Tag Archives: ghost story

After the Goldrush

The Language of Trees by Ilie Ruby (Avon; $14.99; 339 pages)

“I was thinking about what a friend had said, I was hoping it was a lie…”   Neil Young

“I could always heal the birds,” he admits…  Echo takes his hand, “Joseph says that birds are the only creatures that have blind faith.   This is why they are able to fly.”

Ilie Ruby has crafted a magically moving novel composed of disparate elements: a tragic childhood death, a kidnapped woman, American Indian (Seneca) ghosts and spirits, wolves that interact with humans, unrequited love, and a parent’s illness.   The book is also replete with dysfunctional families who, sadly, may represent normality in American life.   Dysfunctional families are fueled by shame and secrets, and the secrets are kept until they must be divulged in order to save lives.

Two of the key characters in The Language of Trees are Grant Shongo and Echo O’Connell.   Grant is a half-blooded Seneca with the power to cure sick and wounded birds and animals.   He is also a person who cannot cure himself.   Then there’s Echo, who feels that she is lost in her life in spite of the fact that she’s true to herself.   Echo is the one person in the story who is free, except that she’s not aware of it.   And, except for Echo, the book is populated with characters that are haunted by the past – literally and figuratively – as they search for peace and redemption.

“Happiness is just as hard to get used to as anything else.”

The Language of Trees is written in a cinematic style.   It begins slowly and it takes the reader some time to absorb all of the many characters and to understand the personal issues affecting them all.   There’s also more than a touch of mysticism and magic to the story.   There are unique and spiritual events that will seem almost commonplace to those with even a touch of Native American blood.   (The author demonstrates a great deal of respect for Indian folklore and beliefs.)

What is initially calm builds to a highly dramatic and satisfying conclusion.   Coming to the final pages, I was reminded of the style of Pat Conroy in The Prince of Tides, which found this reader both excited and sad that the journey was about to end.   As with Conroy’s novels, Ruby leaves us with a life’s lesson, which is that one must let go of the demons of the past in order to “not (be) afraid of the future anymore.”   Once the nightmares of the past have been left behind, we are free to soar like birds.

At its conclusion, this novel has the power to transport the reader to a better place.

“Well, I dreamed I saw the silver space ships flying in the yellow haze of the sun.”   (N. Young)

The Language of Trees is nothing less than masterful and transformational.   Let’s hope that we will not have to wait too long for Ms. Ruby’s next novel.   Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was received from the publisher.

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Someone Saved My Life Tonight

On Reading – A Book That Changed My Life

I read The Language of Trees not long after it was first published this past summer.   The massive review in the local paper promised it would be a good read, and it did seem to be right along the lines of something I would normally pick off the shelf.

I came to learn rather quickly that Ilie Ruby has a wonderful way of carrying you through a story, pulling you deeper and deeper and then when you least expect it, WHAM, she hits you with an emotional truth that is so deep and profound that it sends you sprawling, gasping for something to hang onto.   This happened to me in the process of reading this book.   I would go from a relaxed reading position, to sitting straight up, to leaning on the edge of my seat, to standing, to pacing, to talking to myself and holding my forehead, wondering how she could possibly know such detailed things about ME.   It was unnerving and fascinating in a way that only a magnificently written novel can be.

There was a movie in the 80’s called The Neverending Story, about a little boy who steals a book from an old bookshop and has the sense as he hides away in an old attic reading by candlelight that the people in the book are aware of him.   The old book-keeper had warned him that this book wasn’t safe for him to read, it wasn’t like other books, because the old man knew that those who delved into the pages of that book became part of the story.   There was a point as the boy was reading that the characters talk about him as if he is there with him.   They say they were there with him as he entered the bookstore and took the book with the oren symbol on the cover and they are with him as he reads the book.

“But that’s impossible, it’s not real,” he says to himself, looking up from the book disturbed and confused, “they can’t be talking about me, it’s just a story.”   But it wasn’t just a story.   It was a book that forced the little boy to confront fears, to take a good long hard look at himself, and ultimately gave him courage and power.

I found myself thinking and feeling the same thing as I read The Language of Trees and its characters continued to speak to me.   “How,” I asked myself out loud, looking at the book as if could look back at me, “how does she know these things about me?”   “It’s not real, it’s just a story.”   But as it wasn’t just a story in the movie, it wasn’t just a story for me.   It forced me to confront fears, to look deeply into myself, and when it was over, I had found courage, comfort and healing.

A book filled with forgiveness and the hope of second chances and healing, it’s a compilation of love stories, old ones and new ones, reborn ones and healing ones.   It’s about Grant Shongo and Echo O’Connell and whether or not they can heal and find the love they lost all those years ago.   It’s a ghost story about little Luke Ellis who was lost in the waters of Canandaigua Lake many years before, and who now haunts the people on the lake out of love for his sister Melanie who has recently vanished without a trace.   It’s a book full of secrets, secrets kept by Clarisse Mellon who knows the truth needs to come out or Melanie Ellis will never be found and things will never be right.

It’s a book about facing fears and finding yourself and allowing yourself to reach out a lonely hand, trusting someone else in the process.   As Clarisse Mellon says, “A full life, a life where she captures her heart’s desire, requires that chances be taken.”

This book is full of hope, and in a day where people seem to lose their hopes and forget their dreams, this book is a welcome respite, a place where the desires of the heart are encouraged to fly.   Read this book, allow it to take you on its journey, find the truths in its pages and open yourself up to the infinite possibilities it offers.

“You must go alone,” the movie says of the journey, if you’re willing to take it.   “You must leave all your weapons behind.   It will be very dangerous.”   It’s true, looking inside ones self with no walls and no weapons can be very dangerous, for those willing to make the journey.   It took me many years to find that “Neverending Story” experience and it changed my life.   The Language of Trees changed my life.

