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Sunday, December 17, 2017

Review of LACEY'S HOUSE by Joanne Graham

Advent Book Calendar – Day 17
Since I started by blog, I’ve done an annual Advent Book Calendar highlighting books I have enjoyed and authors I really like.  This year I thought I’d do an Advent Book Calendar with a twist; for each day leading up to Christmas, I’m going to post a review of a book to which I’ve given only one star (Throw a book at this one) or two stars (Don’t put this book in your book bag).  Though I would not recommend these books, others have disagreed with me.  Each book, on Goodreads, has received a 3 or 4 Star average rating.

Review of Lacey’s House by Joanne Graham
2 Stars 
Rachel is a young woman with a difficult past; Lacey, a simple woman viewed by most people as a mad old woman, had an even more difficult past. The two become neighbours and develop a friendship as they share their tales of loss. Lacey’s story, however, raises questions when Rachel discovers facts that totally contradict Lacey’s version of events from her past.

The novel is structured around chapters that alternate between the two protagonists. Rachel’s chapters are written in first person point of view whereas Lacey’s are in third person limited omniscient point of view. The advantage of this approach is that the reader becomes aware of the thoughts and feelings of both women and so comes to understand the reasons for their behaviour. This is especially important for an understanding of Lacey whose grasp of reality sometimes seems tenuous.

Rachel proves to be a dynamic character. She comes to terms with her past as she shares her story with Lacey and listens to hers in turn. Lacey’s life story serves to put Rachel’s own experiences into perspective and makes her realize she must take certain steps to avoid a future that could be as difficult as her past.

There are some twists but generally the plot is very predictable. Lacey’s visit to a lawyer, for example, foreshadows the inevitable ending. Likewise, certain topics of conversation keep cropping up and they indicate the direction events will take.

The theme is clearly stated: “it is easier to imagine a life without flaws, without difficulty than to accept a desperate reality you are powerless to change.” Both women do that, Lacey more so because of her circumstances. Of course this is a very human coping mechanism so readers should be able to relate.

Life in a small rural village is portrayed realistically. The author seems to understand how small towns function: the gossiping and rumor-mongering, the unwillingness to accept those who are even slightly different, the respect given to the village doctor.

This book is not really the literary fiction I normally read so I am perhaps not best qualified to judge its quality. I can, however, imagine it being made into a Hallmark movie.

Note: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Review of EXTENSIONS by Myrna Dey

Advent Book Calendar – Day 16
Since I started by blog, I’ve done an annual Advent Book Calendar highlighting books I have enjoyed and authors I really like.  This year I thought I’d do an Advent Book Calendar with a twist; for each day leading up to Christmas, I’m going to post a review of a book to which I’ve given only one star (Throw a book at this one) or two stars (Don’t put this book in your book bag).  Though I would not recommend these books, others have disagreed with me.  Each book, on Goodreads, has received a 3 or 4 Star average rating.

Review of Extensions by Myrna Dey
1 Star
This book caught my attention because it was The Reader's Choice for the Scotiabank Giller Prize.

Arabella Dryvynsydes, an RCMP officer, feels adrift after the death of her mother and a romantic breakup. By chance she finds a photograph of her grandmother and her twin sister at a garage sale in rural Saskatchewan. Arabella sets out to discover how the photo, taken 100 years earlier on Vancouver Island, found its way there. She also acquires a few letters written by her great-grandmother to her siblings in Wales, letters in which she describes the poverty and loneliness of life in a Vancouver Island mining town. Gradually Arabella uncovers family secrets as she also solves crime cases.

A problem with the book is the many chance occurrences and coincidences. The plot seems less driven by character than by a plot graph developed by the author. All of Arabella's encounters and experiences connect somehow to her search for information about her maternal ancestors. For example, she takes a history course, although she had never previously shown much interest in academics, and, conveniently, she is able to use her great-grandmother's letters for a term paper and eventually to solve a historical mystery. One of the letters, to which she gains access only towards the end of the book, helps her to solve a murder she is investigating.

Many of the characters are sketched in broad strokes and are unconvincing. People keep secrets and fabricate lies with insufficient motivation to justify their actions. A couple of great-aunts are totally vindictive and malicious and seem to have no redeeming qualities, while another is too good to be true. Several relatives are so lacking in ordinary human curiosity that they don't read family documents bequeathed to them; that total lack of interest means secrets remain buried even longer, only to be uncovered by Arabella of course.

The theme is rather obvious: "we are never as far removed from one another as we like to think" (247). In case the reader fails to understand, an explanation is given: "And what was I but an extension, through Dad, of [my paternal grandmother]. Just as this elderly cousin coasted on what her mother had gone through and passed on, so were our comfortable lives determined by what [my grandmother] had borne, distilled, and set in motion . . ." (245).

I did enjoy reading about the history of mining on Vancouver Island; about this history I knew virtually nothing, and the book has inspired me to do some further research.

The mechanical construction of the plot and the flawed characterization leave no doubt that this is a debut novel. It may have won the Reader's Choice Award, but I suspect that win was more the result of an organized voting campaign than the literary merits of the book itself.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Review of THE NINTH HOUR by Alice McDermott

3.5 Stars
Set in early 20th-century Brooklyn, this novel focuses on the Little Nursing Sisters of the Sick Poor and a mother and her daughter whom the nuns have helped.  Annie, a young widow, is given work in the convent’s laundry and her daughter Sally is virtually raised there.  As a young woman, Sally considers joining the sisterhood but the reader knows she does not truly have a vocation because one of Sally’s children intermittently narrates the story. 

It is the characterization of the nuns which stands out for me.  They are seen as they work amongst the poor and wretched of the city; they are both nurses and social workers in the service of the indigent and sick.  It is their task “to enter the homes of strangers, mostly the sick and the elderly, to breeze into their apartments and to sail comfortably through their rooms, to open their linen closets or china cabinets or bureau drawers – to peer into their toilets or the soiled handkerchiefs clutched in their hands.”  They enter places “unprepared for visitors, arrested, as things so often were by crisis and tragedy, in the midst of what should have been a private hour.”  As they visit invalids and shut-ins, details of what they see are not spared; bodily fluids are abundant.  It is clear that these nuns are a dying breed:  “The call to sanctity and self-sacrifice, the delusion and superstition it required, fading from the world even then.”

