FATHER FIGURE by James J. Cudney: A Review

This 2018 novel by blogger (“This Is My Truth Now”) and author (Watching Glass Shatter), is a wonderful read. It begins with a “teaser” opening.  One is approaching the two story cabin on the cover and sees two bodies, a man and a woman, who have just crashed through a window, lying on the ground. All we know from the police who have arrived is that one is dead, the other severely hurt.

Then the story alternates between Amalia (beginning in August of 1984) and Brianna (beginning in June of 2004), chapter by chapter. Amalia, submissive daughter to an abusive mother, Janet, and a 60 year old, quiet man, Peter, lives a life of shame and physical abuse. She and her parents live in Brant, Mississippi. Her brother, Greg and his best friend are about to come home from college to Brant for the summer.  Amalia begins to realize that Greg’s friend is a tease, and ashamedly enough, he awakens feelings in her she has never experienced before.

Brianna, who lives in New York with her single mom also struggles with feelings.  She is about to go to prom with her boyfriend, Doug, and knows that Doug has “expectations” for prom night, but she also has feelings for her best friend, Shannelle, who prefers women to men.  Her story is one where she explores her sexuality, not coming to any conclusions until the very end.

There are many twists and turns in Father Figure, as well as many reveals and unravellings of family mysteries and connections. Both girls make the decision to go to college, both attempting to escape from something only to discover their own connections and pasts are intertwined. It is a good novel that spools out, clear and easy to  follow as laid out by the author, but warning: DO NOT try to figure out the connections or who was lying on the ground at the beginning/end of the story.  YOU WILL BE WRONG, until Cudney decides to tie up all ends and reveal all.  It is a darned good read.

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ANOTHER BROOKLYN by Jacqueline Woodson: A Review

The thing that made me check this book out from the library was that Ann Patchett recommended it on the cover blurb.  It is a 2016 publication, and I had never read Woodson before.  Set in Brooklyn during the 1970’s “where friendship was everything,” this coming of age novel features August, Sylvia, Angela and Gi Gi. Yes, it is a coming-of-age novel, but the way it is written makes it much more. Brooklyn, itself is a character, “…a dangerous place where grown men reached for innocent girls in dark hallways.”

Sometimes the writing is like reading poetry, and this “gifted novelist,” a very young writer, is better known for Brown Girl Dreaming, a 2014 National Book Award winner. Woodson was also named “Young People’s Poet Laureate” by the Poetry Foundation, and her writing has been deemed “of literary quality.”  

Not only was Another Brooklyn a darned good story and a literary experience to read it, 1970’s Brooklyn is depicted accurately, yet sympathetically. After I read the book, I felt like I had been there.

A COUPLE OF REALLY GOOD READS

Kiss Her Goodbye by Wendy Corsi Staub, the book I read for “K” in my Alphabet Challenge, has something for everyone: a thriller, crime, mystery, family and marriage relationships, family secrets–you name it, it’s in there. This was a paperback written in 2004 that was turned in to my Little Free Library after a neighbor read it. There is both a prologue and an epilogue, features I always appreciate.

It opens with the approaching birthday of Jen Carmody, the fourteen year old who becomes the focus of mysterious speculations, stalkings, and secrets. Stella, for whom Jen babysits and her husband, Kurt (who is a possible suspect at one point) are having marital difficulties. The family secrets mentioned are revealed and explored which involve Jen’s father, Matt, her mother, Kathleen, and Kathleen’s father who is “confused” and in a nursing home. Her best friend, Erin’s mother, Maeve, is a single mom who is interested in each of the aforementioned men. The story begins in August with the disappearance of a young girl in town, and the story runs October through May. Several murders occur, and I challenge you to follow the clues and determine “who dun it.”

The Baker’s Secret, a 2017 novel by Stephen P. Kierman is set in occupied France in the small village of Vergers. The book hooked me from the very first line: “All through those years of war, the bread tasted of humiliation.” It is spoken by the apprentice baker, a young woman named Emmanuelle, known in the village as Emma, who has secretly been adding straw to the flour for the mandatory loaves she bakes for the German Kommandant daily, so she can give the extra loaves to starving villagers. The story covers the period prior to and during the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944. The description of what Emma sees on Omaha Beach is vivid and heart wrenching. Her horrendous close calls and brutal beatings are told in a way that makes the reader hold his breath or ache all over his body as he reads.

The story appeals to young adults (junior high and up) and adults as well. At the end, the publisher includes an interesting interview with the author and study questions for discussions. It is the perfect selection for a book club.

JUST THINKING: A Review

I read this collection of poems by blogger and author Colin Chappell as part of my celebration of National Poetry Month in April. As Colin describes his book, it is…

“A little book

for when

you have

a little time

with some

little writings,

which may produce

some little

thoughts.”

And producing thoughts based on his thoughts is exactly what Just Thinking did for me. I had already read and enjoyed, Who Said I Was Up for Adoption,? Chappell’s account of himself and Ray, his rescued dog, so I was not surprised to find Colin was a good writer, but his poetry is outstanding.

Part 1, “My Friend, Ray,” describes many things I had read on Colin Chappell’s blog, meandray.com  ,  as Colin describes, it, it tells about “one calculating dog…and one unsuspecting human.”

