Category Archives: Psychological

The Distant Hours

By Kate Morton

Published by Washington Square Press

Copyright © 2010

 

“The Distant Hours” is not only a great title for this book, but for all of Morton’s work. She excels at haunting her pages with imagined lives and visions from England’s Victorian and post-Victorian past. In reading this story you’ll find out what the distant hours are, and you’ll begin to see how relevant it is Morton’s writing.

 

Edie Burchill has always felt a bit disconnected from her parents and from her extended family. Her parents seem the practical sort and her mom’s family is the brash and crude sort with a chip on their shoulder for any who they perceive to look down their noses at them. Edie; however, is bookish and a bit of a dreamer. She longs to be closer to her family, especially her mother, but their differences make it hard to cross the chasm.

 

When Edie’s mother receives a letter that had been lost in the post for decades, and she sees her mother’s dramatic reaction to its contents, she must know more. And even though her mother stonewalls her at every turn, Edie slowly uncovers her mother’s past which includes her rocky relationship with her family and her days as a child evacuee from London during World War II when she spent a glorious year in the English countryside at Middlehurst Castle with the Blythe family. So in addition to uncovering her mother’s history she also unravels the secrets that waft in the air and seep from the stones of Middlehurst Castle. Edie learns of the personal heartaches of the twins, Percy and Saffy, and of their little sister Juniper Blythe. She is eventually entrusted with two horrible secrets that have their roots deeply entrenched in Edie’s favorite book “The True History of the Mud Man,” which just so happened to be written by the Blythe sisters’ father, Raymond.

 

As I’ve mentioned in a previous review, I absolutely love Kate Morton’s writing! The way she descriptively creates a setting and a mood is just phenomenal. And her acumen with character development keeps the story riveting. Her characters motivations and secrets are never presented entirely upfront; she slowly feeds you what you need to know about a character until you have a much more complex person that what you started with. In this story Percy and Saffy Blythe, the twins, are perfect examples of this. They are each initially described as the opposite side of the same coin; one the picture of strength and purpose and the other weak and motherly; however, by the end of the story these notions are nearly turned on their side.

 

Having read “The Forgotten Garden” and now “The Distant Hours,” I’ve really begun to hone in on Mortons’ forte as a mystery writer. She excels at writing the decades and even centuries old imagined cold-case. She knows how to dig from the present to the past, how to make family research look exciting. While she is not the first to write these types of stories it works now more than ever as people are becoming more and more interested in the uncovering of family history. The interest is not just in one’s own family history, but the histories of famous people and of complete strangers.

 

If I had any criticism at all, it might be that on rare occasions what is presented in a flashback chapter might be just as interesting if discovered in the present. This of course may take a little from the character development that I gushed about earlier. To be completely honest though, “The Distant Hours” was just so thoroughly engrossing that few negative thoughts popped into my head.  If you have yet to read a Kate Morton book then “The Distant Hours” is a great place to start.

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Filed under Adult Fiction, Drama, Europe, Family, Historical, Murder, Mystery, Psychological, Romance, War, Writers

Snow Falling on Cedars

By David Guterson

Published by Harcourt Brace

Copyright © 1994

San Piedro, Washington is a sea worn island of tall wild cedars and well tended strawberry fields. These things in addition to the islands weather, isolation, and confinement mold the personality of its residents. “Snow Falling on Cedars” is at once a romance, mystery, and historical drama that, for some, will elicit reflection and strong emotions.

Hatsue and Ishmael grew up together on San Piedro Island, and slowly a secretive and complicated relationship developed between them. In the 1930’s and 40’s interracial relationships of any kind were publicly difficult. When Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and thrust America into World War II any naïve hopes that Ishmael or Hatsue had of making a life together shattered.

Over 10 years later, the two are thrust back into contact. Ishmael now runs the small town newspaper that his father started and he is covering a rare event in Amity Harbor, a murder trial. The defendant is Hatsue’s husband Kabuo Miyamoto; he is accused of killing another man, a former friend, over the ownership of his parents’ old strawberry farm.

The start of Kabuo’s trial coincides with a massive snowstorm which incapacitates the town. However this storm is also going to lead Ishmael to a fortuitous discovery and a moral dilemma. Will he want to share what he learns?

David Guterson has written a story of love and war, and pride and prejudice, that is at times ethereal and then plummets to the harsh and occasionally indelicate.  His descriptions of San Piedro and its surrounding waters are heaven like for anyone who can visualize them – misty and green, white and windy, and the occasional sun dappled strawberry field. These scenes are contrasted against flashbacks of a dead man at sea, an autopsy, war time in the Pacific and European theaters, Japanese interment in American, and the prejudices that existed on both sides.  In addition there are unnecessarily descriptive sex scenes (which rarely ever add anything to a good story) and the possibly necessary, however unenjoyable, profanity laced wartime conversations.

The author adroitly tells his story in and out of flashbacks which would normally turn me off, but he fills them with such meaningful detail that you can’t help but to see the point and the beauty of it. In this way he rounds out so many characters; it is actually difficult at times to tell who the main characters are. He spends so much time with so many characters expressing their physicality, motivations, idiosyncrasies, relationships, and etc. “Snow Falling on Cedars” is just an extremely well crafted story filled with repression, anger, and desire that captivated my attention.

