Where the Forest Meets the Stars #GlendyVanderah

Oh wow! I know I shouldn’t begin a review with Oh Wow but I was so blown away with Where the Forest Meets the Stars that it has taken a few days to put words to my thoughts (and you see how well that has gone, right?) Oh wow is what I have come up with so far. 51sZRlFOe6L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_amazonJoanna Teale is an ornithologist is safely tucked away in a researcher’s cabin on the marshes of southern Illinois where she is completing her graduate studies on nesting practices. It is here that she is healing her body and soul after a battle with breast cancer. Nearby is Gabe, the “egg man,” who lives on the farm up the road and is battling demons of his own. Into their lives a young girl wanders. She calls herself Ursa and claims to be an alien in search of five miracles. It is obvious to Jo that the girl needs help on multiple levels, but the girl is brilliant and cagey and every time that Jo attempts to turn Ursa into the “authorities” she eludes them, leaving Jo to care for the girl until Jo can unravel Ursa’s secrets and find out her past. Surely she isn’t really alien, is she? As Jo and Gabe begin caring for Ursa, they find themselves enveloped in a healing process of their own. But there are secrets yet to be uncovered that will have devastating effects on them all.

Where the Forest Meets the Stars is truly a magical tale. In the beginning you wonder if, in fact, it is going to fall into the realm of paranormal. Soon, however, you realize that the magic and wonder that Ursa possesses isn’t fantasy but rather the wonderment of love and that love; true, unselfish, altruistic love, has a healing, restorative effect on those with whom Ursa comes in contact. The miracles that Ursa seeks, baby birds in a nest or new kittens being born, pale in comparison to the miracles she brings to the lives of those around her.  This is a story of forgiveness, friendship, restoration and, most importantly, love. It is simply but poignantly written, almost as a parable, and is one I encourage you all to read.

 

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Northern Lights by Raymond Strom

There is something magical and a bit thrilling reading the debut novel of an author as brilliant as Raymond Strom, one you know is going to be a rising voice in today’s gritty, contemporary domestic-noir fiction. Northern Lights is a challenging book to read but one that rewards its reader in the end with the satisfaction of knowing characters who are surviving in a world that is meant to cripple or kill them.

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The bleakness of that cover underlies the dark ambiance found throughout Northern Lights. Shane is an androgynous youth in search of the mother who abandoned him years before. His father has died and his uncle has thrown him out of their family home. Before he begins university, Shane takes the summer to go to the last known place his mother lived: Holm, Minnesota. The first person he runs into sums up Shane’s entire existence with the question, “are you a boy or a girl?” It’s a question Shane often asks himself – not necessarily about his physical self but who he is psycho-sexually. As he wanders through town searching for his mother, he discovers those who hate him, accept him, wish to kill him, wish to love him and all parts in between. He cobbles together a group of “misfit” friends who live on the fringe of this small town; who exist in the shades of grey and have you questioning if there are real values of black and white. Although set in the time-frame of the early 90s, the novel has the feel of today’s setting with so much division, so much hate and far too much vilifying based on sexual identity and the color of one’s skin.

I read Northern Lights in one sitting. The narrative was tight and flowed in a such a manner that once I began, I couldn’t bring myself to stop reading until I finished. It was difficult – there is nothing lite or pretty about this book. Small town, rural life in middle America is not what it’s cracked up to be, but then I’m not sure life in America anywhere is any more. People are struggling. Our youth, with few exceptions, are struggling and “at risk,” and no one seems to be noticing or caring. It is easier to get immersed in reality television than it is to get involved in reality. That is the ultimate take-away from Northern Lights: look at these kids, see them, understand them. Look at the people in this town. They are all of us. While I know that this book will not be for everyone, of course, I do wish it was required reading for high school students everywhere; for those who need to read books with characters who are like themselves and for those who need to read books to understand the bullies that they have become.

I am grateful to #Netgalley, #RaymondStrom, and @SimonSchuster for allowing me to read and review Northern Lights.

NOTE: I’m also pleased as punch to be participating in two challenges. One is the Netgalley/Edelweiss 2019 challenge and the other is Pop Sugar’s 2019 Reading Challenge. Northern Lights meets the “Debut Author” prompt for that challenge.

Forget You Know Me @jessicastrawser

When a video call between friends captures a shocking incident no one was supposed to see, the secrets it exposes threaten to change their lives forever.

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I have read and loved both of Jessica Strawser’s previous novels and knew that I would enjoy reading Forget You Know Me as well. I wasn’t wrong! From the first chapter to the end, the book had me hooked and greedily wanting more! While many erroneously believe that this is a thriller, the thing I’ve learned about Strawser is that, while the suspense is there, it is not the focal point of the story – the characters are where the interest lies and what makes you furiously read to the end. This is definitely a women’s fiction/general fiction, literary novel.

