Monday, March 21, 2016

The Snow Child by Eowen Ivey

Based on the Russian story, The Snow Maiden, Ivey’s debut novel maintains a fairytale style.  Set in rural 1920’s Alaska, childless homesteaders, Jack and Mabel, are grieving the loss of an unborn child and,  while Jack is crumbling under the weight of the work he must do in the harsh Alaskan wilderness if they are to survive, Mabel is in depths of depression and contemplating suicide. Then, one evening, in a rare moment of levity, the two go out into the first snow and build a snowgirl only to find it destroyed the next morning. Suddenly, a little blond-haired girl appears in the wilderness wearing the mittens and scarf from the snowgirl.  

This little girl, Faina, hunts with a red fox at her side, treads so lightly across the snow that she doesn’t leave footprints, yet somehow survives alone in the Alaskan wilderness. Is she real? Is she imaginary? Jack and Mabel struggle to understand Faina, but they come to love her as their own daughter. Neighbors worry for Mabel because nobody else has ever seen this magical girl.  But in this beautiful, violent place things are rarely as they appear, and what they eventually learn about Faina will transform all of them.
Enchanting from beginning to end.   

Reviewed by Kim White, Head of Hoyt Library
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Monday, March 14, 2016

The Forgotten Room by Karen White, Beatriz Williams, and Lauren Willig

Written by three authors, this book has three related love stories in three different time periods.  Olive lives in the 1890’s, her daughter Lucy is in 1920, and her granddaughter Kate is in 1944.  All are connected to a grand house in New York City.  Olive’s father was an architect and he designed the mansion for the rich Pratt family.  She went to work as a housemaid there after her father’s death.  Mr. Pratt had refused to pay him, and Olive’s middle class family had slipped toward poverty.  Olive is determined to find proof that her father was cheated. 
Lucy is a secretary in a law office.  Her mother’s dying words have left her confused and she is trying to understand what she meant.  Kate is a doctor in a world where it is still an unusual career for a woman, but doctors are in short supply during the war.  The lovely Pratt mansion has been turned into a hospital.  Two generations are trying to untangle what happened in the previous generation.  It can get a little confusing.  (I found peeking ahead helpful.)  In the end it all becomes clear.  If you have read books by any of these authors, it is fun to try to guess which parts they each wrote.  

Reviewed by Fiona Swift
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Monday, March 7, 2016

Camp Olvido by Lawrence Coates

Being a working mother with 2 children, 2 jobs, and a messy chef as a partner, it is often difficult to commit the time and effort to reading larger works of fiction. I recently discovered the benefits of short stories and novellas for this very reason. They give me the satisfaction of storytelling, but on a simplified scale. The novella, Camp Olvido, certainly does just that.
          A “Hispanic Heritage” read, it takes place in California in 1932, at a migrant labor camp, where a majority of its workers toil in the fields picking cotton, under the watchful eyes and strict contractual obligations of the camp’s boss and his son. We quickly meet Esteban Alas, a young man who has found a way out of the cotton-picker’s hell, by making a living selling booze and providing mobile entertainment out of the back of his vehicle. His presence in the camp is welcoming by the camp’s boss, as it boosts the men’s morale and keeps them in need of money, which keeps them from leaving the camp and stopping production. While many of the worker’s are loyal customers, we learn about their resentment toward Esteban, for he has made a career tempting them out of their money, which keeps himself out of the field, and them trapped within it. 

          We learn that Esteban dreams of more than the life he has built and maintained at Camp Olvido, a life which comes into jeopardy when he reluctantly helps two friends try to leave the camp before their contract is up, and the end results are tragic. Can Esteban survive the harshness of the poverty-stricken, depression-era labor camp long enough to escape it?

          Lawrence Coates writes this piece in a style all his own. Blunt, to the point, and void of the details that often bog down heavier reads, his character dialogues are written with no quotations, sometimes making it difficult to determine what is being spoken and what is just a thought. Conflicted and passionate as the main character seems to be, however, the confusion might be just what the author intended.

Reviewed by Sarah Younkman  

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