Breathing Water by T. Greenwood

Breathing Water

Breathing Water

T. Greenwood (Adult Fiction)

“Do not ask me for haunted.  Do not ever ask me for haunted, because I will give you haunted and you will never be the same.”

Effie Greer is living a fugitive life.  When you are a fugitive, you don’t sign leases, you don’t bother unpacking, and you don’t make any friends.  But after three years, she finally feels safe enough to return home to Lake Gormlaith, Vermont.  There, she refurbishes her grandmother’s lake house, reconnects with an old school friend, and develops an interest in a mysterious and kind artist.  Only time will tell if Effie can truly leave the past behind and begin anew.

Breathing Water jumps from the years 1991, 1994, and 1987 and deals with issues such as domestic violence and substance abuse.  Despite its strong and promising beginning, the story just seems to aimlessly float along with no real purpose or direction.  At times, the text seems overly flowery (“The rust-gold-orange-purple of the woods behind him blurred through the spray of the hose…”) and the transitions between time periods are awkward and require the reader a few moments to continually readjust.  Also, I found the main character to be a bit contradictory.  As a survivor of abuse, she is prone to keeping secrets although she eventually finds great relief and peace once she finally divulges her abusive past to friends and family.  Despite this, she finds it absolutely reasonable to keep secrets from her new love interest.  So, we are led to assume that some secrets are acceptable and absolution is purely discretionary.

All in all, not the worst novel I’ve ever read, but it was lacking on several fronts:  the characters were somewhat flat, the plot was thin, and finally reaching the end of the book was akin to treading water—there’s just not that much to hold onto.

Rating: 3/5

* Book cover image attributed to www.goodreads.com

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The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo (J)

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane  

Kate DiCamillo (Juvenile Fiction)

“Once, in a house on Egypt Street, there lived a rabbit who was made almost entirely out of china.”

Edward Tulane is almost three feet tall (from the tip of his ears to the tip of his feet) and is the beloved companion of ten-year old Abilene Tulane.  A birthday present to Abilene from her grandmother Pellegrina, Edward thinks of himself as a rather fine specimen.  He adores his fancy outfits and very much prefers not to think of unpleasant thoughts.  But one day, something rather unpleasant does occur and that, I’m afraid to say, leads to only more unpleasantness.  You see, Edward is a rabbit who only truly cares about himself, but all that is about to change very, very soon.

DiCamillo is one of the most talented and gifted children’s authors of this generation.  Her characters reach deep into your soul and her stories leave an indelible mark on your heart.  The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane is perhaps my favorite DiCamillo book.  It’s a story about learning to love and being loved.  It’s about belonging to a family and finding your way home.  Edward never knew about love, but then he opened his ears and began to listen.  When he listened, he opened his mind and began to care.  When he cared, he opened his heart and began to love…and that changed everything.

Abilene’s grandmother once asked her, “How can a story end happily if there is no love?”  DiCamillo gives us an enchanting and heartwarming story that brims with love which, in turn, promises readers a very happy ending.  Open this book, open your heart, and prepare yourself for an amazing and unforgettable journey with a china rabbit named Edward.

Rating: 5/5

* Book cover image attributed to http://www.amazon.com

 

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

The Little Paris Bookshop

The Little Paris Bookshop  

Nina George (Adult Fiction)

“As the grandmother, mother and girl said their good-byes and went on their way, Perdu reflected that it was a common misconception that booksellers looked after books.  They look after people.”

From a single conversation, Monsieur Perdu can tell you what you need and what your soul lacks.  His father calls it transperception, the ability to see and hear through most people’s camouflage and detect all the things they worry and dream about.  He can transperceive just about anybody…except himself.  He spends his days operating a moored book barge called Literary Apothecary, where he prescribes books like medication to those who lack or seek confidence, hope, faith, or love.  His seemingly tranquil life is suddenly made turbulent when an unopened, twenty-year old letter, written by his ex-lover, is discovered.   Perdu suddenly finds himself on a journey to discover an author’s real identity, to seek forgiveness, and to find peace.

Like a rusty barge moored in port for a little too long, this book had a promising start, but then just sputtered and gasped along until the end of the book.  The details and descriptions that George provides of the ports along Paris and of the French countryside are vivid and meticulous; however, the story stalls mid-way through and just never seems to regain steam.  Reading this book was more like a job to finish rather than a journey to be enjoyed.  The Little Paris Bookshop was marketed as “a love letter to books”, but to readers, it feels more like a Dear John letter as we are left feeling forlorn and rather disappointed.

