Sunday, June 16, 2024

Book Review: THE FIRST ADVENT IN PALESTINE



Title: The First Advent in Palestine

Author: Kelley Nikondeha

Publisher: Broadleaf Books

Pages: 214

My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐



The First Advent in Palestine was a beautiful book that stripped Advent of all the holiday revelry that pervades this holy time today and set it in the context of the conflict-ridden milieu in which Christ was born. It wasn’t a peaceful time by any means, and yet very few people point out the violence that that era of human history was fraught with.

The Palestine of the first Advent was just as conflict ridden as it is today. The types of dangers that people faced differed, but life then, as now, was unpredictable and frightening.

 

The author juxtaposes the past with the present. Most newspapers and TV channels won’t even talk about the truth of what people in Palestine are grappling with. The sheer trauma on account of Israel’s cruelty. Tear gas, stun grenades, rubber-coated bullets and an ongoing genocide are the reality of the people of Palestine.

The author draws parallels between then and now, helping us to see their humanity and empathise with their struggles. Shepherds, she tells us, were the “essential workers” of that time. Today’s tyrannical and insecure leaders is what Herod was.

The author upturns our long-held notions about how there was no room at the inn, telling us that’s not how Palestinians are.

Along the way, she introduces us to Israeli Messianic Jews, Jews who believe that Jesus was the Messiah.

The book is non-fiction, but the writing is literary and luminous.

One thing you can do in the dark is light a candle. Another is tell a story.

In fraught places, childhood is complex.

There is a fierceness that coexists with kindness.

I must admit that I haven’t read much of the Old Testament. But reading this book, I got a better understanding of the force of God’s promise of peace to the world. It helped me to understand the context of the Gospel, how Christ wasn’t born in a picture-perfect crib. Reading this book took away the tinsel and holly and made the season real.

It’s ironic how it’s now the Jewish state of Israel that is visiting death and destruction on others, namely, the people of Palestine. We don’t speak enough about the pain being unleashed and perpetrated in Palestine.

The book looks at the traumatised people of Palestine through the lens of humanity to acknowledge their suffering. It takes us along to bear witness to Zachariah’s story and Mary’s too, the former of disbelief, the latter of acceptance. Alongside these, we read the stories of Palestinians today, Sliman Mansour, Nafez Assaily etc.

The book forced me to think of things I hadn’t considered. Like how silent night, holy night doesn’t necessarily mean peaceful because nightfall brings dangers. Only privilege can equate silence with peace. I realised that as we go from year to year, from Advent to Lent and back, the need for that peace remains.

Flight to Egypt, a painting by Palestinian painter Sliman Mansour, has been used on the cover. The image of Mary, the infant in her arms, with a UN care package, reinforces how the Holy Family was seeking normalcy and peace in their lives.

This is the book I didn’t even know I wanted.


(I read this book on Edelweiss. Thank you to the author, the publisher and Edelweiss.) 

Wednesday, May 01, 2024

Book Review: THE WEDDING PARTY



Title: The Wedding Party

Author: LR Jones

Publisher: Thomas & Mercer

Pages: 327

My GoodReads Rating: ⭐



Life is perfect for Carrie, now engaged to Oliver Phoenix, CEO of a billion-dollar firm. With her brilliant career as a nurse in the ER, a role she enjoys and is good at, things couldn’t be better. She’s looking forward to their joint bachelor/bachelorette party at the famous Stanley Hotel, the prelude to their wedding celebrations, and her happily-ever-after.

Andrea ‘Andi’ Castle is an FBI agent, who’s been suspended from work for two weeks because of another colleague who beat up a suspect in her case. Her childhood friend, Lana Melody, who is a nurse and a friend of Carrie, talks Andi into going as her Plus One to Carrie’s bachelor/bachelorette party. Now Andi looks forward to having a good time, away from the pressures of her job. Until a key member of the bridal entourage turns up dead.

 

The book is written in the first person PoV of Carrie and Andi. The narrative is preceded by the first-person account of Elsa Ward, who receives a mysterious package. Later, we read the first-person account of Joe, Elsa’s neighbour, who finds her body. Between these four first-person PoVs, they add up to too many first-person accounts, almost all of them unnecessary. The story would have read much better in the third person.

The chapters are short enough, but at 88 chapters, there are way too many, especially considering the surfeit of unnecessary information, most of it dumped on us unceremoniously. 

Characters tell each other things they know already. For example, Oliver tells Carrie about her parents’ achievements. Also, each time a character is introduced, we are given too much information about that character.

