Category Archives: Books

Book Buzz: Little Fires Everywhere

Book Buzz: Little Fires Everywhere

As I raced toward the explosive conclusion of Little Fires Everywhere, I simultaneously couldn’t wait to find out what happened but dreaded finishing this extraordinary read. You know that feeling, right?

I loved Celeste Ng’s debut novel, Everything I Never Told You, with every fiber of my being. It was a captivating story of race and prejudice and family dynamics, and it went on to win a ton of awards and made Ng a respected new voice in fiction.

Patiently, I waited for Ng’s sophomore novel to be released.

The wait was worth it, people.

Little Fires Everywhere is, well, brilliant.

Book Buzz: Little Fires Everywhere

 

Little Fires Everywhere

The story of two families in Shaker Heights, Ohio — Mr. and Mrs. Richardson and their four children, the “haves,” and Mia Warren and her daughter, Pearl, the “have nots,” whose lives intersect for a brief period of time and everything changes collossally for both families.

Elena Richardson is the matriarch — a Shaker Heights native whose expectations for her life followed a prescribed formula, just as the community itself had been one of the first planned communities in the U.S.

All she wanted was marriage, children, career, and a lovely home. And it pretty much worked out that way.

But then, Mia and her teenage daughter Pearl arrive on the scene. Looking for an affordable place to live, they rent a small house owned by the Richardsons. Mia is an independent thinker, an artist on the side; she needs to work several low-paying jobs to make ends meet. Pearl is a shy but friendly girl,  and is embraced by the Richardson family and spends most of her time hanging out with them.

In short order both mother and become more than tenants: each of the four Richardson children is drawn to these women, and Elena Richardson employs Mia as a part-time housekeeper.

Elena  is curious about Mia’s past, and feels prompted to nose around when Mia becomes intimately involved in a child custody case involving a friend Mia has met at one of her jobs.

The friend is a Chinese mother, Bebe, who abandoned her infant during a time of duress. The infant is given to the McCulloughs, friends of the Richardsons, who had struggled with infertility for years and were on an adoption waiting list. Now the baby is a year old, and the McCulloughs have assumed this child will be theirs forever.

But then Bebe reappears, and wants her daughter back.

The case divides the community, as well as the Richardson family. I won’t say more, because I don’t want to spoil it. Coincidentally, the novel I reviewed last week, Lucky Boy, had the same theme. In both books it is dealt with so compassionately and even-handedly. I admire both authors for being able to find compelling voices on both sides of an emotional issue.

Ng’s characters are so well drawn, each unique and credible, and truly, Shaker Heights itself must be counted as one of the protagonists. Shaker Heights, Ng’s hometown, was  planned with the best intentions and idealism, and although successful in some areas, it nonetheless is beset with the same race and class issues faced just about everywhere else.

I am sure that Little Fires Everywhere will have the same phenomenal success of Ng’s previous novel. Already, Amazon has named it a “Best Book of September 2017.”

And I sure hope Ng is working on her third.

 

One of my lucky readers will receive a copy of Little Fires Everywhere. To enter this giveaway, click on the Books is Wonderful Facebook page and leave a comment. US addresses only, please. The winner will be randomly selected.

 

I received a copy of Little Fires Everywhere from Penguin Press for an honest review, which is is the only kind of review I write.

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Book Buzz: Lucky Boy

A hauntingly beautiful story and so achingly relevant for these times, Lucky Boy held onto my heart and still has it in its grasp.
Book Buzz: Lucky Boy

Lucky Boy

Lucky Boy is the story of two strong women: Soli, a teenager fleeing her native Mexico for a better life in northern California, and Kavya, daughter of immigrant Indian parents now living with her husband Rashi in upscale Berkeley — whose lives crash together in a torrential storm of love and loss.

Author Shanthi Sekaran is so seriously good at telling this story that you fall in love with both of these women — vulnerable, passionate and loving — even though their motivations are in stark opposition to each other’s.

Lucky Boy brings to light the struggles of undocumented immigrants thrust into a society so different from their own, where the norms and routines are true culture shock. They live in constant fear of being caught and sent back to their homeland that they had fled for good reasons. The only way to survive is to stay under the radar. Not make eye contact. Be invisible.

Lucky Boy is also about the heartbreak of infertility. Having known friends who have gone through this, I felt the anguish of Kavya and Rishi who have a wonderful life but are denied the one thing they want more than anything.