 

1995 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction

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Filed under Historical, Murder, Mystery, Psychological, Romance, Strong Sense of Place, War

The Winter Ghosts

The Winter Ghosts

By Kate Mosse

Published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons

Copyright © 2009

It is April of 1933 and Freddie, an Englishman, is in Toulouse, France looking for a man who can help him translate a very important letter. However, it is not what the letter says that seems to be important, but how he came across this letter.

When Freddie was a teenager he lost his brother George, a soldier during World War I. Freddie went many years trying to cope with this loss, but in 1924, on his 21st birthday, he snapped. He ended up spending a few months in a sanatorium to regain his physical and mental health.

Fast forward to 1928; Freddie finds himself driving through the French Pyrenees to meet some friends at a resort. He drives into a snow storm and ends up in an accident. He stumbles his way into a local village looking for assistance. He finds an inn where he is welcomed hospitably and invited to a local celebration. While there he meets the beautiful and delicate Fabrissa. From that point on Freddie and Fabrissa’s lives are entwined in a way that is too difficult for anyone to believe.  This chance meeting will not only change Freddie’s outlook on life, but also change the outlook of an entire town.

Mosse has written a moving book about loss and grief in the wake of war and tragedy, and an oddly tragic love story that spans centuries. While our protagonist feels he has nothing to live for, his happening upon this village and Fabrissa helps him (albeit too simply) to come to terms with his loss, and he feels the strong and overpowering urge to find Fabrissa again and repay her kindness.

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Filed under Adult Fiction, Europe, Historical, Paranormal, Psychological, Strong Sense of Place

Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell in Love

Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell in Love

By Lauren Tarshis

Published by Dial Books for Young Readers

Copyright © 2009

“Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell in Love” is the sequel to the successful young adult novel entitled “Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree”.

In the first installment of the Emma-Jean Series we meet a somewhat odd young girl. It wasn’t her appearance which makes her odd, for she is considered by some to be very pretty, but it is her detachment from her classmates. While Emma-Jean thinks well of her classmates in general, she finds them to be quite illogical. In her attempt to mingle with them and be of help she ends up causing a lot of trouble for them and herself.

In this second installment we find Emma-Jean in the company of her 7th grade classmates. To some extent she has come to understand and accept the eccentricities of her teen peers. But now she is coming up against a new problem school dances and boy-girl relationships.

Emma-Jean finds herself having weird and irrational feelings when she is around Will Keeler. She is drawn to him and her heart skips a beat when she is around him. She even considers asking him to the upcoming spring dance. She is not quite sure what it is she is going through though, and she doesn’t seem to like the way it makes her lose her concentration.

Emma-Jeans friend Colleen suffers from self-esteem issues and doesn’t know who would want to go to the dance with her. Then she finds a mysterious note in her locker from a nameless boy who really likes her, and she begins to transform into someone more confident in herself and less concerned with what others think of her. She is only concerned with what her boy thinks of her, and he thinks she is great. But how will she ever find this boy who likes her? Colleen can think of only one person smart enough to figure out who it is, Emma-Jean.  But will Colleen like what she finds out?

While Emma-Jean’s Spock like tendencies (“that is illogical”) seem to be a little unrealistic for a modern teen, she does make for a character that you want to root for. And, while the book does have a relatively agreeable ending (I won’t give it away) I did want the school dance to turn out a little differently. But all-in-all in this second novel Lauren Tarshis presents us with a young girl who is smart, who is confident, who knows what she is ready for, and who is just fine being herself and that is the type of character that more young girls should be exposed to.

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Filed under High School, Junior Fiction, Love/Romance, Psychological

The Brave

The Brave

By Nicholas Evans

Published by Little, Brown and Company

Copyright © 2010

 

Tommy Bedford is young boy growing up in England. He loves American westerns and wishes he was courageous and strong like his favorite cowboys. But Tommy is the object of ridicule at his boarding school. When secrets about his parents come to light though, Tommy’s life is turned upside down as he comes face to face with a westerns star, and moves to America with his mother. Unfortunately for Tommy “all that glitters is not gold” and in horrible twists of fate his mother is tried, convicted, and given a death sentence. The details of this time in his life haunt him to the present.

 

Tom is now in his 50’s. He lives in Montana where he went to college, and he is a writer of little note. He has been divorced for years, and has been estranged from his son for the last few. His son has followed his step-father’s footsteps into the marines, and while stationed in Iraq the unthinkable happens and he is facing a court martial.  Tom, now sober, tries everything he can to regain a relationship with his son and help him out of this horrible predicament.

 

In “The Brave” Evans serves up Tom’s story separating his early life from his modern life. While Tom’s story is definitely interesting, the real intrigue from this book comes from wanting to know exactly why his mother was executed. Evan’s works up to this as his climax switching back and forth between Young Tommy’s and Old Tom’s story where in the end he finally reveals to his son what he hasn’t revealed to anyone else.

 

The story itself will suck you in, but unfortunately about halfway through this book the language just completely degenerates. If you find barrages of foul language to be useless and vulgar, then do not read this book.

