Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Secret Life of Bees, a Novel by Sue Monk Kidd

Although The Secret Life of Bees is a work of fiction, this is a beautifully written honest portrayal of life in unfairly segregated South Carolina with the Jim Crow laws, through the signing in 1964 of revised Civil Rights laws to end segregation, allowing registration to vote to African Americans and other minorities. A time of civil disobedience and riots still happening, and in the midst of it comes this wonderful story of love, color-blindness, joy and happiness.  Sue Monk Kidd is an amazing author, with a gift of feeling her characters and creating them in such a way the reader feels all the nuances, too.  This book is very difficult to put down once begun.

There is also a mystery running through the book, as Lily, a young white girl tries to find solace in her difficult life and protection for the only woman she has had love from, Rosaleen, a black woman who has been brought in from the orchards to raise her after her mother dies while Lily is just a toddler.  With a volatile father who has no parenting instincts, her life is nothing but fear and pain.  When Rosaleen learns that she can now go and register to vote, as long as she could write legibly, the two of them walk into town where Rosaleen gets into a ruckus with some white men who are out for trouble, is beaten then both she and Lily are packed off to jail.  Lily's father gets her out and punishes her and the next day Lily hears that Rosaleen is in the hospital from a further beating while in jail, and through some quick thinking manages to rescue her and run away together.

Lily has no idea where they should go, but she had found some things of her mother's and one item, a picture of a "Black Mary" fastened to wood with the name of a small town on it, seemed to guide her, so that is where they head.  Once they finally find their way into the town, a chance visit to a small grocery store brings Lily face to face with stacks of honey with the exact same face pasted on it. Finding out where the person lives who supplies this opens great new doors for the two runaways.

Here is a new world, with kindness, love, caring, hominess, and a honey farm.  From this point on, both Lily and Rosaleen find the peace and caring they need and are absorbed into the family for an unspecified time.  The things they learn about life, and indeed about bees and beekeeping gradually open up their hearts and minds to possibilities.  While still fearing her father or the police will catch them, they cannot bring themselves to talk about their own lives, and no one pushes them to.  This is the beauty of the story. Heart-warming yet the veil of danger at all times. Love flows from all around as the honey flows from the supers when they are full. There are many quotes about bees, one for each chapter, that link the life of bees with human life, which is fascinating.

When Lily's father finally finds her, the overwhelming force of love from so many beats him back and he heads for home at last.  There is so much to be learned from this book in so many ways. Soul-searching and finding one's soul; the optimism for the future, the freedom of being oneself, the peace, love, and joy available when we are ready to accept it. This is a remarkable book and I would recommend it to everyone.  5 stars.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Ravenstone, a Novel by Deborah Cannon

I loved this, the third book in a series by Deborah Cannon, so much so I'm very sorry I haven't discovered her series before! Although the book can be read as a stand alone, there is a brief summary of each book in the Author's Note, and a few hints scattered throughout on what has happened before. I definitely want to read the first two, "The Raven's Pool" and "White Raven" and get caught up.

This book, "Ravenstone", takes the reader from the land of the Haida in the Queen Charlotte Islands off the west coast of Canada, to the small tropical country of Tonga in the South Pacific, made up of 169 islands. Fact and fiction blend so well, and the descriptions of the locations almost take the reader there physically. Jake Lalonde, is an archaeologist looking for his heritage connection to the Haida, knowing his father's line is the Raven. His girlfriend, Angeline Lisbon, is doing research for her PhD in archaeology, her dissertation in primitive art migration. A discovery of an ancient Raven petroglyph in the Queen Charlottes and simultaneously in Tonga puts them at cross-purposes on their individual theories and sends Angeline off to work in Tonga.

An ill-considered secret withheld by Jake puts even more pressure on their relationship as she is about to leave. At the same time their nemesis, a millionaire who had attacked Angeline in an earlier book, has managed to buy his way out of jail and is on the hunt, planning a program of terror for both Jake and Angeline. It was her testimony that sent him to prison. With the story set, the stalking begins, the chase is on across the ocean, there seems no escape, he seems to always be there, but is he? It's as though he is everywhere.

This very well-written book of mystery and adventure will keep the reader's attention as the suspense builds. The background is beautiful, the characters are fascinating and diverse. It hardly seems possible that such darkness can lurk in such beauty. The writing is taut, the research very deep, and the outcome not necessarily as one might think. Illness, treachery, murder, mythology, artifacts, and origins are all there. An exciting journey through relationships right back through centuries. A great story. 5 stars.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Stunt Road by Gregory Mose

 Reviewed for "ReviewTheBook"

Gregory Mose takes the reader on a whirlwind ride into the world of the obscure, enlightening, mystic, and colorful world of Horokinetics. Never heard of Horokinetics? Oh, you will in this book, and enjoy the journey. Unemployed Pete McFadden, along with his old college friend and mathematician Emily, and childhood friend and psychologist, Susan take on a project thrown out almost as a challenge by the person Pete has been trying to get a job interview with. He is promised an interview if he can produce a program "as good as" astrology but based on science, a program which he and his friends have successfully produced based on pure math. Something profound, dedicated, prophetic and insightful.

When his challenger reneges and doesn't even return his calls, Pete is devastated.  He takes a long drive up into the mountains, gets out of the car and gives in to memories and self-deprecation over his apparent latest folly.  He is so deep into his thoughts that he doesn't realize he is not alone. A man on horseback has come up the trail behind him.  Both begin to talk and it appears that both are soul-searching and currently unemployed.  Jake does not laugh at Pete's program but seems very interested in it and soon has turned Pete's thoughts to positive ones.

