50 Books for 2018

Book Number Seven

The Lake and the Lost Girl


Jacquelyn Vincenta




I very much enjoyed this debut novel by a local author. Ms. Vincenta knows how to keep a story going! At the end of each chapter, I felt compelled to continue.

The two eras in which the story takes place, 1939 and 1999 are vividly and accurately portrayed. I got a full sense of each.

The setting is a fictional town along Lake Michigan. I enjoyed the depictions of Michigan and our Great Lake. Even the fisherman’s boat from 1939 was real to me and brought back memories (much more pleasant than the poet Mary experienced) of years on my father’s boat from the same era.

The characters are fully developed and realistically portrayed. The parallel lives of Mary Stone Walker and Lydia Carroll are well written and, even though obvious, not overdone. Mary’s husband is a brute, although perhaps some of what he does seems to be in her imagination, and she is not entirely without fault. Lydia’s husband’s descent into madness is brought on by his obsession with the mysterious disappearance of Mary, a local poet, sixty years before. Mary longs to escape from her husband. Lydia wants to keep her marriage together.

As Frank’s obsession overtakes him he becomes selfish, manipulative, and dangerous. I felt enraged by his behavior. I wanted Lydia to wake up and get out. Then I came to realize this was a masterful telling of how abusive relationships develop. The abuser becomes more and more delusional and accusatory. The abused begins to feel at fault and believes if she alters her behavior she can change his behavior.

Mary’s friendship with a fisherman who is willing to help her without gaining anything for himself parallels Lydia’s friendship with an old classmate. Both women are aided by these men but are not “rescued” by them. They have to rely on their own strengths.

I understood Lydia’s attempts to appease her husband but was bothered by the scene where she stays alone in the house knowing he might return and confront her with violence. It felt a little like those horror movies when people run right toward the monster or hide in the basement instead of escaping with their lives. The scene revealed some important information which Lydia needed and that seemed to be the only way for her to obtain it, so I’ll give the author a pass.

In the end, what happened to Mary is revealed and the information helps Lydia to resolve her own issues.

A well written, intriguing tale. I’d recommend it to anyone who likes a mystery and a story of family relationships.


50 Books for 2018

Book Number Six

The Third Heaven: The Rise of Fallen Stars by [Neal, Donovan]The Third Heaven: The Rise of Fallen Stars


Donovan M. Neal


It might be me. I don’t like fantasy novels. I enjoy fairy tales and magic realism. I loved David Eggers, The Circle, and Margaret Atwood’s, The Handmaids Tale, and even some of the Harry Potter series. So maybe I do like fantasy. Maybe I am not sure what genre The Third Heaven: The Rise of Fallen Stars really is. It is listed as Christian and Fantasy. The “disclaimer” at the front states it is a made up version of a biblical story, an interpretation of the fall of the angels. It also claims to be “the prequel to the Bible.” Wouldn’t such a claim lead one to believe that it is consistent with Christian theology? Maybe that’s just a marketing ploy, but it seems to promise too much.

So here’s a mix of what kept me from engaging with this book:

  1. I was confused about what was scriptural and what was not. The author states that he is writing from a scriptural perspective and he includes many quotes directly from scripture, but his interpretation seems a bit off and the quotes are not always in the same context as the Bible. This doesn’t bother me much since I take a more ecumenical view, but it bothers me that people will believe this is an accurate interpretation of Christian doctrine.
  2. The portrayal of God and the angels seems too human. I felt Neal’s version of God portrayed Him as aloof and weak. He seems to be a delegator and manipulator. The angels are described in elaborate terms. In the Bible, angels do not have material bodies. Neal devotes a lot of attention to the description of their physical appearance. Although I found the descriptions interesting and vivid there were too many especially in the case of minor characters. I also did not care for the descriptions of heaven. The buildings of gold and precious gems seemed like places that would appeal to materialistic humans with too much wealth. Some of the jobs the angels were given seemed impractical to me. Would God delegate the creation to others? Didn’t he create earth and all that it contained by his word? Were Grigori necessary to invent or just an author’s vehicle for spying on what God already knew was happening?
  3. Communication among the angels was inconsistent. Sometimes they spoke in biblical quotes, and other times they quibbled with each other and acted prideful, jealous and boastful. Even the “good” angels appeared less than angelic.
  4. So much of the “made-up” stuff felt like it came out of a video game. There is a mix of all sorts of mythologies. I just watched a History channel show on aliens and angels and, lo and behold, I think Mr. Neal must have seen the same pseudo-documentary.
  5. “Technical errors” I can overlook formatting and punctuation, and even some grammatical errors. I’ve encountered them in books from big publishing houses so am not too concerned when self-published books have an occasional slip-up. What jars me are inconsistencies and incorrect word choice. It’s hard to write a story that is set in an imaginary world, but there are things in this book that seemed way off. One example: an angel received something and was as excited as a child on Christmas Eve. This made no sense to me. Childbirth hadn’t occurred (it was before the fall of Adam and Eve) and there was no Christmas! There are numerous instances in the book where the author uses current day metaphor, phrases, or examples which just don’t work. He also uses the word “earth” when he means a world or simply the ground (of heaven.)
  6. Shifts in point of view and scenes were a bit abrupt. However, I think the technique was good for showing what is happening in various places with various characters at the same time.

