RAISING LAZARUS by Aidan J. Reid

I “met” Aidan several years ago when his first novel, Pathfinder, was published.  The book was a real page turner about a young man whose friend was in a coma, constantly having nightmares and wasting away. When he learned that it was possible to enter his friend’s dream and help him to wake up, he did so. I was intrigued by lucid dreaming, and even encouraged a psychology student to do her argument research paper on how psychologists are using lucid dreaming for patients suffering from night terrors or even PTSD. The book was full of action and a great read.

Reid’s second book, Sigil, was a mystery that was excellent as well. The main character, a priest in a small village in Ireland discovers an evil so profound that it makes him doubt his faith.

His third novel, Raising Lazarus, is my favorite so far.

Summary: Molly Walker, granddaughter of Roy Walker, prison warden at Lockworth Correctional Facility, needs a criminology grad school thesis, and asks her grandfather to let her interview an “interesting” prisoner to use as a base. A handsome,  prisoner with a Middle Eastern appearance and only one name,” Lazarus”, arrested for prostitution, becomes her “project.” When he is paroled, they become involved, and the nail-biting, action scene near the end includes actual people, events and facts from the story’s time that make the reader feel the story could have happened.

Is he the Lazarus? This pivotal question of the novel explores the “dark underbelly of the city” as Lazarus’s story unfurls. Is the “gift” of being raised from the dead a blessing or a curse?

Sometimes the story jumps back and forth in time, but after about the fourth chapter, the narrative is straightforward and easy to follow.

I highly recommend Raising Lazarus as a “thinking reader’s” novel which will cause you to hold your breath until the very end.  5 out of 5 stars.   * * * * *

SATURDAY MORNINGS FOR KIDS

The children’s classic, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler appeared on the literary scene in 1967. Assigned to the school I did my student teaching in, I was a young, green, brand-spanking-new junior high school teacher. The school district was affluent, where the live-in-maids made more money than struggling teachers. All the kids were talking about a book–“the book,” the one next in line after their elementary favorite, Charlotte’s Web–Mrs. Frankweiler. 

The story is about a brother and sister who feel unappreciated and unnoticed at home who run away to New York City and hide out/”take up residence” in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. They sleep in a huge bed from the Renaissance; they bathe in a fountain in one area, and are intrigued by the current mystery that they read about in discarded New York Times newspapers. Is the little angel statue acquired for only $250.00 really something made by Michelangelo, which would make it the “bargain of the century” or is there some way to determine whether it was made by one of his apprentices or just a “nobody”? Claudia, the “brains of the outfit,” which all older sisters must be, takes on solving this puzzle.

The strategy for running away and their escapades in New York are carefully planned by Claudia and financed by the penny-pinching Jaime, her younger brother. He often nixes Claudia’s elaborate schemes, and lends the practical advice to them which is perhaps what allows the kids to live in New York for a whole week. The dialogue and give-and-take, back-and-forth discussions/arguments between the two show not only their sibling rivalry, but the deep loyalty and love they feel for each other. The children are clever and outwit all the adults (naturally). Mrs. Frankweiler provides even more humor as she treats the children as adults.  She is the quirky, elderly (and, yes, lonely) rich, sharp-minded grandmother every kid dreams of.

The whole book is a kid’s dream, and Konisburg, the author, certainly captures the kid’s mindset and view of looking at the world and bustling New York City. It is a fun, enlightening, although a  bit out-dated adventure-“read” that kids loved back then, and  grandmothers’ delight to enjoy and share with their grandkids.

BOOKS FOR LIVING by Will Schwalbe: A Review (Subtitled “Some Thoughts on Reading, Reflecting, and Embracing Life”)

After reading and enjoying Schwalbe’s book, The End of Your Life Book Club, I jumped at the chance to download this 2016 publications and discovered my new favorite genre of book–books about books. These are varied musings and thoughts about books that made an impact on the author’s life. Also, Schwalbe adds relevant connections of often-read books to modern-day life . The chapters are arranged by book titles which are the jumping-off-place for the author’s essays. He deals with all kinds of books, from E.B. White’s classic children’s book, Stuart Little, to the recent bestseller, Girl on a Train; from Victorian classic, Dickens’ David Copperfield, to the the YA novel (and movie), Wonder. Each essay is thought-provoking and relevant to the reader’s own reading life.

