Tag: fiction

Jun 17 2014

Review: The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope

The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope by Rhonda Riley opens in 1944 when Evelyn Roe is seventeen.  The U.S. involvement in World War II is at its peak, and Evelyn has recently graduated from high school when Evelyn’s great aunt Eva dies suddenly.  As all of Eva’s sons are off fighting, and Evelyn’s only brother is a bit too young, Evelyn is tasked with taking over the family farm.

One night during a bad rain storm, Evelyn discovers a figure buried in the mud.  Assuming that a wounded soldier has stumbled back from the war, Evelyn brings the figure into the house where she discovers that it is not exactly human but not entirely alien either.  Within a few days, Evelyn’s charge has transformed into a tall, red-headed woman: the near identical twin of Evelyn.  When a local boy is injured on Evelyn’s farm, she is forced to quickly invent a backstory for her new companion’s sudden appearance.  The unnamed figure suddenly becomes Addie, Evelyn’s long lost cousin and the daughter of her father’s estranged half-sister.

Addie’s strange vocalizations and shape-shifting elements draw Evelyn in, and they become sexually involved almost instantly.  After a couple of years, however, Evelyn finds herself longing for a husband and children.  Sensing this, Addie seduces a passing stranger and takes on his likeness.  Thus Adam Hope is born.  Adam’s vocalizations have a calm, soothing effect, and he is quickly accepted by Evelyn’s family and small town.  Several years go by and tragedy strikes, resulting not only in the emotional estrangement of Evelyn and Adam but also in the risk of Adam’s secret being revealed.  What follows is the tale of how they attempt to make their way back to Adam being perceived as human and to the former closeness in their relationship.

Most critics have compared The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope to The Time Travelers Wife due to the common element of an intense romance filled with unexplainable events and secrets kept from everyone else.  I found however, that it reminded me far more of Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane.  Though Gaiman’s book does not posess the romantic storyline that The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope does, it does have the otherworldly aspect.  As with Gaiman’s novel, ordinary life is punctuated by elements that can not be easily explained.  In addition, both books are told from the perspective of a person who finds themselves in the minority by being a normal human.

Readers of The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope may also be reminded of the 1984 film Starman.  While Riley’s book and the film both involve shape-shifting aliens, I found the differences from Riley’s novel to outweigh the similarities.  In Starman, it is made clear from the start that the storyline centers around an alien being, and he is in fact concious of his extra-terrestrial origins.  In The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope, Addie/Adam have no knowledge of their origins, and the alien aspect becomes secondary to the main plot.

The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope is an adult novel.  The descriptions of alien/human sex, while not as strange as the reader might imagine, are detailed.  In addition, the novel does not shy away from loss, and character death is dealt with in a very frank and realistic manner.

The opening historical setting of the book was in my mind an excellent choice by Riley.  Too much earlier in history, and the appearance of a shape shifter would have fallen prey to superstition and hostility.  Too much later in history, and the author would have been forced to deal with the complications of a society that is dependent on a paper or electronic trail.  In choosing a mid-World War II setting, Riley has picked just the right middle ground.  Developments of the bomb and the rumors of German and Japanese advanced technology create a bit of believable leeway for an alien visitor.  In addition, the element of the war created an environment where one could easily pass off the sudden appearance of new person as a returning soldier or a long lost relative.

Riley has created relatable characters that the reader will be able to easily recognize.  The depictions of a small town in which the residents are suspect of everyone outside – and are not completely sure of those inside – are spot on.  The reactions of the residents when confronted with evidence that Adam is different are precisely the attitudes one would expect to find in a small town.  The polite but obvious distancing, the thinly veiled derision, and the secret gossiping are all written in such a way that it is clear Riley has drawn from personal experience.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope and found that the book was not at all what I expected.  At first glance, I was uncertain and admittedly skeptical.  A historical, science-fiction romance sounded far too absurd for the author to pull of in a believable manner; however, Riley manages to achieve exactly that.  My primary criticism of the book is that the plot was a little slow in developing.  It is clear once the book is finished that the early plot development is necessary to establish the foundation, but I did find myself wishing the pace would pick up a little.  On the other hand, I did read this book in nearly one setting.  I would encourage the reader to stick with the first several chapters as I found that, just as I was at the point where I was ready to give up, the pace picked up dramatically and from that point was a quick read.

The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope seems an unlikely candidate for a book that will stick with you long after the cover is closed, but I found myself repeatedly thinking about the characters and their choices.  The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope is Rhonda Riley’s first novel, and I look forward to reading more of her works in the future.

 

 

 

 

Mar 25 2014

Review: Books for Beginning Readers

Children’s books are an often overlooked genre.  There are so many on the market that it can be a struggle to know where to begin with your beginning reader.  With that in mind, here are six new children’s books geared towards pre-schoolers or other young children.

