Tag Archives: Adult Fiction

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

I’ve almost always been pretty reluctant to read any books that are deemed as classics. It has something to do with going to school and having a teacher telling you what book you should read. I never really wanted to read those books. Anytime a teacher said that this is the book that we are going to read for an assignment, I always pulled away from it and never really read the book like I would if I was reading it for pleasure.

I made a promise to myself that I would go back and re-read the books that I was “forced” to read in high school and see if I could enjoy them without the threat of an incomplete grade hanging over my head. One of the books that I selected was Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neal Hurston. I started with Their Eyes Were Watching God because it was also given to my son as an assignment for a college paper. I tried to act really tough by telling him that it was a great book and that he would love it, but on the inside I had to tell myself, “you don’t even remember reading this book.” I felt pure shame with my motherly fib.

I took one for the team and started to read. The book tells the life story of a woman named Janie. Janie is a very beautiful woman who hasn’t been that lucky in love. When she meets Tea Cake, her world changes. He’s unlike any man that she has met before and Janie is swept off her feet in a whirlwind romance that is both beautiful and sad.

This book is told as if Janie is telling the story of her life to a friend named Pheoby. Janie is what Southern blacks considered different. She had very fair skin and could pass for white. As a small child, her grandmother worked for a white family and she was practically raised like one of their children. She even wore their expensive hand me downs.

As Janie matured, she was deemed beautiful and exotic by men and women didn’t really like her because she was so different from them. They took to gossiping about her behind her back and sometimes within earshot so that she would know how they really felt about her. Janie wasn’t the type of woman that tried to fit in. In fact, she marched by the beat of her own drum and this drove the women in her small town crazy with jealousy and envy. She really only had one true friend and her name was Pheoby Watson.

At the beginning of the book, Ms. Hurston writes about how there was this woman, who had just come back from burying the dead. Not just any dead, however. The “sodden and the bloated; the sudden dead, their eyes flung wide open in judgment.” It’s one of those openings that piques your interest. Why was she with dead people? What brought her to this fate.

This is one of those books that you read without prior knowledge of past events and then it takes you on a journey into the past when black people didn’t have all of the rights that white people did. It shows how they tried to come together as a community and have something that was a little bit better than what they previously had. It is also a love story. One that is so raw with emotions that I often found myself putting the book down so that I could let certain events seep into my brain. There were several instances when I had to read certain passages over and over to allow the message within to sink in.

This is one of those books that you want to read. It shouldn’t be one that people feel that they are forced to read. When the true beauty of Ms. Hurston’s words come to fruition, you feel the pleasure just from having picked it up.

If you’ve never read Their Eyes Were Watching God, you need to head to your nearest library branch and check out a copy. You will not be disappointed. Happy reading.

– Reviewed by Damera, Okolona Branch

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

“Once, in my father’s bookshop, I heard a regular customer say that few things leave a deeper mark on a reader than the first book that finds its way into his heart. Those first images, the echo of words we think we have left behind, accompany us throughout our lives and sculpt a palace in our memory to which, sooner or later—no matter how many books we read, how many worlds we discover, or how much we learn or forget—we will return.”

While The Shadow of the Wind is not the first book to have found its way into my heart, the story and its characters most certainly sculpted a palace in my memory, a labyrinthine palace populated by a wide assemblage of characters.

The Shadow of the Wind takes place in Barcelona, Spain, in the years after the Spanish Civil War, which, as with many civil wars, was especially bloody and brutal.  The protagonist, a young boy named Daniel Sempere, assists his father in the family-owned bookstore.

When Daniel is ten years old, his father takes him to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a secret and magical library where books consigned to oblivion are kept waiting for the day when a reader discovers them.  On this occasion, since this is Daniel’s first visit, he is allowed to choose a book.

And it is his particular selection and the mystery surrounding its author, Julian Carax, that begins a quest for Daniel in which he journeys into the shadows of Barcelona in search of answers, a journey in which he meets both friend and foe and learns a great deal about life along the way.

This is a captivating story peppered with mystery and suspense, love and hate, humor and terror with these elements combining to form a true tour de force.

“Every book, every volume you see here, has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down its pages, its spirit grows and strengthens.” 

