Tag Archives: Beggar’s Banquet

Stray Cat Blues

Ginger and the Mystery Visitor by Charlotte Voake (Candlewick Press, $15.99, 40 pages)

Readers who are familiar with Ginger the cat will be happy that Charlotte Voake’s latest book is the perfect – or purr-fect – companion to Ginger.   They are the same size with very similar covers, which makes them a lovely set.   The cast of characters has expanded with the introduction of the mystery visitor.   The storyline involves a cat who sneaks into Ginger’s house to eat.   The tale is short and sweet with a built-in message or two.   It offers opportunities for the reader and listener to discuss what can happen when we feed other people’s pets.

The illustrations are charming and full of expression.   Clearly, this is a book to be read aloud to young children.   Later, it will be a good one for practicing reading skills.   Lastly, a grandma or grandpa who is creating a library for the grandchildren can count on Ginger and the Mystery Visitor as a welcome addition.

If we’re lucky, Charlotte Voake will create more books about Ginger.   Highly recommended.

This review was written by Ruta Arellano.   Reprinted courtesy of Sacramento Book Review.

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No Expectations

reservation-road-amazon

Reservation Road: A Novel by John Burnham Schwartz (Vintage Contemporaries, $15.00, 304 pages)

“Our love is like our music, it’s here and then it’s gone.”   Jagger/Richards

Reservation Road was the second novel from John Burnham Schwartz, author of The Commoner.   It is a tale of psychological suspense made all the more interesting as it is told through the thoughts of three characters (Ethan, a college professor; Grace, his wife; and Dwight, the man whose actions cause the death of Ethan and Grace’s son).   Ethan is a literature professor at a small college in New England, whose life is on course until…  

Returning late from an outing, the family makes an unscheduled stop at a gas station on Reservation Road.   As Grace and daughter Emma go in to use the rest room at the almost-abandoned gas station, Ethan and son Josh wait near the side of the road.   In a matter of mere seconds, a car driven recklessly by Dwight hits and kills 10-year-old Josh.   Life will never be the same for Ethan and Grace Learner…

Life, in fact, becomes “too much to bear” for the Learners.   Grace becomes paralyzed by her grief and Ethan moves on driven strictly by thoughts of revenge against the hit-and-run driver who killed his son.   Dwight, by contrast, is a man who has already ruined his life, his marriage and his legal career due to his recklessness and violence.   He becomes “like many whose lives are fueled largely by regret.”   He’s a dead man walking who eventually does “not seem to care any longer what happened to him.”

Schwartz does a masterful job of building and maintaining suspense through this novel’s 292 pages even though the denouement is obvious…   When the criminal justice system fails to find the man who so tragically killed Josh, we know deep down – as does Dwight – that Ethan will find him.   And what then?

But this is more than just a crime mystery.   It is a quasi-morality play about how people deal with losses – death and separation – in their lives.   We see how some rebound to live again and others never recover.   What is the line from Neil Young?   “On the day that she left he died but it did not show.”   This is a story about Ethan and Grace, who lose part of their life (their reason to exist) late; and of Ethan, who has lost his strength and his will to survive early on.

At the end of Reservation Road, Ethan finds Dwight and gets to serve as his judge, jury and – perhaps – his executioner.   What happens?   You’ll have to read Schwartz’s Reservation Road to find out.

Recommended.

Joseph Arellano

Note:   This book was purchased by the reviewer at Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon.

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