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review 2017-01-28 09:52
I enjoyed the story, the characters, the historical detail, the beautiful language and yes, the trees too
At the Edge of the Orchard - Tracy Chevalier

Thanks to NetGalley and to HarperCollins UK, HarperFiction, The Borough Press for providing me with an ARC copy of this book that I voluntarily choose to review.

Tracy Chevalier was one of the authors that I had wanted to read for a long while but somehow never got around to it. When I saw this title on offer I decided it was now or never. For me, it was well-worth the wait, but more about that later.

The book follows the story of a family who moves from Connecticut to Ohio in the XIX century and later of their youngest son, Robert and his adventures. It is divided into several parts, and it is symmetrical and beautifully composed. We first get to know the parents, James and Sarah (Sadie), whose first-person narrations alternate, and whose points of view and personalities couldn’t be more different. Then there are the letters that Robert, their youngest son, writes back home, which give us a brief insight into his adventures, without narrating every little detail. Then there is the narration of Robert’s adventures, this time in the third person, and how he goes full circle and after trying many things ends up working with trees, his father’s life mission. There follow the letters for his youngest sister, Martha, who tries to find him and also tell a story that would have been much more difficult to read if it had been told in detail. (I’m trying to avoid spoilers, but let’s say her way of talking about her experiences make them more poignant for me. Robert was right when he told her she was stronger than she thought she was.) Then we go back to James and Sadie’s story, picking it up at the time where it had been disrupted, and by the end of the novel, we’re back to Robert’s story. Although the story goes backwards and forwards in time, I did not find it difficult as the times and the narrative voices are well and clearly delineated.

Life in the swamp is vividly described as harsh and demanding. It kills animals, people, and crops. It also can destroy the spirits of some individuals. The only bright spot are the apples (be the sweetness and the joy of growing them, for James, or the cider and Applejack for Sadie). Here I found myself fascinated by the description of the trees, the process of looking after them, what they came to represent, the fights over the different types of apple trees, and later about the love of people for the sequoias and the business involved in exporting trees. It has happened to me more than once that when I read about a subject I’d never thought much about; I become entranced by it, not because of the subject itself, but of the passion and beauty with which it was written about. I remember, as an example of this, American Pastoral by Philip Roth. I’d never given a second thought to glove making before reading that book, but I the way the craft was described, so lovingly. In this case, to Chevalier’s advantage, I like apples and trees, although I’ve never studied them in depth, but I loved the factual knowledge, the beauty of the language, and the use of true historical figures, as the author explains in her notes. As a note of warning, having read some of the reviews, not everybody found that part interesting. I guess I’m more of a James (or a Robert) than a Sadie in that respect.

The characters are not immediately relatable to or even likeable, but they do ring true. Both parents seem to be trapped in relationships and roles not of their liking but unable to do anything else, at a time when survival was the main object and most people had to put up with their lot in life, like it or not. Robert is a quiet man, who prefers nature to the company of others, but he is also loyal and more attached to people than he likes to acknowledge, even to himself. The book is built around a secret he keeps, although for me that was incidental and not the hook that kept me reading. He ends up becoming fonder of people and, like the trees of the story gets to move around and see the world. Martha, his sister, is a great character (she would have made an interesting protagonist too, but perhaps her story would have been too bleak) but does not get a lot of space in the book. Some of the secondary characters, based on historical ones, like John Chapman and William Lobb, deserve whole volumes dedicated to their endeavours, and some fictional characters, like the housekeeper and Molly, are larger than life.

I can’t compare it to any other of Chevalier’s books, but I enjoyed the story, the characters, the historical detail, the beautiful language and yes, the trees too. I recommend it to lovers of historical fiction who are happy to delve into the texture and the feel of an era or an occupation. And now I have to try and catch up with the rest of her books.

 

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review 2017-01-17 16:47
Beyond Layers (Layers #4) by T.L. Alexander
Beyond Layers: Layer Series Book Four (Layers Series 4) - TL Alexander,Hot Trees Editing

Samantha Grant thinks she is cursed.  The people she loves, end up dying.  So when she meets NHL star, Logan Romano, she tries to make sure she doesn’t get to emotionally attached to him.  However, Logan has other plans.  This contemporary romance takes place in North Carolina and New York.  It is suitable for adults.

 

T.L. Alexander does a fantastic job with her character development.  Her characters are complex and believable.  Samantha is an admiral heroine.  She is intelligent and a humanitarian.  She has a wonderful relationship with her sister.  She is a good person that has great values.  Logan is a fun hero.  He is tired of flings and wants a relationship.  Being a hockey player, he is used to women falling all over him, until Samantha.  He is determined and caring.  

 

I like how Samantha and Logan meet.  Samantha wants nothing to do with a relationship and just agrees to a fling, never giving him her last name.  Logan is intrigued by Samantha and does everything he can to learn more about her.  Logan is usually the person to want the one-night-stand; the tables have been turned on him.  He wants a relationship with Samantha.