The story begins with two childhood friends making a video call. Their friendship, once forged of steel, is now weakening as both women deal with their own, very different adult lives. Neither wants to give up on what they had when they were younger, but neither do they know how to re-connect. It is during this video call, the call that they both hope will strengthen their friendship once more, that Liza sees a masked intruder in her friend’s home while her friend, Molly, is away from her computer to tend to her child. As Liza frantically calls 911, Molly is upstairs, unaware that anything has happened. When she returns, the laptop is closed and the police are banging on her door. Liza, terrified because her friend will not return her calls, hops in the car and drives from Chicago to Ohio to check on her friend, who, upon her arrival slams the door in her face. ??? Not what Liza expected at all. The story continues to unfold from each friend’s perspective. We learn about their fears, worries, trials and tribulations, marital problems, health problems – you know, all of the things that we all deal with every single day. Yet, somehow, Strawser makes their story so incredibly compelling that the reader becomes invested in their lives and the outcome of this harrowing event.

I will admit that there are some minor flaws in the storyline and some very nit-picking details that had me scratching my head at times. There also were many occasions that I wanted to reach into the book and slap all of the characters for being so stubborn and uncommunicative because, ultimately, all of their problems revolved around miscues, assumptions and miscommunication. Don’t people just talk to one another any more? Well, that is the question that this book will have you asking yourself. Ultimately, this is a book about friendships that come and go, old and new. It is about commitment and what it takes to make any type of relationship work. Most importantly, it is about bonds that we forge – human to human – what it takes to nurture them, strengthen them and when to know to break them for our own well-being. Forget You Know me is a strong, character driven tale in which Strawser deftly guides you along as you explore these characters’ lives, their quirks, pain and joy.

Forget You Know Me has repeatedly been listed as a “must-read” book for this winter and I have to say that I wholeheartedly agree. Strawser is an author that I know I can count on for a very good, well written, beautifully told story.

Immense thanks and gratitude to #Netgalley, @JessicaStrawser and @StMartinsPress for my advanced copy of this amazing book.

A Dolphin Named Star #Capstone

I read a wonderful review by Lana at Cole Campfire Blog about two young girls who live at a wildlife sanctuary. The book sounded so marvelous that I had to get a copy for myself! Thank you Lana!

A Dolphin Named Star is a delightful story that I’m assuming is written for tweens, perhaps a little younger. (8-11 years old) It reminded me of a cross between Nancy Drew and the old television show, Flipper. Yes, yes, I know I’m showing my age but I read all of the Nancy Drew books and watched re-runs of Flipper so often that I, literally, could recite entire episodes by memory. Is it any wonder that I loved A Dolphin Named Star!?

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Elsa and her best friend Olivia spend all of their time at the Seaside Sanctuary for wildlife where Elsa’s parents work. The girls have bonded with the new dolphins who have been rescued and are acclimatizing to their new outdoor “pool.” However, worry sets in for the girls as the dolphins immediately begin to get sick, have sores and, eventually, one of the trio dies. No one can figure out exactly what is wrong with the dolphins since water samples come back clean. The girls do some sleuthing to find the answers, hopefully in time to save the remaining dolphins.

This is, of course, a book that is written for the minds and attention level of kids, however, it is intelligently written and covers a lot of bases regarding the sanctity of wildlife, ocean pollution, corporate wrong-doing. Because my own kids grew up with books like this, from Nancy Drew to Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell, I think the book is perfectly written for their interests and knowledge base. In addition, as if the book weren’t terrific enough, there are discussion questions in the back of the book to encourage further dialogue and research. There also is a glossary of terms that might be unfamiliar to kids but which will further enhance their language skills and, hopefully, peak their interest so that they will search out other books on this topic.

A Dolphin Named Star is beautifully illustrated, marvelously written and a thoroughly enjoyable book. It is one in a set of four books about the girls and Seaside Sanctuary and would be an excellent gift for young readers.

Thanks again to Lana for putting this book on my radar, to #Netgalley and @CapstonePub for my advance copy – published by  #StoneArchBooks.

 

 

 

First The Thunder by Randall Silvis

It’s Publication day for First the Thunder by Randall Silvis!

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I absolutely love Silvis’ Ryan DeMarco series perhaps because I also adore Ryan DeMarco as a character. I was certain that a novel by Silvis, rather than a thriller, would be equally as good especially considering that Silvis is an award winning writer – books, plays and more. Sadly, First the Thunder fell short of my expectations.

Set in mining country Pennsylvania, this is the story of three brothers whose lives have not quite gone according to plan. Harvey drives a truck, Stevie does odd jobs here and there after he was in an accident that made him a bit “slow,” and Will owns a bar that is struggling after a new highway came through on the other side of town. His wife, Laci, is a crime scene photographer who is struggling to keep her life together for the betterment of her daughter. It is, however, the Rust Belt and there is not a lot of hope to be found. The situation worsens when Harvey, believing he has been “slighted” by his brother-in-law, convinces his brothers to help him get revenge. Matters go from bad to worse for this trio and a secret, long buried, threatens them all.

