Book Review - In Pieces
I just finished reading In Pieces by Rhonda Ortiz, a book that I made the foolish decision to read alongside an 800-page Tolstoy novel with a book club meeting deadline. I had to return In Pieces to the library on its due date, begrudgingly, less than a fourth of the way in. After that, it was checked out for a while (a good sign that others were enjoying it!) and I couldn’t get it back in my hands right away.
But when I did – wow, I got hooked quickly! Once I hit the midpoint of the novel, I could barely put it down. The first half is excellent, but the second half is even better as it draws in the reader – I wanted to know what would happen next.
My favorite thing? The characters. They were some of the most likeable, realistic characters I have read in a long time – more so than the aforementioned Tolstoy characters, actually. Neither Josiah nor Molly were perfect – both were quite real, and the way they interacted with each other felt very much like a real male/female relationship might actually unfold, especially given the time period in which the novel was set. I loved both Josiah and Molly, but Josiah was my favorite. When an author can bring characters to life that the reader truly cares about, then I call that success. Those two characters will live on in my mind. I enjoyed the side characters as well. Everyone had real dimension – no flat characters.
A short synopsis: Set in 1790s Boston, the storyline follows Molly Chase, who has lost both her mother and father in recent years, as she grapples with the impact of the tragedies. Her childhood friend, Josiah Robb, gives her a home in his house with his mother and sister while he stays on his boat (he’s a sailor) to avoid scandal. Molly’s father had taken on responsibility for Josiah’s education and some of his upbringing after his own father died when he was around age nine, so the families already have close ties. Molly wants to support herself through sewing, which is her form of artistic expression (and I loved the clever titles with their double meanings: “Mismeasurement,” “Alterations,” “Josiah’s Suit”), but when she starts to consider an easier way to cease being a burden on the Robb family (her perception, not theirs), the pace picks up and the reader is mentally urging Josiah to get back home, and quick! I won’t tell the rest so as not to spoil it for those who haven’t read it!
A great part of reading this novel was watching as both characters try to do the right, responsible thing based on their own perceptions of the situation and their male/female differences in approaching problems. Molly’s ignorance of Josiah’s true feelings for her made for a more interesting story, and his tenderness and tact towards her showed he was a true man. Josiah’s questioning of faith was woven into the plot beautifully and came across as important but not obtrusive to the flow of the rest of the story, and I hope to see where his questions take him in the rest of the series. The mentions of how he has been speaking to his deceased father – and how that disturbs his mother - have me intrigued to learn more, too.
Finally, the historical details painted a great backdrop to the story. It was clear that the author put research into the writing process to give an accurate portrayal of the setting. Historical figures appeared as minor characters and were mentioned throughout, making the novel a fantastic piece of historical fiction.
I will be purchasing a copy of this book despite having read the library’s copy, because it is just too good to not own it so as to be able to return to it again and share it with friends and family. Can’t wait for Book Two!
Book Review - Frightliner
Trucker horror? Yes, please!
The big rig with skull and crossbones on the cover of this book and its play-on-words title had me – I wanted to get a copy and find out what it was about. Halloween/All Souls seemed the perfect time of year to read it. Frightliner and Other Tales of the Supernatural by Colleen Drippe and Karina Fabian is a short story compilation. My favorite two stories were, not surprisingly for me, the trucker stories: Frightliner and Accidental Undeath.
Frightliner is the first and longest tale in the book and was excellent. The protagonist, a truck driver named Jay, is an average guy who believes in God but doesn’t put much thought or effort into it. When he finds himself pursued by another truck that few people can see, the reader sees his weak will and the feeble efforts he makes against what I can only presume to be a demon or even the devil himself. He is fortunate to meet a couple of friends along his drive, Miguel and LeRoy, who help him fight in the spiritual attack. Catholic elements come into play, including a rosary, stained glass, and holy water. A great line from this story: “And maybe even if he didn’t have faith in God, God could have faith in him,” followed soon after by Jay’s declaration of, “I didn’t do anything. It was all God.” The diversity of the characters in this story also serves as a reminder to how universal the Church is and how demonic attack doesn’t discriminate – all are subject to it, all can have weak wills which need fortification. This story reminds us why Christ left us his Church – to wage war against sin and the devil and to lead us to reliance on him so we can one day be in heaven.
Accidental Undeath, while much shorter, packed a powerful punch in its message. A trucker-turned-vampire has to make a sudden and heart-wrenching decision. Told in first-person, we don’t even get his name, but his struggles to do what is right despite his condition come across as very real. Maybe that sounds funny since he’s a vampire, but his self-talk, his attempts to justify what his vampire instinct is telling him to do, seems very human, and ultimately, we are left with a cliffhanger as to his decision, which I thought was the best way to end this story. Showing his decision, no matter which he chose, would not have left a satisfying ending, in my opinion.
I am not going to detail the other three short stories since I wanted to focus on my favorites. Be aware that there is some crass humor, especially in the last story which was a bit too much for my personal taste (although some still had me laughing out loud) – but then, the idea of zombies really bothers me already, so I am probably not the best one to comment on a zombie story. There is a little gore and some profanity throughout the stories, but I think it was well-placed, personally, and I don’t flinch easily at that sort of thing anyway.
I never thought that Catholic trucker horror fiction could be a subgenre, but this reader sure hopes there’s more of it out there!
Book Review: A Bloody Habit
I finished reading A Bloody Habit by Eleanor Bourg Nicholson a week ago, and I thoroughly enjoyed delving into the Catholic horror genre - what, you didn't know that was a thing? My recommendation - read Dracula by Bram Stoker before you pick up this novel. Set in the same time period and with a fun brief appearance by Stoker himself, this novel's parallels with Dracula are part of what makes it so good.
I will start off by saying that somehow I missed the fact that this novel had ties to Bram Stoker's novel. I have begun to read more Catholic fiction in the last year, saw this as recommended in several places, and asked my local public library to purchase a copy. When they did and I checked it out, imagine my surprise at finding its relationship to Dracula, a classic novel that I had only recently read for the first time. Reading this book a half year later was a nice follow-up.
Each chapter begins with a quotation from Stoker's novel, but the story itself is very much an original. The writing style made me feel like I was in the actual time period of early 1900s England. The fact that many of the characters were reading and raving over Dracula - and that the protagonist obviously scoffed at their enthusiasm over what he believed to be foolishness - drew me in right away. John Kemp's skepticism worked perfectly within the plot of the novel, giving him room to grow into a faith in something bigger than himself and beyond his typical trust in reason alone. He was an interesting and likeable character.
My favorite parts as I was reading Nicholson's novel on the tail of Dracula were when Father Thomas Gilroy's comments voiced thoughts I had entertained myself as I read Dracula from a Catholic perspective - namely, when he talked about "that putty nonsense" and when he corrected Stoker's mistaken use of the term "indulgences." I too corrected the text as I read - "that's a dispensation, not an indulgence!" I felt as if I shared a common understanding with the author.
The characters were well-developed and believable. The writing quality was superb. I enjoyed this novel on many levels, both as intellectual reading as well as entertainment. One part that touched me greatly was the compassion with which Father Gilroy assisted Adele Lawson at her death - Kemp was almost angry that the priest "didn't do anything," and yet, it is gradually made evident that the vampire-slaying priest is battling demons in a more dramatic yet quiet manner. The calm power of the sacraments was made evident without the novel coming across as preachy. Well done!
Catholic. Wife & Mother. Vocations advocate.