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review 2020-01-06 07:43
Morning Girl by Michael Dorris
Morning Girl - Michael Dorris

Morning Girl, who loves the day, and her younger brother Star Boy, who loves the night, take turns describing their life on an island in pre-Columbian America; in Morning Girl's last narrative, she witnesses the arrival of the first Europeans to her world.Tells the story of Morning Girl and her brother, Star Boy, two Native Americans of the Taino tribe, their family, and their community, as they grow up together in the Bahamas in the fateful year of 1492.




Morning Girl is a 12 year old Taino child living with her parents and younger brother, Star Boy, on a island in the Bahamas in the 15th century. As you might expect, Morning Girl is a natural early riser, a go-getter always full of ideas, while Star Boy loves the night and tends to move through the world with a slower, more easy-going nature.


The story's narration alternates between the siblings. There's not really a direct, clear-cut kind of plot here, but more like interconnected scenes showing readers what life might have looked like for indigenous families of this era. Family --- both living and not --- plays an important role in this little story. One special scene depicts Star Boy, having been caught in hurricane weather, waiting for someone to rescue him, passing the time by talking with the ghost of his grandfather.




When I had nothing else to think of, I simply let the air wash over me. I became the darkness. I listened to my breath as it ran in and out of my mouth like tides on the beach. I put my hands flat on the sand and felt the smoothness against my palms. I sniffed the air, got to know this great, wide house, because I didn't know how long I would have to live in it. And, without my ever noticing the change, I stopped being mad. I became myself....my mother had come to sit beside me. She was quiet, waiting, her body a dim shape settled so naturally into itself that until she spoke I couldn't be sure that she was not just my wish. 


"Tell me what you have learned," she asked, her words low and like a dream. 


"At night," I answered in that same whispering tone, "at night you must be your own friend."


My mother took a short breath, and I knew she understood me.



It's a sweet story in the way it shows how even if family member fight with each other, they can also still love each other fiercely... even if the deeper emotions are largely displayed in secret. The ending of the story also serves as a good example of why Columbus Day really should be dropped as a national holiday in the States.

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review 2019-11-16 11:55
The Gilded Life of Matilda Duplaine by Alex Brunkhorst
The Gilded Life of Matilda Duplaine - Alex Brunkhorst

Family secrets. Forbidden love. And the true price of wealth.

The story begins with a dinner party invitation… When young journalist Thomas Cleary is sent to dig up quotes for the obituary of a legendary film producer, the man's eccentric daughter offers him access to the exclusive upper echelons of Hollywood society. As Thomas enters a world of private jets and sprawling mansions, his life and career take off beyond his wildest dreams.
Then he meets Matilda Duplaine.
Beautiful and mysterious, Matilda has spent her entire life within the walls of her powerful father's Bel-Air estate. Thomas is entranced, and the two begin a secret love affair. But the more he learns about the mysterious woman's identity, the more he realizes that privilege always comes with a price.





Thomas Cleary, a young Midwestern man with a Harvard degree under his belt, is now working as a journalist for the Los Angeles Times, after losing his job (amidst scandal) at the Wall Street Journal. Thomas' boss assigns him the task of writing the obituary piece for recently passed legendary Hollywood producer Joel Goldman. After becoming acquainted with his daughter, Lily, she invites him to a party expected to have a roster full of entertainment industry heavy-hitters. Though he's working on a tight deadline, Thomas calls in to his boss to tell him of the offer. Without hesitation, his boss tells him to most definitely accept... and take mental notes for future stories!



The world of Lily Goldman was full of presents, and I couldn't help but wonder if there were strings attached to every last one of them.


At this party, Thomas meets studio executive David Duplaine, considered to be one of the most powerful men in the world, in general. Everyone finds Thomas' quiet, polite demeanor charming and refreshing in a town full of brown-nosing. Within a month of this party, Thomas is drowning in invites to parties and lunches all over town. Attending as many as he can manage, he's flattered and curious at all the sudden attention, but his journalist nose also begins to suspect and sniff out the secrets under the glittery facade of this world. At one such party, actress Carol Patridge gives him some advice, quietly disguising a warning:


"Be careful. I know all this can be very intoxicating, but everything has its price, Thomas. You'll get charged without knowing it, and you won't know the price until the bill comes in the mail."

"Are you saying I can't afford it?"

"I make twenty million a picture and I can't afford it."


