When it first  started, it was about people who were” beat up and fed up by the”System”, aka “The Man.”  Ruby had been making up poems by age four and writing them down by age seven. Her idol is Jack Kerouac, whom she describes is “…not a poet but writes like one.”

Ruby has a fourteen year old brother,Ray, who plays sax and often substitutes with his dad’s band, earning the adults’ respect and admiration for his playing skills. When Ruby gets in trouble on the “street,” she is sent to the police station, and Mrs. Levitt, a social worker steps in, setting in motion an investigation into her unmarried parents and her “home environment.” What follows in the story leads to Ruby becoming involved in a hunger strike at a children’s home in Brooklyn, where she is aided and abetted by her new friend, Manuela.

As she approaches her twelfth birthday day, she could never have imagined the changes in her life, attitude, and maturity or how things could change so quickly.  Through it all, she has her poetry (quite good, and interspersed throughout the novel) to sustain her and comes to the conclusion that “Poetry isn’t really good for anything except it makes you feel better.” Although the book explores the angst of “typical teen” misunderstanding and feelings that friends (and parents) don’t understand, Ruby, street-smart and talented,   is NOT a typical teen in a time and era definitely not “typical” either.

The author supplies questions for discussions suitable for book clubs, junior high English and history classes and anyone interested in the literary contributions to American literature from the “Beat Poets/Generation.”

THE ADDRESS by Fiona Davis: A Review

I finished this book nearly a month ago, but summer school and its fast pace prevented me from reviewing it until now.  I wanted to do it justice because the author is a friend, and she has written a really fine novel.

When one hears the address, The Dakota (an apartment building, now a building of condos) in New York, one’s mind automatically goes to John Lennon’s murder, but the story goes back much further than that, to the 1800’s to another infamous murder at that address. Davis has thoroughly done her research on the building (Her novels are set in buildings in New York), and discovered that the architect was stabbed to death, supposedly by a crazy woman of that day. She has envisioned how it could have been and written a very plausible story explaining her vision.

A blurb on the book describes it as “…about the thin line between love and loss, success and ruin, passion and madness.”  In the novel, Theodore Camden was found stabbed to death, presumably by Sarah Smith, his lover. That is the 1800’s story.  The 1985 story finds Bailey Camden (notice the name) an out of work recovering alcoholic just returning from rehab, who is  forced to throw herself on the mercy of Melinda, her vacuous cousin for a job and a place to live.  The job, at the Dakota, which includes an apartment, as what seems to be her only salary, develops into an interest in (bordering on obsession with) the building. I have never read such twists and turns as were in both Sarah’s 1884 story and Bailey’s 1985 investigation into her ancestor’s murder.

As in Davis’ debut novel, The Dollhouse, about the Barbizon hotel, the novel alternates between the early story and the more modern one.  This never confuses the reader, however, for chapters in both novels are clearly marked with dates. Also like The Dollhouse, Davis’ newest is a historical romance story, involves a crime of passion, and has several mysteries to solve. The opening of The Address, begins arrestingly: “The sight of a child teetering on the window ledge of room 510 turned Sarah’s world upside down.” Thus begins a tale that kept me up far past my bedtime because I couldn’t put it down. Dishes and laundry went unwashed, social activities were put on hold, and telephone calls went unanswered during my two-day immersion in The Address. The author’s inclusion of the details of the period were reminiscent of those taken by the creators of “Downton Abbey.”

I am so looking forward to Davis’ next novel, which I have on her mother’s word, is set in Grand Central Station. To all people who love all things New York and any reader who enjoys a good read, I highly recommend this book.

TUESDAY TEASER

As per instructions from the Purple Booker, shared on Brainfluff, grab your current read.  Copy a couple of sentences at random and tempt us to read what you are enjoying now. No spoilers or plot give-aways, please.

Today, I quote from The Leavers by Lisa Ko, a 2017 publication:

“Unable to decide whether to hate Vivian or be grateful to her, Daniel had only been able to take the envelope and say ‘Thank you.’

He dug his heels into the dirt and walked slowly downhill, down the park’s curved side, slow at first, getting faster, a grace note as his legs bounced upwards.

He would go home. He would call Leon. Propelled, he was almost in flight.”   (Can’t you just feel him accelerating, picking up speed as he left? Such marvelous skill with words.)

Daniel is a young Asian boy, placed in foster care by his mother’s friend Vivian, many years ago who has just been told as a young adult that Leon, his mother’s then boyfriend knew the whereabouts of his missing mother and the answer to why she had mysteriously left him all those years ago.  After this follows part two of the book. I can hardly wait to get back to it!

THE DAUGHTER OF TIME by Josephine Tey: A Review

An old Proverb states that “Truth is the Daughter of Time,” and it is a search for truth that is the premise for this novel. We find Alan Grant, Scotland Yard detective recuperating in an extended hospital stay from a freak accident. When the book opens, he has been inactive for a period of time, and is B O R E D.  Marta, an actress friend, brings photos of faces to distract him, for studying faces and having a knack of determining whether a face is that of a “good guy” or a “bad guy” is his prime talent, earning him a reputation at the Yard. He becomes fascinated by a portrait of Richard the Third, the “unscrupulous murderer of the Little Princes”–or not!

Carradine, Marta’s “wooly lamb,” called this because of his ungainly tall and curly-haired blonde looks, becomes Grant’s researcher and is soon caught up in the legwork Grant cannot do himself. Together they uncover Tudor cover ups and despair at the unreliability of traditionally “accepted” untruths and “facts.” The New York times calls this novel “one of the permanent classics in the detective field.” Here is Grant’s first entry as he pursues the mystery involved in the “case”:

“CASE: Disappearance of 2 boys (Edward, Prince of Wales;Richard, Duke of York) from the Tower of London, 1485 or thereabouts.”

Unlikely as it may seem at first glance, the book is a lively read, definitely intellectually stimulating, and even humorous at times. I thoroughly enjoyed this deliberate, yet fast-moving read.

 

A Coming-To-America-To-Make-A-Better-Life-for-Oneself-Story: A GOOD AMERICAN by Alex George

I love immigrants-in-search-of-a-new-life stories! This one by Alex George, published in 2012 begins in 1904 and narrates the story of three generations (generational, family stories being another of my favorites) and tells the sweep-you-away love story of Frederick and Jette. Young lovers, they discover that Jette is pregnant and must flee the wrath and disappointment of her mother and family and make a married life for themselves in America. They intend to live in New York, but only have enough passage money to book for New Orleans, and through mishaps and misunderstandings in communication, end up starting their new life in Beatrice, Missouri, a fictional town in a very real county in Missouri.

The story is narrated by their grandson, James. Near the end of the book, James uncovers a family secret that rocks his world and reveals his true identity. It is a “sweeping” story that explores a love of music ranging from Puccini to Barbershop quartets, so popular in America in the 1900’s. It deals with family expectations and the consequences when one does not live up to them, expressed throughout three generations.

There are many memorable characters, of whom Jette was my favorite, both as a young spunky girl and as an old, strong matriarch of an impressive family. In A Good American, “Each new generation discovers what it means to be an American,” and each generation strives to be what Frederick  adopted as his major life’s goal, to be a good American.