Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Night Letter by Meghan Nuttall Sayres

From each heart is a window to other hearts.
They are not separated like two bodies,
Just as, even though two lamps are not joined,
Their light is united by a single ray.
Night Letter is the sequel to Sayres' Anahita's Riddle which tells the story of a young Afshar girl who is determined to marry a man she loves rather than the thrice married khan of her tribe.

In Night Letter Anahita is travelling with her mother and grandmother to Marv for her wedding to Arash, the Qajar prince and governor of Marv. Their caravan is only days away from Marv.  On a windy night while Maman Bozorg, Anahita is startled to see three men wearing black turbans storm into their tent. They seize the two women, throw them over the backs of horses and race off across the plains. Hours later they stop at an oasis and when Anahita tries to protest she is hit in the face and knocked out. She awakes later on in a cave to learn that they have left her grandmother at the oasis and that she is now in the company of only two men, one she calls Hawk because of his eyes and an kinder man who speaks French whom she names Muhammad.

Anahita decides she will try to leave clues for those who will surely come in search of her. In the cave she leaves bloodied rags and manages to scratch some clues on the wall of the cave. As they continue their journey along the dusty plain to the north, Hawk reveals that Anahita is destined for a sigheh with a prominent man in Bukhara. A sigheh is a temporary marriage that a woman makes voluntarily, setting the duration and bride price.  Anahita has no intention of agreeing to such a thing even as Hawk threatens her.

Meanwhile Arash learns from young Pirouz, the street boy Arash befriended, that Anahita has been kidnapped. Pirouz learned of Anahita's predicament in the market and he tells Arash that Anahita is to be sold as slaves. Arash's scouts inform him that the Afshars believe that Anahita will be taken to Bukhara. However, Ismail and Arash do not believe she will be sold into slavery but rather that her captors want a ransom. Arash sends his scouts to search the routes to Bukhara, Samarkand and Herat as well as the routes to Isqhabad, Tabriz and Constantinople.

Arash decides to go to the oasis where Anahita was last seen with her grandmother and follow her tracks.  His friend Ismail tells him that should he have to buy back Anahita from the slave market in Bukhara, he will need a great deal of money. Arash instructs Ismail to travel to Bukhara, a protectorate of Russia and should he find Anahita there, to buy her back.

Continuing on her journey, Anahita, Muhammad and Hawk cross the Rhud Amu Darya and up the mountain. Anahita, Muhammad and Hawk reach the summit of the mountain but their descent triggers an avalanche that buries Muhammad and half buries Anahita to her waist, slamming her into a tree and cracking her ribs. Hawk and his horse, Rakhsh escape unscathed, but Anahita learns that Muhammad who's real name is Mahan is no where to be found. Hawk frees Anahita from the snow and does not stop to search for Mahan, instead forcing her to journey to Bukhara

Everyone begins searching now for Anahita. Dariyoush, who was seriously wounded in the thigh during Anahita's kidnapping, decides to set out in pursuit of Anahita.  He traces the kidnappers to the oasis and then follows a trail to Samarkand. In Marv, where Anahita's caravan has arrived her father, Kadkhuda Farhad, organizes Arash's soldiers while Reza and Pirouz take the train to Isqhabad.Reza and Pirouz do not find Anahita in the slave markets in Isqhabad and Reza sends Pirouz back to Marv while he journey's on to Bukhara. Farhad decides to leave for Bukhara telling Maman Bozog, Mojdeh and Shirin that they will stay in Marv. However, Maman Bozog has her own plans, knowing the men will not be able to search within the women's circles of the city for Anahita.

Arash and Dariyoush unexpectedly meet up on the plains near the mountains where Arash directs Dariyoush to travel to Bukhara, while he continues onward to Samarkand. During this time Anahita and Hawk stop at a teahouse in a village on the side of the mountain. After resting and obtaining boots for Anahita, they continue their journey with Hawk revealing his name to be Taman Bas and his intention to sell Anahita to the Emir Abdullah of Bukhara. Can Arash and Anahita's family save her from such a terrible fate?

Night Letter is a thrilling sequel that vividly portrays life in early 20th century Iran while tackling the issue of slavery and trafficking. Sayres' prose manages to convey both a sense of danger and romance as Anahita faces the real threat of a forced temporary marriage, while her devoted family and her beloved fiance struggle to find and free her. Sayres uses the first person narration of Anahita alternating with the third person narratives which tell what is happening to other characters in the story as they hunt for her. Anahita's voice is realistic, alternating between courage and boldness, and overwhelming fear. At times she even begins to doubt the presence of Allah in all of her trials.

The title of the novel refers to anonymous letters that were written outlining grievances against the Persian Qajar dynasty and read in teahouses during the early 1900's. One such grievance was the selling of the women and girls of the town of Quchan when the men were unable to pay their taxes to the local governor after a drought. Sayres incorporates this tragic real life event into her novel and supplies more information about it in an author's note at the back of the book. The situation was discussed in night letters like the one Anahita wrote and resulted in debates in the Majlis, the Iranian parliament and ultimately led to the investigation and trial of those responsible.

As with the first novel, Night Letter is filled with many of the customs and traditions of Persia, especially regarding the relations between men and women and marriage. Sayres manages to convey the strong sense of family in society as both Arash and Anahita's families work together to save her. There are also several verses of the beautiful poetry of  the Persian poets, Jalaluddin Rumi, Hafiz, Rabi'a of Basra, Omar Khayyam and Mirabi of India.

Night Letter is populated with the same fascinating and beautifully crafted characters; the strong, courageous Anahita, noble Arash, the determined Dariyoush who still deeply loves Anahita, brave Pirouz, and the wise Maman Bozog. The villains, the heartless Taman Bas, Mahan who was blackmailed and soon comes to regret what he has done and the spoiled, cruel emir are equally well done, lending depth to the story.

The cover art for this novel was done by Tehran artist, Rashin Kheiriyeh and portrays a bride kidnapping.  In a note from Kheiriyeh he writes that the painting was done in the Persian miniature style which features the use of vibrant colours and oriental patterns using pencil and acrylic. There is an extensive Author's Note at the back of the novel, along with a discussion guide and an extensive glossary while the front of the novel contains a map of the region showing Anahita's journey.

Night Letter is highly recommend to those who enjoy historical fiction, especially that of the Middle East. Well written, exciting and fascinating to read!

Book Details:
Night Letter by Meghan Nuttall Sayres
Orange County: California.    Nortia Press    2012
281 pp.

Monday, September 15, 2014

With Every Breath by Elizabeth Camden

With Every Breath is an engaging Christian historical romance centered around the conflicted relationship between two people as they struggle to treat the scourge of tuberculosis.

The novel's prologue sets the stage for the story. It is 1879 and at a private school in Washington, the top two students, Trevor McDonough and Kate Norton are competing for the coveted college scholarship. It's not likely Trevor, who is from a wealthy Scottish family will need the money, but for Kate, the scholarship represents her only chance to attend college. Trevor, who arrived at the private academy four years earlier has made few friends with his icy demeanor and brooding ways. However, Trevor does win the academic competition meaning Kate will likely have to spend her days working at her parents boarding house.

Twelve years later finds Kate recently widowed from husband Nathan Livingston and working as a statistician for the census bureau in Washington, DC. Inexplicably she has received a request by the world famous Dr. T. Kendall to apply for a prestigious position at Washington Memorial Hospital. However, when Kate attends the interview she is stunned to discover that the prestigious Dr. T. Kendall is none other than her old nemesis, Trevor McDonough. Shocked Kate struggles to understand why Trevor changed his name and why he has requested her to work with him. Trevor tells Kate that he is undertaking research into a cure for tuberculosis, "measuring the effect of a new serum to see if it can strengthen the blood of patients suffering from tuberculosis." His patients are all terminal, having no hope of recovery. He recognizes that Kate has the mathematical ability to work as a statistician for the research.

But Kate has always feared illness especially after the death of her two younger brothers, Carl and Jamie, from diphtheria. Compounding this is Trevor's cold demeanor and the fact that Kate has never come to terms with him winning a scholarship he did not need many years ago. However, Kate knows her family needs the money and at twenty-nine, as a widow she recognizes that she has few good employment prospects. So Kate accepts the position and begins working for Trevor at Washington Memorial.

When Kate arrives her first Monday morning she learns that she will share an office with Trevor. Each Monday both Kate and Trevor have to be tested for tuberculosis due to their repeated exposure to patients.Trevor refers to each patient as a number and requires Kate to record data about them. Trevor gives each patient a serum consisting of beef bone marrow and minerals in cod-liver-oil in the hopes of strengthening their blood. He tells Kate that once tuberculosis enters the blood a person rarely survives.  Also working in the lab is Henry Harris who does the testing of sputum samples, Nurse Ackerman who is in charge of the ward on the fourth floor of the hospital.

As Kate settles into her job it soon becomes apparent that someone is determined to destroy Trevor's research. Nurse Ackerman shows them the most recent article appearing in the Washington Times about Trevor's clinic, claiming the remedies are quackery. Supplies disappear and it appears that someone has been searching his office.  As more anonymous letters appear in the newspapers, Trevor begins to suspect that whoever is writing them knows a great deal about his personal life and that the person wants to see him ruined.

Trevor explains to Kate that someone is trying to get the hospital to evict him and close down his research. Kate is understandably worried about her job but Trevor tells her that he is paying for the research out of his own money and that he has the backing of the surgeon-general. The hostile stories in the press continue into the summer months but Kate grows to love her job. She tries to inject some warmth into the lives of the patients in the ward by reading to them and insisting on referring to them by name.