Fate deals a hand on the day Thomas sets out to attend a party being hosted by David Duplaine. Upon arrival, Thomas is surprised to find no one on the property... or so he thinks. Climbing a tree to have a look around, he spots a young woman on David's tennis court. To Thomas' knowledge, David was living the life of a confirmed bachelor workaholic with no children... so who is this? It's not hard to guess, as by this point in the book the reader is nearly 100 pages in and the title character has yet to be introduced to Thomas. Yep, he's just had an unexpected run-in with the mysterious Matilda Duplaine.

Thomas is instantly charmed by her, but he must know the whole story --- Why is she not allowed to leave the Duplaine estate? Why does everything involving Matilda have to be arranged in such a clandestine fashion?What's this great misfortune she hints will befall them if they continue to see each other? Later on in the story, I was confused as to why Matilda runs so hot & cold with Thomas after he risks everything to try to get her her freedom. She does make an attempt to explain, but I don't know if I buy what basically amounts to "please excuse my daddy issues."




Though the story is set in modern times, there is still a noticeable Old Hollywood vibe to the whole thing. Touches of Great Gatsby inspo here and there (the feel / era, not necessarily the plot). The detail in the world building is rich to the point of the reader having no trouble imagining these antique-heavy mansions that Thomas finds himself rotating through. You can virtually feel the furniture, smell the luxury cigarettes, hear the clink of barware.... that aspect made sense once I saw that Brunkhorst's author bio mentions her day job as being a real estate agent specializing in multi-million dollar estates. She clearly knows this world!


There's also a brief interlude of sorts where a few of the characters temporarily move the setting to Hawaii.


The characters were all unique --- there was something about Lily I just loved, wanted to know more of the story there --- and the relationships between them made for fun reading, I'd just wish there was more oompf or tension to the mystery of the Duplaine backstory.

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review 2019-08-23 07:17
The Mermaid's Secret by Katie Schickel
The Mermaid's Secret - Katie Schickel

Life on land is suffocating for Jess Creary, who wastes her summers flipping burgers for tourists on a fishing boat off her quaint resort island home off the coast of Maine. After all, her older sister Kay died in a boating accident two years ago, her mother has disappeared, and her father isn't exactly dealing with things so well. Surfing and the handsome Captain Matthew are about the only bright spots in her life. Then, on her twenty-third birthday, Jess catches the perfect wave--a wave that transforms her into a mermaid. Under the sea, a startlingly beautiful, dark place, Jess is reborn into a confident, powerful predator with superhuman strength --finally she is someone to be reckoned with. Meanwhile, back on land, Jess's relationship with Captain Matthew heats up, and so does her search for justice for Kay. Jess has thirty days to choose between land and sea; legs and fins; her humanity and her freedom. Who could ignore the freedom of the sea? Yet, the ocean is a dark, wild, lonely place. Is this a gift or a curse? Will Jess choose family and love, forgiveness and truth, or will she be seduced by the wild call of the sparkling sea forever? 






Jess Creary tragically loses her older sister, Kay, in a boating accident. It's suspected that Kay's boyfriend, Tripp Sinclair, may have had something to do with the death. Not long after, her mother disappears. Now two years have passed and Jess and her father are still trying to find their footing in life again. Jess has been distracting herself with surfing, working as galley staff on charter fishing boats, and quietly crushing on young, hot Captain Matthew.


On her 23rd birthday, Jess's father gifts her a necklace charm that she later discovers helps her morph into a mermaid with superhuman strength. While unsure of herself on land, in the sea Jess becomes a strong predator to be feared and respected. For the time being, Jess has the ability to move between both worlds, but she's soon informed that she'll have to choose one world or the other within the next 30 days.


Though the characters are all supposed to be in their 20s or older, this read more like a YA novel. Much of the plot emphasis seemed to be more centered around navigating difficulties within family or friendships or summer jobs / romances rather than the paranormal aspect. I would've liked to have seen the story go deeper with the Native American mythology... until you get closer to the end of the book, the references are kinda minimal. Even the passages discussing Jess's experiences as a mermaid are brief.


A good light summer read, entertaining for what it is, I was just hoping for a little more depth and atmosphere overall.

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review 2019-08-10 19:22
Summer Wives by Beatriz Williams
The Summer Wives - Beatriz Williams

In the summer of 1951, Miranda Schuyler arrives on elite, secretive Winthrop Island as a schoolgirl from the margins of high society, still reeling from the loss of her father in the Second World War. When her beautiful mother marries Hugh Fisher, whose summer house on Winthrop overlooks the famous lighthouse, Miranda’s catapulted into a heady new world of pedigrees and cocktails, status and swimming pools. Isobel Fisher, Miranda’s new stepsister—all long legs and world-weary bravado, engaged to a wealthy Island scion—is eager to draw Miranda into the arcane customs of Winthrop society.

