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Posts Tagged ‘Fiction’

Fiction Review – Made in the U.S.A.

Thursday, August 11th, 2016

Made in the U.S.A. by Billie Letts

Review by Mirah Welday (mwelday)

 

Many years ago I read Where the Heart Is and I really enjoyed it.  When I saw Made in the U.S.A. on the shelf, I decided to give it a chance and, once again, Billie Letts didn’t let me down.

Told with the same straight-forward voice as Where the Heart Is, Made in the U.S.A. introduces us to Lutie and Fate McFee.  Children of a ne’er-do-well father who has left them with his girlfriend in Spearfish, South Dakota while he goes to Las Vegas to make his fortune, Lutie and Fate are used to a life with difficulties.  They soon find themselves struggling to take care of themselves in a world where they are at a serious disadvantage with limited resources and support.

When hope is lost and times beyond desperate, enter in a helping hand and support system that seems to be too fantastic and heaven-sent to be real.  A stranger with a way to help and a possible family where Ludie and Fate can finally find a place to belong.  But this stranger has issues of his own that the children don’t understand.

There were some very difficult passages in Made in the U.S.A.; passages that were painful and heartbreaking to read. Children who have been hurt and traumatized due to the actions of those who were meant to protect them leaves them in situations that are precarious, dangerous, and demoralizing.  Made in the U.S.A. is a story about being more than the tragedy of our circumstances.  Heartfelt and powerful, Letts provides a commentary of hope and faith during the darkest of times.

 

 

 

Fiction Review – The Snow Child

Thursday, June 30th, 2016

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

Review by Mirah Welday (mwelday)

The Snow Child was, to me, a sweet and sad tale of parental love and the dream that love can come when we most need it.  Based on a Russian fairy tale, The Snow Child is set in Alaska in the 1920s.  Mabel and Jack have built a life in Alaska but that life is teetering on the edge.  They are alone in a very harsh environment and are struggling with being childless and exhausted by all of the effort it takes just to survive.

Amid their struggle to make ends meet, enter a pixie of a girl who appears as if my magic, flits through the woods, and appears to be alone in the world. Mabel and Jack quickly develop parental feelings for the girl and, even though they are confused about her origins, they accept the love and completeness they feel when she is around.  Through forging new friendships and developing more confidence, Mabel comes out of the darkness that she had been experiencing since living in Alaska.  Jack feels hopeful in the changes in Mabel and the possibility of building a successful farm and life in the rugged landscape.

I found Ivey’s story emotional and hopeful.  She creates characters (even secondary characters) who offer depth and exhibit the complexities of human personalities that various readers could find relatable.  In addition to the gripping story, I enjoyed having the Reading Group Guide at the end of my edition of The Snow Child.  The author provided great insight into how she came to write the novel and the meaning it has for her.  I believe this novel would be a great choice for readers who enjoy historical fiction with a little mystery and the supernatural thrown into the mix.

 

 

 

Audiobook Review – Then Came You

Tuesday, June 7th, 2016

Then Came You by Jennifer Weiner

 

Review by Mirah Welday (mwelday)

Jennifer Weiner’s Then Came You is a novel told through various voices.  I listened to the audiobook and was quickly drawn into the lives of each character and became very curious about how all of the characters’ stories would come together.

At its essence, Then Came You is a love story that is multi-layered and multi-faceted.  Characters who probably would not have ever been in the same story come together through a variety of both positive and negative decisions.

Julie is ‘discovered’ in the mall but not by a modeling agency, by an agency that provides eggs to people who are trying to have children.  Her decision to donate her eggs is rooted in her love of family but will this be as simple a choice as she thinks?

Annie is married and she and her husband are struggling to make ends meet.  As a mother of her own children, she knows that being pregnant is something she knows how to do.  She sees the prospect of being a surrogate as a way she can make much-needed money for her family while helping another family at the same time.

But how will Julie and Annie’s decisions impact other characters in the story?  Weiner gives a unique voice to each character and deftly links the lives of all of the characters together.  I think listening to the audiobook was the right choice for me. The characters were funny, witty, sarcastic, condescending, and caring and their personalities were so clearly portrayed by the narrators.  If you’re in the mood for some good chick lit with some scheming, backstabbing, and forgiveness, you may want to give Then Came You a listen.

 

 

 

Fiction Review – Winter Street

Wednesday, April 20th, 2016

Winter Street by Elin Hilderbrand

Review by Mirah Welday (mwelday)

This past holiday season I was looking for a new holiday book and found Winter Street by Elin Hilderbrand.  I have read (and listened) to other Hilderbrand books and one thing I like is that she can make her locations seem almost like additional characters to the story.

Enter Winter Street and the Quinn family. Kelley and Mitzi Quinn own and operate the Winter Street Inn, a bed & breakfast in Nantucket. Mitzi drops a bombshell on Kelley just before Christmas and his children rally around him to provide support and encouragement.  But little does Kelley know, his children are dealing with various crises of their own.  And what about Kelley’s ex-wife Margaret, where does she fit in?  Mitzi has never liked her but do her children and Kelley need her now?  And what about Bart, the Kelley’s son with Mitzi and new Marine who recently went to the Middle East? All calls and emails to him are unable to be delivered. Is he safe?

