Category Archives: Adult Books

Book Review: Try to Remember

Iris Gomez’s TRY TO REMEMBER is a beautifully written novel that manages to keep you on the edge of your seat–not through a steroid-pumped plot, but by painting the very real terror of an immigrant teen’s life. Deportation, jail, drugs, rape, pregnancy–these are all the dangers awaiting Gabriela de La Paz, adolescent daughter of Colombian immigrants. The reader spends most of the novel dreading the moment when one of these dangers will bring her down. But this is not just a story about the hazards of being an illegal immigrant. It’s a story about the dangers of family: How the same people who are supposed to help us can drag us under.

When Gabriela’s proud, temperamental father begins to behave in increasingly bizarre, even violent ways, the effect on her family is like a time bomb suddenly appearing in their livingroom. Gabriela’s mother refuses to acknowledge the change. Her brothers find ways to escape, through work and friends and drugs. Only Gabriela–barely a teen when the novel opens–can keep the family from blowing apart.

Iris Gomez is an award-winning poet and immigration lawyer. She was born in Colombia and writes with the kind of intelligence, authority and lyricism that even her fellow countryman, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, would have to admire. TRY TO REMEMBER is a stunning debut novel. And in Gabriela de la Paz, you will find one of the most intelligent, sympathetic and unique characters you have ever met. A must-read!

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Book Review: The Murderer’s Daughters

I admit it: When it comes to books, I’m a twelve year old at heart.  Thirteen, max.  So most of what I read comes off the Middle Grade and YA shelves.  Randy Susan Meyers‘ novel, The Murderer’s Daughters, isn’t a YA title, and it’s not likely to end up on the YA shelves anytime soon.  But I wanted to review it anyway.  Why?  Because it’s that good.

Like all smart writers, Meyers has the “gun on the mantle” go off in the first act.  Ten year old Lulu’s father talks her into letting him in the apartment, then murders her mother and tries to kill her six year old sister, Merry.  Daddy goes to jail, Merry recovers, and she and her older sister, unwanted by everyone except one ailing grandmother, eventually end up in an orphanage.

If this were your typical childhood trauma story, Meyers would anchor the girls’ lives in this one event, then link unhappy result after unhappy result until she’d created the traditional Great Chain of Misery.  And sure, there has to be some of that in The Murderer’s Daughters, because what happens is traumatic.  But what raises The Murderer’s Daughters head and shoulders above the pack is that it’s not about how one horrible event ruined the girls’ lives.  It’s about how having parents, family, and home ripped away has set the two sisters on opposite sides of a chasm, and how each, in her own way, is trying to get back to the other.

Lulu ignores the chasm, hoping she can make it disappear.  She won’t visit their father in jail, won’t tell anyone what happened.  She just wants to move on.  Merry sits at the edge of the chasm, helpless.  She visits their father religiously, does whatever it takes to stay close to her sister.  But she’s going nowhere.

Meyers knows a lot about this situation.  As a child, her father did try to kill her mother.  He didn’t succeed, luckily, but his violence left an indelible mark on her and her sister.  Years as a domestic violence counselor also gave her insight into the heart of the chasm:  How a loving father can become a murderer.  The result is a novel with a seamless understanding of everyone involved in the tragedy, and empathy for even the worst of the human heart.

But The Murderer’s Daughters is no slow ride to the bottom.  Meyers, like any great storyteller, knows that if a gun goes off in the first act, there has to be a second one hidden away for the last act.  Hers goes off with a bang (figuratively speaking), and though the scene may feel a little too rushed for some, it worked brilliantly for me.  As the climax of the novel, it did exactly what a climax is supposed to do:  throw up the lights, illuminate everything the characters have been avoiding, and make them choose.

Meyers’ spare but musical prose, her incredible attention to detail and her talent for bringing all five senses to bear in every scene make it hard to believe The Murderer’s Daughters is her first published novel.  What’s even harder to believe is that it took publishers this long to discover her.  If women’s fiction is what’s keeping the publishing world alive these days, The Murderer’s Daughters is one miraculous shot in the arm.

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Book Review: The Dust of 100 Dogs

The Dust of 100 Dogs
The Dust of 100 Dogs by A.S. King
Don’t be fooled by the over-the-top, romantic pirate death scene at the beginning of A.S. King’s wonderful The Dust of 100 Dogs: this is not your grandfather’s pirate story. The basic premise is that 17th century female pirate Emer gets cursed just as she’s dying, and she is condemned to be reincarnated one hundred times as a dog before she can be human again.

No, the book does not go through all one hundred dog lives.  After the initial curse, we fast-forward to Emer’s first human reincarnation in three hundred years. She is Saffron Adams now, a 20th century teen who is the genius child and grand hope of her manipulative alcoholic mother and mentally unbalanced father.

What makes Saffron a genius—and makes the novel so intriguing—is that she not only remembers everything from her past life as a pirate, she also remembers her one-hundred dog lives. That gives her a 300-year head start on most kids her age, and some very useful canine common sense.  It also offers her a chance at lifelong wealth and independence, if she can only find the treasure she buried just before she died.

The chapters about 20th century Saffron’s sufferings (it’s not easy to quell your inner pirate) are layered with chapters about 17th century Emer’s path. Here and there, we also get sprinklings of rules that Emer compiled during her centuries as one kind of dog after another, and these provide some interesting counterpoint to her human interactions.

The book’s development feels a little uneven, at times, and certain aspects (including the dog rules) are never integrated as fully as a reader might like. Also, the violence of 17th century Emer’s life may be too much for a Young Adult audience.

For an adult audience, however, The Dust of 100 Dogs has enough history, humor, tragedy and insight to satisfy all but the most picayune readers.  And how often do you find historical massacres, star-crossed lovers, embroidery, swashbuckling, sea battles, treasure, reincarnation, proms, and pirate sex all in the same book?

Okay, so there are no vampires. But you can’t have everything.

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Book Review: City of Thieves

City of ThievesA young Jewish boy in St. Petersburg in WWII is caught looting a knife off of a dead German soldier. Instead of having him shot, the local NKVD chief pairs him up with a captured Red Army deserter and sends them off on a special mission: to find a dozen eggs for his daughter’s wedding cake.

Apart from first-hand historical accounts, you won’t find a better depiction of the horrors and deprivations the Russians suffered during the terrible Siege of Leningrad. But CITY OF THIEVES is, first and foremost, a coming of age story–one that happens to be set in Russia during their worst days of WWII.

Lev–young, naive, timid, and a virgin in every sense of the word–is completely unequipped to fight Germans, find black market eggs, or approach a woman. His traveling companion, Kolya, claims knowledge in all those things and seems very confident they will not only find the eggs, but also get Lev a girl before their mission is done. After only a few hours, however, Lev begins to think Kolya may be more likely to get him killed.

A funny, sad, horrifying, compassionate and ultimately hopeful story about how even in the worst of human circumstances, friends and lovers will find each other.

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