Sunday, September 25, 2016

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

This book is drawn from a real, but little known, part of American history.  The Orphan Train Movement lasted from 1853 to the early 1900s.  More than 120,000 homeless or neglected children (ranging in age from about 6 to 18) with little or no hope of a successful future, were removed from the poverty and debauchery of New York's city streets and sent by train to live and work on farms out west.  They were placed in homes free,  but would serve as an extra pair of hands to help with chores around the farm.  They wouldn't be indentured, in fact older children placed by The Children's Aid Society were to be paid for their labors, but as with all idealistic endeavors such as this, some placements worked out very well where children were able to lead simple normal lives and go on to success, and some children struggled and no doubt wound up in situations where they were exploited.

In this story, a 91 year old woman (who was an orphan train rider) begins a friendship with a troubled teen who is a foster child that has been bounced from one unsuitable home to another.  The story unfolds with Molly (the troubled teen) in present day, with flash backs told by Vivian (the 91 year old) about her experiences from 1929 through World War II.

It is a powerful tale of resilience, upheaval, second chances, and friendship that captures our universal desire to belong, experience family, and be accepted. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley

If you have ever loved a dog, chances are you will love this book.  I know I shed lots of eye rain (Lily's name for tears) at the touching and affecting way this story of the unconditional love we have for our dogs is told.  Emotional, and heart-felt, it will pack a wallop when it comes to life lessons as well.

"Because dogs live in the present.  Because dogs don't hold grudges.  Because dogs let go of all their anger daily, hourly, and never let it fester.  They absolve and forgive with each passing minute. Every turn of a corner is the opportunity for a clean slate.  Every bounce of a ball brings joy and the promise of a fresh chase."

Ted Flask is an aging writer, who is lonely and isolated, except for his aging Dachshund, Lily.  He and Lily share everything.  Rowley's descriptions of the relationship are quite funny and Lily will capture your heart in the telling.  One day, however, he notices a growth (or tumor) on her head that he refers to as the Octopus.  Faced with the prospect of losing her, he digs in to fight--which means dealing with existential questions like, is it the promise of death that inspires life, so that we grab what we can while there is  still time? Or is it the not knowing if today is the day it ends that keeps us going? And if it is the end, how do you breathe? How do you go on?

Intelligently written, with fine observations, and just utterly charming.  A tribute to love and what we sacrifice for those we love...human and animal.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The One in a Million Boy by Monica Wood


This was a very sweet read--a book with a lot of soul.  Beautifully written with warmth and humor, it is a celebration of friendship that spans generations and the healing power of music as well as ultimately, love. 

It is the luminous story of a 104 year old woman, Ona Vitkus, and the sweet, strange young boy scout assigned to help her around the house as part of earning a merit badge.  As their friendship develops, it touches each member of the boy's disintegrating family.  The boy's father is a musician, who has been on the road chasing his dream, gig after gig.  He has been a largely absent father, twice married to the boy's mother, Belle.  Their son happens to be obsessed with Guinness World Records, and believes that Ona Vitkus has a good chance of appearing in the record book for oldest person, as well as possibly oldest licensed driver. 

And this is really all I want to give away of the story.   The joy is in the reading, as the narrative gradually unfolds and secrets are revealed.  It is a story about hearts broken seemingly beyond repair, and yet still capable of being touched by stunning acts of human devotion. 

I loved this book.    

Sunday, September 4, 2016

White Bone by Ridley Pearson

Before I give you  my thoughts on this book, I have to make you aware (as some of you  undoubtedly already will be) of the dire plight of the African elephant.  Poaching of these magnificent animals plays a large part in the plot of this book. 

Quoted directly from the book:  "White Bone is dedicated to the thousands of individuals who have made it their life's  purpose to protect and defend the elephant, rhino and other endangered species on the African continent.  These people earn less than they could elsewhere, they sleep in tents or front seats or not at all.  They battle the harsh conditions of the African environment, and the monetary conditions that create a market for elephant tusk and rhino horn: poverty, corruption and greed.  They often spend more time trying to raise awareness and funds than they do on the ground battling poachers.  They are unnamed, unseen and, in many places, unwanted.  Without them, the African wild elephant and rhino will be gone forever within the next nine years.  An elephant is killed every fifteen minutes."

Now, from an author's note in the back of the book, how you can help.  These are organizations he has had direct contact with and highly recommends:

African Wildlife Foundation
Big Life
The Gorongosa Fund
Northern Rangeland Trust
Wildlife Direct

This book is the fourth in Pearson's Risk Agent series, which as Greg Iles has said has reenergized the international thriller.  It features Rutherford Risk Agents Grace Chu and John Knox.  When John Knox receives a text from his partner Grace warning that she fears her cover has been blown while on assignment, he jumps into action.  Knox has to locate her overseas handlers, convince them  of the danger, and then attempt to retrace the well-hidden steps of a woman who had been investigating how one million euros' worth of AIDS vaccine disappeared, all while eluding angry poachers on a parallel trail.  And corruption isn't just a problem in Kenya, it's a way of life.  Knox faces police, journalists, rangers, and safari companies who have their own symbiotic relationship with the elephants.  Factor in al-Shabaab militants and you can see that Knox finds himself pitted against the most savage and suicidal fighters in the world.  Yet he does just that for a woman who he finally admits to himself has become extremely important to him.  The exotic locale and a plot which could be tomorrow's headlines make this a satisfying thriller.  Richly layered and suspenseful, he manages to leave his fans wanting more.  

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