First line: "I believe in ghosts."In 2013 readers first discovered Christina Baker Kline's Orphan Train. I was not among them. I guess you could say, I missed that train. And it's very rare these day for me to be able to circle back on a book I missed when it came out, but this TLC Book Tour for the revised paperback edition of Orphan Train allowed me to do just that. And I'm thankful for the opportunity. What a wonderful novel. Niamh Power is only nine years old when a fire takes her father and siblings and leaves her mother in a mental institution. It's 1929 in New York City and the Children's Aid Society transports orphans west--via train--to families that will take them in. Niamh, a red-haired Irish immigrant, is one of the orphans caught up in this system. Molly Ayer is in a similar situation in Spruce Harbor Maine in 2011. While there is no longer an orphan train, Molly is stuck in the foster system. Her father died in a car accident and her mother spiraled into addiction issues leaving her unable to care for Molly. She's close to aging out of the system, but when she tries to steal an old tattered copy of Jane Eyre from the library and is caught, she's left in a serious predicament: serve community service hours or juvie time. Molly's boyfriend Jack manages to arrange the community service time with his mother's employer, an old woman named Vivian Daly who needs to clean out her attic. As Molly helps Vivian go through her belongings in the attic, she learns the story of the red-haired Irish immigrant who traveled on the orphan train in Depression-era America, and a special bond forms. Orphan Train is a beautiful, disturbing, haunting historical novel that spotlights humanity's basest creatures and its most compassionate. The story illustrates the power of determination and the human ability to overcome life's harshest storms with the support of others. Kline's atmosphere thickly envelopes readers, laying them on an old, moldy, infested mattresses on the ground or trudging them through a snow storm. Kline has a letter at the opening of the novel indicating that she's added to a scene that she received many letters about. Not having read the original version, I wasn't able to discern where this addition was made. It is seamless and causes no bumps in the plot. Those who have read the book previously may want to venture back and see how the addition affects their reading of the women's stories. If, like me, you missed the Orphan Train before now, I encourage you to pick it up. This is definitely a train you'll be glad you jumped aboard.
I've fallen so far behind in getting my book reviews on the blog and I apologize for that. I'll try to catch up a little here in the coming weeks so you can have some ideas for holiday book gifts. And of course, I'm always a pusher for this man's books, so if you know someone who isn't reading them yet, they'd make a great gift for sure. So here's the most recent Walt Longmire from Craig Johnson--make sure you read the acknowledgements, it's a bonus story! My review first appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers.
First line: "I tried to think how many times I'd kneeled down on asphalt to read the signs, but I knew this was the first time I'd done it in Hulett."For the twelfth novel in Craig Johnson's highly addictive mystery series, Absaroka County sheriff, Walt Longmire, and his best friend, Henry Standing Bear, are in Hulett, Wyoming during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. It's August and bikers from around the world are pouring into the area when one of them is run off the road and left in a coma. The investigating officer calls on Walt to help solve the crime. While following the clues, Walt encounters hostile biker gangs, an undercover ATF agent, the namesake for Henry's '59 Thunderbird and a 15-ton, military-grade MRAP (Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicle. Meanwhile Walt's undersheriff, Vic Moretti, shows up in her rental car, a bright orange Dodge Challenger. The suspense ratchets to nose-bleed levels and the action races non-stop. Paying homage to what is arguably the most famous orange Dodge, albeit a Charger, Johnson includes a rip-roaring car chase complete with a field full of hay bales. The Dukes of Hazard would certainly be proud. Rounding out a dozen books with his beloved sheriff, not to mention short stories and novellas, Johnson hasn't lost a step. An Obvious Fact is fresh and exciting, while still maintaining all the attributes that make this series so popular. It's witty and complex with pop culture weaved into clever Sherlock Holmes literary references. The brilliantly colorful, snappy dialogue remains second to none. And dynamic characters surprise and delight readers with their charm, authenticity and depth. The most obvious fact is not deceptive at all; Craig Johnson writes a mighty fine story.
First line: "There's a hospital room at the end of a life where someone, right in the middle of the floor, has pitched a green tent."It isn't Black Friday yet, but I have my first literary gift recommendation for 2016. Fredrik Backman's new novella, And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer, is stunning. This beautiful little book is a gem of a read that will be devoured in a couple of hours at most, but will demand to be read over and over. Backman's amazing stroll through the lives of three generations--father, son and grandson--will make your heart smile through the tears your soul cries. He paints a debilitating disease using his magnificent brush of creativity. In phrases only he could compose (and Alice Menzies deserves accolades for her astounding translation), the man who brought us Ove, Elsa and Britt-Marie, tells a mesmerizing story of minds that betray before the bodies wears out. A story of sons and grandsons who have to say goodbye to someone who's still with them. In his letter at the book's opening, Backman says, "This is a story about memories and about letting go. It's a love letter and a slow farewell between a man and his grandson, and between a dad and his boy." Parts of the book take place in the man's mind, a lovely little town square that he says gets smaller every day. The faces of the people that pass are fuzzy. They look familiar but he simply can't focus in on exactly who they are. The man's grandson, Noah, sits with him in his mind. "Noah's feet don't touch the ground when his legs dangle over the edge of the bench, but his head reaches all the way to space, because he hasn't been alive long enough to allow anyone to keep his thoughts on Earth." The man's wife also visits him in his mind. She's been dead awhile now. "Her hair is old but the wind in it is new, and he still remembers what it felt like to fall in love; that's the last memory to abandon him. Falling in love with her meant having no room in his own body. That was why he danced." While the heart-breaking dementia invades the man's mind, Backman helps the reader experience his glorious life--his blessings as well as regrets. This gorgeous, little volume has less than 100 pages and includes delightful, color illustrations throughout. After you get a copy for yourself--this is one you'll want to keep, but really what Backman don't you want to keep!?--snag some extras to tuck in stockings, to share with friends and family who might be experiencing something similar, or just to gift to someone you care about. I'd add a package of tissues to the gift though. You won't get through this one without crying.
