November Mini Reviews - SEVEN short reviews to pique your interest
November was an excellent month for reading! Here are some of our quick and short reviews to inspire you to choose a new book: Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf, Mrs. Caliban by Rachel Ingalls, Sacred by Dennis Lehane, The Innocent Man by John Grisham, An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon, The Story of My Life by Helen Keller, and Arf by Spencer Quinn.
Our Souls at Night, Kent Haruf
Genre: General Fiction
Published 2015, 180 pages
A quiet book, simply written, but impactful. It illustrates that there's the possibility of affection and love at any age, and that you don't have to live out your last years alone. It also shows how family can be detrimental to that very relationship.
A man and woman "of a certain age" develop a relationship that at first scandalizes the town but they gain such comfort and pleasure from it, they are able to thumb their noses at the busybodies. They spend a summer caring for her grandson and growing ever closer until.....wait, that would be a spoiler. Read the book - it's interesting. By the way - no quotation marks....what's up with that? What point is an author trying to make by not using them? I find it annoying (I like my punctuation!), but still happily finished the book.
Mrs. Caliban, Rachel Ingalls
Genre: General Fiction
Published 1982, 128 pages
What an odd little book. I'm not quite sure what to think of it.... Mentioned on a podcast, it seemed different so requested it from the library. Apparently it's been reissued and the NY Times reviewer called it "totally unforgettable". Well, that's probably true but maybe not for the reasons he meant.
Even though I knew the odd plot element (the frogman "monster"), I didn't know what to expect. It actually is such a sad story - a sad woman whose child died, marriage is on the rocks, husband is and has been unfaithful, living a life of drudgery meets a big, green, frogman escaped from a research facility. Hmmmm. I guess that makes this a fantasy?
The prose is spare and efficient in telling the story. Dorothy is a fairly well rounded character for such a short story and we are given enough to understand and even sympathize with her motivations. Still.....I couldn't quite get past a relationship with a giant green 'frog'. (great cover though!)
Sacred (#3 Kenzie and Gennaro), Dennis Lehane
Published 1997, 400 pages
“Captain Emmett Groning was five foot seven and weighed about three hundred pounds. His jowls were longer and fleshier than any bulldog’s I’d ever seen and his second and third chins hung down from the first like scoops of ice cream.”
“Captain Jimmy and copilot Herb might have seemed like goofball knuckleheads, and maybe they were in all other aspects of their lives, but by the way they handled that plane during takeoff, landing, and one bit of turbulence over Virginia, I suspected they could land a DC-10 on the tip of a pencil in the middle of a typhoon.”
If you didn't already know this about Lehane, he has a way with words and describing people and scenes, as you can see from the quotes above.
Billionaire Trevor Stone hires private investigators Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro to find his missing daughter Desiree. When Patrick and Angie discover that the first P.I. hired by Trevor has disappeared, they follow his trail to Florida. Compared to the cold in Boston (where this series is typically set), they face the heat and humidity of Florida, which practically becomes a character itself.
The two P.I.s soon discover the true reason Trevor wants to find his daughter, and just how devious and ruthless a man he is. Lehane is a terrific writer that can really set the mood and tone of a book. Not as great a book as Mystic River, but still an engrossing mystery that has some surprises, despicable people, and details I liked about how P.I.s track and follow a trail. I'd like to know your favorite book by Lehane.
The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town, John Grisham
Published 2006, 360 pages
John Grisham writing non-fiction? That's worth a try. And, worth my time. The well researched, well presented, well reported story is astonishing in its facts. A man in Oklahoma is railroaded by the cops in his town for a murder they couldn't solve. That the criminal justice system could be so egregiously inept and/or corrupt is disheartening. And this is only the story of a few men.....how many more people are unjustly incarcerated because of a broken system? There were more than a few times when I wanted to slam the book shut and throw it across the room at my feeling of helplessness against "the man."
This is an interesting tale of the justice system gone very wrong, mental illness, a family who never gives up, and a man who never got a break. Told in an easy to read, reporterly style (sometimes kind of dry), Grisham lays out the facts and lays bare a sad story.