Consequently, the murder, which is central to the plot, comes at the 27 percent mark.

 

None of the characters were likeable. Andi was completely unlike any FBI agent I’ve read in fiction. I found her too full of herself and too awestruck with the legacy of her father, even as she pretended it didn’t matter to her. Her constant reference to her job, a point hammered by nearly every one of the other characters, made me want to scream. 

After all that build-up, she turned out to be quite stupid. She let a character into an active crime scene, mere minutes after the body was found. She should have been suspended for this.

Andi’s father calling her Sugar Bear and Daughter made me cringe. It was just as cheesy to say that he would answer her call on the first ring, even if he was in the middle of sex or a fight.

Carrie was just as much of a pain, projecting herself as perfect. The part where she described her own physical features was annoying. In fact, none of the physical descriptions of the characters were necessary.

 

 

The first-person accounts of Carrie and Andi are too similar, with both often using the exact same words to describe a character. Both women refer to Cade Winston, Oliver’s friend and groomsman, as having a ‘God complex’. In another instance, two unrelated minor characters, completely different and unrelated, use the phrase, panties in a wad.

The book needed better editing. The dialogues were stilted and unnatural. The jokes that characters cracked were sad. The banter between Andi and her dad was cheesy.

When Andi asks Natalie, Oliver’s sister, if Oliver owned a gun, she says, “Yes. And so do I. For protection.” A page later, Andi asks Natalie if she owns a knife, and Natalie replies, “What? No. No knife, and before you ask, no gun.”

Here’s one more example of this lack of attention. In Andi’s PoV, she tells us that Danielle, Carrie’s lawyer, is wearing a pink blouse. Then Carrie refers to it as blood red. In the next chapter, Andi calls it red too.

 

The author is a woman, and yet supposedly strong female characters routinely diss their own sex. Andi actually says, she doesn’t fight like a girl. Elsa, an attractive older woman, is mocked as being a bimbo.

We are told that Elsa’s death was a murder, not suicide, but we aren’t told how she died.

 

There are many loose ends too. We are not told where the knife that was used in the killing was hidden. Similarly, no explanation of why there was no blood on Carrie’s inner thighs.

 

Why did the author need to write such a long chapter about Elsa and the neighbour who found her body when it was totally irrelevant to Carrie’s story?

Introducing a character in the last few pages was a pathetic move. Also, the resolution of the investigation was shoddily wrapped up, with no justification for the conclusion. I was annoyed at the number of unanswered questions and loose ends.

There were several proofing errors which hampered the reading experience further. Dr Norton, the evaluating psychologist, a woman, is referred to as ‘his’ once. Even though, Oliver and Carrie are not yet married, they are frequently referred to as husband and wife.

In the Prologue, we meet Elsa Ward and then later on in the novel, we meet Larry Ward, unrelated. Why repeat names?

This book was disappointing on so many counts.




(I read this book on NetGalley. Thank you to the author, the publisher and NetGalley.) 

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Book Review: NOTES FROM THE PORCH



Title: Notes from the Porch

Author: Thomas Christopher Greene

Publisher: Rootstock Publishing

Pages: 28

My GoodReads Rating: ⭐



Notes from the Porch consists of vignettes that the author shared on social media during the pandemic. Apparently, he received a great response to them back then, hence this book.

The tagline is Tiny True Stories to Make You Feel Better about the World. I think that part was too ambitious a title.

I didn’t think much of the first vignette, but gradually I began to warm towards them.

Some were cute but most were forgettable. A few touched my heart. Neighborhood Boy, all six vignettes of it, was adorable. It presented an image of the innocent childhood of the ‘70s and ‘80s.

The book needed to be proofread better. Purest is spelt as purist. Also, what’s a gauntlet of waiters supposed to be?

My favourites were Cinderella; On Baseball; Magic; The Ghost in You; Quarantine; Romance Is a Gentleman, and Neglected Gardens #2.

Number 43, Our Girl Jane, threw it out of the ballpark. The story of baby Jane and her response to her Dad’s reading of the story broke my heart with the quote, The sentience of it, how much more a baby knows than we think they should.

 

(I read this book on NetGalley. Thank you to the author, the publisher and NetGalley.) 


Thursday, March 07, 2024

Book Review: REPLACED




Title: Replaced

Author: Nolon King with Lauren Street

Publisher: Sterling and Stone

Pages: 346

My GoodReads Rating: ⭐


I was intrigued by the premise of this book and the writing was good enough to hold my interest.

Jessica Clarke has the perfect life with husband David. And now that David has a new job, and they've bought a new house, things are even better. What makes their life even more perfect is that they've just adopted a baby girl. All of one week, she's their joy, and they've named her Gwen.

