The Castaways By Elin Hilderbrand On beautiful Nantuket island, a group of friends experience a trauma that affects their lives, relationships and future. Jeffrey, Delilah, Andrea, Chief, Phoebe, Addison, Tess and Gregg. And if you can't say that 10 times fast and then include their childrens names, you may not be able to follow the story. Seriously, the story follows the lives of these 4 couples who are best friends and neighbors on this seemingly private island. Gregg and Tess, too perfect to be real, drown in a sailboat accident, a fact that is given to the reader on the book flap. As the details unravel, so do the love affairs, lies, betrayal and guilt that each friend carries after this tradegy. The characters are interesting, but there are too many. The lists of names and details is dizzying and repetitive. The setting is quaint, the issue of which couple will care for the orphaned children is interesting and the small mystery that unravels as each friend deals with their personal connection to the couple and guilt of not having prevented this accident keeps the pages turning.
Where the God of Love Hangs Out By Amy Bloom. This novel is a collaboration of short stories. (This is not explicit on the book flap) Some story lines continue for a few chapters, others do not, and none relate to each other. They are all simple people, dealing with loved ones, living and dying, loving and hating. In one short story, a girl is waiting for her despised father to die and it is bizarrely and darkly humorous. Another storyline is a family of an interracial marriage where the step mother is attracted to the stepson in an unacceptable manner. Each one draws you in deep to those characters, the detail is great and easily imagined. The people are strange and the reader may constantly say (out loud!) what in the world was this author thinking?! And as only avid readers can understand (in a book that is not exactly lovable) the writing is excellent.
A Prayer for the Dying By Stewart O'Nan This work of fiction is different. Most books are written in 1st person narrative (I went ...) or 3rd person description (he/she went ...) but this book is written in 2nd person, from the readers viewpoint. It is at first glance hard to grasp but quickly flows as the story gets started. A Prayer for the Dying is the story of Jacob. He lives in the small town of Friendship, Wisconsin after the Civil War. His jobs include undertaker, deacon and sheriff. This sleepy town has little excitement and few changes on a daily basis. A diptheria epidemic begins to spread. Decisions need to be made quickly. People are frightened, getting sick and dying within days. Jacob becomes the organizer of events to help the sick, bury the dead and decide the fate of the town. Friendships (town name could not be more appropriate) responsibility lays heavy on this one gentle being. Jacob's belief in g-d, his prayers, his beloved wife, innocent baby and deep commitment to the welfare of this town torment every ounce of his being. This story is disturbing, wonderfully written and it will take a few days to get these vivid, detailed images out of my head.
Not becoming My Mother By Ruth Reichl. Every daughter should read this. Given the opportunity to explore a box of old letters and diary like excerpts, Ruth Reichl pieces together a new, different mother. Ruth Reichl is an accomplished memoirist, writer, editor, cook and businesswoman. Her previous writings delve into her life from early childhood through today and are wonderfully entertaining and heartfelt. This book, a small novelette, focus's on Ruth's mother. An important, influential person in her life but one that she did not fully understand until a box of letters and diary entries are found. These writings detail for Ruth more about her mother than she ever knew and help her piece together some of the mystery that was their family and her mother's character in general. Every daughter (really, sons too!) should relate to the feeling that unexpectedly is revealed, at some point in your life, that your mother is a "person." That you are a part of her life but that her life existed before you and will after you move out on your own into adulthood. That a mother's desires, dreams, regrets and fears are real. They are not less important or life changing than your own. They need to be respected, understood, for better or for worse. The author finds this out after her mother's death. The reader may wonder what would have happened had she learned these things sooner or perhaps, take the time to learn from the experience and call your mother.
A Long Way Gone, Memoirs of a Boy Soldier By Ishmael Beah Ishmael Beah was born in Sierra Leone in 1980. In 1993 at the age of 12 Ishmaels village was destroyed by rebel forces. The rebels claimed they were providing freedom from the corrupt government. In actuality they were stealing the country from the people and not helping anyone but themselves. Not knowing if his family was alive or where to find them if they were, Ishmael sets off on a journey with a few friends through the forests of Africa to find a safe haven and perhaps news of his family. The rebels rape, loot, kill and destroy everything and everyone in their path. Ishamel and his fellow travelers barely survive this brutal journey scavenging for food, rest and safety. Walking for days through all types of weather day and night. Finally Ishmael finds a seemingly safe village where he is recruited into the government army to fight the rebels. He is quickly turned into a boy soldier who becomes a fearless, drug addicted killer. Ishmaels maturity, strength, will to survive and deep emotions regarding right and wrong are extraordinary. He joins the fight avenging the deaths of those he loved but winds up in similar shoes as those of the rebels. This memoir is riveting, an easy read and quick lesson in the history of politics in this area of the world. This is not just an anonymous news clip that one views on t.v. This is a boy, innocent and happy whose childhood is stolen, his family taken away. This is not long ago and it continues today. We must force ourselves to pay attention, help in any way possible and to teach our children that the world can be made a much better place. We cannot look the other way.
Olive Kitteridge By Elizabeth Strout. Crosby, Maine is a small quiet town on the coast. Hilly lanes, crashing waves and sea breezes make this an idyllic setting where all the characters know each other in some way. Olive is a school teacher for more than thirty years. She is loved and feared, mostly feared. Each chapter is its own little short story that connects to Olive. Sometimes in a big way and sometimes a very small connection. Olive is married to Henry, described as a kindhearted, extremely lovable character. Olive is difficult to say the least. She has a generous heart but would probably be described as an angry depressive. She flip flops with real emotions of love and sentimentality for the past, to pure bitterness with just about anyone who crosses her path. Olive is hard to like yet the authors writing is so compelling it carries the reader through the pages easily. Not much happens in this small town except for the everyday occurrences of life. Sometimes they are huge, death, divorce, affairs. Some of the lives carry on just wishing they could have more, thinking simplicity is missing life altogether. All the connections have one raw element in common and it is none other than human loneliness. Olive Kitteridge is a quiet story, not a blockbuster. It is both sad and reflective and reminded me very much of my husbands grandmother Lily. Once a reader has put a face and image to a story, it is hard to resist.