Sue B's Blog

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Caribou Island by David Vann

Dysfunction Junction at its worst, but still a great read.

While trying to find the love that has slipped away, a couple sets out to build a cabin on Caribou Island. Irene and Gary have drifted apart over the years, both blaming the other for their unfulfilled lives. In an attempt to recapture the ideal that drew them to Alaska in the first place, Gary and Irene begin construction on an isolated, rustic cabin on Caribou Island. For Gary, this is a chance to finally live his life the way he always intended to live it. Irene sees the cabin as Gary’s way of leaving her behind, knowing full well that secluded cabin life is Gary’s dream and not hers. The cabin becomes a representation of their marriage; built without proper planning, materials, or foundation, and morphing into something uglier than either had ever envisioned. Like a psychological game of chicken, Gary and Irene forge ahead with construction, neither one wanting to be the first to give up on it or their marriage.
Caught in the middle is their adult daughter Rhoda. Watching her parents’ marriage fall apart before her eyes, Rhoda tries unsuccessfully to play peacemaker without much support from her brother or boyfriend. Rhoda’s own life seems stagnant and she must decide what kind of life she wants for herself.
Imagery abounds in this powerful novel of a husband and wife fighting the elements and each other as they speed toward ruin.


February 17, 2011 Posted by | Fiction | Leave a comment

Father of the Rain

Daley Amory is eleven years old when her mother leaves her father. Caught in the middle between her social activist mother and her bigoted, alcoholic father, Daley struggles to find a balance in her life. As her father’s bitterness leads him to the bottle more and more, the emotional abuse he unleashes on Daley increases. As an adult, Daley rejects her father’s values (or lack thereof), and starts her life far from his anger and prejudice. When her father’s lifestyle catches up with him and he hits rock bottom, Daley’s brother leaves her with the burden of picking up the pieces.

The subject matter may be difficult for some, but this is a thoroughly engrossing and satisfying story. The writing in this novel is mesmerizing, and the characters are so well developed I frequently thought to myself ‘thank God I don’t know anyone like them”.

October 24, 2010 Posted by | Fiction | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Paris Wife

This is the heartbreaking story of Ernest Hemingway’s doomed marriage to Elizabeth Hadley Richardson, as told from Hadley’s perspective. Though Hadley is apprehensive about marrying the younger Hemingway, she is in love and caught up in the exciting life she is sure she will have with him. Hemingway is still unknown as an author and is struggling to write the great novel that will finally get him recognized. Hadley gives the emotional support that Hemingway needs when facing criticism and rejection. This was “the lost generation” however, and Hemingway’s morals and values left much to be desired. While Hadley was the supportive, loving wife and mother, Hemingway was a cad. Apparently he realized his mistake several years later. In Hemingway’s memoir “A Moveable Feast”, regarding Hadley he wrote “I wished I had died before I loved anyone but her.”

This is a moving, wonderfully written novel that sweeps you up and doesn’t let go until the very end. Though many readers will already know how the story turns out (considering Hadley is the first of Ernest’s four wives), Hadley’s story is one of love and resilience. With so many literary figures thrown in, this story has a perfect balance of history and romance.

October 24, 2010 Posted by | Fiction, Historical Fiction | , , , , | Leave a comment

The Convent

The setting for this new novel by Panos Karnezis is a 16th century nunnery in the Spanish Sierra. There are only 6 nuns living at Our Lady of Mercy in the early 1920’s when a newborn baby is left on the steps of the convent. Of the six, only two are eager to keep the baby. The Mother Superior, Sister Maria Ines, believes the baby is God’s way of letting her know that her past sins have been forgiven and that his arrival on their doorstep is a miracle. Sister Beatriz is happy to help Sister Maria Ines with the baby in any way she can. The Mother Superior’s maternal instincts kick into high gear but are accompanied by an increasing paranoia. She begins to see almost everyone and everything as a threat to the precious child she has named Renato. It doesn’t help that one of the nuns, Sister Ana, believes the baby was sent by Satan himself. Sister Ana’s suspicions are reinforced as she witnesses the changes in the Mother Superior’s behavior. The mystery of the baby’s parentage and his fate are revealed slowly and deliberately in this sparse novel.

The main character in this novel is certainly Sister Maria Ines. There is very little said about most of the other characters in this story, including the baby. Her obsessive love for the baby, caused by her desperate need to be forgiven, becomes a character of its own. Though the ending doesn’t come as much of a surprise, it is heartbreaking none the less. This is a story of promises made and promises broken, and the price paid for both.