Jessica, afraid of flying, drives a U-haul with her belongings from New York to Dallas. David has already flown to their new home with Gwen. Tired and exhausted, Jessica reaches the house only to find that the keys that David has given her don't work. What's worse, there's another woman, a lookalike of hers, in the house, and she's claiming to be Jessica Clarke, David’s wife, who is bonding with her baby, who she calls Bella. The worst thing is that David claims he doesn’t know her, that he has never seen her before.

Now David and the other woman have called in the police and Jessica is hauled in. How will she ever get her home and baby back?


The story is written in the 3rd person PoV of both Jessicas in alternate chapters. In order to ensure clarity for us readers, the authors refer to the first woman as Jessica, and the second as Jess.

It’s not hard to figure out the plot, but to the credit of the authors, they make us feel invested in spite of that. The action just doesn’t let up. 


The only problem lies in their description of Baby Gwen/Bella. The authors clearly don’t know anything about babies. Earlier on, Jessica things she hears the week-old baby chuckling. When the baby is still just a week old, she is shown to sleep calmly through the night for many hours straight. In Chapter 44, the baby is still less than a month old, and yet she plays with blocks and stuffed animals while still an infant. Any parent will tell you that playing with blocks is not a newborn’s thing. The baby claps too. Either it’s an issue that will get corrected or the authors have no idea what babies can or cannot do.

Other than this, it was a fun read.



(I read this book on NetGalley. Thank you to the author, the publisher and NetGalley.) 

Saturday, March 02, 2024

Book Review: ON A CLEAR DAY YOU CAN SEE BLOCK ISLAND



Title: On A Clear Day You Can See Block Island  

Author: Gage Greenwood

Publisher: Tanner's Switch Publishing

Pages: 284

My GoodReads Rating: ⭐



After the sudden death of his wife on account of corporate negligence, Jackson uses the compensation money from her company to move his children into a bigger house on Block Island. Wreath (17), Brian (15), Charlie (13), Chrissy (9) and Angela (8) are excited about the future even as they work through their complicated feelings of grief.


On their very first night in their new home, Wreath dies a horrible death, when she is literally eaten alive in her room by a monster.


Four years later, Jackson is an alcoholic mess. Brian lives out on the streets, addicted to drugs and opioids. Charlie, Chrissy and Angela are living with their aunt, Jackson’s sister, who isn’t much of a caregiver. But that’s not the worst of it. Charlie suffers from crippling anxiety. Chrissy has no memory of the monster that destroyed her family, while Angela has a terrible fear of being alone.


Chrissy questions her family’s insistence on clinging to the story. Then in a library book, she sees a picture of the monster and the blocked memories come rushing back at her.

 


The book is suffused with horror. Chrissy devours horror fiction. She has turned into ‘someone who would find peace in violent words.’ The author uses Chrissy’s interest in horror fiction to recommend some books. There’s also the horror of alcohol and drug addiction.


There were some lines from the book that stood out for me:

Horror wasn’t a spotlight on evil, it was control. If a person could create beautiful sentences from horrific events, then any person could weave their way through life’s trauma. You just have to make the grime shine.


Grief was a mysterious lump on your flesh . . .  One minute, you can convince yourself it’s benign, just an ugly little thing you can learn to deal with, and the next, you’re certain it’s the start of something bigger, the kind of thing that will eat away at your flesh, devour your bones.


A person can only fray for so long before they become nothing but loose strands.

 

The book cover was interesting, with the island, seemingly ordinary, and the lives that it has claimed, visible in the spilling of blood below the surface of the water.


The writing was masterful in the first part of the book, especially the first chapter, inviting the reader to stop speed reading to lavish upon the words the attention the author had devoted to crafting them. Through the first half of the book, we see the pain born of grief and trauma.


We feel a sense of sadness for the plight of this this suffering family. The challenges that batter the kids relentlessly make us feel protective towards them. 


The friendship that siblings Tiffany and Doug show to Charlie was sweet, and I felt bad that things didn’t turn out differently for them. Also why were they attacked?

 

But the second half of the book lost me. The first half definitely felt tighter than the second. And the action against the monsters took too long. Against it, the sibling dynamics was reduced to petty squabbles.


The chapters, alternating between Tiffany and Doug, Chrissy and Angela, and Detective Burns and Jackson, were essentially the same, with each pair facing off against the monster, and each pair coming to the same conclusion about their situation. My attention flagged at this point. It was almost like a sibling fight, with each pair hitting the monster, and being hit back in turn.