Soli survives a harrowing journey from Mexico and locates her cousin’s apartment where she will stay. The cousin is shocked at Soli’s appearance. She is dirty and gaunt from the trip, but she is also unwittingly pregnant. Nonetheless, she finds work for Soli as a housekeeper for a wealthy Berkeley family where she is treated well, even given paid leave when it is time for the baby to be born.

However, circumstances intervene and suddenly the cousin is being deported and Soli is sent to a detention center. Her infant son is taken away from her.

At the same time, Kavya and Rishi are desperate to conceive a child but in spite of lengthy and expensive fertility treatments they have not been successful. They decide to become foster parents, and as fate would have it, Soli’s baby boy comes into their welcoming arms.

Soli tries to survive the horror of the detention center, deprived of decent food and living conditions and repeatedly raped by guards. Barred from talking to a lawyer, she does not know where her son is and if she will get him back.

While Soli languishes at the detention center, Kavya and Rishi embrace parenthood and begin to forget that it is only temporary. They are in denial that their baby has a birth mother who is fighting to get him back.

Such an engrossing story with multi-dimensional characters, Lucky Boy would be a perfect choice for a book group because there are so many issues to ponder over. Immigration, motherhood, privilege … this novel will open your eyes to injustices in our broken system.

There could not be a better time for us to become enlightened.

One of my lucky readers will receive a copy of Lucky Boy. Please leave a comment on the Books is Wonderful Facebook page and a winner will be randomly selected. US addresses only, please.

 

I received a copy of Lucky Boy from Putnam for an honest review,
which is the only kind of review I write.

 

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Book Buzz: I’m The One Who Got Away

Book Buzz: I'm The One Who Got Away

With scorching honesty infusing her gorgeous prose, Andrea Jarrell looks back at her unconventional childhood in this brave coming of age memoir, I’m the One Who Got Away.

Book Buzz: I'm The One Who Got Away

I’m the One Who Got Away. The title itself is bittersweet. Jarrell did get away, finding the normalcy in love, marriage and parenting as an adult that eluded her as a child.

But did she really get away?

Her past caught up with her in a blinding moment, when the brutal murder of an acquaintance in the small community where she, her husband, and two children had once lived evoked a visceral response. It wasn’t just the horror of the crime and the loss of an innocent life; she flashed back to her own experience as the child of a possessive single mother and the mercurial, frustrated actor father who was in and out of their lives.

The murder victim, a single mother named Susannah, was someone Jarrell knew through their children’s preschool, a mom whose son was the same age as hers.

Although they had been casual friends, Jarrell had always felt uncomfortable in Susannah’s presence. Susannah’s life was centered on her son; the two were inseparable. Just like Jarrell and her single mother had been. The two of them against the world. “Just we two,” her mother often reminded her.

The murder is the catalyst that forces Jarrell to revisit her own relationship with her parents.  Her bright and adventurous mother was married at 16 to a man whose insecurities and alcoholism were a constant threat. Jarrell’s mother loved her husband but loved her daughter more, and with the escalating abuse she knew there was no other solution than for mother and daughter to flee.

Jarrell’s mother, in her youth both valedictorian and homecoming queen, had aspired to be a photojournalist or graphic artist and was offered several scholarships. Instead, she married a man who turned out to be toxic. She never went to college. Throughout her life, Jarrell questioned her mother’s choices, especially when she let her father back in their lives. Would this be her future, too, putting her dreams on hold for a man who held her back?

Eventually, she comes to terms with her past. Her mother did what she could with the imperfect cards she’d been dealt. She didn’t complain about the trajectory of her life, but made the best of it with no apologies.

The loving, complicated relationship between mother and daughter is truly the backbone of I’m the One Who Got Away.

Jarrell’s life would turn out to be different, but not without its stumbles. That’s what life is.

Not simple, or perfect. But if we can choose the best of what we had, what worked really well, and pack away the worst of it in an old cedar chest in the attic to be examined when we need a reminder, we’re the artisans creating the future that we want for ourselves and our children, which is exactly what Jarrell has done.

As she says at the end of the book,

“… I’ve learned again that I can’t go over, under, or around, and I can’t turn back. No matter how high or rough the surf, going through every stage is where the living is.”

 

I received a copy of I’m the One Who Got Away from She Writes Press.
The text and views are all my own.

