Small Stories: A Perfectly Absurd Novel by Rob Roy O’Keefe

Small Stories: A Perfectly Absurd Novel by Rob Roy O’Keefe
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Contemporary, Satire, Fiction
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

One town is just like another.

Except when it’s the focus of a wild experiment gone off the rails.

Duncan and Maya Small have just moved to an out-of-the-way town full of odd characters, quirky customs, and a power-obsessed local official who believes he should be declared emperor. Duncan is sharp enough to know something needs to change, and delusional enough to believe he’s the one to make it happen. The only thing standing in his way are feral ponies, radical seniors, common sense, and Duncan’s inability to do anything without a list. Oh, and an entire town that won’t take him seriously.

Small Stories: A Perfectly Absurd Novel, is a tale of power, bake sales, manipulation, the Welcome Wagon, deception, and yes, diabolical forces at work in the shadows, although the Smalls soon discover nothing is as it seems. One thing is certain – there’s something funny going on here.

Everything has a rational explanation, right?

My favorite scenes were the ones that dug into the unexpected results of small town politics. Sometimes conflicts with the lowest and pettiest stakes can be the most interesting because of how personally invested people can be in making sure that they receive recognition for their work or that someone they dislike is not chosen for a particular position or award. The author did an excellent job of portraying how frustrating and unintentionally hilarious these moments can be, especially to outsiders who are not yet aware of how seriously some folks take these matters.

I had trouble following the plot due to how often it veered off track to explain all sorts of random bits of information that were loosely related to what the characters were currently doing. This is something I’m saying as someone who generally enjoys these sorts of rabbit trails in stories. They can be a great deal of fun to read, but they happened too often here for this reader’s tastes.

The dialogue was funny and well written. All of the characters had natural speaking voices, and I could easily imagine their conversations happening in real life. This was true even for the zany ones that talked about things like how to keep pufferfish out of their community even though no pufferfish had yet been found there. People do sometimes talk about silly things like this, and the way they spoke in this book rang true to me.

Small Stories: A Perfectly Absurd Novel made me chuckle.

The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict

The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Genre: Historical, Fiction, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

In December 1926, Agatha Christie goes missing. Investigators find her empty car on the edge of a deep, gloomy pond, the only clues some tire tracks nearby and a fur coat left in the car—strange for a frigid night. Her World War I veteran husband and her daughter have no knowledge of her whereabouts, and England unleashes an unprecedented manhunt to find the up-and-coming mystery author. Eleven days later, she reappears, just as mysteriously as she disappeared, claiming amnesia and providing no explanations for her time away.

The puzzle of those missing eleven days has persisted. With her trademark historical fiction exploration into the shadows of the past, acclaimed author Marie Benedict brings us into the world of Agatha Christie, imagining why such a brilliant woman would find herself at the center of such murky historical mysteries.

What is real, and what is mystery? What role did her unfaithful husband play, and what was he not telling investigators?

Agatha Christie novels have withstood the test of time, due in no small part to Christie’s masterful storytelling and clever mind that may never be matched, but Agatha Christie’s untold history offers perhaps her greatest mystery of all.

Her heart has been devoted to him, but he’s ready to move on. What’s a girl to do when she can’t immediately write her perfect ending? Take a day trip!

I picked up this book upon recommendation from a friend and I do like the work of Agatha Christie, so I thought I’d try it. This is a fictionalized version of Agatha Christie’s disappearance, and one must keep that in mind. Some of the details are a bit…fudged. I don’t know how to get into the head of Agatha Christie, but I applaud the author for trying.

This book was a good read, but it was a bit jarring at times. I wanted to know more of how Archie might have felt, but he was portrayed more as a bumbling, guilty man who didn’t understand the mess he’d made. The book had a bit of a feminist slant in that Agatha Christie took control of her own narrative and had to make some changes to come into her own, but it also feels a little naïve in that she seems to defer to her husband more than appeared necessary.

