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Deborah Serravalle

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Safe as Houses
Safe as Houses
by Susan Glickman
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 19.76
9 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Twist is in the Telling, Oct. 23 2015
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This review is from: Safe as Houses (Paperback)
A Brief Synopsis

While walking in her dog, Jasper, in Toronto's Hillcrest Village, indie book store owner, Liz Ryerson, stumbles upon a corpse. Liz soon discovers the murdered man is, James Scott, a realtor who recently gave her an appraisal on the building she co-owns with her playboy ex-husband, Adam.

Liz's complex but predictable life is suddenly in upheaval: Adam is leaving on an extended trip with his beautiful, young lover, Laura; her daughter, Samantha, has taken up with a 'bad boy' and is exhibiting alarming signs of anorexia; and her son, Josh, is off doing his own thing. To complicate matters further, Adam is pressuring Liz to sell the property which also houses her book store, Inside of a Dog. Amidst this chaos, Liz abetted by her eccentric new friend, widowed retired classics professor, Maxime Bertrand, embarks on a quest to solve the murder of James Scott.

My Comments

In her recent novel, Safe as Houses, Susan Glickman offers a convincing portrayal of a woman attempting to exert control over her world gone mad. Twists, turns and diversions in the story propel it forward at a satisfying pace. Liz is a likeable character and her relationship with Max is endearing but plausible. For book lovers, Liz's store, Inside of a Dog, is a charming character unto itself. Still, the story has a dark side and it is in this underbelly, Safe as Houses, sets itself apart from your predictable, amateur sleuthing story.

Ms Glickman choses to unravel the underlying events in an unexpected and well-considered format: interspersed chapters are skillfully told from the point-of-view of the victim. In this way, Liz's story and the victim's unfold in tandem to a satisfying conclusion.

My Final Word

Safe as Houses is a well-paced mystery having all the usual 'suspects' one expects in that genre. The twist is in the telling. And that, in my opinion, is what sets this book apart from other mysteries on my shelf.

Breathing Space
Breathing Space

5.0 out of 5 stars Lydia makes some questionable choices and some outright bad ones. But for better or worse, March 16 2015
This review is from: Breathing Space (Kindle Edition)
In her last novel, The Unraveling of Abbey Settel, author, Sylvia May, explored mid-life reinvention triggered by a move from Canada to the Southern U.S. In her latest work, Breathing Space, May again explores this theme; her characters are once again from Canada and the Southern States. This time, however, the disruption is self-inflicted.

A Brief Synopsis

When Lydia Burgess painting workshop vacation on Hyde Island is over, rather than return to Toronto with her sister, Lydia opts to stay. Without warning, she abandons her business obligations, husband and grown daughter. Although Lydia claims she’s answering the coastal island’s mysterious call, it’s clear to the reader she’s running from her life.

Lydia’s time on Hyde Island is a journey of self-discovery. Along the way she encounters a hippy biologist, a dashing southern “gentleman”, a sketchy boss, and an illegal Mexican hotel maid with a tragic history. During her stay on the island, Lydia makes some questionable choices and some outright bad ones. But for better or worse, she comes to realize the motivation behind her impulsive decision.

My Thoughts

Sylvia May’s writing is accessible. And by that, I mean her prose appears effortless. But don’t be fooled. The themes she explores and the characters she creates are anything but simple. In Breathing Space, Lydia is a complicated woman who makes bizarre choices. At times I struggled to like Lydia, given her lack of empathy for the people in her immediate circle. And, I was at times, frustrated by her lack of self-respect. Yet May’s portrayal of Lydia, a woman driven to extremes, raises issues and questions about family dynamics, expectations and our mental health and well-being. In the end, Lydia rises above her actions and claims her own identity.