Everyone gathers at the Winter Street Inn for the holiday and to support Kelly but does he really want to keep the bed & breakfast after this holiday heartbreak?  The Inn is a Nantucket staple but Kelley might not have the heart to keep it going himself.

Winter Street is a holiday novel about the function within a dysfunctional family and the power of moving on and accepting things you cannot change. It was a quick read that is lighthearted and great for a cold (snowy) winter’s day. I’m looking forward to joining the Quinns again in Winter Stroll.

 

 

 

Fiction Review – Mambo in Chinatown

Wednesday, March 16th, 2016

Mambo in Chinatown by Jean Kwok

 

Review by Mirah Welday (mwelday)

 

It has been a very long time since I picked up a book and couldn’t put it down.  When I started Mambo in Chinatown I thought I would just read for a few hours one morning and then get on with the rest of my day.  But that was not to be.  I couldn’t stop myself from turning the pages and I finished it in one day…less than 9 hours from when I started!

For me, Kwok found just the right balance with this book. She was able to address serious issues without being preachy or overly sentimental. She was also able to cover a variety of topics without the plot seeming thin.  There were moments of intense emotion but also moments of lightheartedness that made me smile.

Charlie is a beautifully created, sympathetic character and I wanted to know how her story would develop and how she would change. I felt emotions on her behalf; I was in tune with her and shared her feelings when she was hopeful, frustrated, excited and disappointed.  I really wanted her to succeed and find her true place. Wanting to know what would happen for Charlie is what kept me reading all day.

Kwok’s Mambo in Chinatown is a touching book about really getting to know yourself without being dependent on other people to tell you what to believe or do.  I definitely recommend it and know I now need to add Kwok’s novel Girl in Translation to my reading list…and I’ve already requested it from a fellow PBSer!

 

 

 

Fiction Review – The Sugar Queen

Thursday, February 18th, 2016

The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen

Review by Mirah Welday (mwelday)

 

The Sugar Queen was recommended to me by a friend after I told her I enjoyed Allen’s Garden Spells.  I’m glad I took her recommendation; I wasn’t disappointed in The Sugar Queen.

Josey is living in practical isolation with her mother and housekeeper.  She has forced herself into basic servitude to her mother in an effort to make up for being a difficult child.  One day she finds a woman hiding out in her closet. What? Yes, Josey finds Della Lee, local waitress, hiding in her closet.  Josey is perplexed and annoyed and doesn’t understand what Della Lee is doing there and why she won’t leave.

Pretty soon Josey finds herself going out on errands for Della Lee and, miraculously, her life starts to open up.  Josey finds a new friendship but could she find more?  After years of being without friends or outside hobbies, she’s making decisions she knows her mother would not approve of and she’s daring to be herself.

The Sugar Queen has a little dusting of fantasy but that is part of the charm about Allen’s novels. If you’re looking for a little book escape with family drama, love and friendship with some magic thrown in for good measure, pick up a copy of The Sugar Queen.  (And if you can manage to get your hands on the Random House Reader’s Circle edition, take the time to read the Reader’s Guide at the end…there are some great tidbits in there!)

 

 

 

 

Audio Book Fiction Review – The Brave

Thursday, March 19th, 2015

9781607886297

The Brave by Nicholas Evans

 

Review by Mirah Welday (mwelday)

 

I have enjoyed several novels by Nicholas Evans, most notably The Loop and The Smoke Jumper.  I like that Evans’ books have a particular rawness to them.  It’s almost like I should feel bad for intruding on the characters’ stories but it’s too interesting to be ignored.

I recently listened to The Brave audio book (read by Michael Emerson from tv’s Person of Interest).  Growing up in England in the 1960s, Tom Bedford is enamored with tv shows featuring Cowboys and Indians.  He feels the cowboys embody the integrity and bravery real men should exhibit.  Tom has a strained relationship with his older parents but is very close with his sister.  He ends up moving to the US as a boy but family troubles and struggles continue to make his life uncertain and there are secrets he doesn’t know or completely understand.  Fast forward to the present day, Tom is divorced and his relationship with his son is non-existent.  When a tragedy faces his son, Tom is forced to face the demons of his past he has tried to deal with and bury all on his own.

Throughout the novel I was cheering for Tom but I was also frustrated with him.  I was gasping out loud when certain revelations were made. I was driving and, without even realizing it, I was leaning forward and clenching the steering wheel.  The secrets in Tom’s childhood result in him keeping secrets in his adulthood and the vicious cycle of lies and secrets must be broken if there is to be healing and acceptance with his son. But readers don’t know if Tom is willing to surrender those lies and secrets and open up to those he loves.  And we don’t know whether the people in Tom’s life are going to be willing to offer forgiveness and love as a result of knowing the truth.

I really enjoyed listening to The Brave.  It has since been passed along to another PBS member and I hope it continues to make the rounds. To be honest, I think some of the reason I enjoyed the book is that like Tom, I enjoy westerns and the simpler times they represent.  If you like books with secrets, mysterious histories and love played out with complex characters, I think you should give The Brave a chance.