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Book Buzz: How to Find Love in a Bookshop

Book Buzz: How to Find Love in a Bookshop

So how could a bibliophile not pick up a novel entitled “How to Find Love in a Bookshop?”

Of course I did.

Book Buzz: How to Find Love in a Bookshop

How to Find Love in a Bookshop

Here is my observation about novels with bookshops. They have a sprinkle of whimsy and magic throughout. Any why not? Bookstores are … were … filled with wonder and enchantment. Generations following us may never know the delight of browsing in a bookshop, losing any sense of time and space while paging through new titles, and admiring the art of beautiful covers.

Veronica Henry’s How to Find Love in a Bookshop is set in the Cotswolds in England, a magical place in and of itself, where Emilia has returned following the death of her father Julius to salvage the bookshop he ran for years.

Called Nightingale Books, the quaint and dusty bookshop had been tended with care if not financial acumen. Julius was devoted to his beloved books and also to his customers who became his extended family. With his notion that “a town without a bookshop is a town without a heart,” he created a comfortable space that encouraged lingering and schmoozing.

When he passed away, Emilia — and the townspeople who adored him — were struck with the magnitude of his loss. Emilia vows to maintain the cherished bookshop in her father’s benevolent style, but struggles with the overwhelming debt he had unknowingly accrued. And as property developers circle her like hawks, having to shutter the doors for good becomes a grave possibility.

It is the cast of wonderful characters in the town that truly is the heart of this novel. We come to know and connect to the patrons of Nightingale Books who stop in to get recommendations for their next read … or ask for help in selecting a gift … or simply share their own stories.

There is the wealthy lady of the manor who hides a painful secret, and her daughter whose wedding plans are thwarted by a devastating car accident. There is the single dad desperate to do right by his son through introducing him to books. We get to know the painfully shy young chef who can’t bring herself to approach the man she secretly has a crush on, and the mum of a baby who offers free interior design advice to upgrade the shabby room of the shop.

This is a community of folks that values its local bookshop and its owner, and each other, through the ups and downs of daily life. These human connections that arise from a shared love of books are not to be found, sadly, when simply ordering a book online.

Are there shocking twists and turns? No. Is there murder, intrigue, and violent car chases? No. That’s not what this novel is. Picture yourself in a comfortable chair sipping tea (of course) on a lazy day with a cat on your lap.

That’s the feeling you’ll get when reading this novel.

 

One of my lucky readers will receive a copy of How to Find Love in a Bookshop. Please leave a comment below, and a winner will be randomly selected. US addresses only, please.

 

I received a copy of How to Find Love in a Bookshop from Viking for an honest review,
which is the only kind of review I write.

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Book Buzz: The Luster of Lost Things

Book Buzz: The Luster of Lost Things

It took no time to be swept up in the magic in The Luster of Lost Things, Sophie Chen Keller’s new novel set in a tiny bakery in New York City. Tantalized by Keller’s mouthwatering descriptions of flaky croissants fresh from the oven, sweet vanilla wafers with sea-salted caramel filling, and double butterscotch pops, I was practically swooning with desire for one of the sugary concoctions created by Lucy at her bakery,The Lavenders.

Book Buzz: The Luster of Lost Things

Lucy, a talented pastry chef, pours her energies into running The Lavenders while faced with the sadness of being a single mom. Her pilot husband disappeared when his plane crashed in the ocean while she is pregnant with their only child. Now she is devoted to making a life for herself and her son.

One cold wintry night, she invites a homeless woman into the warmth and comfort of her bakery, and in return the woman gives her a book of drawings that Lucy displays in the shop. This book, known as the Book, becomes pivotal to the story.

Twelve year-old Walter Lavender Jr. might remind you of the boy in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. He is bright and good-hearted with a communications disorder that renders his speech difficult. Taunted in the school yard, his refuge is the bakery where he pitches in before and after school, and every day places a lighted candle in the shop’s window, hoping it will bring his father home.

Plaintively, he wonders,

“Couldn’t Walter Lavender Sr. try a little bit harder to come back or send a sign? I am the one doing all the looking even though he is the one who is supposed to be here, to teach me the things I do not know.”

Walter Jr. has a super power of sorts: he can help people find lost things. He finds a missing cockatiel, a bassoon, and even a lost dog that ends up becoming his own, Milton.

But when the beloved Book goes missing and business in the bakery flounders, he sets out to find it and realign the stars. This takes him on an astounding search through New York City, in the dingy tunnels of the subway system, in Chinatown, across Central Park and so many other landmarks. In his quest, he learns about what it means to lose and find something precious, and also what it means to be him.