Each of the nuns emerges as a strong individual with a distinct personality.  Though they perform numerous good deeds and are compassionate women, they are flawed human beings.  Sister St. Saviour turns a cold shoulder to God; “It was the way a bitter old wife might turn her back on a faithless husband.”  And she openly states, “’It would be a different Church if I were running it.’”  Sister Lucy “lived with a small, tight knot of fury at the center of her chest.”  And St. Jeanne claims, “’I lost heaven a long time ago’” because of a deed she performed out of love.  It is refreshing to see nuns be willing to flout the rules when they feel it is best.  One sister has little respect for the rules of church and society because she believes many of them “complicated the lives of women:  Catholic women in particular and poor women in general.”  The nuns are even willing to sin and face the consequences later.   One who bends the rules makes a bargain with God:  “Hold it against the good I’ve done, she prayed.  We’ll sort it out when I see You.” 

The book examines, in detail, the human condition.  Everyone faces hunger of some sort, whether it be physical hunger or “a hunger to be comforted.”  People want to be loved though it is repeated that for the world’s ills, “Love’s a tonic, . . . not a cure.”  People strive to live a good life in their chosen role; Sister Illuminata, for example, labours in the laundry day after day because she believes herself to have been called “to become, in a ghastly world, the pure, clean antidote to filth.”  Everyone faces death:  “A terrible stillness would overtake them all, come what may.  A terrible silence would stop their breaths, one way or another.” 

This book is not full of action and adventure, but those who appreciate realistic characterization and an examination of real life will find much to admire. 

Review of THE ACCIDENT by Linwood Barclay

Advent Book Calendar – Day 15
Since I started by blog, I’ve done an annual Advent Book Calendar highlighting books I have enjoyed and authors I really like.  This year I thought I’d do an Advent Book Calendar with a twist; for each day leading up to Christmas, I’m going to post a review of a book to which I’ve given only one star (Throw a book at this one) or two stars (Don’t put this book in your book bag).  Though I would not recommend these books, others have disagreed with me.  Each book, on Goodreads, has received a 3 or 4 Star average rating.

Review of The Accident by Linwood Barclay
2 Stars
Glen Barber's wife Sheila is killed in an accident in which there are two other fatalities. Indications are that she caused the accident by driving while impaired. Glen has difficulty believing that Sheila was responsible since she was not an irresponsible drinker. He decides, therefore, to investigate his wife's death.

Besides grieving for his wife, Glen has several other problems. He has to protect his 8-year-old daughter from bullies; he is being sued by the family of the two victims in his wife's accident; his mother-in-law is trying to take his daughter to live with her; his construction business is suffering because of the poor economy and a fire at one of his building sites; several of his employees have personal problems.

The book is certainly suspenseful. Murders pile up as the plot twists and turns. Suspense is also created by the author's switching from one plot line to another at crucial points.

The major problem with the book is that there is an excess of villains. Everyone connected to Glen seems involved in murder or some type of criminal activity. Who knew that so much evil existed in suburban Connecticut!

Another weakness is that the motivation of characters is sometimes insufficient to justify their actions. Not everyone faced with financial woes will naively become involved with organized crime. In particular, the ultimate explanation given for Sheila's death is unsatisfactory.

This is the first book I've read by Linwood Barclay; based on my impressions, I won't rush to read his other books, although I'll probably give him another try when I've exhausted my "Must Read" list.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Review of UNDER THE JEWELLED SKY by Alison McQueen

Advent Book Calendar – Day 14
Since I started by blog, I’ve done an annual Advent Book Calendar highlighting books I have enjoyed and authors I really like.  This year I thought I’d do an Advent Book Calendar with a twist; for each day leading up to Christmas, I’m going to post a review of a book to which I’ve given only one star (Throw a book at this one) or two stars (Don’t put this book in your book bag).  Though I would not recommend these books, others have disagreed with me.  Each book, on Goodreads, has received a 3 or 4 Star average rating.

Review of Under the Jewelled Sky by Alison McQueen
2 Stars
I will preface my review by stating that historical romance is not my preferred genre. When I requested this title, I found it classified under literary fiction.

Sophie Grainger arrives in India in 1957 with her diplomat husband. This is not her first time in the subcontinent since she lived there ten years earlier when her father was a maharaja’s physician. During her first stay in India, she had an unconventional relationship with Jag, the son of an Indian servant, and the repercussions of that relationship follow her during her second sojourn: “memories have a habit of storing themselves up, like shoving things into the back of a closet. They’ll live there for so long as you care to leave them, and then, many years from now, you might find yourself cleaning out that closet one day and out they will tumble, all your memories of yesteryear.”

Characters are problematic in this novel. Many tend to be either too good or too evil to be believable. Veronica Schofield, Sophie’s mother, is part of the latter group. She is shallow, hypocritical, and abusive; one is hard pressed to find a positive quality. Jag, on the other hand, is just the opposite. He may be the romantic hero but surely there must be something this man cannot do? How many times does he cross a large swath of India? Even minor characters are unbelievable. Jag’s aunt, for instance, is just so loving and accepting of everyone. These characters are just not realistic.

The number of coincidences is also an issue. In a country with “four hundred million people,” Jag’s uncle locates Joy? In the midst of the Partition which saw the displacement of millions, Jag is chosen to work in the same clinic as Dr. Schofield? The author tends to emphasize the star-crossed lovers element a bit too much. Sophie is the one to initiate a kiss and then she and Jag totally discard all the values of their upbringing? Jag’s behaviour while a guard at the residential enclave does not ring true. Why doesn’t he identify himself sooner when he surmises the state of Sophie and Lucien’s marriage?

The historical element, on the other hand, is not emphasized sufficiently. The upheaval of the Partition is not conveyed very strongly. There is an attempt to show some of this during Jag’s stay at the refugee camp, but general descriptions such as “this unimaginable scene of human tragedy” do little to give a real understanding of the suffering of the displaced.

This novel would probably appeal to those readers who enjoy historical romances. It has the exotic location and the everlasting love that knows no bounds of time and space.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Review of ICE FIRE by David Lyons

Advent Book Calendar – Day 13
Since I started by blog, I’ve done an annual Advent Book Calendar highlighting books I have enjoyed and authors I really like.  This year I thought I’d do an Advent Book Calendar with a twist; for each day leading up to Christmas, I’m going to post a review of a book to which I’ve given only one star (Throw a book at this one) or two stars (Don’t put this book in your book bag).  Though I would not recommend these books, others have disagreed with me.  Each book, on Goodreads, has received a 3 or 4 Star average rating.

