The Rent Collector by Camron Wright

book coverSang Ly, her husband Ki, and their young child Nisay live in the Phnom Penh city dump in Cambodia. The author crafts the words so the reader can smell the putrid stench of the garbage and feel the sadness of the people living there. These people have known no other life. They spend each day sorting through garbage for items they can sell. If they are lucky, they find enough metal, glass, and plastic that they can sell it and buy rice and vegetables and sometimes a little pork. Their bellies are never full. The dangers at the dump include roving gangs who rob and assault, and the dump trucks which sometimes run over people. The garbage is piled up in mountains that must be navigated, with smoke and fire and the constant flies. Their homes are typically just three-walled shacks made of cardboard, metal, and tarps for which they pay rent on the first day of every month. At first I didn’t think I would like this book. As it turned out, it has been one of the best books I’ve read this year. Certainly a perfect read for our book club.

Sopeap Sin is known as The Renter Collector as that is what she does, and the Cow, because she is not well liked at the dump, and Owner, since she owns most of the homes on which she collects rent. Sopeap has known a better life. Now her life consists of sleeping, collecting rent, and drinking a lot of cheap rice wine. We don’t get a look into her previous life until later in the book.

One day, Ki brings home a book that he found. Sang Ly looks it over and, although she can’t read it, she sees the colorful pictures and knows it must be a book for children. Although dirty, it is intact. She holds NIsay and pretends to read to him by making up a story as she shows him the pictures. He is too young to play with the book by himself since he grabs at it with a look in his eye that means he wants to eat it. Sang Ly loves her son, although it is a challenge to have a baby that is constantly sick with fever and diarrhea. Cleaning up after Nisay is her morning routine.   Read the rest of this entry »

The Pecan Man by Cassie Dandridge Selleck

pecan manOra Lee Beckingridge has been telling a lie for years and wants to come clean. She is 80 years old and begins by telling of the events starting in 1978. An old man on a rusty bicycle rides past her house several days in a row. He is pulling a junky lawn mower behind him. She stops him and asks if he would like to mow her lawn. Eddie agrees to come two days a week to mow the lawn and trim the garden. Ora Lee discovers that Eddie Mims is an alcoholic living in the woods nearby. Whenever Eddie is at Ora Lee’s house to work, the neighbors call their children to come inside. Ora Lee refers to him as the Pecan Man (pronounced pēē’ can) because he carries a bag of pecans that he picked up from the streets and eats them.

The third main character is Blanche, a heavy-set black woman whose father abandoned her mother when Blanche was born with light skin. He thought she couldn’t possibly be his child. He didn’t know that black babies don’t come into their color for weeks or months after birth. Blanche has five children and works as a maid for Ora Lee.

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Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

orphan trainSeventeen-year-old Molly and ninety-one year old Vivian have something in common. Molly is in foster care again. So many times she has been moved around. When she wants a copy of Jane Eyre, she steals it from the public library. That results in juvie or 50 hours of community service. The mother of her boy friend arranges for Molly to meet Vivian, a rich widow. Vivian needs to sort through the boxes stored in her attic and offers Molly a way to work off her service. Vivian was also in foster care several times. Both women have felt abandoned and alone in the world.

Vivian was brought to her first foster family on the orphan train when she was nine years old. Most of her family had died in a fire. The Orphan Train Movement placed 250,000 orphaned, homeless, or abandoned children from east coast cities with families in the Midwest. Vivian, born Niamh (pronounced Neev), was renamed Dorothy by the first family that took her in. She was denied schooling and made to sew with other girls in the Byrnes front room factory. The Byrnes were strict: locking doors, rationing food, and making Niamh sleep on the hall floor. She had brought with her only a small suitcase and one change of clothes. Gradually Dorothy made friends with the other girls and improved her sewing skills. Mrs. Byrnes allowed Dorothy to pick out some fabric and make a few dresses for herself. Mr. Byrnes lost a lot of money and his business so all the girls were let go. Mr. Sorenson from the Children’s Aid Society picked up Dorothy and took her to a second family, the Grotes.

This situation was even worse. Read the rest of this entry »

Time and Again by Jack Finney

Time and AgainThis book was first published in 1970 and has become a cult favorite. It has been hailed as “THE great time-travel story” by Stephen King ( As a time travel fan, I have to agree. Nothing else I have read has the ability to suck me into a page-turner in the same way.

