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review 2017-07-27 21:40
The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver
The Bean Trees - Barbara Kingsolver

This is an uneven debut novel from a talented author. It is in some ways a feel-good story, about a young woman who travels far from home and builds a community. The book focuses on the themes of motherhood and of growing up and trying to do right in the face of the ugliness of the world, and does so effectively. There is room for improvement though, in particular because a major aspect of the plot depends on a premise both problematic and extremely unlikely.

Taylor Greer is a young woman from the mountains of Kentucky who decides to reinvent her life, so she sets off in her beat-up old car with no clear plan in mind. By the time she reaches Tucson, she isn’t alone: when she stops at a bar in the Cherokee part of Oklahoma, a woman dumps a 3-year-old child on her. So Taylor unexpectedly has to learn to be a mother, which winds up connecting her to a wider community.

Which is all written very sweetly, but the situation makes little sense. From what little we learn of the child’s background, she’s been abused and neglected, and it’s her aunt who gives her to Taylor after her mother’s death, apparently in an attempt to protect her. All the aunt knows about Taylor is that she’s eating alone at night in a mostly-empty bar, where she requests the cheapest thing on the menu, and she drives a beat-up old rattletrap of a car with out-of-state plates. No names or contact information are exchanged. No matter how desperate the child’s home situation, it’s hard to imagine any relative believing this is a good idea. Meanwhile, although a large part of Taylor’s identity is based on having reached her early 20’s without pregnancy, and although she has no means to care for a child, she easily accepts responsibility after a token protest, without considering that contacting social services or the police might be a better idea than driving off with a stranger's child. She doesn't give a second thought to the ways accepting sole responsibility for a traumatized toddler will upend her life.

That’s the unlikely part. The problematic elements come to the forefront when Taylor’s legal relationship with the child is called into question, and she resorts to dishonest means to resolve it. This is particularly unfortunate when the child belongs to a tribe, given the long history in the U.S. of native kids being removed from their homes. Apparently Kingsolver, who is known for her investment in social justice issues, ultimately came to the same conclusion, since a few years later she wrote a sequel dealing with this issue.

At any rate, it’s easy to see the signs pointing to Kingsolver’s later popularity as an author: the story is engaging after a slow start; the writing and the first-person voice are strong. The characters are interesting, and Kingsolver does a good job of bringing secondary characters to life even with little page time. The main characters are strong although not entirely consistent (Taylor’s roommate, Lou Ann, is a young mother with an obsessive fear of danger that’s nowhere to be seen in the two chapters at the beginning told from her perspective). There are some details that don’t add up – Lou Ann’s husband had an accident in which he fell from his truck, caught his foot in the door and was dragged along, and his only serious injury was to his foot? Taylor, who’s in her early 20s in a story set around 1980, had a great-grandfather who was not only alive but old at the time of the Trail of Tears in 1838? – but their impact on the story is minor.

At any rate, this isn’t a book I’d recommend people go out of their way to read, but it was an enjoyable story. I do plan to read the sequel, though more to see how the author resolves the issues raised in this book than from any deep investment in the characters.

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review 2017-07-27 16:34
Review: "A Triad in Three Acts: The Complete Forester Trilogy" (Tales of the Forest, #1-3) by Blaine D. Arden
A Triad in Three Acts: The Complete Forester Trilogy - Blaine D. Arden

 

~ 3.5 stars ~

 

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review 2017-07-27 16:32
Review: "Full Circle: Forester Triad Act Three" (Tales of the Forest, #3) by Blaine D. Arden
Full Circle: Forester Triad Act Three - Blaine D. Arden

 

~ 3.5 stars ~

 

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review 2017-07-26 17:28
Review: "Lost and Found: Forester Triad Act Two" (Tales of the Forest, #2) by Blaine D. Arden
Lost and Found: Forester Triad Act Two - Blaine D. Arden

 

~ 3.5 stars ~

 

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review 2017-07-25 20:24
Arc Review: The Marriage Pact by Michelle Richmond
The Marriage Pact: A Novel - Michelle Richmond

I found this story frightfully intriguing with a fascinating concept at its core.
Jake the therapist and Alice the lawyer, both successful in their own careers, receive a gift on their wedding day that will change their lives forever.

The concept of the story and “The Pact” itself is jarring at times, intriguing at others. It draws the question does the perfect model of marriage exist? Once the couple joins the Pact, it becomes the overseer that makes sure each couple succeeds at being perfect. If they “choose” not to follow its rules then they will face the consequences.

As newly weds, Jake and Alice weren’t sure what to expect of marriage but had a fairly good idea due to their own past history with their parents. The way I see it, one of the two became more content with the idea of the Pact because it became a sort of guide to accomplish what was wanted out of the marriage. The other partner was more reluctant to accept it because of fear that anything could change what they had already built together.

Alice appeared as a cold and distant person yet content with the role of a wife and I found that contradicting. As the story progressed and she got herself in deep waters with The Pact, Alice herself makes a confession that puts her in a better light and her role starts making more sense. Perhaps it’s the fact that the story is told from Jake’s perspective but I found him more likable and more relatable. There was a time in the story that I actually wondered if they were meant for each other or if the marriage was just an illusion they created for themselves because they didn’t seem to be in love.

To be honest, the book started a bit slow for my taste, so much so that I had to put it down several times and then come back to it. By almost 45% of the book, it was just ok but nothing out of the ordinary. And then it started to pick up and that was when I was unable to put it down and everything started to click and fall into place.

The book is full of quotes and facts that albeit provided an insight into Jake’s mind I thought at the time were somewhat random. It was later that I realized they were there to help me understand the underlying idea and helped tied up all events together. It took me a while to understand the full notion of the plot and tie up the knots once I finished reading the book (blame it on my slow-working brain) but all in all it was an enjoyable read.

I received this book from Netgalley at no cost to me and I volunteered to read it; this is my honest opinion and given without any influence by the author or publisher.

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