Boy, Snow, Bird: A Review of a strange book

Helen Oyeyemi’s 2014 novel has been described as a “cautionary tale” that includes “post-race ideology, racial limbo, and the politics of passing.” (New York Times) The whole story takes on a magical, fairytale quality, but ends with a shocking revelation. It is divided into three parts: the story of Boy, the story of Snow, the story of Bird.

At the beginning we meet Boy, named so because her rat catcher father refused to care enough to think of a better name. Her mother is absent from her life. She is described as having a long, white-blonde braid and is extremely intelligent. Her life in East-side Manhattan sometime in the 1930’s is horrific and violent. Early on, she runs away and ends up at a young women’s boarding house. During her stay, she double dates with another young woman there and meets Arturo. Her first meetings and dates with him begins a love/hate relationship although she falls desperately under the spell of his lovely 6 year old daughter, Snow. When she meets Arturo’s mother, Olivia Whitman, yet another kind of relationship develops.

After Arturo and Boy’s daughter, a Negro, is born, Snow, Arturo’s daughter is exiled to live with an aunt to prevent competition and conflict between the two girls. (Part Two) As the story unfolds, one layer at a time, Bird, their daughter, seems to have a second sight about “things” and has an insatiable curiosity which strives to unlock family mysteries. Over time, the two girls exchange letters. (Part Three) At the end, all family secrets are revealed sending the characters’ emotions and lives topsy turvy.

The book has a strangeness about it, from its original setting to its unsettling conclusion, and many assumptions and conclusions the reader has made along the way are turned upside down.

This is a satisfying read, not necessarily a book you will like or even one you can understand upon a first reading, but it has literary value, and I definitely will read other books by this author.

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“Check Off ‘B’: The Beekeeper’s Daughter: A Review

In my Alphabet Challenge, which thankfully has no time limits or goals on it, I have read the book for the letter ‘B’.  Santa Montefiore’s The Beekeeper’s Daughter was a book due at the public library which I finished up (just in time) and counted as part of the challenge. An experienced writer, Montefiore presents a story of two romances (mother’s and daughter’s ) that span the settings of England during WWII and 1973 New England.

Grace Hamblin is the beekeeper’s daughter, living in England and who experiences a love that can never be fulfilled. Trixie, her daughter falls in love with Jasper, a singer in a band “on the brink of stardom.” He is part of the British Music Invasion of the seventies. Trixie’s story and Grace’s story (the latter told in flashbacks) have more in common than either could suspect. Both are searching for “lost love.”  “To find  what they are longing for, they must confront the past, unravel the lies told long ago, and open their hearts to each other.”

This novel is a very good read, engaging with many twist and turns, and good old-fashioned “escapism.”

TWO RECENT READS–Morningstar:Growing up With Books and Playing with Fire: REVIEWS

The following two books were ones I read purely for escape while waiting for my delayed-by-ice semester to start:

First, Morningstar:Growing Up with Books a 2017 publication by Ann Hood, was a slim volume which needs to be read with one’s TBR list close by. The book might be described as a memoir organized by what the author was reading at various stages of her life. I had read her earlier novel, The Book That Matters Most, and thoroughly enjoyed it, sharing it with friends at my book club, so when I saw it displayed at the library, I checked it out. Hood grew up in a household that “didn’t foster a love of literature but discovered literature anyway. Sometimes lonely as a child she experienced “the companionship of books.” She read eclectically, pouring equally over classics, bestsellers, and books that were “not so nice,” her mother’s description. Because it was so short, it was a quick read and a unique one. I highly recommend it to anyone who loves books and is interested in other people who love them too.

Tess Gerritsen’s 2015 novel is one I found at Half Price Books.  As a fan of the TNT series, Rissoli and Isles, selecting Playing with Fire, was a no-brainer.  The cover alone was enough to capture my interest. Gerritsen employs great skills of characterization, and her plots and sub-plots combine psychological thriller appeal as well as mystery, action, and plenty of twists and turns. Beginning in the US and continuing in Venice, Julia, the protagonist, is soon caught up in espionage and violence, something she never dreamed a concert violinist would experience.  The intertwining stories of the modern-day professional violinist and the Jewish holocaust-era composer provide good reading and good mystery.

The Alphabet Reading Challenge: ALL THE MISSING GIRLS, A Review

Around the next-to-the-last week in January, I took on the challenge of reading a book whose title began with each letter of the alphabet.  I did this as an overlap challenge with my January six book challenge, and have “retired” several of the letters, but not necessarily posted any reviews of the books. Today I want to review Megan Miranda’s All the Missing Girls. Obviously, it is a mystery, but its uniqueness lies in that it is told backwards. It was published in 2016, and I found it at Half Price Books.

