Book Review: The Trees Beneath Us

The Trees Beneath Us

A man named Finn goes for a walk, a really…long…walk; a hike actually, along a fifteen-hundred mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail. As stories go, one might think it a yawner of a novel, but in the superbly capable hands of a master storyteller like Darren R Leo, it becomes a journey, not just of time and distance, but one that reaches into the soul. Leo leads a sojourn to the headwaters of emotion and treats us to the purest form of contemplative reflection on life and joy and heartache.

Like the switchbacks of a trail into the mountains, the book juxtaposes life along the path with snippets of the one left behind; the serenity of the forests, the perfect backdrop to sort out the experience of a lifetime in consideration of the question: “what do you do when you’re done living before your life is over?”

Readers who have suffered forms of clinical depression and anxiety, will instantly relate to Finn. Readers fortunate enough not to have suffered forms of clinical depression and anxiety, will have the opportunity to experience that cloud of darkness, which is the great gift writing such as this offers.

It’s hard to imagine how this book has not risen to the top of an Oprah booklist, or missed landing on the shortlist for any number of prestigious book awards. It’s said the true success of a book can be measured by how long the story will stay with you after reading the last page. This one might alter your DNA.

Book Review: Reaper

 

Reaper

One of the earliest forms of trauma for most young teens has to deal with the subject of coping with death. Reaper, by Kyra Leigh, follows the story of Rosie Wolfe, which starts with her waking up in the strangest looking hospital-like room. It’s a prelude to the discovery that she no longer inhabits the land of the living. Leigh puts a completely different spin on her examination of death by having her hero dealing with it post-mortem. Not only does the trauma of her father’s death from cancer still haunt her, she now faces some very unsavory tasks in order to win her place in paradise in order to reunite with him. There is a very clear Heaven Can Wait aspect to the story as the after-life has a fully functioning set of rules and procedures governed by the Grim Reaper and her administrative staff.

By alternating flashbacks of Rosie’s life with her current quest, we come to understand how tenuous the bonds of life are and how capricious death can be. They seem both cruel and uncalled for. Leigh is a competent writer who quite deftly tugs, and sometimes wrenches, at your heartstrings.

There was a level of disappointment in that Reaper never delivers a solid resolution except the conclusion that death, in and of itself, leaves loved ones floundering in its wake and that there is never a one-size-fits-all way to deal with it.

Book Review: The End Of Our Story

The End of Our Story

 

This exquisite novel, by Meg Haston, needs to be a best seller. The treat is how she probes the fringes of relationships and then dives in deep, exploring and tasting the facets and flavors of complex motivations, false starts and stops, hurt and joy, and finally resolution.

Good writing is supposed to make you feel. For me, The End Of Our Story drilled through forty-five years of ‘trying to forget’ and exposed a raw nerve that throbbed as painfully as when I was seventeen. And, that’s not a bad thing; it’s a tribute to Haston’s talent. The story centers on two teens: Bridge (short for Bridget) and Wils, a pair who have known each other since childhood. Through a time-staggered series of chapters, we experience their path, and witness the significance of people’s actions, how they can alter an otherwise beautiful trajectory. While it sits on the shelves in the teen section of a bookstore, adults should not feel shy about jumping in with both feet if for no other reason than to accept the reminder of the their role in teen life.

If there is any detraction, it might be the repetitive observations that Bridge makes while dealing with the narrative’s issues. Having said that, I still could not put the book down, staying up quite late absorbing the storyline. While it is certainly a stand-alone novel, I am hoping that Haston discovers a compelling way to continue Bridge and Wils’ story.

Book Review: To Catch A Killer

To Catch A Killer

Sheryl Scarborough’s novel follows a teen girl, who as a toddler witnessed her mother’s murder, a horror that remains unsolved. Obsessed with that lack of resolution, Erin is drawn into the world of forensics, largely in part because her adoptive mother’s brother works for the FBI and authored a book on the subject. Her life is further complicated by an uncommunicative parental figure, a strong desire to learn the identity of her birth-father, and deal with the murder of her favorite teacher – the catalyst that launches the story. Tossed into the mix are her burgeoning feelings toward a boy who is a prime suspect and her relationship with two zany girlfriends.

The book felt like a contemporary spin on a Nancy Drew plot as Erin moves deeper into the gray areas of the law in her search for clues to both murders and her paternity. In a classic case of misdirection, suspects keep stepping to the forefront as Erin struggles to handle the full range of teen emotions that pull in all directions.

Though she faces danger on a number of occasions, the narrative never generates a truly palpable sense of peril, and the real culprit barely scores a menacing personality. Teen fans of TV shows like CSI will appreciate the forensics primer as Erin works through the evidence she accumulates.

A fun story even if it lacks strong emotional teeth.