Book Review – The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro
What a marvelous story! I’ve been to the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum in Boston, a long time ago when I was a kid, and I remember being amazed at the sheer number of artworks there and the eccentric way they were arranged. It’s a fascinating place, and the fact that its outrageous robbery has never been solved only adds to the genuinely mesmerizing history.
In The Art Forger: A Novel, Ms Shapiro goes into so much fascinating detail about how paintings are made, as well as how they are forged, that I wanted to actually SEE everything she was describing. The Dega’s… I went to google to look up the paintings. And Claire’s window paintings… I want desperately for them to exist so that one day I can see them for myself. This book was so wonderful, it’s hard for me to remember that it’s just a novel.
Book Review – When Captain Flint was Still A Good Man by Nick Dybek
OK, I have to admit, I picked up this book solely because of the title. I’m glad I did, though, because it turned out to be awesome.
The title refers to stories that Hank Bollings tells to his young son, Timmy, stories he made up about Captain Flint, the villain of Treasure Island, before he became a pirate, overcome by greed and depravity. These stories are a metaphor for the overall plot of the book.
In the small crab-fishing town of Loyalty Island, Washington, the men go to the Bering Sea for half the year, while the women and children try to live complete lives. When the men are away at sea, they long for home and when the men are home for the summer, they long for the sea.
When the owner of the town’s fleet abruptly dies, leaving the entire town’s livelihood, and its very existence, in the hands of his estranged son, things begin to come undone in Loyalty Island.
When Captain Flint Was Still a Good Man is an extremely dark coming-of-age tale, as Timmy faces a terrible dilemma when the good people of Loyaty Island are driven to make an awful choice. Who can draw the line between right and wrong?
This book is an extremely impressive debut from a fellow Michigander.
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Book Review – The Gilly Salt Sisters by Tiffany Baker
Is there magic in the salt? The townspeople of the isolated small town of Prospect, on Cape Cod, are not sure, but neither are they willing to take the chance that there isn’t. For generations, the Gilly salt has held a place of preference in the diner, in the general store, and on the dinner tables of the people who live in Prospect, and the town has, if not flourished, at least it has survived.
Salt Creek Farm has belonged to the Gilly family forever, although the salt has been kinder to the women than it has to the men. The remaining family, sisters Joanna and Claire, have grown up and grown apart because of their different feelings for the salt – Jo, solitary and plain, belongs to the salt, and the salt belongs to her. Claire, independent and fiery and beautiful, wants nothing to do with it, and leaves her home to marry the richest and most handsome man in town, and the enemy of the Gilly family.
But Whit Turner, who was a childhood friend and sweetheart of Jo’s, does not become the salvation from the salt that Claire had envisioned. His ongoing obsession with Jo and the salt farm stems from his unshakeable belief that the magic of the salt can turn around the Turner family fortunes. And Claire’s attempts to turn the townspeople against the salt also do not work out as she plans.
The Gilly Salt Sisters is a delicious tale of betrayal and bitter family secrets. The characters are incredibly well drawn, and the use of salt throughout the book, as literal ingredient as well as metaphor, is gorgeously rendered. Life on the salt farm is hard, grindingly hard, and yet the women find a strange sort of fulfillment in it. And an acceptance of the fate that has come their way, and forgiveness for past wrongs, and finally, a lasting peace with the salt.
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Book Review – the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon
Part time-travel, mostly historical fiction, a lot of romance and graphic sex scenes… I thought this would be more fantasy/time-travel and not so much historical fiction, but was not disappointed in the least to find that the historical aspect far outweighs the time-travel aspect. It’s eighteenth-century Scotland in all its beauty and ugliness. Wow.
Claire is a young married woman in the 1940s, who suddenly finds herself falling into the past through an ancient henge in Scotland. She lands in 1752 clan-dominated Scotland, in the middle of the clans’ uprising against the British. Her first encounter is a nasty one with a man who turns out to be her husband’s ancestor, glorified in the 1900s but not such a nice guy in real life. Her rescuers, a rough, tough, band from the MacKenzie clan, include one Jamie Frasier, a heart-throb of a man in any century. Of course Claire and Jamie fall in love, and have a lot of great sex, and Claire is torn emotionally by her passion for Jamie and her feelings of affection and duty to Frank, her husband in 1942. Eventually she is forced to choose between them when she is presented with the opportunity to return to her own time through the henge time-portal. Her decision is not surprising, but I will not spoil it here.The original novel, Outlander, has just celebrated its 20th anniversary, and there are 6 further novels. Each one is approximately 900 pages and covers such a range of time and adventures that there hardly seems anything more to do, but Ms Gabaldon’s mind is still spinning and she is still creating wonderful amazing stories. Let me just say that her lovers cross the Atlantic, establish a homestead in North Carolina and get caught up in the American Revolution, along with an extended family and tons of loyal friends. The last novel, An Echo in the Bone, was published in 2011, so her legions of rabid fans are hoping to hear of a new novel in 2013.
Book Review – Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante
I have never read anything like it… As you are reading this, remind yourself that it is a FIRST NOVEL by this author….. it is just stunning.
How to begin describing a book like this? A book which gives a detailed look into a mind so very different from my own as to be completely foreign? The narrator – if you can call her that – of Turn of Mind is Jennifer White, a 64-year-old very-well-respected former hand surgeon who is rapidly succumbing to Alzheimers. Her days and moods are varied – some days lucid and clear, when she understands what is happening to her with a clinical detachment. Some days confused, frightened and downright paranoid. Some days angry and violent. From day to day her adult children and her live-in caregiver do not know what to expect from her. They keep a journal for her, in the the hope that it will help her remember.But the decent into dementia is only part of the story. Jennifer’s best friend, Amanda, who lives three houses down the street, has been murdered – and 4 fingers of her hand have been expertly amputated. Naturally the police suspect Jennifer, but have no evidence, and Jennifer cannot remember. Sometimes the police treat her as though her amnesia is a “convenient excuse” to cover up the crime. Most days Jennifer cannot even remember that her friend is dead, so she relives the horror of learning that fact (along with the death of her husband) over and over and over.
Did she kill Amanda? Or didn’t she? Stunning, heart-breaking, strange and haunting. I could not put it down.
Book Review – Dragon House by John Shors
I can’t throw enough clichés at this book – mesmerizing, touching, moving, heart-wrenching, compelling – and still I fail to capture the terrible beauty of it. The street children of Vietnam not only don’t have a home, they generally don’t have any parent or adult figure to help them. Dragon House is the tale of two Americans, with plenty of troubles of their own, who go to Vietnam to open a center to help take care of as many street children as they can. The detail is wonderful, letting you understand how crowded and wild Ho Chi Mihn City really is. Clearly the author spent a lot of time traveling around the area and probably saw unbelievably terrible situations in many cases. But Shors wisely chose to tell only two of the thousands of stories; any more would have been more than the reader could possibly bear. The book focuses on Qui and Tam, the granddaughter who is dying of leukemia, and the story of Mai and Minh, two children under the dubious “protection” of an opium-fiend named Loc. The stories are sad and yet still hopeful, the center a haven of childhood for many children who didn’t have one before. And as a bonus, John Shors is donating some of the proceeds of the book to the Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation, which works with children in need in Vietnam. See www.dragonhousebook.com for further information.