I really do like reading stories set in the new America – the nation with a southern region steeped in poverty and racism, a Rust Belt that is decaying and/or dying and overflowing with too much machismo and running rampant with drugs and a west that is slowly running out of water and heating up too fast for its people to combat the issue. This is America today and the authors who are addressing these issues should be commended for tackling ugly, depressing topics that no one really wants to think about much less read. But they do write about them and, generally, weave tales that are mesmerizing, if not utterly depressing and hopeless.

Silvis captures all of those feelings and more. He nails the characterization of the white male whose pride is gone, whose dreams are shattered and who turn instead to being the testosterone laden bully that many of us have come to know far too well. So why did the book fall short for me? It was, simply put, too dark, too depressing and too full of idiotic men doing incredibly inane things just because they are men. When we, as women, have to live with this type of stupidity day in and day out, when it is the fabric of our country right now, reading more of it is a strain; finding any redeemable quality on which to grasp and resonate was simply asking too much. I’m sick to death of these people in real life and I was sick of them in this book too. I honestly did not care one whit what happened to these three brothers and, when that is the case for any book character, there really is no point reading. I don’t expect happy endings, but I do expect to have some thread, regardless of how tenuous it may be, that will keep me involved. With First the Thunder, I never found that thread. For the record, I just finished Bone on Bone by Julia Keller that also is about the failing rust belt and mining towns gone bust. I highly recommend that book to those looking for books in this genre.

*I received an advanced ebook from the publisher via Netgalley. A review was expected in return.

 

 

 

Ghost Busting Mystery: A Shady Hoosier Book by @DaisyPettles

I moved to Indiana for my son, I stayed for the humor. Seriously. Midwesterners, Hoosiers particularly, are some of the funniest people I ever have met! It is that side-splitting, tongue-in-cheek humor that you will discover in the Ghost Busting Mystery: Book 1 of the Shady Hoosier Detective Agency series by Daisy Pettles, aka Vicky Phillips.

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A fellow blogger suggested that I read Ghost Busting Mystery  since I’m always on the hunt for good Midwestern books and authors. I was dubious based on the title and, okay, the description itself. Boy, was I ever glad that I read the book anyway! This is one of my Top Ten Books of 2018 and one of the funniest books I ever have read! As in, EVER!

Ruby Jane, known as RJ to all who know her, and her best friend for life, Veenie, are natural born snoops. They work part-time at the Shades Detective Agency in an extremely small town in Southern Indiana called Knobby Waters.  What it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in colorful characters who reside there. RJ and Veenie are on the far side of “elderly,” although that’s not even a word that I ever would use to describe them. They like to snoop for Shades in order to get “twinkie money” that they use for, yes twinkies, emergency pie runs and “mystery meat” sandwiches at the local bar. They have agreed to take the case of the glowing bottomed ghosts hanging out in their neighbor’s orchard.

The author creates a cast of characters, including a drunk wiener dog, and a depiction of rural Indiana, chicken houses resembling the Senate building, so brilliantly and perfectly that I swear I have been there and met these folks. They will have you laughing out loud before you’ve finished the first chapter. Yes, there is a very fine plot/mystery but it is the humor, wit and sarcasm that will keep you glued to the pages of this comedy. It’s like Garrison Keillor meets Mel Brooks: folksy, irreverent, hilarity with a whole lot of Midwestern charm.

If you don’t read one other book before this year ends, you have to read Ghost Busting Mystery. I promise that RJ and Veenie will make glad that you did. If you need me I will be down in southern Indiana looking for the Pie Hut for emergency pie runs!

Loads of thanks to #Netgalley, @DaisyPettles, and #HotPantsPress,LLC for my copy of this comedic tale!

Virgil Wander – Midwest Saturday

We have waited a decade for more beautiful, heart-wrenching tales from the incredible Leif Enger but the wait was worth it to have the astounding story of Virgil Wander 

“He had a hundred merry crinkles at his eyes and a long-haul sadness in his shoulders.”

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Virgil Wander is a sad tale about a declining rust-belt town; a town that has seen much better days as has it people. Yet the perspective changes when Virgil’s car plunges off a cliff into the icy waters below. His survival, subsequent “spidery” thoughts due to a concussion and the arrival of a mystical Swede named Rune, will offer hope and perhaps a small bit of redemption for all they meet.

Enger has given us a book of imagery, a parable of sorts, with characters that resonate and amuse the reader. They are quirky Midwesterners who have a way of making even the worst of times appear to be humorous. The book personifies goodness and evil, hope and despair in a way that only a extremely gifted writer can accomplish – and Enger is, indeed, that gifted writer.

Rarely have I loved a book as much as I have this one but then rarely does an author create a place as marvelous as Greenstone, MN or with characters who steal your heart the way that Greenstone’s residents have stolen mine. You will laugh with them, cry and hurt and, yes, rejoice with them. This is a book that will stay in your heart and mind for a very long time. My only regret is that I have only FIVE STARS to offer this book – it deserves far greater.

Thank you to the author for this enrapturing tale; to the publisher, #GroveAtlantic, and to #Edelweiss for my advanced copy of #VirgilWander.