Book Review: Etta and Otto and Russell and James, Emma Hooper (2015)

Tuesday, April 7th, 2015

“…there are reasons to come home.”

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received an ARC for review through Goodreads’s First Reads program.)

He didn’t ask, where are you going, or why are you going. He turned back around to face where the deer might be. She walked on, east. In her bag, pockets, and hands were:

Four pairs of underwear.
One warm sweater.
Some money.
Some paper, mostly blank, but one page with addresses on it and one page with names.
One pencil and one pen.
Four pairs of socks.
Stamps.
Cookies.
A small loaf of bread.
Six apples.
Ten carrots.
Some chocolate.
Some water.
A map, in a plastic bag.
Otto’s rifle, with bullets.
One small fish skull.

One morning, Etta Gloria Kinnick (“of Deerdale farm. 83 years old in August.”) wakes early, before sunrise, well ahead of her husband Otto (“Vogel. Soldier/Farmer.”), and decides that she wants to see the ocean. Specifically, the Atlantic. Born and raised in land-locked Saskatchewan, she’s never dipped so much as a toe in such a vast body of water; let alone the Atlantic, which has nevertheless managed to play a major role in shaping the course of Etta’s life from afar.

When her older sister Alma became pregnant – back in the “good old days,” when unwed mothers were to be shamed and pitied – she fled to a convent on Prince Alberta Island, in order to have the baby in secret and put him up for adoption. Etta never saw her again.

During Alma’s brief stint as a nun, she witnessed a wave of young men – boys, mostly – depart Canada’s shore, swarm over the island, and drift out to sea. Out to war, many of them never to return; the rest, finally coming home bloodied and broken. Among them was 17-year-old Otto – Etta’s former pupil and eventual husband. When he left, she promised to write to him – so he could practice his underdeveloped English skills. They fell in love from opposite sides of the globe.

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: Elizabeth Is Missing, Emma Healey (2014)

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

A Murder Mystery for the Ages

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received an ARC for review through Goodreads’ First Reads program.)

Elizabeth is missing.

Caught in the grip of dementia, Maud Horsham has trouble remembering even the simplest of things: When she last ate. Why there’s an annoying white mitten covering one hand. How she came to be in a certain room, and what for. The name of this strange, freckled blond woman standing next to her. Who she is, or used to be.

Yet one thought continues to gnaw at her, to taunt Maud from the scraps of paper stuffed into her purse, filling her pockets, and wedged between her couch cushions: her best friend Elizabeth is missing. Elizabeth is in danger. She must find Elizabeth.

But no one will listen to a dotty old lady. (Maud’s words, not mine.) Not her daughter Helen, or her granddaughter Katy (though Katy is much kinder in her humoring of Maud than Helen). Not her carer Carla, who is nonetheless quick to scare Maud with tales of the victimized elderly. Not the police she visits frequently at the station, nor Elizabeth’s son Peter – who is most likely the one behind her disappearance, the miserly boy.

In Maud’s eighty-odd years, Elizabeth isn’t the first loved one to vanish with hardly a trace. When she was just fifteen, her older sister Susan – Sukey to her friends – went missing. The year was 1946, and the police chalked her disappearance up to a “hasty war marriage” – marriages committed to in the heat of the moment supposedly led to droves of missing persons reports as women fled husbands, newly returned from WWII, they found they hardly knew. (“WOMEN: CONTACT YOUR HUSBANDS” screamed one newspaper headline.) Husband Frank, who was already under investigation for coupon fraud, became the Palmers’ primary suspect; secretly Maud also wondered whether their lodger Douglas was to blame. Maud’s mother died not knowing what became of her daughter.

(More below the fold…)