Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Moloka’i by Alan Brennert

In this historical fiction, a young Hawaiian girl is ripped from her family and sent to a remote community isolating those with the same illness she has contracted (Hansen’s disease, incorrectly called leprosy at the time).

Our book club chose to read this 2003 title for discussion, and I’m so glad someone suggested it. This is a wonderfully captivating fiction with a strong nonfiction basis and many lessons to offer.
Everyone who lands on the Hawaiian island of Moloka’i  is surprised (as are we readers) to find this “leper colony” is simply another small town community – with a few notable changes: There are stores, a post office, routine garbage pickup, people of all ages and several races, and a variety of religious beliefs. There are also doctors, hospitals, people with strange and monstrous deformities, and many, many cemeteries.

Rachel is merely 7 years old when she arrives on Moloka’i, and despite the fact she has a beloved uncle on the island, she is forced to live in the girls’ home run by the missionary nuns. She adjusts and makes friends, but never stops missing her family on the big island. Rachel lives, loves, and flourishes on Moloka’i, always wishing and hoping to leave, to travel the world, and to see and experience new cultures.

I basically consumed this book in a sitting, and I adored the island’s funny, creative citizens who were so full of life in the face of death. As any life would, Rachel’s story has ups and downs, joys and heartbreaks. I learned so much about Hawaii history and about Hansen’s disease - I will heartily recommend this book for literary and historical fiction lovers.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Us by David Nicholls

In an unlikely romance, geeky scientist Douglas Petersen wins the hand of the lovely painter Connie and they marry, start a family, and move into contented middle age ... until one night, Connie blindsides Douglas with the announcement she's thinking about leaving too when their son goes off to college in a few months.

In the meantime, they've got a grand European vacation planned to show Albie all the great works of art on the continent - and there's no reason to waste the money or skip such fun, now, is there?

This book shifts back and forth in time to tell the story of Douglas and Connie's romance and marriage, while also chronicling one really hellacious vacation. Eventually, Douglas realizes what's wrong - but is it too late?

This book can be pretty grim going, but it's also quite funny. Every family's got a "Douglas", so you'll recognize the depressions and dramas - sometimes you just want to swat him one for his ignorance. I was also super-jealous of their European adventure, even as miserable as it was.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Know Your Beholder by Adam Rapp

As musician Frances Falbo's life has crumbled around him (band breakup, divorce, agoraphobia), he conveniently has turned his childhood home into a small community of apartments; this means he has income, friends, and people to watch and interact with, all without ever taking off his robe and slippers.

This apartment microcosm community includes Frances' reclusive ex-brother-in-law, a pair of former circus acrobats whose young daughter has just gone missing, an aspiring thespian, a college artist, and a transient former bandmate, and more.

The book is funny, and also a little heartbreaking. The apartment tenants are a motley crew, and observing their comings and goings is full-time entertainment for Francis and for the reader. It's not the kind of book that everything gets tied in a ribbon bow at the end, but things end in a satisfying manner, and it looks like Francis may get out of the house after all.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Empty Mansions by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr.

I was completely captivated by the American history and rich eccentricity presented in this book; this is the kind of nonfiction I love - well written and engrossing, with liberal photographic illustrations.

W.A. Clark was a pioneer in Montana back before it became a state. He made a ton of money in his entrepreneurial ventures, including hauling mail, prospecting in grocery items and tobacco, and copper mining. He built railroads and subdivided a plot of land that became downtown Las Vegas. A late-in-life second marriage to a much younger woman brought two daughters, in addition to his already-adult children.

Combining W.A.'s late-in-life family and his youngest daughter Huguette's 104-year lifespan means this book and these 2 rarified people's lives encompass a huge and extremely eventful span of American history. But perhaps just as interesting as the history lesson are the tales of lavish spending and luxury lifestyles.

At the end of her life, Huguette owned five residences (3 homes and 2 apartments) and yet insisted upon living in a New York City hospital - despite the fact she wasn't sick. She spent piles of money on dolls, dollhouses, and charitable donations to whomever she wished, while also refusing money to many who thought themselves more deserving. She owned priceless art masterpieces, jewelry she never wore, and cars that were never driven.

When I finished the book, I had to immediately get online and learn more - that's the sign of a good book, in my estimation. Lawsuits were still pending when the book was published, and I so wanted to know WHAT HAPPENED! I highly recommend this book. Awesome!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Kinda Like Brothers

by Coe Booth

Many kids in small towns likely know very little about life in an inner city.  Hopefully, they know just as little about the foster care system.  This novel gives a peek into both those worlds.

Jarrett's mom is a foster parent.  He's used to babies coming and going in his life.  What he's not used to is a baby that comes with a brother who is actually older than he.  Late one night, he finds himself suddenly sharing a room with a boy filled with secrets. 

Thinking of himself as a super spy, Jarrett finds far more information than he should about his new roommate.  The real challenge is determining the best path he can take with this knowledge.  He walks a fine line between trying to help reunite a family and just wanting to have his own room again.  Jarrett and Kevon both learn hard lessons about getting along, acting like a responsible person and family dynamics.

This is, at times, a heart-wrenching view into an all too common part of our world.  It is also a story with a realistic ending.  There's no tidy bow showcasing happily-ever-after: a welcome feature for the genre.

Monday, May 4, 2015

The Emerald Atlas

by John Stephens

Adventure! Intrigue! 

Three siblings find themselves on the journey of a lifetime.  A decade previous, their parents disappeared, and they've bounced from one orphanage to another.  Shortly after we meet them, they find a land ruled by a viscous woman and her undead army.  In order to survive and save countless lives, they must travel through time, determine which magical beings can be trusted, and secure an enchanted book.

This story is riddled with fast-paced action.  Even still, I struggled to get through it.  Now that it is finished, the ending has left me wanting more.  I'm determined to find out what happens in the rest of the trilogy.