My favorite essay was about a book I’d never heard of before, Yutang Lin’s 1937 book, The Importance of Living. Lin, a contemporary and friend of Pearl S. Buck (The Good Earth), writes his advice and philosophy of living a “good life.” Schwalbe quotes from Lin’s chapter, “Slowing Down” which “spoke to” and fascinated me. I have always considered myself a “driven” person, a person compelled to take action, to “do something” about things and life in general. Lin’s advice is to consider life in a more meditative, calmer way, taking charge by observing, contemplating, and experiencing life, not being a slave to it pressures and stress.

The book guided me into thinking things I would never have considered before and made me think more carefully about what books I have read, am reading, and want to read, and their influence on the way I live my life.

CARRY ME LIKE WATER by Benjamin Saenz: A Review

Saenz is rapidly becoming one of my favorite authors.  I have read several of his books, and each one seems better than the one before. Carry Me was his debut novel, described by the Chicano author of Bless Me Ultima,  as “ferocious” and “sentimental.” The characterization (which is something I am always drawn to) and conflicts presented are outstanding. Originally printed in 1995, the E-version came out in 2010.

The story is set in 1970’s America at the height of the AIDs epidemic. It opens with the relationship of Jake and Joaquin, and with Joaquin slowly dying. A compassionate hospice nurse, Lizzie, becomes involved with the two men as she takes care of Joaquin.  Her best friend, the pregnant Maria Elena, confides to her that she has been keeping a BIG secret from her husband and feels compelled to reveal it to him before their baby is born. Little does Maria Elena know that Eddie, her husband, has a BIG secret of his own. Does their marriage survive the revealing of the secrets? What is wrong with the son who is born to them, and where did the gene that carries his affliction come from? How does Lizzie work out the connections between Eddie and Jake, between Maria Elena and herself? When did Lizzie begin to have her supernatural gifts, and how will she use them for the benefit of those she loves? All these questions come pouring in as the novel progresses, but the author ties up all the tendrils of mystery at the end in an entirely satisfactory, uplifting way.

The reader may encounter a few obstacles to smooth reading; some of the characters change their names in the novel, which is confusing, but then the author adds in a twist or a turn that turns the obstacle into an “aha” reveal. If I could only use one word to describe the ending, I would choose “peaceful.”

THE FIFTH SEASON by N.K. Jemison: A Review

This is the first book in the Broken Earth series, which was published in 2015.  I found it reviewed on Brainfluff, and it seemed like a really good story. As soon as the other two books came out, I also ordered them, and last summer My Better Half and I finally got around to reading the books. We decided to read it aloud to each other at night, and it has been an excellent experience.  We finished Fifth Season at the end of the summer and have moved on to Book Two, The Obelisk Gate. We hope to finish by the Holidays.

It is a strange, intricate and fascinating book, which includes a map of The Stillness, which is the known earth in The Fifth Season.  Seasons are eras, some a few hundred years, some thousands in the earth’s history, usually indicated by tectonic plate shifts, earthquakes and weather phenomena. The book begins,

“Let’s start with the end of the earth, why don’t we? Get it over with and move on to more interesting things…”  “This is the way the earth ends, for the last time.”

There are difficulties in reading the book, a vocabulary of words: “roggas,” “sessapinae,” “orogenes,” etc. that we had no idea how to pronounce, but we overcame this problem with pronouncing them however we wanted. A glossary in the back explains many of the words, but if the reader is good at context clues he/she can usually figure out what is going on without stopping and turning to the book’s end. NPR described the series as “astounding.”

Another challenging aspect is that the characters and times shift back and forth, and the reader can get confused.  This, however, was one of our favorite parts of the book, for as we read, it was revealed that main characters in different chapters were actually the same characters we had read about earlier as adults in their childhood days, or that a certain character was a character we had read about previously, but he/she/it ws in a different form.  All of this confusion is worth it to enjoy the beautiful, often poetic writing which makes the reader feel the movement of the earth or see the beautiful power of the gigantic obelisks.

The narrative itself is a “grabber,” which carries the reader along with the action throughout the twists and turns of the plot. We often exclaimed, “Oh, that’s the…” or “Wow! That’s why (the character) said or did so and so…” We felt so intelligent (LOL) that we figured out the revelation just before it became obvious in the “tale.” The author’s way of writing is unique. She feeds the reader information on a need to know basis and lets him/her draw the conclusion on matters just as the character concludes the same thing. The style is masterful, the word choice and phrasing original and spot-on, and the author’s imagination unlimited.

This is a must read.