Review of Ice Fire by David Lyons
1 Star

Reading and finishing this book was very frustrating. There were so many problems with it that I just couldn't get into it. The plot is very simple: A U.S. District Judge, Jock Boucher, becomes involved with Bob Palmetto, a scientist who claims that an energy company tried to steal his intellectual property, a way of mining methane hydrate. The two set out to prove Palmetto's claim against the company.

First of all, the book is poorly written. Phrases are repeated: "It looked to be about the size of a volleyball. . . . The clump was bigger than a volleyball" (131). When describing a woman's eyes, the author writes, "They were haunting, not unlike those of a wolf . . ." (199) and then, just a few pages later, two men are "holed up in Perry's office like wolves in a cave . . . " (207). Using the same animal imagery for two dissimilar situations suggests a lack of imagination. Characters often repeat the same thing for no reason. For example, Palmetto refuses to enter Judge Boucher's home and, for some reason, gives his refusal twice: "'No, sir, I'd rather not'" (12) and "'I don't want to go inside your house'" (13). Later, when describing his research concerning methane hydrate, he says, "'. . . I invented a way to exploit it safely'" (13) and then, after three short sentences, repeats, "'I invented a way to get the gas up to the surface safely'" (13). Like needless redundancies, cliches like "scratched his eyes out" (232, 233) and "needle in a haystack" (215) abound. When describing the consequences of improperly extracting the new energy source, vague phrases such as "cataclysmic consequences" (113) and "a cataclysm beyond our worst nightmare" (252) and "unbelievable damage" (261) keep being used.

The tone is often pedantic. The novel is set in New Orleans and environs, and the author often gives excessively detailed descriptions of architecture and antiques (180, 235). He's an expert on great bartenders (181), great restaurants (199), and owners of fine antiques (254).

The characters are unrealistic or stereotypical. Judge Boucher is supposed to be an admirable character: besides being a judge, he's an expert on New Orleans, antiques, and architecture, and a reader of "rare manuscripts" (244). He is also very physically fit, handily defeating anyone who confronts him. Ironically, he doesn't possess the most important abilities he should have: he says stupid things (21), is forgetful (259) and isn't able to decipher an obvious clue (229). Palmetto has an usual set of skills; he's a scientist who can pick locks expertly (264) and believes in spirits (270). Virtually all the police, the FBI, and the justices are corrupt. For instance, the FBI gives a report investigating a judge to that very judge (15)! One character claims, "'You guys in that Federal Building are one big fucking cabal'" (44) yet she trusts the information she acquires after calling the district court (43). If law enforcement members aren't corrupt, they're stupid; the police, for example, don't know enough to secure the perimeter of a building when providing security (245).

The greatest weakness in the novel is that characters do not behave logically and events are not realistic. An FBI agent was not involved in a twenty-year-old case but knows a great deal about it (29)? A man dies around 4 a.m. but, by the beginning of that work day, colleagues already know the exact cause of death (37)? A woman has information to prove corruption but declines to give it to the judge: "'You'll know when the time is right'" (47). Two hours later she has placed the information in his truck (48), although he conveniently forgets about it until the very end (255 - 256). And she's not the only person to say something so obviously contrived; another woman, later in the novel, says, "'There's something important I want to tell you, . . . Not now, but in my own time'" (207). Whether a person is right- or left-handed is determined by how he/she shakes hands (72, 209)? A murder victim is found in the judge's driveway, but how her body was discovered is never explained and neither is the placement of the body. A government agency has been letting someone visit for years, and "he'd never even been asked his name" ( 100)? A research vessel, a "'priceless scientific tool'" (113) complete with a mini-sub, is sent on a mission only if there is "'the strongest scientific justification'" (114) but Palmetto convinces a communications officer (?) to authorize an expedition using the argument that the Americans must "'Beat the Russians'" (114)! Then we learn that the vessel regularly takes passengers: "the passenger list frequently included guests from all walks of life" (125). A character infiltrates company headquarters (needlessly) and actually steals a file he knows to be empty (264, 267)? The judge and Palmetto concoct a bizarre scheme which includes getting John Perry, the owner of the energy company, to give the judge an office in his building (158). Only later does Perry realize, "'I don't want some damn judge hanging around here . . . '" (191)?! And don't get me started on the closing scene (274)! Let's not forget the almost magical tools which are sent to the judge. He receives, among other things, "a box with bits and pieces of plastic" (171), but they are never mentioned again until much later (241). It can't possibly be a surprise that these are used almost immediately afterwards (246)! He is also given an enhanced cell phone (171-172); at times, it works even when it shouldn't (184), but of course it doesn't work at crucial times (224). And these are just some of the examples of illogical, unrealistic incidents!

Then there are the errors, inconsistencies, and contradictions. A character with a physical disability is teased about being in training for the Special Olympics (102)? The judge meets a character on Thursday; Friday evening he says that he'd met her "'several evenings ago'" (68). A character tells the judge, "'I've put in a good word for you, and I have influence there'" (186) but shortly after suggests, "'I think my days at Rexcon are numbered'" (201).

This book is described as a thriller, but there is very little suspense and it is entirely predictable. A character's dying words (229) aren't understood until days later (262) even though there is absolutely nothing cryptic about those words, especially since they have been so carefully explained earlier, in a very contrived scene (202).

This book will appeal to people who like to read without thinking about what they're reading. Personally, I prefer my reading to meet basic requirements of logic and style. (I understand that I read an uncorrected proof, having received a free advance uncorrected proof of this book through Goodreads First Reads, but I can't imagine that all of these issues I've raised will be addressed.)

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Review of THE WILLOW TREE by Hubert Selby Jr.

Advent Book Calendar – Day 12
Since I started by blog, I’ve done an annual Advent Book Calendar highlighting books I have enjoyed and authors I really like.  This year I thought I’d do an Advent Book Calendar with a twist; for each day leading up to Christmas, I’m going to post a review of a book to which I’ve given only one star (Throw a book at this one) or two stars (Don’t put this book in your book bag).  Though I would not recommend these books, others have disagreed with me.  Each book, on Goodreads, has received a 3 or 4 Star average rating.

Review of The Willow Tree by Hubert Selby Jr.
2 Stars
In the South Bronx, Bobby, a thirteen-year-old Black, and Maria, his Hispanic girlfriend, are attacked and savagely beaten. Bobby is taken in by Moishe (a.k.a. Werner Schultz), a concentration camp survivor, and nursed back to health. Bobby plots his revenge while Moishe tries to teach him that hate will destroy him as well as his victims.