My Final Word

Breathing Space is a well-written exploration of one woman’s quest of self-discovery that is well-worth the read. Published by Turquoise Morning Press, it is available in paperback and digital format at and

Kid Soldier
Kid Soldier
by Jennifer Maruno
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 8.94
28 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Well-Crafted YA Novel, Nov. 23 2013
This review is from: Kid Soldier (Paperback)
Jennifer Maruno is an accomplished Canadian historical fiction YA novelist who took an early retirement as an educator to write. Something, Maruno claims, she has wanted to do since childhood. On her website, she categorizes her writing path as having three distinct components: dabbler, dreamer and, in this current phase, determined author. Determined? Relentless is more like it. The woman doesn’t let up. Her range of topics and characters is vast. Perhaps that’s why one fascinating book after another has been published.

Warbird, explores life at Sainte- Marie, a French Jesuit settlement near modern-day Midland, Ontario, from the perspective of Etienne and a Christian Huron youth, Thomas. Her Cherry Blossom books,When the Cherry Blossoms Fell: A Cherry Blossom Book and Cherry Blossom Winter: A Cherry Blossom Book follow Michiko Minagawa, a young Japanese-Canadian girl from British Columbia through the turmoil of WWII, internment and relocation to Ontario. A third book, currently in the works, will complete the Cherry Blossom Trilogy. Totem, the story of an orphaned white boy in a residential school for native children, is due to be released soon and is available for pre-order. Kid Soldier is Maruno’s latest publication.

A Brief Synopsis of Kid Soldier

It’s 1939, war looms and Richard Fuller is infatuated with the army. Against his mother’s wishes, he enlists. The catch? At fifteen Richard is underage and uses an assumed name to sign up. Under his pseudonym, Richard travels to England and takes up the position of signalman. He witnesses the Battle of Britain, the death of a German pilot, and is wounded in the London Blitz. Amidst all of this, Richard connects with his widowed mother’s family who live at train’s ride to where he is stationed. When Richard’s true age is discovered, he faces possible court-martial.

My Thoughts on Kid Soldier

I attended the Kid Soldier’s launch at a Different Drummer Books, where Maruno introduced the novel and her impetus for writing it. Before her father died, he gave her a binder that contained his “life story.” Kid Soldier, while a work of fiction, is based on the facts gleaned from her father’s treasured binder.

To her credit, Maruno has transformed the pivotal facts of her father’s life into an engaging narrative. Letters to and from Richard’s friends in Niagara Falls, Ontario, are scattered throughout the book. What Richard shares with those at home, and what he omits, offers a touching, but realistic, glimpse into the heart and mind of boy far from home and heading toward the dangers of war.

CM Magazine highly recommends Kid Soldier claiming, “ Maruno excels at presenting scenes, rather than telling readers what to think.” Concluding that, “Readers like to intuit things without having everything spelled out, and Maruno allows readers to do that.”

I would heartily agree with this assessment. Kid Soldier is not a simplistic, linear story. Nor is it predictable. One particular poignant but disturbing event, which takes place near Stonehenge, alters Richard’s idealistic view army life. Unfortunately for me, I read this section just before bed and, thinking of Richard, tossed and turned for quite a while. Only a gifted storyteller can move me like that!

My Final Word

Kid Soldier is a well-crafted YA novel. Although the book is meant for a younger audience, it will still appeal to the more mature reader. In her touching portrayal of Richard, the character, Jennifer Maruno has done her father, and other WWII servicemen, proud.

The Games
The Games
by Claire Carver-Dias
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 17.99
6 used & new from CDN$ 1.31

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thrilling Narrative, Lean Prose, Oct. 12 2012
This review is from: The Games (Paperback)
Many novels are innovative; they push the literary envelope in new and different ways. They surprise us. Unfortunately, these reads, which often garner literary praise, fall short when it comes to the narrative and fail to engage us emotionally. The Games is one of those rare reads that is both innovative and engaging.