Trevor himself is a mystery to Kate. She doesn't understand why he changed his last name and why he was so determined to win the scholarship from  her twelve years ago. As she traces his personal history she uncovers two years where there are no records of any achievements.  She wants to know why he went to the Himalayas and where he was from 1887 to 1888. As she gets to know him better she begins to suspect that beneath that cold facade is a complicated man.

"Trevor was different. Austere and reserved, she wondered what it would be like to peek beneath that shell. Trevor wasn't emotionless. Oh no. She'd caught glimpses of a mighty passion simmering beneath the surface, but he always held it so tightly locked down. Restrained. What would it be like to tear away his stern outer layer and see that smoldering emotion unleashed?"

Can Kate uncover the mystery behind the enigmatic Trevor McDonough and help save the clinic and his reputation from ruin while coming to terms with the realization that she is falling in love with the man who stole her chance for a college education?

With Every Breath is a slow paced novel in which tuberculosis research provides the opportunity for Trevor McDonough and Kate Livingston to meet twelve years later. Kate is still recovering from the death of her husband Nathan and has never forgiven Trevor for capturing a scholarship that he didn't need. And as secrets are uncovered we learn that Trevor was captivated by Kate but due to circumstances could never truly pursue her. Both gradually begin to lose the prejudices they have formed towards each other as they come to know one another better.  Kate sees that Trevors cold, cheerless exterior is a form of protection against becoming to close to either patients or those around him. Instead she finds a kind hearted man who cares genuinely about his patients and is passionate about his work. And Trevor finds that the joy Kate carries redeeming

Once Trevor and Kate work through their past and they discover that have a mutual affection for each other, another conflict arises and that is over the possibility of sharing a life together. Kate cannot accept Trevor continuing to work with tubercular patients, placing himself at risk. She doesn't want to loose another husband like she did with Nathan. However, Trevor feels he is called to work with tuberculosis patients and he's not prepared to stop his research for a cure. Eventually Kate comes to realize that nothing in life is guaranteed and that she needs to trust in God's providence.

"'I don't understand what God has planned for either of us, but I know it's pointless to keep worrying about it. I think your life is going to unfold exactly as God intends. I think you  are at the beginning of a grand, monumental quest, and God sees the bigger picture, even if I can't. I'm willing to trust what I cannot see, even if it's frightening and uncertain...."

With Every Breath is a well written romance that doesn't ever stray into a preachy tone. In fact the Christian references are subtle but relevant. A good example is when one of the tuberculosis patients reminds Kate about the necessity of grieving; "Dr. Kendall. Oh, he's right that we're all in God's hands, whether here on earth or on our journey to the other side, but there's no shame in grieving. It's normal. Grief freshens our perspective on life; it helps us appreciate the blessings we've been showered with..."

Camden has created a sort of heroic character in Trevor McDonough. Trevor unknowingly contracted tuberculosis at the age of thirteen. When he arrived in America he had to keep his illness a secret or risk being sent away. Mrs. Kendall, the woman who cooked for the family he stayed with also suffered from tuberculosis and she helped him eat properly. By the time Trevor left for college he was clear of the disease. But curing others of the deadly disease became his goal. In an effort to understand the disease better he reinfects himself with tuberculosis bacteria and managed to at least show that he does not have immunity to the disease. Trevor's courage is demonstrated in working with those most susceptible to contracting tuberculosis, the marginalized poor and prostitutes. He doesn't care what people write about him visiting the poor, only that he can minister to them and try to help them. Yet Camden has crafted a realistic character because Trevor has his weaknesses too - he can be arrogant and selfish.

Camden was inspired to write With Every Breath after reading the memoir of Edward Livingston Trudeau, a pioneer in the development of sanitarium care for tuberculosis patients. Dr. Trudeau contracted tuberculosis from his brother and managed to live for forty years with the disease.

With Every Breath is a light, enjoyable read for fans who prefer gentle romances with an interesting storyline.

Book Details:
With Every Breath by Elizabeth Camden
Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers    2014
356 pp.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

DVD: Belle

                                          "What is right can never be impossible!"

Belle tells the story of illegitimate half black daughter of Admiral Sir John Lindsay and her struggle to be accepted into British aristocratic society.

Dido Elizabeth Belle was the mixed race daughter of twenty-four year old John Lindsay, an officer in the British Navy. Lindsay met Belle's mother Maria who was a slave on a ship he had captured while in the West Indies. Lindsay brought Maria back to England where she had a daughter. In 1764 both Maria and John Lindsay returned to Pensacola, Florida and it was at this time that Belle was brought to Lord Mansfield's home. Lindsay took Belle to his great-uncle's summer home in London, Kenwood House to be raised by his aristocratic family. Lindsay's uncle, William Murray was the first Earl of Mansfield and in the latter part of the 1700's was the Lord Chief Justice of England. Mansfield came to be responsible for several seminal decisions against slavery in the late 1700's.

The movie centers around the insurance claim made by the owners of a slave ship, the Zong. The Zong was enroute from West Africa in 1781, carrying a large cargo of slaves destined for Jamaica. The ship began to run out of water and food when the ship sailed into an area of quiet water in the mid-Atlantic, known as "The Doldrums".  With a ship crammed full of 470 slaves, the slaves and crew began to sicken and die. Captain Collingwood decided to throw some of the chained slaves whom he felt were diseased or dying, overboard. In total approximately one hundred forty-two slaves were drowned. When the ship arrived in Jamaica, its owner, James Gregson filed a claim for the loss of his "property". The insurer, disputed the claim, noting that there was plenty of water on board when the ship arrived in Jamaica but a Jamaican court awarded the claim. Thomas Gilbert, the insurance underwriter appealed and the case went before Chief Justice, Lord Mansfield.

When the movie opens, it is 1764 and Britain is both a colonial power AND a major player in the lucrative slave trade. John Lindsay arrives at his great-uncle's lavish home and presents his mixed race daughter, Dido Belle Lindsay, to Lord Mansfield (played by Tom Wilkinson) and his wife (played by Emily Watson), who are already raising Elizabeth Murray, (known as Bette in the movie) the daughter of their nephew, Lord Stormont. They are not happy to receive the little girl into their home because she is dark-skinned, but they accept and tell her they will call her Dido. Dido and Bette grow up as close as sisters, with Dido receiving a good education and all the trappings of an aristocratic life.
"Papa, how is that I am too high in rank to dine with the servants and too low to dine with my family?"
When Belle comes of age, she learns that she will be awarded a yearly income while her cousin, Elizabeth will be penniless, unable to inherit and thus making her prospects for a good marriage remote. Lord Mansfield tells Belle that when they have guests she will not dine with the family nor will she "come out" during the next season in London. She is shocked at this treatment by her beloved "papa". Nevertheless, during family outings, Dido manages to capture the attention of Lord Ashford who is attracted by her beautiful but who tells her he will put aside her poor lineage on the one side to marry her. Although Belle accepts his marriage proposal she feels that it is has not been made in the spirit of true love.

Meanwhile, Dido becomes increasingly aware of her great uncle's involvement in the Zong insurance appeal and begins to develop a relationship with John Davinier (played by Sam Reid) who is working with the abolitionists. Dido and John discover they are of like minds when it comes to all people, regardless of colour, being equal and not chattel to be disposed of. Dido eventually breaks her engagement to Lord Ashford and tells her family of her desire to marry the man she loves, John Davinier. The film concludes with Lord Murray, Chief Justice of England bringing down his decision in the Zong insurance case.

Because so little is known of Dido's life, especially during the period portrayed in the movie, Belle is largely a work of historical fiction that incorporates the Zong trial and her relationship with John Davinier, a steward and not a young lawyer as portrayed in the film. The movie also referenced a painting done in 1779 by an unknown artist that shows Dido Elizabeth Belle with her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray. This painting hung in Kenwood House in north London until 1922 where it was transferred to Scone Palace in Scotland, the ancestral home of Lord Mansfield. The painting is unique in that it features for the first time a black person as an equal of a white person. Belle is an exquisitely crafted period film with beautiful costuming, well written dialogue and an engaging story. It is well cast with Gugu Mbatha-Raw starring as Dido, Sarah Gadon as Lady Elizabeth Murray and Matthew Goode as Captain Sir John Lindsay.

It is well worth the effort to see this movie which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in 2013 and has now been released on DVD.

You can find out more about the cast and the movie at www.belle-themovie.com

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Secrets of Tree Taylor by Dandi Daley Mackall

"This whole summer has been nothing but secrets, and I'm afraid my whole life will be like this. It's like life is a spiderweb of secrets, holding everything together by these tiny threads that hide the truth. And I keep stumbling into webs I can't get out of."

Set in the summer of 1963 during the Vietnam War and while the Cold war between the Soviet Union and the West was ongoing, The Secrets of Tree Taylor explores life in small town America and a girl struggling to  come to terms with the secrets she learns about people in her town.

Thirteen year old Tree Taylor lives in Hamilton, Missouri with her parents and her older sister Eileen. Her best friends are seventeen year old Jack Adams and her classmate, Sarah. Tree, (her name is variation on Teresa concocted by Jack) loves the Beatles and especially loves to dance. She has a crush on her classmate Ray Miller. Tree has two goals for the summer of '63. She desperately wants the only freshman spot on the Hamilton High newspaper, Blue and Gold. But she needs to write something in order to nab that spot, since Wanda Hopkins expects to get it as her Aunt Edna aka Mrs. Woolsey runs the paper. And the shooting of Mr. Kinney might just be that opportunity.  The second goal Tree has set for herself is to have her first kiss.

