Book reviews: Town Father and The Foretelling (two fer one!)

Happy weekend to everyone. It’s been raining here in Tucson, and yesterday it rained so hard it reminded me of living in Seward, Alaska, where the rain falls thick and hard and relentless, and everything is green, green, green. Surprisingly, here in the desert there is also green, especially the Palo Verde trees swaying in the wind.

But back to books. I had the lucky fortune of reading two great books, and both with the intertwining themes of all-women societies and cultures–isn’t it funny how that happens, how we seem to reach for exactly the right book at exactly the right time?

The first review is Town Father by Kevin Brennan. Those of you who follow my blog know that I think highly, very, very highly, of Brennan’s work, and I’ll read anything he writes. Heck, I’d happily read his grocery lists (maybe your next book, Kevin, could weave around grocery lists?). The second book is Alice Hoffman’s The Foretelling, which I stayed up past 3 a.m. last night to finish. It’s classified as YA but ties so neatly to Brennan’s theme of an all-woman Utopian society that I had to include it.

Town Father: Kevin Brennan, 296 pages, literary fiction, Amazon Digital Services

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I loved this book. The voice reminded me of a male Jane Austen, due to the slow and careful attention to detail plus the complex yet subtle interactions between the characters (and lord knows I love me some Jane Austen). What I loved best, though, were the small flickers of humor carefully placed throughout the story, many of which made me laugh out loud.

The premise of the book: Meek-mannered Henry O’Farrell, a 30-something virgin living in Philadelphia in the late 19th century, answers a job ad for a town father in a small California town.

When he arrives, he finds that the town of Hestia is nothing as he expected, for it is populated with only women, about 300 of them. And guess what they’re looking for?

Yep, you’re right: A man. A man to help them reproduce and repopulate the town with a new generation of women.

Poor Henry! And yet, lucky Henry.

The complexities, and the humor, of the situation rarely escape Brennan’s eye, and readers can’t help falling in love with fumbling Henry plus an array of Hestia’s women, including the lovely Avis, the mannish Tilly (one of my favorite characters) and Lucien and Maisie.

The story moves slowly at times, lingering in the world of Hestia, this world of women, almost as if Brennan doesn’t want to leave this world he’s created and, neither does the reader, either. Luckily, Brennan smartly peppers the story with enough conflicts to keep the pace moving (an unexpected death, a visit from circus performers who refuse to leave and cause much disruption, and lusty thoughts, among the town’s women).

The story poses many questions: Is it possible to devise and maintain a utopian society? Can women live without men? Do men cause most of the conflicts in a society? What is the meaning of love between a man and a women, women and women and one man and many women?

Brennan does a good job of leaving the answers to the readers, and weeks after finishing the “Town Father,” I’m still grappling with many of these questions.

In my mind, this makes “Town Father” a book worth reading, a book worth lingering over, a book worth discussing and rereading and pondering and wondering.

Because, after all, isn’t that why we read to begin with?

The Foretelling, Alice Hoffman, young adult, 196 pages, Hachette Book Group
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I discovered this book at the Himmel Park Library here in Tucson, one of my favorite libraries due to its coziness, its warmth. I was writing away and happened to glance over at the YA books shelved next to me, and my hands reached out and plucked down this book as if it had been secretly calling my name. And perhaps it had.

What captured me was not the story so much as the voice, which is lyrical and dreamy and fierce with imagery. I read for voice more than plot or character development, and this voice immediately spoke to me: “Come inside,” it seemed to beckon. “Take your time. Linger.” And so I did.

The story takes place in a mythical time in a land around the steppes of Russia and the Ukraine, a time where a society of Amazon warrior women on horses rules the area.

“I was born out of a time of sorrow, so my mother named me Rain,” it begins.

Rain is next in line as Queen of the warriors, she is fed mares’ milk and rides a large white horse and trains for battle. These battles are against bands of invading men, who attempt to take over land or the women. They never succeed, for the women warriors have what they lack: Horses, and they ride these as if attached to them by their souls.

“When our enemies first saw us we must have looked like bees as much as we did women, streaked yellow, screaming for war, riding our horses as though we were flying over the tall grass, over the hardpacked earth.”

Rain eventually discovers, as she follows in her mother’s footsteps as Queen, that change is inevitable, truth has many perspectives and the lessons learned through loss are often the biggest gifts.

“I thought of our breath and our blood, how eventually it would fall on the yellow earth and disappear.”

The Foretelling this is a beautifully written book that takes readers to a mythical time of strong women, bold decisions and the beauty of horses, bears, women and the land.

Coming soon: I’ll be interviewing book blogger/writer Julie Valerie, one of my biggest book blogger crushes, in the upcoming weeks. Stay tuned.

And: A moody desert pic, just because.

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