THE LITTLE PARIS BOOKSHOP by Nina George: A Review

Nina George commented that this novel is her “love letter to books” when she published it in 2015.  It presents The Literary Apothecary, a floating book barge moored on the Seine where Monsieur Perdue diagnoses people’s/customer’s problems and prescribes books for whatever ailment they are experiencing. Max Jordan, a best selling young author, eccentric as the earmuffs he always wears, comes to the Apothecary, hiding out from fans of his books. Handing Jordan his last copy of a book Perdue thinks will fit the  author’s needs, Perdue delivers the following prescription: “Read this. Three pages every morning  before breakfast, lying down. It has to be the first thing you take in.  In a few weeks, you won’t feel quite so sore–it’ll be as though you no longer have to atone for your success with writer’s block.”

Max asks the older gentleman, “How did you know? I really can’t stand the money and the horrible heat of success.”Max learns Monsieur Perdue has an unopened letter from a departed lover. Finally reading it after twenty years sets the two men off to the South of France, Perdue hoping to make peace with his loss and discover the end of the lovers’ unfinished story.  The adventures that follow and the characters they meet on their journey makes for a warm, often humorous read one won’t soon forget.

I can’t think of any reader who would not enjoy it.

Sunday (Evening) Post

Instead of the usual catch-up post this evening, and because I have a backlog of reviews written but not posted, this evening I will review one of my recent reads.

Bitter in the Mouth by Monique Truong: A Review

This 2010 novel brought to my attention the condition of synesthesia, where words bring to mind colors, sounds (often music) etc.  The main character, Linda Hammerick, has this    symptomatic “illness” where words are accompanied by specific tastes in her mouth.  People’s names, words said to her, and words she says, all cause her to taste a flavor in her mouth. Bitter is a coming-of age story, but has a surprise ending and many twists and turns that make it a masterpiece. Jayne Ann Phillips (author of Machine Dreams, which I studied in graduate school and was privileged to hear her “read” and have a Q&A time with in a very small setting ) has said the book is written with a “magical ferocity.” That term would also describe Linda, the protagonist.  Another critic lists these themes covered by the novel: “friendship, loyalty, love, family,;and above all, the mysteries of every corner of one’s history that make us who we are.”

Linda’s great uncle, Harper, whom she loves more than anyone, teaches her how to dance, and accepts and loves her unconditionally.  Kelly, her best girlfriend since the age of eight, deals with weight issues, but is a loyal friend until she has a boyfriend, and then Linda devotes herself to her studies. She receives a scholarship to Columbia University, then after graduation, goes on to practice law in N.Y. All this time, the two girls correspond and keep in touch. A family tragedy forces Linda to return home to Boiling Springs N.C. , where she learns the truth about family secrets, including those about herself.

This award-winning writer has that title for good reason. At first it was difficult to read because most words are followed up what they taste like to Linda. But soon, with patience, the reader is so carried along by the story that he/she too tastes words as they read them, without hindering the progress or understanding of the story.

This was a special book, recommended to me by my grandson, and like me, he was blown away by the story and the author as well. WE recommend you read it.

CHILDREN’S BOOK MARATHON Part II

In Jay’s (of the blog “This Is My Truth Now) Children’s Book Marathon, participants are asked to read children’s books and review them. Last week’s books were Picture Books, and I was a day late, but I reviewed all three books.  This time, the books are Award Winning Books, and since I waited until the last minute to order them from my local library, they did not come in until today, two days after the “deadline.” Thus, I have only had time to read one of the three, and I think I’ll pass on the other two. The first book in this category is Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne ;I am sure I have read this book at one time, and I’ve seen more than one cartoon version of a story from the series, but I think instead of re-reading the book, I’ll try to watch the part human actor/part-animated character-movie that has recently come out.  The man who plays Christopher Robin is an actor I’ve seen in other films, and he is quite good.)

The second book by Lois Lowry, whom I’ve read before in YA books, is Number the Stars. It is a simply written book which will allow children to read and understand it on their own, dealing with the WWII German occupation of Denmark and the heroic people who smuggled an amazing number of Jews out of occupied Denmark at the risk of their own lives and relocating them safely.  I began the book in the truck on the way home from the library, and frankly (perhaps  because of its simplicity), it didn’t keep my interest, and I could have told you the plot and the outcome from about the third page, so, I am passing on it too.

