"Edge-of-the-seat suspense and realistic portrayals of a pair of boys facing personal and elemental trials make this novel a substantial page-turner."– Kirkus Reviews
CassanoLochman (The Man with the Sand Dollar Face, 2017, etc.) offers inspiration with a lyrical bent in this collection of short essays.
Everyone needs an occasional pick-me-up, and that’s precisely what the author seeks to provide with this collection of 147 inspirational shorts, the first in a trilogy. In each piece, she aims to lift readers from a place of doubt and set them on a path to gratitude and joy. Addressing the reader as “my friend,” CassanoLochman weaves a web of poetic language meant to encourage, soothe, and celebrate, as in the piece “Toil Happily / Seriousness with Moderation”: “My friend, slow down, take a breath. Important it is to allow for lazy days of play and misspelled words.” Some pieces address particular troubles, such as “Memories Cycled / Forgiveness” or “Blanket of Light / Depths of Depression”: “Depression is the equalizer. Souls taken hostage regardless of social or ethnic status. Slithering forth hidden under the cloak of fear.” Many assert the necessity of embracing the love of God: “My friend, the angst you feel is separation from God’s love.” Despite the title, CassanoLochman’s writings take the form of prose, not verse, although they do contain a number of poetic elements, including fragmentary sentences and figurative imagery: “I witnessed the tragedy. Heartbroken was I. For you stopped midstream. Your heart raced happily with words straining to flee. But fear of those near silenced your song.” Some tend to be rather abstract and clichéd, offering advice that feels vague and untethered from everyday life. Furthermore, the author has a fondness for placing verbs at the end of clauses, giving the prose an odd, Yoda-like syntax at times. Still, many of these pieces have a calming effect, as though someone is whispering in one’s ear with a soft, even voice. Although the concept of God is central to the project, the author doesn’t delve into any particular dogma, allowing for audiences of various faith traditions.
An unevenly written but comforting book of spiritual affirmations.
In CassanoLochman’s (Stranded on Thin Ice, 2017) thriller, a good-hearted older woman becomes involved in a criminal conspiracy.
Hattie Crumford is a chatty 62-year-old widow who describes herself as “a non-congealer with society…a clump of quirky personality floating with the rest of the population.” Having spent most of her adult life cooped up at home in a distant, childless marriage, she’s made it a point since her husband’s death to explore her native New Orleans. As the assistant to a private investigator, she never expects anything dramatic to happen to her. Then, one day, a strange man arrives in the office, warning her about the “man with the sand dollar face” before collapsing and dying in her arms. After she runs for help, she returns to find that the dead body has vanished, and detectives and police officers think that she must simply be a batty old lady. Undeterred, she decides to continue the investigation herself. But Hattie’s snooping leads her into more danger than she bargained for—especially after she finds a crumpled piece of paper with information about a mysterious substance called “Blue Diamonds.” Hattie’s first-person narrative voice is distinctive, and provides plenty of charming moments; her reflections on menopause, for instance, are laugh-out-loud funny. But although the narrative implies that the other characters are wrong to underestimate Hattie, they might have trusted her even less if they were privy to her thoughts; her musings sometimes veer into sanctimonious territory, as when she internally berates others for lacking her own friendly and thoughtful personality. She also tends to spout shallow philosophy (“Happiness [is] harnessed in the form of human connections”). Also, because readers’ perceptions of events are confined to Hattie’s lighthearted kookiness, many will be unprepared for the suddenly serious tone during the climax.
A cozy but flimsy mystery with an eccentric protagonist.
Preteen angst, a blinding snowstorm, and an ice-fishing competition gone wrong add up to a dramatic life-and-death struggle for two friends in this YA adventure.
First prize for the Oneida Lake Ice Fishing Derby is an ATV and a “fully-loaded ice fishing hut.” Tanner Phillips, the tale’s 12-year-old narrator, is determined to not only win, but also to prove to his dad and the other adults in the competition that he’s not the screw-up little kid who blew it last year. But nothing goes as planned. The boy and his jittery new friend, Richie Donald, already unnerved by what they fear may be the fatal disappearance of one competitor at the hands of another, are left alone on the ice when Tanner’s dad must rush an injured contestant to the hospital. Still, Tanner refuses to give up his quest for the big walleye that will ensure his victory. CassanoLochman (God’s Light, 2018, etc.), the author of YA novels and spiritual verse, expertly wraps a mystery, a strong sense of foreboding, family woes, and the confusion, grandiosity, and resentments of early adolescence around surprisingly in-depth details about the lures, lines, gear, and subtleties of ice fishing on a cold winter morning. (“A large cloud of frozen breath billowed and curled from my nostrils,” Tanner relates. “I found comfort in the solitude and scanned the familiar shoreline….I loved this lake and knew her shoreline as well as any Oneida fisherman.”) Even readers with little interest in the sport should find it difficult to put this tense, eventful book down as one disaster follows another—injuries, lost cellphones, and a howling snowstorm rocketing the untethered ice hut across the lake onto thinning ice. The challenges to both boys’ courage and hitherto untested strengths of character ring true. And when Tanner can no longer keep up a brave front for panicky Richie’s benefit (“I want to see my mom and dad. I want to be done on this ice!”) and the roles are reversed, the tale is genuinely moving.
Edge-of-the-seat suspense and realistic portrayals of a pair of boys facing personal and elemental trials make this novel a substantial page-turner.