WATCHING GLASS SHATTER by James J. Cudney: A Review

Watching a family with the surname of Glass shatter sounds like a pretty bad reading experience, but the author’s depiction shows how although shattering herself due to secrets revealed after her husband’s death, Olivia Glass holds together her family of five sons.

Synopsis: Father of the Glass family, Benjamin Glass dies unexpectedly, and Olivia, his widow and five grown sons each react to his death in their own way. Because of a secret confession “from the grave”( in two letters left to be opened after his death), Olivia decides to visit each son as she tries to make sense of the secret Ben has kept from her.  Because it involves one of the sons, although she does not know which one, she tries to discover the secret on her own. She discovers, instead, that like their father, each son has kept his own secret from her and the rest of the family.  Unraveling and revealing every family secret kept me turning the pages, guessing (often wrongly) at the secrets and surprised many times by the twists and turns.

Cudney’s characterization is excellent.  I , for one, was interested in each individual as the character’s thoughts, secrets, and actions unreeled. The major characters, Olivia and her “boys” are people I came to care about. A secondary character I grew fond of was Diana, Olivia’s sister who not only was the family “listener,” but also had figured out more than one son’s secret and didn’t blab. Significant others who were secondary characters were also believable, very likable, and integral to the story.

The writing is outstanding. Irony abounds, and the word choices and phrasing are captivating from the first page:– “…his discrete office hibernating in the corner of Brandywine’s downtown historic district…”– to the last:– “…Sewn into the last few pages of the album were parchment scrolls that displayed in beautiful calligraphy the Glass Family tree–”

I give this book a five out of five and would definitely recommend it as a “darned good read.”

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TWO RECENT READS

Boston Girl by Anita Diamont (author of the bestselling The Red Tent) was the selected book for November at my “new” book club.  I knew everyone present, several for thirty years, and only one woman was a new acquaintance. The discussion was insightful and the study guide questions in the back of the paperback edition were the source of many interesting comments and answers. Here is my brief review of the 2014 novel:

Addie Braum, the Boston girl of the title, is the third child of a three sister family, the only one of the three born in the U.S. A brother, born on the ship on the way to America, died, and was buried at sea. Through her story, the author explores “love, friendship, and family.” Through her membership in The Library Club and a summer’s stay at Rockport Lodge, run by women who are forward-thinking women and attended by becoming-liberated girls, Adie changes and comes in conflict with her immigrant parents. Her mother, a vengeful, never-satisfied, and just-plain-mean-spirited woman often thwarts Adie’s desires to become educated and attend college. Later in the novel, her husband, a true mensch, encourages Adie in ways she has never been loved or encouraged before. In the novel, more than just a coming-of-age story, we see a picture of WWI, WWII, and postwar America. We see changes in Addie as well as in the culture and make up of the U.S.A. The book club gave the novel a “grade” of B+.  I would give it four out of five points. It is a darned good read.

The other day I finished Jeanette Walls’ “true life novel,” Half Broke Horses, which I gave a full five points out of a possible five. It is the story of Lily Casey Smith, Walls’ grandmother, whom a review described as a “woman of gumption.” And how she needed it!  Throughout the story, Lily experiences  floods, tornadoes, droughts and a fire, all the while surviving the Great Depression. The writing is “plainspoken, yet heartfelt” (Chicago Tribune). I agree wholeheartedly with People magazine which writes it is “impossible to forget.” Half Broke Horses has been described by one reviewer as “Laura Ingalls Wilder for adults.” I was especially interested in her adventures and misadventures as a teacher and her unique teaching methods.  Photos added a great deal to the book and reminded the reader that it is all based on the life of a real woman. It is a perfect example of short, sweet, matter-of-fact writing while it deals with horrific issues, It is one of the best novels I have read this year.

THE RESURRECTION OF JOAN ASHBY: A Review

This 2017 debut novel by Cherise Wolas is “a stunning debut–because there is nothing debut about it.” (A.M. Holmes, NY Times bestselling author).  I agree with this statement one hundred percent. This is one of the smoothest, most professionally-written, insightful novels I have ever read.  Every character is beautifully developed, every plot twist and turn is unexpected, and even shattering in one instance. The story explores, and maybe exploits, the thoughts and inner life of a writer in its main character, Joan Ashby.