Agatha Christie was a strong woman, stronger than the women of her time. She made her own money and wasn’t afraid to have a career as an author, even when it annoyed her husband. I don’t know if this is exactly how the incident of her disappearance played out, but it’s a good enough read for an afternoon.

It’s interesting to wonder what it would’ve been like to be Agatha Christie and to understand what made her feel a disappearance was best. I liked reading the fictionalized version of her life.

If you’re interested in Agatha Christie, the mystery of her disappearance or just want a different kind of mystery, then give this one a try.

A Country Road, A Tree by Jo Baker

A Country Road, A Tree by Jo Baker
Publisher: Knopf Books
Genre: Historical, Fiction
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Snowdrop

From the best-selling author of Longbourn, a remarkable imagining of Samuel Beckett’s wartime experiences. In 1939 Paris, the ground rumbles with the footfall of Nazi soldiers marching along the Champs-Élysées, and a young, unknown writer, recently arrived from Ireland to make his mark, smokes one last cigarette with his lover before the city they know is torn apart. Soon he will put them both in mortal danger by joining the Resistance.

Through the years that follow, we are witness to the workings of a uniquely brilliant mind struggling to create a language to express a shattered world. A story of survival and determination, of spies and artists, passion and danger, A Country Road, A Tree is a portrait of the extremes of human experience alchemized into one man’s timeless art.

Was this book rather academic? I have waffled back and forth about that question. It has been a topic of discussion many times. In my opinion, there are two ways to read this book. One is as merely a story, which is what I did. It is an interesting tale of a writer and his girlfriend leading a somewhat Bohemian lifestyle in Europe. Its setting in the European countries during the tough war years of WW2 describes the hardships many of the people in those countries lived with.

However, being the curious person that I am, seeing James Joyce as a character in the book made me do a little research. During that research, I found that this is really not just historical fiction as it is classified, but rather a sort of fictional biographical picture of Samuel Beckett’s life and his time in France during the occupation. This somehow made me feel differently about the book. Was I supposed to just enjoy it as a story or was I supposed to learn more about Beckett? Maybe it doesn’t matter.

It may be that my previous ramblings are what made this book read somewhat slow at the beginning for me. It sped up and flowed quite smoothly as I continued to read. In fact, it became that story I was talking about in the first paragraph. A well-written story of a young man with writer’s block and a young girl wanting very much to help him, both living with a couple trying to make it through the occupation. Jo Baker seems to be an author who is able to write so that the frightening times, the hunger, and the cold and uncertainty, are vividly felt.

Jo Baker has other publications, one has more than 3000 reviews on Amazon. I think everything she has written is worth checking out.

A Woman of Endurance by Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa

A Woman of Endurance by Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa
Publisher: Amistad
Genre: Historical, Fiction
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Ginger

A Woman of Endurance, set in nineteenth-century Puerto Rican plantation society, follows Pola, a deeply spiritual African woman who is captured and later sold for the purpose of breeding future slaves. The resulting babies are taken from her as soon as they are born. Pola loses the faith that has guided her and becomes embittered and defensive. The dehumanizing violence of her life almost destroys her. But this is not a novel of defeat but rather one of survival, regeneration, and reclamation of common humanity.

Readers are invited to join Pola in her journey to healing. From the sadistic barbarity of her first experiences, she moves on to receive compassion and support from a revitalizing new community. Along the way, she learns to recognize and embrace the many faces of love—a mother’s love, a daughter’s love, a sister’s love, a love of community, and the self-love that she must recover before she can offer herself to another. It is ultimately, a novel of the triumph of the human spirit even under the most brutal of conditions.

“When are you going to see that the only way we can carry our burdens is to share them?”

Pola, the woman once called Keera, has many reasons to be closed off emotionally, and definitely reason to be bitter and angry at everyone. In the beginning the author disclosed Lola’s broken spirit. The reader gets to see Lola at a point where she had given up and commits herself to the sea. The hurt and damage due to inhumane conditions and treatment, along with the deplorable brutality in the cold hearts of many men that surely can break a person physically, mentally and emotionally. I am glad that I kept reading and now understand that the details were important to knowing her full journey.