And I would say that The Shadow of the Wind has tremendous spirit and strength.

– Reviewed by Rob, Crescent Hill

Girl in Disguise

Girl in Disguise by Greer MacAllister is a novel about the first female Pinkerton agent, Kate Warne, whose real life is almost stranger than fiction. I first discovered Kate in a Netflix show called the Pinkerton’s. I did the proper library assistant thing and researched her. Not only was she  the first female Pinkerton detective she also lead the women’s detective bureau part of the agency. Not much is known about her before she become a Pinkerton agent, leaving both historians and novelist alike to wonder who Kate Warne was.

Greer MacAllister breathes life into her own version of Kate’s history before she becomes a Pinkerton agent. The novel sucked me into the story and Kate’s world from the first chapter. It  begins in 1856 and continues through the Civil War but ends soon after the Civil War. Greer gives her own spin to a few of Kate’s actual cases as a Pinkerton, including cases that may or may not have been real. One of the most nerve racking and nail biting parts of the book  is her working to get Lincoln to Washington without him being killed before being sworn in as President. This is based on Kate’s most famous case as a Pinkerton.

It’s hard to put Girl in Disguise into a genre category even though the library had it classified as general fiction. To me it is a bit of biographical fiction and historical fiction with a bit of mystery thrown in. Fans of historical fiction, mystery, biographical fiction, detective fiction will enjoy this book. Kate Warne proves that sometimes life can be more mysterious than fiction.

Formats Available: Book, eBook

Reviewed by CarissaMain Library

Perception Versus Reality: a review of The Unfortunates by Sophie McManus

Perception versus reality – how often are the two completely unrelated?  Throughout the years, numerous authors, philosophers, poets, and others have attempted to explore this question.  Mr. Henry James, that behemoth in the firmament of American literature, employed, for example, his novels to aid in developing within the reader the ability to move past perception and into reality.

In the words of Betty Suchar at a presentation before the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution (Henry James’ “Portrait of a Lady,” 2013):

“James believed that the skill the author possessed in composing the various scenarios played out in the character’s mind had the potential to assist intelligent readers in the complicated challenge of understanding human relationships and in developing their ability to rehearse options in their own mind before making decisions. Since motives are often hidden or misleading, readers could sharpen their ability to interpret human nature only if his novels were ambiguous.”

Now, what has this to do with the debut novel, The Unfortunates authored by Sophie McManus, you may ask, about which this review was to focus?  Well, I believe that Ms. McManus has aptly succeeded in giving the reader characters who, on first meeting, leave a very particular impression.  Cece and her son, George, heirs to a great robber baron fortune, seem cultivated, polished, and self-assured.  But once again, it is what lies beneath, hidden from sight, that is most important, and as the novel progresses, Ms. McManus begins to provide subtle hints that, when upon close inspection, there are actually cracks in the marble and all that glitters is most decidedly not gold.

This strong debut novel draws realistic characters who lead lives of quiet desperation, a desperation that slowly becomes visible as subtle hints become more pronounced when failures and tragedies are no longer avoidable and must then be faced.  And small decisions of the past, seemingly insignificant when taken on their own, rise from that past and merge to create unforeseen disasters.  Or were they foreseeable?  Decisions of her past, in Cece’s parlance, constitute “the unfortunates.”  Ah, the euphemism is such a useful tool in that wonderfully human game of self deception.

“How often do we tell our own life story? How often do we adjust, embellish, make sly cuts? And the longer life goes on, the fewer are those around to challenge our account, to remind us that our life is not our life, merely the story we have told about our life. Told to others, but—mainly—to ourselves.” 

“History isn’t the lies of the victors, as I once glibly assured Old Joe Hunt; I know that now. It’s more the memories of the survivors, most of whom are neither victorious or defeated.”  — Julian Barnes, A Sense of an Ending

Formats Available:  Book, eBook

Reviewed by Rob, Crescent Hill

 

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins

 

For all the troublesome women out there…

Danielle Abbott has always been obsessed with the Drowning Pool. An area of her town’s river that has taken numerous women’s lives, including now, her own. Was it an accident? Suicide? Or something more?