The use of run-on sentences with little punctuation may require some adjustment at the beginning. It does not impede the reader’s understanding, but reading it reminded me of reading a student’s initial attempts with the interior monologue style before he/she is completely comfortable with it.

Bobby has a limited vocabulary, but that is not surprising in a young teen; the problem is the author’s limited vocabulary indicated in the exposition. For example, emotions are always “flowing”: “a sense of gratitude flowing through him”; “feeling the joy flowing through him”; “affection flowing between them”; “happiness flowing through mind and body”; “a sense of being lost flowing from him”; “hatred flowing through and from him”; “a sense of strength and softness flowing through him and around him”; “love and gratitude flowing through him”; “a sense of freedom from everything flowing through him”; “a warmth flowing through him”; “the comfort and peace gently flowing through him”; “love, compassion and empathy flowing from him.” And then there are the tears that are flowing so often!

Tiresome repetition is found in other descriptions as well. For instance, there are 357 references to eyes, and at least 120 of those mention eyes either opening or closing or blinking. One is to believe that the relationship between Bobby and Moishe gradually becomes closer, but their relationship is often reduced to their laughing together and eating ice cream together. Several dozen times it is mentioned that Moishe and Bobby start laughing uncontrollably. And how many times must the reader be told that the two enjoy chocolate sauce with their ice cream?

There is a definite lack of realism. Moishe lives in a subterranean apartment, which made me think of the late 1980’s television show Beauty and the Beast, except that Moishe’s sanctuary has all the amenities. Why a concentration camp survivor would choose to live in such an environment is never explained. And Moishe has no friends? Not once in the months Bobby spends with him does Moishe interact with anyone other than Bobby. He seems to have limitless funds even though his only job is repairing appliances. Why does an old man have a rowing machine that he himself never uses?

The theme of the book, that hatred destroys those who hate, is not one which people will find objectionable. What I did find objectionable is the development of this theme. The pace of the book is painfully slow. Actions are repeated over and over again: each day is spent with Bobby planning his revenge and working out to get fit; Moishe preparing food and the two talking, Moishe revealing something about his concentration camp experiences; Bobby taking a tour of his old neighbourhood while Moishe worries until he returns; the two sharing ice cream with chocolate sauce before going to bed. All this leads to a predictable ending.

This was a disappointing read. Except for the opening, it lacks a plot; because of the limited diction, it makes for a tiresome read; it lacks realism when it could offer gritty details about life in the South Bronx; several times it lapses into melodrama. Give me West Side Story which addresses some of the same issues more effectively.

Note: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Review of THE HUSBAND'S SECRET by Liane Moriarty

Advent Book Calendar – Day 11
Since I started by blog, I’ve done an annual Advent Book Calendar highlighting books I have enjoyed and authors I really like.  This year I thought I’d do an Advent Book Calendar with a twist; for each day leading up to Christmas, I’m going to post a review of a book to which I’ve given only one star (Throw a book at this one) or two stars (Don’t put this book in your book bag).  Though I would not recommend these books, others have disagreed with me.  Each book, on Goodreads, has received a 3 or 4 Star average rating.

Review of The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty
2 Stars
The novel deals with three women whose lives intersect after each learns something which changes their lives. Cecilia is a Tupperware salesperson par excellence and the mother of three daughters; people tend to label her the perfect wife and mother. She discovers a letter written by her husband, a letter which she is not to open until after his death. Like a modern-day Pandora, she opens it. She discovers a secret that tears apart her seemingly perfect life. Tess is a career woman whose husband decides he is in love with Tess’s cousin, their business partner. Rachel is a school secretary whose daughter was murdered two decades earlier; though no one has ever been charged with the crime, Rachel becomes convinced she knows the identity of her daughter’s killer. The women’s reactions to these pivotal “realizations” impact the lives of many others.

I chose this book to read during an 8-hour plane flight and, by sheer chance, I chose well. It is a light read that does require much thought. I could put it down and pick it up easily three weeks later when I was taking a return 8-hour flight. It maintained my interest sufficiently so I did actually finish it, but it is fluff.

None of the three women is particularly likeable because of the decisions they make. Though a reader may feel some sympathy for the situations in which the women find themselves, it is impossible not to see that the women also bear some responsibility for what befalls them – the murder of Rachel’s daughter being an obvious exception. And inaction, infidelity, and impulsiveness do not endear these women to this reader. The author made an attempt to portray them as dynamic characters who learn something about themselves, but what they learn would be evident to virtually everyone. One of the women, for example, realizes that love after years of marriage is “an entirely different feeling from the uncomplicated, unstinting adoration she’d felt as a young bride.” Really?!!

The epilogue left me shaking my head. In it the author reveals some secrets about the characters, secrets which, had they been known, would have changed people’s lives. She concludes with this paragraph: “None of us ever know all the possible courses our lives could have and maybe should have taken. It’s probably just as well. Some secrets are meant to stay secret forever. Just ask Pandora.” This suggests, again, that the author tried to write interpretive fiction, but missed the lesson about letting the work speak for itself.

This would be a perfect book to serialize in a women’s magazine, were such things still done.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Review of I AM A TRUCK by Michelle Winters

3.5 Stars
I saw this book on the shortlist for the 2017 Giller Prize and its description intrigued me. 

Agathe and Réjean Lapointe are getting ready to celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary when Réjean goes missing, his beloved Chevy Silverado left abandoned by the side of the road.  There is no evidence of foul play so it seems like he chose to disappear.  Agathe grieves but eventually has to move on with her life so she gets a job where she meets the free-spirited Debbie.  Her new friend teaches her about rock and roll music and how to drive. 

It is Agathe’s spreading her wings that is much of the appeal of the book.  Agathe and Réjean led an isolated life:  “They moved into a cottage in the woods [outside an English-speaking village], and began a life of increasing seclusion, and the prospect of communicating only with each other in a town where no one spoke French. . . . Being separated by language from the world around them strengthened their bond of exclusivity.  Gradually, they retreated from the world altogether, existing solely for each other in the confines of their home.”  Their motto becomes “‘Il n’y que nous.’”  In many ways, Réjean makes the decisions; he decides, for example, that they will listen to French folk music on the radio, saying, “’Notre musique, ça’” though Agathe has a preference “for a crescendo, some histrionics, something loud.”  When Réjean disappears, Agathe must become more independent, and she ends up gaining an identity separate from her husband.  She is able to cultivate her interests.

