American Arcadia by Laura Scalzo

American Arcadia by Laura Scalzo
Publisher: Regal House Publishing
Genre: Fiction, Historical
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Lavender

New York City, 1985, the scaffolded and torchless Statue of Liberty is under reconstruction, the Twin Towers hum with money, and the clubs pulse with music. Young Wall Streeter, Mina Berg, and her roommate, Chry Risk, strike up friendships with the volatile Danny Nyro and easygoing Dare Fiore. Mina wants Chry’s family prestige, while Chry only wants to play the bass like Jaco Pastorius. Nyro trades on his father’s notoriety and Dare is keeping secrets. Each of these twenty-somethings attempts to rewrite their origin story as they find themselves knotted in the cross purposes of friendship and love, life and death. Meanwhile, the Sicilian grandmothers on Staten Island are telling tall tales of a fugitive mermaid who lives in the New York Harbor. It’s for you to decide if she’s a monster or a saint. Themes of art, immigration, reproductive rights, AIDS, assault, class, and betrayal simmer beneath a dynamic plot that spans one life-altering year.

The 1980s was a memorable time, with big things turning the world upside down or individual homes. This story, set in 1985, in New York, covers some of those things such as AIDS and friends and family dynamics.

Mina and her friend Chry live their busy lives in this big city, Mina on Wall Street, and Chry as the daughter of a senator, trying to find her own way through music. They befriend a nice guy with a secret and a rich guy whose bold behavior often encourages the others to take chances. Each of them is bathed in mystery. For example, Mina was left to die as a baby but adopted. Will she ever know the truth from where she come?

As these twenty-somethings live day-by-day, having fun and working, they discover things about themselves and others. Not all these things lead to somewhere good. They face tragic realities, and readers are sure to pick up some of these moving moments and feel them as well.

One learns about the culture of the era, the New York of the eighties and what a bustling time it was, in some ways, different that it is today. Questions are often different, but not always. While reading about these friends and their families, one is likely to be entertained. The writing is personal and addictive. Why not check this one out?

Treasure of the Blue Whale by Steven Mayfield

Treasure of the Blue Whale by Steven Mayfield
Publisher: Regal House Publishing
Genre: Historical
Length: Full Length (175 pages)
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

In this whimsical, often funny, Depression-era tale, young Connor O’Halloran decides to share a treasure he’s discovered on an isolated stretch of Northern California beach. Almost overnight, his sleepy seaside village is comically transformed into a bastion of consumerism, home to a commode with a jeweled seat cover, a pair of genuinely fake rare documents, a mail-order bride, and an organ-grinder’s monkey named Mr. Sprinkles. But when it turns out that the treasure is not real, Connor must conspire with Miss Lizzie Fryberg and a handful of town leaders he’s dubbed The Ambergrisians to save their friends and neighbors from financial ruin. Along the way, he discovers other treasures in the sometimes languid, sometimes exciting days of that long-ago season. He is rich and then he isn’t. He learns to sail a boat and about sex. He meets a real actor. He sneaks into villainous Cyrus Dinkle’s house and steals his letter opener. He almost goes to jail. He loves Fiona Littleleaf. He finds a father. And best of all, he and little brother, Alex, reclaim their mother from the darkness of mental illness.

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The characterization and character development were handled marvellously. This book had a large cast of characters, but I felt like I got to know everyone intimately because of how descriptive the author was when he talked about their appearances, habits, personalities, and personal histories. Everyone I met in this small town was a unique, three-dimensional human being, including the folks that sometimes acted like villains!

There were a few times when I thought have a ten-year-old narrate this story wasn’t necessarily the most realistic choice. Conner was raised by a single mom whose mental illness meant that she gave both of her kids far more responsibility and freedom than many children have at their ages. Even still, Conner was regularly privy to conversations and adult interpersonal conflicts that weren’t meant for people his age. This was particularly true when it came to the adult’s solution for how to deal with a notorious swindler. As amusing as it was to see his reaction to this, it was something that a child really shouldn’t have been included in. With that being said, I still enjoyed reading the now-adult Connor’s interpretation of what happened during that period in his life.

I was pleasantly surprised by how much humor was packed into the plot. While the main storyline and setting were serious, Conner found plenty of opportunities to share the lighter side of life in Tesoro during the Great Depression. Honestly, these scenes were instrumental in my decision to give this a four star review. Those small moments of unexpected humor endeared me to the characters and made me even more eager to find out if they’d find a way to avoid utter financial ruin for their small, close-knit community.

Treasure of the Blue Whale was a thoughtful book I’d recommend to anyone who loves small towns, nostalgia, or watching characters seek justice in unconventional ways.