September 28, 2010 Posted by | Fiction | , , , | Leave a comment

West of Here

In his newest novel, West of Here, Jonathan Evison blends past and present to create a mythical story filled with love, adventure and family dysfunction. Set in the fictional town of Port Bonita, Washington, the novel alternates between the late 1880’s when the town is striving to become a destination in the west to rival Seattle, and 2006, as Port Bonita readies itself to shed its past and move on to an uncertain future.

Evison has populated both eras with wonderfully developed characters. In the 1880’s, James Mather is an adventurer seeking to conquer the rest of the Washington Territory on the eve of its statehood. Ethan Thornburgh is a businessman determined to harness the power of the Elwha River by building a dam to bring electricity, people, and prestige to Port Bonita. The Klallam Indians have seen their traditions vanish and are struggling to co-exist with the settlers. In 2006 the descendants of these settlers are still contending with the consequences of decisions made by their forefathers. As Port Bonita makes plans to tear down the dam, the town must begin to reinvent itself. It is the perfect time for some of its residents to do the same.

I have to admit that it took a few chapters to draw me into this story. Looking back, I have no idea why because once I was in, I loved it. There is a great sense of place in this novel; I was transported back more than 100 years by Evison’s rich detail of the culture and geography of the Northern Pacific. The characters are larger than life while remaining true to life. My personal favorite is Dave Krigstadt who, in 2006, is employed by the High Tide salmon processing plant. Struggling with garnering respect or even consideration from those around him, Krig may be the one to finally break free of his family’s legacy of indifference from others.

September 19, 2010 Posted by | Fiction, Historical Fiction | , | Leave a comment

Plea of Insanity

In a quiet section of Coral Gables, Florida, in a neighborhood of stately homes, a terrible crime has been committed.  Someone has brutally murdered a young mother and her three small children. The prime suspect is also at the scene, with the murder weapon still imbedded in his stomach. He is still alive, though barely. He is Dr. David Marquette, the husband and father of the slaughtered family.

Julia Vacanti is a young Assistant State Attorney in Miami. She is a “B” prosecutor, usually assigned to second degree felonies. It is no wonder that everyone, including Julia, is surprised when she is asked to second seat the murder prosecution of Dr. Marquette. The Assistant Division Chief of Major Crimes, Rick Bellido, has asked for her personally. Julia can only hope that the request came because of her prosecution record, not because she and Rick are sleeping together. This is the type of case that can make or break a career, and Julia’s has really just started. Her aunt Nora begs her not to take the case. She feels the crime is too similar to the events that destroyed Julia’s own family when she was a child. When Dr. Marquette’s lawyer enters a plea of insanity on his client’s behalf, Julia is forced to re-examine the events that led to her own family tragedy.

This is a great legal thriller that will keep you hooked from beginning to end. Jilliane Hoffman is a major talent and I am looking forward to her next book, “Pretty Little Things”, due out in September 2010.

September 7, 2010 Posted by | Fiction | , , , , | Leave a comment

The Language of Trees

Ilie Ruby’s debut novel opens with a canoeing accident in the waters of the Canandaigua Lake. The three small Ellis children have stolen a canoe and are making their way out to Squaw Island, a few miles away. When a storm springs up, the wind and waves prove to be too much for the children; only two will survive the storm. Twelve years later, the tragedy continues to haunt the residents of Canandaigua figuratively and literally.

Grant Shongo has returned to his family’s cabin on the lake. His wife Susanna left him a year ago and Grant has come back to heal. Back to the place his Seneca ancestors called The Chosen Spot, where the earth split open and his people emerged. Grant isn’t the only one who has been drawn back to Canandaigua. Echo, his first love, has returned from Boston, fearing that Joseph, the man who raised her, is in far worse health than he has let on.

The reunion of Grant and Echo is overshadowed by the disappearance of Melanie Ellis. Melanie has led a troubled life since that night twelve years ago, when she and her brother and sister were caught in the storm so far from shore. Now she is gone without a trace, leaving behind her boyfriend and young child. Some believe she is on yet another binge, but others are not convinced. Either way, her family is determined to find her. It is a perfect storm of sorts, these events that are unfolding. Events that will reveal secrets long kept hidden, a lifetime of secrets and mistakes “that catch up with a person in a span of a few hours”.

