15818107ORPHAN TRAIN, Christina Baker Kline

Paperback, 288 pages
Published April 2nd 2013 by William Morrow Paperbacks
ISBN
0061950726 (ISBN13: 9780061950728)
edition language
English

Nearly eighteen, Molly Ayer knows she has one last chance. Just months from “aging out” of the child welfare system, and close to being kicked out of her foster home, a community service position helping an elderly woman clean out her home is the only thing keeping her out of juvie and worse. Vivian Daly has lived a quiet life on the coast of Maine. But in her attic, hidden in trunks, are vestiges of a turbulent past. As she helps Vivian sort through her possessions and memories, Molly discovers that she and Vivian aren’t as different as they seem to be. A young Irish immigrant orphaned in New York City, Vivian was put on a train to the Midwest with hundreds of other children whose destinies would be determined by luck and chance. The closer Molly grows to Vivian, the more she discovers parallels to her own life. A Penobscot Indian, she, too, is an outsider being raised by strangers, and she, too, has unanswered questions about the past. As her emotional barriers begin to crumble, Molly discovers that she has the power to help Vivian find answers to mysteries that have haunted her for her entire life – answers that will ultimately free them both. Rich in detail and epic in scope, Orphan Train is a powerful novel of upheaval and resilience, of second chances, of unexpected friendship, and of the secrets we carry that keep us from finding out who we are.

What I Think:

FRESH DYNAMIC: That depends. Many readers say ORPHAN TRAIN reads like young adult fiction because Kline did such a superb job with Molly’s character. I think there’s more to that claim. Consider this: 1) By leafing through a wealthy old lady’s attic and 2) forming a bond with said mysterious old lady, (who is more interested in the main character’s well-being than her own mother) 3) a young girl with a difficult past grows/heals 4) and fills a maternal void. 5) Meanwhile, she contributes to the old lady’s quality of life. Old lady feels less isolated and more encouraged to embrace her future. WOW –  -Discovering secrets in an attic was every girl’s dream (at least, before the digital age…) : BEHIND THE ATTIC WALL, any NANCY DREW. I could go on and on. Discovering a crone had a past life and making her happy? POLLYANNA, and several episodes of LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE. This may feel like YA because that was what you read when you were ten. If not, it is a fresh dynamic.

EMOTIONALLY REWARDING:  Absolutely, but Kline sets up expectations well in advance. Mrs. Byrne is cold-hearted. Mr. Grote is gross. When “Dorothy” sees The Wizard of Oz, readers know her life is about to go TECHNICOLOR. Maybe these overt cues contribute to the YA idea as well.

Once Molly and Vivian share truths about tragedy in their early lives, Vivian reflects: “And so your personality is shaped. You know too much and this knowledge makes you wary…The expression of emotion does not come naturally, so you learn to fake it. To pretend. To display an empathy you don’t actually feel. And so it is that you learn how to pass, if you’re lucky, to look like everyone else, even though you’re broken inside.”  p.170. These are the passages where Kline’s writing shines – making extreme circumstances emotionally transferable.

DUAL HEROINES … OR NOT?: Another reason this story could be seen as a YA read is the struggle to determine “heroineship”.

Throughout Niamh/Dorothy/Vivian’s experience she remains a good-hearted survivor who prospers, but she doesn’t do anything extraordinary. Nothing heroic or self-sacrificing. She makes her money, sits in her mansion and becomes a hoarder. She’s not particularly happy or contributor to the community. In short, not heroine material. When Molly’s school project requires an interview, Vivian doesn’t seem to fret over the decision to discuss her life after decades of silence. *SPOILER ALERT (SORT OF)*  Vivian supplies answers and out of her past tumbles an out-of-character plot twist that made me groan.

This leaves Molly, the character who changes most IN REAL TIME. The novel opens with her in full goth attire, but frustrated by the effort it takes. With each visit, her social worker comments on Molly losing some of her “armor”. The way Molly succeeds as a heroine is by finding inner strength to move beyond her sarcastic shell and help others.