Martin Bureau, the Chevy salesman who sells Réjean his beloved Chevy trucks, also struggles with identity.  He is a lonely man but gradually he and Réjean developed a friendship.  (For Martin, it’s actually more of a bromance.)  When Réjean is gone, Martin struggles since for him the important part of his identity is being Réjean’s friend.  He becomes obsessed with watching over Agathe. 

The book is a quirky mixture; there is much subtle humour but there are also events which are anything but funny.  There is a mystery surrounding what happened to Réjean, but it becomes secondary to how characters develop when a person central to their identity is no longer present. 

In some ways, this is a quintessential Canadian novel.  It has both English and French dialogue which may pose a problem for non-bilingual readers, but not much more than a basic understanding of French is required.  (Actually, much of the dialogue is Franglais.)  An English speaker chooses to learn French but does so in secret.  The book even mentions the Anglophone/Francophone conflict:  “At home and school, [Agathe and Réjean] had been taught that the Anglophone world was trying to oppress them, monopolize their culture, and eradicate their language.” 

This is an unusual pick for the Giller Prize.  I don’t think it’s of the literary quality worthy of such an award, but it is a quick read with some nice touches.  I will not be able to see the Chevy Silverado commercials on television without thinking of this book.

Review of THE PARIS WIFE by Paula McLain

Advent Book Calendar – Day Ten
Since I started by blog, I’ve done an annual Advent Book Calendar highlighting books I have enjoyed and authors I really like.  This year I thought I’d do an Advent Book Calendar with a twist; for each day leading up to Christmas, I’m going to post a review of a book to which I’ve given only one star (Throw a book at this one) or two stars (Don’t put this book in your book bag).  Though I would not recommend these books, others have disagreed with me.  Each book, on Goodreads, has received a 3 or 4 Star average rating.

Review of The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
1 Star
I read this book thinking I might learn more about Ernest Hemingway and so might find something to like about him. In the end I liked him no more and didn't like his starter wife, Hadley Richardson, much either.

The book is a novelization of Hemingway's first marriage to a woman eight years his senior. The couple lived primarily in Paris where Hemingway became part of the literary scene (which included notables such as Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein and F. Scott Fitzgerald) as he forged his career and reputation. The book is a fictionalization of Hemingway's memoir, "A Moveable Feast," which was published posthumously.

Hemingway, at this point, has not yet morphed into his boozy Papa persona, but there is certainly forewarning of the drunk-sodden bully he became. He is boastful, insensitive, mean-spirited, insecure and egotistical.

Hadley comes across as a fine and decent but uninteresting person. She is bland, interesting only because of her proximity to a famous writer. Admittedly she led a sheltered life before meeting Hemingway, but she seems very naive for her age. Even when her husband betrays her, she is too good-hearted and continues to see him as some sort of romantic hero. One might not expect her to behave like a modern woman faced with her husband's infidelity, especially since she herself describes herself as Victorian, but some anger and meanness would be normal. Her one negative flaw is her distant, rather indifferent relationship with Bumby, her son, a relationship certainly influenced by her husband's view of a child as anathema to the Bohemian lifestyle he favours. Hemingway describes his first wife as "everything good and straight and fine and true" but those are not, perhaps regrettably, the qualities of an interesting literary character.

There is nothing in the book to suggest that the marriage was special in any way, other than perhaps the fact that it survived as long as it did in an era of open marriages. Their romance seems rather tepid. What's with the stupid, unexplained nicknames? Hemingway may have loved her, but there is little evidence of his love, other than his avowals which are negated by his actions. Hadley does meet his needs: she has faith in his talent, has a small but useful inheritance, and is willing to follow him anywhere. Her only contribution is to serve as Hemingway's doormat?

The book becomes tiresome. The scenes are repetitive and mundane: endless gatherings of friends, excessive drinking, and vague descriptions of travels. The emotional life of Hemingway's first wife is not developed. The characters are not brought to life so the reader is not engaged. In the end, the book lacks substance and feels flat, much like Hadley.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Review of THE VIRTUES OF OXYGEN by Susan Schoenberger

Advent Book Calendar – Day Nine
Since I started by blog, I’ve done an annual Advent Book Calendar highlighting books I have enjoyed and authors I really like.  This year I thought I’d do an Advent Book Calendar with a twist; for each day leading up to Christmas, I’m going to post a review of a book to which I’ve given only one star (Throw a book at this one) or two stars (Don’t put this book in your book bag).  Though I would not recommend these books, others have disagreed with me.  Each book, on Goodreads, has received a 3 or 4 Star average rating.

Review of The Virtues of Oxygen by Susan Schoenberger
2 Stars
This is the story of two women. One of them, Holly, is a 42-year-old widow with two teenage sons. She works at the local newspaper in Bertram Corners, a two-hour drive from New York City. She struggles with finances, trying to keep up mortgage payments on her home and survives only with the assistance of her wealthy mother. Holly volunteers as one of the assistants to Vivian, the other main character. Vivian is a 63-year-old quadriplegic; she contracted polio and has spent the last 57 years in an iron lung and is totally dependent on others for 24-hour care. The two have become good friends over the years.

Part of the novel is narrated using the third person limited omniscient point of view, focusing on Holly. Periodically, Vivian’s first person narration is included in the form of her unaired podcasts. It is these podcasts which I found most interesting. Providing the viewpoint of a woman who describes herself as “someone alive but trapped like a fly in tree sap” is original. Vivian tells her life story in these podcasts, explaining how she coped and made a life for herself despite her extreme circumstances. I found myself wishing her story were more developed.

Holly’s story I found much less interesting. Her situation, trying to provide for her sons and to make ends meet, is one with which many people could identify. It is sometimes difficult to have sympathy for her, however, because, though her financial situation worsens, she has not done much to help herself and her family, relying on her wealthy mother to help her pay the mortgage. It is only when her mother can no longer help that Holly seems to realize the severity of her financial straits. Only then does she fear losing the house and not having the money for her sons’ college tuition? Even then, she only panics and does little constructive to help the situation. She is the damsel in distress awaiting a knight in shining armour to rescue her.

A stranger does come riding into town. Vivian decides to invest in a cash-for-gold store and Holly serves as her assistant, meeting with Racine, the man who has set up a number of these stores. As expected, a relationship develops between Holly and Racine, but it consists primarily of Holly running away after dates and Racine mysteriously leaving town. Since little information is given about Racine, the relationship hardly seems grounded.