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Filed under Adult Fiction, Crime, Mystery, Psychological

Bloodthirsty

BLOODTHIRSTY

By Flynn Meaney

Published by Poppy/Little Brown and Company

Release Date October 2010

I fell in love with the concept of BLOODTHIRSTY before I read it. For some reason girls are fascinated with (in love with) vampires. Vampire novels are glutting the market as never before, and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. So it was only a matter of time before there was a novel written, not so much in the vampire genre, but about the teenage girl’s love of this genre.

Thus we have the story of Finbar. Finbar is one half of a set of fraternal twins. “Fraternal” is important here because Finbar and his brother Luke are nothing alike. Where Luke is athletic, outgoing, energetic, and invariably attractive to nearly every girl he meets – Finbar is lanky, pale, intellectual, shy, and virtually unnoticed by the opposite sex.

In their hometown in Indiana Luke is a hero and Finbar is a zero, but when their family moves to New York Finbar decides to reinvent himself. He by chance realizes that girls are extremely drawn to the fantasy of the vampire, and he realizes that his thin frame, pale complexion, and light blue eyes throw him right into the mold of a vampire. By reading various novels he comes to realize that what he needs to adopt is the vampire’s brooding, attitude, and mysteriousness. Finbar practices this charade and while he meets with some failures he is able to pull of the transformation enough to become popular. But will his scheme have the desired effect on girls, or one girl in particular?

I loved the overall story in “BLOODTHIRSTY.” This novel is actually a telling tale of how at one time or another in our lives we all wish we were someone else, but sometimes all we need to be is a more confident version of ourselves. The story line itself is a great one for teens, but the content should put this book off limits to most them. This book is aimed at young adults 12 and up, however it is too sexcentric to fit in this category. There are many discussions and allusions to sex, and there is the constant sophomoric fixation on “Boobs.” Also, in the last 1/3 of the novel the author decided it was time to use a couple strong words; I can only guess that this was to make teens think that he was cool. This book could have been toned down and still been a great story suitable for teens 12 and up, but for the above mentioned reasons he has put this book more in the reach of older teens and adults.

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Filed under Psychological, Young Adult Fiction

The Book of Lost Things (MUST READ BOOK!)

The Book of Lost Things

By John Connolly

Published by Atria books

Copyright 2006

Being one who does not enjoy books of wanton violence (e.g. serial killer/thriller fiction) “The Book of Lost Things” is the only John Connolly book I have been tempted to read based on the dust jacket summaries.

     “The Book of Lost Things” is about coming to terms with loss, growing in to adulthood, and learning to love and trust in a world that appears, and sometimes is, cruel and twisted. It also shows the power that fairytales, myths, and stories have in helping us to understand ourselves and the world around us. Don’t let me lull you into thinking that this is a children’s book that is devoid of action and suspense. This book is full of heroes and villains that inhabit a dark, cold, and dangerous world; a world where the good guys don’t always win. In fact, most often they don’t win. Though most of the characters come from the books we all remember from childhood, the stories have been transformed into something darker with twisted origins and endings. The fairytales become more of a mirror of the world that the main character senses that he lives in, and they contain some very adult issues that the he may be struggling with.

            “The Book of Lost Things” is the story of David who is about to cross the threshold from child to young adult. While this can usually be a tumultuous time in a young boy’s life, it is made even more difficult by the recent death of his mother after a long battle with what is assumed to be cancer. To add to the intensity of the situation the story is set against the backdrop of World War II London, England during the air raids and the blackouts.

            At the outset we find a distraught and compulsive David fighting to keep his mother alive through his routines and rituals. As his mother finally gives in to her disease he and his father grieve and find comfort in each other. David’s grieving process comes to a halt though, when his father begins to find comfort, and even joy, in the company of another woman. As his father’s relationship with the other woman progresses David’s emotional and mental distress comes to head when he begins black out and hears books talking to him. David and his mother always enjoyed reading, and so he finds his only solace in keeping to himself up in his attic room reading his books and the books of a former inhabitant; Jonathan Tulvey.

            As David’s emotions continue to get the best of him he begins to see a crooked man creeping in and around his home and hears his mother’s voice calling to him. It is on an occasion of hearing his mother’s voice that he follows it outside during a particularly violent air raid and enters an opening in the garden wall which transfers him to another world. This new world is a dangerous one filled with wolves, lopes (half wolf – half man), trolls, witches, and the crooked man who is referred to as the trickster. With the help of the woodsman, the brave knight Roland, and some very familiar dwarves David will set off to find the king of the realm. The King is said to have a book, called “The Book of Lost Things” and with its help David hopes to bring his mother back to life, restore his family to the way it was, and find his way back to his world.

            During this journey David gradually begins to make his ascent into adulthood and he learns that he is not as powerless as he feels and that things are not always what they seem. He also learns that we can’t always save the ones we love and that life will be full of sadness, but there will also be great happiness as well. This book is a wonderfully exciting read, and it expresses how very important our stories are in their ability to comfort, entertain, teach, and help us express ourselves.

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Filed under Adult Fiction, Fantasy, Psychological