There was a hint about a weakness suffered by the monsters, but no explanation for why they have that weakness.


The character of Brian was explored briefly but not in a way that helped the plot along.  


The action vis-à-vis the monsters takes far too long. We can’t imagine how this part of the book will end. What scenario could possibly result in the destruction of such horrible monsters?

 

The climax and the resolution left me feeling dissatisfied. There was no good explanation about why the nightmare ended when it did or even how, and whether it would ever recur.


Some elements in the story didn’t make sense. Why did Angela have the visions about the monsters in the past?


It was surprising that the detailed flashback of Jackson’s wife comes at the 76 percent mark, almost like an afterthought or a force-fit, making it appear like an unplanned addition. Before that, we are told almost nothing about her, which is odd considering that it is her death that sets the plot going.


The relationship between the siblings felt incomplete. Other than the fact that most of them don’t get along with each other, I saw very little of the dynamics between the siblings or the family. The aunt that is apparently caring for Charlie, Chrissy and Angela isn’t even seen in the book.


The chapter titles were intriguing. They made no sense out of context and, at first glance, seemed rather random. It was only when one read the chapter that one could make sense of them.

 

I don’t enjoy monster horror, but I expected better from this because of the themes of grief and trauma that were woven through. But ultimately, this book didn’t work for me. 

 


(I read this book on NetGalley. Thank you to the author, the publisher and NetGalley.) 

 

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Book Review: EVERYTHING IS FINE



Title: Everything Is Fine  

Author: Vince Granata

Publisher: Atria Books

Pages: 303

My GoodReads Rating: ⭐


Vince Granata was an only child until age 4 when the miracle of IVF gave him three siblings. Triplets Christopher, Timothy and Elizabeth looked up to him, had raucous playtime sessions with him and built many lovely memories together.

 

Twenty years later, Timothy became schizophrenic, and from there stemmed the biggest tragedy of their lives as a family when Tim stabbed their mother Claudia to death. While Christopher and Elizabeth cannot imagine someone they shared a womb with acting out as he did, their father continues to stand by Tim and his need for medical aid, while Vince takes it upon himself to understand schizophrenia in an attempt to make sense of their lives and so as not to lose sight of his own love for Tim.

 

The writing is moving and kind, as Vince throws light on the family dynamics, the love that bound them together and the illness that stabbed the core of the family. As Vince shares the happy memories of his family, we are given a glimpse into how Tim’s mind betrayed him, twisting those memories around.

 

At every step, Vince has taken his role seriously: as his parents’ deputy and as chronicler of the tragedy that has befallen them. Even as a grown man, he sees himself as his mother’s deputy, wanting to forgive and understand his brother.

 

Vince dips into his memories to remind himself of all that was good about Tim and how schizophrenia took it away.

 

The author gives us an understanding of schizophrenia, how the illness sneaks up not only on the affected person, but also on the family. The book fills you with compassion for those suffering from mental illness, which we all fear and look upon with distaste.

 

The book is both deeply personal and well researched. The author drowned himself in books and studies about schizophrenia. He tells us about the laws governing the treatment of schizophrenics in the US, about his fears that he failed his brother.

 

The research is not limited to reading alone. The author has spent time talking to family members of those affected by schizophrenia, doctors and social workers and patients living with schizophrenia.

 

To those of us who use the word, schizophrenia, as an insult or a slur, this book is an eye-opener. The author calls for more schizophrenia stories to widen our awareness of the illness.

 

The name of the book comes from the phrase, Everything is Fine, which Vince’s mom used to use to preface her texts to him, when giving him updates about Tim. Everything is Fine was a way of de-escalating the situation, preventing the buildup of stress, until the time when the word, but, needed to be appended to the phrase.

 

(I read this book on NetGalley. Thank you to the author, the publisher and NetGalley.) 

 



Wednesday, February 07, 2024

Book Review: THE PROGRAM #1



Title: The Program #1  

Author: Suzanne Young

Publisher: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers

Pages: 416

My GoodReads Rating: ⭐





Ever since a strange epidemic caught hold of teenagers, causing them to give in to suicidal depression, the governments of some states in the US have launched the Program. This faceless entity is always watching and aware of what young people are up to.

The mandatory six-week treatment aims to cure depressed teens by wiping them clean of all their memories, happy and sad alike.