Danielle had many enemies and she has left behind an angry teenage daughter who is harboring dark secrets from her best friend’s earlier drowning. Hawkins weaves together the secrets of the town and deaths as each chapter takes the voice of a different character and their viewpoint and involvement. Into the Water had me hypnotized and kept me guessing until the very end and even then I didn’t get it right! Hawkins is quickly becoming a master of psychological suspense.

I felt notes of magical realism peppered throughout the mystery. The way the Drowning Pool pulls you in and swept away so many women’s lives is eerie and otherworldly. Hawkins is particularly adept at capturing the way the past holds on to us and just how deceiving and destructive memories can be.

Just as addicting as Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins has a diehard fan in this librarian.

Review by Heather, St. Matthews

GodPretty in the Tobacco Fields

The loss of her parents was a tragedy for RubyLyn Bishop. Even worse in her mind, she was shuffled off to live with her Uncle Gunnar in the small rural town of Nameless, Kentucky. For RubyLyn life in Nameless brings changes and challenges from the people who watch and gossip about her.

She must work in the tobacco fields to help support the small farm on which she and her uncle live. Memories of the past and a small scrape of tobacco paper are all RubyLyn has left of happier times with her parents. When her spirits need a bit of a lift, she sometimes folds the scrap of paper into a fun way to tell her fortune, a practice that Uncle Gunnar doesn’t approve.

Surprisingly, RubyLyn finds growing tobacco is something that comes naturally to her. There’s a sense of peace, a solace in working the land and plants, especially when a close neighbor, Rainey Ford, takes an interest. He is easy to talk with and friendly. It isn’t long before she finds herself caring a good deal about him, but there is a problem, he is African-American and she is white. In the 1960’s South, close friendships like theirs were frowned upon and could cause serious problems for them.

Then there is Rose, an older woman and neighbor, who becomes someone that RubyLyn can depend on and talk with when she needs someone. Rose encourages RubyLyn to enter her tobacco plant in the State Fair competition. It may be just the push she needs to realize there is a larger world around her and that she can decide for herself where her future should lie.

Born and raised in central Kentucky, this book drew me in right away. In it, I found an opportunity to spend a short time in the Appalachian area. If you’ve ever wondered what small town life might be like, especially in our turbulent past, this is a book you should take time to sit with. In my opinion, Kim Michele Richardson takes the reader on a journey back in time, using her words to paint pictures of small town life with characters you will come to care about and for whom you can root. It is a realistic portrayal, where life doesn’t always end the way you want it to, where when one road ends another will begin.

Later this year, Ms. Richardson will release a new novel entitled The Sisters of Glass Ferry. For more information about this budding author check out her website.

 

 

Formats Available:  Regular Type, Book Kit

Reviewed by MicahShawnee Branch

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

After simmering on this book for a couple of weeks now, I’m changing my original 4 stars to a 2 ½ stars.

Ruth Jefferson is a Labor and Delivery nurse in Connecticut. She has worked more than twenty years in this field. For all intents and purposes, she is good at what she does.

One morning, she meets Davis Bauer, a beautiful baby boy. As she is giving him his newborn checkup, she senses something off with the parents. When she hands the baby back to his mother, his father requests to see her manager. When her manager returns from meeting with the new baby’s parents, Ruth is made aware that she is no longer allowed to work on their case.

You see, Ruth is African-American and the Bauer’s are white supremacists. What happens later is both sad and eye opening. After a sudden turn of events, the Bauer’s baby dies and Ruth is put on trial for his murder.

As I delved more into this book, it felt more like racism was on trial. This woman, who was simply doing her job, was thrown to the wolves by her employer because they knew that the parents wanted blood. It made me angry and it also made me very sad.

Small Great Things is told from the points of view of Ruth Jefferson, Turk Bauer and Ruth’s lawyer, Kennedy McQuarrie. I can completely relate to Ruth. I, too, am an African-American woman, raising a teenage son, albeit with my husband, in a time when it’s not very easy to be an African-American. Especially when it feels like our sons are targets for all types of things. I, like Ruth, have raised my son with integrity and the knowledge that he can be anything that he wants to be as long as he puts in the work. I, like Ruth, just want to prove that I can do my job just as well as anyone else.