As stated in the synopsis, "...the novel follows six Olympic hopefuls in various sports as they claw and bleed their way to a berth on their national teams. Against the backdrop of their physical and spiritual striving is the tale of Sam, the disaffected brother of an Olympic rower. Isolated and rudderless, he falls under the sway of a social activist and terrorist who has his own insidious plans for the Games."

All you ever thought about athletes, the Olympics, training and what it means to win, to fail, is turned on its head by Carver-Dias. Her writing evokes strong emotion but her style is lean and economical.

I loved The Games and highly recommend this book to those who want a well-written, unique story. I look forward to much more from Ms. Carver-Dias.

Caleb's Crossing: A Novel
Caleb's Crossing: A Novel
by Geraldine Brooks
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 20.79
122 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Geraldine Brooks Does It Again!, July 21 2012
A couple of years ago a friend handed me a copy of People of the Book: A Novel, the international bestseller by Geraldine Brooks, thinking I may enjoy it. She was right. Beautifully constructed, the novel follows a rare book expert as she conserves one of the earliest Jewish manuscripts ever illustrated, the priceless Sarajevo Haggedah. I immediately read Ms Brooks' other novels; the Pulitzer prize-winning March, which picks up the thread of the absent father from Louisa May Alcott's Penguin Classics Little Women, and Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague, the story of a housemaid-turned-healer when the London plague is transported by a bolt of cloth to her mountain village. I would highly recommend all three of these novels.

Born and raised in Australia, Geraldine Brooks now lives on Martha's Vineyard with her family, where her most recent work, Caleb's Crossing is set.

A Brief Synopsis of Caleb's Crossing

Bethia Mayfield is a precocious and curious young woman growing up within a Puritan colony on Martha's Vineyard in the 1660s. At twelve she meets Caleb, her intellectual equal and son of a native chieftain. They form a secret friendship that eventually draws each into the unfamiliar world of the other. Bethia's father is a Calvinist minister respected by his peers and the native Wampanoag of the island. His mission to convert the 'salvages' results in Caleb's conversion and cultural crossing. As a consequence of unforeseen and calamitous events, Bethia risks all she holds dear to help Caleb in his quest for knowledge.

Although narrated by the fictional Bethia, the novel was inspired by the true life figure of Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk, a member of the Wpanak tribe of Noepe (Martha's Vineyard). Born circa 1646, Caleb was the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College. In the novel's Afterword, Ms Brooks explains that Bethia's distinctive voice and vocabulary are meant to capture the class, upbringing and beliefs of her times. As a result, expressions which are rightly deemed offensive today are applied to Native Americans. Although I appreciate Ms Brooks' reasoning and explanation, none was necessary as her respect for the people and place she writes of is clearly evident to those with eyes to see.

Through her insightful renderings of Bethia, Caleb and the other three-dimensional characters that inhabit the story, Ms Brooks, as she has done in her previous three novels, brilliantly lays bare a time long past for her readers.

My Final Word

In truth, I planned to purchase Caleb's Crossing when it was first released in 2011. I cannot tell you why I chose to wait. I knew it would be a stellar read, so methinks I held off for a time when such a book was needed in my life. Something akin to saving the red Smarties for last. Much like the candy-coated chocolate sweets, this book melted in my mouth.

Fall of Giants: Book One of the Century Trilogy
Fall of Giants: Book One of the Century Trilogy
by Ken Follett
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 21.71
92 used & new from CDN$ 1.36

20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fall of Giants: FANTASTIC!, Nov. 23 2011
Years ago I read a few of Ken Follett's thrillers: Lie Down With Lions comes to mind. I think I also read Key To Rebecca and Man From St Petersburg. Honestly, they were fun reads but none of them got under my skin like Pillars of the Earth released in 1989. Or eighteen long years later, World Without End.

I suppose Follett is best known for his thrillers. Goodness knows he's written twenty-odd. But it's his historical fiction I love. As far as I'm concerned the guy is a genius of the genre.