One morning, Tree who is sitting out on her front porch hears the gunshot and watches as her father, the town doctor, races down the street to the Kinney home. Tree ignores her father's warning to stay put and walks to the edge of their property. There she sees Mrs. Kinney emerge from the house holding a rifle and that's when Tree runs to the cottonwood on the Kinney property. There she sees her father talk to Mrs. Kinney, go in and check on Mr. Kinney and then come out again, taking the rifle from her. Tree notices the Mrs. Kinney's "cheeks and forehead were the color of lemon-lime Squirt, with patches of yellow and splotches of blue and purple. Her nose bent to the side, hinting at the letter L."  This description suggests that Mrs. Kinney is being physically abused by her husband.

When Sheriff Robinson shows up, Doc Taylor tells him that Alfred Kinney's been shot and that he has had a neighbour call the ambulance to take Kinney to the hospital for a few nights. After the Sheriff talks to Alfred Kinney he asks Tree's father what they should do. Doc Taylor merely states that "Accidents happen." despite Alfred Kinney's "peculiar notions about the shooting."  Tree decides that "Whatever did happen inside the Kinney's house, it was going to be my ticket to the Blue and Gold staff. This would be my first investigative report, and I'd prove to Mrs. Woolsey that she should me. Not Wanda."

What happened at the Kinney's home becomes Tree's secret although she doesn't at first realize that other people don't know what happened. They only know that Alfred Kinney shot himself by accident because that is what has they have been told. However Mrs. Kinney's numerous accidents over the years and arguments overheard by the neighbours lead some to suspect that this is not what really happened. Tree decides that she's "going to tell it like it is." However when she approaches her father to ask him about what happened that morning he tells her to let it go. He tells her to write about someone like Gary Lynch who has leukemia and cannot leave his home or the soldiers dying in Vietnam.

As Tree struggles to write her article she realizes she needs more information than she has about Mrs. Kinney, so she begins visiting her. She discovers that Lois Kinney who loved to read, wanted to be a librarian. But it's obvious from the lack of books in her home that Alfred Kinney would not allow her to have books. So Mrs. Kinney hid a set of encyclopedias and as a result knows facts about many strange and random topics.  With each visit by Tree Mrs. Kinney shares these facts but Tree doesn't have the courage to ask her about what happened that morning.

One day Jack sends out a fake story via his mother Donna who is the town gossip. He tells his mother who calls him many times per day, that he shot and killed a man trying to rob the IGA. This news reaches Tree who races there to only to find out that nothing happened. Tree is furious realizing the truth of what happened that he could have been killed and that was something she did not want to ever face. This event gets Tree to thinking about the Mrs. Kinney situation and her story.
Jakes fake story had even made me confused about journalism. What if I heard a story about somebody, and then I wrote about it, thinking it was the truth. Only it wasn`t. People would believe what I wrote. They would believe me.
Gradually Tree begins to feel that she doesn't want to report anything that might hurt Lois Kinney.

Meanwhile, although Tree finds Ray attractive and is jealous that he is spending time with Wanda, she has many great moments with her best friend Jack. Jack and Tree's parents get together on Sundays to make music while they play games or dance. Their love of music and especially dance are what draw Jack and Tree together. However, Jack, who takes Tree on driving lessons and essentially looks out for her, will be leaving in the fall to attend Northwest Missouri State.

Tree recognizes the same traits that Mrs. Kinney has in her classmate, Penny Atkinson. Penny never says more than two words and she behaves strangely around her stepbrother, Chuck.At her job as a basket girl at the Hamilton swimming pool, Tree begins to seek out Penny and try to talk with her.

Soon Tree begins to realize that almost everyone has secrets; her best friend Sarah's family's yard sale, Eileen's hair dye, Wanda, Ray, and even, eventually her best friend Jack. But when Tree uncovers Penny's secret she has to decide whether it's a secret to be kept or to tell someone? And how does one decide which secrets to keep and which to tell?

Those who have read To Kill A Mockingbird will immediately sense the similarity of Mackall's novel to this well know American classic. Mackall's narrator, thirteen year old Tree is reminiscent of precocious five year old Scout in To Kill A Mockingbird. Tree's father, Doc Taylor is similar to Scout's lawyer father, Atticus. Like Atticus, Doc Taylor is concerned about truth, justice and mercy. He doesn't like gossip and prefers to take people as they are. Like Scout, Tree is a bit of a tomboy, forgoing skirts and makeup and she has a close relationship with her father who attempts to instill in her his regard for the truth tempered with mercy. However, unlike To Kill A Mockingbird, The Secrets of Tree Taylor doesn't tackle heavy themes and therefore is not a dark novel.

There are plenty of themes in the novel but of course the most evident one involves secrets and the responsibility one has in knowing a person's secret. In the end Tree learns that sometimes divulging a secret will do more harm than keeping it and other times, as with Penny's secret keeping it will do the most harm. Doc Taylor tells her that discerning which to tell and which to keep is a difficult thing.

"But how do you know? How can I tell which secrets to leave alone and which secrets not to? I didn't know for sure he was hurting her."
Dad looked at me like he was seeing me for the first time.
"That's the problem, Tree. We don't always know. Only God sees everything. There aren't any secrets with him. The rest of us have to do the best we can."
The character development is one of the key strengths of this novel. Each character is quite different and the reader feels like they are experiencing a real town populated by real people. I was invested in the characters enough that I wanted to know how life worked out for Jack, Tree, Sarah and Mrs. Kinney.

While this novel was not historical fiction for me, it will be so for young teens who read it. Mackall has done a brilliant job of portraying the culture of early 1960's America, with plenty of references to the early rock and roll music of the era, hula hoops, sock hops, drive-in theaters, the controversy and division the Vietnam War created in America, and the ever present threat of the Cold War. The reason the novel succeeds is that the author drew from her own personal experiences growing up in a small town. Her father was a small town doctor similar to Doc Taylor in the novel, who took fruit and vegetables as payment for his services. When writers write about what they intimately know, they write brilliantly.

At the end of the novel, Tree tells what happens during the rest of 1963 and into early 1964. Readers will find the ending bittersweet, although the author tries to remain hopeful. But it's definitely a twist no one expects.

Overall, The Secrets of Tree Taylor is an outstanding novel - one of the best I've read this year. Dandi Daley Mackall has written many novels and one of her books, My Boyfriend's Dogs has been made in a movie for television, to be aired this fall. Her novel, The Silence of Murder won the Edgar Award.

Book Details:
The Secrets of Tree Taylor by Dandi Daley Mackall
New York: Alfred A. Knopf          2014
282 pp.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson

The Kiss of Deception is the first novel in the Remnant Chronicles by the author of the Jenna Fox Chronicles. This novel which is fantasy adventure follows the fate of a young woman destined to be the saviour of her people.

Seventeen year old Princess Arabella Celestine Idris Jezelia, First Daughter of the House of Morrighan, is getting married to the Prince of the House of Dalbreck. Against her will. The novel opens on the morning of her wedding day with the artisans placing the elaborate wedding kavah (a type of tattoo) on her back. Her wedding kavah contains the lion crest of Dalbreck along with elaborate vines.

Lia and Pauline weave a trail of false leads as they travel  from Civica south to Pauline's Aunt Berdi's home in the fishing village of Terravin. The colourful village with it's blue, red and yellow and lime homes and shops seems like a jewel to Lia with its setting near the aquamarine waters of the bay. Lia and Pauline tell Berdi what has happened, how Lia fled her forced marriage to the prince of Dalbreck. Berdi offers them a place to stay and in return they will work for her at her inn and tavern. When Lia goes to the river to bathe she hears a melody in the breeze  The urgent tone of the melody seems to suggest someone seeking to find her.  "I will find you... In the farthest corner...."

As Lia and Pauline settle in to Terravin they are unaware that two men are hunting for Princess Arabella; the jilted prince of Dalbreck and an assassin hired by the Komizar of the Kingdom of Venda. The Prince is tracking her because he is furious at having been stood up. Sven, who has trained him since the age of eight, tells him that he is angry because he didn't think of fleeing first. A trained soldier in the Dalbreck army, he is an expert tracker and the only heir to the Dalbreck throne. It takes the prince three weeks to track Lia and Pauline to Terravin. But he's not alone. The assassin from Venda who has been ordered to slit her throat so as to prevent the alliance between Morrighan and Dalbreck, that would result from her marriage has also arrived in Terravin.

Lia meets two newcomers to Terravin at Berdi's tavern where she now works as a barmaid;the dark-haired blue-eyed calculating Rafe who Gwenyth pegs as a fisherman  and the blond-haired brown eyed  brooding Kaden who she believes is a trader. Both Rafe and Kaden end up staying in the barn loft while they separately wait to accomplish their missions. But both men don't count on being captivated by the strong-willed Lia. Lia too is at first captivated by the handsome Kaden and the dark mysterious Rafe.

When Lia goes to Devil's Canyon to pick berries she unexpectedly encounters Rafe who attempts to make peace with Lia. Neither is honest with the other. Rafe tells Lia that he is a farmer from a small town in the southernmost part of Morrighan, a town with no name while Lia tells him that she was a thief. Of course Rafe knows who Lia is but Lia does not realize Rafe's identity. When Rafe sees the remaining part of Lia's kavah, the lion's claw and vine on her shoulder, he asks her about it. But she tells him it is not a part of tradition but the evidence of a terrible mistake.