The plot Wolas develops stems from “sacrifice” that is demanded with the onset of motherhood and the profound effect it can have on a gifted writer. Although originally unapologetic about her ambition, when the time comes Joan, our protagonist, makes the selfless choice, not once but twice with entirely different and even difficult outcomes. Excerpts from Ashby’s “dark and singular stories ” as one of her critics describes them are interspersed throughout the novel, and I must confess that I would love to read more than one of those imaginary short stories in its entirety.

Her struggles to set her two precocious sons on the road to success and happiness demand time and attention she must steal from her writing. Towards the end, with the plot developments that occur, Joan comes to question every decision she has made in her life, and as she travels to India to examine her accomplishments and failures, to evaluate her life and her life’s work, and there she makes the only decisions she CAN make to satisfy the intelligent reader.  The article from a fictional literary magazine, which serves as an epilogue adds to the reader’s sense of closure and satisfaction with “the way things work out at the end.”

I highly recommend this book and rank it “right up there” with A Gentleman in Moscow as the best book I’ve read this year.

 

CRYSTAL CLEAR, A novelette by Aiden Reid: A Review

Aiden Reid, author of Pathfinder and Sigil, both fascinating novels, has written a long short story or a short novel which is another story about the hero of Pathfinders. In the story, Stephen finds a crystal that has special powers that turn his life around and change him from a slacker/loser to a very successful person.  How this is all accomplished, where the crystal came from, and what happens to the mysterious crystal is the focus to this attention-grabbing, interest-sustaining narrative.  It is sci-fi at its best with bits of philosophy and life-lessons tossed in for good measure.  It is a quick read, but one you won’t want to miss!

CLARICE BEAN: Review of a Children’s Book

Lauren Child’s charming chapter book, Utterly MeClarice Bean was not my first encounter with the girl of the title.  Several years ago, I found a book at Half Price Books for my Little Free Library (LFL) entitled Clarice Bean Spells Trouble which was about a kid who couldn’t spell if her life depended on it and a teacher, Mrs. Wilberton, who couldn’t understand why Clarice “just didn’t try.” This book, Utterly Me… is evidently the first in the Clarice Bean series. Clarice and her best friend, Betty Moody are “utterly” (Clarice’s favorite word) hooked on the Ruby Redford series (think Nancy Drew with James Bond gadgets and Batman’s butler).

Not only do Clarice and Betty follow the books (of which excerpts are included throughout), they write to the author and use the girl detective’s methods to solve a mystery in their own classroom, much to Mrs. Wilberton’s dismay  (She is not a fan of either Ruby Redford or Clarice.), Clarice and Betty decide to do their book report on a Ruby Redford book they are reading. Betty disappears, Clarice is partnered with the worst boy in class (who turns out not to be so bad), and eventually the mystery is solved with the culprit astonishing Mrs. Wilberton.

Secondary characters like Clarice’s and Betty’s parents, Clarice’s siblings, and various students in their class add humor, interest, and satisfaction. The cartoonish drawings which illustrate the story are excellent as well.

It is aimed at 8 year olds to early junior high, providing an excellent starter-chapter book for any girl or boy.  I received it as a discard from a local elementary school for my LFL, free, so I can boast that my five out of five star rating is totally unbiased. I am glad I took the time to read the book.

WIZARD AND GLASS by Stephen King: A Review

At the risk of repeating myself, allow me to give a little background on King’s “Dark Tower” series.  When the first book of the seven volume series, The Gunslinger, was published, it was an extraordinarily hot Texas summer.  My Better Half and I checked out the unabridged CD of King’s novel, our first foray into audio books.  As the over one hundred degree afternoons droned on, we listened to Roland’s (protagonist’s) story while letting the fan blow across us on the bed.  The reader’s voice did NOT drone on and on, and we were caught up in the exciting, action-packed narrative, filled with King’s exquisite imagination.