FINAL THOUGHTS: I liked this story a great deal. I enjoyed learning about the historical significance of the orphan trains. Kline does a fantastic job weaving the two voices in the simplest, clearest way possible.  There will be plenty for book clubs to discuss.

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Kate Vaughan is no stranger to tough choices.
She’s made them before. Now it’s time to do it again.
Kate has a secret, something tucked away in her past.And she’s getting on with her life. Her business is thriving. She has a strong relationship with her family, and a devoted boyfriend whom she wants to love with all her heart. If Kate had ever made a list, Rowan would fill the imagined boxes of a perfect mate. But she wants more than the perfect on paper relationship; she wants a real and imperfect love. That’s why, when Kate discovers the small velvet box hidden in Rowan’s drawer, she panics.

It always happens this way. Just when Kate thinks she can love, just when she believes she can conquer the fear, she’s filled with dread. And she wants more than anything to make this feeling go away. But how?
When the mistakes have been made and the running is over, it’s time to face the truth. Kate knows this. She understands that a woman can never undo what can never be undone. Yet, for the first time in her life she also knows that she won’t fully love until she confronts those from her past. It’s time to act.
Can she do it? Can she travel to the place where it all began, to the one who shares her secret? Can the lost ever become found?
And Then I Found You gives new life to the phrase “inspired by a true story.” By travelling back to a painful time in her own family’s history, the author explores the limits of courage, and the price of a selfless act.

What I Think:

FRESH DYNAMIC: Granted, I don’t read Women’s Fiction as often as I used to, but I haven’t read much Fiction at all these days where an entire family heaps so much GOOD, but not-well-suited advice to one person. Henry draws the picture very early that Kate’s family is loving and supportive – so invested in one another that Kate “pays it forward”. Kate invests herself in troubled teens not because she was one, but out of compassion. That certainly IS a fresh dynamic. I don’t even recall an alcoholic uncle mentioned anywhere in the entire text and doesn’t EVERYONE have one of those?

EMOTIONALLY REWARDING:

So often, characters are thrown into situations where they grieve a situation made in haste, without good counsel. Kate grieves a decision she considered thoroughly. In fact, Kate’s ability to grind her decisions to dust could drive a reader to stab the novel at times, but Henry layers Kate’s personality well. The story told in AND THEN I FOUND YOU is the solution to Kate’s long-standing problem, not a story where Kate was presented with a problem to solve. Kate’s public self is not much different from her private self because she lives her life surrounded by a supportive family who knows her secret. Her secrets are kept from Rowan, possible fiance, and their “friends”. This is where readers see her unravel.

Kate’s whiny, self-obsessed stares at the river seem like spots of deleted action. Possibly moving some later scenes forward would have helped this and trimmed the wishy-washy feel out of the last few pages and helped with pacing.

I had to wipe my eyes several times during this read. I appreciated Kate’s respect for the adoptive mom’s territory and found it interesting that AND THEN I FOUND YOU’s release is close to the release of the Tina Fey / Paul Rudd movie, ADMISSION.

ANOTHER TWIST?

Maybe there could have been, somewhere. Because we all knew what would happen when we started reading, but Henry’s characters are so well drawn that readers don’t mind a bit. Like I said, there is a great emotional payoff, served most by the mother-daughter unease. Questions of: How do we go about this? How do we relate? And most importantly, Where do we go from here? Still hang in the balance.

FINAL THOUGHT-

Great beach read. Has well-developed family dynamic. This is another one to recommend to mom or grandma to open discussions about how pregnancy was handled differently in previous generations. Would be great springboard for conversation with a young teenage girl, fostering some deep and interesting discussion.

