Book Reviews: Untwine by Edwidge Danticat and Courage and Defiance by Deborah Hopkinson

Untwine
Edwidge Danticat
Scholastic Press, October 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-42303-8
Hardcover

Preamble be damned, Untwine begins in the present and with purpose. Mum and Dad aren’t getting along. Identical teen-aged twin girls are tight, but right now, each is feeling a bit out of sorts. Everyone in the family car, each in a funk. And they are running late. Suddenly–another vehicle slams into them. The tightly knit family is shattered; metaphorically and then, quite literally.

Realistic fiction with a fresh focus features a situation that anyone can relate to. Rather than opening with an obligatory, typical-teen-turning-point type of event, it’s a regular day and a random accident. With all the ripple effects. Giselle relays events to the reader, moving both backward and forward, but in a fluid kind of way—painting the picture piece by piece.

Ms. Danticat’s story struck me as unique in a couple of ways. First, I felt a solid sense of loss for someone I’ve never known. Not sadness, sympathy or empathy; but an actual aching emptiness, and all for a character the author doesn’t even introduce. Second, subtle nuances–almost behind-the-scenes actions, that demonstrate strength and support of extended family I found to be both impressive and inspiring.

Mum and Dad, each with a sibling, immigrated from Haiti to the U.S. and they made their home in Miami. The accident brings the twins’ maternal aunt, as well as their father’s brother, to the hospital and straight to Giselle’s bedside. When Giselle is released from the hospital, she has rigid, ridiculous rules to follow, but they are for real. If she wants her brain to heal, that means no screens whatsoever, no reading, and no writing. Everyone else has their own injuries, so grand-parents come from Haiti to help out.

A sad story, with subtle silver linings, is simply the best.

Reviewed by jv poore, April 2018.

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Courage & Defiance:
Stories of Spies, Saboteurs and Survivors in World War II Denmark
Deborah Hopkinson
Scholastic Press, August 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-59220-8
Hardcover

In April of 1940, Germany invaded Denmark and the quiet, common thread running through the Danish people was plucked. If ever there was a more resilient, resolved and remarkably sympathetic collection of human beings, they are unknown to me. Ms. Hopkinson honestly portrays the dangers of dismal, every-day-life under occupation as well as the cruelty and despair of concentration camps, simultaneously displaying the intuitive empathy and bravery of the Danes.

What strikes me the most is that each person has an individual ‘line he will cross’ while still doing his level best to resist, if not fight, against the gruesome German goals. That is, until learning of Hitler’s plan to round up and relocate Danish Jews to concentration camps. The unspoken, unanimous decision to prevent this was almost palpable as plans for moving Jewish Danes to Sweden were formed.

I do not have the ability to aptly convey the reasons that I will be highly recommending this non-fiction nugget, so I’ll just leave you with this: reading Courage and Defiance reminds me of the quote that Mr. Rogers would share from his childhood. When he would see scary things in the news, his mother advised, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

Reviewed by jv poore, August 2018.

Book Reviews: Think Twice by Lisa Scottoline and Hollywood Hills by Joseph Wambaugh

Think Twice
Lisa Scottoline
St. Martin’s Press, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-312-38076-2
Trade Paperback

First there was Cain and Abel.   In this novel we have Bennie Rosato and her twin sister, Alice Connelly (they were separated at birth and raised by different mothers).  Bennie grows up to be a highly successful Philadelphia lawyer, heading her own firm, while Alice turns out evil.

Alice has drugged Bennie, burying her alive, and then impersonates her in an attempt to transfer all of Bennie’s money out of the country and flee.  She convinces everyone, including the bank, that she is Bennie, and succeeds in transferring the funds to an offshore institution. Meanwhile, Bennie breaks through the box in which she is buried, but runs into all kinds of obstacles when she is believed to be Alice.

In the end, the real question asked and, perhaps, answered is: is the nature of evil born in us or is it in the genes?  While the main plot is charged to a high degree, the tale is interspersed with a bit of old-fashioned schmaltz, including the caricature of an  Italian immigrant family, up and down love lives of a couple of characters, the emotional permutations of a candidate for a law partnership, and even an Italian witch.  Of course, Lisa Scottoline‘s writing is smooth and forceful, so the reader is carried along for an enjoyable read.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2011.

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Hollywood Hills
Joseph Wambaugh
Little, Brown, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-316-12950-3
Hardcover

The patented Wambaugh formula continues to enthrall the reader, even after reaching the Twenty-book mark.  Most of the familiar characters from the preceding 19 books are present again, along with some new ones, and the accustomed anecdotes illustrating the madness that befalls the LAPD cops remain at the high level of the author’s past performances.

The plot running through the novel to give it the feel of a police procedural involves an art scam which is doomed from the beginning, but allows Wambaugh to interweave four characters into the daily activities of the crime-fighting LAPD warriors.

Written at the sophisticated level of past novels in the series, Wambaugh introduces some deeply human and emotional situations to provide a touching pathos, raising the question in at least my mind as to whether or not he is planning to end the highly successful run of this series.  At least we have this one to enjoy, and it is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2011.