Both Rafe and Kaden witness Lia's secret meeting with her brother Walther, although they both believe she is meeting with a lover. Walther is a soldier in their father's army which runs patrols in the Cam Lanteux, a safety zone that exists as a buffer between the kingdoms. The barbarians have been kept back for hundreds of years and not allowed to settle in this area. She learns that Father has posted a reward for her arrest and return. But it appears that her father has other more pressing worries on his mind - marauders have destroyed the bridges in the north. Walther tells Lia that they suspect this is the work of the Vendans  who might be planning to attack Morrighan. The failed alliance with Dalbreck has not helped. We also learn that when Lia left, she took something of great value, several books written in the ancient languages from the Scholar a man is the expert on the Morrighan Book of Holy Text and who can translate some of these ancient languages. Lia has absconded with Ve Feray Daclara au Gaudrel and a Vendan text that she cannot read. Walther also tells Lia that his young wife, Greta is with child.

Gradually Lia begins to fall in love with Rafe who also develops similar affections for her. He begins to realize that this seventeen year old princess is a complicated woman. However,  Lia and her friends are suspicious of the two men who have stayed on for so long at the inn, without seeming to have any other work. Although Lia initially favoured Kaden, she begins to find herself more strongly attracted to Rafe.  Meanwhile Kaden begins to struggle with his mission to assassinate the princess. He has developed feelings for her and he realizes that he will also to have to kill her friend Pauline. He decides to wait until after the festival to complete his mission. Rafe comes to understand why Lia fled from the arranged marriage to him when he overhears a conversation between Lia and Berdi.

It is during the Festival of Deliverance to commemorate the deliverance of the Remanent that Lia's love for Rafe begins to truly blossom. This makes Kaden angry and when his fellow Vendans, Griz, Eben, Finch and Malich show up at the festival questioning why he hasn't fulfilled his duties, Kaden tells them to give him another week to do so. 

When Walther returns to Terravin badly injured and distraught over the murder of his beloved Greta by a Vendan patrol, Lia decides that she must return home to Civica to help repair the damage she has done by running away. She doesn't know if the alliance between Morrighan and Dalbreck can be saved but she feels that she must live up to her duty as a First Daughter to try to save Walther and her other brothers. When Rafe learns of her decision to leave he asks her to meet him the next day on her way from Terravin, intending to return with her to Morrighan to ensure that she is not harmed by her father, the Chancellor or the Scholar.  However, that meeting never happens because Lia is kidnapped by Kaden and his band of Vendans, who are determined to take Lia to the Komizar.

When Rafe learns of Lia's capture through Pauline, he sets off in pursuit, using his considerable tracking abilities. Meanwhile as they journey across Cam Lanteux, Kaden tells Lia that he is merely trying to keep her alive because he does not want to kill her. The only way to ensure her survival is to lie to the Komizar and tell him that Lia has the "gift", some unknown ability to foretell the future. When they stop at a vagabond camp of the tribe of Gaudrel, an old woman named Dihara encourages Lia to learn to use her gift, telling her that she has been taught to ignore it when she was growing up and warning her that gifts that are not used shrivel and die. Dihara gives Lia a book that is a primer in Gaudrian used to teach several languages including that of Morrighan and Vendan. This now means that Lia will be able to decipher the Vendan book she stole from the Morrighan Scholar.

Meanwhile,  Rafe, who with his men, is unable to catch up to Kaden, decides that they will race towards Venda in the hopes of intercepting Kaden.

Lia makes plans to escape from Kaden but these are thwarted when he suddenly announces they are resuming their journey to Venda. As Lia begins to practice trying to discern her gift, she begins to feel it developing. This leads to one day to become suddenly aware of a great danger approaching. This danger turns out to be a huge heard of bison which cause her to become separated from Kaden and to spend the night in a dark and dangerous forest. It is in this forest that Lia uncovers her true identity and destiny. How that destiny will play out remains to be seen as Lia witnesses the murder of her brother Walther when his patrol has a surprise encounter with the Vendan army. Distraught but not yet despairing, Lia enters Venda preparing to meet the deadly Komizar. Her date with the Komizar however, will be aided by the presence of the very man she now knows she loves, the man she refused only a few months ago.

The Kiss of Deception is well written with numerous plot twists that keep the reader engaged. Pearson tells her story utilizing the three narratives of  Lia, Rafe and Kaden with a short narrative of Pauline's near the novel's end. In an attempt to engage her readers, Pearson does not reveal directly to her readers which of the two men is the assassin and which is the jilted prince. This leads to some confusion and suspense in the first half of the novel. The first chapters are narrated by Prince and Assassin but when they appear in Terravin these narrations change to Kaden and Rafe respectively. This seems to be the pattern throughout the novel; something such as "the festival"  is introduced but not fully explained until many pages later.

While the novel opens with the fascinating hook of Lia having her wedding kavah done, a sort of nonpermanent tattoo, the middle section is slow as Pearson develops the romantic tension between Lia and the two men hunting her,  and as she builds her characters. It is this love triangle that is the basis for most of the conflict in the novel. As Lia comes to know Rafe and Kaden through the summer however, she gradually comes to chose Rafe, although she still believes Kaden to be a kind man. This belief in him continues after she is kidnapped by Kaden and seems unrealistic. He is taking her across the continent to a hostile kingdom whose ruler will likely do what Kaden did not - kill her. And equally unrealistic is that Lia is portrayed as still finding Kaden attractive despite knowing that he has killed many people in his work as an assassin.

All three main characters change during the course of the novel.  Lia becomes less self-centered and more concerned about how her actions might affect her world in a broader sense. At first her only thought is to flee, to reject the traditions and duties of her position as First Daughter in Morrighan. She haughtily rejects her mother's idea that she too is a soldier in her father's army. But by the end of the novel Lia has come to realize that this is a truth she must accept and that traditions and duty are important. 

Despite being jilted by her, Rafe, whose true identity is finally revealed to Lia at the end of the novel, finds Lia very different from the princess he imagined her to be. Although headstrong, she is caring but deeply hurt about being treated as a mere bargaining chip by her father. Rafe finds himself willing to forgive Lia for what happened on their wedding day and to see her safely back to Morrighan. Rafe feels he is unworthy to now marry Lia because he has deceived and manipulated her and that she not forgive him. 

Kaden whose allegiance is to Venda and his Komizar experiences the greatest conflict in the novel. He owes the Komizar his life and station but the price has been high. He is an accomplished assassin who expected to have murdered Lia quickly and efficiently. Instead, he finds that Lia is not as other royals he has met.

Woven throughout the novel are bits about the past of the world Lia, Rafe and Kaden inhabit. The texts of Morrighan talk about the people before them, known as the Ancients who were demigods controlling the heavens but who had been destroyed by the gods. The remains of their buildings can be found almost everywhere including Terravin. I love that Pearson placed a map in the novel, showing the position of the kingdoms. This is especially helpful during Lia and Kaden's journey to Venda. It helps the reader place the action in the story.

At close to 500 pages, The Kiss of Deception is a long read that might discourage some. However this is a captivating fantasy adventure with a hopeful romantic twist at the end. Readers will be anxious to learn what happens to Lia, Rafe and Kaden, to meet the cruel Komizar and to learn more about the history of what appears to be a post-apocalyptic world. The second novel, The Heart of Betrayal will be published in 2015.

Book Details:
The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson
New York: Henry Holt and Company     2014
486 pp.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Case of the Love Commandos by Tarquin Hall

The Case of the Love Commandos is another multi-faceted adventure of Vishu Puri, head of Most Private Investigators Ltd.

The novel opens with Facecream, an operative of Puri's, who is involved with the volunteer group known as the Love Commandos waiting to meet a client.  She is part of the Love Commandos a group dedicated to helping "Indian couples from disparate castes and religions to marry and settle down, often under aliases."  The Love Commandos believe that India's strict social rules governing arranged marriages where only couples from similar castes are allowed to marry, is preventing the country from modernizing.

Laxmi, Facecream's code name in the Love Commandos is waiting outside the gates of the University of Agra for the arrival of Tulsi, the daughter of Vishnu Mishra, a Thakur or hereditary landowner who made money off India's caste system. Mishra has an army of servants to cook, clean, dress and manage every aspect of his life. But Mishra's daughter, Tulsi, has fallen in love with Ram Sundra who belongs to the Dalit or "untouchable" caste. Although they both are from rural Uttar Pradesh, they met at the University of Agra. Mishra had blocked all communication between Ram and  Tulsi, threatening to kill Ram if he continued to pursue his daughter. Tulsi had been a virtual prisoner in her family's villa in Agra and she was scheduled to be married within the week.  Ram approached the Love Commandos for help.

The Love Commandos are hoping to help her escape from her father when she goes to write her examinations at the University of Agra. They will then take her to see Ram who is waiting at a safe house. However, things do not go as planned. First off, as Tulsi is escaping through the bathroom window, she is caught by her father. She manages to escape out the window and onto the scootie Laxmi is driving. When they arrive at the safe house, Laxmi discovers that Ram is missing and it appears that he has been kidnapped. Tulsi calls her father and begs him not to hurt Ram but Mishra tells her he doesn't know where Ram is. Laxmi decides to call her boss, Vishu Puri.

Puri is in the midst of  trying to avoid a family trip to the top of the Trikuta Mountain to visit the Vaishno Devi shrine. Things have not been going well for Vishu Puri. Although he had nabbed the thieves in the 2.5 crore jewelry heist which occurred at the "Jains' multi-million-dollar luxury Delhi villa", Vishu has been unable to locate the missing jewelry. Aggravated by this fact he doesn't want to go on vacation, but is seemingly convinced by his faithful secretary, Elizabeth Rani, Puri heads to the Delhi Railway Station station to see Rumpi, Mummy-Ji and his fifteen year old nephew, Chetan off. On his way out of the train, Puri is forced to squish by a very large man whom he later discovers has pickpocketed his wallet.