Oh, does Sophie Chen Keller have a way with words. Describing the end of a school day, she writes,

“… when the afternoon bell rings, the cherry red doors fling open and the kids pour out like spilled birdseed.”

Walter Jr. says,

“… I step behind the counter and search for the squeaking mice, nudging away a ring of passion fruit marshmallows engaged in a sumo match. I wait, looking into the display case as a jelly frog studded with chopped dates and hazelnuts hops across the second level.”

And when Lucy and Walter Jr. bake together:

“I tilt my bowl over the mixer and we alternate adding our wet and dry ingredients so the bubbles of air in the batter don’t pop and the cake emerges tender and fluffy from the oven. Lucy pours out the batter and it cascades across the first baking pan in a butter-silk curtain.

‘Masterful,’ she pronounces.”

 

Yes, it is.

One of my lucky readers will receive a copy of The Luster of Lost Things. Please leave a comment below, and a winner will be randomly selected. US addresses only, please.

 

I received a copy of The Luster of Lost Things from Putnam for an honest review,
which is the only kind of review I write.

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Book Buzz: The Address

Book Buzz: The Address

I had to hide from my family for a little while.

But now that I’ve finished reading The Address I can finally resume my regularly scheduled life. Thank you, family, for indulging me and leaving me alone with this wondrous new novel written by Fiona Davis.


Book Buzz: The Address

Take a captivating morsel of New York City history, stir in the epic splendor of the famed Manhattan residence the Dakota, add a heaping teaspoon of intrigue, top it off with a juicy murder mystery and you’ve got the most satisfying literary meal: The Address.

The Address

The name Dakota may be familiar to you. Not only is it famous for its contribution as one of New York’s most interesting architectural designs and esteemed landmarks, it has also been home to celebrities, artists and the glitterati of Manhattan society. It was home to Lauren Bacall, Leonard Bernstein, Gilda Radner, Roberta Flack and so many other familiar names from the entertainment industry, including John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Sadly, it was in front of the Dakota that Lennon was murdered in 1980.

Years ago I read a fascinating book by Stephen Birmingham, Life at the Dakota: New York’s Most Unusual Address, which apparently was also an inspiration to author Davis in creating her novel. Weaving in familiar names, dates and events from the past, she presents two storylines; one taking place in 1985 and the other in 1885.

Alternating mostly by chapter, The Address connects a scandalous event from the past to the descendants of one of the (fictional) architects of the Dakota in the present.

Because I adore historical fiction, especially of this time period, I was intrigued with the description of New York City at the time the Dakota was built, how the Upper West Side where the Dakota is located was pretty much a wasteland, and the first tenants were pioneers of sorts, taking a chance on living in this urban frontier.

In the 1800s segment of The Address, Sara Smyth, a competent young hotel employee from England, is hired as the first manageress of the Dakota and arrives to find utter chaos as the building is still under construction. She organizes a large staff and generally becomes responsible for a successful opening. Under her watchful eye, the operation runs smoothly and she is highly respected.

But her own life begins to unravel when she gets swept up in a romance that never should have happened. She is ultimately sent away and incarcerated for a manufactured reason. When she is released and attempts to return to the life she knew, things are not the same.

Meanwhile, fast forward to 1985 when designer Bailey Camden is hired by her cousin Melinda, heir to the Dakota fortune, to help with renovations to the building. While searching in the basement of the Dakota, Bailey unearths several fascinating artifacts connected to the scandal of 100 years ago and initiates some detective work on her own.

And that’s all I will tell you because I won’t reveal spoilers. Suffice it to say I was engrossed in this novel from the get go and the last 50 pages kept me glued to my reading perch.

My family will attest to that.

 

One of my lucky readers will receive a copy of The Address. Please leave a comment below and a winner will be randomly selected. US addresses only, please.

 

I received a copy of The Address from Dutton for an honest review,
which is the only kind of review I write.

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Book Buzz: What She Ate: Six Remarkable Women and the Food That Tells Their Stories

Book Buzz: What She Ate: Six Remarkable Women and the Food That Tells Their Stories

Book Buzz: What She Ate: Six Remarkable Women and the Food That Tells Their Stories

Hot Stuffed Eggs with Tomato Sauce
Mashed Potatoes
Whole Wheat Bread and Butter
Prune Pudding
Coffee

–Lunch at the White House

˜˜˜˜˜˜˜˜

If you’re a foodie, you’re probably gagging by now. Not the most appetizing menu, is it?