“Show no fear, for it may fade away, in your hands, the birth of a new day.”   No, it’s definitely not just a story.

 

The Language of Trees: A Novel by Ilie Ruby has been published by Avon ($14.99). 

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A Great Book Giveaway

This site picked Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger as the best book released in the year 2009.   Now, thanks to Regal Literary, we are happy to celebrate the release of this novel in trade paperback form by giving away a free copy!

How much, exactly, did we love Her Fearful Symmetry?   Well, we published not one or two but three separate reviews of the dramatic ghost story (September 23, 2009; September 28, 2009; November 7, 2009).   Here is a link to the first of the three reviews (“What Comes After”) that we posted:

https://josephsreviews.wordpress.com/2009/09/23/what-comes-after/

So, how can you win your own copy?   It’s simple, just post a comment here or send an e-mail with your name and an e-mail address to: Josephsreviews@gmail.com .   This will count as a first entry.   For a second entry, tell me why stories about ghosts and/or twins are so very interesting (at least I find them so).   There are no right or wrong answers, just tell me what you think.   You have until midnight PST on Friday, September 10, 2010 to submit your entry(s).

The winner, as drawn by Munchy the cat, will be notified via e-mail and will have 72 hours to provide a residential mailing address in the United States.   The winner’s copy of Her Fearful Symmetry will be shipped directly to her/him by Regal Literary.   The book will not be sent to a business address or a P.O. box.  This is it for the simple rules.

Good luck and good reading!

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Iced Revenge

Revenge Served Cold by Jackie Fullerton (Thomas House Publishing)

Kathy Spence awakens in the middle of the night and finds herself in a living nightmare…

This is author Jackie Fullerton’s second Anne Marshall mystery novel.   Anne is a court stenographer attending law school when she’s not working at her day job.   She also has a very special secret.   Her father passed away two years prior to this story.   Mr. Marshall visits Anne in the form of a ghostly spirit, complete with pipe smoke that alerts her to his impending appearance.   He assisted her in solving a murder during the past year.

This time Anne gets herself, the law school study group and a wide circle of friends involved when a professor from the school is run down and killed by a late-model white Cadillac.   And the car just happens to belong to Kathy Spence, the professor’s wife who has a drinking problem and persistent depression.

Ms. Fullerton makes good use of the background that she acquired when the youngest of her five children went off to school.   She fills the plot with a full array of characters.   There are several very nice couples in the mix with whom Anne and her fiance Jason, a young deputy district attorney, spend time and socialize.   Anne is a kind, caring heroine who has a stubborn streak that everyone can see.   She has lived in the same small town all her life and it is a place that’s not immune to the sinister plotting of outsiders.

The story begins a bit slowly and this reviewer was initially skeptical about the promise of an action-packed mystery given the characters introduced early on in the plotline.   There was no need to doubt the potential for action.   As soon as the bad guys came on the scene, thing began to quickly heat up.   (The ice melted.)   By the end of the book, my full attention was riveted on each page.

This is an excellent summer paperback read with just enough drama and peril to keep a reader on the edge of his or her beach chair.   Recommended.

This review was written by Ruta Arellano.   A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Her Fearful Symmetry

her fearful kindle

Her Fearful Symmetry: A Novel by Audrey Niffenegger (Scribner, $26.99, 416 pages)

A simple ghost story, that’s what Her Fearful Symmetry is.   It’s the story of a woman, a twin, who dies and leaves her home and possessions in London to the twin daughters of her estranged sister.   The late Elspeth’s flat is located next to the dramatic Highgate Cemetery, which, itself, serves as a major character in this novel.   Based on this summary, a reader would not expect this to be a significant work.   The reader would be wrong, because this ghost story was written by Audrey Niffenegger (The Time Traveler’s Wife), one of the best writers of our time.

Niffenegger creates a small, magical world where every thought, every word, every action of the main characters has significance.   Reading Symmetry is like watching a film shown in slow motion; her style is so arresting that it’s a challenge to look away.   What Sacramento’s Joan Didion is to non-fiction writing, Niffenegger is to the world of fiction.   Both are masters of icy realism, and it hardly matters what it is they write about.

Niffenegger may not convince you to believe in ghosts or time travel, but you will believe in her writing talents.   A perfect gift for a future novelist.   Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Take Two…

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

Author Audrey Niffenegger has captured the essence of a prize-winning novel and potential blockbuster movie with this, her second effort.   The story revolves around 20-something twins Julia and Valentina whose mom is also a twin.   The girls are bequeathed an apartment in London overlooking Highgate Cemetery by mom’s twin, who dies of cancer.   The catch – they must live in the apartment for one year.

The book’s scenes are set in meticulous detail.   There is an elegant balance between the quirky and the mundane, whether it is the characters themselves, their clothes or the rooms they inhabit.   Elspeth’s apartment is a treasure trove of books and furniture, easily pictured by the reader.   The same holds true for visualizing Valentina’s creativity in fashioning the twins’ clothing.   The action goes from laboriously slow, when Martin painstakingly scrubs the floors of his flat, to breathtakingly fast when Valentina is racing around London trying desperately to become her own person.Her Fearful Symmetry 6

Anyone lucky enough to read Symmetry will thoroughly enjoy vicariously traipsing around London and will definitely come to know their way around Highgate Cemetery.   The characters experience more than their share of emotional highs and lows.   Some are well beyond the usual range for ordinary people – read that non-twins.   If ever you’ve wondered what’s considered normal, this book will bring you into a whole new dimension that is entirely plausible.

Five stars – highly recommended.   The book far exceeded this reader’s expectations.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Coming Up Next…

A guest – and second – review of Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger (The Time Traveler’s Wife).Her Fearful Symmetry 5

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