But beneath the island’s patrician surface, there are really two clans: the summer families with their steadfast ways and quiet obsessions, and the working class of Portuguese fishermen and domestic workers who earn their living on the water and in the laundries of the summer houses. Uneasy among Isobel’s privileged friends, Miranda finds herself drawn to Joseph Vargas, whose father keeps the lighthouse with his mysterious wife. In summer, Joseph helps his father in the lobster boats, but in the autumn he returns to Brown University, where he’s determined to make something of himself. Since childhood, Joseph’s enjoyed an intense, complex friendship with Isobel Fisher, and as the summer winds to its end, Miranda’s caught in a catastrophe that will shatter Winthrop’s hard-won tranquility and banish Miranda from the island for nearly two decades.

Now, in the landmark summer of 1969, Miranda returns at last, as a renowned Shakespearean actress hiding a terrible heartbreak. On its surface, the Island remains the same—determined to keep the outside world from its shores, fiercely loyal to those who belong. But the formerly powerful Fisher family is a shadow of itself, and Joseph Vargas has recently escaped the prison where he was incarcerated for the murder of Miranda’s stepfather eighteen years earlier. What’s more, Miranda herself is no longer a naïve teenager, and she begins a fierce, inexorable quest for justice for the man she once loved . . . even if it means uncovering every last one of the secrets that bind together the families of Winthrop Island.






In the summer of 1951, Miranda Schulyer comes to Winthrop Island. Having lost her father in the war, Miranda and her mother have now relocated to the island where her mother has recently become engaged to wealthy Hugh Fisher. Miranda is immediately thrown into a whole new heady world of money and spoiled socialites, one being her new stepsister, Isobel Fisher. While finding her footing in this new arena of privilege, Miranda also becomes acquainted with the other side, the island's working class, made up mostly of immigrant families. Befriending Joseph Vargas, the lighthouse keeper's son, Miranda gets to see all the behind-the-scenes work that goes into keeping the world of the elite running smoothly.


Isobel, having grown up around Joseph, is already deeply attached to him. The more time Miranda spends around him, the stronger her interest grows as well. Is that a flirtation she senses between Isobel and Joseph, or is Miranda misreading the cues? It looks like it's not just her with suspicions --- Isobel happens to be engaged, and one night her fiance pulls Miranda aside to specifically ask her to keep Isobel away from Joseph. 


The Vargas family line is a little tricky to keep straight, especially once Hugh Fisher gets thrown in the mix, but I think it's something like this (the story the reader is given through flashback scenes): In the 1930s, Hugh falls in love with Francisca, who is engaged to Pascoal Vargas, the lighthouse keeper. Bianca Medeiro, a cousin of Francisca's, works in the local convenience store and is secretly in love with Hugh. Hugh begins to pay attention to Bianca, flirt with her (maybe as a consolation prize?). Bianca envisions a real future between them as husband and wife, but he warns her right off the bat that he's "a drunkard and a cad"... but she only sees "an artist, a dreamer". To complicate matters further, Hugh himself is engaged to socialite Abigail Dumont while he's continuing this dalliance with Bianca. When Bianca finally sees the truth that her fairytale life is not to be, she goes and cheats Francisca out of HER potential HEA. And so implodes the Vargas family line with drama and subsequent tragedies.


By 1951, when Miranda's part of the story starts, Abigail and Hugh have long been divorced, allowing for Hugh and Miranda's mother to marry. 


The story fast-forwards to 1969. Miranda is now well into adulthood, an internationally beloved movie star married to a highly respected director. But something seems to have happened between them because out of the blue, Miranda decides to return to Winthrop Island for a family visit, her first in quite some time. Islanders are suspicious that her arrival is connected to the news that Joseph Vargas, who has been incarcerated for many years for the murder of Hugh Fisher, has recently escaped prison. Readers are only given a few details here and there regarding the night that forever changed Joseph Vargas' life, some of those details casting doubt as to if he was really to blame or merely took the fall to protect someone else.


Though Miranda might be curious to know what's really going on with Joseph, her summer is frenzied enough between helping her mother do renovations to the Fisher mansion, catching up with old acquaintances, and getting to know her teenage half-brother she hadn't met before this trip back home. 


" I know it's not the Winthrop way. We don't ask questions. We pretend everything is just fine and then drink ourselves to death. Or get murdered by the lighthouse keeper, for some reason nobody on this damned island is ever going to talk about."

 ~ Hugh Fisher, Jr. 