Puri makes this discovery on his own train which is headed to Lucknow in the Uttar Pradesh region.  Ram's village, Govind, is to the west of Lucknow. Regarding his wallet, Puri contacts Rumpi by mobile and gives her a description of the suspect. Although he doesn't want his Mummy-Ji involved, there's no stopping her. Mummy-Ji walks through the various cars of the train taking pictures of obese men with moustaches. After sending the pictures to Puri, they locate the man, Pranap Dughal and have Inspector Malhotra, the deputy chief of police meet them at the station in Jammu. Puri's wallet is discovered under a table and the man, Pranap Dughal, and his wife are allowed to leave.

Meanwhile Puri meets Facecream in Lucknow and then travels onto Govind where he expects Mishra to show up looking for Ram. Govind is strictly segregated with the Dalit ghetto on the edge of the village. The village chowkidar shows Puri, Ram Sunder's family's new home and Puri meets Ram's father who has been beaten and learns that Ram's mother, Kamlesh left the village the previous night and has not returned. He also discovers that something was dug up in the backyard. As Puri is leaving the village, Vishnu Mishra shows up but is arrested for the murder of Ram Sunder's mother who was found in a canal near Mishra's ancestral village.

After Puri's escapade in Govind, Facecream disguises herself as a schoolteacher and arrives at the village with the intention of learning why Mrs. Sunder left her village in the middle of the night on foot and what happened to her. In Govind she meets a boy, Deep who may hold the clue to what happened to Kamlesh Sunder.

Back in Jammu, the Dughals and the Puri's are preparing to embark on the same pilgrimage to the Vaishno Devi shrine. Convinced that Pranap Dughal is up to no good, Mummy-Ji  begins "doing surveillance" on Dughal, determined to catch him in the act of something nefarious.

From this point on the novel weaves the threads of three stories - Puri as he hunts for Ram Sunder and tries to untangle the mystery of Kamlesh Sunder's murder, Rumpi and Mummy-Ji as they follow a pickpocket they believe is going to kill his wife, and Facecream who is attempting to trace the last steps of Ram Sunder's mother before she was murdered.It's a case that will involve that brings together political intrigue, corruption and India's ancient caste system that is threatened by the new insights modern genetic testing can provide.

The Case of the Love Commandos is Hall's best novel to date. While Puri, Rumpi and Mummy-Ji are by now, well known main characters, new insights are provided about Facecream whose background from an untouchable caste causes her to be compassionate towards the children and families in Govind who suffer from discrimination and the resulting grinding poverty. Facecream had experimented with Marxism in an attempt to fight the corruption but she now believes that education is the solution to changing society.

As usual the dialogue is amusing, the ever-present corruption is (realistically) used to further the plot, and there is the wonderful hilarious dynamics between Rumpi, Puri and his mother Mummy-Ji that we've come to expect and relish. The usual cast from Most Private Investigators; Flush, the electronics expert, Tubelight an operative, Handbrake his driver, Door Stop the office boy make brief appearances

Although The Case of the Love Commandos is an entertaining crime novel, with a story that touches on some of the issues that confront modern India today; widespread corruption of police and the judicial system, a political system that manipulates the castes for votes, the destructive influence of the caste system in India which sees low-caste Indians exploited by their higher-caste counterparts and the continued practice of arranged marriages as well as the forbidding of  marriages between certain castes that cause family discord and further entrench discrimination in Indian society.

The Case of the Love Commandos is an immensely enjoyable novel, with plenty of humour, a suspenseful finish  that neatly ties up all the loose ends and further proves that Vishnu Puri is not the only brilliant detective in the Puri family!

There's more of the wonderful Indian recipes at the back of the novel (food as usual plays an important part in Puri's day to day life!) and an extensive glossary of Indian terms.

Book Details:
The Case of the Love Commandos by Tarquin Hall
Toronto: McClelland & Stewart       2013
310 pp.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Wildflower by Alecia Whitaker

Wildflower is a fun, refreshingly clean novel about a sixteen year old girl navigating the world of country music and on the threshold of stardom.

Sixteen year old Bird Barrett is part of a family of musicians, the Barrett Family Band who play bluegrass and tour around the southern United States. Besides her mom and dad, Bird shares the family Winnebago with her two older brothers. Her dad sings and plays banjo, her mom the mandolin, nineteen year old Dylan plays guitar and seventeen year old Jacob is on bass while Bird plays violin. Bird has a big crush on nineteen year old Adam Dean, a close friend of Jacob and another young musician who plays the circuit. Bird considers Adam to be a talented musician and every time their paths cross, she excited to catch up with him again but she's not sure if he feels the same about her.

Bird's family ventured into music after the death of her brother Caleb from a drowning accident. If not for his death they likely would still be living in their two-storey home in Jackson, their father working as a real estate agent. But music saved Bird's family; it was suggested by their pastor that they take up a hobby, something they could do together as a family. So her father returned to playing the banjo, purchased some gently used instruments from a music story and the Barret Family Band was born. Dylan played steel-stringed acoustic guitar, Jacob took up the bass, and Bird's other played the mandolin. Bird chose the fiddle. After Bird won a fiddling competition and Dylan had a successful performance at the school talent show, their father Judd began signing them up to play at local festivals. They've been on the road for the last seven years, ever since Bird was nine.

When Bird's father becomes ill before their next gig in Nashville, she is told she will have to sing lead vocals at the Station Inn. Bird loves music but she's never sung lead before.At first she's nervous but she manages to get through the gig with the help of her family. Afterwards, Bird and her father are approached by a talent scout, Randall Strong, from Great American Music in Nashville. Randall wants to sign Bird to a contract with GAM. Although thrilled, Bird is concerned that this leaves her family missing an essential part of the family band, and for Dylan who passed on college to tour with them.

While the rest of the family vacations in North Carolina with Gramma, Bird and her father meet with Randall who arranges for Bird to do a spot at The Bluebird Cafe in Nashville. After a successful gig "in the round", Randall attempts to sign Bird that night with GAM. Judd however wants to look over the contract. On their way out of the club, the are approached by another talent scout, Dan Silver who is president of a small record company, Open Highway Records. Bird likes Dan who talks to her and explains that if she signs with GAM she will be churning out the same stuff that's being produced everywhere and her unique talent will be lost. He tells them GAM will "try to package you to fit into their pop image and new-country sound." After discussions with Dan, Bird and her father decide to sign with Open Highway.

This means putting the Barrett Family Band on hold while Bird records her first single, shoots a video and gets an image makeover.Shannon Crossley one of the singers at the Bluebird Cafe helps Bird rewrite her Notice Me song that Bird wrote about wanting her friend Adam to notice her. Shannon's daughter, Stella, soon becomes Bird's best friend. Stella helps Bird reach out and connect with Adam, encouraging her to text him.

As Bird's music career begins to evolve, Dylan struggles to accept what is happening and that he is being left behind. A good musician in his own right, he is struggling with feeling of jealousy and pride.At her release party for her single, Notice Me, Bird encounters Randall who tells her that he has signed a new talent who will be stiff competition.

Eventually texts and phone calls with Adam lead to Bird taking time out of her hectic schedule to have breakfast with him at a pancake house. Bird tells Adam that GAM originally was interested in her but she signed with Open Highway because they led her to believe that she would have more artistic control. However, Adam makes her realize that this is not the case, as evidenced by the change in her appearance, and the difficult time she had convincing them to allow her family to play on her album.

During their catch up time Adam reveals that GAM has just signed a new country singer, Kayelee Ford and that he has been offered a gig to play at her release party in a few weeks. Shocked, Bird questions Adam about making music for someone else but he tells her he wants to settle down and doesn't like the road life. In an attempt to head off what Bird thinks is the possibility that she will lose Adam, she makes him an offer to play on her album although she knows this is highly unlikely. They part with Bird promising to come see Adam play at the 5 Spot in a few weeks.

However, several events occur that soon drive a wedge between Bird and Adam. The first is a set up by her publicist, Anita, with a hot movie star designed to create some publicity as her new single climbs the charts. The second is Bird's well-intentioned decision to help out best friend Stella's high school fund-raiser catches her trouble with Dan Silver and causes her to miss Adam's gig at the 5 Spot. The third is the break-up of the Barrett Family Band with her brothers both applying for college. Can Bird possibly cope with the turmoil in her life and her rocket rise to stardom?

The warm, attractive cover of Wildflower invites readers into a touching story about a young girl getting her big break into the music world while struggling to come to terms with the changes that break brings to both her family and her personal life. Bird never imagined herself having the life of a musician, it wasn't something she'd worked towards. Life was simple, just she and her family touring enjoying making music in small towns and crushing on a cute boy who seemed to like her.