I don't know where Follett falls in literary circles. My guess is his work wouldn't be considered 'Literature' with a capital "L". Who cares? When it comes to storytelling, the man is pure gold.

His most recent work is Fall of Giants, Book One of the Century Trilogy. And the only negative thing I can say about it is I have to wait until the Fall of 2012 for the next installment, Winter of the World.

Fall of Giants is a giant of a book. Just shy of 1000 pages, it's a veritable door stopper. Despite its length, I read it faster than books a third of its size for the simple reason I couldn't put it down. It is the kind of read that you happily lug around so you can snag a few extra pages here and there. By the same token, I was sad when it ended. Now that's a good book!

A Brief Synopsis

The story begins just prior to the commencement of WWI. It follows the lives of several families from various areas of the globe: America, England & Scotland, Wales, France, Germany & Austria and Russia. Follett's characters, fictional as well as real, were so vivid I was invested in all of them, their families and their communities. So when WWI unfolds I was right there, experiencing that monumental war with them. That's the thing about historical fiction, it brings the event,as well as the people, to life.

Of course a novel like Fall of Giants doesn't replace scholarly study of WWI but it is an overview. And as such, it offers examples of how people from the various areas were affected and how the war was a catalyst for other events and political movements. And for this purpose, Follett's facts are well-researched.

Within the first pages of Fall of Giants, there's a map of Europe, circa 1914 and a Cast of Characters that went on for several pages. This did cause me pause. Don't let it put you off. I never once had to refer to the characters' names or relationship to one another. That's because Follett is also a master of logic. At his hand, the entwined stories make perfect sense.

The story ends after the Great War, leaving Follett's pen perfectly poised to take flight with Winter of the World.

My Final Word

If you appreciate historical fiction and books you can get lost in, you'll love Fall of Giants!

Half-Blood Blues: A Novel
Half-Blood Blues: A Novel
by Esi Edugyan
Edition: Paperback
66 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Half-Blood Blues Voice a Beautiful Metaphor for Soulful Jazz, Nov. 23 2011
Of the five books shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, Esi Edugyan's Half-Blood Blues held the greatest appeal for me. I should also mention that the book was nominated for three other prizes: The Man Booker Prize, Canada's Governor General's Award and The Writers Trust Fiction Prize.

Purses notwithstanding, there was something about the book that drew me. Considering this, I think it may have been the title that conjured colourful images - blue blood, half-blood - interesting play on words, don't you think? And the author's name is curiously different and therefore mysterious. But then again, the jacket beckoned, with its resemblance to the old record disc's of my childhood. Whatever the specifics, as a whole I knew this was a book I needed to read.

Well-known names of the Canadian literary scene offer outstanding praise and endorsement on the back cover. There is, however, a common theme: Lawrence Hill, Austin Clarke and David Chariandy all comment on Esi Eduygan's use of language. I think Chariandy says it best:

"Yet, for me, the real allure of the novel is the mongrel and enduring beauty of the language. Like a gifted jazz performer, Esi Edugyan knows how to make new phrasings and cadences hit big upon the heart."

And I would agree. To whet your appetite, here's a taste of the opening:

"Chip told us not to go out. Said, don't you boys tempt the devil. But it been on brawl of a night, I tell you, all of us still reeling from the rot - rot was cheap, you see, the drink of French peasants, but it stayed like nails in you gut. Didn't even look right, all mossy and black in the bottle. Like drinking swamp water."

See what I mean? The colours persist - water. And although Edugyan's use of dialect continues throughout the narrative, it remains not only accessible but beautiful, doubling as a metaphor for the soulful jazz she writes about. As the protagonist Sid states: "We talked like mongrels, see - half German, half Baltimore bar slang."