The plot is weak. Some events are totally predictable; for example, when Holly’s mother’s engagement ring goes missing, we know exactly where it will show up. There are a lot of convenient coincidences; for example, everyone in Holly’s family suffers financial setbacks at the same time. Inclement weather always seems to cause a power outage? And then there are the unbelievable events. Vivian studied the stock market and built a financial portfolio, going from penny stocks to blue chips, and is described by her broker as having the Midas touch so she is able to invest $120,000 in a business. But then this same woman learns that “’most of my investments are basically worthless right now’”?

The novel examines society’s relationship with money. The author makes a parallel between oxygen and money: “If money were oxygen, [Holly] was the one flopping around like a fish outside the iron lung. Society expected people to have money. It really didn’t know what to do with people who found themselves outside the norms of earning and spending and paying taxes.” Unfortunately, the resolution to Holly’s financial problems weakens the realism of the novel’s thematic development.

This book is a quick read. I just wish that the focus had been more on Vivian’s story rather than on Holly’s.

Note: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Review of THE ALCHEMIST by Paulo Coelho

Advent Book Calendar – Day Eight
Since I started by blog, I’ve done an annual Advent Book Calendar highlighting books I have enjoyed and authors I really like.  This year I thought I’d do an Advent Book Calendar with a twist; for each day leading up to Christmas, I’m going to post a review of a book to which I’ve given only one star (Throw a book at this one) or two stars (Don’t put this book in your book bag).  Though I would not recommend these books, others have disagreed with me.  Each book, on Goodreads, has received a 3 or 4 Star average rating.

Review of The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
1 Star
A friend recommended this book to me and gave me a copy, so I felt obligated to read it. The reference on the front cover to the book’s being an “international bestselling phenomenon” and the claim, on the back cover, that it has changed “the lives of its readers forever” should have forewarned me. I cannot understand why people would find this quasi-mystical self-help stuff uplifting and inspiring; if the vacuous platitudes it contains qualify as spiritual nourishment, the world is in deep trouble.

Santiago, a young Andalusian shepherd, has a recurring dream; as a result, he sets out to find a treasure near the Egyptian pyramids. During his quest, he encounters a number of people who help him realize supposedly profound truths about life. That’s it; that’s the plot, and it’s a very contrived one in that all events are there solely to preach some trite adage.

What is supposedly wisdom for the ages is overly simplistic clichés: “’It’s the simple things in life that are the most extraordinary’” (15); “All things are one” (22); “people fail to recognize the good things that happen in their lives every day that the sun rises” (27); it is important “to cleanse our minds of negative thoughts” (46); “’the earth is alive . . . and it has a soul’” (79); “’concentrate always on the present’” (85); there is “a twin soul for every person in the world” (93); “’wherever your heart is, that is where you’ll find your treasure’” (128); “’listen to what [your heart] has to say’” (129); “’Love is the force that transforms’” (150).

To ensure that the reader gets the message, there is endless repetition. “’Remember that wherever your heart is, there you will find your treasure’” (115 – 116) is remarkably similar to “’Because, wherever your heart is, that is where you’ll find your treasure’” (128). “’If you can concentrate always on the present, you’ll be a happy man. . . . life is the moment we’re living right now’” (85) sounds like “’The secret is here in the present. If you pay attention to the present, you can improve upon it. And, if you improve the present, what comes later will also be better’” (103). To also help readers who might have difficulty grasping the most significant ideas, the author has included ample capitalization: Personal Legend, Soul of the World, Language of the World.

My impression is that the book is intended to make people feel good. If they listen to their hearts and summon the courage to follow their dreams, they will accomplish their dream: “’The world’s greatest lie . . . [is] that at a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what’s happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate’” (18) and “’There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure’” (141). And then there’s the ultimate feel-goodism: “’No matter what he does, every person on earth plays a central role in the history of the world’” (158 – 159).

Certainly there is no new wisdom in the book. It might be useful as a self-help book for young people, but any semi-intelligent adult who has given some thought to life and the world will not learn anything new. What is disturbing is that the book advocates a type of selfishness: “’To realize one’s destiny is a person’s only real obligation’” (22). Any other responsibilities can be cast aside. Of course, if you are a woman, you don’t have dreams to follow. For Fatima, Santiago’s love interest, her only obligation is to wait patiently while her man pursues his dream because, as Santiago is told, “’she already has her treasure: it’s you’” (118)! There is also one great irony that seems to have been overlooked by the author and readers: Santiago claims he “’wasn’t able to learn anything from [books]’” and is told, “’There is only one way to learn . . . It’s through action’” (125).

The book is written in a fable style: the sentences are short, and the protagonist is simply called “the boy.” And like in an Aesop’s fable, everything is obvious. But, unlike those fables, this book is not entertaining, and to say that its didactic tone is irritating would be an understatement. Its one saving grace is that it is mercifully short. Alchemy it does not possess.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Review of THE BOSTON GIRL by Anita Diamant

Advent Book Calendar – Day Seven
Since I started by blog, I’ve done an annual Advent Book Calendar highlighting books I have enjoyed and authors I really like.  This year I thought I’d do an Advent Book Calendar with a twist; for each day leading up to Christmas, I’m going to post a review of a book to which I’ve given only one star (Throw a book at this one) or two stars (Don’t put this book in your book bag).  Though I would not recommend these books, others have disagreed with me.  Each book, on Goodreads, has received a 3 or 4 Star average rating.

Review of The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant
2 Stars
Anita Diamant is best known for her book The Red Tent which I thoroughly enjoyed. I cannot say the same for this one.

The novel is presented as a monologue delivered by 85-year-old Addie Baum in response to her granddaughter’s question about how she got to be the woman she is. She chronicles her life in Boston from her birth in 1900 to Jewish immigrants to her marriage in 1927. These years are covered in great detail, but her life after her marriage is glossed over.

The book is dull. It is a plain and predictable recounting of her life: this happened and then this happened and then this happened . . . Things happen to Addie’s family and friends but not to her. At a young age, she is recognized as someone possessing intelligence and “gumption” (15) and so acquires mentors and a circle of sympathetic friends who support her so she is never without a job or a place to live. When tragedies occur in her family, she seems largely detached; she describes her feelings, but she seems to recover quickly. The result is one dull anecdote after another with no suspense since nothing dramatic happens in her life. And once she is married, nothing noteworthy occurs?!

To add to the predictability, the chapter titles clearly indicate what is going to happen. Merely reading the titles will tell a reader what happens in Addie’s life: “You must be the smart one” (47), “Maybe I wouldn’t be a wallflower after all” (65), “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” (115), “I was still gun-shy about men” (143), “A girl should always have her own money” (165), and “This is Auntie Addie’s fella” (249).