When Sloane Barstow’s brother Brady falls sick and kills himself, she and her boyfriend James Murphy, who was also Brady’s best friend, slowly begin to give in to depression and sorrow. James promises to keep Sloane strong and safe, but the suicide of Miller, their other friend, tips him over and he seeks to kill himself. He is taken away by the Program. Now Sloane is on her own. it’s getting harder to keep a grip on herself. It’s only a matter of time before she gives in, and when that happens, the Program will come for her.

This Program, Book 1 in the series, is written in the first person present tense PoV of Sloane. The book is divided into Part I Uncomfortably Numb, Part II The Program and Part III Wish You Weren’t Here.

We don’t get a sense of what is causing this epidemic of depressive tendencies in young people. All we are told is that teenagers, but not adults, are getting sick. What is this world in which grownups are well adjusted and adult suicide is a thing of the past?

The author’s focus is not on the epidemic, or on what it means to lose one’s memories, and therefore one’s sense of identity. I would have liked the book more if it had had more about the suicides, the grief of those left behind, the grief, mourning and closure.

I didn’t like any of the characters. Sloane was uninteresting. Her only qualities are that she is pretty and good at Maths, or certainly better than James is. And the other characters don’t get much space.

Also, while I am no expert on mental illness, the past that the teens traverse while they contemplate suicide is not as singular as it is portrayed here. In this book, QuikDeath provides a quick fix. Depressive people draw endless loops of spirals in their books.

The Program follows a flawed reasoning, taking from young people their right to grieve openly.

The author’s focus is unfortunately on the romance between Sloane and James. That some things are destined to happen is the conclusion the author wants us to draw.

This book had the makings of a good dystopian novel. Had I known it was a romance, I would not have read it.

Tuesday, February 06, 2024

Book Review: BREAK THE GLASS



Title: Break the Glass  

Author: Olivia Swindler

Publisher: Lake Union Publishing

Pages: 295

My GoodReads Rating: ⭐


Nora Bennet’s boss, Sal Higgins, has been fired from his position as athletic director at Renton University. She’s interim AD now, and she knows that she has to work harder to prove herself. Sal is accused not only of an alcohol addiction but also of asking professors for favours to get the athletes to pass their subjects.

Anne is an intern in the sports department. Hired by Sal, she finds herself beginning work on the day that Sal is fired, when the department is beset with chaos.

Alexis is a teacher in the English department. Her boyfriend, Beau, is the assistant coach. She and Beau are both questioned by investigators from the NCAA.

Lauren Higgins is blamed by her husband, Sal, for all his indiscretions. She also finds herself under the scanner of the NCAA investigators.

Break the Glass refers to the glass ceiling broken by Nora as she works in sports as athletic director, a male-dominated world. It’s also the glass behind which the fire extinguisher is encased, a reminder of the resolution to be brought about when disaster strikes.

The first chapter of the story began on a high. It brought out the fact that women have to work twice as hard but don't receive the appreciation. But after that, this book was a letdown.

The story is written in the first person past tense PoV of Nora, Anne, Alexis and Lauren. Four PoVs is too many, and we don’t find ourselves caring for any of them. There is nothing of note in any of the PoVs, no action or plot development that takes the story forward.

It doesn’t help that all four PoVs sound exactly the same with not much of a voice distinguishing one from another. Even the vocabulary and expressions used are exactly the same.

The four characters are flat caricatures, who take themselves far too seriously. Even the manner in which the resolution is arrived at is bland. One of the characters has a brainwave that hints at a resolution.

There was no point to Anne telling us that she was of Moroccan origin. The detail made barely any impact on the story and felt forced.

All the characters, major and minor alike, are somehow linked. Nora’s husband, Nathan, is the dean of the English department where Alexis teaches. Alexis’s boyfriend, Beau, is the assistant football coach, where Nora is the AD. Alexis’s cousin, Mason Pont, is the journalist who breaks the story. Joel Bonne, the president of Renton University, is a very dear friend of Lauren. Also, Lauren’s nephew Graham works in the University’s compliance department. 

The narrative, more tell than show, is taken forward at various points throughout the day by the four PoV characters. It is interspersed with the occasional news report. There are grammatical errors which mar the reading experience further.

Even though this book was about football, the author didn’t describe a single game in a manner that would convey the excitement of watching a live match. It was all about the fans, the spectators, the buzz in the stadium.

I struggled with this book, wanting to set it aside several times. It was always more of the same. Nothing by way of plot progression, until very late in the book. For two-thirds of the book, it’s the slow investigation and how the characters react to it.  The dialogues are a repetition.

I finally gave up at the 75 percent mark and jumped to the end.




(I read this book on NetGalley. Thank you to the author, the publisher and NetGalley.) 

LinkWithin

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...