Wildflower is the first in a three book series about Bird Barrett's rise to country stardom. I wish the cover was of a young woman holding a fiddle but perhaps this is representative how Bird doesn't quite stay true to herself in the novel. Although Dan Silver stated that his label would not repackage her that is in fact exactly what they do to Bird. They replace her beloved violin, Maybelle, with a fancy guitar, make her a red head and her publicist even sets her up with a hot, young movie star to garner her some publicity. Instead of being backed by her family, Bird has seasoned session musicians perform on her album. It is her muse, Adam Dean, who inadvertently makes her aware of this, yet Bird seems to ignore this. When she tries to step outside of the boundaries Dan Silver has placed her in, by playing her fiddle at the fundraiser at Stella's school, she's taken to task for it. Not yet mature enough to fully understand who she is, Bird apologizes to Dan and Anita. Ironically, it is Bird doing what she does best, singing and fiddling, that results in her trending on Twitter and getting a ton of publicity. It will be interesting to see how Whitaker develops the theme of identity and the conflict that seems to be building between Bird and Dan over their different visions of Bird as a country music singer.

Whitaker has created well developed characters who interact in a believable way in situations that seem realistic. Especially well done is the lunch Bird has with famous movie idol, Jason Samuels.  They behave as two young people who don't know each other and who have basically been set up on a blind date would - they struggle to find common ground and have a conversation. Based on Jason's actions, Bird realizes that he's is not the plastic movie star he's made out to be.  "...even though all the characters Jason plays in movies make him seem like just another pretty face, now that we're two regular people hanging out in a coffee shop, I realize there's a little more depth to him than I'd figured. He's really a nice, if slightly quirky, guy." 

Bird is a typical teenager with teenager interests that include music, worries about how to attract the interest of a cute guy she's crushing on, shopping and hanging with her new best friend.The descriptions of how important her music is to her are well done. Her best friend, Stella, is a caring person who understands Bird's world of music and offers her a sympathetic ear.

Wildflower has a bit of everything that makes it work; there is the interesting hook of a young girl being discovered and on the verge of stardom, a touch of romance and a bit of conflict. The novel ends on a somewhat sad note, with Bird struggling to find comfort in her music, creating a perfect lead into the next novel.

Having just discovered this wonderful author, I plan on reading her first novel, The Queen of Kentucky, and can hardly wait for the next installment in the Wildflower series. Wildflower is undoubtedly one of the best novels I've read this year.

Book Details:
Wildflower by Alecia Whitaker
New York: Poppy, Hachette Book Group    2014
304 pp.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Year of Chasing Dreams by Lurlene McDaniel

The Year of Chasing Dreams follows the romances of two close friends, Ciana Beauchamp and Eden McLauren, as they chase their dreams of marrying the men they love.  Their romances are set against the backdrop of the Beachamp family and the possible secrets kept by previous generations.

Ciana and Eden have returned from their trip to Italy and are still trying to come to terms with the death of their mutual friend Arie. At Bellmeade with her mother Alice Faye, Ciana must now focus on turning the

Twenty-one year old Ciana Beauchamp lives on her family's estate, Bellmeade with her mother Alice Faye and her best friend Eden. She hasn't heard from the man she loves, Jon Mercer in seven months until one October day he shows up at her ranch. She's angry that Jon has never contacted her in that time. Ciana wants to push him away but her mother invites Jon for dinner. Jon wants to move back in as a ranch hand, but Ciana is not keen on this.

Eden has a letter that Arie, her friend who died of cancer, wrote her before she died. She had tried to track down the Australian man, Garret Locklin whom Eden met while in Italy and whom she has fallen for. Although Arie could not find out much she gives Eden the email of an Irish girl, Colleen, in Garret's walkabout group to help locate Garret. Arie emails Colleen and learns that Garret became very ill with double pneumonia while in Sweden. His friends, Tom and Laura had to take him back to Australia. Eden emails Garret and eventually receives a response from him indicating that he is on the mend, but wants her to visit.

Meanwhile Ciana has been reading through her grandmother Olivia's diaries. When she mentions her interest in her grandmother's past, Alice Faye tells her that she's not interested, that for some reason her mother never quite took to her like she did to her granddaughter, Ciana. Ciana's readings of Olivia's diaries unearth an interesting story about a neighbour, the Soders adopting a boy when Olivia was eight in 1936. When Olivia was fourteen she had an encounter with Roy Soder whom she both hated but was also attracted to.

Ciana is struggling to restart the Beauchamp farm and is boarding horses to make ends meet. Added to her worries is the pressure placed on her from an outside real estate developer, Gerald Hastings, to sell Beauchamp's land for his new development, Bellmeade Estates. Ciana is one of the few opposed to the new development. She's a farmer and the land is important to her. However many of the townsfolk see it as an economic windfall for the town of Windemere which has been economically depressed for years. The new development would bring buyers from Nashville and Murfreesboro and add jobs. But Ciana wants no part of it and has no intention of selling her family's land. Jon warns Ciana that the developer will not back down so easily as he likely has invested a great deal of money into his project.

Eden flies to Australia to stay with Garret and his parents, Maggie and Trevor. She explains to Garret that she had to leave Italy because Arie become very ill during their trip and that she was unable to contact him. Garret accepts this and things go fine until his former girlfriend, Alyssa Bainbridge, a beautiful model, reappears. Garret manages to ease Eden's worries about his former girlfriend despite her continued unfriendly encounters with Alyssa. Eden tries out surfing, almost losing her life when she gets caught in a riptide. As their relationship deepens, Eden tells Garret about her past with Tony and her mother's bipolar disorder. None of this matters to Garret who eventually asks Eden if he can return with her to the United States.

Back in Tennessee Ciana has to contend with locals who are tearing up her fences and ruining her land. When Jon hears of her trouble, he fixes the fences and despite her opposition moves into the third floor of Bellmeade, at the request of Alice Faye. Exhausted by all the trouble she's having, Ciana gives in to Jon staying at Bellmeade and begins to accept his help in saving her family's home.

As she continues reading through her grandmother's diaries she makes an astonishing discovery. Past entries revealed that Olivia continued to be attracted to Roy Soder, kissing him at the age of sixteen but the entry from 1961 stated that Olivia bought the Soder farm for back taxes.

In the spring, Ciana receives a visit from Enzo Bertinalli, who continues to be captivated by her beauty and her beautiful farm. She attends the Horseman's Ball in Nashville with Enzo and when he asks her to be his lover, she politely declines. Enzo correctly understands what Ciana herself is afraid to admit, that she is in love with Jon Mercer.

Troubles continue at the ranch with Ciana being run off the road. Despite this Ciana remains determined to keep her land, even after Gerald Hastings personally tells her that he had nothing to do with the recurring vandalism. Eden and Garret return to Bellmeade for a short visit before they plan on touring the States in their camper. During Eden's visit,  Ciana reveals to friend that she believes she has uncovered a family secret involving her grandmother Olivia, Roy Soder and her mother. Eden advises her to sit on what she knows since there seems to be no reason to stir up the past and cause her mother potential hurt. Little does Ciana realize that it is this secret which when missing pieces are supplied later on, will threaten to destroy Ciana's plans for the future and her happiness.

While Eden and Garret travel to Nashville to deal with a sad event in Eden's family, disaster strikes Windemere, affecting Bellmeade too. A series of deadly tornadoes strikes the town, destroying part of it and also the historic Bellmeade home. Jon is seriously injured and is taken to Nashville. His mother Angela Mercer comes to visit during a conversation to Ciana about Jon's family and their upcoming wedding she reveals information that upends Ciana's world. Having lost her family home, can Ciana face losing the man she loves?

The Year of Chasing Dreams is slow paced, taking it's time to weave a family secret from the Beauchamp past into the present day lives of Ciana and Jon while following the developing romances of Jon and Ciana and Eden and Garrett. This novel is part young adult and part cheesy romance, the writing sometimes clumsy with the predictable happy ending for all involved. The older characters, the numerous references by Jon about wanting to "bed" Ciana, and the adult sexual relationships in the novel make this a book that attempts to fit into the "new adult" genre.

The problem with this novel is that many of the interesting elements are either never fully explored or only receive a cursory development often leaving the reader feeling like they have only skimmed the surface. For example,  the conflicts between characters flare briefly and then are quickly resolved. This is true of the initial conflict that exists between Jon and Ciana at the beginning of the novel and seems to simply fizzle out, with Ciana welcoming Jon back into her life rather quickly. Jon deceived Ciana and slept with her best friend, Arie, in what was presented in the first novel as a demonstration of (false) compassion and sacrificial love - a man having sex with a terminally ill woman so she can know what it's like to get laid before she dies. It's the hurt stemming from this betrayal that Ciana alludes to at the beginning of the novel, that never seems to be broached or resolved in a meaningful way. Instead, she simply gives up her anger towards Jon - it's an easy resolution.

Another potential conflict, the arrival of a wealthy Italian man, Enzo Bertinalli who is smitten with Ciana could have been a source of tension between Jon and Ciana but Jon is conveniently mostly never around and after attending the Nashville Ball, that's the end of Enzo.  The same is true of Aylssa Bainbridge's re-appearance in Garret's life. There is some initial conflict but it is never more deeply explored, becoming a very superficial part of the story that serves to create a bit of tension. Even the devastation of the tornado seems toned down.

What does work well is the discovery of what could be a devastating family secret, the implications for Ciana and Jon not yet fully understood until a few extra pieces are supplied by a very minor character in the story.  This leads to the climax of the novel but it is easily resolved and the novel ends happily.

Fans of Lurlene McDaniel will enjoy The Year of Chasing Dreams, especially those who have been reading her while in their teens.

Book Details:
The Year of Chasing Dreams by Lurlene McDaniel
New York: Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children's Books     2014
327 pp.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Things You Kiss Goodbye by Leslie Connor

The Things You Kiss Goodbye is a bittersweet novel about relationships, first love and struggling through terrible loss. It also tackles the sensitive subject of abuse in teen relationships.