When I started to read the words of Turk Bauer, my stomach clenched up in metaphorical knots. I wanted to vomit. I felt pent up rage and anger coursing through my blood. His words were vile and spoken with vitriol and I hated him instantly. I wanted to hate Jodi Picoult, too, because she had written these words for this character. I also know that, in order to be a great writer, you have to be able to draw out your reader’s emotions. She did just that.

I don’t even want to call Turk a man because he acted like an animal. He was out for revenge and the driving factor was the color of Ruth’s skin. Although I knew that he wasn’t real, he was a caricature of people that we all know exist.

Kennedy McQuarrie was also a character that I don’t know if I liked or just tolerated. She existed in her own world with her physician husband and outspoken young daughter. Until she met Ruth, her main thought was that she didn’t see color. Her character seemed to be one that was added for readers who may not like the content of Ms. Picoult’s new book yet would find comfort in reading about someone that was just like them. She is that person that insists they aren’t racist.

The more I read about race and how it pertained to the plight that Ruth Jefferson was going through, the more that I realized that the color of my skin is more than just a color. It symbolizes who I am in this country, in this state, in this city, in my life. This book brought out so many emotions that I didn’t really understand that I had. I felt anger at times and I wanted to punch Turk Bauer in the throat with all that I had. I also felt helpless and very sad. Most of all, I felt hurt.

The more I read this book, I became a little bit more perturbed and questioned the author’s motives. Like The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, Ms. Picoult has taken to writing a book from the viewpoint of an African-American woman, even though she is white. What bothers me about books like this are, although they are written well, if you have not had the African-American experience, how can you portray it as though you have? When you leave your pen and paper behind, you are able to settle back into your privilege and reap the benefits of it.

Like Ms. Stockett, Jodi Picoult is set to make money from the movie about this book. A book about experiences that she has never had. A book off the back of a fictional, African-American character with real world problems.

Picoult says, in an interview that she did with NPR’s Scott Simon, that she has wanted to write a book on race relations for about twenty years. Why did she wait until now, when so many things are happening with regards to race, to cash in on this movement? Maybe that is what bothers me the most.

I implore you to read the book. Maybe I read too much into it and am completely absorbed by my feelings about it. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll give it a 3.

Formats Available:  Regular Type, Large Type, eBook, Audiobook

Reviewed by Damera, Okolona Branch

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

whataliceforgotWhen Alice Love wakes up on the cold gym floor, she’s astonished at her surroundings. What in the world is she doing at the gym? She doesn’t even like the gym. What about her unborn child? She’s worried that something has happened. It is only when she reaches the hospital that she realizes that not only is she not twenty-nine years old and pregnant, she’s actually thirty-nine years old with three children that she doesn’t remember. What happens next is Alice coming to the realization that she has not become the woman that she thought she would be in the ten years that she is missing.

I will be completely honest and tell you that it took me a while to get into the story. I read so many books for children, so when I actually read a book written for adults, it takes a while for my mind to switch over from kittens and puppies to adult emotions and feelings. The story takes place in Sydney, Australia and as I listened to it, I was drawn into the lyrical voice of the narrator. I honestly don’t know what I would do if I suddenly lost ten years of my life. What type of person would I have been? I can barely remember ten minutes ago, let alone ten years.

Alice believes that she is currently pregnant with her first child and doesn’t really believe the doctors when they say that this isn’t true. She is even thrown off by the way her sister, Elizabeth, treats her. After all, she thinks its ten years before, when she and her sister had a wonderful relationship.

I’m absolutely enthralled by this book. I don’t know if it was the thought of having to start fresh on your own, when others know what you have done but you can’t seem to remember. I was very fascinated with Alice and how she kept on chugging along. Ms. Moriarty has written several books and it usually takes me a while to start to like any of the characters but this one was one I couldn’t wait to continue. Once I was able to get into the story, I wanted it to continue. This is one you won’t want to miss. Check it out.

Formats Available:  Book (Regular and Large Type), eBook, Audiobook (CD and Downloadable), Foreign Language Book (Spanish)

Reviewed by Damera, Okolona Branch

Bull Mountain by Brian Panowich

When you think of Southern Fiction what comes to your mind?  To Kill a Mockingbird, Gone With The Wind, A Time to Kill, and All Over But the Shoutin’ are just a few of the titles, many of which were adapted for film.

