Book Review: Tumbleweeds by Leila Meacham

tumbleweekds

4/5

Eleven year old Catherine Ann Benson is whisked away from her privileged, wealthy home after her parents were killed in a car accident. She only has one family member left who is willing to give her a home, her paternal grandmother Emma Benson. Emma Benson lives in a small Texas town called Kersey. Her modest house is on the opposite side of the spectrum that Catherine Ann was accustomed to. Her less than extravagant home was only part of her worries because her granddaughter, whom she has never me, has gone temporarily mute.

Before bringing her granddaughter to her new home Emma went to her longtime friend for a favor. Mabel Church was in Emma’s situation about seven years ago. Mabel’s nephew, Trey Don Hall, was left on her doorstep abandoned by both of his parents. Emma’s favor involved Mabel’s nephew and his best friend, John Caldwell. She asked them to watch out for Catherine Ann on her first day at her new school. At first the boys were apprehensive, but once they caught their first glances at the young blonde haired, blue eyed new girl their minds changed. As the two “leaders” of the sixth grade Trey and John were well loved by the teachers, envied by the boys, and sought after by the girls. Even at eleven years old both the boys were handsome, intelligent, and incredible at football. All of these attributes followed them into their high school careers.

It didn’t take long for Cathy, as she preferred to be called, John, and Trey to become an inseparable threesome. By the time they were in their last years of high school they already had the rest of their lives planned out. The three planned to go to the University of Miami. Trey and John planned to go to the school on a sports scholarship and play for the Miami Hurricanes while Cathy would get an academic scholarship and participate in the school’s medical program. Everything seemed perfectly planned, but when do plans ever pan out just the way they are envisioned?

Tumbleweeds follows Cathy, John, and Trey on their tumultuous journeys through their life until their early forties. Even though their teenaged years breezed by almost with a hitch, their adult years are filled with drama that involve; lying, cheating, and even murder. Along with the main trio the characters in this novel are easily likable and are easy to become attached to. The plot can be a little a little dry at first, but it does become immensely captivating. Leila Meacham’s first novel that does not take place in the world showcased in her successful novel, Roses, is a fantastic novel about how the slightest change can shift one’s entire world.

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Book Review: The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl

the dante club

3/5

The Dante Club is a historical fiction novel set in Boston after the Revolutionary War. This bustling city has been jolted to a screeching halt when one of the men of higher standing is brutally murdered. Judge Healy was due to be away from his home. His wife was expecting him to be away from home for four days. A few days after the Judge left his maid noticed a swarm of red eyed flies buzzing around a particular window. She followed the swarm of flies to the naked body of Judge Healy. His head had been busted in and was covered in a maggots, flies, and wasps. The Boston police are completely baffled at the gruesome murder.

It isn’t until another man of higher standing is brutally murdered that the five members of the Dante Club become involved. The Dante Club consists of five members; each member is called by their last name throughout the novel: Longfellow a poet and a professor at Harvard, Lowell a writer and a professor at Harvard, Howell, a doctor and writer, Fields, a publisher, and Green, a doctor. Longfellow started the group for the purpose of translating Dante’s Inferno from Italian into English. Each week he and the other members take one canto of the poem at a time to interpret. When the group gets word of the murders they realize in horror that the murders are exact copies of the horrors that they translate from Inferno. In order to make sure that the murders aren’t traced back to the innocent Club, the members take it upon themselves to try and find the murderer.

Although the identity of the murderer comes as a complete surprise, the novel itself has a lot of ‘filler’ pages; a series of background information that didn’t necessary pertain to the main plot and was only inserted to make the novel longer. The dialogue was also a bit repetitive. The Dante Club members talk to each other by using the phrase, “my dear Longfellow, etc”.

There is a reader’s guide section in the back of the novel where Matthew Pearl answers some questions about his work. One of the questions brings up the gruesomeness of the novel’s murders. For some readers who aren’t familiar with Dante’s Inferno, but there are a lot of gory scenes depicting hellish scenes as the main character descends further into Hell. In my senior year of high school, I did read parts of Inferno so I was familiar with some of the torture that would have been featured in the novel. Those who aren’t familiar with Dante’s Inferno may find the murders in The Dante Club extremely disturbing.