The author’s writing is impeccable. The content matter is one that can be hard to read but the author’s words were full of grace and shared so poetically. The untranslated Spanish phrases and words made me feel closer to the story. The purposeful word choice painted a picture that fit and flowed very well. Reading Pola’s story I felt an emotional pull. Reading about the social structure within slavery acknowledged that there’s some freedom only our mind can give us.

I loved seeing Pola’s strength and how the events became clearer and everything fell into place for her.

It has been a long journey, a journey that has taught Pola the greatest lesson of all, how to endure. What a treat for readers to see the damaged and broken Pola evolve to find security, to being loved and mostly she come to terms with those she lost or that were taken from her while on her journey.

Being enslaved it’s often that families are formed outside of blood ties. So this story is not only about Pola but those that accepted Pola, those that were patience while she healed. Those that offered her a family, and support , and that helped fill the emptiness that use to consume her. Pola has dwelt in the darkness for long enough and now she only needs to make a little space for others to enter and grow.

My takeaway from this book is we can get stuck in grief and loss, we have to face and address our hurts and we need the community of others to survive. This story is well worth reading.

Do It for Chappie: The Ray Chapman Tragedy by Rick Swaine

Do It for Chappie: The Ray Chapman Tragedy by Rick Swaine
Publisher: Tucker Bay Publishing
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Historical Re-Telling
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

“Do It for Chappie: The Ray Chapman Tragedy” is an authentic account of the Cleveland Indians’ 1920 season and the incredible obstacles they overcame to beat out Babe Ruth’s destiny-favored New York Yankees and Shoeless Joe Jackson’s ill-fated Chicago White Sox for the American League pennant – most notably the devastating loss of their popular team captain and star shortstop, Ray Chapman.

Chapman, one of the most popular players in the game, was fatally beaned by the New York Yankees’ Carl Mays, a reputed head-hunter and one of the league’s most reviled characters, late in the season. Tied with the Yankees for the league lead at the time of the incident, the Indians all but fell out of the pennant race before taking up the battle cry “Do It for Chappie” and storming back to win the American League pennant – and subsequently the World Series.

Ironically, the 1920 season was supposed to be Chapman’s last as a player. The son of a poor miner, he’d married the daughter of a wealthy Cleveland family less than a year earlier following a storybook romance. Though still in his prime, he intended to retire from baseball when it came time to raise a family. He had found out his new bride was pregnant just weeks before he was killed.

No account of the 1920 season would be complete without the story of the infamous “Black Sox Scandal” in which the Chicago White Sox were accused of fixing the previous year’s World Series. The scandal’s exposure during the 1920 season had a direct bearing on the pennant race in which the Sox battled the Indians and Yankees down to the wire.

This book is written in the historical novel style, which allows the story to be told in the present tense through the eyes of the characters involved, portrayed as they are known to history. No documented facts are knowingly misrepresented or omitted. However, plausible dialogue, musings and minor scenarios are constructed to flesh out the characters and impart the rich flavor of baseball as it was played in the formative years of the modern game, just as the turbulent decade of Roaring Twenties was beginning to unfold.

A post-1920 epilogue and profiles of key characters are included.

A man, baseball and a bad accident…

I picked up this book because I’d watched Ken Burns’ Baseball and learned about Ray Chapman. He was beaned by a pitch in the 1920 baseball season. As a result of being brained by the ball, he died. It fascinated me that someone could be hurt that way–although not surprising–and I wanted to know about the player, not just the incident.

This is a historical re-telling, so some liberties are taken with the characters. I won’t lie, it can be a bit jarring because I expected the story to be more factual, not so much a fictionalization. That said, it’s still interesting and I read it over the course of a couple days.

Ray is a sympathetic character because he’s just gotten married, is happy and his wife is now pregnant, but it’s been suggested by his in-laws that he give up baseball. All he wants to do is get through this season and he’s done. Except this is the era of no batting helmets and dirty baseballs roughed up to make them curve, twist and make them nearly invisible when pitched.

