Monthly Archives: January 2017

Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil, by Melina Marchetta

tell-the-truthSince Bish Ortley has been sacked from the British police force, he’s withdrawn from everyone and tried to find help in the bottom of a bottle. When an old friend from the office calls to tell him that a school tour bus has been bombed in France, Bish drags himself back up to the surface and drives straight to Calais. His daughter is on that bus.

Bee is fine, but several teens died in the attack, and still more were maimed and wounded. As the investigation moves forward, officials discover that Violette, one of the girls on the bus, is the granddaughter of a terrorist bomber. Her mother is still in jail for building the bomb that killed so many people years ago, and now Violette and a younger boy are missing.

This is the first adult novel by Melina Marchetta, an award-winning young adult author from Australia. Marchetta loves to surprise her readers, as she did when she made a complete turn from her celebrated realistic fiction to epic high fantasy in Finnikin of the Rock. Amazingly, her fantasy trilogy reached the same literary heights as her previous work, and now she has garnered many stars for this adult thriller.

Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil deals with the integration—or ghettoization– of Muslim immigrants into western Europe, along with cultural dissonance and lingering xenophobia. Intermarriage causes confusion, as Mr. Ortley’s first name is actually Bashir. Somehow, as a result of the suffering he experienced when his son died and because he straddles the two cultures, everyone trusts Bish. Parents talk to him, prisoners agree to see him, and even the teens tolerate his presence. Although he can never rejoin the police force, he is the only one who can crack this case.

Moving back and forth from England to France, with family stories from Algiers, Egypt, and Australia, the reader begins pulling on the threads of love, sacrifice, and undying vengeance to unravel the mystery. The characters are unforgettable, and the ending is realistically messy. Satisfying and hopeful, but not tidy. This is an intriguing, fascinating, and thoughtful read.

Highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.


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dominoWith all of the work we’ve been doing to our house lately, which you can see on my blog The Reader Writes, I’ve had an eye out for interior design books that have been coming through the library. Here are two that I brought home.

Domino: Your Guide to a Stylish Home, by Jessica Romm Perez and Shani Silver. Unbeknownst to me, Domino is a website, magazine, newsletter, blog, and shop. The book is a lovely, cloth-covered pink volume with a ribbon marker. Inside, the writers go through every aspect of decorating a home: seating, flooring, lighting, etc. Text is fairly minimal, with the emphasis on the photos. The authors take us to “Style School,” where we learn the basics of the various looks. There are “Style Standoffs,” which assist the reader in choosing between a patterned or solid sofa, or a large-patterned or small-patterned wallpaper, listing the advantages of each choice. We find examples of inspired style, and quick hints on how to get each look.

I’ve decided that my style must be eclectic, since it doesn’t fall into any neat categories. The art section has inspired me to move my china cabinet over to one side of my dining room wall– since the room is too small to comfortably seat people around the table– and to create a gallery wall on the other side. We have a lot of framed pictures tucked into cubbies, and I could have room to hang them all if I put the furniture off-center. My only fear is that it will not look like the artistic, random collection in the book, but more like an accident caused by someone who didn’t want her pictures stuck in cubbies anymore.

I will say that the designers’ photos are beautiful to behold, but perhaps more upscale than my real life. Even their cluttery rooms are perfectly staged, the chairs are like pieces of sculpture, and they really love white. I can’t picture kids running in from school, dropping backpacks, and flinging themselves onto the sofas. On the other hand, we need sweet dreams to break out of Tracthouse Suburbia, don’t we?

Conclusion: Beautiful, helpful, wide-ranging. A great starting place, and the website continues the journey.

touch-farmhouse-charmA Touch of Farmhouse Charm, by Liz Fourez. This slender paperback is filled with small projects that will give your home a bit of personality, if that personality happens to fall somewhere between rustic and shabby chic. Since most of my house is traditional, I would never have considered this until my husband watched Fixer Upper with me and mentioned how much he liked the rustic style that Joanna Gaines prefers. Since then, I’ve been trying to mix in some more country touches, and this book has some charming ideas.

The subtitle is Easy DIY Projects to Add a Warm and Rustic Feel to Any Room, so when you see the entry “Monogrammed Doormat,” understand that you will be buying a doormat and adding a monogram, not weaving your own mat, if that is what one does to make a doormat. The emphasis here is on “easy,” and the projects are listed by room. Some of them are far too rustic for me, such as the chicken wire candle holder, but the huge beadboard clock, the framed glass sign, and the family name sign, to name just a few, are really adorable. Furthermore, the simple techniques that Fourez teaches can be used for any number of projects that the reader can come up with on her own.

Of course, this author also has a website and blog at Love Grows Wild, so her book fans need never run out of ideas.

Conclusion: Fun, lovely, and doable. Any of these could be a perfect weekend project for the rustic/ shabby chic homeowner.