Bettina Vasilia who lives with her Momma, Bampas (father) and her two younger brothers, ten year old Favian and seven year old Avel is Greek and very different from most of her classmates. She wears combat boots, has a long thick braid of hair, a wide smile and is covered in henna tattoos.

Bettina first met Brady Cullen at the end of their sophomore year when she was just fifteen. At that time Brady was sweet and shy which Bettina found endearing. Bettina's Bampas is very strict; she's not allowed to date, she has to be picked up from school and is expected home at night for family dinner. After waiting numerous times with her outside the school, Brady meets Bampas who gives his permission for Brady to date Bettina. So Brady becomes Bettina's way of getting around her Bampas's strict rules which leave her feeling like she's "kind of grounded as a way of life."

At first Brady is a good boyfriend; he is kind, friendly, thoughtful and caring. Before school breaks for summer Brady convinces Bettina to try out for cheerleading which she does because she realizes it will allow her another excuse to be out at night.

They continue to be friends thorough the summer but the beginning of school in September sees a change in Brady's behaviour towards Bettina. Brady has a group of people he hangs out with and he seems friendly with everyone at school. "Brady Cullen wasn't a shy, skinny guy bouncing a ball just beneath everyone's radar anymore. He was a nodding, fist-bumping, 'jock machine,' working the hallway like it was his job."

When Bettina meets an old friend, Tony Colletti, Brady acts jealous. The first week of school, Brady takes Bettina back to his house where he forces her to have sex with him, completely unaware that she does not feel ready for this unexpected move forward in their relationship. From this point on Brady begins to hurt Bettina. It starts out small, like stabbing her with the toothpick end of a clay figure she had made for Brady and a few days later crushing her hand causing severe bruising and swelling from her new school ring. After the latter injury, Bettina flees the school and crosses over to Hammer Hill Industrial Park where she encounters a handsome young man who looks like a cowboy or a motorhead. This young man who appears to be much older than Bettina, around twenty five or so, takes her to Unit 37, tenderly ministers to her injured hand and puts her ring onto a shoelace so she can still wear it. Bettina nicknames him Cowboy and discovers her runs an auto shop.

Bettina makes excuses for Brady because he always seems genuinely sorry. The situation with Brady makes Bettina recall the advice her Bampas always gives her: fili antio or "kiss it goodbye". Whenever she was denied something by her Bampas, he had her kiss his cheek and then told her to bury her disappointment and not to cry. To let it go. Bettina decides she will apply Bampas's fili antio philosophy to her relationship with Brady.

Bettina agrees to visit Tony Colletti's nonna, Regina Colletti, who is sick with cancer. Bettina once lived in the same neighbourhood as Tony, so they have many memories of his nonna who ruled as both queen bee and rebel.

As the days pass, Bettina is drawn to Cowboy. She begins taking him coffee early in the morning as she visits his shop before school. Cowboy asks her if the boy he saw her with is the one who hurts her. Bettina brushes this off refusing to acknowledge what Cowboy has quickly recognized.When the cops show up at his shop, Cowboy tells Bettina that his family is messed up adn that there were problems at his ma's home during the night.

Brady's physical and emotional abuse of Bettina continues to escalate.  Bettina meets Regina again and wants to tell her the truth about Brady, about how at first he was a nice boyfriend but how he changed. Instead, she reasons that she "just had to steer him around so he'd be funny and tender." and that she is the problem. To that end she commits herself "to making things better with Brady." She tries everything to diffuse situations that look like they might cause him to behave badly. One day in October she brings baklava for the cheerleaders. Bettina tries her fili antio philosophy but Brady smashes the locker door hard enough that it knocks the pastries out of her hands onto the floor. Afterwards as she is rushing to cheerleading practice, Brady drills a basketball into her knee severely injuring her. Later Brady brings ice for her knee, leading the cheerleaders to think he is such a caring boyfriend. At this point Bettina tries to tell Brady that when he's mad he needs to tell her. This seems to work for a time as Brady is on his best behaviour.

Meanwhile during another visit with Tony's nonna, Regina tells Bettina about a boy she fell in love with when she was fourteen and how her father beat her badly when he found out about them Regina says never forgot that first love and that her father was wrong to do what he did. Bettina says Regina's story "stitched itself to my heart".

Cowboy is concerned about Bettina's leg injury but once again she deflects his questions. They continue to meet during mornings and sometimes after school always avoiding the subject of Brady. During this time Cowboy encourages Bettina with her idea about opening a coffee shop with one of her father's properties and reveals to Bettina that her father is very wealthy, something she did not know. Their relationship begins to shift gradually as Bettina and Cowboy often go for milkshakes and she helps out in the shop. One afternoon Cowboy takes her to the hill on the water company property and Bettina tells him how she feels. When he tells her she can't come to his auto shop anymore Bettina begs him to let her continue to visit.During one of Bettina's visits, Cowboy reveals his true name, Silas Wolcott Shepherd.

In November, as Brady's basketball season approaches, he becomes increasingly stressed and the abuse returns. He becomes furiously jealous when another boy asks her to dance at a party and during a fight Bettina falls seriously injuring her cheek. Bettina's injury prompts Cowboy to tell her about the scars she saw on his back a few weeks earlier - that his ma beat him and his dad and brothers left. But Cowboy stayed with his ma and this leads Bettina to question his reasons for staying.  When Cowboy comes to see her at her home, sneaking in the back way, Bettina acknowledges that she is doing the same thing with Brady - that she is really putting up with the abuse because she's using Brady as a means of getting around her father's restrictive rules and getting out of the house.

One day Brady violently assaults Bettina by yanking her braid, injuring her neck and smashing her locker door into her side. It is the assault and Cowboy's recent altercation with his mother that leaves him bruised that makes Bettina realize she is being abused in the same way that Cowboy has been and that she needs to stop it.

However, when Bettina finally concedes that Brady Cullen is hurting her, and realizes she needs to leave him, she feels trapped. Bettina feels there is no way she can leave Brady without there being some kind of fallout. She knows that if she tells people at school he is abusive, he will be given the benefit of the doubt. She can't quit the cheerleading squad because she's made a commitment for the year. If she told her Bampas, although upset that she is being hurt, Bettina feels he would likely see the situation as a proof that he was right all along about her having a boyfriend - that she was too immature and he would claim that she didn't do enough to support Brady through his difficult season.

Bettina and Brady go through the motions of being boyfriend/girlfriend with Bettina gradually finding excuses to not spend time with him.  As Brady continues to have an awesome season, Bettina is there to support him, hoping that when the season ends, they will end too.

As her relationship with Brady begins to unwind her friendship with Cowboy grows deeper. He takes her to his dad's farm and on New Years Day he sneaks her out of her bedroom and takes her to the hill on the water property. In February, Cowboy shows up at her home via the River Road and shows her the reconditioned '57 Chevy. Bettina is stunned to see Cowboy with a large welt across his face. Cowboy tells her that this was from his mother and that he has finally left. He thought his mother was finished with the abuse;  "'I didn't see this one coming. But you know what? There's always another one coming.' He looked at me dead-on. 'You have to get completely out of the way.' " Cowboy tells Bettina that her situation is the same as his with his mother and that Brady is hurting her. Cowboy and Bettina finally admit that they are in love and that they need to try to be together.

When Bettina returns home during the early morning hours her mother is waiting for her, calling her out on her lies. Bettina finally admits to her momma what has been going on and that she loves this much older man. The next morning however, Bettina's world is crushed when she must confront the tragedy that has occurred overnight. Her world changed forever, Bettina filled with a deep sense of loss,  gradually takes steps to take control over her own destiny and how the men in her life treat her.

The Things You Kiss Goodbye is definitely a novel for older teens as there are numerous references to sexual encounters, a much older man involved with a young teenager and an abusive teenage relationship. The strength of this novel is Connor's ability to realistically portray the abusive behaviour in Brady and Bettina's relationship and Bettina's inability to move out of this situation. As is often the case, the abuse begins to escalate, Bettina behaviour is typical of many victims of abuse, making excuses for the perpetrator. Bettina like many women, believe they can change their man only to learn that this is not possible. Bettina lives by her father's mantra, fili antio to kiss goodbye the things she is told she can't have or are beyond her control to change. While this philosophy might work for a parent and young child, it cannot be applied readily to adulthood, as Bettina begins to discover. It is this learned behaviour that enables her to stay in the relationship with Brady for so long despite the fact that she knows he is hurting her. She also believes, as do many abused women, that his behaviour is her fault.

Another interesting aspect that Connor portrays is how Brady hides his abusive nature beneath a veneer of public kindness. After he drills the basketball into Bettina's knee, he shows up at her gym with ice, causing the cheerleaders to swoon over how sweet he is.  I also liked that fact that Connor portrayed a situation where a teenage girl was pushed into sexual activity by her boyfriend before she was ready - something many girls face and not often acknowledged.

Bettina's relationship with Brady is a complete contrast to her relationship with Cowboy. Cowboy treats her with respect and because of their age difference is hands off. They develop a strong bond of friendship that includes mutual respect, something completely lacking in her relationship with Brady. They support each other in contrast to the self-centered Brady who seems unable to recognize the emotional needs Bettina might have and has no interest in encouraging her. In fact, he does just the opposite when Bettina shows him her project which garnered an A+ from the teacher, he blows her off, ridiculing her idea.