Book Review: The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

LostSymbol

4/5

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown is set up very similar to his other novel, The Da Vinci Code. Robert Landon is summoned suddenly to decipher a series of clues set up by a single antagonist. In the early morning hours of a quiet Sunday, Robert receives a call from his dear friend, Peter Solomon. Peter’s secretary informs Robert that Peter is hosting an event at the Rotunda in Washington D.C., but the main speaker has canceled at the last moment. Peter was hoping that Robert would fill in. Startled at the short noticed, Robert agrees. Peter’s secretary is relieved and sends a personal jet and limo to escort Robert to the Rotunda.

Robert arrives in Washington D.C. just minutes before his speech is due to start. When he arrives at the Rotunda, he is shocked to discover that there is no event scheduled. Confused he seeks answers from the security guard. After receiving no news, Robert’s cell phone rings. An unknown caller rings Robert’s cell phone telling him that Peter Solomon will die unless the Ancient Mysteries are deciphered. The Ancient Mysteries is a legend told by the prestigious Free Masons. Robert knew that Peter was a Mason, but he couldn’t fathom why he was being ordered to solve a century old puzzle. Chillingly, the caller proclaims that Peter uttered Robert’s name, insinuating that he had been tortured for information. As the caller hangs up a piercing scream echoes through the Rotunda.

Heart racing, Robert follows the direction of the screaming. A woman is trying to calm her young son who continues to scream. To Robert’s horror there’s a human hand placed in the middle of the floor, its thumb and pointer finger form an arrow pointing to the ceiling. To his horror he recognizes the Masonic ring on the ring finger, Peter’s severed hand begins Robert’s harrowing journey to solving an age old mystery.

Having not read The Da Vinci Code in a few years, the antagonist in The Lost Symbol seems to be much more sinister and dangerous. The man goes by the name Mala’ka and is obsessed with becoming a perfect being by transforming his body in order to sacrifice to the demons. He has covered his fit, muscular body with symbolic tattoos all relating to centuries old Masonic symbolism. There is only one patch of skin that is free of any ink which is on the crown of Mala’ka’s head. He is looking to fill that space with the Ancient Mysteries that Peter Solomon has information about. In Peter’s possession is a small pyramid that has been passed down through Mason brothers for generation. Once solved, the pyramid would reveal a map that would lead to a place in Washington D.C. that houses the Ancient Mysteries. Mala’ka will stop at nothing to get the information he wants. He is willing to dismember, torture, and kill without an ounce of remorse.

Robert Langdon does not work alone during the novel. Peter’s sister, Katherine, is frantic about her brother’s predicament and is more than willing to help Robert find him. She is also being pursued by Mala’ka because of her research. Katherine is researching a new type of science. Her research is based around finding whether or not humans have souls and if the souls do exist is it a measureable matter. Mala’ka does not want this information to become public. Robert also works alongside another of Peter’s friends, a Mason brother named Warren Bellamy. Warren has also been contacted by Mala’ka to assist Robert in deciphering the clues. The most surprising involvement comes from the CIA. Like Robert, Katherine, and Warren, the CIA was also contacted by Mala’ka. He has video of his Masonic initiation showed the faces of other Mason brothers which included many men with very high authority in Washington D.C. CIA Director Inoue Sato is a tiny, Japanese woman who, despite her size, is a fiery force that is not to be reckoned with. Once she comes in contact with Robert Langdon it’s difficult to ascertain whether she’s working for or against Mala’ka.

Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol is extremely hard to put down. Each chapter brings new information on how these sinister events started. Robert Langdon is not only racing against time to save Peter Solomon’s life, but it’s not too long until he realizes that he may not survive through the night.

Book Review: The Observations by Jane Harris

observe

5/5

The Observations starts on a dusty road in Scotland where a 15 year old Irish girl is traveling. The young girl, named Bessy Buckley, has just left her previous employer and is looking for new work. Her previous employer, the old Mr. Levy, has passed away, leaving his distant brother to handle all of the affairs of his estate, wealth, and his servants. Mr. Levy’s brother was none too thrilled to discover that someone from such a degenerate background would be mixed up in such a prestigious household. With no job and no home, Bessy’s initial idea was to head to the city of Glasgow to find work, but her plans come to a halt when she passes a house where a lady is chasing a loose pig.

Bessy is a character with strong curiosity that is, at times, relentless and is unable to ignore the situation. She helps the woman secure the rebellious pig into its pen. The woman, who introduces herself as Mrs. Reid, is very grateful for the help. She inquires about Bessy’s current situation. When Bessy explains that she is looking for work Mrs. Reid perks up. After asking a few personal questions such as inquiring whether Bessy can read and write, Bessy turns back on her way. Suddenly Mrs. Reid call for her to wait, she has a proposition for the young girl. She proposes that Bessy come to work for her as a maid. The two come to terms in regards to wages until Bessy agrees.