Part 2, “Relationships” was about just that, and my favorite poem in this section was one titled, “Adrift,” which I used with my Advanced Writing class.

Part 3 was more miscellaneous and had some fine poems in it.

Part 4, “Tina and Other Stories,” dealt with the heartbreak of “people on the street,” the title poem, “Tina,” a poem about a homeless woman selling flowers.

Another thing that made this collection special was that all proceeds from the sale of the book went towards Colin’s daughter’s medical expenses. (Two poem by her are included with Colin’s.)

It’s not too late to celebrate poetry even though the national recognition has ended for 2018. Purchase a copy of Just Thinking. Your life will be richer for it.

The Writer’s Daily Companion by Amy Peters: A Review

This book was a gift from a student at the end of a semester, a gift that keeps on giving. This outstanding book has literally been an inspiration. It is not only for writers, but for readers as well. Mondays are “Writers on Writing,” quotes that are then discussed usually on one page. Tuesday deals with “Motivation,” topics that make suggestions on what to write and how to come up with subjects to write about. “Wednesday Writing Class” gives the writer an “assignment as well as practical advice .  Thursdays topics are “Editing,” extremely helpful for those who need to strengthen or refine their editing skills. “Biography” on Fridays deal with classics writers as well as recent writers, always giving interesting facts. Saturday suggests “Books to Read,” and Sunday gives a “Writing Prompt,” which I have used often for my Freshman Composition or Advanced Writing classes. I have received some excellent pieces using these prompts.

Here is an example from a Saturday “Books to Read” listing:

“Grimm’s Fairy Tales

by The Brothers Grimm

But iron slippers had already been put upon the fire, and they were brought in with tongs, and set before her. Then she was forced to put on the red-hot shoes, and dance until she dropped dead. (Jacob and William Grimm, from ‘Little Snow White.””

The entry gives the history of the brothers, whose collection was published in 1812. Both brothers were students of history of folklore and did much research on their subject, often going out into the countryside and listening to and recording old folktales. Obviously, judging from the quoted excerpt, the brothers’ target readers were not children.  As writers, the stories teach us to “create a story with a truly compelling plot regardless of the simplicity of the theme.” Many times we see the theme of a conflict/battle between good and evil played out in The Brothers Grimm’s stories. The outcome is predictable; what attracts the reader is the journey to get there.

Such entries (although I have shortened this one and paraphrased it drastically) are fun to read and to think about. A full-time writer could undertake one entry per day (There are 365 of them–enough for a year.), and  an in-depth study of this book would make an excellent course for writers.

I highly recommend this book.

Second Chance Grill: A Review

I have often read cozy mysteries (where there is a murder, but there are no gory, graphic details or scenes, and the person killed is someone you “love to hate”), but I would describe Christine Nolfi’s 2012 novel, first book in the Liberty Series, as a “cozy romance.”

There are all the elements required for coziness: a handsome, rugged man who works with his hands, a mechanic named Anthony; a female protagonist, in this case Mary Chance, who is a doctor, but has inherited from her eccentric Aunt Meg a cafe and grill in a small town, Liberty, Ohio; a leukemia-striken kid, Blossom, Anthony’s daughter ;and the combination of these elements makes for a fine, inspiring novel.

The book begins with the disastrous opening day of the Second Chance Grill. (Get the connection? Mary Chance is the second “Chance”, after Meg, to run the grill.) Nothing goes right, and the cook nearly runs off the entire town. Mary really gets off on the wrong foot. Blossom decides from first sight that Mary is perfect for her widowed father’s second wife. What she doesn’t know is that Mary is only taking a break from doctoring to escape from the extreme grief she feels over the sudden death of her closest friend, and she intends to take over the deceased girl’s father’s practice just as soon as she meets her obligation to her aunt to get the grill up, running, and making a profit.

Of course, Blossom nearly dies, and the reader meets Anthony’s zany family who immediately agree with Blossom’s pick for her stepmother.  So many miscommunications and plot twists happen that the reader never loses interest or becomes bored. There are thirty-one short chapters that keep the reader swimming in cliffhangers.  It is the perfect escape read, something all of us need from time to time. The next book will be titled Treasure Me, which probably involves the many antiques that make up the decor of the grill.

THE FORTELLING by Alice Hoffman, a Review

I filled in the gap between Jennifer Egan’s Emerald City and Give a Boy a Gun this week by reading Alice Hoffman’s coming of age story, The Fortelling. This mystical, mythical 2005 publication is set in “ancient times of blood,” pre-dating history, when Amazons rode their magnificent horses across the Russian Steppes.

Rain, born in sorrow and destined to become queen, cannot force the current queen, her mother, to love her. Even the shaded illustrations and patterns on the pages create a misty background for the visions that come out of the fog and the smoke of the women’s fires. What is the significance of the black horse Rain sees when the ancient priestess throws her potions into the fires to accomplish the foretelling? What are the strange dreams she has that haunt and worry her as she changes from a warrior girl to a leader-queen?

Mothers and daughters alike will enjoy this novel where genres of YA and women’s literature are blurred. Better yet, read it aloud to each other, luxuriating in the poetic wording and phrasing handled so well by Hoffman. I recommend this novel to all women, regardless of their age or reading preferences.