Sunday, July 3, 2016

Books Read in June

Chasing the North Star by Robert Morgan.
The story: Jonah Williams becomes a runaway slave on his 18th birthday after his master whips him for borrowing a book (thank goodness his master never put it together that Jonah could actually read the book, thanks to his master's wife!). He didn't exactly intend to run away; he didn't think it all through clearly and didn't have  plan. All Jonah knows is that he needs to get as far north as possible. Along the way he meets Angel, who had been her master's plaything since she was a 12-year-old girl. Jonah doesn't want Angel to travel with him, but she keeps popping up wherever he lands. The story takes us on the journey north with them, through a series of narrow escapes and ultimately to freedom.
Me: I didn't love this book.  The first part was extremely slow moving; the details of Jonah moving through the woods, camping out, being cold, etc. were just too tedious for me. I supposed I am largely a dialogue-driven reader, and there was little to none during the first part of the novel. I was just getting to the point of giving up when Angel enters the story. I liked having Angel there; she was more interesting than Jonah, although I found it remarkable that a slave woman could hop on the train and travel and then just happen to meet up with Jonah again. She seemed to always be appearing just when he needed to be rescued, which seemed way too far fetched for me. Robert Morgan is one of my favorite contemporary writers, but this was not one of my favorite books. It's beautifully written, of course, but somehow I wasn't drawn in by the characters enough.

We Never Asked for Wings by Vanessa Diffenbaugh.
The story: When her parents decide to move back to Mexico, Letty is forced to become a parent for the first time, even though her kids are 15 and 6. She has no idea how to take care of her own kids; her parents fed them, clothed them, and raised them while she worked three jobs and partied on her time off. She has no choice but to figure it all out on her own, and, for the most part, she does a decent job. But just as she's starting to get the hang of it, some complications arise: she starts to fall in love with a guy, her son's father returns, and a series of other events threaten to shatter her newly constructed world.
Me: I adored Diffenbaugh's The Language of Flowers, and I really liked this one too-- not as well, but it was a great read. It's not perfect; there was some details that were a bit too contrived or unexplained. But I'm OK with that. I loved the characters, especially Letty and her son Alex. It's a sweet story of growth, family, and overcoming obstacles. Definitely recommended for a light but meaningful read.

The Good Girl by Mary Kubica.
The story: Mia, the adult daughter of the well-to-do Judge and Mrs. Dennett, has been kidnapped and is being held in a remote cabin in Minnesota. Mrs. Dennett is beside herself, but the Judge is remote and cold. The story flashes between the past and present through the eyes of various characters: Mrs. Dennett; Colin (the kidnapper); and Gabe, the detective. Sometimes multiple narrators are confusing, but in this case, they are nicely labeled. What a great idea!
Me: Oh my goodness. This book was positively mesmerizing. I almost didn't read it when I saw that Harlequin was the publisher! I wondered why I even had it on my reading list. But honestly,  I could hardly put it down! I loved having the story unfold through the various POVs, and the characters were all lavishly drawn and intriguing. I've seen lots of comparisons to Gone Girl, and I think that's pretty accurate (minus the graphic scenes). HIghly recommended as a psychological thriller.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce.
The story: Harold Fry, a retired man in his 60s, receives a letter from an old friend who is dying. Next thing he knows, he's started on a walking journey to see that friend. He believes that as long as he walks, she will continue to live. As he walks, he begins to remember various scenes from his life: his childhood, his early marriage, fatherhood. Back home, his wife has a similar inward pilgrimage. Harold and Maureen begin putting aside 20 years of animosity toward each other and wonder how they got so far off track—and if they can ever return.
Me: Oh. My. Goodness. This book (our June book club read) is astounding. I read it in about three sittings, in spite of having a billion other things to do, because it was hard to put down. I love everything about the book: the characters, the setting, the masterful way the author reveals the story. There were all kinds of surprises, and a few times I thought the book was going to take a turn I really didn't want; but in the end it was wrapped up beautifully. Such a great story of redemption, the power of love and memory, and that it's never too late—for anything. Highly recommended!