REVIEW: “Tell the Wolves I’m Home” by Carol Rifka Brunt

Carol Rifka Brunt’s debut novel is magical. It’s everything a reading experience should be. I was frustrated when my kids woke too early in the morning or too early from their naps and interrupted my reading time. All I wanted to do was read this book until I had finished it. I wasn’t expecting to be moved, but I was. I even had tears at the end, and my friends, that’s not common for me. I’m not a book crier.

Screen Shot 2018-02-26 at 8.21.11 PMIn 1987, the US was filled with uncertainty and paranoia regarding AIDS and the gay community. For 14 year old June Elbus, the questions and fear are overcome with love for her Uncle Finn. During his final days, he paints a portrait of June and her older sister Greta, which is a focal point of the novel. After Finn dies, questions begin to emerge about his life and the painting, propelling June into a search for answers about the dearest person in her life. She discovers Toby, a man Finn shared his life with who she has never met, and a love for art that made him famous while making her mother resentful on both counts. Toby pursues a friendship with June in a final gasp to keep Finn’s spirit alive as they both realize how connected they have been all along.

It is a breathtaking novel about navigating life, death, adolescence, and friendship. Brunt’s style is flawless. Her writing is smooth and poignant, sliding into your mind and taking root. There’s a familiar comfort in the characters’ awkwardness and a genuine approach to their emotions. They felt human, as if I had tiptoed into someone’s recollection rather than someone’s imagination.

It’s truly incredible.

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“I Hear You Son, Even Without Words”

Aloha, friends!

I would love for you to check out my latest heart pouring over at Her View From Home. It is one of my favorite sites that I write for that has had incredible growth over the last month! We went from 100k to 200k! How wild is that? So deserved.

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This time, I decided to share my struggle on anxiously awaiting my son’s ability speak and our first steps with Early Intervention since Ezra has an expressive speech delay. I have cried. I have been frustrated. I have felt like a failure and absolutely helpless as a mother in regards to Ezra’s lack of progress. So I decided to reach out and tap into resources that were put in place to help children like Ezra.

“Son, I hear you. I hear you need for help. Sometimes, mommies and daddies need help too. We do. 

This morning, we started the journey of early speech intervention for our son. I became a mother nearly two years ago and I have never heard my son say ‘Mama.'”

If you would like to read more, please visit my article here on Her View From Home!

 

REVIEW: “Men and Dogs” by Katie Crouch

My sister-in-law loaned me Men and Dogs by Katie Crouch and I was excited to read it because I remember liking Crouch’s debut novel Girls in Trucks when I was younger. Crouch’s covers always appeal to me, which is why I picked up Girls in Trucks and why I was looking forward to Men and Dogs. I confess I don’t remember much about Girls and Trucks, but I remember thinking it was a fun little book and a quick read.

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Men and Dogs follows Hannah, a woman whose father went fishing when she was a pre-teen and never returned. Hannah remains convinced that her father just ran off and will someday return. We are told up front the negative impact this has had on Hannah’s life:  she is guarded and flighty, routinely cheats on her husband, and finds little comfort or closeness with friends or family.

While everything in her life is crumbling, she returns to her mother’s home and reunites with her brother, an ex boyfriend, her ex boyfriend’s mother, and a slew of forgettable characters that are supposedly holding pieces to the puzzle of her father’s last days.

Crouch’s easy style offers no real profound spin on plot or style. So you’d think without those she might offer something in regards to characters or the story itself.

Nope.

I will give Crouch credit in hooking me with the disappearance of  the dad. It’s why I hung on even though I disliked nearly everyone in the story (except for her brother Palmer who I found way more interesting with his reminiscing of how he discovered he was gay, his first love, and how his father’s disappearance and the journey of his sexuality made him who he is – Crouch missed the boat on the real story). The father was the key to the story and, yet, he took the backseat and seemed to be an afterthought to what was actually happening. It seemed Crouch was even confused or bored with the story because nothing develops in regards to the father’s disappearance or death, Hannah’s sense of morality, her development as a character, the reunion with an old flame, or anything else. I ended this book with essentially the same story that I started with.

Ugh. No dice, people.