An Unkindness of Ghosts, Rivers Solomon
Genre: Sci Fi
Published 2017, 351 pages
I read this for the #ReadHarder challenge category AOC (author of color) about space. This is a debut novel and actually was nominated for some awards. I listened to this book over two LONG weeks (narrated by a woman with a Jamaican accent which I enjoyed).....set on a spaceship leaving a dying planet behind, it's a classic upper decks wealthy, lower decks workers/slaves story with a single woman focused on trying to escape the ship and her circumstances. Aster is the main character and we meet her best friend, Giselle, and her mentor, the ship's doctor.
Even though there are lots of descriptions, I found it very difficult to visualize the ship's structure ....all I got out of it is that there are many decks. There was a fair amount of techno language describing....I'm not sure what - maybe the propulsion? So though I didn't care for the 'science' part of the story, I liked Aster okay....she's a plucky, strong woman; the others not so much. There was no reference to the planet they left behind or former lives....I don't know, this one just wasn't for me. And that ending? That was terrible!
The Story of My Life, Helen Keller
Published 1902, 216 pages
I read this for nonfiction November - it was mildly interesting. Written when Helen was only 22 and still in college, it relates her childhood, the arrival of her teacher when she was eight and her discovery of language. She talks about trips and friends and books she read and studies she undertook. It becomes a bit dry, more of a recital of - for this class I read these books, then for this class I read these.
Her love of nature is evident as she frequently rhapsodizes about it.
"Long before I learned to do a sum in arithmetic or describe the shape of the earth, Miss Sullivan had taught me to find beauty in the fragrant woods, in every blade of grass, and in the curves and dimples of my baby sister's hand. She linked my earliest thoughts with nature."
Helen does share a couple of distressing events that occurred to her, but mostly the book is very positive, very obviously an effort to convey her thoughts about her life. Before her teacher arrived, she felt like this:
"The few signs I used became less and less adequate, and my failures to make myself understood were invariably followed by outbursts of passion. I felt as if invisible hands were holding me, and I made frantic efforts to free myself. I generally broke down in tears and physical exhaustion."
Helen became a very accomplished young woman, speaking and reading French, German, and even Greek. She sought out and treasured new experiences. The second half of the book is copies of many of the letters she wrote over the years from her very earliest ones as a child to correspondence as an adult. I only skimmed these.
Arf: A Bowser and Birdie Novel (#2), Spencer Quinn
Mystery, Animal, YA
Published 2016, 304 pages
Eleven-year-old Birdie lives with her mom, Grammy, and faithful dog Bowser, a big, handsome fellow, in a small Louisiana bayou town. Birdie’s father was a policeman that was killed in the line of duty years ago and his murder was never solved. Now, Birdie’s house gets broken into, a strange girl comes to town, a body is discovered, a man takes an interest in Birdie’s mom and all these things come together to eventually reveal who killed her father and why.
This book might be best for teens, and not younger children. There are a couple killings, and a snake attack on a human, nothing portrayed too gruesomely but it could be upsetting to younger people. Mostly it’s a light-hearted read told from the viewpoint of Bowser. Bowser just loves his owner, even when he’s describing her messed up hair, sleep in her eyes, drool coming from her mouth – he thinks she’s the most beautiful person on earth. And the smartest and bravest. And Bowser will do anything to protect her.
“It means…” Birdie smacked her forehead. I’d never seen her do that before, never wanted to see it again. No one smacked my Birdie, period, and anyone who tried would pay.”
“Quiet? Was that what Birdie wanted done? Done. From this moment on I would be invisible, at least in terms of sound. What a confusing thought! I found myself panting. Birdie: “Bowser!” Then there was nothing to do but give myself a good shake, the kind that flaps your ears and rattles the inside of your head.”
“Once, for example, I imagined that I could get into the fridge just by clawing at it. Let’s not bother with what happened after that.”
I've read several books by this author. He also has the dog series Chet and Bernie. I've enjoyed all the ones I've read. If you like light mysteries, dogs, and humor, give this author a try.