Working for Arabella Reid turns out to be an odd experience; and experience that Bessy was not expecting. On her first night, Mrs. Reid wakes up her new maid in the wee hours of the morning in anger. She barks at Bessy to meet her in the kitchen. Horrified that she had somehow done something wrong in the few hours had had been in the Reid home, Bessy quickly dresses and rushes into the kitchen where her ‘missus’ was sitting at the small table, waiting. Amazingly, her good nature has returned. It was as though a flip was switched. A few other events follow were her behavior was odd and as stunned as Bessy was, she couldn’t help but strive to please her ‘missus’.

On a rare occasion where both Mr. and Mrs. Reid were away for the evening, Bessy takes the time to do a little snooping. She had noticed that Mrs. Reid keeps a small key on her person and she has a hunch that the key opens a drawer in Mrs. Reid’s desk. Locked away in the drawer, Bessy discovers a manuscript entitled “The Observations”. She discovers that Mrs. Reid is writing a book on how to find the perfect servant. There are years of different types of research that Mrs. Reid as written about. Can a potential employer determine if a servant will be of high standards by just looking at physical aspects, such as the length of their arms or the turn of their nose? Baffled, Bessy turns to the last few pages to find out what Mrs. Reid has written about her. She is horrified to find that her section is entitled “The Most Particular Case of a Low Prostitute.”

Bessy Buckley is one of the most outspoken characters that I have ever come across. She has the spunk of a girl who has been through so much negativity and is unsure how to act around those who are wealthy. After being exposed to the raunchy acts of a streetwalker at the tender age of nine, by none other than her own mother, she has been forced to grow up without having the chance to have a childhood. She acknowledges that she had always known that her mother’s ‘profession’ was wrong and holds great shame of her not too distant past. Although those thoughts come from a character is mature, there are some instances in the novel where her young age shines through her tough exterior. After discovering that her ‘missus’ doted on a maid who was in her service before Bessy, she decides to pull some seemingly harmless pranks on her employer that take a turn for the worse.

The Observations by Jane Harris was a refreshing change from the last two novels that I’ve posted about. A novel filled with dark pasts, unhinged minds, and mystery make for an entertaining read. Written in her point of view, Bessy is an easily likable character and leaves the reader yearning to know what she will do next.

Book Review: La Cucina by Lily Prior

la cucina

3/5

La Cucina is written in a first person narrative told by an Italian woman by the name of Rosa Fiore. She recounts the tale of her three loves: Bartolomeo, a foreign British man she refers to as l’Inglese, and finally cooking.

With a title like La Cicina, it’s only natural that the novel be laced with cooking vignettes. Rosa recounts that her love of cooking started at a very young age. When she was around four years old she was helping her mother bake desserts and pasta. She found that pounding out the dough was strangely therapeutic. As she grew older she found that she could get completely lost in her cooking, which sometimes caused fatal accidents. What’s interesting is that the narrative gives full detailed recipes for certain dishes. Rosa tells the reader how to create the perfect homemade pasta or how long to bake a crust until it is a flakey golden brown.

When Rosa was 17 years old another love took over her life. Bartolomeo had a strong hold on her heart. The two young lovers had planned a romantic getaway to the United States to get married and start a new, successful live. Unfortunately, Bartolomeo’s family had already chosen another girl to be his wife. Once his family got word of his love with Rosa, they were distraught. So distraught about their family’s name being besmirch that Bartolomeo’s father murders his own son.

After the death of Bartolomeo, Rosa moves out of her family’s home out in the country to the city where she finds herself an apartment near a market and a job as a librarian. Twenty five years pass. Rosa has never married. She has kept the same job and lived in the same apartment. The only love in her life is cooking. By living near a market, she has the privilege of purchasing the freshest food for her dishes. It isn’t until a seemingly normal day at work when a man turns her simple, quiet life upside down.