But before you start tweeting about this disgusting sounding menu, I will tell you that it is not from the current administration.

This meal actually was served on March 21, 1933. Franklin D. Roosevelt was president, and his wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, oversaw the catering operation.

Eleanor Roosevelt was open about her lack of interest in food. She declared that she really didn’t care what she ate. Consequently, the Roosevelt administration was not exactly known for its gourmet meals. That only deteriorated when Eleanor discovered her husband’s infidelity and retaliated by hiring the next head chef, who came to be known as the worst cook in White House history.

Eleanor Roosevelt is one of the women profiled in What She Ate: Six Remarkable Women and the Food that Tells Their Stories. Author Laura Shapiro, herself a foodie and culinary historian, reveals the lives of women through the food that they ate, or didn’t.

How did these women view food, and how did their attitudes impact those around them?

˜˜˜˜˜˜˜˜

Dorothy Wordsworth was her brother’s companion, nurse, cook and caretaker. For a time she found fulfillment in making whatever William fancied, and taking pleasure from his enjoyment of her cooking. However, when he fell in love and got married, she fell into a deep depression, ate herself into oblivion, and wallowed in dementia for the rest of her life.

Rosa Lewis was a famous caterer in London who rose from obscurity as a scullery maid to become the most famous cook in England, the favored chef of the king. However, her queasy-sounding quail pies and other way-too-rich recipes lost favor after World War I and, refusing to change her style, she lost her clientele.

Eva Braun, Adolf Hitler’s mistress, was the charming hostess who wanted to make sure everyone was having a good time. Fussing over the procurement and preparation of the finest food and beverages for company, she was solicitous of every guest at the dinner table. She took no interest in the political dealings of her lover or anyone who visited. Instead, she made sure that everyone was well fed and having a good time.

I confess that this profile did not sit well with me and I wish it had been omitted, although Shapiro did acknowledge the moral distance between Braun and the rest of these women.

Author Barbara Pym was determined to make the best of the post-World War II deprivations in London by writing about food in delectable detail. Barely acknowledging there was a war, Pym writes lavishly about food in all her novels. She enjoyed sitting quietly in restaurants and observing the gustatory behavior of diners around her.

And finally, Helen Gurley Brown, who turned the old, boring Cosmopolitan into a racy, sexy best-selling magazine, also helped usher in the feminist era. At the same time, she doted on her husband’s every need and want, and spent an inordinate amount of time trying to please him … in every way. Her appreciation of food was only for how it could make him happy. Most likely an anorexic, she was reed thin all of her life and famously deprived herself of nourishment.

What She Ate is a terrific concept for a history lesson, and a fascinating peek into the personal lives of women in different eras. A tasty and entertaining amuse-bouche.

 

One of my lucky readers will receive a copy of What She Ate: Six Remarkable Women and the Food that Tells Their Stories. Please leave a comment below and a winner will be randomly selected. US addresses only, please.

 

I received a copy of What She Ate: Six Remarkable Women and the Food that Tells Their Stories from Viking for an honest review, which is the only kind of review I write.

 

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Book Buzz: Who Moved My Teeth? Preparing for Self, Loved Ones & Caregiving

Book Buzz: Who Moved My Teeth? Preparing for Self, Loved Ones & Caregiving

For the last five months, I pretty much put my life on hold because, well, life happened.

Suddenly, my world revolved around caregiving.

With three members of my family  (including the dog) undergoing operations that involved a lengthy recovery, my daily routine changed dramatically as I became the caregiver. As such, I was nurse, physical therapist, medicine dispenser, pulse taker, meal preparer and deliverer, bandage changer, appointment driver, and most of all, resident worrier.

I am happy to say, however, that all three patients have recovered, and our lives have resumed their normal ebb and flow.

I learned an important lesson during this time, though. Caregiving can be a full-time occupation without a training manual. It is alternately terrifying and lonely.

Caregiving is not a once and done deal. Most of us will be caregivers several times in our lifetimes. For some, it will be many times over.

Like my friend Cathy Sikorski, a funny, sharp and compassionate woman who has been a caregiver for seven different family members and friends over the last 25 years. Cathy’s first book, Showering With Nana: Confessions of a Serial Caregiver, is a memoir that is both touching and hilarious about the time she cared for her 92 year-old grandmother with a 2 year-old daughter toddling around the house. Cathy has the writing chops to bring you to laughter and tears simultaneously. I loved Showering with Nana and reviewed it here.