The years 1915 to 1927 included some significant world events, yet Addie barely mentions some of them; as a historical narrative, the book does not succeed, although people familiar with Boston might be interested in some of the historical local colour.

The one thing that does stand out is Addie’s voice. Her tone is convincingly conversational and she speaks very frankly to her granddaughter. She can be witty and humourous. Unfortunately, she doesn’t offer any new wisdom; she tells her grandchild, “Don’t let anyone tell you things aren’t better than they used to be” (291). True but trite.

This book is lacking in substance, a shortcoming that means it will not be memorable.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Review of BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP by S. J. Watson

Advent Book Calendar – Day Six
Since I started by blog, I’ve done an annual Advent Book Calendar highlighting books I have enjoyed and authors I really like.  This year I thought I’d do an Advent Book Calendar with a twist; for each day leading up to Christmas, I’m going to post a review of a book to which I’ve given only one star (Throw a book at this one) or two stars (Don’t put this book in your book bag).  Though I would not recommend these books, others have disagreed with me.  Each book, on Goodreads, has received a 3 or 4 Star average rating.

Review of Before I Go to Sleep by S. J. Watson
1 Star
Christine Lucas, the protagonist, suffers from a form of amnesia which lets her store memories for only one day. She wakes up each day having forgotten everything that happened in the last twenty years since her "accident" which caused her brain injury. Encouraged by her doctor, she keeps a journal to help her remember. She slowly discovers that Ben, her husband, is concealing information from her. She must find out why. Can he be trusted?

This book has received rave reviews but I can't imagine why. There are so many problems with it. Plot manipulation is a sign of poor-quality fiction and there is no lack of that. For example, at the end, a character has to make himself conveniently absent so Christine can learn the truth before the final "showdown" can take place.

Another problem is Christine's behaviour. Each morning, after an initial hour or so of confusion, she becomes resigned and accepts her situation? She then goes off to meet a stranger who calls her? She doesn't ask the most important questions about family and friends? Furthermore, her journal entries are not realistic; she sometimes has little time to write yet she writes dialogue (instead of a summary of a conversation) and includes description and detail that no one would bother to record. She writes as though she were a third-person observer, even noting her own gestures.

The ending is predictable; reviewers all hint to a twist ending, but it is anything but a surprise. The clues are unsubtle. The reader isn't supposed to notice that no one seems to have met Ben? The repeated references to Christine's major concern even tell the reader what the twist will be. To make matters worse, there is a sentimental denouement that is not in keeping with what everyone has been told for two decades.

Unless you are not an astute reader and like repetition, leave this non-thriller on the shelf.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Review of SING, UNBURIED, SING by Jesmyn Ward

4 Stars 
This book recently won the National Book Award for Fiction so I decided to read it.  I certainly understand why it received the prize.

The novel is set in a coastal town in Mississippi.  Thirteen-year-old Jojo and his three-year-old sister Kayla live with their maternal grandparents, Mam and Pop, because their mother Leonie, a drug addict, often disappears for days.  Their father Michael, a white man, is released after serving three years in Parchman, the state penitentiary, and Leonie, wanting to reunite her family, insists on taking her children when she drives north to pick him up. 

The book examines the effects of racism and injustice on a rural black family.  An 18-year-old black man is killed because he dares to win a shooting contest with a white man; the court rules the incident an accident.  When faced with a 13-year-old black boy and a white woman who is probably still high on drugs, a policeman choses to handcuff the boy and even aims a gun at him.  Being black means having limited options; Mam speaks of “Growing old with my mouth twisted bitter at the taste of what I’d been accorded in the feast of life:  mustard greens and raw persimmons, sharp with unfulfilled promise and loss.”  Leonie echoes these feelings when she mentions, “Sometimes the world don’t give you what you need, no matter how hard you look.  Sometimes it withholds.”  The ghost of a young man imprisoned at Parchman emphasizes how little has changed over time:  “Parchman was past, present, and future all at once. . . . [At the old Parchman] I watched chained men clear the land and lay the first logs for the first barracks for gunmen and trusty shooters. . . . [At the new Parchman I saw] men who wore their hair long and braided to their scalps, who sat for hours in small, windowless rooms, staring at big black boxes that streamed dreams.  Their faces in the blue light were stiff as corpses.” 

What stands out for me is the realistic character portrayal.  The first impression the reader has of Leonie is that she is self-absorbed and a negligent parent.  Leonie even admits that “’I’m too selfish.’”  Mam tells Jojo that Leonie, “’ain’t got the mothering instinct. . . . she love you.  She don’t know how to show it.  And her love for herself and her love for Michael – well, it gets in the way.  It confuses her.’”  Then gradually, the reader is given Leonie’s perspective and he/she sees a woman who is grieving for her murdered brother.  Her disappointment with life and her shame because of her behaviour become palpable.   At one point, Leonie has a dream of being marooned on a raft, a dream which clearly describes her situation in the world and her feelings:  “I’m not alone in the raft because Jojo and Michaela and Michael are with me and we are elbow to elbow.  But the raft must have a hole in it, because it deflates.  We are all sinking, and there are manta rays gliding beneath us and sharks jostling us.  I am trying to keep everyone above water, even as I struggle to stay afloat.  I thrust them up toward the surface, to the fractured sky so they can live, but they keep slipping from my hands. . . . I am failing them.  We are all drowning.”  One cannot but have some sympathy for her. 

Jojo is another character who makes a strong impression.  He is a very sensitive young man.  He adores his grandfather whom he tries to emulate, but he distrusts his mother because of her drug use so he takes responsibility for looking after his sister and is fiercely protective of her.  Not understanding his mother’s suffering, at times he is very judgmental, but he is a son most parents could not but be proud of. 

Not being a fan of magic realism, the one element I did not enjoy is the ghost stories.  The ghosts of two young black men who did not get a chance to grow up occupy a huge presence in the second half of the book.  There are other ghosts as well who died violent deaths and have not found peace:  He raped me and suffocated me until I died I put my hands up and he shot me eight times she locked me in the shed and starved me to death while I listened to my babies playing with her in the yard they came in my cell in the middle of the night and they hung me they found I could read and they dragged me out to the barn and gouged my eyes before they beat me still I was sick and he said I was an abomination and Jesus say suffer little children so let her go and he put me under the water and I couldn’t breathe.”  I understand their thematic purpose in the book, but I did not find their presence as effective as those in Lincoln in the Bardo. 