The journey of selling his idea and program begins as Pete finds himself at a table with his program and Jake at a "New Age" fair, a place he never dreamed of being at any point in his life. The book begins to take on an entirely different, and yet still similar forward movement. Over the next several chapters there is mystery, suspense, mythology, corporate greed, mistrust, and many more elements and switches.  The author combines fractals, chaos and philosophies in such a fluid way the reader won't find the sometimes obscure words difficult.  The beginning of the book in particular is quite tongue-in-cheek humorous, but becomes more serious in later chapters. There is quite frankly a lot that can be learned about ourselves as a whole without effort within these pages. On the other hand, the book contains, and in some way combines, the unscrupulous with purity.

I've never read a book quite like Stunt Road.  It is fascinating, depressing, joyful, cynical, provocative and even deadly, all at one go.  Quite an undertaking for a first novel. The range of characters really breathes life into the story.  Without the strong characterizations, this would be a different book.  The ending brings to mind Robert Frost's poem "The Road Not Taken" and the lines

    "...Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
    I took the one less traveled by,
    And that has made all the difference."

I am left to wonder, which road did Peter take when he came to the crossroad at the end of the book?  4 ½ stars

Monday, March 15, 2010

Able Danger by Kensington Roth

BOOK TOUR REVIEW by Betty Gelean

Covert groups, spies on spies, countries with strange bedfellows, this first book in the Able Danger series will keep the reader country-hopping worldwide. It opens with what appears to be a nice normal American suburban household which is suddenly disrupted in a very peculiar way. The family has become an unwitting test subject.

Kensington Roth has taken a political debacle and run with it. His protagonist is a black-ops spy, Harrison Court-006. Building around actual political decisions, Roth's book is a very compelling work of fiction that ties into reality very well. The style of writing is unique and very descriptive, the reader can picture whatever Court sees and encounters.  The author's sense of place and time is exquisite, the characterizations believable and consistent.

The action builds all the way through the book. Court's discovery that there is some kind of super-weapon, "Gravvox" being tested, and that one of their own, an ex-CIA agent has gone rogue, propels him with the extreme urgency of a runaway train to hunt down the ex-agent, stop him and learn the who, what, and when.  A plausible scenario, with a great and terrible surprise ending. Fortunately Roth is on his toes and the next book "Danger for 2" will be out soon, because I can't wait to find out what direction the sequel will take.  
4 1/2 stars

April 17, 2010: Just out, story-board type movie trailer for Able Danger on YouTube

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Rhino with Glue-on Shoes ed. Lucy H. Spelman, DVM and Ted Y. Mashima, DVM

The Rhino With Glue-on Shoes and other surprising true stories of zoo vets and their patients.

Edited by Lucy H. Spelman, DVM and Ted Y. Mashima, DVM with a foreword by Jack Hanna, I really enjoyed this book of short stories by wildlife veterinarians. Easy to read, pick up to read when you don't have much time, or read it all at one go. These are all actual rescues or attempted rescues of wildlife, the stories range from an elephant to a dung beetle and many a strange animal in between.  It's a wonderful testament to the care and devotion these men and women give to the animals they have dedicated their lives to. An added bonus is the insertion between some of the stories, Lucy Spelman, ed. inserts short chapters of her own. There is also a short bio at the end of each vet's story.

I was surprised to learn how often hospital surgeons volunteer their time to help the veterinary surgeons; I have always had an interest in wild animals and this book has renewed that interest 100%.  There is so much to learn, so many unknowns, so many survivors returned to the wilds to help rebuild populations. Who would expect a bartender to have an anorexic moray eel in his establishment, or a rhinoceros kept in conditions that would ruin his feet?  These caregivers must think on their feet, be innovative, communicate around the world, invent new treatments, and second-guess themselves around the clock.

I learned how to take blood from an octopus, how to transport whale sharks, how to repair the spine of a kangaroo, and how to anesthetize a frog or a goldfish among many more interesting things. But this book is no dry textbook, this is compassionate, heartwarming, often funny and a great read. There are 28 individual, completely separate true stories. Includes some photos.  I highly recommend it.

Monday, March 1, 2010

If I’d Killed Him When I Met Him by Sharyn McCrumb

Sharyn McCrumb is a favourite author who caught me by surprise with this book. This is from the Elizabeth MacPherson, forensic anthropologist series. Elizabeth is still mourning her husband lost at sea in Scotland, or maybe he is not, we have no idea if he is dead or alive. Elizabeth keeps writing letters to him regardless, but of course she just hides them away. This story brings her back to Virginia when her brother Bill invites Elizabeth to join him and his partner A.J. Hill, offering her work in their small and struggling office of MacPherson & Hill Attorneys at Law. He hopes she will be able to get her life sorted out and overcome her grief. These three are the main characters consistent to the series.

Three very strange cases come up within hours of each other, so there is soon plenty to occupy all of them and the receptionist Edith, too. At the same time, their recently divorced mother has moved in with a "room-mate", causing misunderstandings and concern to her two offspring, including a hilarious get-together to meet her room-mate and new friends.

A fairly strange story line that keeps one reading, and some interesting facts turn up in research. There are many sides to this story and with a feminist like A.J. involved it becomes just plain traumatic with all three cases befuddling and frustrating at every twist and turn. Reading this book is like falling down the rabbit hole, and just as entertaining. Sharyn is one of a few authors I can’t get enough of.

Note: Sharyn is probably best-known for her Ballad series, with a new book scheduled to come out in June 2010: “The Devil Amongst the Lawyers: A Ballad Novel”. She also writes a very funny series featuring NASCAR drivers with the third book “Faster Pastor” recently released. Not to mention an early Bimbos of the Death Sun sci-fi series.