That leaves book three, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, a picture book as well as an award winner, to review. The book is a delight.  The pigeon of the title in this book (written and illustrated by mo willems) is a light blue crazy, zany pigeon with a bright yellow beak.  Children, who love crazy, zany things, will fall in love with him at once. At the beginning of the story (which is as crazy and zany as the illustrations), the bus driver excuses himself from the bus for a short while, telling the passengers and us, the readers that whatever happens, “Don’t let the pigeon drive the bus.” Of course the pigeon begs the readers to drive the bus, and for the next ten or so pages, sketches of him as he begs, cajoles, threatens, bribes, yells, makes promises, tries to trick us, and generally pleads with us to let him drive the bus. After a two page full large-lettered tantrum, he stands angry, disgusted, frustrated,  and with feathers strewn across the next two pages from the violence of his tantrum, he gives up just as the bus driver strolls back into the picture. As the bus driver whisks the bus away, the pigeon is so depressed he doesn’t notice the BIG truck rapidly approaching! We know he will be hit, but the last two pages show him dreaming (Eyes closed; Is he dead or alive; this is left up for “discussion”) and imagining in a  succession of frames, the big truck with the pigeon at the wheel, driving.

The book is so smart, so funny, so engaging that I must comment that willems obviously knows children: their humor, their attention spans, their imaginations. I am glad that since I decided to only review one of the three books, this was the one!

THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS by M.L. Stedman: A Review

This 2012 NY Times Bestseller is just now being discovered by book clubs, perhaps because it lends itself so well to discussions involving human empathy, ethics, and the fact that the book is just such a darned good story. It is heart wrenching and, as advertised on the cover, deals with “love, loss, and right and wrong,” just the meat for a group to chew on.

In the story, we find Tom Sherborne, a veteran from the Western Front during WWII, were he saw all the horrors of war and is left dealing with the fact he has killed, something very much against his personal beliefs; taking a job as a lighthouse keeper. Not just any lighthouse, but the one on Janus Island, off the coast of Australia, so isolated it is “half a day’s journey by boat to even get to it.” On leave, while on the Australian coast, he meets a very young Isobel, a bold, pampered girl who loves him unconditionally from the moment she sees him. At her insistence, they marry and he whisks her away to an isolated, lonely, mundane life on Janus, for they are the only humans there.  Surprisingly enough she is perfectly satisfied. as he is all she wants and needs.

In the early years of their marriage, she suffers miscarriages and a stillbirth, which, of course affects them both, as well as the marriage.  One day a boat washes up on shore, containing a dead man and a live baby girl. Tom wants and knows he should report this “find” to the authorities, but Isabel feels in His own strange way, God has sent her a child.

The story becomes increasingly tragic as the years go by, and the girl grows up. As Tom struggles with his conscience, and the couple meet the child’s grieving mother while on shore leave, the reader fears a collision of epic proportions, which actually does occur.  However, the author miraculously brings about a satisfying (if not a happy-ever-after) ending, and the reader breathes a sigh of satisfaction, having experienced a “darned good read.”

READING OUT OF MY GENRE: THE ACCIDENTAL LIFE by Terry McDonell: A Review

In a deliberate effort to read “more than just novels” this summer, I picked up McDonell’s 2016 collections of memories and recollections, (subtitle: An Editor’s Notes on Writing and Writers) from my local public library. The author shamelessly name-dropped (in a good way) sports figures names like Tiger Woods; authors like Hunter S. Thompson and Hemingway; and twentieth and twenty-first century celebs like Frank Sinatra, the Kennedys, Jack Nicholson, and Steve Jobs.  Most of his stories and recollections of meeting and working with these notables were fascinating.  I admit that I did not read every selection/chapter, for I knew nothing about some famous sportswriters or even about some of the literary “who’s who.”  Roy Blount, Jr. says on the back cover, “McDonell knew the wildest writers, edited most of them, and he remembers a great deal.” In his careers as editor at Esquire, Sports Illustrated, Gentlemen’s Quarterly (GQ), McDonell came face to face and often toe to toe with the eccentricities and demands of writers.  He was often “in on” plans for the next “big” undertaking of the writers, and his impressions were so accurate that he cold have been excused for saying, “I told you so.”

Tom Brokow called McDonell, “…one of the prominent editors in the world of popular magazines.” Interspersed with the author’s recollections about writers and editing magazines are helpful asides to authors and editors as well. Here is a writer who writes on writing and an editor who writes on editing. Overall, The Accidental Life is interesting and helpful, especially for magazine readers.