Love Monster is a clever little tale written by Rachel Bright about a “slightly hairy and a bit googly eyed” monster who lives in a town called Cutesville.  Cutesville is, as the name suggests, a town populated by cute and fluffy residents such as kittens, puppies and bunnies.  Unfortunately, there’s no one in Cutesville to love the monster, so he decides to go out into the “big wide world” in search of love.  The book follows his adventures as he looks all around for someone to love him just as he is.

Love Monster is a great way to teach kids that it’s okay to be different and that we shouldn’t judge based on looks because even a “slightly hairy and a bit googly eyed” monster deserves love.  Although written to be silly, Love Monster manages to find a nice balance of conveying a strong moral message while not falling into the ridiculous.  In addition, the storyline is interesting enough that parents will not mind reading it over and over.

 

Rating: 


How to Babysit A Grandpa by Jean Reagan is a fun story about a little boy who babysits his grandfather one day while his parents are out.  Written in a how-to style, the book lists a variety of things kids can do with their grandparents while babysitting them for a day.  Some of these activities include giving him snacks such as ice cream topped with cookies, or cookies topped with ice cream (depending on your preference).  Other suggestions consist of taking him for a walk to look for lizards or to teach him the importance of jumping into puddles.

How to Babysit A Grandpa provides an excellent jumping off point for parents whose kids might be apprehensive about having a babysitter.  Told from the perspective of the child, the book immediately reassures the reader that “Mom and Dad always come back.” In addition, it gives many ideas for the child to use to have fun with their babysitter or grandparent.

How to Babysit a Grandpa goes a little overboard on the cute and might be a little juvenile for the 5 – 8 year old age range to which it is marketed, but might also be on the lengthy side for kids younger than 5 years old.

 

Rating: 


Zombie In Love by Kelly DiPucchio tells about a zombie named Mortimer who is looking for a girlfriend.  Mortimer tries a number of different tactics to find love but is overwhelmingly unsuccessful.  He simply cannot find “the ghoul of his dreams.”  Mortimer tries several different tactics in his quest for love.  He tries giving one girl a diamond ring.  The next, he gives a heart.  He even tries to go to the gym, but unfortunately his arm keeps falling off.  Eventually, Mortimer decides to place an ad in the paper in the hopes that someone will meet him at the Sweethearts ball.

Targeted toward children aged 4 – 8, Zombie In Love is an entertaining read that will quickly become a regular in the bedtime reading rotation.  Kids who are in that “love of all things gross” stage will enjoy the zombie aspect, and the subtle visuals such as the diamond still being attached to a finger or an actual beating heart being given as a gift will keep parents entertained as they read this story to their child repeatedly.

 

Rating: 


Dinosaurs Love Underpants by Claire Freedman sets out to tell the true story of how dinosaurs became extinct.  It turns out that cavemen realized they needed clothing and discovered the wonders of underpants.  The fiercest of all dinosaurs, the Tyrannosaurus Rex, sees the new underpants and immediately wants them.  What follows is both a literal and metaphorical tug of war between dinosaurs and cavemen over underwear.  Soon the Triceratops is wearing them on every horn, and the Stegosaurus discovers he is allergic to wooly mammoth underpants.  In addition, TRex keeps tripping on them, and Diploducus’ pinch uncomfortably.

Written entirely in rhyme, Dinosaurs Love Underpants is written for children ages 4 – 7.  Though not intended as such, Dinosaurs Love Underpants could be used as a tool for parents in toilet training.  Younger children who see how much the dinosaurs love underpants might be inspired to want to wear them as well.  Older kids will enjoy the brilliant and amusing illustrations but may otherwise find the storyline on the ridiculous side.  While a cute read, the ending was too sudden, and the rhyming theme lost it’s flow midway through the story.

 

Rating: 


Mousetronaut and Mousetronaut Goes to Mars are two educational books by Mark Kelly.  Based partially on a true story, these books tell about a mouse named Meteor who travels on the Space Shuttle and participates in events such as the Mars Rover landing.  Meteor is thought too small by the other mice to be picked for the Space Shuttle mission.  Determined to prove them wrong, Meteor works hard to prove that size isn’t always what’s important.

Written for children aged 4 – 8, both books present an opportunity for parents to teach their kids about NASA, the space program, and what it’s like to travel on the Space Shuttle.  Young children who are at the stage of dreaming of being an astronaut will enjoy following Meteor’s adventures.  Slightly older children may be bored and find the story over-simplified.  Parents will enjoy the teaching opportunities presented, but it is unlikely either book will become part of the nightly bedtime routine.

 

Rating: 

Jan 21 2014

Review: Books for your book club

Book clubs have increased considerably in popularity over the last few years.  Oprah’s picks acted as a catalyst, and now nearly every book store has a section devoted to them.  With that in mind, I picked three books with a strong female lead that your book club may have overlooked.