The same reader read through Book III of the series, then died.  King said (in a newspaper account) he would never let anyone else read that particular series, so readers were committed to reading in print themselves the rest of the saga. Wizard and Glass was Book IV, and when I first attempted to read it, it seemed dull by comparison to the insane trip on Blaine the Train in Book III that I skipped Book VI and went on to Book V, The Wolves of Calla,which became, perhaps my favorite book in the whole series.  Since it was a detour from the quest/journey the ka-tet was on, there was no disconnect in the plot. I read The Song of Susanna, Book VI  next, another side-trip into Roland’s past, which revealed a darker side of both the gunslinger Susan and especially of Roland, the original gunslinger. It was perhaps the weakest book of the series, in my opinion, and certainly the goriest, grossest of all the books. Before reading Book VII, the end of the story, I realized there were gaps that I needed to fill in, so I returned to Book IV, which was all I lacked before reading the conclusion.

Book VI, Wizard and Glass, is a fascinating look into young (14 years old) Roland’s past and his first assignment as a gunslinger, as well as his first love, Susan Delgado. Perhaps one of the strongest features of this novel is the character of Rhea of the Coos, and unforgettable witch/wizard woman who will haunt your dreams and give you night terrors.  King outdoes himself with this characters and her “mutie” familiars, so grotesque that they turn your stomach. What she does to Roland and to Susan is revenge and perverseness, pure and simple.  Again this book is action-packed, a beautiful story of young love and worthy adversaries to the trio of young gunslingers (Roland and his two best friends) are the Great Coffin Hunters, all working for the Crimson King, who will appear in future books. Perhaps this is one of my favorite things about King’s series (I also found this in The Stand, another of King’s masterpieces.) is how characters from other books turn up in more recent ones to continue to do their evil or to have evil acted upon them; for example, the priest, Callahan, from Salem’s Lot, is a major player in Wolves of the Calla (Book V).

The strange, hypnotic globe in Book IV, the pink light emitting “8 Ball” of this book, is one of the thirteen globes that are encountered all through the series and has a definite effect/influence on the plot, the character development and the growth or devastation of the protagonists and antagonists in Book IV.

Wizard and Globe is long, but when I came to the end and faced the other three volumes with the quartet (quintet if you count Oy) of gunslingers, I was energized and could hardly wait to continue the journey to save the Rose and defeat the power  of the Dark Tower and the Crimson King. I do recommend reading the series in order, but King, starring with Book IV, does give a chapter or so refreshing the reader’s memory on what came before.  If you do not want to commit to seven volumes (several being over 700 or more pages), Book IV, Wizard and Globe is a good place to jump in.  Even the terrorizing suicidal journey on Blaine the Train is repeated and even prolonged and fleshed out a bit. This novel is a stand alone masterpiece and a vital part of Stephen King’s Lifework, “The Dark Tower Series.”

ARISTOTLE AND DANTE DISCOVER THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE: A Review

Benjamin Alire Saenz, a Pen Faulkner award winner, has written a tender, sensitive, honest, beautiful YA novel in Aristotle and Dante. The main characters, both fifteen, “clicked” from their very first meeting and frequently made each other laugh for no reason.  Moments of anger and miscommunication came later, as did questions of identity and sexuality. Together they explore the purpose of one’s life and one’s reason for being.

Ari is big and brawny, very handsome, although he is not aware of it and does not “feel handsome.” Dante is small and beautiful, delicate, and very sensitive. Ari closely guards his emotions where Dante expresses them freely.  Both boys are highly intelligent and can discuss everything from comics to “real literature.”

The novel is “gorgeously written” and excels in drawing two complex but totally believable characters in the boys, and realistic, loving parents.  Saenz explores the themes of family, friendship, love, the Latino lifestyle, and teenage angst as he describes places and events that will keep the reader engaged.

As the novel opens, we hear Ari speaking to himself:

“The problem of my life was that it was someone else’s idea.” Everything that follows , everything that happens to him and what he does seems to be “someone else’s idea” until he meets Dante, and everything changes. The two boys seek out and at the end discover, together, The Secrets of the Universe.  I give this book a rating of ten out of ten, and recommend it to all ages who appreciate beautiful writing and a darned good story.