Review

The Hermit

The Stranger in the Woods caught me off guard. The back cover sounded interesting enough to pick up and while I don’t read much nonfiction, but one seemed worth while. Michael Finkel’s writing hooked me and I fell under a calming trance during the story.

As much as I love being with friends and family, I appreciate solitude. Nothing is better than a quiet apartment a book. And still better, my family’s farm in rural Minnesota. Moving to New York helped remind me what real silence is like. Whenever I visit home, I walk the perimeter of our property and listen to the quiet, feel the stillness, talk to the cats. The Stranger in the Woods is like that; its slow, its quiet.IMG_2714

Christopher Knight lived for 27 years in the middle of the Maine woods. He robbed local cabins to supply himself with food and provisions. Knight was finally arrested when he was caught stealing from a camp and forced to reenter society. The story itself is true so I don’t want to comment on it, but I will talk a little on the execution.

Michael Finkel starts the story with a fiction narration style about the night Christopher Knight was arrested. From there, Finkel devolves to facts about Knight’s court case, doctors diagnosis’ of Knights intense introvert personality, and his own fascination with the whole situation.It seems odd that Finkel would leave his family in Colorado to travel to Maine several times while Knight is incarcerated, until he reveals he’s a journalist who has written similar pieces about “hermits” for National Geographic. Finkel spends a decent amount of the book talking about hermits throughout the centuries and from different cultures. Knight doesn’t fit the hermit mold, and I think this is what interested Finkel. People didn’t know what to do with Knight. He committed hundreds of counts of burglaries but didn’t hurt anyone physically. No one even saw him physically. Half the victims didn’t seem to mind, given rural Maine’s own code of ethics, and the other half were furious with him. There was no clean cut way to convict him.

Knight was a mystery to everyone and Finkel portrayed him as such. At times I would admire Knight and in the next paragraph be reminded that Knight isn’t the nicest person. He wants nothing to do with other people and isn’t cowed into expressing otherwise. For the reader who sticks with fiction, The Stranger in the Woods doesn’t have a tangible ending like you expect from most fiction. Knight is adamant that him and Finkel aren’t friends, and Finkel should never contact him again. So Finkel goes home, and that’s the end of the story. Finkel saw Knight reintroduced to society through to the end and that’s probably as far as the story will go.

There wasn’t closure, per se. Knight has disappeared into society as best he can. His story is still a moral dilemma.I don’t know if I can whole heartily decide if he should have been punished or not. I can say with conviction that I thoroughly enjoyed The Stranger in the Woods. It reminded me that silence does still exist, and
how filling and calming silence can be. I sort of understand why Knight fully cocooned himself in the woods. His silent story made me nostalgic for the farm and I know my mother would love a visit from her bit city daughter.

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Holy Sexual Awakening

I have a habit of not reading the back of a book before reading it. I read the back to decide if I want it on my shelf, but I won’t reacquaint myself with the story before jumping in. The back of An Almond for a Parrot says Tully Truegood will have a sexual awakening but I wasn’t prepared for how steeped the whole story would be in promiscuity. I couldn’t decide how I liked the book and considered once on putting it down early on, but I’m glad I finished it. The characters were good, Tully went through development, and the magical element enhanced the story.

During the eighteenth-century, Tully grows up an only child with a drunk father and aimg_2577 cook, who isn’t very good at cooking. She never leaves the house and remains uneducated until her father remarried an opinioned woman who brings with her two daughters. This is where I almost put it down, but unlike Cinderella, the new Mrs. Truegood and her daughters are accepting of naïve Tully. Mrs. Truegood find Tully tutors for reading elocution and her new sisters, Mercy and Hope, are there to show her how to wear her new gowns. Mercy is also instrumental in Tully’s sexual awakening. Not only does Mercy explain physical pleasure to Tully, she demonstrates it. It wasn’t the idea of two new step-sisters pleasuring each other that I had a hard time with, but (for lack of a better word) how horny Tully got. Granted she was 16 and the world literally just opened before her but physical pleasure was all she thought about. I don’t say sex because what was under a male’s breeches was still a mystery to her and she was focused on her nights with Mercy for the time being. I was surprised how eloquent Wray Delaney treated the sex scenes. And there’s a lot of them. But they never sounded vulgar. Delaney stayed with the time period and used terms like ‘purse’ and ‘maypole.’ When the sex was passionate for Tully, Delaney made sure her language reflected that so we were never taken out of the scene.