A foreign man walks into the library requesting to see some old manuscripts for a cookbook he is writing. The moment Rosa and, who she refers to as, l’Inglese set eyes on each other their world changes. The next few months are rocked with a sensual love affair that opens up feelings that Rosa has never felt before. Some of the scenes can be quite graphic. The most graphically detailed scene comes from a meal prepared by l’Inglese in which he eats off of Rosa’s naked body. Her attitude changes are missed by no one. Everyone wants to know what man can bring out such a change in the spinster Rosa Fiore. Rosa’s life has new meaning since she met l’Inglese, but things are never what they seem. She must prepare herself to experience another loss. However, she has no idea whether the loss will come at work, to her love life, or to her family back home.

La Cucina is a very easy read, there are only about 250 pages. The main plot is straightforward. Rosa’s love for cooking helps her get through the tough times in her life, whether it be an argument with her mother or the murder of her first love. There are a few subplots that seemed to be placed haphazardly in the novel, perhaps to make the novel longer. Lastly, the ending leaves the reader asking questions. The ending event raises the question; is this real or is this one of Rosa’s daydreams?

Struggling Through Reading a Novel: The Little Book by Seldon Edwards

the little book

I always try my hardest to finish a book even if I don’t get immersed or interested. Unfortunately, I couldn’t finish The Little Book. By the 200th page I was completely bored; bored with the characters, the writing, and even the plot which had originally pulled me to buy the book. I stopped reading with about 200 pages left. I couldn’t motivate myself to try to finish. Where I left off the plot seemed to fizzle out to a snail’s pace. I had become so bored that I wasn’t even interested to see how the main character traveled back in time.

This will definitely go on the ‘donate’ pile.

Have any of you read this novel? If you have, what did you think?

Book Review: The Library of Shadows by Mikkel Birkegaard

the library of shadows

After the mysterious death of Luca Campelli, the owner of an antique bookstore Libre de Luca, his son John inherits the beloved bookstore. John hasn’t seen or been in contact with his father in fifteen years. The two had a falling out after John’s mother died. John is greeted at his father’s funeral by Iverson, his father’s closest friend and business partner. John is surprised at how many people attended his father’s funeral; he didn’t realize how well the antique book selling was going for his father. After the funeral John, Inverson, and a red-haired woman who helped at the bookshop, by the name of Katherine, returned to the empty Libre de Luca. Iverson then begins to tell John about the Lectors and the receivers

In Mikkel Birkegaard’s debut novel there are two types of readers, Lectors and receivers. Lectors are those who can captivate listeners by simply reading aloud. They can influence the text by enhancing the author’s words. Only the best Lectors can actually change the visions listeners see in their head. They can also charge the books that they read. Charged books can be felt as soon as a person touches them, almost like an electric shock. On the other hand, receivers can actually enhance the mood of the reader. They can hear what readers are reading and to a small extent they can actually see what other people are reading.

. Understandably he has a difficult time believing everything. Iverson than explains that since Luca was a powerful Lector, John probably had extraordinary powers as well. However, these powers could only be harnessed by performing an activation ceremony. It was up to John whether he wanted to be activated or not. After a series of add events such as: an attack on the shop, John being pressured to sell the shop, and then he loses his job as a respected lawyer, he decides to become activated. During his activation it becomes clear that he is extremely powerful. Not only be he influence the text to whatever his liking, but sparks of electricity emit from his body if he goes too far. In some situations these surges can be deadly.

Once John is completely immersed in this new life, a life that his father was deeply involved with, members of this close knit community start being murdered. Iverson fears that the murders are being done by the Shadow Organization, an organization of Lectors and receivers looking to abuse their power. John soon discovers that the Shadow Organization has influenced many political and public figures throughout history to gain more power. Once they get word of John’s extraordinary powers, it’s only a matter of time before he becomes their next target. John must uncover the secrets of the Shadow Organization in order to save his new friends, even if it means deciphering whether or not his parent’s deaths were in fact, murders.

The plot in The Library of Shadows flows very nicely. The first chapter catches the reader’s attention and leaves them wanting to find out what happens next. Shortly after John attends his father’s funeral an air of suspense becomes the prominent feeling. Along with John, the reader discovers that there’s a traitor within the Lectors who is feeding information to the Shadow Organization. The traitor is fairly simple to determine, but their motives aren’t fully discovered until closer to the end of the novel. The novel’s biggest shortcoming is the ending. There is the classic cliché of good vs evil where the villain becomes completely over the top. This change of character came on suddenly and seems dot of place considering the antagonist had been working in the shadows throughout the majority of the novel. The ending comes abruptly after the final confrontation leaving the reader to wander what happens next, especially since there seemed to be some plot points that hadn’t been completed.