But it's not just Bettina's relationship with Brady that is disordered either. Her relationship with Bampas is one of control, lacking in compassion and the realization that Bettina is growing into adulthood. Bampas repeatedly informs Bettina how her afterschool activities are disrupting their family life and making things difficult for the family. He isn't supportive of her, has many rules and when she tries to discuss her needs, Bampas shuts her down with a brusque "siopi" or silence. Eventually Bettina does confront her father on his philosophy after the loss of Cowboy telling him not to tell her to "kiss it goodbye".  She tells her father that her loss is real and needs to be acknowledged; "He is dead. I'll never get over it. This is not a thing I can just kiss goodbye, Bampas. I won't get off that easy. I have to feel the whole thing. So don't say that to me."

I felt that the author didn't adequately explain the abrupt change in Bradyalthough she seems to attribute it to him becoming a jock and the increased pressures of playing with the school basketball team. His self-centered behaviour was well drawn.

Overall, Connor does a great job of fashioning realistic characters, excellent dialogue and creating situations that are believable. While the events are tragic, The Things You Kiss Goodbye ends on a hopeful note. Bettina acknowledges the hurt and loss she still feels in September of another year her heart open to the good that came from loving him.

Book Details:
The Things You Kiss Goodbye by Leslie Connor
New York: Katherine Tegen Books an Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers     2014
358 pp.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Year of Impossible Goodbyes by Sook Nyul Choi

This is the first in a trilogy of books written by Sook Nyui Choi who was born in Pyongyang, North Korea in order to share her experiences in this turbulent period of history. Choi writes, "Having lived through this turbulent period of Korean history, I wanted to share my experiences. So little is known about my homeland, its rich culture and its sad history." Choi wanted "to write this book to share some of my experiences and foster greater understanding."

It is 1945 and World War II continues to rage on. For the Koreans, it means continued occupation by Imperial Japan, which is fighting against the American's to retain control over much of the Pacific and South Asia.

Nine year old Sookan lives with her family in Kirimi, Pyongyang. Her father and older brothers, Hanchun, Jaechun and Hyunchun have been taken away, while her younger brother, seven year old Inchun lives with her and her mother and her Aunt Tiger. Her older sister, Theresa is a nun in a convent just outside of Pyongyang.  Sookan's grandfather is a Buddhist but her mother is Roman Catholic. 

Sookan's Grandfather has been teaching her to read and write in Korean and Chinese  and she has also been learning about the ancient Korean kingdoms - all for this forbidden by the Japanese. Instead they are forced to worship at the Shinto temple and to pray for victory over the "White Devils" - the Americans.

In the backyard of their home is a large wooden shack which was built by the Japanese and serves as a factory making socks for the Japanese soldiers. Sookan's cousin, Kisa is a mechanic who greases the knitting machines so the "sock girls" can churn out the required quota of socks for the Japanese. Captain Narita comes daily to inspect the factory and the workers. Sookan is friends with many of the girls including Haiwon and Okja. Sookan, her mother and Aunt Tiger work with the sock tubes, cutting them and turning them in to tube socks.

In June, 1945, Sookan's mother returns from a visit with Theresa with a small Christian book as a gift for Haiwon's birthday. The next day during her birthday party and before the workday starts, Captain Narita arrives earlier than usual. He takes Haiwon's birthday gifts as well as Sookan's mother's brass dishes.Aunt Tiger is certain this is not the end of it when Narita leaves. That afternoon two Japanese-trained Korean police arrive and chop down Grandfather's pine tree that he meditates under. This is so devastating to Grandfather that he never leaves his bedroom and eventually dies. Before he dies he asks his daughter, Sookan's mother to tell them about their family.

Sookan's mother tells how Grandfather was a scholar before Japan occupied Korea. Once occupied, all Koreans were encouraged to dress like the Japanese and to speak Japanese. Sookan's mother tells them that after the Japanese cut off Grandfather's topknot, they burned their village, resulting in the death of her two brothers and her mother. They escaped to Manchuria where her grandfather and Sookan's father  where part of the independence movement and where they published a newspaper in Hangul. She met Sookan's father in Manchuria and they were married there and had the four oldest children then. Only Inchun and Sookan were born in Korea. Father Carroll an American priest said Mass for all the Korean Catholics who were forbidden to go to church. He baptized all of Sookan's family but eventually he was discovered and had to leave Korea.

Grandfather's death is not the only terrible event to happen. Several days after his death, Captain Nakita comes to inspect the factory and tells Mother that the girls are not working hard enough and that they will be sent to "help the soldiers fight better". Sookan does not know what this means but her mother his horrified as are Haiwon and Okja. Sadly this comes to pass, and one night Captain Narita shows up with a truck and the girls are forced into the truck and taken away.

Sookan is sent to school after this only to discover that it is nothing more than indoctrination and a work camp. She is not allowed to use her Korean name, speak Korean or help other students. However, her time at school is shortlived and Sookan is quickly expelled.

In August, with the defeat and surrender of the Japanese, they begin to leave Korea. It is an anxious time for Sookan and her family as they await the expected arrival of the Americans and hope to hear about husbands, fathers and sons. They soon learn that the Americans and Russians have divided Korea at the 38th parallel with the Russians taking the northern part of the country.

At first the Korean people welcome the Russians, however, Sookan's mother is skeptical. Sookan remembers Grandfather's distrust of the Russians who he felt wanted to "own Korean just as the Japanese and the Chinese had."  Mother learns from the nuns at the convent that many Koreans are now attempting to flee to the south.

As the Russian Communists settle in and begin indoctrinating the local Korean population, it becomes evident that Sookan's family must leave. With the help of Kisa they make arrangements to flee to the south. Kisa tells Sookan's family that their father and brothers have fled to the South safely and that they will meet them there. Arrangements are made and tearful goodbyes made to Kisa and Aunt Tiger who must remain behind to deflect suspicion away from Mother, Sookan and Inchun. Will they be able to make the treacherous journey south across the 38th parallel to freedom?

Choi's short novel for children effectively portrays life in a country long under foreign occupation. The children suffer just as the adults do from privation, lack of education and destruction of their culture and their links to their past. In spite of this, Sookan's family secretly tries to preserve their culture, teaching the younger children their language and history and hiding important keepsakes and heirlooms. The Japanese however, make this increasingly difficult by starving the Korean population so that eventually all of their most precious links to their past are given up in order to survive.

A strong theme throughout the novel is perseverance. All of Sookan's family persevere through the  terrible living conditions and the loss of family and the sock girls. This perseverance is demonstrated most admirably at the end of the novel when Inchun and Sookan are abandoned by the "guide" who is supposed to lead them across the border. Despite losing their mother, and desperate to get to freedom, they overcome starvation, physical exhaustion and injury, and emotional trauma, against enormous odds.

The themes of faith and forgiveness also permeate the novel. Sookan's mother is Catholic and she has continued to pray for the safety of her husband and sons. When Kisa tells her they are safe, Mother states, "I knew my God would not desert me. I knew He was listening to all our prayers."  Despite the terrible things done to them, Grandfather and Aunt Tiger manage to forgive. Grandfather tells Inchun and Sookan "I do not feel bitter about what happened. I am not angry anymore." after what happened to his beloved pine tree. It is more important that his grandchildren learn about their family and their past. Aunt Tiger tells Sookan's mother that when she came to her house she was bitter and angry but with the help of Sookan's mother, she has been able to move past her feelings of revenge and to help others, "to do some good".

Written from Sookan's first person point-of-view, Year of Impossible Goodbyes is a poignant, stirring account of events that happened a world away during the early twentieth century. Most young people study World War II from the perspective of events that happened in Britain and Europe and only rarely learn about events that occurred at the same time in other parts of the world such as Asia. Although the book is not autobiographical, the events that happened to Sookan in Year of Impossible Goodbyes are likely very similar to what Sook Nyul Choi experienced as her family fled North Korea.

Korean culture has been strongly influenced by China. Many parts of Chinese culture, including its writing, political systems and architecture were adopted by the Korean people and made their own.  It is this ability to adapt foreign ideas and make them their own that is a defining characteristic of Korean culture. Korea's neighbour to the west, Japan, annexed Korea in 1910 and began to force Japanese culture and language onto the Korean people. As Japan continued to solidify its rule over Korea, gradually all forms of Korean culture were prohibited. By World War II, As Sook Nyul Choi writes in her novel, it was forbidden to speak Korean and Korean's were forced to worship at Japanese Shinto temples. Much of the country's cultural history was either destroyed or removed to Japan. During the war, men were conscripted to fight in the Japanese military and women were taken from villages to be used a "comfort women", a Japanese euphemism for sex slavery which was gently alluded to in Choi's novel.

Unfortunately the end of World War II did not bring a reprieve for Koreans living in the north. They now faced a new occupying army, the Communist Russians.When the Japanese retreated from the Korean pennisula, the two occupying armies, the Americans in the south and the Russians in the north divided Korea into two temporary zones. However, as the superpowers of the Soviet Union (Russia) and the United States could not agree on a government for Korea, it became impossible to set up a new government for all of Korea. The Korean War was instigated when the North attacked the South. The war ended in a stalemate in 1953 with the Communist North supported by the Soviet Union and China and the South gradually adopting a free-market democracy towards the end of the 20th century. North Korea has been in the news in the past decade because of the restrictive regime of Kim Jong-il who has led the country to brink of starvation and the implementation of large scale work camps. There is little doubt that the Korean people have suffered terribly over the past century.

Author Sook Nyul Choi was born in North Korea in 1937 and emigrated to the United States to attend college. Year of Impossible Goodbyes is the first book in a series, followed by Echoes of the White Giraffe and Gathering of Pearls.

Book Details:
Year of Impossible Goodbyes by Sook Nyui Chol
Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company            1991
169 pp.