REVIEW: “Oryx and Crake” by Margaret Atwood

The last few years has propelled Margaret Atwood to the forefront of pop culture with the recent adaptations of The Handmaid’s Tale (one of my absolute favorite books) and Alias Grace. Since there were whispers of an adaptation in the works of her MaddAddam Trilogy, I knew I had to get on board. The series had been collecting dust on my shelf for awhile, but I knew I had to dive into the universe Atwood created before HBO or whatever network influenced how I perceived the characters.

And I was NOT disappointed.

Screen Shot 2018-02-06 at 11.38.55 AM.pngOryx and Crake is a novel (much like The Handmaid’s Tale) that propels the reader into a what if scenario, one that is terrifying. Told from the perspective of Snowman, the last surviving human of a world wide plague, the novel introduces us to a new breed of persons who are incapable of much human experience (sexual lust, insecurity, and creativity). Atwood weaves in and out of the present to slowly unveil how mankind was destroyed and why Snowman is the only one who remains.

Atwood is a master of plot, of the English language, of driving a story into my very being. When I wasn’t reading this book, I was thinking about it. I was appalled and unnerved. I was heartbroken. I was consumed by the story and hungrily making my way through the pages. This is how a reading experience should be. This is why we read. It is flawless.

Book Store!

Guys, it has been YEARS since I went to a bookstore. How? Well, I have so many unread books (which are slowly dwindling) and I was addicted to Amazon before moving out here to Hawaii. Prime is not two day shipping here. Prime, like everything else, lives Aloha. There is zero hurry.

I spent the day on the east side of Oahu in a beautiful town, Kailua. And passed by Book Ends. Whenever I see a local bookstore, I cheer. The virtual readers haven’t beaten the paper pages yet! I’m sorry. I’m a book purist. I don’t think I will ever read from a screen. I need to feel what I’m reading and smell the pages.

And Book Ends offered me plenty of books. The store was so charming! I only had a bit of time to kill, but I could have spent all day rummaging through the piles. It was a glorious 45 minutes and I walked out with some serious treasures. 9B08AC43-6A27-46B0-B074-AEE326989DABI picked one because it sounded interesting. I judged two by the convers and tucked them under my arm, and picked up a children’s book for my daughter (that was really me geeking out and trying to persuade her into the Jane Austen fandom. She is only nine months, but I feel it’s that important).

REVIEW: “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” by Neil Gaiman

Screen Shot 2018-01-29 at 8.43.08 PMEven though I would not rate this among my most beloved books, I do think this work is pretty phenomenal. Its unique plot is unlike anything I have read or even heard of and, that in and of itself, is worthy of admiration. Second, as off putting as I found some parts of the story, Gaiman’s power of language is so poetic and powerful, I can forgive the oddities and the fact that this type of book isn’t really “my thing.” I couldn’t put it down because I wanted to see the world Gaiman was showing me and the more of it I saw, the more of it I liked.

Gaiman whisks readers and the narrator back to his childhood home and a flood of memories give way to secrets, challenging our ideas of childhood, perception, belief, and humanity. Not quite an escape. Not quite a magical journey. Not quite science fiction. This novel reads more like the recollection of a fairy tale involving three women who come to fight evil and oversee those around them. Why? That remains a mystery because Gaiman never reveals their motives.

The ocean Neil Gaiman created swallowed me whole. The odd unfolding of events made me wriggle as I read, but I was unable to tear myself away until I had seen what the narrator should see. And I walked away, like the narrator does, with unanswered questions. But the main question our narrator asks himself at the end of the book (whether the quality of his life passes or fails) is answered with a profound statement that speaks volumes for young readers: “You do not pass or fail at being a person.” We are the sum of our actions and our words and our ambitions and how did we affect those around us.

REVIEW: “The Soul Thief” by Charles Baxter (SPOILERS)

Screen Shot 2018-01-23 at 11.47.32 AMSet in 1970s New York, Nathaniel Mason is a graduate student surrounded my pretentious acquaintances who attempt to cover their insecurities with intellectual fluff. He falls for Theresa, a fellow graduate student, and Jamie, a lesbian artist, both doomed relationships. All the while, Coolberg (another lover of Theresa’s) wedges himself into Nathaniel’s life and appears to know things he shouldn’t. Tragedy strikes the characters and they go their separate ways. Years later, Coolberg summons Nathaniel to a reunion and confesses his influence over events that have impacted Nathaniel’s life since grad school.

