Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Worth a Visit

The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True HermitThe Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The author shares his fascination with the story of Christopher Knight, who disappeared into the Maine woods in 1978 and was discovered 27 years later as the mysterious thief who'd become legendary in the local lake town. What makes a person withdraw from society? How does a thief not get caught for 27 years? These are the central questions driving the story, backed up by credible interviews and research.

Finkel calls Knight "the last true hermit" because all those years Knight had no intended interaction with another human being. Many disagree with Finkel's definition. Traditionally a hermit's withdrawn from society for spiritual reasons. In modern times, it can be a matter of philosophy or politics, too. A true hermit lives in seclusion, not isolation. Knight describes his walking into the woods as more of a whim, though it's obvious it was a compulsion. And it's hard to believe that he didn't pick his only ever job—working on home security alarms—with thieving in mind. Knight's certainly a recluse, but to call him a hermit is to reduce the stature of every non-thieving hermit in history. It's no wonder the unofficial arbiter of modern hermits, the Hermitary, refuses Knight membership.

Knight admits it is wrong to steal, but he did it; despite having made ingenious solutions to surviving Maine winters, he developed his skills in skulking and thieving instead of self-support. The residents of that Maine lake town seem to mostly hate or admire him; the break-ins, while Knight made sure to attack only empty houses, were frequent and some residents lived in fear while others left offerings of books and candy over the years.

It is indeed fascinating to read all about it and decide if you'd call him a nuisance, a bogeyman, a freak, or a lost soul. But not a hermit.


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Light Romance reading

A Stardance Summer (Eternity Springs, #13)A Stardance Summer by Emily March
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Emily March's books are my guilty pleasure. There's unashamed romance and hope in every one, and Stardance Summer ticks all the boxes once more. The Eternity Springs series in particular honors those who have transformed the trauma in their lives into compassion, hope, and renewed commitment to love--not only romantic love, but love for self and community. The romance is between Brick Callahan, who's got a great thing going on with glamping, and Lili Howe, who had a childhood crush on him that's never gone away. Lili went into accounting to please her parents, and her heart has never been in it. When she has a crisis at work and her parents are unsupportive, she impulsively runs away. She buys a trailer, joins her landlady's glamping club, and ends up in Eternity Springs at Brick's campground. Growing and learning ensue, and plenty of romance and frustration, too.
If you like Debbie Macomber, you're sure to like Emily March; this one in particular has a Macomber "Blossom Street" feeling, maybe because it's number 13 in the series. Hope it's good luck, for I'd like there to be more.
I received an early electronic copy from the publisher and Netgalley for review.


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Saturday, June 3, 2017

Midlife in a Mess

City of FriendsCity of Friends by Joanna Trollope
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've got a mixed message about Trollope's twentieth novel. I did like it, but as emotionally on point this story about women friends in midlife's varied crises may be, the book itself falls flat. Melissa, Gaby, Stacey, and Beth have been friends since university. They are all extremely successful, Beth in academia and the others in business. Stacey is fired instead of given flex time when her mother is diagnosed with dementia; Gaby can't give her a job because she just hired the wife of the father of Melissa's fifteen-year-old son. Beth's relationship falls apart suddenly, spectacularly. Gaby has two teens and a preteen, plenty of drama in her household as well. The day Stacey is fired, she has a plot-pivotal interaction with an immigrant woman on a park bench, and it's what highlights the sour notes in the novel. Emotionally, the book rings true to upper middle class women dealing with sexism in the workplace, with changing relationships and teenage children and ageing parents, with job loss and stress and various degrees of spousal support; but I can't believe this pivotal interaction took place. That particular plot-working reeks of condescension and perhaps a clumsy attempt at political correctness that succeeds as smugness. (The "secret" is clumsy, too.) Though it's full of Facebook, the attitudes and atmosphere in this novel are firmly in the twentieth century and not the twenty-first. The best women's fiction mimics real life, only better; this is more escapist melodrama, fun but not profound.


