Dear America: Notes from an Undocumented Citizen by Jose Antonio Vargas

Dear Fellow Reader,

Immigration is a huge issue in this country. There are those who have firm ideas on the issue and those who just might not understand the issue that well. (I feel that if those two groups were in a Venn diagram that there would be a large overlapping part. But that is not what we are here to discuss.)

When he was 12, Jose Antonio Vargas was sent by his mother to live in the United States with his grandparents. He had extended family living in the United States and he moved to join them. He missed his mother but adjusted to living in California. When he was 16, he decided to go to the DMV and apply for his driver’s license. At the DMV, the woman behind the counter informed him that his green card was fake and that he should not come back again. He was stunned. He had no idea. He went home and confronted his grandfather who told him it was true. It was then that he learned that his family’s hope was that he would marry into citizenship.

To say this was a turning point in his life is to put it lightly. He had a secret now. He didn’t feel he could tell anyone his secret because bad things would happen. And then he discovered that for his situation, there was no road to citizenship. Fortunately for him, he had people who helped him. He received a scholarship to college, and then received internships and was able to get through until the day he had to fill out an application form that required him to check a box.

“I attest, under penalty of perjury that I am

                                A citizen or national of the United States

                                A lawful permanent resident (Alien #)

                                An alien authorized to work until (Alien # or                                                                                        Admission #) “

He was none of these.

Dear America: Notes from an Undocumented Citizen tells of his struggles and his eventual full public disclosure of his status. He talks about how he is stuck and there is not a cure for his problem as of right now. He does not look for sympathy. He is more explaining his situation and the situation for undocumented people in this country.

It is not a long book and it reads very quickly. I strongly suggest that you read this book. I think that it offers a different perspective on the issue and information that you may not have heard before.

Thanks for reading!

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An Elderly Lady is up to No Good by Helene Tursten

Dear Fellow Reader,

I just read a fun little book. I don’t remember where I read about it or what it said but something prompted me to request it from the library. It is only 171 pages and the book itself is small, so it is a very quick read.

The book is An Elderly Lady is up to No Good by Helene Tursten. The book is five short stories with Maud as the central character in each story. Maud lives rent-free in a large apartment. Maud has lived in this apartment her entire life. When her father died penniless, (much to the surprise of her mother) the building that they owned had to be sold. The family lawyer inserted a clause into the sales contract that stated that Maud, her mother, and her sister could stay in the apartment rent-free until their death. Maud is the surviving member of the family and she is 88 years old. The building has changed ownership several times but each time, Maud prevails and stays in the apartment. When Maud’s sister, who was apparently a bit unhinged, lived in the apartment, they had to take in lodgers to help pay the utilities and taxes on their unit. After Charlotte’s death, Maud no longer needs to take in lodgers as she worked and could pay the fees. As a result, Maud lives in a very large apartment by herself. She is a loner, but she travels frequently and has seen most of the world. She is also in good mental and physical shape. She is not above using her age to fool people into thinking that she is infirmed and not very sharp mentally.

I really hate to give away very much about the stories. While I was reading the first story, I could see where it was leading but could not believe that is where it was going. It was fun.

My feeling about these stories is that the author was having fun when she wrote them. She just dreamed up this character and let it go where it went. The stories have some humor,  lots of surprises, and are quick reads. They leave you smiling. If you read the synopsis of the book given on sites (like Amazon) you will be disappointed when you read the book. Don’t read them! Be surprised!

I suggest that you check out An Elderly Lady is up to No Good by Helene Tursten. I understand that Helene Tursten has written other books. She has a mystery series with Inspector Irene Huss. Inspector Huss is in one of the short stories. I have not read any of Ms. Tursten’s other books.

Thanks for reading!

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Stuck in Manistique by Dennis Cuesta

Dear Fellow Reader,

With this review, I am finally caught up with my reviews of freebie books. (You know the drill, I am given a copy of the book in exchange for my unbiased review.)

Stuck in Manistique is not a heavy, dark read, in contrast to some of the books I have read lately. It is a nice story about Mark and Emily. Mark goes to Manistique, Michigan, because he has inherited a house from his estranged aunt. His aunt, Vivian, had been a doctor who traveled the world, going from one emergency to the next. He doesn’t know why she left him the house. His intention is to sell it as soon as possible. Once there, he discovers that the house was a bed and breakfast and that people have reservations to stay there.

Before he can cancel the reservations, the doorbell rings. There stands Emily with an eye patch. Emily has just finished medical school and is supposed to be going to Mackinac Island to meet her lover before she starts her residency at a hospital in Chicago. Emily is having doubts about meeting her lover. She has decided that she is not going to go when she hits a deer outside of Manistique. Her car needs repairs and she needs to have her eye checked. Manistique is the closest town, so her car is towed to the repair shop there and she goes to the local ER to have her eye checked. After telling her that her car won’t be ready until the next day, the car repair shop receptionist sends her over to the bed and breakfast because it is the only place in town that is available.

Mark tries to discourage Emily from staying there by telling her that his aunt is away and the inn isn’t prepared for guests, but in the end, they decide that Emily can stay for the night.

While Mark gets Emily settled, the doorbell rings again. Mark was trying to just ignore it but Emily answers it and there is George. George is on a gambling bus trip and has been kicked out of the local hotel. Despite Mark trying to discourage it, George then moves into the inn for the night.

This is the beginning of an interesting cast of characters who spend the next week in or around the inn. Mark finally admits that his aunt is dead. Emily’s lover shows up. A couple comes that are on a trip to drive an all-electric car around Lake Michigan. But somehow, no one is exactly what they seem.