The magical element was subtle but played a huge part for the story. It wouldn’t have been the same without it. Tully is a seer. Since she was little she has been able to see the dead but she never thought much of it. Not until she starts training with Mr. Crease. He shows her how to control it and use it to her benefit, but also the benefit of himself and Queenie. Tully’s father being a drunk and gambled away all his money, married Queenie to settle his debts. Tully finds out Queenie is a courtesan and owns a brothel called The Fairy House where Mercy and Hope work. Tully leaves her father’s house to live at The Fairy House where Mr. Crease trains her to they can perform together at the masquerade ball for the opening of The Fairy House. Mr. Crease can’t explain everything Tully is able to do but together they put on a show for the elite of London, and thus starts her reputation of being a witch. This doesn’t stop gentleman for paying a handsome sum to spend the night with her.

The only thing that bothered me about the start of her career as a courtesan is she seemed to luck out. Her first client pays to take her virginity and pays to make her his full time mistress. While he is in London, she can’t be visited by any other man. And of course he is handsome and passionate and she falls in love with him. Her second client moves her out of The Fairy House to live with him in his estate and even furthers her education by teaching her French. She again falls in love and returns to The Fairy House with jewels and money after his death. It was all too easy and convenient. It’s not until her third client that she learns what it means to be a whore, continually sleeping with a man who reminds you he’s paid for this and expects you to be arm candy when seen in public together.

The more I think about the story, I like it. We watch as Tully starts as a sheltered young girl to grow into an opinioned young woman. Delaney did a great job moving the story forward with drama and even a little action. It was an historical fiction that was easy to read, even with the graphic sex scenes. They never pulled me out of the story and were suited for the plot. It was maybe too much of a happy ending with everything working out a little too perfectly, but it was hard not to be happy for Tully that it all came together.

Field Nurse’s Horror

The Fire By Night by Teresa Messineo is a historical fiction book about World War ll. It’s an event authors continue to use as their back drop, probably because of the savagery of it, the horrors of the Holocaust that continue to peak our morbid curiosity. Teresa Messineo doesn’t focus on the Holocaust, doesn’t even bring it up. Instead she tells us the stories of the field nurses. The women who volunteered, were sent overseas with the troops and set up medical tents img_2424amongst the fighting to care for the soldiers as soon as they were wounded. The Fire By Night follows two friends after they’ve been dispatched to their separate posts and the horrors they faced.

Jo and Kay met in nursing school and when they enlist together, they are sent to opposite ends of the world. Jo spends most of this story in France. She was left behind in a makeshift medical tent, waiting for the convoy to bring them to the hospital that never comes back. Kay is among thousands of people in a Japanese POW camp in Manila. While Jo stays busy keeping her six patients alive with her dwindling supplies, Kay reminisces about Hawaii before Pearl Harbor and write to Jo, knowing these letters will never reach her. Both women survive but will battle their demons while trying to figure out how to live in civilization once again.

Teresa Messineo managed to turn prose into poetry. Everything on the page was eloquent and gut wrenching. Messineo dug deep into what these women were thinking, how they were feeling, what they did to survive. My one critique of the story is from the middle; while chapters alternated between Jo and Kay, they became repetitive. Both women would feel such dismay, they wanted to give up altogether, but something would happen right at the end of the chapter, they would remember why they couldn’t give up and their spirits would be lifted enough to make it through to the next day. This went on for several chapters until both women were recused from their respective prisons.