I felt so bad for Ray and his wife. They had big plans, and no one came out unscathed. I felt for his team, too. They were shattered, but at least they rallied for their fallen comrade.

If you like a good baseball story, an underdog story and one that will stick with you after the last page, then this one is for you.

Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer
Publisher: Mariner Books
Genre: Historical, Fiction
Rating: 3 stars
Review by Snowdrop

With only a yellowing photograph in hand, a young man—also named Jonathan Safran Foer—sets out to find the woman who might or might not have saved his grandfather from the Nazis.

Accompanied by an old man haunted by memories of the war, an amorous dog named Sammy Davis, Junior, Junior, and the unforgettable Alex, a young Ukrainian translator who speaks in a sublimely butchered English, Jonathan is led on a quixotic journey over a devastated landscape and into an unexpected past.

As their adventure unfolds, Jonathan imagines the history of his grandfather’s village, conjuring a magical fable of startling symmetries that unite generations across time. As his search moves back in time, the fantastical history moves forward, until reality collides with fiction in a heart-stopping scene of extraordinary power.

This is a book about a young boy who finds an old, yellowed photo and is determined to find a lady in it who possibly saved his grandfather. It’s a look back upon a time of war and of the Nazis obliterating everything. It leads to many old memories, good, funny, and sad.

Everything is Illuminated has won many awards. It’s praised by the NY Times, Library Journal, the Washington Post, and many more. The author, Jonathan Safran Foer, was only 21 when he wrote it. In that view, it is amazing that such a work was written and published. It was even made into a movie. I found it difficult to read. Not because of its vulgarisms although there are many, but more so due to the broken English spoken by their translator who travels with them to the place where his grandfather lived. There are times it is hard to read because of the Holocaust and the treatment of the Jews, but that is not badly written, only hard to read because of the subject.

The author named the main character after himself. It caused me to wonder if the story was in its own way autobiographical as well as fictitious? There are some very poignant moments in Jonathan Safran’s journey. I wonder if the author has experienced the same feelings, the same sadness? It may be why although somewhat difficult to read, there can be no question the book is well-written. There are moments that come together and make you feel ashamed that you did not have to share the horror the Jews did during the war. Moments so well-written that you feel that you understand and yet know that you can never understand what the Jewish people experienced.

Is this a book you should read? I think it’s an experience many would gain from. It might be a story you shouldn’t pass by.

The Seven Day Switch by Kelly Harms

The Seven Day Switch by Kelly Harms
Publisher: Lake Union publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Lavender

Two moms as opposite as a Happy Meal and a quinoa bowl. What a difference a week makes in a heartfelt, laugh-out-loud novel by the Washington Post bestselling author of The Overdue Life of Amy Byler.

Celeste Mason is the Pinterest stay-at-home supermom of other mothers’ nightmares. Despite her all-organic, SunButter-loving, free-range kids, her immaculate home, and her volunteering awards, she still has time to relax with a nice glass of pinot at the end of the day. The only thing that ruins it all is her workaholic, career-obsessed neighbor, who makes no secret of what she thinks of Celeste’s life choices every chance she gets.

Wendy Charles is a celebrated productivity consultant, columnist, and speaker. On a minute-by-minute schedule, she makes the working-mom hustle look easy. She even spends at least one waking hour a day with her kids. She’s not apologizing for a thing. Especially to Celeste, who plays her superior parenting against Wendy whenever she can.

Who do Celeste and Wendy think they are? They’re about to find out thanks to one freaky week. After a neighborhood potluck and too much sangria, they wake up—um, what?—in each other’s bodies. Everything Celeste and Wendy thought they knew about the “other kind of mom” is flipped upside down—along with their messy, complicated, maybe not so different lives.

Celeste and Wendy could not be more different, but they’re about to find out what’s it’s like to live in another’s shoes—literally. Celeste is a stay-at-home mom and new to town. Wendy is a workaholic mom who looks down on Celeste. Then one day an amazing thing happens; they wake up in each other’s bodies.