 

The plot was well done and intriguing.  Being a high-profile individual, Samantha has a stalker.  This adds excitement to the story and unexpected twist. Both characters have numerous obstacles to overcome in this story.  There are a lot of interesting things that happen throughout the story that held me captivated.  I voluntarily reviewed an advance reader copy of this book.

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review 2016-12-26 17:00
Under the Udala Trees
Under the Udala Trees - Chinelo Okparanta

“There’s nothing more important now than for us to begin working on cleansing your soul,” says Ijeoma’s mother.

 

I read Under the Undala Tree for the 12 Tasks of the Festive Season. If it had not been for that purpose, I would have DNF'd this book without any regret or hesitation. 

In fact, the only aspect I liked about the book was that it was the first and so far only book I have read that was set during the Biafran War and that provided some insight into Nigerian history and culture. 

 

Nevertheless, the book was pretty horrible,

It was not the description of war and cruelty against people that was off-putting as much as the description of many of the adult characters as rather two-dimensional, unfeeling, stupid, bigoted asshats, and of the two main characters as so overly precocious it made me think of at least two ways in which the story could have been delivered without inducing repetitive eye-roll injuries. Then, of course, I got frustrated because I should not have to think of ways in which the story could be delivered.....

 

The descriptions of Nigeria and its people during the civil war were gripping. It was difficult reading about the hardship and the violence, but it did provide a realistic picture of a post-colonial civil war setting.  But then, pretty much out of nowhere the book took a turn into the romance genre - except that, you know, the relevant characters were about 12 years old.....

 

The idea of 12 year old girls discussing issues of marriage, and the impossibility of their marriage in 1970s Nigeria and the differences in their religions and backgrounds and whatnot is one thing, but the two 12 year old characters actually engaging in a sexual relationship???

 

Erm, ...

 

I do see why the book has been getting a lot of attention because it does give a voice to LGBT issues in Nigeria, and it is one of the few books that I have seen that also takes up other issues such as religious fundamentalism, tribal prejudice, the roles of men and women in society, etc. in an African setting. However, I just cannot see beyond the fundamental flaw that one of the hooks in this book is that it seems to want to deny the two child characters what is left of their childhood after the war time experiences, the hatred towards them because of their gender, tribal background, religious views, and whatnot by supposing that a same-sex relationship is what is on the minds of two 12-year-olds. 

 

So, as I said, I get why this is an important book: It perfectly describes the horrible situations people find themselves in in places that do not tolerate "otherness". It holds up a mirror to the ugly face of societies that actively promote hate and the criminalisation of homosexuality and promote correctional rape, religious conversion, etc. It supposedly tells people trapped in a similar situation that they are not alone, and that they have a voice in the form of this book.

I appreciate all of these intentions.  

 

And yet, to this reader these intentions are not what memories of Under the Undala Trees will evoke in this particular reader. To paraphrase the line I quote from the book, there’s nothing more important now than for me to find some brain bleach.

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text 2016-12-19 22:53
Reading progress update: I've read 30%.
Under the Udala Trees - Chinelo Okparanta

I'm reading this for the 12 Tasks of the Festive Season. 

 

This feels like an important book, but it is not going to be a favourite. 

Can't wait to finish it, really.

The points of views that the main character is struggling with are just rage inducing, even more so knowing that they were probably pretty accurate, and probably still are. 

 

However, I also have some issues with the writing and the delivery of the story.

 

 

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review 2016-12-17 18:04
And The Trees Crept In
And the Trees Crept In - Dawn Kurtagich

I was looking for more in this novel, something more horrifying and eerie than what I found. I guess I thought this novel would be creepy or scary but for me, it was neither. I was tempted to put the novel aside a few times and move on but I finished it, for there was something about the Creeper Man that captured my attention. It’s not that the whole novel was horrible, it was just that things weren’t making sense and I felt lost. I usually like short, choppy sentences which this novel incorporated within its story but in this novel, I just couldn’t understand exactly what was happening as I read.

 

There was a mysterious element to the novel which was entertaining and it added this ambiguous unclear picture as I read. Are these events really occurring or are these individuals going mad? Who actually knows the truth and when will this truth be revealed? The poor children in this novel, I felt for them, they were so innocent, who were they to turn to? What were they to do?

 

It all began when Nori and Silla arrive at their Aunt Cath house unexpectantly. Anticipating riches and glamour in their aunt’s manor, the young children discover ruin and isolation. These children do find the safety and security that they were looking for and they are grateful that their aunt welcomes them and allows them to stay. Their aunt is just what the children needed, at least it looks like that for a few weeks until things start to go differently and then the children find that the forest that they had crossed to reach their aunt’s fortress is not just trees and brush but it holds something more sinister and evil. It is the Creeper Man that awaits them just inside the Python Woods, their aunt informs them and they must never go into the woods again. Silla begins to feel the call of the Creeper Man, Aunt Cath starts to behave strangely and little Nori begins playing in area of the house without Silla, thrilled to have a new friend that Silla knows nothing about. It is the boy Gowan who arrives at the house, his fascination with being at the manor, that has me questioning his being and his motivation. I enjoyed how the house affected the characters, changing them and affecting their judgment.

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