Who Moved My Teeth? Preparing for Self, Loved Ones & Caregiving

Cathy is also an attorney who has focused her practice on elder care, so she understands caregiving from both a personal and a legal standpoint. Her latest book, Who Moved My Teeth? Preparing for Self, Loved Ones & Caregiving, provides practical information about caregiving for others as well as what you need to know about your own care — and your legal rights — as you age.

Book Buzz: Who Moved My Teeth? Preparing for Self, Loved Ones & Caregiving

No matter what age you are now, are you prepared for what lies ahead for both you and your loved ones? Do you have a Power of Attorney and a Living Will? Do you understand Social Security? Do you know the difference between Medicare, Medicaid and Medigap?

I am at the stage of my life where I need to know about these things, and figuring it all out can be nightmarish. Navigating the healthcare system is akin to being lost in a cornfield maze. I am an educated woman, but reading about this stuff makes my eyes glaze over in acronym misery. Cathy makes it more palatable with her plain speak tinged with humor style of writing.

Because she has gone through the hassles of making endless phone calls and getting nowhere, of filing claims that end up lost, of filling out pages of paperwork and dealing with incompetent administrators, she saves us a good chunk of the frustration by giving us a roadmap with clear directions.

Was this helpful? You bet. Caregiving is less onerous when you’re aware of the systems in place that can help during a difficult time, since the last thing you want to do is deal with it then.

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Book Buzz: Hum if You Don’t Know the Words

Book Buzz: Hum if You Don't Know the Words

Like other bookworms, I fall in love over and over again, and happily so.

What does it take for a book to capture my heart? It begins with the mechanics. Figuratively speaking, a book has to be firing on all cylinders to get my heart pumping. Eloquent writing, an emotionally riveting plot and complex, memorable characters, are essential for starters. A dash of humor helps, too.

If a book should achieve the above, but go even higher by leaving me with a deeper understanding of human nature, plus have me yearning for more, I am over the moon.

I was in a state of reading euphoria with Hum If You Don’t Know the Words, an exceptional coming of age story and debut novel from Bianca Marais.

Book Buzz: Hum if You Don't Know the Words

Hum if You Don’t Know the Words

Set in apartheid South Africa in 1976, the year of the Soweto Uprising, the story is narrated by two very different South Africans: a white child suddenly orphaned and a black woman desperate to find her missing daughter.

Robin is a plucky nine year-old white girl raised in privilege with all the comforts therein. Her parents employ Mabel, a black housekeeper to do the cleaning, cooking and caregiving. Robin loves Mabel but sees her as a servant, not an equal, because this is what she has been taught.

I cringed at the dismissive way Mabel was spoken to and treated by her employers, but this was the norm at the time. In pre-apartheid society all black people, even those who lived with you, were second class.

SPOILER ALERT …

Robin’s life changes dramatically when her parents are brutally murdered. She and Mabel are taken to the police station. After being detained for a short while, Mabel is released and flees, without a backward glance. Robin is rescued by her aunt, and life as she knew it has been erased.

Her aunt Edith never wanted children, and is an unwilling guardian. Self-involved and irresponsible, she can not manage to give Robin the stability a child deserves.

At the same time, Beauty, a black schoolteacher, has been notified that her anti-apartheid activist daughter is in danger. Leaving the rest of the family behind in their rural village, Beauty travels to Johannesburg to search for her beloved Nomsa. She needs to find employment in order to have the required credentials to stay there. When she learns that Edith needs a nanny, she applies for the position.

That is how two very different lives are connected by tragedy.

Through Beauty, Robin’s universe is expanded. She learns about systemic racism and starts to question the values she had been taught. As she develops relationships with other “forbidden” segments of society — the Jewish family in their apartment building, Edith’s gay friends, black neighbors — she sees that people are people, and our commonalities are greater than our differences, and the definition of family can expand beyond mother and father.

As Beauty continues to look for her daughter, she learns about her capacity for patience, bravery, and mothering.

Obliterating racism starts with us.

When Robin is asked by a black child why whites hate blacks, she responds:

“Maybe it’s just that everyone needs someone to hate, and it’s easier to treat people terribly if you tell yourself they’re nothing like you.”