This is a scary thing for both, and some big lessons are in store for these women. They must raise each other’s kids for a while and deal with each other’s husbands. This situation is written in a realistic way. The women notice things and think things that are quite believable. As they stumble through each other’s lives, they find out that certain judgements they made were not accurate.

The kids, the husbands, the friends, and others are the perfect secondary characters to make this story unfold naturally. They get into little binds and big ones and handle things with their own quirky ways.

Family is a big theme here, as is friendship and female choices and empowerment. The characters grow, and it is entertaining to follow them on their paths to discovery.

The Bookshop on the Shore by Jenny Colgan, Eilidh Beaton (Narrator)

The Bookshop on the Shore by Jenny Colgan, Eilidh Beaton (Narrator)
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks, HarperAudio (Publisher)
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

A grand baronial house on Loch Ness, a quirky small-town bookseller, and a single mom looking for a fresh start all come together in this witty and warm-hearted novel by New York Times bestselling author Jenny Colgan.

Desperate to escape from London, single mother Zoe wants to build a new life for herself and her four year old son Hari. She can barely afford the crammed studio apartment on a busy street where shouting football fans keep them awake all night. Hari’s dad, Jaz, a charismatic but perpetually broke DJ, is no help at all. But his sister Surinder comes to Zoe’s aid, hooking her up with a job as far away from the urban crush as possible: a bookshop on the banks of Loch Ness. And there’s a second job to cover housing: Zoe will be an au pair for three children at a genuine castle in the Scottish Highlands.

But while Scotland is everything Zoe dreamed of—clear skies, brisk fresh air, blessed quiet—everything else is a bit of a mess. The Urquart family castle is grand, but crumbling, the childrens’ single dad is a wreck, and the kids have been kicked out of school and left to their own devices. Zoe has her work cut out for her, and is determined to rise to the challenge, especially when she sees how happily Hari has taken to their new home.

With the help of Nina, the friendly local bookseller, Zoe begins to put down roots in the community. Are books, fresh air, and kindness enough to heal this broken family—and her own…?

I honestly don’t know where to start, what to share and how to avoid spoilers. To say this is a busy story is putting it mildly. My mind is blown, my emotions and feelings are all over the place because there are so many reasons to smile, cry, worry and grin. There are parts where I could feel my eyes widen, my jaw drop and my breath stall in my lungs from suspense. There are so many details to all the personalities that star in this novel. The fact that I spent 11 hours listening over two and a half days, at work, late at night, right after breakfast, basically every chance I got tells you how involved I was in the story of Zoe and her little son, Hari. I didn’t know what to expect when I took a chance on this book. I’d never heard of the author before and that’s my loss. I am wowed by this novel.

The narrator has a voice I had to get used to. I did though and now I’ve come to believe that Ms. Beaton’s voice is absolutely perfect for the characters of Ms. Colgan’s characters, especially Zoe, the heroine, and Ramsey’s son, Patrick. The narrator has some other gems throughout but I’ll let readers, if they listen to the book, discover that charming point for themselves.

Here’s the problem with listening to a book instead of reading – I have no idea how to spell some of the names and I don’t want to get it wrong so I’m going to have to describe people through their roles or some such. Bear with me. Patrick is Ramsey’s youngest, Mary is the second oldest and the eldest son has a name I would probably spell wrong. Out of all the hero’s kids, I think Patrick is the most adorable, outgoing and just plain cute. His relationship and effect on Hari is one of the strong elements in the book and one of my favorites. The two were thick as thieves and a delight to read about. I believe Ms. Beaton’s narration was spot on for those two.

Mary’s character is a hard one. That child has issues – serious issues that caused me heartache on her behalf, and is involved in the few scenes that affected my emotions the most. Zoe’s influence is one of the paramount reasons that what happens to Mary is so powerful and important.

Ramsey’s eldest son isn’t quite as prominent as the other two, but Zoe’s gentle guidance took this sullen, internet-gaming young man and turned him into a person with confidence, goals and helped him discover a grand new passion through which he experiences success, joy and a possible path to a career. I liked that.