Unsettled best describes my response to Baxter’s novel “The Soul Thief.” I wanted to like this. But I walked away with a shrug of indifference with slight irritation. I wanted to think it was brilliant. But arriving at the end made me only disappointed with the journey I took getting there. It felt like a brilliant concept with a piss poor delivery.

The four characters (Nathaniel, Theresa, Coolberg and Jamie) feel like shadows of characters, mere outlines of real people. Being in graduate school myself, I could draw parallels to the people in studies who mirrored the mannerisms of these characters. None of whom were particular likable. Jamie is the only one I found remotely interesting at the beginning and beyond frustrating at the end (a lesbian who agrees to a sexual relationship with Nathaniel then is a victim of rape late run the story felt like her place in the story was to shock readers and anchor Nathaniel to Coolberg’s manipulation).

 

The whole premise of one man (Coolberg) manipulating and orchestrating events within another man’s life (Nathaniel) is unsettling, yes. But the whole idea of the author manipulating his reader at the end of a poor design is even more unsettling. The revelation at the end did not wow me. Instead, I found it unfinished and insufferable. Shouldn’t the book have been more suspenseful? Shouldn’t Coolberg’s influence have been more sinister? What was the point of his influence in Nathaniel’s life? The final meeting between the two characters felt anticlimactic at best and fruitless at worst.

There was so much potential that fell flat for me. While the big thematic questions of identity, self, and relationships with others feel important, the support for those questions feels more like existential pontification with zero direction (which I guess suits the characters in this book).

REVIEW: Summer Sisters by Judy Blume

Screen Shot 2018-01-18 at 2.25.25 PMSummer Sisters is one of those books about adolescence that I’m sad I didn’t get to read as an adolescent. I think fourteen-year-old Tiffany would have been all over it, but thirty-one year old Tiffany trudged through the pages. I felt like I was spying into a world I was no longer privy to or reading a diary consumed with growing pains that no longer interested me.

The Vix’s friendship with Caitlyn reminded me of friendships I clung to because I liked the idea of being friends with that person, but not because the friendship was necessarily a healthy one. I found myself irritated with most of the interactions with Caitlyn, but that’s probably my adult sensibilities getting the better of my reader sensibilities to appreciate a good story. Caitlyn’s manipulation of Vix and insecurity will resonate with a lot of readers who have dealt with toxic friendships. I know I definitely could think of a few girls in my life who mirrored some of Caitlyn’s actions.

What I think I loved best about Summer Sisters was that it’s a story of firsts gone sour – first boyfriend, first act of intimacy, first place, first go at independence. All firsts that lose their allure and spark as time marches on and the newness fades. While reading it I wasn’t exactly thrilled, but I can see the intricacies of youth that Blume weaves through the pages and appreciate her crafted story of two girls growing up and apart.

“Helpless in Hawaii – One Mom’s Take on Nuclear Threat”

Aloha dear friends,

I have been pretty MIA the last few months. I underestimated the toll of having two under two and running on no sleep along with children that don’t sleep at the same time. It has left little room for reading or writing.

But I’M BACK with a new article on experiencing Hawaii’s nuclear threat that never was.

Please check out my new guest post on Her View From Home and leave a comment/share!

Screen Shot 2018-01-18 at 11.09.08 AMAt 8:07 am, the state of Hawaii was sent a message on their phones that read:

BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.

The fear that came over my husband’s face as he screamed for me to grab the kids and get into the garage closet washed over me with a flood of helplessness. I picked up my daughter, grabbed my son’s hand, and called for our German Shepherd to follow me. The garage is a mess and the closet was full. We threw strollers and totes and beach chairs out of the way and climbed into the smallest space we could.

That’s when I felt fear. I wasn’t feeling fear for myself, but as I looked into the eyes of my son who turns two next weekend and my nine month old daughter, I feared for their precious bodies we were shielding, their minds that could never understand, and the futures that could be ripped from them.

Read more here:

Helpless in Hawaii – One Mom’s Take on Nuclear Threat