Finding our similarities while accepting our differences.

That doesn’t sound insurmountable, does it?

 

One of my lucky readers will receive a copy of Hum If You Don’t Know the Words. Please leave a comment below and a winner will be randomly selected. USA addresses only, please.

 

I received a copy of Hum If You Don’t Know the Words from Putnam for an honest review,
which is the only kind of review I write.

 

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Book Buzz: All We Shall Know

Book Buzz: All We Shall Know

Book Buzz: All We Shall Know

Every writer knows that creating a powerhouse opening paragraph is key to engaging the reader so that he or she will be eager to see what comes next. In Donal Ryan’s gritty, brooding All We Shall Know, the first two sentences sealed the deal for me:

Martin Toppy is the son of a famous Traveller and the father of my unborn child. He is seventeen, I’m thirty-three.

All We Shall Know

The story is narrated by schoolteacher Melody Shee, a flawed yet sympathetic character whose marriage has been marred by abuse and deceit. While tutoring the vulnerable and illiterate young Martin Toppy, she seduces him. She confesses to her husband Pat that she met someone on the Internet and is pregnant, causing him to storm out amid a torrent of verbal abuse.

Melody yearns for Martin and secretly spies on his home, but shortly after their encounter he and his family leave abruptly for an unnamed destination. Scorned by Pat’s family and the townspeople who are disgusted by her infidelity, Melody is alone until she meets Martin’s cousin, 20 year-old Mary Crothery, an outcast like her. Melody is entranced by this waiflike child woman, and an unlikely friendship develops.

Each chapter in All We Shall Know is numbered by the week of Melody’s pregnancy. Unable to carry a pregnancy to term before, she is awed by the life growing inside her but haunted by transgressions in her past.  She is consumed with guilt about her best friend from high school, a girl she loved but ultimately betrayed in a horrifying way.

Incidentally, I had never heard the term “Traveller” and wondered what it was in Irish culture. In an interview, Ryan explained what a Traveller is:

Q. The father of Melody’s unborn child is Martin Toppy, a Traveller boy. For those who may be unfamiliar, can you describe Traveller culture and explain why you chose to write about this particular marginalized group?

Ryan: Irish Travellers number around 30,000 in this country, but they have a substantial diaspora. They’re a nomadic people with a distinct language, Shelta, an English-based derivative dialect of which is still in use called Cant. Up until recently, official Ireland has pursued a policy of integration: it was commonly believed that Travellers were ‘set on the road’ during the Great Famine, having been cast from their smallholdings and labourers’ cottages. Recent research shows their origins are pre-Celtic, that they may be ‘the original Irish’ and that they travelled the roads long long before the famine. Unfortunately, we’ve always been afflicted with strict stratification of ‘classes’ in Ireland—we hadn’t the wit or the vision or the strength or the will as a young nation to stamp on the idea, to break the hegemony of so-called ‘middle-class respectability’ propagated and perpetuated by the clergy and ‘the professions’. Travellers came to be seen as a type of underclass, a problem to be solved. Fortunately they’ve very recently been recognised officially as an ethnic minority. Travellers tend to marry young, to have large families, and to be deeply spiritual. Traveller society is riven with strife: their life expectancy is far blow the national median, their suicide rate is terrifyingly high, and their relationship with the settled community is often fractious. I based the character of Martin Toppy on a Traveller I worked with in a factory over twenty years ago and the character of Mary Crothery on a Traveller girl I once kind of knew, who told me she’d been cast out from her family: she still lived in their compound in a local halting site, but, she said, “there’s none of them talking to me.”

As Melody navigates pregnancy, abandonment and regret, she ultimately finds resolution and makes choices that surprised me at the end.

Ryan, an award winning author and nominee for a Man Booker Prize, has a mesmerizing, lyrical writing style, evoking so much emotion through his spare but lovely prose. A testament to Ryan’s talent is his ability to authentically capture Melody’s internal monologue even though he is obviously not a woman. Although not well known (yet) in the USA, Ryan is recognized abroad as a gifted new voice in fiction.

This is a slim volume, less than 200 pages, one that could be completed in one sitting. I willingly let myself be transported into Ryan’s world, and did exactly that.

 

One of my lucky readers will receive a copy of All We Shall Know. Please leave a comment below and a winner will be randomly selected. USA addresses only, please.

 

I received a copy of All We Shall Know from Penguin for an honest review,
which is the only kind of review I write.

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