Have you ever looked at the cover of a book and knew that the story was going to hook you? That’s how I felt when I saw The Stars are Fire by Anita Shreve. Swirling fire, a deep red cover, and a bold font all signaled to me that the content of this book was going to leave me wanting more. Shreve exceeded my expectations with this novel.
The Stars are Fire is a piece of historical domestic fiction that focuses around the Great Maine Fire of 1947. This real event is given a fictionalized twist as Shreve tells the story of Grace Holland’s attempts to survive and rebuild after her life falls into ruins around her. After a summer-long drought, fires began near Bar Harbor and started ravaging the coast of Maine. People were left wondering where to escape to and hoping that the closeness of the sea would spare them from the brunt of the fire.
Grace Holland lives with her husband Gene and their two small toddlers. Five months pregnant, Grace is left to protect her children on her own after Gene leaves her to go help fight the fires. Grace and her best friend, Rosie, race to the sea with their four children to try to survive the flames. Keeping their children alive is their only priority as Grace and Rosie watch in abject horror as their houses and the community that they have grown to love bursts into flames. Hunkered down in the sand by the ocean, Grace fights to keep her children alive, sacrificing her own body to do so.
In the morning, Grace finds herself and her children wonderfully alive, but their lives have irrevocably changed. They’re penniless, homeless, and without a father or husband. Gene never returned from fighting the fires and no one knows where he is. Facing an uncertain future, Grace is forced to rely on the kindness of strangers until she either finds Gene or her mother or gets a job to support herself. Grace has to make a new life for herself and her children, something that both frightens and excites her since her life with Gene was not the most loving or supportive. While she has suffered great losses, Grace is able to move forward, find new happiness, and discover all the things she was missing when she was living with Gene. Just when she is settled into a new normal, something out of the blue happens and Grace is forced to be braver than she ever was before.
I really enjoyed this book. It was the first Anita Shreve book that I read and the first book in a really long time that had me wishing it would have been longer. There were so many characters whose backstories I was yearning to know more of and the ending had me on the edge of my seat wondering what would happen. This book is set up so well that Shreve could easily spin it into a series. Here’s to hoping she does!
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guest post by Georgann
Wow. This book was so good. It captivated me from beginning to happy ending. The Invisible Thread is just an amazing true story about a well-to-do career woman and a street kid she meets. He asks her for money and she, like many other New Yorkers, walks on by without actually seeing the boy. Suddenly, in the middle of the street, nearly getting hit by a car, she stops. She turns around, goes back to the boy, asks him if he’s hungry, and takes him to McDonald’s. They spend the afternoon together, just hanging out, and an unlikely friendship is born that spans until today, almost 30 years later.
The story of Laura and Maurice is so powerful! Laura chooses to invest her time, money and family in this young street kid. As you can imagine, everyone tries to tell her what an awful idea this is, but she persists. She sees something in him, something special, and her instinct proves correct. She gives him experiences that he had seen on TV but never imagined would actually be for him.
He comes from a home life that is foreign and unimaginable to most of us. Laura comes from a very rough background, as well; perhaps that is the basis of her compassion. He says she was his lifeline. She says she has learned much more from him than her learned from her. I say all of us will benefit greatly from reading their story!
The pleasure in reading a book like Cleaning Nabokov’s House is to enjoy vicariously the survival and ultimate triumph of an average (well, maybe not so average) person.
Barb Barrett is a wife and mother in a small town who loses what she loves most (her father, cousin and children) in relatively quick succession. When she is at her lowest point, she is unemployed and more or less homeless – living out of her car and reduced to watching her children from afar. She lost custody because the judge, lawyers, and social workers in the small, upstate New York town is allied with her husband, a hometown boy. A meal may consist of boiled lettuce; she has one pair of good pants.
Her luck begins to change when she buys a house formerly occupied by Vladimir Nabokov. She finds a manuscript presumably written by the author of Lolita. The reader picks up bits about Nabokov’s life and works and, I, at least, wanted to read more of his actual novels.
Leslie Daniels, in her first novel, creates a character who is endearingly quirky and self-reliant. We root for her success and hope for her former husband’s (the ex-person’s) downfall.
“I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening, when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through the Dumpster.” That’s the opening line of Jeannette Walls’ memoir. True to form without, The Glass Castle doesn’t disappoint.
We first follow Jeannette and her family as they shuffle from one desert community to another, one step ahead of the law and from homelessness. Her father, though brilliant, is also an alcoholic and usually unemployed; her mother is flighty and artistic with a hands-off philosophy of child-rearing. One of the author’s first memories is that of being burned — she was three years old and cooking hot dogs on the stove unsupervised.
The family eventually settles in a shack in the dismal coal-mining town of Welch, West Virginia, their father’s hometown and a place he had earlier escaped. Here the children manage to survive by fending off bullies and eating out of garbage cans at school. This all may sound rather depressing, but in fact, this is a very uplifting book. What comes through, loud and clear, is the author’s sincere love and affection for her parents — in spite of the obvious neglect and abuse. This and the fact that she was able to triumph over her upbringing and carve out a very successful life for herself makes this one of the best books I have read this year.
Now Walls has a new book out, Half-Broke Horses, which deals primarily with her grandmother. If it’s anything like her first book, it will be fascinating!
This is an unusual true story of a Los Angeles Times columnist who one day takes notice of a violin playing homeless man. Unusual is the music this homeless person manages to produce from a beat up violin with two strings missing. Even the columnist, who has little music knowledge, can tell that this raggedy seemingly eccentric individual must have had some classical training and education. Shortly after approaching Nathaniel, Lopez discovers that he is a former Juilliard student, living on the streets suffering from untreated schizophrenia. The homeless musician stirs something unshakable in the columnist. As Lopez begins to try and improve Nathaniel’s life -by getting him off the streets and back on medication – he finds that Nathaniel has irrevocably changed his.
I was listening to Yo-Yo Ma who was a guest on Garrison Keillor’s radio show last week. I stopped to really listen to this world renowned cellist and was able to imagine Nathaniel Ayers playing in the same orchestra with him over 30 years ago. The Soloist had the potential to be a very depressing read. Instead, it was a hugely wonderful story.
This great crime novel is translated from Swedish which adds a different flavor to the story. Certain things get added during translation or become more interesting when taken from slang. Sibylla the main character in Missing comes from a privleged background yet has chosen a life of the homeless in Stockholm. Brief snippets from Sibylla’s disturbing past help explain her modern day predicament. Her everyday struggle becomes almost unbearable after she is unjustly accused of a brutal murder. The story continues to pick up speed as Sibylla struggles to stay alive and hidden all the while trying to find the real killer with the help of a high school misfit. Great writer – I was easily transported into Sibylla’s world. The murder plot is well developed and unexpected.
Karin Alvtegen has received and been nominated for several literary awards. Interestingly she is the great-grand niece of the “Pippi Longstocking” series author, Astrid Lindgren.