It’s always good to stretch out of your genre once in a while. I’ve always enjoyed the historical fiction I’ve rea, I just have to remind myself not to take it as truth. Teresa Messineo’s writing easily makes this book worth reading. I really did enjoy seeing World War ll from a nurse’s point of view. Jo and Kay were strong and vulnerable in all the right ways. With The Fire By Night being Messineo’s debut novel, I can’t imagine what will be next.

 

 

By Emily Coleman

Enchanting Sisters

The universe is sending me messages about sisters. I didn’t mean to read back to back books containing a strong sister bond but now that I have, my tear ducts are shriveled and dry. The tag line on the front of the ARC of Caraval is “Remember, it’s only a game…” but when it comes to your sister, it’s never just a game. The main characters Scarlett will protect her sister, Tella, from anyone and anything.img_2391

Scarlett has to be mother and best friend and older sister while protecting Tella from their manipulative, abusive father. Of course Tella has a wild streak that makes it difficult to protect her but Scarlett does her best making sure their father stays unaware of Tella’s actions. Scarlett doesn’t always succeed and it was startling to find out how their father, the governor of a small isle, punishes his daughters. Caraval is essentially an elaborate circus, with less animals, and a scavenger hunt twist. Legend is the ringmaster with plenty of performers to make the five night event feel like a daring adventure. The players are warned at the start “it’s only a game” but the performers encourage them to indulge during the game.

Each year Legend creates a game of tricks and clues for the prize at the end. This year it’s a wish, but to win you have to find the stolen item. Scarlett and Tella have a lot of things to wish for but Scarlett quickly learns she has more at stake when the stolen item to find is her sister. Scar has never been the daring one but she will risk her father’s wrath and her engagement to find Tella first. She has help from the sailor that got the sisters to Caraval but he seems to know too much about the game and has an awful lot of secrets for Scarlett to completely trust him.

Stephanie Garber wrote a magical tale not only of a sister’s love but of self-discovery and self-worth. I loved the world of Caraval. Magical, inviting, but dangerous and a little faded around the edges. Garber added wonderful details to make the island feel tangible. Some of my issues were with the clues Scarlett was searching for. Sometimes it seemed she forgot she was looking for clues at all, and the second, third, and fourth clues happened all at once. It didn’t feel like Scarlett had to work for them and it was really rushed, but then she still didn’t find her sister for some time. The plot structure in the middle was just a little of but I loved the cliff hanger at the end. The story wrapped up but it’s far from over. Hopefully we get to follow Tella on the next adventure.

Protect Your Own

On the back of the ARC, there is a blurb that says “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo meets Gone Girl” and it’s a pretty accurate description. I got more Dragon Tattoo than Gone Girl but I see what they’re saying. This is a solid story. It’s not that it took me by surprise because I expected it to be bad, but I surprised myself by how fast I drank this story in. Twists and turns and danger makes for some fast reading but it helps when you care about the characters.img_2363

Christina a.k.a. Tina a.k.a. Tiny Girl/Tiny is broken in so many believable ways. Fleeing the Congo as a young child with a single mother can’t be easy but who would have thought living in a gated estate is where she would end up being orphaned. Living on the street, learning to pickpocket is where she becomes Tiny Girl. The pickpocketing is just practice until she becomes stronger, faster, sneakier, until she can take on her revenge.

Natalie Anderson not only created believable characters but wove together an intricate story of secrets. Anderson tore Tina’s world apart and let us watch her put it back together. She has a strong writing voice but my one critique of her writing was how American the characters sounded. These are teenagers and street thugs who grew up in the Congo or in Sangui City but sometimes is was hard to think of them as natives. And yet on the other hand, I completely believed her description of the area. Of course I’ve never been there to see it myself but nothing about her world building took me out of the story.

