Friday, September 13, 2013

The Returned by Jason Mott

The world is turned upside down when the dead begin to show up everywhere, all over the world in a seemingly random way with no explanation.  What would you do if your deceased loved one appeared on your doorstep one day?  Where are the answers to all of the questions?  What would the world do?

The story centers around Harold and Lucille, both in their 70's, living in the small town of Arcadia.  In 1966, their only child, Jacob, drowned on his birthday.  He was only 8 years old.  Harold and Lucille have lived with their grief for 50 years; sometimes it is hard for them to even remember being a parent.

And then one day a man appears on their doorstep, holding the hand of a little boy.  

It's Jacob.  He suddenly appeared on a riverbank in China, not knowing where he was--he just knew he wasn't home and he wanted his parents.  

This is not an action packed story.  It is much more a reflective story about how we, as humans, treat the 'returned'.  They are quickly outnumbering the 'true living', and resentment is building.  Some people don't want to see their loved one returned.  And who returns?  Soldiers, children, murder victims, dementia-laden old women--it doesn't matter--they are all coming back.  And why are they returning?  Is it a test from God, a sign of the end times, or something else?  Who can answer that question?  

The author leaves a lot of questions unanswered; the point of this novel is not how or why they come back, but how we feel about them coming back.  We all have loved ones who have passed on; what would you do if you had another chance to talk to them, and be with them?  Would you take it?  Would you still love them the same?  

This novel certainly raises a lot of questions.  Lucille does what she thinks is right, with results that you may or may not agree with.  It's a great conversation piece, because we all have different opinions--and let's face it--the possibility of this happening is so remote that we never do think about it.

But what if it did happen?

Rating:  7/10 for a thoughtful, timely novel about grief, love, prejudice, and the meaning of life.  

Available in hardcover, e-book, and audio.

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Year We Left Home by Jean Thompson

I will start out this review by saying I had to read this book for school.  I've looked at it many times in my bookstore; I've even had a friend who read it and absolutely loved it.  

I did not.  As a matter of fact, it depressed the hell out of me.  My personal feelings have nothing to do with the fact that this is an extremely well written novel about the trials and tribulations of an Iowa small town family over a 30 year period.  I issues with reading about families.  Especially when all sorts of stuff happens to them in a not so funny way. Slap them in a comedy and I'm on board.  

My family issue just comes from the fact that I don't like to read family sagas.  I have a large family--lots of brothers and sisters, and we live in a soap opera, so I don't like to read about them.  "As the Gerth Turns" is what we call our lives.  Something is always happening to someone somewhere.  It is exhausting but the only life I know.  Happiness, tragedy, grief, love, triumph--all are mixed in our everyday lives.

That is how I felt reading this novel.  Jean Thompson's portrayal of the Erickson family in a small Iowa town is painfully vivid and stark.  The 1970's were the beginning of the end for many farmers, and this story definitely incorporates the decline of the family farm and how it affected small towns in the Midwest during the 1980's and beyond.  It left holes in lives, people, and places.  This novel is told through the eyes of the Erickson siblings: Anita, Torrie, and Ryan.  Blake makes a few appearances, but Ryan is the main narrator.  It all begins in January, 1973 at Anita's wedding reception.  Ryan is a teenager, and he's pretty restless.  Seeing his family through his eyes, and his desire to get out (also strongly felt by Torrie, with tragic consequences) into the world is something we can all identify with when we were teens and eager to leave the nest and explore.  Anything was better than staying at home--especially if it was a small Iowa town where nothing happens.  Ryan's path is college, but it is not easy and he soon finds himself living in Chicago on a completely different path.  

As their lives move on, Anita and Ryan find themselves examining their lives, the people that surround them, and what it means to be "home".  Can we ever leave where we came from?  Just how much does it shape who we are?  

Don't get me wrong--this is a great novel.  There is a lot to say, and Jean Thompson does an excellent job.  It is the All-Iowa Reads novel  for 2013 and has accumulated accolades and awards.  It's just not the kind of novel I can look at without the weight of family on my shoulders.  

Rating:  7/10 for excellent writing and plot.  Book club book, for sure!
Available in paperback, e-book, and audio

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Reading for School, Book Talks, and Me--Can it be Done?

I forgot just how much reading there is for school.  Even more so this time around.  Lots of articles online.  One class I have is called Resources for Adults.  It's a great examination of popular reading--genres--and how they fit into libraries and what exactly they mean in the book world.  

It means I will be reading a lot of stuff.  Most importantly, I will be required to read one particular genre book each week for class.  This is normally not a big problem for me--I already have my first two books picked out, thanks to my very own library at home.  All those titles I bought and haven't had a chance to read--well, now I have a reason to read them this semester.  

However, I've been in school for two weeks, and I haven't managed to read much more than school stuff just yet.  Time management is something I have to work on and get together PRONTO or this chicky won't be posting too many book reviews.  And that would be a crime.  

Meanwhile, my book talks at work have blossomed--I have two more lined up in the next month, plus a librarian talk scheduled in October for local librarians.  I had a great customer service experience last night at work.  A woman asked me for help with a list of books for potential book club choices, and told me I had helped her before and one of the books I had recommended became their favorite read.  But she couldn't remember what the book was--hey--I'll take that victory anyway.  She was very interested in coming into the bookstore for a book talk, so I gave her my card and told her to get in touch to arrange something.  I do love talking about books to people!  So with all of these book talks coming up in the near future, I have a lot of books to try and read and recommend.  

This will be an interesting marriage of what I have to read with what I want to read with what I think others would like.  A trifecta of reading that I've never attempted before.  

 But anyway, I am currently reading The Returned by Jason Mott and I can't wait to review it for you! Look for the review sometime early next week.  If I don't get it finished before that--I am having a hard time not wanting to just sit down and read it all in one gulp.