The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow

Rita LeganskiBONimages (1)

Fiction

On Sale Date:2/26/2013

Imprint:Harper PaperbacksPrint  Run:75K

Format:PB Pages:384

Price:$14.99 ISBN:62113763

ISBN 13:9780062113764

Other Formats

Ebook 9780062113771

Conceived in love and possibility, Bonaventure Arrow didn’t make a peep when he was born, and the doctor nearly took him for dead. No one knows that Bonaventure’s silence is filled with resonance—a miraculous gift of rarified hearing that encompasses the Universe of Every Single Sound. Growing up in the big house on Christopher Street in Bayou Cymbaline, Bonaventure can hear flowers grow, a thousand shades of blue, and the miniature tempests that rage inside raindrops. He can also hear the gentle voice of his father, William Arrow, shot dead before Bonaventure was born by a mysterious stranger known only as the Wanderer.

Bonaventure’s remarkable gift of listening promises salvation to the souls who love him: his beautiful young mother, Dancy, haunted by the death of her husband; his Grand-mère Letice, plagued by grief and a long-buried guilt she locks away in a chapel; and his father, William, whose roaming spirit must fix the wreckage of the past. With the help of Trinidad Prefontaine, a Creole housekeeper endowed with her own special gifts, Bonaventure will find the key to long-buried mysteries and soothe a chorus of family secrets clamoring to be healed.

What I think:

In THE SILENCE OF BONAVENTURE ARROW, Rita Leganski enchants readers with the story of a mute boy who hears extremely well and has no trouble communicating. Her description is beautiful, but the sheer abundance of it sometimes distracts from the plot. If you are looking for a faster paced read that quickly gets to the point, this is not it. BONAVENTURE is more about character development – the characters will be hard to say goodbye to – and setting. Oh, what a setting.

Once settled into the dream-like world of the story, I thoroughly enjoyed visiting New Orleans through Leganski’s conflicted characters. There are enough twists to keep things interesting and book clubs will enjoy plenty of insightful discussion.

CMHimages (1)Calling Me Home
Author: Julie Kibler
Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press (February 12, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1250014522
ISBN-13: 978-1250014528

Eighty-nine-year-old Isabelle McAllister has a favor to ask her hairdresser Dorrie Curtis. It’s a big one. Isabelle wants Dorrie, a black single mom in her thirties, to drop everything to drive her from her home in Arlington, Texas, to a funeral in Cincinnati. With no clear explanation why. Tomorrow.

Dorrie, fleeing problems of her own and curious whether she can unlock the secrets of Isabelle’s guarded past, scarcely hesitates before agreeing, not knowing it will be a journey that changes both their lives.

Over the years, Dorrie and Isabelle have developed more than just a business relationship. They are friends. But Dorrie, fretting over the new man in her life and her teenage son’s irresponsible choices, still wonders why Isabelle chose her.

Isabelle confesses that, as a willful teen in 1930’s Kentucky, she fell deeply in love with Robert Prewitt, a would-be doctor and the black son of her family’s housekeeper–in a town where blacks weren’t allowed after dark. The tale of their forbidden relationship and its tragic consequences makes it clear Dorrie and Isabelle are headed for a gathering of the utmost importance and that the history of Isabelle’s first and greatest love just might help Dorrie find her own way.

What I Think:

FRESH DYNAMIC~

Several reviews compare CALLING ME HOME to THE HELP, so let me address how it stands apart. The main relationship in CALLING ME HOME is between an elderly, widowed white woman (Isabelle) and a middle-aged, single black woman (Dorrie). Many authors agree there are no new characters in any genre, just new relationships. In novels such as THE HELP and THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES a character dynamic that is often presented is The Wise Black Woman. CALLING ME HOME offers a fresh dynamic as Isabelle shares her bitter losses and past mistakes in hopes of helping Dorrie through her present-day struggles. The story is about race, but with a different approach.

EMOTIONALLY REWARDING~

Get some tissues, they said. Block out some time, they said. Tragic love story.  Apologies authors, but my reading is done in the carpool line. No leisurely tub reading in this LIFE PHASE – sorry! To be fair, my car is the same place I write fiction, articles and blog posts.

If I’m hungry, I hit this country meat & three with internet. (Don’t worry. I have headphones.) For future reference, when you CRY at a meat & three, the *Nice Guy with a Walker* (whose wife is in a wheelchair & connected to an OXYGEN TANK) will come over and tell you, “Honey, now, it’s just a little ‘ol book.”