As the book worked up to the fast-paced resolution, I got nervous it would fall apart. It would have been easy with one minor change and I would have been disappointed. But I’m happy with how the conflict resolved. And then the last couple of pages happened. In my defense, anything to do with sisters gets me a little emotional but as I finished the book, I was on a plane to Minnesota for my sister’s wedding. Let’s just say I stared out the window until I got myself under control again. Not saying anyone else will end up an emotional mess like I did, but it is touching. Natalie Anderson did a great job for being a debut author and it’ll be fun to see what else she comes up with.

Going Down In Flames

Sarah Raughley drops us in the middle of this dystopian future, which include phantom (wraith-like beings with destructive power) and 4 teenage girls with elemental powers who are trained to protect the world from the phantoms. When a girl, an Effigie, is killed, a new girl receives those same powers and joins the famous Effigie group. At the start of the story, Maia knows she has been chosen as the new flame Effigie but hasn’t told anyone yet. The Sect (international organization in charge of the Effigies) will find her eventually and force her to reveal herself.img_2127

While the story grabs your attention, I had some trouble with the dialogue, especially in the beginning. Maia had a terrible habit of talking around what she wanted to say. I understand she’s only 16 and is more than a little uncomfortable with being an Effigie, but spit it out girl! Rhys is a Sect member and ultimately the love interest, and scenes between the two of them were difficult to get through. Rhys has a crush on Maia but won’t act on it, and also has an important secret to tell her but kept skirting around it until they were interrupted. Over and over again. We still don’t know what his secret is. Raughley did enough to keep my interested in the story as it went along but she withheld some information and I’m not sure it was necessary. Are those secrets going to play that big of a role in the coming books? I might be more inclined to continue the series if I understood more of what was happening.

I was disappointed with the characters as well. Nothing about them made them more than just stereotypes. Maia is quiet and awkward, Belle is the face of the Effigies but is cold and disinterested in anyone else, Chae Rin has been outcast by the Sect for being too destructive and now occupies her time as an acrobat in the circus, and Lake has PTSD from her last battle so she decides to try her hand at being a pop star. Belle comes the closest to breaking her cold hearted shell and having some character development, but Raughley pulls her back again and doesn’t give us the satisfaction to seeing beyond her exterior.

I’m hoping this will be a trilogy. Three books would be enough for this story. Raughley has done well with a diverse setting but there is a lot of work to be done building the plot. This could be a great story with more character development and continued plot development.

Does anyone remember what Z.O.O. stands for?

Da da da da da da da da da da da da da da…welp…typing the tune to John William’s theme from Jurassic Park fails in comparison to listening to it’s majesty. I felt that I should fit in a reference to Michael Crichton’s wildly popular book since so many people talk about it when they talk about James Patterson’s Zoo.zoo-james-patterson

I must confess, this was my first James Patterson novel. The television series looked interesting and I wanted to read the book before binge watching the show. I ended up binge reading the novel in two sittings. It is quickly paced and not at all dense which lends itself to the sort of bingeing that we do in the Age of Netflix.

I will do my best to leave any comparison to Jurassic Park from this review since I really didn’t find the two at all similar in style or execution. The problem is…Jeff Goldblum reads the part of Jackson Oz in my head…

I’m sorry! That is the last of it, I promise!

But seriously, if you like Michael Crichton you will like James Patterson.

In Zoo, we find that animals across the globe have begun to act strangely. Attacks on humans have increased in frequency. Jackson Oz has noticed and tried to warn people but is seen as a crackpot conspiracy theorist by the scientific and biologist communities. As things start spiraling out of control and the bizarre and gruesome attacks become harder to deny, Oz gets video proof and is able to convince the scientists and the government that there is indeed a problem and they need to figure out what is causing it and how to reverse it.

Okay, here is what I liked about the novel: fast pace, characterization, organic plot.

I really can’t think of much that I didn’t like about the novel. It was a little predictable at times but hey, I’m the type of person that watches each episode of Survivor already knowing who got voted off (Google is just too easy to use…)

Da da da da da dada da da..oh never mind…just read the book!

 

 

By Daniel Stump