During Miranda's flashback memories, enlightening the reader as to why she so suddenly decided to return to Winthrop Island, we learn of this mildly Svengali-esque relationship she's had over the years with her director husband, Carroll, an older man. Over time, this union has gradually become more and more abusive. Miranda feels pulled to return to the island as she tries to come to terms with a recent tragedy of her own. When comparing these various flashback scenes looking back over several decades, there are similarities between the way Carroll treats Miranda in the 1950s-60s and how Hugh is with Bianca in the 1930s.


Fans of light historical fiction will likely eat this one up. The family dramas over the multiple generations and eras of history are entertaining, though a bit slow in pace for me at times. I have to say, my favorite scene was the Moon Landing party where Miranda makes a note of the crescent moon that night, and another girl at the party comments, "You'd think they'd wait for a full moon to do this." The way it's described as everyone slowly turning to look at her... honest LOL moment for me!


The last portion of the book veered a little too far into soap opera territory for me, and the big reveal moment wasn't too hard to guess, long before the scene actually came. 


** NOTE: There is some mildly sexually explicit material scattered throughout the novel.



FTC DISCLAIMER: William Morrow (HarperCollins) Publishing kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own.

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review 2019-06-28 10:59
Aleutian Sparrow by Karen Hesse
Aleutian Sparrow - Karen Hesse

In June 1942, seven months after attacking Pearl Harbor, the Japanese navy invaded Alaska's Aleutian Islands. For nine thousand years the Aleut people had lived and thrived on these treeless, windswept lands. Within days of the first attack, the entire native population living west of Unimak Island was gathered up and evacuated to relocation centers in the dense forests of Alaska's Southeast. With resilience, compassion, and humor, the Aleuts responded to the sorrows of upheaval and dislocation. This is the story of Vera, a young Aleut caught up in the turmoil of war. It chronicles her struggles to survive and to keep community and heritage intact despite harsh conditions in an alien environment.




Aleutian Sparrow is another verse novel from Karen Hesse, similar in style to her Dust Bowl story, Out of the Dust. Starting in June of 1942, just months after the Pearl Harbor attack, Aleutian Sparrow tells the story of how within days of that attack, all the Aleut people were evacuated from their villages and moved to relocation centers, the government fearful of fishing contract disagreements between the Aleut and the Japanese. They are assured the move is only temporary, but detainment carries on into 1945. The story follows this tribe of people as they are repeatedly moved more and more inland, far from the rocky, windswept coastline they call home. 



The collective experiences of the Aleut people are centralized in the character of young Vera. Vera is mixed race --- her mother Aleut, her father Caucasian, but the father never returned from sea one day so over the course of her childhood, the "raising" of Vera has had her circulating around various family members. Vera has spent much of the year of 1945 living in Unalaska Village, working as a home aide to elderly couple Alexie and Fekla Golodoff. Once summer comes around, Vera takes off to spend time in her hometown of Kashega, hanging out with best friends Pari (also mixed race) and Alfred.


Japan carried out an air attack on Unalaska Island in June 1942 because they were interested in gaining control of the North Pacific, but they ultimately found the Alaskan climate too challenging. Still, the Aleut people continued to be moved around... Vera and her family sent along with the rest of the community to these various detainment camps. The Aleut, a proud people with rich traditions, now found themselves crammed into canvas tents on rainy terrain, forced to live off bread and fish scraps. The drastic changes in environment, along with poor sanitation, soon led to rampant sickness throughout the tribe, many being plagued with skin boils and lung infections, among other ailments. But for the longest time, the government offered the sick no medical assistance. NONE. After much pleading, when a doctor finally does arrive, he takes in the scene, brushes it off with a "they're not sick, they're just adjusting." and goes back home! 



Some of the elders take to telling ancient legends to keep morale up. Vera takes it upon herself to get a job at the hospital in Ketchikan, but even with her connections it is still a slow process getting medical aid back to the camps. Eventually, a news story is done about the poor treatment of the Aleut people. Shortly after, the camps are quick to see donations from newspaper readers who wish to help. 


I'm sad to say this is not a part of history I was ever taught in school, so I'm happy to be informed of it now. Tragic as the truth is, Vera's story is a moving one and, if you think about it, still plenty relevant, what with all the discussion back and forth about immigration issues and poorly equipped / run border detainment facilities. It's not an easy read in subject matter, but there is ease in the verse format Hesse does so well. Her way of weaving together sparse but also evocative imagery with so few words is quite the treat for readers of all ages, those new to poetry form or even longtime fans. Prepare to dip into lines such as "the old ways steeped like tea in a cup of hours" or "laughter crackled on winter nights like sugar frosting". Then there's the ones to make you stop and think: "We never thought who we were was so dependent on where we were."


Author Sharon Creech gets a shout out in Hesse's acknowledgements page for "patient and wise council".

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