A Brief Synopsis

At the centre of Half-Blood Blues is a mystery. In 1940s Paris, Hieronymus Falk, a black German citizen and brilliant trumpet player, is arrested by the Gestapo and never heard from again. What really happened? Did Hiero die in a concentration camp? And did Sidney Griffiths, his friend and fellow musician, betray him? And what became of the recording that Hiero trashed and Sid 'stole'? What role does Chip goddamn Jones, the drummer and Sid's friend since childhood, play in all of this?

It is Sid who narrates the story and he characterizes Chip as a liar since the age of ten. And as Sid re-lives the times leading up to Hiero's arrest and the treachery that seals the prodigy's fate, the pair are in their eighties. The novel travels from pre-war Berlin to occupied Paris where the legendary Louis Armstrong jams alongside our fictional characters, and to Baltimore and Poland of the 1990s.

My Thoughts

When a book is celebrated as much as this one, there's a tendency for reviewers to be highly critical. And in some ways that makes sense. What, we ask, sets this book apart? Why is it special? Good questions. However, that doesn't mean it's perfect. And, therefore, heavy-handed critiques don't seem fair to me.

Case in point: Half-Blood Blues has been criticized because it is yet another story set against WWII. I suppose if you're such a voracious reader that you've consumed every novel ever written about, set against or in some obscure way connected to WWII, it's a fair comment. But come on. Most of us haven't. And besides, even old stories or stories that have been told many times before become fresh and new at the hands of a writer with even a slightly different perspective.

With that said, Esi Edugyan certainly has a unique take: black jazz musicians dumped squarely in the middle of the Third Reich. From here, she explores the black experience in Nazi Germany. This is a perspective I have never considered, much less read about. There is a scene which still haunts me. It reveals the extent to which Aryanism and its inherent concept of white supremacism had pervaded German culture at this time. I will say only that it takes place between Hiero and Sid at a zoo.

What of Hieronymus Falk? Is it just me, or does that fictitious name sound a lot like Thelonious Monk, the famous jazz pianist from the same era whose lost recording emerged a few years back? Methinks so. Fun, oui!

As much as I enjoyed the book, I did have trouble with how the author chose to reveal the answers to the mystery. If I re-read Half-Blood Blues, I expect to discover no fault with Esi Edugyan's logic. However, my visceral response to her revelations of responsibility was, in a word, hood-winked. It's one thing to be surprised as a reader, it's quite another to feel betrayed. And rightly or wrongly, I felt unfairly led by Ms Edugyan.

My Final Word

As I said earlier, it's not a perfect book. But it is darn good one that's well worth reading. Especially if you enjoy stories that weave back and forth in time and place. In fact, it may be the perfect book to kick-off my online book club in the new year. Oh, I can hear the arguments now...

The Unraveling of Abby Settel
The Unraveling of Abby Settel
by Sylvia May
Edition: Paperback
12 used & new from CDN$ 12.88

4.0 out of 5 stars Watching Abby Unravel is Delightfully Unsettling, Oct. 9 2011
The Unraveling of Abby Settel is Sylvia May's debut novel. And, as the ironic title suggests, the book is a well-thought-out study of a woman and her family in the midst of crisis. Ms May's writing is crisp and concise. The odd flourish of metaphor or simile is lovely but not overdone. Ultimately though, Ms May's strength is her sensitive and insightful handling of family dynamics.

A series of catastrophes hit Abby Settel like a hurricane: her husband loses his job, her daughter is off to university, when her son is not MIA he acts weird, and her aging parents display alarming behavior. Even her parents' cat conspires to make Abby's life difficult.

Now if this all sounds too much, you're wrong. Personally, I've found that's the way life goes. I've hit patches where I've really wondered if one of my enemies has purchased a voodoo doll and pierced every exposed area of fabric with the sharpest needle available to humankind. And so it goes with poor Abby. Confronted with gut-challenging issues she makes tough decisions.

Although I found Abby a sympathetic character, I didn't always agree with or like the decisions she made. However, what I did like about the novel was after I had finished reading it I continued to consider Abby and her family's plight. Furthermore, much to my chagrin, I couldn't think of better solutions to Abby's difficulties than she did. I love a story that leaves you pondering! And Abby definitely did that.