    I am not a fan of fantasy, especially the gruesome battles of the forces of good against evil. But I know they are popular with many people so others would probably enjoy the gruesome, drawn-out battle (I admit I glossed over that part.) But, if you are looking for a bible story, I don’t think this is it.

50 Books for 2018

Book Number Five:



The Crows


Maris Soule


This is the first novel starring P. J. Benson. She finds a dead body in her house, becomes involved in a biogenetic scheme, and has lots of creepy things happening in her neighborhood.  Throw in a schizophrenic mother, a good-looking detective, and a bunch of weird neighbors and it’s quite a tale.

This was a quick, easy read that kept me going. Maris Soule ends each short chapter with a sentence that made me read the next chapter. “And then I heard a voice.” “Honey, we’ve got to tell her.” “Poor mom, she never accepted the fact that he’s dead.”

There were parts of the wild ride that were quite implausible, but that added to the fun. The story took lots of twists and turns and the resolution was unexpected.

I enjoyed the way Maris Soule created tension in the creepy moments. Her words sent chills down my spine. I also liked the setting. I recognized the area and could easily picture places and people.

The author has written many romance novels and this story included a romance. I am not a romance fan so didn’t particularly care for those scenes. I don’t mind a bit of flirtation and sex thrown in but I felt some scenes belonged in a romance story rather than a mystery. Maybe I am too practical and realistic. If I thought someone was out to kill me I don’t think I’d even notice the detective was sexy.

Fun story for crime fans who like a quick read.


50 Books for 2018

Book Number 4:


Yellow Crocus 





A friend who is one of the most supportive fans of my books told me about Yellow Crocus.

As I started reading I understood why she liked the book so much. The author’s writing style is much like my own. I could envision Laila Ibraham working at her desk, trying to choose the right words, deciding on a simile that works best, checking her storyline, developing her descriptions. I wondered if she agonizes over her writing as I do mine. This is a first novel so I would expect her writing has developed since she first penned Yellow Crocus.

In 1837, Mattie, a young black slave, is ordered to the plantation house to serve as wetnurse to Elizabeth. Mattie’s sadness over leaving her baby son in the care of others does not keep her from dutifully caring for the plantation owner’s daughter. Soon a strong bond develops between the two.

We follow Lizbeth through her childhood and teen years as she is groomed to be a lady worthy of marriage to the son of the richest landowner in the area. Meanwhile, Mattie yearns to be reunited with her family and, when trouble befalls her, begins to make her plan to escape.

Ibrahim strives to present a picture of plantation life and to illustrate the various ways plantation owners treated their slaves. Although Elizabeth’s father is not brutal, both her parents make it clear that slaves are property and Elizabeth must give up her attachment to her nurse.

I was somewhat bothered by Ibrahim’s techniques with dialog. I’m not a fan of dialect and find it distracting. Although Mattie’s speech was not as “heavyhanded” as I’ve read in other books some of the dialect was unnecessary. Lizbeth’s speech is also very formal to the point of distraction. I get that the author wanted to show the contrast and portray Lizbeth’s life as being very restrained, but the stilted speech was too much. Especially when she is with her peers. I wanted to hear her giggle and gossip with her friends in a more casual voice.

Lisbeth’s choice for a marriage partner seems like something right out of a formulaic romance novel. I liked the choice she made, but it seemed too impulsive. More plot and character development would have helped.

The story ending is improbable, but I understand why so many people liked it. I especially appreciated the epilogue which seemed like a more realistic ending rather than ‘they all lived happily ever after and no one minded that a runaway slave and a plantation owner’s daughter could be friends.’

All in all, a quick, easy, enjoyable read.


50 Books for 2018

Book Number 3


Behind the Beautiful Forevers   


Katherine Boo


Katherine Boo spent several years researching this book, but more importantly, she spent years living in the slums of Mumbai and becoming acquainted with the real population. Behind the Beautiful Forevers is a detailed account of actual people and events of Annawadi, one of the many slums surrounding Mumbai.

