Review: Angels Make Their Hope Here

Angels Make Their Hope Here
Angels Make Their Hope Here by Breena Clarke
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Russell’s Knob is a haven – a place where free people of any color have made a community. Dossie arrives there very young, having been sent along via the underground railroad by her parents, who hoped she’d find freedom, and by Duncan Smoot who, by stealth, got Dossie away from the family who intercepted her and enslaved her. But is Dossie free? Too young to understand much about her situation and her surroundings, she sees Duncan as a savior, almost God. She is highly influenced by the words of her evangelical last conductor, who assured her that God had a plan for her. As a little girl in Smoot’s house, Dossie learns to cook and care for animals, and is only too happy to do whatever Duncan asks of her. Life with him is, after all, much better than any place else she has lived thus far.

Clarke’s writing is unusual and unsettling. At first, Duncan Smoot is the narrator, and we get a picture of him as a dedicated (if possibly addled) participant along the underground railroad. Then the writing shifts, and we are no longer inside any character’s head. Clarke describes Russell’s Knob, its history and its inhabitants, and details a place in which there is more kindness and equality than all the other places around. But then she writes with language so coarse and hard — You know all is not how it seems and something awful must be coming. But what?

I am trying to decide, as I am reading this, whether or not I like it. There’s an emotional superficiality that I’d like to get under.

In the end, I liked this book for what it was about and not for character development. The author just didn’t let us get close to any of them. Still, Clarke highlights some really important stuff — Life (and this story) has a constant undercurrent of danger and fear for folks at the bottom of the power structure. Even during happy times, those ‘above’ you can turn on you at any time, and the law will be on their side, not yours. It was true for free blacks and “amalgamators” in the civil war era, and it’s true for so many today, including in the United States.

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Review: The Scorch Trials

The Scorch Trials
The Scorch Trials by James Dashner
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Okay. If you like slasher horror movies with one monster after another, blood, pus, death and death and death and death, naps, no unifying world philosophy and no resolution, you may enjoy this book. It is not for me.

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Review: I’m Just Me

I'm Just Me
I’m Just Me by M G Higgins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is spot-on with the daily hell some kids have to go through in high school. Kids who are different in any way, or not different at all, but simply the unlucky winners of that unofficial lottery, become to brunt of other kids’ mysterious need to be mean. Well-meaning adults fail to see, or look the other way — and the targeted kids begin to feel that the only thing they can do is take drastic action on their own.

In this book, Mia and Nasreen are lucky, because they find one another and become friends. Each gives each other a little strength.

I would read more books in this series. It absolutely delivers. A very quick and easy read without talking down to the reader or being preachy. There were places in the reading when I was in tears — I could really feel for those kids and it brought back what those years can be like.

I recommend this book to adults who work with teens, kids who’ve experienced bullying, and kids who may have found themselves on the mean end of the interactions.

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Review: The Last Kings of Sark: A Novel

The Last Kings of Sark: A Novel
The Last Kings of Sark: A Novel by Rosa Rankin-Gee
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The last kings of Sark is a tale of 3 young people: a lonely rich boy, an unprepared private tutor, and a household cook of questionable kitchen hygiene. All are young, though on different sides of the dividing line between child and independent. All step outside their official roles as both the boy’s parents absent themselves (in different ways) over the course of one summer. When the season ends, they separate; they spend much of the next decade trying to recapture something they cannot quite define.

I am not surprised to learn that the author, though English originally, lives in Paris. This is (to my Yankee ears) a very French book. Yearning, ennui, feeling lost in one’s early 20s, pining for what might have been. Very Umbrellas of Cherbourg.

Enjoyable and sweet, though not entirely satisfying.

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Review: The Humans

The Humans
The Humans by Matt Haig
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

First impression, a few chapters in:
Mork calling Orson, Come in Orson.

For you readers out there who hear ‘aliens’ and ‘mathematics’ and think, ‘This book is not for me,” hang on. The alien bits are brief and really beside the point. The Humans is a lyrical and loving discovery of human (and dog) life in a wealthy college town. If you devoured Richard Bach books (Bridge Across Forever, Jonathan Livingston Seagull) in junior high or high school, reading <Humans will give you a little zotz of nostalgia and sweetness. If you enjoy language and a well-crafted sentence, you will find yourself wanting to jot down so many of the ways that the alien Andrew Martin describes his experiences and observances. Now that I’ve returned the book to the library, I do wish I had gone back and written all those down.

I recommend this book for anyone who wants to feel good, who perhaps wants a reminder of why it’s all worthwhile. It’s also a great book for young (teen-college) readers who enjoy a little light profundity. (That sounds dismissive, but I don’t mean it that way.)

I liked this book, but here’s a quibble: There’s all this emphasis on the fact that humans solving the Riemann Hypothesis somehow endangers the universe, but it’s never made clear. Haig also alludes to advanced math and science but doesn’t include any of it (beyond some fun with prime numbers) in the actual book. It felt like he just tossed it out there but didn’t care if we believed it. In the end, it seems much more believable that the whole story is a narrative of one man’s return to life after a nervous breakdown.

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Review: Landline

Landline by Rainbow Rowell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While I was reading this, I enjoyed it very much. It’s inventive: I love the device of the old yellow rotary phone that enables Georgie to reconnect with her husband, Neal, 15 years in the past. (I thrilled to the tiny Doctor Who references, even to the “Let’s Kill Hitler” episode.) What would you do if you could communicate with your younger self or with your partner in the past? How do you decide if you both might have been better off if you’d let your relationship die before it became entrenched? And, even if you’re not quite happy, there are the kids – sacrificing the relationship means the kids would never exist. Could you live with that?

Cleverness and readability aside, there’s the story. Now that I’ve stepped away from it for a day, it rankles me. Rowell never shows the reader what’s so great about Neal anyway. He pouts, he resents his wife’s drive and success, he never finds his rudder or life goal, and so he ruins the party. Yes, he’s broody and artistic. How long can that stay entertaining? I didn’t think that Georgie should end up with Seth, but I did wish she would end up with someone who didn’t try to hide her light.

Of course, in real life, you can never know what holds a couple together. It just isn’t always visible from outside. Yes, she worked too much and took her family for granted. I’m glad that part of her story’s resolution is that she wants to prioritize them more. But, can you imagine, in 2014, a celebrated novel that focuses on a stay-at-home mom in glittery tv LA who petulantly leaves her husband on the cusp of his big break like this? It may not have been Rowell’s intention, but this story punishes women with professional aspirations. Yuck.

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