The government has a top secret project and is recruiting people with special abilities to participate. Taking the tests given to the men of the military years ago, they select Simon Morley as a good candidate for their study on time travel. Being curious about what it would be like to travel back in time, Si agrees to join the project. This time travel experience uses no machine, just the mind. It reminds me of the movie, Somewhere in Time. Si falls in love and must choose the present or the past with his newfound love, Julia. His friend Kate shows him a letter from 1882. In a blue envelope singed on the edge is a note stating: That the sending of this should cause the Destruction by Fire of the entire World … seems well-nigh incredible. Yet it is so, and the Fault and the Guilt mine, and can never be denied or escaped. So, with this wretched souvenir of that Event before me, I now end the life which should have ended then. Andrew Carmody picked up a gun and shot himself in the chest. It was all a mystery. Si wants to witness the mailing of the letter and the aftermath.

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Rena’s Promise: A Story of Sisters in Auschwitz

Rena's PromiseRena was on the first train to Auschwitz. Her family lived in a small Polish town near the border of Czechoslovakia. When Germany invaded Poland in 1939, life became difficult for both Jews and Gentiles. Jews had to wear armbands and do work for the Nazis. Gentiles were not allowed to work for Jews nor hide them. If either the Jews or Gentiles broke these laws, they were punished by death. Rena and her sister Danka were assigned to clean army quarters, polish boots, and do any other chores assigned to them by the Nazis.

A friend helped Rena escape to Slovakia. She couldn’t bear the thought that the family who was hiding her might be shot. People in Slovakia think she is exaggerating about the Nazis, but she is not. When it was announced that Jews are to go to work camps, Rena turns herself in with the hope it will not last more than a few months. Then she can return and marry her fiancé.

It becomes apparent to Rena as she boards the cattle car with 80 other people, that the conditions are much worse than she imagined. People must stand up the whole trip. With only a bucket as a toilet, the air in the car is stifling. Two people die during the 4 or 5 days before the train stops at Auschwitz. Rena knows she has made a big mistake by volunteering and wishes she had gone into hiding. Rena witnesses the first selection on the railway platform: young and able-bodied one way and the children and elderly another way. She thought the SS were being kind to the weak not to make them work. Still, this is early in the Holocaust. How could she have possibly imagined what was to come?

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Daughters for a Time

Daughters for a TimeHelen longs for a baby. Although fascinated by all babies, she wants one of her own. She wants a baby with soft, pudgy skin that she can give raspberries to and listen for the squeal of giggles. Helen and Tim, her husband, have been trying to conceive for four years. Helen and her sister, Claire, had decided to start their families at the same time and had dreams of raising their children together. Claire got pregnant right away and now has a beautiful 3-year-old daughter, Maura. Helen spends lots of time at Claire’s house, practicing to be the mother she dreams she will eventually be. Claire has been a mother for a long time. At 20, she was left to raise Helen, a 14-year-old. Their mother died of cancer and their father left the family the year before. Claire is like a parent to Helen even though Helen is an adult. Helen sometimes thinks of her mother and wishes she were here to comfort her. But, all she has is Claire, an efficient no-nonsense woman. She basically tells Helen to “buck up.”


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The Reluctant Blogger

The Reluctant Blogger BookcoverI don’t know what I was expecting when I picked up this paperback from a table in the Deseret Bookstore. It had been misplaced. Maybe someone intended to buy it and changed her mind. I bought it just because I had started blogging book reviews and the book piqued my curiosity. I figured I probably wouldn’t review it. How good could it be: first time author, Mormon fiction, was it just a book of blogs? Oh, how wrong I was.

I loved this book. Todd is a 30-something man who had lost his wife to an aneurism. He was raising three children on his own, lonely, and coming unglued. He is referred to a psychiatrist by his bishop. Todd sits week after week in the doctor’s office without saying anything. Dr. Schenk gave Todd one last chance to open up – blog your thoughts on a private blog. At first, Todd had short blogs, but he eventually got into it. No, the book is not a collection of blogs. Here and there are blogs. Otherwise, the book would be boring and it is anything but boring. I found myself snickering and sometimes feeling sad for Todd. He had been married to the love of his life for 15 years and she was gone.

Everyone thinks that the cure for widower-hood is to get married again, soon. His father, a former bishop, told him that repeatedly. His friends encourage him and even set him up to meet eligible women. Todd has some amazing guy friends that have been with him for years and are supportive of him. When one of them confesses that he is gay, Todd does not know what to say. It is this guy’s wedding day and he’s left his fiancée at the altar, so to speak. What a dilemma!

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