You will feel like you’ve been visited by ANDY GRIFFITH.

So, thank you, Julie Kibler. CALLING ME HOME an emotional, rewarding visit. Plus, there was *Nice Guy with a Walker*.

Though the circumstances of the story are extreme – few of us have dealt with Isabelle’s troubles – being controlled by authority figures, feeling powerless, and the intensity of first love, are all universal emotions. Kibler guides readers through these with ease.

ONE FUNNY THING~

Emotional moments during Isabelle’s storytelling are emphasized by a seemingly all-knowing crystal-ball type crossword puzzle book Dorrie picks up at a convenience store on their way out of town.  I wanted the characters to not only note the crossword book’s eerie abilities to perceive/predict the conversation, but to also fling it out the car’s window in terror.

INTERESTING~

Isabelle only states that Dorrie is “African-American”, but Dorrie describes Isabelle’s appearance at length. This bothered me because I thought Kibler had made a white-author-writing-black-people mistake until I reached Isabelle’s description of Robert.

NICE TWISTS~

You think you know, but you don’t. Repeat.

DUAL HEROINES~

I don’t like to compare movies and books, but this novel reminded me of BRAVE in a small way. It took both Dorrie and Isabelle to tell the story, with the small difference being the greater change was in Dorrie.

FINAL THOUGHTS~

A great debut filled with historical suspense. Will she or won’t she? Did she or didn’t she? You can even recommend CALLING ME HOME to your mother. Totally worth it, but not in public. You see, I’m not the crying type. On another note, I searched both Goodreads and Amazon for reviews from readers who aren’t white girls. I only found ONE. I would love to hear reviews from a different point of view.

ImageBook Review: THE ART FORGER, B.A. Shapiro

Genre: Fiction (Contemporary / Boston / Art World / Art Forger / Art Dealer / Literary Thriller / Historical Figure Fictionalized / Degas)
Publisher/Publication Date: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill (10/23/2012)

 Publisher summary: On March 18, 1990, thirteen works of art today worth over $500 million were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. It remains the largest unsolved art heist in history, and Claire Roth, a struggling young artist, is about to discover that there’s more to this crime than meets the eye. 
 
 Making a living reproducing famous artworks for a popular online retailer and desperate to improve her situation, Claire is lured into a Faustian bargain with Aiden Markel, a powerful gallery owner. She agrees to forge a painting—a Degas masterpiece stolen from the Gardner Museum—in exchange for a one-woman show in his renowned gallery. But when that very same long-missing Degas painting is delivered to Claire’s studio, she begins to suspect that it may itself be a forgery. 
 
 Her desperate search for the truth leads Claire into a labyrinth of deceit where secrets hidden since the late nineteenth century may be the only evidence that can now save her life.

SPOILER: The Degas painting in question does not exist. Don’t waste twenty minutes (or MORE) looking for it on your Smartphone.

What I Think:

If art and Paris stroke your senses, combine that with pulling something over on the snooty and you have THE ART FORGER. Shapiro merges historical fact with her wonderful imagination in this tale of ambition, greed, heist and forgery through the eyes of Claire Roth, a struggling artist with a tainted past and (fictionalized) letters of Isabella Stewart Gardner, an infamous Boston art collector.

Driven by the need to clear her name and establish herself, Claire Roth is shrewd and deals well with conflict, but is not as likeable as she could have been. Her involvement with boys at a juvenile prison where she teaches art is used only as a tool to discover more about forgeries and foreshadow Claire’s brushes with the law. Bitterness over past betrayals within the art community comes through in self-deprecating humor and is sometimes, laugh-out-loud funny, but Claire lacks heart.

Shapiro paints clear descriptions of setting and I had no trouble picturing characters or understanding their motives. The internal struggle Claire faces – her own original works, side by side with the forgeries/ copies she creates provides a great backdrop for the external plot. Museum authorities, art critics and federal agents race to discover the answer of what is authentic art, doubting Claire’s story – and who she is trying to protect –  the entire way.