In the Land of Invisible Woman is the memoir of Qanta Ahmed, a Western-trained Muslim doctor.  When her visa to remain in the United States is unexpectedly denied, Ahmed impulsively accepts a position at a hospital in Saudi Arabia.  A self-described secular Muslim, Ahmed sees this offer as an opportunity to delve deeper into her heritage and to learn more about the Muslim faith.

Ahmed admits that she is naive regarding the complications of living in the Saudi Kingdom. Though aware of the strict Sharia law, she finds that her western medical training left her unprepared for situations such as treating a woman who is comatose but must remain veiled or trying to accurately assess a woman’s heart rate through her abaya.  Angry at what she sees as female oppression, she begins to see ways in which women have learned to turn their oppression into their own form of self expression, displaying their beauty through colorful fabrics and intricately embroidered patterns.  In addition, the women take great care to ensure their makeup is perfect beneath their veiled faces.  They are determined to allow themselves to feel beautiful for their own sake even if no man beyond their husbands will see the results.

As a reader, I found myself fascinated by this autobiography.  Ahmed’s descriptions of the people she met left me feeling as if I were meeting them alongside her.  Her experiences of rediscovering her Muslim faith through a pilgrimage to Mecca reminded me of accounts of Jewish and Christian journeys to Israel.

Although the narrative was choppy in places and several events which seemed important were never elaborated on, I did thoroughly enjoy In the Land of Invisible Women and seeing Ahmed’s experiences through her eyes.

Rating: 


The Thirteenth Tale by Dianne Sutterfield follows the paths of Vida Winter, a famous but reclusive novelist, and Margaret Lea, a spinster and amateur biographer who has devoted her life to her father and his book shop.

Winter has given only a handful of interviews in her career, all of them full of self-admitted lies or fanciful stories.  Lea has grown up working in her father’s shop, experiencing very little of life outside of books.  One day when she is a child of ten years, she discovers that she had been born as a conjoined twin and that her sister had died.  This discovery separates her even further from her already distant mother and explains the sense of incompletion and longing Lea has always felt.

Years later, a grown Lea receives a letter from Winter requesting Lea’s services as a biographer.  While mulling over this decision, Lea decides to read one of Winter’s books called Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation only to discover that the thirteenth tale is missing.  Lea quickly agrees to be Winter’s biographer in hopes of solving the mystery of the missing tale.  Along the way, Lea begins to uncover not only the secrets of Ms. Winter’s past but also of her own.

Written in the same vein as classic gothic literature, fans of Jane Austen or the Bronte sisters will very much enjoy The Thirteenth Tale.  I found myself making frequent and favorable comparisons to Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.  Winter allows no questions but requires Lea to simply listen, and so the story unfolds.  With each revelation, I found myself anxious to know what came next, and in the end I felt I knew each character as intimately as if they had been characters in my own life.

I have always been a fan of the gothic literature genre, and I felt that that Sutterfield did an excellent job of writing in this style.  In addition, the characters felt like living breathing people. I could imagine Lea’s parents and visualize the shop she worked in.  Finally, the storyline moved at a well balanced pace that was just fast enough to keep the reader intrigued but not so much that the resolution was given away before the end.

Rating: 


Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout is a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel told through a series of short stories.  Set in the small town of Crosby, Maine, each story features a different character whose lives are gradually interwoven.  Throughout the novel, the titular character, Olive Kitteridge, remains a central figure who is both revered and reviled.

On the surface, Olive appears overbearing and even a bit uncaring.  Her relationship with her husband has gradually become strained as they navigate the waters of realizing the person you married is not the person they have become.  Henry remains a steadfast churchgoer while Olive has become an unapologetic atheist.  Both enter into emotional affairs and struggle with honoring the committment they once made.  Although she smothers her son Christopher and continually pits him against his father, Olive has little time for what she perceives as nonsense.  The result is a woman who speaks her mind when she shouldn’t and doesn’t speak up when perhaps she should.

While each story is not specifically about Olive, she does appear in each of them.  As we learn each character’s story, we also learn more about the town and Olive’s impact on the people within.  To some she is little more than a peripheral character, while to others she looms almost larger than life.

Readers who enjoy works by authors such as Alice Munro or Joan Sibler will find similarities in Olive Kitteridge.  In addition, Strout’s depictions of small town life reminded me of John Irving’s The Cider House Rules.  

The depictions of living in a small northeastern town reminded me of my own experiences growing up in a small town, and of stories my mother would tell of her childhood in Upstate New York.  Strout’s characters are so real that the reader will be certain they’ve met some of them before.  While I enjoyed the overall tone and storyline of the book, a couple of the stories felt thrown in for the sake of filling space.  It is telling of Strout’s characterization that these stories are the ones in which Olive is a mere mention rather than a pivotal figure.

Rating: 

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