I think I’m writing this backwards. Zoe is the main character, a single mom of Hari, and Hari can’t speak yet. He’s 4 years old and hasn’t made a peep. Zoe’s love for him comes through loud and clear. He lucked out when he got Zoe for his mom. His dad, Jaz, not so much. Oh, he loves the little tyke, but … there’s a reason Zoe and he never got married. And yet, I didn’t dislike Jaz. He’s irresponsible, yes, but he truly loves his son and I consider that a redeeming quality.

When I first meet Zoe, the author paints a very scary picture. The heroine is in dire straits and things don’t look good. She gets a helping hand from Jaz’s sister and that’s how the whole story in Scotland starts up. True, when I first started listening to the story, I got a little confused about who was who in which chapter, but that confusion didn’t last long. There is a significant reason the author wants readers to meet certain players early on. Readers need to understand what is going on in Zoe’s life, why she takes the jobs that were offered sight unseen and they need to meet the people that mattered in that stage of her life. Here’s another unusual aspect of the book – it has four parts and each part has a ton of chapters. It’s like the author tells Zoe’s and Hari’s story in stages – as a crisis point or major plot twist puts the heroine on a new path, each path becomes a section of her life and that’s why I think the novel is formatted in this manner. It is different, that’s for sure.

When I listed the genre as contemporary fiction, I did not add romance to the list. There are romantic elements, yes, but the book doesn’t really focus on a romance between Ramsey and Zoe. That just happens as Zoe’s influence heals everyone in the house, and that includes the housekeeper. It was nice to see it happen but the focus, the whole story is about Zoe dealing with the hand life has dealt her. It’s showing a reader how she herself heals while she patiently works with all of the hero’s children, meeting each challenge as they come, with compassion, firmness, stubbornness, a gentle grace and love. However, Zoe’s interactions with adults prove to be a bit more challenging. The dialogue comes in fits and starts because she initially is extremely nervous, downtrodden and at the lowest point in her life. That’s at the beginning. By the end of the book, Zoe has come into her own, and she’s a woman a reader can cheer for, care about and be happy for. This novel is basically her journey towards being the strong, confident, and beloved woman she becomes.

Oh my goodness, there is so much more I want to say, to share, to really impress upon readers of this review that The Bookshop on the Shore is worth reading. I mean it. It’s not a fluff read because the author also tackles some hard topics, like what happens to a child that is emotionally traumatized and does things to harm themselves or others. It’s handled with competence, respect and love. Then there is the truth about what really happened to Ramsey’s wife. The townsfolk bandy about lots of rumors and conjectures but don’t believe any of them. The truth is a lot more tragic than any could guess. Yet, it also opened my eyes to what a wonderful person Ramsey is, in his own quiet, few-worded way.

I’ll stop here. I mean, I didn’t even get to mention the evil chicken, the possible sighting of Nessie, what triggered Nina’s contractions to go from 0 to 60, the storm, what happens with the books – see what I mean? This novel is amazing – it’s like a whole world and I felt like I was living it with Zoe. I don’t know if it’s because of the skill and talent of the narrator bringing Ms. Colgan’s words to life or what, but if readers haven’t discovered this heartwarming tale, and are fans of stories that engage a reader on a deeper level, then this book is a must read. Oh, and the HEA is as unusual as Zoe’s life. I couldn’t figure out if it was really a happy ever after or a happily for now. I guess you’ll have to read it and decide for yourself. It does satisfy though because it wraps up with a surprising twist that bodes well for all the people I’ve come to care about.

The Last Green Valley by Mark Sullivan

The Last Green Valley by Mark Sullivan
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Genre: Historical, Fiction
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Lavender

In late March 1944, as Stalin’s forces push into Ukraine, young Emil and Adeline Martel must make a terrible decision: Do they wait for the Soviet bear’s intrusion and risk being sent to Siberia? Or do they reluctantly follow the wolves—murderous Nazi officers who have pledged to protect “pure-blood” Germans?