I particularly enjoyed learning about the world of art forgery. Shapiro’s descriptions of paint and forgeries –  how time affects oil and canvas  – captivated my scientific side. Let’s face it, we all like books that make us feel a bit smarter at the end. THE ART FORGER is a fun read and a fascinating introduction to the world of art, forgery and deception.

Man in the Blue Moon

Author: Michael Morris
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers (August 17, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1414368429
ISBN-13: 978-1414368429

 Book Description:
“He’s a gambler at best. A con artist at worst,” her aunt had said of the handlebar-mustached man who snatched Ella Wallace away from her dreams of studying art in France. Eighteen years later, that man has disappeared, leaving Ella alone and struggling to support her three sons. While the world is embroiled in World War I, Ella fights her own personal battle to keep the mystical Florida land that has been in her family for generations from the hands of an unscrupulous banker. When a mysterious man arrives at Ella’s door in an unconventional way, he convinces her he can help her avoid foreclosure, and a tenuous trust begins. But as the fight for Ella’s land intensifies, it becomes evident that things are not as they appear. Hypocrisy and murder soon shake the coastal town of Apalachicola and jeopardize Ella’s family.

What I think:

If you like Southern Fiction, there is a great deal to like about MAN IN THE BLUE MOON. Set in a Apalachicola, a coastal town of cypress trees and Spanish moss, the characters face financial hard times and a war that has everyone on edge. Morris’ blends suspicious town gossips married to quiet men who say the right thing at just the right time, self-righteous know-it-all’s nosing around, loyal friends who don’t speak for years and evangelical pastors straining for a buck. He parades them before you with wonderful timing, a familiar step through turn-of-the-century north Florida. Morris brings up many captivating questions about faith, miracles and mysticism – reserving judgment or explanation. That’s an interesting turn for Tyndale, which typically publishes Christian fiction. Can I get an AMEN?

The main character is single mom, Ella Wallace. Due to her no -account husband, Ella is stuck with debts she can’t pay. She tries to run a commissary and raise three very different sons in the middle of a war, holding fiercely to the one thing her Daddy told her to never let go of – her land. Ella’s character is completely relate-able to today’s times. Though I cocked my eyebrow at the Snidely Wiplash description of her husband, wishing he and the “bad guys” had been given as much depth as other characters, the premise and story were so intriguing, I had no trouble continuing.

The GUY (there’s always a GUY): He arrives in a completely unexpected fashion, setting the gossips a-dither. He’s the opposite of the louse-like husband, offers to help right and left, and doesn’t even realize he’s filling the immense void Louse Husband left behind. Dream guy, right? He’s very mysterious, creating more trouble and town speculation than Ella (and her teenage son) can handle. She’s caught between the need for his help and gossip about him helping her and feelings, nothing more than feelings.

Meanwhile, there’s a power-grab for Ella’s land between a scurvy banker and an evangelist who turns local Indian beliefs about healing waters and Scripture on it’s ear. Ella’s is torn between her promise to her father and her debt. How will she survive? Money goes this way and that and Ella struggles to maintain her dignity, her family and her land. The murder described above is a huge slam-bang affair, written powerfully well. I was surprised how Morris, who obviously loves Apalachicola and knows it in and out, quickly turns to a well-drawn action scene that had me guessing.

Also amazing is that Morris pulls pieces of this story from his own family history. A man actually did arrive to his family farm in the same manner as Ella’s visitor to work for awhile before Morris was born. Interesting how family history contributes to authors stories, isn’t it?

If you like MAN IN THE BLUE MOON you may enjoy-

For the Southern aspect, Florida author – JANIS OWENS My Brother Michael, and American Ghost

A Christian, Southern author – CHARLES MARTIN The Dead Don’t Dance

For a Historical & Florida author – MARJORIE KINNAN RAWLINGS South Moon Under

MAN IN THE BLUE MOON is the SheReads.org online book club November read.. You can visit Shereads.org to read more reviews.