Book Reviews

I have never considered myself a ‘book reviewer’, but I love to read, and I always form an opinion of a book in my mind, so why not share that opinion? Besides, since I’m an author myself, and I know how important reviews are to other authors, I should practice what I preach.

That being said, this is the spot to look if you’re interested in what I’ve been reading.

 

FROM THE ASHES by Jesse Thistle

My niece, Ashley, works for the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, and she was fortunate to have the opportunity to interview Jesse Thistle, the bestselling author of From the Ashes. And being the thoughtful human being she is, she got her hands on a personally autographed copy of the book for me, and, once again, I thank her for that.

Unfortunately, life got in the way, and the book sat on my nightstand for months, waiting for me to pick it up. Once I finally did, I couldn’t put it down and kicked myself for waiting so long.

If From the Ashes had been a work of fiction, I would have said it was unrealistic. No one could experience what the protagonist did and survive. The fact that it is a memoir makes it all the more astonishing.

It chronicles the life of Jesse Thistle from the time he is three years old until his late thirties. Of Métis heritage, he was born and spent his very early years in Saskatchewan, until he and his brothers, after a brief stint in foster care, went to live with their paternal grandparents in Brampton, Ontario.

Jesse had no interaction with his father past the age of three and very little with his mother, but his grandparents took a tough stance with the boys and taught them a work ethic. However, Jesse’s rebellious nature worked against them all, sending him onto the streets and into an unending spiral of self-destruction. Ultimately, the love and support of his wife, his memories of hard lessons learned from his grandparents, and his own determination and willpower helped him to drag himself from years of alcohol and drug abuse, petty crime, incarceration, and homelessness.

Reading his story, it’s incredible to imagine anyone capable of surviving so long on the streets with such a heavy and all-encompassing drug addiction. The abuse he subjected his body to is inconceivable. Yet, not only did he survive, but he eventually flourished. He went from being a teenager who had trouble reading and writing to become an assistant professor in Métis studies at York University and an advocate for the homeless.

Although the fact he is Indigenous is important to the story and an integral part of who Jesse Thistle is, drug addiction and the life it brings with it can happen to anyone from any walk of life, any race, and any background. It took immense courage for the author to lay bare his soul and share with the world the depths he went to in order to feed his addiction, and I applaud his strength of character.

Mr. Thistle offers hope and inspiration to those who suffer and the families who love them, and this is a truly remarkable memoir, not to be missed.

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SPLINTER IN THE BLOOD by Ashley Dyer

I picked up a copy of this novel at a writer’s convention in Vancouver without ever having read anything by this author. From the first page, I was hooked.
It’s a thriller, set in England, and it introduces a pair of detectives, Carver and Lake, who are on the trail of the Thorn Killer, a serial killer whose victims are slowly and painfully murdered by primitively-applied tattoos.
The novel begins with an intriguing scene where Detective Ruth Lake is standing over the body of her recently-shot partner, Detective Greg Carver. She’s holding the gun, after having removed crucial evidence from the scene. But Carver isn’t dead, and he spends the next several days in the hospital, fighting for his life, while his partner picks up the serial killer’s trail, risking her career and her life in the process.
From the first captivating scene to the last action-packed revelation, I was pulled into this story. Everything in between was filled with forensic detail, twists and turns, and surprises. The protagonists had their own internal struggles and secrets to deal with as they obsessed over the killer who manipulated them and ultimately drove them to the startling conclusion.
I will certainly be one of the first in line to get a copy of the next book in this series.

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ON MYSTIC LAKE by Kristin Hannah

This novel made me cry – a lot. That pretty much sums up my review.
It should be enough, but I know most people won’t be satisfied with that, so I’ll give you more.
The novel is set on the west coast, in Los Angeles and in Washington State, and Kristin Hannah definitely has a way with description, both of the setting and of her characters. I was easily drawn into both. It was never too much or too little. She made me care, very deeply, for those characters, even the ones you didn’t want to care about.
I could say that it’s a story about a man who breaks his wife’s heart and sends her into the arms of another man, but you’d say that’s been done too many times and you don’t want to hear about it again. But, that’s only one layer to the story, and it happens to be only a small part of it. Each character, even the minor ones, have their own story to tell – their own heartbreaks, loves, losses, problems, and blessings. Every one of them evolves, changes, grows, and learns. And, that’s the gift you get from this novel. You get to see into the hearts and minds of people who are all broken in some way, and who find a way to overcome it and become stronger as a result.
The age-old story of lost love, and new love, is told in a way that keeps you emotionally tied to the novel. I should know. I wasn’t able to put it down.
As a side note, the novel was written in 1999, and even though it’s a contemporary novel, at times it felt strange to be in a world where cell phones and messaging weren’t the norm. At other times, it brought back good memories.
I’m embarrassed to say this was the only novel I had ever read by Kristin Hannah. That will no longer be the case. I’ll now stalk her. Unapologetically.

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CIRCLING THE SUN by Paula McLain

I have a confession to make, and for most of those who know me, you won’t be very surprised.

I’m not an adventurous person. There, I said it.

When I was a teen and young woman I read two authors religiously – Agatha Christie and Sidney Sheldon. I wouldn’t read anything else for fear that I wouldn’t enjoy it. I made an exception for The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, which I read several times, over and over again.

Eventually, I ran out of books by my then-favorite authors and either had to branch out or give up reading altogether. So, I dipped my toe in the reading pool, but remained cautious. I would find one author I liked and would read everything I could find written by that particular author, and, over time, I eventually built up a decent-sized stable of reliable authors.

Recently, I stepped outside of my comfort zone and picked up a book by an author I had never read, feeling sure I wouldn’t make it past the first chapter. I was proven wrong (admittedly, not for the first time).

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Paula McLain pulled me into her novel, Circling the Sun, with a net made of gossamer so fine I couldn’t even feel the pull. The description of the flight in the prologue remained in the back of my mind for the duration of the novel, leaving me unsure of the type of ending I was going to encounter.

The novel succeeded in grabbing and holding my attention because of two elements. First of all, I was thrown into a country which I have never visited, but through Ms. McLain’s descriptions of Africa in the 1920s and 30s I felt I was there with her protagonist. The setting was weaved into the story in such a way that you didn’t feel like it was being spoon-fed to you. It was simply there, surrounding you.

The second element, which always succeeds in catching my interest, is the fact that the novel is based on a real-life person, Beryl Markham. I had never heard of this woman, but I am fascinated when an author takes a less-than-famous person and fictionalizes his or her life, using what little information is known about them to create an intriguing novel.

In this case, Beryl’s story of her successes and her defeats is captivating reading. Always keeping in mind that the novel is based on a true story makes it even more engrossing. Beryl lives a life which would be unusual enough in our present time, but living it during those decades would be virtually unheard of. Her strength of character, her determination, and her fearlessness were qualities which were not generally encouraged in young women in that time and place. Her talents, firstly with horses, and then with airplanes, were nothing short of remarkable.

I would like to thank Paula McLain for entertaining me with her excellent story and writing techniques, and also for teaching me to be a little more fearless in my reading selections. However, I will be falling back on my old habit of reading authors I’m familiar with at least one more time. I’ve discovered that Ms. McLain has a few other novels…