Despite this reservation, I do recommend the book though readers should be forewarned that it is a disheartening read.

Review of THE TENTH GIFT by Jane Johnson

Advent Book Calendar – Day Five
Since I started by blog, I’ve done an annual Advent Book Calendar highlighting books I have enjoyed and authors I really like.  This year I thought I’d do an Advent Book Calendar with a twist; for each day leading up to Christmas, I’m going to post a review of a book to which I’ve given only one star (Throw a book at this one) or two stars (Don’t put this book in your book bag).  Though I would not recommend these books, others have disagreed with me.  Each book, on Goodreads, has received a 3 or 4 Star average rating.

Review of The Tenth Gift by Jane Johnson
2 Stars
I will begin by stating that this is not my usual type of book; it was lent to me by a friend and then a member of my book club mentioned it, so I decided to read it. Unfortunately, I couldn’t enjoy it because I was so bothered by the unbelievable events and characters.

There are two stories. In the present, Julia Lovat is given an early 17th century book of needlework by her lover as a gift to end their seven-year affair. She soon discovers that a lady’s maid used the book as a diary. This young woman, Catherine Ann Tregenna (Cat), wants more than anything to become a master embroiderer and to escape the confines of Cornwall. Her latter wish is granted when she is one of the 60 people taken captive by Barbary pirates and brought to Morocco to be sold into slavery. Julia, fascinated by Cat’s diary, makes her way to North Africa to find out what happened to her.

One of the aspects of the book that really bothered me is that both Julia is so stupid. She becomes obsessed with Cat’s diary and while reading it comes across the name Annie Badcock (89), yet when she hears it again, she doesn’t remember it: “Annie Badcock. The name was vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t remember where I’d come across it” (131). In the diary she also sees the surname Bolitho (24), yet she doesn’t remember that an aunt, the mother of her cousin and best friend, is a Bolitho. She has to be told: “’Well, Alison’s mother’s a Bolitho, isn’t she? You should know – she’s your cousin’” (322). And this is after Julia has several conversations with Alison about the diary and its contents! And she’s so inept in her conversations, at one time telling a Muslim man that his ancestors were “’such barbarous people’” (346). And the author never thought of a connection between the derivation of the adjective “barbarous” and the Barbary Coast of North Africa?

The other problem is that the number of parallels between Julia and Cat’s stories suggests excessive contrivance. They both look best in red dresses, and even their handwriting is similar. Both are experts in embroidery. Both have relationships which are unsatisfying. Each encounters a fortune teller who accurately predicts her future.

The number of coincidences is also excessive. Julia, who comes from Cornwall, has an affair with a man whose wife comes from Cornwall. Crucial letters which reveal the end of Cat’s story are found in Alison’s Cornwall home and a sample of Cat’s work is owned by the wife of Julia’s lover. And in Morocco Julia meets someone who also seems to have a piece of Cat’s embroidery from almost 400 years ago. The coincidences just go on and on.

This book would be classified as a historical romance so obviously there will be romantic relationships, but it would be better if these romances were credible. Is it likely that a woman would fall in love with someone who orchestrated the capture of 60 people including her family members, who tortured and killed captives, and who sold them into slavery? Julia also seems to move from a bad relationship to an unlikely one.

The one interesting aspect of the novel is its discussion of embroidery, a handicraft practiced by women around the world for centuries. The author seems to have done considerable research into embroidery in Medieval Islamic culture.

This is a work of fluff. It has the romantic element in an exotic location and a historical context which will appeal to readers of escapist fiction. It did not appeal to me.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Review of ONE THOUSAND WHITE WOMEN by Jim Fergus

Advent Book Calendar – Day Four
Since I started by blog, I’ve done an annual Advent Book Calendar highlighting books I have enjoyed and authors I really like.  This year I thought I’d do an Advent Book Calendar with a twist; for each day leading up to Christmas, I’m going to post a review of a book to which I’ve given only one star (Throw a book at this one) or two stars (Don’t put this book in your book bag).  Though I would not recommend these books, others have disagreed with me.  Each book, on Goodreads, has received a 3 or 4 Star average rating.

Review of One Thousand White Women : The Journals of May Dodd  by Jim Fergus
1 Star
In 1854, a Cheyenne chief proposed that the U.S. government gift 1000 white women as brides for his warriors; in their matrilineal society, the children of these matches would belong to the whites and would be a means of assimilation into the white man’s world which otherwise held no place for Natives. Of course the request was denied, but this novel imagines what might have happened if it had not been.

May Dodd is the daughter of a prominent Chicago family who is in an insane asylum for promiscuity because she bore two children out of wedlock with a working-class man. Offered her freedom if she volunteers to be a bride for a Cheyenne warrior, she does and is chosen as a wife by Chief Little Wolf.

The novel is written in diary narration, with some letters as well, detailing her life and that of several other white women who volunteer for the program.

What is disappointing is the lack of information about the Cheyenne culture. What is included is vague and would be known by anyone who has done any rudimentary reading about Native American culture. The author added a bibliography but the research into Cheyenne customs and beliefs was sketchy. What a missed opportunity!

Another problem with the book is that May Dodd, the protagonist, is not a believable character. She is just too perfect; she can do virtually everything. Not only can she quote Shakespeare and speak French, but she becomes “competent in all aspects of skinning, butchering, scraping and tanning hides, drying meats, and cooking over the fire.” She marries not just a chief, but the “great Chief” whose “observance of his duties is monk-like . . . nearly Christ-like in its selflessness.” It is no wonder that hers “is by far the biggest belly” during pregnancy and that she is the first to give birth. In fact, her child is “a sacred child . . . the Savior.” Her journals become “a sacred tribal treasure” and the place of her death “a small shrine” where monks “say their liturgies and hold their contemplative silences.” Oh please!

May is not the only problem character. Captain John Bourke is inconsistent. To May he expresses his concerns about the brides for horses program and even reveals military secrets, but in the end says, “. . . I have my orders. I am a soldier in the service of my country” before he kills an unarmed youth.

The book’s strong suit is its detailing of American policy towards Natives. Any Indian ignoring government decrees, decrees made by a government which itself routinely broke treaties, was considered “’a hostile Injun.’” There are only two rules: “’One thing you can be sure of is that the whites ain’t goin’ to go away. And the other thing is that the Injuns ain’t goin’ to win . . . ‘” It’s a sad history lesson that deserves repeating.