Review: Tin Man by Sarah Winman

Alexis: Read 11/28/18

“I said to him that just because you can’t remember, doesn’t mean the past isn’t out there. All those precious moments are still there somewhere.”

This is a poignant story of love and grief. This is a story of first loves, final loves, and dying loves.

Winman’s writing style is gorgeous. It’s simple yet raw and peppered with beautiful descriptions and lyricism. Throughout the book, her lack of quotation marks echoes Ellis’ silent grief.

I love the recurring motifs of the color yellow and Van Gogh’s Sunflowers. Nora, Ellis’ mother, is impactful and realistic, and she sticks throughout the story in the minds of both Ellis and Michael as a reminder to stay true to themselves.

Both Ellis and Michael are realistic characters. Ellis deals with his emotions by withdrawing and keeping to himself, while Michael deals with them through writing. Without giving too much away, both of them end up being more similar than either of them thought. Tin Man is an aptly named book.

I love that this book addresses the importance of art and writing, as said by Nora: “Painting flowers as a sign of friendship and welcome. Men and boys should be capable of beautiful things.”

My only criticism is that Annie does not feel as vibrant as all the other characters. I loved her introduction scene, but I wanted to understand her relationship with Ellis as deeply as I understood Ellis and Michael’s relationship.

All in all, this was a beautiful and quietly harrowing read that I highly recommend.

VERDICT: 5 stars

Review: Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

Anna: Read 11/16/18

In Salvage the Bones, Esch and her three brothers help their alcoholic brothers prepare for the arrival of Hurricane Katrina with their father, who is often drunk. Esch’s mother died giving birth to her youngest brother, Junior. Her brother Skeetah’s dog, China, gives birth to puppies, who he hopes to sell as prized fighting dogs. The oldest brother Randall is distant but protective, and Junior is always getting into trouble. But Esch has her own problem—she’s pregnant.

I loved this book! This is my second Jesmyn Ward book after Sing, Unburied, Sing. Her writing is so atmospheric that you can almost feel the sticky Southern humidity as you read. Ward is hands down one of the most lyrical writers I’ve read, and it’s amazing how she can make something as devastating as the destruction of Hurricane Katrina into something beautiful and even hopeful.

The pacing in this is fantastic and mimics the calm before a storm. As the tension builds and builds and the storm approaches, Esch’s pregnancy becomes harder to hide. I loved Ward’s foreshadowing in China’s motherhood to her puppies, the approach of the storm, and all the water/flood imagery.

I also loved the narrator, Esch, and her family, despite their many flaws. Esch’s memories of her dead mother throughout her day to day life make her as present as the other characters, and these descriptions were some of my favorite parts of the book. You can feel their mother’s love in the family by the way they remember her moving around the house, which they ultimately have to fight to save from the hurricane. Esch’s relationship with her brothers and father shifts as the events of the hurricane play out. This is a fantastic story of family and brotherly sacrifice.

Despite the fact that China was a fighting dog, I enjoyed reading about the bond between China and Skeetah. Even though I’m ethically opposed to dogspotting, I found Ward’s ability to write such calm scenes alongside the bloody ones of the dogfights, and then the destruction of the hurricane, impressive.

A word of warning: don’t read this if you can’t handle dogfighting, or other bad things happening to dogs, if you know what I mean. Honestly, this might be the reason I’m not giving it 5 stars/books. 

VERDICT: 4 out of 5 books

I highly recommend checking out Jesmyn Ward. I’ll definitely be reading the remaining two books on her backlist very soon!

Review: The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld

Nov 13 The Child Seekers

Anna’s review: Read 11/12/18

In The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld, Naomi, a private investigator, specializes in finding lost children. She returns to the snowy landscape of her home state of Oregon to take on the case of a young girl, Madison, who went missing in the forest where her family went to find a Christmas tree. But as Naomi learns what happened to Madison, the events of her own traumatic past begin to come to light.

I’m conflicted by this. There were so many beautiful and harrowing parts of this book. Obviously it deals with difficult themes like abduction, pedophilia, rape, and death, which were all handled respectfully by the author. Denfeld herself is a licensed investigator, and you can tell she knows what she’s writing about.

The biggest problem I had with this book is the huge discrepancy in the quality of writing. Half of the writing style was beautiful and lyrical, especially the scenes from the point of view of the snow girl. I found this sections horrifying but masterfully written. You could feel the coldness creeping into your bones, as well as the desperateness of the child’s situation.

The other half was written so differently that it didn’t even feel like I was reading the same book! For example, there is a line on page 72 that reads, “Her stomach rumbled, reminding her that she soon would be hungry.” There are other lines like this that are so jarring that I kept noticing them as I read and this impacted my overall opinion of it.

I found the romance between Jerome and Naomi particularly cringey. Their dialogue was cheesy, and Jerome’s character is as flat as a pancake. This is where I felt the most distracted by the different writing style, since the rest was so dark.

The other problem I had is Baby Danforth case that Naomi randomly takes on in the middle of the book. Though I know, realistically, a investigator would probably be working on multiple cases at a time, I found this whole case horribly distracting. The only reason I can think to include this is to show that Naomi’s searches can end badly.

Then there’s the characterization of Naomi herself. Naomi is also a “snow child.” She was abducted as a young child and, as a coping mechanism, she has repressed the memories of the traumatic events. As a result, Naomi is reserved and often cold. She left the safety of her foster home, the only place she felt love, because of her fear of closeness and intimacy. Throughout the course of finding out what happened to Madison, Naomi finally remembers the events of her own abduction. I understand that Naomi’s acceptance of Jerome’s love represents part of her healing, but I think I would have enjoyed this book a lot more if the romance hadn’t been included at all. There’s also Ranger Dave, who fell in love with Naomi within days of meeting her, which I found completely random.

Something I really enjoyed was the aspect of fairytale retelling, especially the ones that turned childhood innocence on its head. This dark play with cruelty and innocence is one of the biggest successes of this book. Snowy rural settings are typically my favorite books settings, and The Child Finder was satisfyingly atmospheric.

Ulitmately, I was disappointed by this. I loved the parts with the snow child but was disappointed by some of the rest. This had so many great reviews that I expected to love it. I just can’t look past the discrepancies in the writing and the cheesy romance.

VERDICT: 3 out of 5 books

Alexis: Read 9/2/18

I read this book a couple months ago. I had read one of Denfeld’s books before, The Enchanted, which I had a hard time getting through, but which ended up stuck in my mind. I prepared myself for a dark read with The Child Finder and dug in.

Denfeld’s writing style and descriptions struck me. I even took the time to write down a quote: “Like a leaf that drank from the morning dew, you didn’t question the morning sunrise or the sweet taste on your mouth. You just drank.” Denfeld’s descriptions always surprised me, whether from her word choice or from the contrasting, stilted way she delivered them.

While, like Anna, I found some of her sentences to be a bit off, ultimately the writing style served the purpose of the book. Denfeld was descriptive where she needed to be and off-putting when she needed to be. Three of the main characters deal with life-altering issues, and the writing style reflects their troubled thoughts and feelings.

I agree that Naomi and Jerome’s adult relationship feels forced; however, their relationship as children made sense. But was the distance felt between the two adult characters because of Naomi’s isolationist behavior, or was it because Denfeld’s characterization didn’t step up to the plate?

The chapters from Madison’s point of view, when she’s being held hostage, are brilliant, and I agree with Anna that Denfeld obviously knows what she’s talking about. The realism of the kidnapping, mixed with the almost dream-like quality of the snow child, left an impact on me.

VERDICT: 4 out of 5 books