Rating: 3/5

* Book cover image attributed to www.penguinrandomhouse.com

 

The Mostly True Story of Jack by Kelly Barnhill (J)

The Mostly True Story of Jack

The Mostly True Story of Jack   

Kelly Barnhill (Juvenile Fantasy)

In the town of Hazelwood, Iowa, everything is neat and quiet and predictable.  Everything, that is, except the deep purple house with its bright green door that sits on the edge of town.  It belongs to Clive and Mabel Fitzpatrick (they’re kooks) and will soon be home to their nephew Jack (he’s a nobody).  But something is happening in the town of Hazelwood.  Something is different.  There’s a buzzing sound that you can hear in the air and feel on the ground.  And there is a sweet smell all about.  Frankie Schumacher is the first to notice it, but he’s usually the first to know most things.  What Frankie doesn’t know is that this newcomer, a boy named Jack, is at the center of everything strange, weird, and disturbing that is happening…again.

Barnhill gives us a story that is full of magic, bravery, and friendship.  The plot gets a little confusing as the reader is provided cryptic clues through old diary entries and postings by Jack’s uncle—both contained in The Secret History of Hazelwood—in order to piece together the bizarre events not only occurring in the Fitzpatrick home, but also around town.  Also, the premise of the story seems a little faulty since we are led to believe that Jack’s character feels “invisible”; however, throughout the book and especially near the end, we see that he is actually being forgotten and not just simply ignored.  This feeling is actually more appropriate in conveying a sense of foreboding and trepidation as the action intensifies and Jack begins to realize the truth about the town and himself.

Overall, I liked that the main characters in this book were loyal, fearless, and chose decency over convenience.  Whether standing up to bullies or corrupted townspeople, they always erred on the side of right, regardless of the consequences they knew they would eventually face.  I do have a slight warning for younger readers or readers that are easily frightened.  There are a few creepy parts in this book where kids get sucked into the ground and have their souls taken so just keep this in mind.  All in all, The Mostly True Story of Jack is a book about trying to feel comfortable in your own skin, trying to fit in, and most of all, just trying to be true to yourself…or mostly true.

Rating: 3/5

* Book cover image attributed to www.goodreads.com

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan 

Lisa See (Adult Fiction)

Lily Yi was born on the fifth day of the sixth month of the third year of Emperor Daoguang’s reign.  Her matchmaker took one look at her and knew she was special.  In fact, Lily was so special that she was given a laotong, an “old same”, instead of the traditional sworn sisters that most girls receive.  A laotong relationship in Chinese culture is between two girls from different villages who are eternally bound to be kindred sisters and devoted companions.  At the age of seven, Lily is matched with a girl from the highly regarded Lu clan.  Her name is Snow Flower.  For over twenty years, their friendship endures arranged marriages, childbearing, disease, and death.  Throughout these events, the two write to one another in a secret women’s language—nu shu—on the folds of a fan.  One day, Lily receives a message from Snow Flower that threatens to tear apart their bond, although it is said that not even death itself can sever a laotong.

See not only gives us an extraordinary novel, but also an informative and unforgettable glimpse into Chinese culture and the lives of women in the early part of the 19th century.  We read how women are kept separated and isolated from outside life.  Women hidden away within the walls of their upstairs women’s chambers where they spend their days cooking, sewing, and praying for sons—their only measure of worth.  See also describes the unimaginably cruel and painful practice of footbinding.  This tradition begins with girls at age six and See’s description of the binding process is unmerciful in its details.  The suffering these young girls endure is truly horrific and beyond human comprehension and through the author’s masterful storytelling, we find ourselves experiencing their pain and agony alongside them.  (Thankfully, this practice was outlawed in 1912.)

See gives her readers a beautifully told story of devotion, sacrifice, regret, love, and forgiveness. Lily and Snow Flower are strong, intelligent, and fearless women willing to break long-honored cultural barriers in order to remain together.  Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is a mesmerizing and heartbreaking novel whose story unfolds as effortlessly as the fan that Lily and Snow Flower share.

Rating: 5/5

* Book cover image attributed to http://www.goodreads.com