The book travels between Richmond,Virginia and Waterloo, Canada. With more and more Americans and Canadians criss-crossing our border for work, this detail offered an enjoyable believability factor. Speaking of believability, Ms May's characters were multi-dimensional, complex and consequently, realistic. Having said that, I would have enjoyed seeing Abby's relationships in Richmond played out a little more. On the whole, however, Ms May did a fine job of presenting the issues and characters on which she chose to focus.

My Final Word

The Unraveling of Abby Settel was a good read that left me thinking about family, distance, aging parents and ultimately, the love that crosses all those boundaries. All of the issues covered in The Unraveling of Abby Settel are controversial, with no clear solution. For this reason I would highly recommend it as a book club selection.

by Emma Donoghue
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 17.54
45 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thrilling, but not the nightmare read I feared, Sept. 29 2011
This review is from: Room (Paperback)
I had no desire to read Emma Donahue's international bestseller, Room. I didn't give a hoot that it had been shortlisted for the Man Booker and Orange Prize, had won the Hughes & Hughes Irish Novel of the Year, the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize, the Commonwealth Prize ' Canada & Caribbean Region, and the Canadian Booksellers' Association Libris Awards ' Fiction Book and Author of the Year. For me, a story narrated by a five-year-old who is held captive in a single room with his mother was not a place I wanted to visit. Especially in my fertile imagination, where there lurks a disturbing preponderancy for horrific after-shock.

But when Room was chosen as the kick-off read this September for a book club I've belonged to for many years, I felt compelled to give it a try. Especially since I bought it for a screamin' deal at my local grocery store. Unsure whether this intervention was divine or satanic, I cracked open the covers.

The story is told by Jack, in a voice that is at once persuasive, precocious and charming. To him, his world is not unusual and on this level the reader is introduced to all the things that delight, interest, bore, disgust and anger him. And when we view the 13-ft. square room that is his world from this perspective, it is not a scary, evil, dark or sinister place. The creep factor is on the secondary level. For this, Ms Donahue gets an A+. The tension between what Jack 'sees' and what the reader 'knows' is seismic.

Narrating the story from a five-year-olds' perspective is at once daring and unique. No doubt this is one of the primary reasons the book has been so well-received. Authors like Ms Donahue who take risks; who push, pull and bend the novel in new and exciting ways are deserving of recognition and book sales, for they are the trailblazers of innovative narrative paths.

For all I didn't want to read Room and for all I suffered alongside Ma in her reprehensible predicament, ultimately I was glad I persevered to the second half of the story. At this point, Ms Donahue switches gears and we see Jack and Ma enter a new phase. Believe me I couldn't flip the pages fast enough. Here, as Jack's preconceived notions about the world are turned upside down, stretched and questioned, mine were also.

At every turn, Room is a testament of the tremendous love between a mother and son. In the end, Room is thrilling, but lives up to the claim Ms Donahue makes: it's not a nightmare narrative or a heartbreaker; it is a celebratory story of resilience.

The Lacuna
The Lacuna
by Barbara Kingsolver
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 17.95
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Barbara Kingsolver's epic, Lacuna, examines the spaces between truth and perceived reality, Sept. 24 2011
This review is from: The Lacuna (Paperback)
Although The Poisonwood Bible: A Novel is one of my all-time favorite novels, I almost didn't read Barbara Kingslover's latest publication, The Lacuna. I had waited for her next novel and was excited when the The Lacuna was released. Unfortunately, I didn't it buy right off. No doubt I had other books on the go as is the norm with me. But more to the point, I had been disappointed in her non-fiction book, Animal Vegetable Miracle: A Year of Food Life (P.S.)and this influenced my purchasing decision. To complicate matters further, when I asked friends what they though of The Lacuna, I received disappointing reviews. And so, despite its Orange Prize-winning status, I back-shelved it and went on my merry-readin' way.