Southern Literature as a genre has been with us for well over 175 years but in recent years we have seen several well written authors taking up their pens to depict a South plagued with problems.  These stories still draw many readers, even if only for the familiar surroundings.

Numerous websites such as BookRiot.com, have published reading lists for readers looking to read more of this fictional genre.  Below is a review of one such, the recent novel by Brian Panowich.  It won the 2016 Thriller Award for Best First Novel, presented by the International Thriller Writers organization.

bullmountain

Bull Mountain delves into the mysteries and life styles of a Southern town.  It is a place where characters abound and suspense creeps along the pages, ending in a way that may well surprise you.  In this gripping, hard edged tale of murder, abuse, drugs, and alcohol, you meet the Burroughs family, a clan that traffics in drug and moonshine.  While running the roads of Georgia, the Burroughs cross paths with the motorcycle gang known as the “Jacksonville Jackals.”

1950’s

The morning is cool in Bull Mountain, Georgia as three men, a young man, his father and his uncle, step into the woods hunting for deer.  It will be the young man’s first deer.  The father instructs his son to take a shot as the deer comes within sight.  A loud shot rings out.  The deer falls.  At that same instant, the young man/boy hears another shot next to him.  As he looks towards the other two, he sees his uncle unmoving, lying on the ground.  “Deddy” had taken deliberate aim at his brother for own form of justice/revenge.

Present Day

Even though his genealogy has past ties to trafficking crimes, Clayton is the one member of the Burroughs clan that has decided to sit on the right side of the law.  Wanting to curtail the illegal business of drug and alcohol trafficking in his home town, he becomes the town sheriff.  But trouble comes for Clayton and his family in the form of a revenuer, Special Agent Simon Holly from the A.T.F. (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms).  Agent Holly wants to see Clayton in regards to his older brother who is running drugs all around the Bull Mountain community.  In order to protect his family Clayton will now have to stop looking the other way, putting an end to the trafficking trade in his both his town and Jacksonville.

There is a great deal going in this tale, digging into the choices people make out of loyalty and family ties.  The author shows the determination and grit of those behind the trafficking drugs and moonshine, and that of the gangs in competition.  Alternating chapters, between past and present, as well as shifting between Sherriff Clayton and Agent Holly as narrator, you are kept on the edge of your seat.

Formats Available:  Audiobook, e-Book, Large Type, Regular Type

Reviewed by MicahShawnee Branch

Fox and O’Hare Series by Janet Evanovich

foxohare

Fox and O’Hare is one of the newest series by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg. This is series is a cross between White Collar and Leverage. Nick is the Fox of the team as well as the con artist that’s been caught by the FBI. Kate is the O’Hare of the team and the agent that catches Nick, hence the similarities to White Collar. The Leverage part deals with the rag tag team of “specialists” that Kate and Nick hire to help them carry out the cons, conning other con artists. It’s a deal that Nick made to stay out of jail.

Each member of the team added gets weirder than the last. There’s a crazy former waitress who was apparently was a NASCAR driver in another life. There’s also an architect, an engineer, and a computer guy, as well as an out of work actor. The group rounds itself out with Kate’s retired military father who likes to pretend he’s not really retired. Instead he spends his free time helping Kate out and bringing his military buddies along on some of the cons, most of which are as crazy as he is.

The premise of the Fox and O’Hare series is that it takes a con artist to catch a con artist. But it also takes an FBI agent to keep said con artist in line. So Kate’s got to work with Nick and she just doesn’t want to. As an FBI agent she’s used to putting guys like Nick in jail, not being partnered with them. However, it’s a secret partnership and if they are caught during one of their cons they are on their own, they get no help from the FBI what so ever. Nick will be in prison and Kate – if she’s lucky – will only lose her job.  If she’s not she will also be in a federal prison.

The Fox and O’Hare series is different from Evanovich’s previous series but it still has her trademark humor, wit, and writing style.  The Heist is the first book, check it out to see if you like it.

The library has all five books that have been published so far.

Formats Available: Book (Regular Print), Large Type, and Audiobook

Reviewed by CarissaMain Library