The Martels are one of many families of German heritage whose ancestors have farmed in Ukraine for more than a century. But after already living under Stalin’s horrifying regime, Emil and Adeline decide they must run in retreat from their land with the wolves they despise to escape the Soviets and go in search of freedom.
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Caught between two warring forces and overcoming horrific trials to pursue their hope of immigrating to the West, the Martels’ story is a brutal, complex, and ultimately triumphant tale that illuminates the extraordinary power of love, faith, and one family’s incredible will to survive and see their dreams realized.

The Last Green Valley is inspiring as well as entertaining. A family who is ethnically German but living in Ukraine in 1944 is caught between the bear and the wolves (Stalin and Hitler). What a terrible decision. They do what they must to survive, and extreme danger is at every turn.

This family—the Martels—and their near relatives flee as refugees, and life is difficult, to say the least. Heart-breaking decisions must be made along the way, and the Martels suffer in different manners. Sometimes the troubles are physical, but sometimes they are mental and emotional and…haunting. How is this family going to survive such trials?

Emil Martel has lost his faith, even though his wife Adeline has not. Then they meet a man who appears to have lost his link with reality. This man changes Emil’s life in an unexpected way.

The manner in which the Martels deal with their troubles is quite moving. Their triumphs will feel like the readers’ triumphs. The author of this book has done a great job at making the characters and their world so real. This is a memorable story and should be on the reading list of anyone who enjoys true historical stories.

The Essence of Nathan Biddle by J William Lewis

The Essence of Nathan Biddle by J William Lewis
Publisher: Greenleaf Book Group
Genre: Historical, Fiction
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

The Essence of Nathan Biddle is a timeless coming-of-age tale that, as novelist David Armstrong observed, “is like discovering The Catcher in the Rye all over again.” Protagonist Kit Biddle is a rising prep school senior who finds himself tangled in a web of spiritual quandaries and intellectual absurdities. Kit’s angst is compounded by a unique psychological burden he is forced to carry: his intelligent but unstable Uncle Nat has committed an unspeakable act on what, according to the Uncle’s deranged account, were direct orders from God.

The tragedy haunting his family follows Kit like a dark and foreboding cloud, exacerbating his already compulsive struggle with existential questions about the meaning of his life. When the brilliant, perhaps phantasmic, Anna dismisses him, Kit quickly spirals into despair and self-destruction. But when his irrational decision to steal a maintenance truck and speed aimlessly down the highway ends in a horrific accident and months of both physical and emotional convalescence, Kit is forced to examine his perceptions of his life and his version of reality.

In this exquisite bildungsroman, calamity leads to fresh perspectives and new perceptions: it focuses Kit’s mind and forces him to confront the issues that plague him. Readers will empathize—and celebrate—as the darkness lifts and Kit comes to terms with the necessity of engagement with life’s pain, pleasure . . . and absurdity.
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An intelligent, clever, and captivating tale, The Essence of Nathan Biddle soars in the spaces that exist between despair and hope, darkness and light, love and loss. Beautifully written, profoundly moving, and resplendent with characters destined to remain with you long after the last page is turned, The Essence of Nathan Biddle is unforgettable.

Angst on overdrive.

This is the story of a young man of eighteen, but is geared more toward adult readers. It’s written in beautiful prose and is complicated.

Kit is the essential brooding young man. He’s angsty to the hundredth degree. He analyzes and overanalyzes things to death. While this might be a turn off to some readers, it’s rather close to what average young men do–especially sensitive ones. In that respect, Kit is very true to life.

That said, I wanted to empathize with Kit. I did. I wanted to so much, but sometimes the brooding and angst got to be too much. Then there’s the plot. Honestly, it goes all over the place at a hundred miles an hour. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. What it does do, though, is make this a book one needs to read slowly and carefully or you’ll miss things. The plot twists come thick and fast, so beware.

If you’re in the mood for a complicated book that will stick with you after the last page, then this is the book for you. It might take some time, but it just might be exactly the book you’re looking for.