Thursday, June 8, 2017

Book Review: Gringo

I've read and reviewed Cass McMain's first two books. They're great. As a fellow writer, I admire her ability to create relatable characters living simple lives. What McMain is genius at is transforming the ordinary into the profound.

To say I was rooting for the characters in Gringo would be an understatement. The fury I felt when the bar manager insists on a uniform change was the kind of anger I generally reserve for actual things happening in my real life. That is how good the author is at building tension and making you invested.

Main character Daniel works nights and sleeps days and manages to have little time for much else. A temporary schedule change, along with the neighbor's barking dog, deprive him of sleep. His unlikely friendship with the elderly neighbor seems to provide the human connection he hadn't realized he was lacking. He's spent the last few years hiding out, licking his wounds after a break up. It turns out he and Ellie have something in common: they're both so stuck in the past that the passage of time has become difficult to gauge.

The ending is clever and will make you want to go back and reread the whole novel. Don't worry if you don't get it right away; just be assured it does all make sense. It's not a case of the author painting herself into a corner and throwing up her hands. I hesitate to explain too much because I think figuring it out is half the fun.

(We can discuss spoilers in the comments.)

I enjoyed every moment of this read and raced through it. I highly recommend picking up a copy.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Book Review: Once Upon a Time, There Was You

Many years ago, I read a book by Elizabeth Berg that I didn't enjoy and I've been avoiding her books ever since. After reading Once Upon a Time, There Was You, I've realized that was a mistake and I'm excited to read her extensive list of other works.

In this book, Berg captures that particular angst of being an eighteen-year-old girl lucky enough to be overprotected and loved by her parents. It will be years before Sadie understands she was lucky. For now, she is just desperate to get her life started and have it belong to her.

The novel alternates third person narratives, allowing the reader to identify with each of the three main characters: Sadie and her parents, John and Irene. When Irene resolves to have a conversation with her daughter in which she finally just listens, the reader is both frustrated by her and heartbroken for her when she fails, launching nearly immediately into a lecture.

The age range of these characters makes it appealing for a broad audience. You don't have to be eighteen if you remember being eighteen; you don't have to be a parent if you've had one. The peripheral characters are also expertly drawn, giving other examples of how people figure out how to love and be loved.

At one point, family friend Henry becomes aggravated with how hard Sadie is on her parents:

"Oh listen, Sadie. You know who does it right? You know who does loving right?"



And that's the main message of the book. We may not do it right, but most of us are trying.