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Saturday, May 27, 2017

Silver Sensation

Silver Silence (Psy-Changeling Trinity, #1; Psy-Changeling, #16)Silver Silence by Nalini Singh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I consider Nalini Singh a crossover artist. I generally do not like my sci-fi/fantasy to focus on romance and sex, so it's pretty amazing that I've read 26 of Nalini's books. She is that good a world-builder, and sex alone (or mate-finding) is not the focus of her stories. In the near-future alternate world of the Psy/Changeling, the Trinity Accord is the promise of lifting humans to a more level playing field after years of being the "poor cousins" to the shifters and the psychics in the power structure of the planet. Plenty of adventure and suspense to add to romance as Nalini's brilliant world-building continues and the plots of the Consortium and the wacko Architect try to break the power of the Trinity alliance. Silver Silence takes us deeper into the lives of the Mercant Psy family as Silver Mercant takes center stage and debates stepping out from Silence. We also get to explore Bear sensibilities as Silver is drawn into the protective warmth and outsize humor of the Bear changelings. It's great to immerse oneself in a world where love and inclusion win over hatred and fear. It's a message we need to hear over and over again to keep fighting the good fight in our own lives, in our own world, and I love that Nalini never loses sight of the need for fun and delight in our quest for justice and healing. She writes good plots and good people. No need for guilt, only pleasure as you can go as deep or light as you like. In other words, these are smart and sexy and Miss Em cannot resist.
(Thank you Netgalley and Berkley for the early galley to review!)


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Saturday, May 13, 2017

Recent Reads

Nostalgia Rules

Helen Simonson's previous book, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, gently but firmly took on Britain's classism and racism with a charming love story. The Summer Before the War adds in sexism, homophobia, militarism, pacifism, socialism and almost every -ism you could imagine in a book that somehow pulls it off, even as you see the author's hand in this story of a young woman facing adulthood.
Nostalgia is the emotion that colors most of the book, looking back to a time before a World War was even conceivable. There's an intersection between young folks of the upper class and the upper middle class in the bucolic English countryside. Young men and women dreaming of love and duty become caught up in the hard realities of all those "-isms," and their struggles to reconcile them echo to the present day.

I prefer my novels to have invisible authors; perhaps an aside or two is permissible, but in novels I want story to be the key. The timing of outer events, the wider historical ones, felt off to me; the white feather girls seemed to appear way early in the story and they didn't show up in reality until August 1914, the end of summer. But if you were ever a swooning teenager, it's hard not to be lifted out of the story to admire every young poet's longed-for death scene: Noble! Tragic! Beautiful! Even as the tears washed my face, I was congratulating the author for fulfilling this fantasy and pulling it off beyond cliché. You will like this one if you liked her previous book or are an Anglophile! 

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

A Tale of Heart and Passion

BeartownBeartown by Fredrik Backman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It begins with a cliffhanger: "Late one evening...a teenager picked up a shotgun, walked into the forest, put the gun to someone else's forehead and pulled the trigger. This is the story of how we got there."

I read it in one sitting, for it reads like a thriller, even though it's all flashback. Backman's previous books have been wise and funny and a little tragic, but this is a masterpiece. It centers on a small town seeking glory from its hockey club. I know these kids and these families and so will you. You'll recognize "how we got here", too. Backman brings to life their hopes and dreams, frustrations and difficulties--adults and teens alike. "Beartown" should be read and discussed in every high school; it's topical and yet these events have happened for centuries. It takes place in Sweden, but could be any small town in America, too. In sports and life what we hope our children learn is to make good choices in a very un-ideal world. Fiction is a way to enter into an age-old discussion framed so beautifully by one of the characters: "This town doesn't always know the difference between right and wrong...but we know the difference between good and evil." What is the right thing to do when things go very wrong? You'll be compelled to find your answer. Backman is the Dickens of our age, and though you'll cry, your heart is safe in his hands.


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