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 wanted to sneak this review in before my end of the year lists because it will definitely be one of my favorite reads. This is my first experience reading Caitlin Moran, and after I finished Moranifesto, I wanted to subscribe to The Times of London in order to read her regularly. She now rates on my list of heroes. My review first appeared as a starred review in Shelf Awareness for Readers. Hope you enjoy!
First line: "So welcome to my second collection of writing."Compiling a generous collection of her London Times columns written since 2011 and adding brief introductions for each that tie the anthology together, Caitlin Moran (How to Build a Girl) has composed a manifesto. "After twenty-three years of commenting on things, you're not really just commenting on things anymore. You're starting to...suggest alternatives. You're forming a plan." Moranifesto is her plan: a shrewd combination of culture, politics and feminism; witty and intelligent, honest and silly; a conversation worth joining. Moranifesto is divided into four sections, each including humorous articles intended to entertain--like "I Am Hungover Again" where she concedes the fact she will "never learn to have just two glasses" because she simply doesn't want to--sidled up next to thoughtful pieces offering social commentary, such as Moran's thoughts--oozing with sarcasm--in "Women Getting Killed on the Internet." "I'll be frank--it does my head in to see someone who lives in a democracy, wears artificial fibers, drives a car, has a wife who can vote and children whom it is illegal to send to work up a chimney, saying, on the Internet--invented in 1971!!!!--'NOTHING CAN CHANGE!'" Her love letter to books in "Reading is Fierce" will endear her to bibliophiles, while her capitulation in "It's Okay My Children Do Not Read" may make them cringe. Moran offers advice, reveals encounters with celebrities and laughs in the face of decorum. She's blunt and colorful, inspiring and authentic. Moranifesto exposes the many facets of this complex, wickedly smart woman. Missing it would definitely be a crime.
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.
Earlier this week, Chris Edwards' debut released. My review of Balls: It Takes Some to Get Some was my first to appear in Shelf Awareness Pro, so it's a little longer than the reviews I have from SA Readers. I am just delighted to post it today with their permission because right now this is my absolute favorite book of 2016. It blew. me. away. I hope you'll give it a try. And if you do, let me know what you think! Here's what I thought...
First line: So I'm standing there, peeing at a urinal for the first time.In this bold memoir about gender dysphoria and gender confirmation surgery, Chris Edwards explains, "That feeling of finally being complete—of being who you really are—trumps everything." It ultimately takes Edwards more than three decades and 28 surgeries to realize his consummate body, but in 1974, at five years old, he already knows his true gender. It's everyone around him who seems to be confused, so in his childish wisdom he deduces the answer is as simple as a haircut: "Since everything about me was boy-like—my clothes, my toys, my obsession with all superheroes except for Wonder Woman and her lame, invisible plane—I put my five-year-old brain to work and determined that the only thing lumping me in with the girls was my hair length." However, a haircut doesn't stop the female body from developing around the man locked inside. Throughout high school and college—breasts, menstruation, estrogen and a sorority—Edwards battles depression and thoughts of suicide. Using a cunning blend of heartbreaking sincerity and humor, he navigates his audience through this excruciating stage of his life: "I was apparently too scared to actively take my own life, I drove around without a seatbelt on, hoping for someone to hit me. And I was hit. Twice. But both times the car was parked and I wasn't in it." When Edwards, through the help of an amazing counselor, is finally able to share his battle with his family and friends, he finds support, compassion and encouragement. Despite his first instinct to move away and transition, Edwards remains at his job in a Boston advertising firm and courageously opens his quest to the company's board members, his colleagues and the clients. While everyone doesn't always understand, he patiently educates them—and his readers. Edwards also invites everyone to laugh with him—learning to pee standing up, mistakenly inviting the wrong woman on a date. His stark openness and dogged determination allow the audience to identify with him through their similarities, instead of fearing the differences. Balls is a stunning self-portrait of an exceptional man, an inspiration for others who may be a gender not recognized by those around them. And it is a primer for those fortunate enough to be born "complete." With eloquence and grace, as well as sharp wit and brutal honesty, Edwards explains to his audience, "The key to understanding gender dysphoria is realizing that sexual orientation and gender identity are two totally different and completely separate things." More than anything, he exemplifies the definition of bravery. From opening himself up to his family, friends and colleagues to sharing the intimate details of his story with the entire world, Chris Edwards has no shortage of...um...MOXIE! 😉 Smart, funny, genuine and uplifting, Balls is sure to win a lot of hearts.
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.