Disclaimer: I read library copies of both of these books. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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The Inquisitor’s Tale, by Adam Gidwitz

inquisitors-taleJeanne is a young peasant girl who sees visions that foretell the future with disturbing accuracy. She runs away when she is accused of worshipping the holy greyhound, Gwenforte, who was killed and has risen from the dead. She doesn’t worship the dog; she loves her. Jacob is a Jewish boy whose village was burned by Christian youths, and he is trying to find his parents. William is a gigantic young monk whose dark skin betrays the fact that his Crusading father impregnated a Muslim girl from Africa, then dumped his own son in a monastery. William’s temper makes it difficult for him to remain there, though, so he is being sent on a mission to bring some holy books to the abbot in Saint Denis. As these children travel through 13th century France, they find one another, form a bond, and set off on a mission to prevent a terrible book-burning. If their purpose is found out, they will be burned along with the books. Every new acquaintance could be a traitor or a protector. Sometimes, appearances can be deceiving.

Gidwitz felicitously structures this story much like Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. A group of travelers is gathered at an inn, strangers to one another, but each one seems to hold a chapter of the children’s adventures, stories that they share like gossip as they eat their suppers and call for another pint of ale. But who is it who holds all these stories together? The reader does not find out until the tense and surprising conclusion. Illustrator Hatem Aly draws pictures and marginalia that resemble those found in medieval manuscripts, forming the capital letters at the beginning of each chapter and crawling up the edges of pages. Gidwitz wrote this story as he traveled through Europe with his wife, who is a medievalist, and his deep understanding of the age shows through in the details of life in the middle ages: not just the gilded life of the court that we usually see, but also the squalor of the peasants, and the rough power of the landlords, whose houses, though large, were cold and dirty, too.

Devout parents of any of the three major faiths represented may be uncomfortable with the twenty-first century attitude toward religion, as one character states that everyone is praying to the same god, just in different languages. However, in another section, Gidwitz tackles tremendous theological questions, such as the classic, “If God is all good, and God is all powerful, why do these terrible things happen?” He presents two decent and sincere responses from characters with very different perspectives, and he does so with honesty and respect. Similarly, Jews are shown as both the scholarly and gentle rabbis and the rapacious moneylenders that caused them to be expelled from Western Europe. Most of the common people are Christians by default, of course, and the church leaders are portrayed as mostly evil power-mongers, with notable exceptions. True faith is largely absent; rather, faith is in miracles and magical relics. Gidwitz provides an extremely informative author’s note at the end, giving a great deal of historical fact, as well as the backstory to the novel, which was propelled into being when he read a placard in a museum about the burning of 20,000 copies of the Talmud under King Louis IX. Librarians and other book-lovers will rejoice in the novel’s zeal for books.

The Inquisitor’s Tale is a highly original and absorbing story, as notable for its structure and setting as for the compelling plot and likable characters. Although it is written for upper middle grades through middle school, it does contain some mild swearing, including the medieval variety, which could be more unsettling to religious families than modern curse words. The concepts in this book are universal and important, and discussion with adults could help kids to glean even more meaning from the text. It’s covered with starred reviews, so expect some mentions when the awards are given out later this month.


Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Still Life with Tornado, by A.S. King

still-life-with-tornadoSarah has decided not to return to school late in her senior year of high school. Nothing new ever happens; nothing is original there. As an artist, Sarah craves originality. She begins to follow a homeless artist named Earl around town, where she is often joined by ten-year-old Sarah or twenty-three-year-old Sarah. This is no hallucination; other people can see the alternate Sarahs as well. Her father doesn’t recognize ten-year-old Sarah, but her mother nearly passes out.

Her parents try to gently steer Sarah back to school, but she very openly and stubbornly refuses to go. She is dealing with something that will not come out in the open, but she keeps thinking about a drawing that her classmate, Carmen, had made at school. It was a tornado, and it just looked like a gray funnel cloud, but as Carmen said, people only see the outside of a tornado, but it could be hiding all kinds of things inside. The last thing Sarah’s older brother, Bruce, had said to her before he left the family nine years ago was, “You can always come stay with me, no matter where I am.” Why did he say that?

A.S. King has triumphed again in writing a beautiful, heartbreaking, coming-of-age story with an element of magical realism that works seamlessly with her nitty-gritty, deeply flawed characters. The reader yearns for Sarah to unravel her past, to expose what happened to send her into her current spiral, and to value her own artistic genius again. King explores the different forms that abuse can take and the relationships between siblings who experience abuse differently, as well as the lasting love that cannot be destroyed by all the pain.

King is one of my “always” authors. I read everything she writes, and she never goes wrong. Another King favorite of mine from a male perspective is Everybody Sees the Ants. Still Life with Tornado is for older teens and adults, and has strong language throughout.

Highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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