Don't fall over because I'm posting a review today. I don't mean to cause any cardiac problems for anyone. 😉 Today's review for Michael Koryta's Rise the Dark first appeared as a starred review in Shelf Awareness for Readers. Of course it also appeared there in a more timely fashion, but for those who missed it, I'm posting it here today with their permission.
First line: The snow had been falling for three days above six thousand feet, but it had been gentle and the lines stayed up.Markus Novak, no longer investigating for the Florida-based Death Row defense firm Innocence Incorporated, is taking on the intimately personal case that has plagued him since his introduction in Michael Koryta's Last Words--the murder of his wife, Lauren. Garland Webb, the man accused of killing Lauren, is out of prison, and Novak is determined to exact justice for both Lauren and himself. He just has to find the monster first. Webb's trail leads Novak back to the scene of Lauren's death. Then it takes a sharp turn, introducing him to an honest-to-goodness Pinkerton PI and sending them both to a place Novak swore he would never return, Red Lodge, Montana. Here Novak's past collides with his present, and he uncovers the truth behind Webb--who is just the tip of a terrifying iceberg--as well as the meaning of words left on Lauren's notebook before she was murdered, "Rise the dark." As Koryta raises the dark on his determined protagonist with a brilliantly sadistic villain, Novak races time to prevent a global crisis. Koryta's second installment in the Mark Novak series is easily appreciated on its own, but readers of Last Words and Koryta's standalone Those Who Wish Me Dead will delight in small references to his earlier works. While some of the explanations for electrical processes deter from the thrilling action, Koryta constructs an enveloping atmosphere that artfully merges the landscape's beauty with the plot's terror and the darkness of his characters. This dichotomy ramps up the suspense, making Rise the Dark heart-poundingly swift and chock full of explosive excitement.
My reviews are sadly backed up, and it's overdue to get another one posted on the new site. My review of Peter Spiegelman's Dr. Knox first appeared as a starred review in Shelf Awareness for Readers. I'm posting it today with their permission. Hope you enjoy. First line: "Mia should've been it for the day." Dr. Adam Knox means well, but as the saying goes, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. The good doctor is laying down his stepping-stones at a rapid rate. Knox runs a medical clinic in Los Angeles near Skid Row and lives in an apartment above the clinic. Since his typical clientele isn't exactly leaving him flush, he moonlights--with the help of his friend former Special Forces agent Ben Sutter--taking hush-hush house calls from people who can't or won't publically seek medical help. But these jobs are cake compared to the young boy who shows up at his clinic. When Alex arrives at Knox's office, he's suffering from a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. Knox and his capable staff stabilize the young patient only to discover the boy doesn't speak English and his mother has vanished. Knowing all too well how Children's Services works, the doctor wants to attempt to find the boy's mother before calling them. His good intention, however, goes beyond paving a road; it is the key to unlocking the gates of Hell. And not just for himself, but also for everyone he cares about. Dr. Knox is feverishly suspenseful. Peter Spiegelman ramps up the stakes for Knox with catch-22s and tests of his integrity. He spreads a layer of grime over Los Angeles with manipulation, corruption and filth, successfully blocking out the rays of hope and leaving his well-meaning doctor no options if he won't play dirty himself. Dark, evocative and riveting, perdition's never been so inviting.
Since I'm a little behind on sharing my reviews from Shelf Awareness, let's try to catch up, shall we? The Innocents by Ace Atkins first appeared as a starred review in Shelf for Readers. I am posting it today with their permission. First line: "Lillie Virgil stood high on a north Mississippi hill at daybreak listening to old Ruthie Holder talk about the man who'd run off with her grandson's Kawasaki four-wheeler and her brand-new twelve-gauge Browning." Quinn Colson returns to Jericho, Mississippi after training an Afghani police force in the Middle East. Lillie Virgil is acting sheriff; Quinn's father, Jason, has grand plans to turn Quinn's farm into a dude ranch, while his girlfriend Anna Lee is moving to Memphis, and a teenager consumed by raging fire walks down the middle of the road in a desperate final effort for help. The sixth book in Ace Atkins' series may be his darkest one yet. Quinn thought he was finished policing in his hometown when the community voted him out as sheriff. But the gruesome homicide of former high school cheerleader Milly Jones has all of Mississippi watching the investigation, and Lillie needs as much help as she can recruit. The suspect list is long—Milly's strip club boss she short-changed on tips, the drug dealer she refused to sleep with, her drunkard father who feels disgraced by her employment—and the flames devoured any significant forensic evidence that could identify the killer. As Quinn and Lilly dig through the ashes for answers, they find far more than they bargained for. The marriage of Quinn's law enforcement and complex interpersonal relationships make this series an addictive read. The Innocents shines a glaring spotlight down the darkest alleys of small-town Mississippi, but does so with the compassion of one who loves the region and wants to reveal the diamonds along with the dregs. Seasoned readers will likely predict the outcome early, but the journey there is the true joy in this gem of a crime novel.