No aspect of daily life is left unexplored. The slapdash dwellings, meager possessions, and lack of basic needs such as clean water, electricity, and medicine are described with precision.

The people who populate this book are real. The poverty they experience is common to all of them, but Boo exposes the uniqueness of each person.

Abdul is an industrious teenager whose determination and intelligence brought him to a position as purchaser, sorter, and reseller of recyclable garbage. Other children find a livelihood in collecting trash, some at great risk. At a young age, they learn to fend for themselves as they maneuver through the alleys of the slum and the streets of the wider world. This is basic survival.

Manju dreams of a better life. She is one of the few children to receive an education and has hopes of being the first from Annawady to graduate from college. She conducts classes for other children providing the only schooling many will receive.

Asha tries to elevate herself through politics. She advocates for the residents of Annawadi and attempts to move through the corrupt political system in order to improve her financial status. One of her appointments is as overseer of several schools, none of which actually exist. Corruption is another way of life.

The book is difficult to read because of the unrelenting problems that befall the residents. Their world is disrupted by global events as well as personal tragedies.

Katherine Boo reveals the struggles, political structure, and corruption which gave rise to and sustain the slums. By focusing on real people and real circumstances she portrays hope as well as despair.

The beautifully written, fascinating story provides insight into an all too prevalent problem.

50 Books for 2018

Book Number 2

A Piece of the World


 Christina Baker Kline




I enjoy books about artists and their art so was eager to read about Christina Olson, the subject of Christina’s World by Andrew Wyeth.

This is a fictionalized account of Christina’s life and her relationship with Wyeth. I’m leery of such writing because I don’t want to be left wondering what was factual and what was made up. However, in the notes, the author describes her method of research and I felt assured that most of the information was accurate. Of course, no one can get into another person’s brain so Christina’s thoughts and emotions can only be surmised. I feel that Christina Baker Kline did a good job of accurately portraying her subject.

Descriptions of the settings were detailed and evoked emotion. I have seen some of Wyeth’s paintings of the Olson kitchen, and other parts of the homestead, as well as a painting of Christina’s brother, Alvaro. and feel Kline’s descriptions captured them accurately.

We learn of Christina Olson’s life through flashbacks. This is not an easy technique for an author (I wrote a book using a great deal of back and forth and found it difficult to write) and some readers find it confusing or unpleasant to read.

Christina had a hard life which left her crippled and embittered. She is resigned to her lot and makes little effort to be friendly. At times her unforgiving and judgemental attitude cause her to make her own situation worse. She misinterprets friendliness for pity and shuts people out. When Andrew appears she allows him into her life almost as if she has no choice. Through the years their relationship develops into one of friendship. Andrew accepts, even embraces, the dilapidated homestead and Christina’s disabilities. Time and Andrew’s presence help Christina reflect on past and current circumstances and come to terms with the choices she has made.

This was an enjoyable (though often painful) story to read and enlarged my understanding of Wyeth’s painting.

50 Books for 2018

Book Number 1:

The Little Paris Bookshop



Nina George




I have mixed feelings about this novel. The setting is wonderful. Jean Perdu owns a barge converted to a bookshop. It is cozy and welcoming and frequented by a pair of stray cats. I wanted to be there. When Jean pulls up anchor and embarks on a journey of France’s rivers I wanted to go with him. The descriptions of the area read like a lovely travelogue.

The characters are intriguing. Jean Perdu has a gift for choosing the right book for each customer. He seems to know what is lacking in their lives, what they need to cheer and encourage them, and what book will fulfill their needs. Too bad he is unable to apply that same insight into his own circumstance.

He is joined on his journey by Max, a blocked author, and Cuneo, an Italian who takes over the galley and becomes the chef. When they rescue Samy, she becomes a part of the crew. Along the way, they meet a variety of people, most of them with personal quirks, all of them unafraid to display their emotions. Another character we meet only through her diary from twenty years before.

The trip, the sights, sounds, smells, books, each person’s story, were all written in detail and were a pleasure to take part in.

The problem for me was the premise of the journey. Jean Perdu spent twenty years in depression over the break up of an improbable romance. He stubbornly refuses to read the letter his lover has left him so never understands why she went away. Now he decides to find the answer that was available all those years. It is a story of love, discovery, forgiveness of self, and learning to move on. I enjoyed the travels and I liked much about Jean, but I couldn’t get past the idea that in regard to his personal life he was a fool.