This is a great novel with endearing characters that will touch your heart. This is not a novel about regret; instead it is a story of accepting choices made and moving on without regret. It is a story that demonstrates that “not everything is meant to happen. Some things should stay as they are, just like that, full of possibility. It’s wanting them that gives you something to hope for, a reason to get up in the morning and put on a fancy dress”. I loved this novel and its message.

September 6, 2010 Posted by | Fiction | , , | 2 Comments

The Thieves of Manhattan

Ian Minot is a struggling writer working at the Morningside Coffee diner. Ian works alongside Joseph, a struggling actor, and Faye, an aspiring artist. Of the three, Ian has been the least successful in his career. His Romanian girlfriend Anya, however, is very close to getting her collection of short stories published while Ian continues to get rejection letters. One of the most memorable of these comes from the literary agent Geoff Olden who simply wrote “good luck placing this and all future submissions elsewhere”.

When Faye draws Ian’s attention to a customer they have nicknamed The Confident Man, Ian is appalled to see that he is reading a copy of the recently published memoir “Blade by Blade”. In Ian’s opinion, the book is a “bogus piece of crap”. As it turns out, The Confident Man feels the same way about it. The Confident Man is Jed Roth, a former editor at a very respectable publishing house. Jed left his position at Merrill Books when his decision not to publish “Blade by Blade” was overruled by the owner of Merrill Books. Jed has devised a plan to bring down Merrill Books and agent Geoff Olden and recruits Ian to play a crucial role in his scheme. Ian agrees but soon finds himself in over his head and unsure who to trust.

This is a fun story, full of humor and intrigue, which takes a few shots at the publishing industry along the way. The last few pages contain a glossary of selected terms used throughout the book, all based on literary figures.

August 28, 2010 Posted by | Fiction | , , | Leave a comment

So Cold the River

Once a highly sought after cinematographer, Eric Shaw’s film career is in a downward spiral. He shouldn’t be surprised-punching a famous director in the face will often have that effect. Eric’s personal life isn’t faring much better. He walked out on his wife Claire when he began to feel that she and her father were starting to think of him as a failure. Eric’s gift has always been his innate sense of knowing which pictures or footage would move the audience. His new career is using that gift to make personal memorial videos for funerals, weddings, and other occasions. When the sister of a woman memorialized in one of his videos offers to hire Eric to make a video about her dying father in law, Campbell Bradford, Eric agrees. Armed with his camera and a curious bottle of vintage mineral water that belonged to Bradford, Eric travels to French Lick, Indiana, to begin his project. What he finds there contradicts all he was previously told about Campbell Bradford. This and the fact that the bottle of mineral water he’s been carrying around keeps getting colder and colder to the touch, even as the temperature around him rises, should have been enough to convince Eric that he was heading toward danger. But, alas, Eric plunges ahead and ends up in a fight to save his life and his very soul. This is a fast paced, action packed supernatural thriller with great characters and a very clever plot. I enjoyed this from cover to cover.

August 26, 2010 Posted by | Fiction | Leave a comment

The Gendarme

Emmett Conn is 92 years old. Recently widowed and suffering from a brain tumor, he is plagued with headaches and bad dreams. The dreams come to him like a movie being played out in his mind, scene by scene. They begin to feel more like memories than dreams, but a head injury suffered during WWI left Emmett with very little memory of the war or his life before it. In these dreams Emmett is a Turkish gendarme, a position that one would hold before becoming a soldier. He is known as Ahmet Khan, the name he had before entering the United States. His assignment as a gendarme is to lead a group of Armenian deportees from their homes in Turkey to a camp in Syria. He leads this caravan of sick and dying men, women, and children for several weeks. Most of these deportees, considered a security threat by the Turkish government, die along the way. Though he wishes that it were not true, Emmett soon accepts that these are memories of his past; a past in which he played a terrible role in an almost forgotten genocide. It is also a past of forbidden love and the search for redemption.

This story alternates between Emmett’s life as it was, slowly revealed to him in his dreams, and his life as it is now. A life filled with doctors’ visits, his daughters growing concern for his physical and mental health, and the awful memories that begin to reveal themselves. It is a story of the horrors of war and the dangers of prejudice. It is also a story of forgiveness-of yourself and those who cause you harm. This is a remarkable novel.

August 1, 2010 Posted by | Fiction, Historical Fiction | | Leave a comment