And then this summer I visited Mexico City.

I knew of Frida Kahlo and she held some fascination for me--as she does for most people who have seen her paintings. Let's face, they're not easy to forget. She left little unsaid. Her pain, her love, her passion--it's bold and gut-wrenching; undeniable. So when I had the surprising opportunity to view the originals--and those of Diego Rivera--well, let's just say I had the time of my life.

Jazzed from our excursions I talked to my daughter about Kahlo and Rivera; wondered if anyone had every fictionalized their story. So, like a good writer of my times, I Googled the question: any novels about Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera? BINGO: The Lacuna.

Lickety-split I got the novel and read it. Here's what I discovered...

A Brief Synopsis

The Lacuna follows the life of Harrison Shepherd from his lonely childhood in provincial Mexico of 1929 and back to 1950s cold-war era America, as a well-known but reclusive novelist.

Born in the United States, Harrison is transported to Mexico when his mother leaves his father for another man and returns to her homeland with the boy in tow. But his mother is long on dreams and short on promises and young Harrison finds himself most often alone. Housekeepers and kitchen staff fill the parental void, putting him to work cooking and running errands. On one such errand, Harrison encounters the muralist Diego Rivera and eventually goes to work in his household.

During his time at La Casa Azul, Harrison forms a bond with Diego's wife, the artist Frida Kahlo that will last a lifetime. He also becomes a scribe for their house guest, Leon Trotsky, the exiled Russian Marxist revolutionary under constant threat of assassination.

Inadvertently caught up in Trotsky affair, Harrison returns to the States, ostensibly to transport Kahlo's art. Once there, he embraces the opportunity to remake himself and embarks on a writing career. But as his success gathers momentum the political climate changes and he tragically becomes a target of anti-communist zealots. It is his stenographer and friend, Violet Brown, who reveals the lacuna between truth and public presumption of Harrison Shepherd's life.

My Review

Comprised of memoir, diaries, letters, newspaper reports and congressional transcripts, The Lacuna is a sweeping literary tour de force. And while the book is ambitious and complex in its architecture, the story remains accessible, emerging effortlessly from the hodge-podge of text.

As a writer, I marveled at Kingsolver's achievement and often stopped my reading to consider how she'd manipulated the epic plot. I was further amazed at how little was lost. With such a complex structure, the writer risks loose ends, but The Lacuna leaves no question of substance unanswered. And although predictable, as historical fiction must be, it offers a uniquely nuanced overview of America's recent past while offering greater understanding of Mexico's political predilection as both nations are forming their modern identities.

Kingsolver sensitively tackles many themes and subjects by examining the lacunae in our life--those spaces between truth and perceived reality--on a micro and macro scale. In the novel's grand scheme, the media creation of, and obsession with, celebrity is examined. And then, to a lesser degree, The Lacuna touches on many other issues: a sense of home; who comprises a family; the influence of a father, a mother; how we love and who we choose to love; the meaning and value of art, friendship; what it means and how it feels to belong--and to be cast aside; the purpose of literature, art. As you can see the list is vast. However, fortunately for us, so are Kingsolver's abilities as a storyteller.

My Final Word

If you have even the slightest interest in Mexico, Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, Leon Trotsky or small town America during WWII and the Cold War Era, you'll love The Lacuna. If you're a fan of Barbara Kingsolver's distinctive use of voice, you'll savor meeting the vibrant characters, especially Violet Brown with her backwoods, Elizabethan patter and naively grounded sense of right and wrong. If you're wondering about the complex, epic format, don't - it's accessible and reads with ease - at least for the most part. I did struggle a bit near the end with a couple of the more dry reports. But don't let that put you off. Overall, the structure works. From the outset, you'll question how the story even came to be. But in its surprising, full-circle conclusion, The Lacuna reveals its secrets.

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