Nicollete Farrell, the protagonist, receives a phone call from her brother, Daniel, saying their father is rapidly declining and asking her to come home. Ten years before, she had left Cooley Ridge, a “town full of liars,” and set out on a new path and had begun a new life. She is satisfied with her current status and her engagement to a prominent attorney.

During her teen years, her best friend, Corrine Prescott, had mysteriously disappeared, and when she returns and runs into her old boyfriend, Tyler, she meets his now-girlfriend, who also mysteriously disappears. All the memories, and all the details of Corrine’s disappearance flood back, as do old feelings for Tyler.

There are many suspects, including Tyler, her brother Daniel, and her confused and sometimes incoherent father, who have been questioned in both disappearances.  Was there foul play or another case of a teen runaway?

The story is told in reverse, “keeping readers on the edge their seats until the last page is turned.” There are too many secrets which are unburied, and the whole mess is complicated by efforts to protect and to be protected from the truth. The author presents the question, “How well can we know other people–and ourselves”?

 

BEARTOWN by Fredrik Backman, a 2017 publication

Those of us on the Texas Gulf Coast (I am located 30 miles south of Houston and 30 miles north of Galveston) are not used to waking up to 19 degrees with “feels-like” numbers of 9. We have shut everything down for the past two days since we are not equipped for sleet, snow, and frozen precipitation of any kind. Upon waking up, I thought I must be in Northern Beartown (a fictional town) deep in the forest where ice hockey is equivalent to life. Everything in Beartown revolves around hockey, and the high school Junior Ice Hockey team are the stars of the town, approaching a state championship. The players are celebrities, envied by students and adults( some former ice hockey stars themselves) alike. These young men are taking on their shoulders the hopes and dreams of their beloved Beartown.

As the team approaches the finals, there is a shocking act of violence.  Was it rape? Is the reader to believe Kevin, the superstar, or Amhed, the janitor’s gifted son, who is a recent addition to the team? What happens to an individual who dares to “go against the grain” and challenge the superstar hockey team? “…like ripples on a pond, [events] travel through all of Baytown, leaving no resident unaffected.”

This novel was reviewed and recommended by blogger friend, James J. Cudney, author of Watching Glass Shatter and the blog, “This Is My Truth Now.” I listened to it on CD’s (11 discs/418 pages) and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.  The one drawback, which may have been accentuated because I listened to it, was the rough language. However as a veteran of junior high school teaching, the language was appropriate because it is exactly what high school young men would use.

You will be as caught up in Beartown’s story: its inhabitants, its team, its school administration and local government, and most of all, its high schoolers and their families, as I was.

MANHATTEN BEACH: A REVIEW

Jennifer Egan is definitely an author I want to read again. Her 1917 novel, set in WWII, has many appeals: excellent characterization, accurate and fascinating peeks into the era, family mystery and dynamics, a coming-of-age-story, and many more “touches” that make it a “darned good read.” I literally stayed up late reading it.

Anna Kerrigan, the protagonist is twelve at the beginning; she is with her father, whom she idolizes, when she first meets Dexter Styles, the mystery man with gangster ties. Lydia, her crippled sister, is the center of her mother’s love and attention. Anna eventually becomes one of the first female divers at the Brooklyn Naval Yard, and she repairs ships, making them battle-ready in wartime. The “under-stories,” the father’s story and the mother’s story, and Styles’ story are equally as interesting as Anna’s.

The writing in this novel is outstanding. At times, Egan makes us shiver with apprehension; at times we smile or chuckle at a funny passage; always, we keep reading, wanting to discover the next thought or plot twist. We care about the characters and what happens to them–and plenty does. It is a wonderful story that would make a great movie, and I recommend you “read the book first.”

HIDDEN HEROES: EVIDENCE THAT GOD IS AT WORK: A Review

This is an old (1995) title that came into my hands from a friend who was donating it to my Little Free Library; however, it is full of “new” ideas and very inspiring. Don Moore and Lorna Dueck have collected short examples that prove, in Billy Graham’s words from his forward, “…God is still at work using ordinary people to do extraordinary things” and “…amid the apparent chaos and conflicts of our world, God is still at work through the lives of…men and women committed to Christ and seeking to serve Him.”

The examples chosen are mostly from Canada, but could be applied anywhere in anyone’s lives. There are a great deal of inspiring examples that might help the reader choose his own ministry/service as she/he sees needs arise in his/her location and life-situation. Heroes from sports figures to educators, to housewives and moms, to professional, trained leaders are given with each turn of the page. The stories often occur after the “hero” has taken a beating–losing a job or having to downsize, and turns it into an opportunity to serve in a way that is helpful to the Lord’s work and totally fulfilling.

This is an inspiring book for someone who wants to “do something.” Sometimes it is something that makes a difference in one life; sometimes it is something that “takes off” and makes a big difference in a big way. Regardless, the book is full of examples of people who took action, not just paid lip-service.