I will admit that there are times that I don’t understand why the characters are doing what they are doing. Like why did Mark not admit that his aunt was dead? The story tells the story of Mark and Emily’s lives and explores Vivian’s life and that holds some surprises for Mark.

Part of the reason I did like the book is the setting. If you have ever been up in that area of Michigan, it is a pleasant reminder of how pretty the area is and all the quaint spots there.

Thanks for reading!

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Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

Dear Fellow Reader,

Have you ever not been able to remember the plot to a book that you know you read? I had read The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield and remembered that I thought the book was excellent. Then I noticed that I had read another book by Diane Setterfield entitled Bellman and Black. I had enjoyed that book also but can’t tell you the plot of that book either. (Really, The Thirteenth Tale is good. You should read that book.)

It has been a long time since there has been a new book by Diane Setterfield. Her new book, Once Upon a River has just come out. I was thrilled to get a chance to read it so that I would write an unbiased review. (Yep, I scored it as an advanced reader copy.)

Let me say that Diane Setterfield is a master at setting a dark scene. Even though I don’t remember her other two books that well, I do think that they were both dark. That feeling that the sun never shines in the English countryside. Once Upon a River starts on a dark, stormy night. People are huddled in the Swan, the town’s pub that is known for storytelling. Joe Bliss, pub owner’s husband is known for his storytelling and others compete to try and emulate him.

Suddenly, the pub door crashes open and a man staggers through the door holding a child although at first, no one was sure that it was a real child. The man collapses. The patrons of the Swan run to get Rita Sunday, the local nurse. While some are fetching Rita, the others suddenly figure out that the stranger has a child in his arms. A beautiful, little girl who almost seems to glow. As they check the child, they decide that she is dead. They are horrified but the stranger isn’t responding so they will have to wait to hear his story. They decide to put the child’s body in the cold storage room.

Rita arrives and checks on the man. She tends to his injuries and they check his pockets to see if they can determine who he is. After Rita is sure she has done what she can for the man, she asks to see the child. She goes into the room with the child and starts checking her. Yes, she agrees with the villagers that the child is dead. Suddenly the child starts breathing. Rita is unsettled by this but carries that child out to the pub. The child is cold, so Rita sits down by the sleeping man with the child in her arms. She spends the night that way so that she can tend to both of her sleeping patients should they wake up.

When the man wakes up, he can identify himself, but he does not know who the child is. He found her and saved her from the river. Three people arrive to claim the child. Whose daughter is she really? Is she the long lost daughter of Anthony and Helena Vaughan? Amelia Vaughan had been kidnapped two years before and there had not been a trace of her. Or was she Lily White’s sister? Or was she the daughter of Robin Armstrong? The little girl never speaks and does not seem to show any knowledge of any of the claimants.

The story has wonderful characters who are well drawn. Where did the little girl come from? The townsfolk have stories to tell as they watch the tale unfold. It was an interesting read that keeps you trying to outguess the next plot twist. I recommend this book.

Thanks for reading!

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The Rain Watcher by Tatiana de Rosnay

Dear Fellow Reader,

In case you ever wondered if I will not warmly embrace a book – especially one that I was asked to review (that means I got it free) – this review will be the proof.

I hate to give reviews that are not positive for three reasons. The first is that the author poured his/her soul into writing a book and I hate to say that the book just didn’t do it for me. The second reason is that you could have a totally different opinion. The last reason is, why would I waste your time reading a book review about a book that I didn’t like? There are so many books that I like and can share with you.

So I have some ambiguous feelings about this book. Let’s get on with the review, huh?

The Rain Watcher takes place in Paris. Not sunny, romantic Paris but a Paris that is flooding. Linden and his family meet in Paris to celebrate his parent’s 40th anniversary and his father’s 70th birthday. Linden grew up in France. He is a famous photographer who now lives in San Francisco with Sacha. Through the story, we find out about his life and losses. Linden has an older sister, Tilia, who is married to an alcoholic art expert. She has a daughter, Mistral, who seems more mature than her mother. (Her daughter is not the art expert’s daughter.)

Linden’s mother is an American. She was traveling in France when she was 19 and met Linden’s father, Paul. She never went home. They fell in love and have been together since the day they met. Paul is a famous “treeman”. He travels the world to save notable trees. Paul’s family has owned Venozan estate for generations which is where Linden grew up until his teens when he moved to Paris to live with his aunt.

During the story, we learn why Linden moved to Paris as a teen, how his photography career started and about his relationships with his parents and his sister. Interspersed there are chapters that (okay, it took me a little while to figure this out) are from Linden’s father. I would say to you that it is a bit hard to follow these parts. You have to put the pieces together that Linden’s sister is older, but that Paul’s sister is younger. I did not see any way to distinguish the Paul sections from the Linden sections, BUT it could be because I was reading an advanced copy. (There were some formatting issues and typos that are probably fixed in the real copy.)

The continual cold, rain, darkness, and Paris flooding serve as characters in the book. They are constant. It makes you want to read the book under a blanket.

So, most of this doesn’t sound unbelievably positive. BUT… I did finish the book. I was occasionally frustrated, but I could keep going. While I wouldn’t put this on the top of my TBR pile, you might find it interesting. Especially if you know Paris and New York neighborhood. Since I don’t, there were parts of the descriptions that left me flat. Also, there are some quotes in French that in my copy were not translated. I assume that the quotes were apropos to the chapter but since I couldn’t read what they said, it was not helpful. This also might be remedied in the published book.

Thank you for reading!

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