Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Gates of Evangeline - Hester Young

My review of The Gates of Evangeline first appeared in Shelf Awareness's Maximum Shelf issue for Wednesday, July 15th. I am posting it today with their permission. I encourage you to also check out the interview I did with Hester Young. The story of this book is fantastic! Hope you enjoy.

First line: "I can't pinpoint the moment I cross over."

"There is nothing more unnatural than losing your child. Not even talking to the dead."  Charlotte "Charlie" Cates should know; she's experienced both. At 38 Charlie is divorced, unhappily working in New York City as the managing editor of a woman's magazine and reeling from the tragic death of her four-year-old son, Keegan. Ambien has provided her a nightly escape, but when Charlie decides she no longer wants to numb herself with the pharmaceutical, the dreams start.

The first premonition shows Charlie an image of her friend Rae's young daughter falling in a dance recital and hurting her ankle. When the injury actually occurs, Charlie writes it off as a spooky coincidence. But there's no denying the existence of something supernatural when Charlie sees what happened to a missing girl and can describe her fate in vivid detail before she's discovered.

It's one of these dreams that convinces Charlie to accept a job offer she initially doesn't want. Her previous employer is publishing a series of books about high-profile, unsolved crimes. They'd like Charlie to cover the 30-year-old kidnapping of toddler Gabriel Deveau. The Deveau family is "like the Hilton family, only the granddaughter is better behaved, and their upscale hotel chain was founded with Old South plantation money."  Before Gabriel turned three, he was abducted from the Deveau's Chicory, Louisiana estate. A ransom note was left, but the kidnapper didn't contact the family again, and the child was never found. Neville, the Deveau patriarch who kept a tight lid on his son's disappearance, is recently deceased, freeing the boy's sisters to support a book about their family, including giving the author access to their Chicory estate, Evangeline.

Charlie is disgusted by the idea of profiting off the disappearance of a small boy, and she doesn't want to involve herself in another family's tragedy. Her own is enough to deal with. However, she experiences a change of heart when a new premonition shows her a small boy she determines to be Gabriel in a swamp asking for her help. "Will you help me? The boy asked, and truthfully, I'm not sure. Can I help a boy who has been dead for nearly thirty years? But there is nothing else for me. So why not try?"  And with that, Charlie heads for Louisiana.

First time novelist Hester Young may not have realized she was writing a Southern gothic work, but the rich atmosphere of the American South in The Gates of Evangeline clings heavily to every page in this book. From the eeriness of the swamplands,

The silence is, to a city dweller, unearthly. No birds, no rushing water. Only stillness. I walk out onto the dock and gaze at the green-brown water. There's a smell I don't like, a dank and almost moldy odor, like someone's leaky basement 

to the grandness of the Evangeline estate,

the white pillars, the rows of French windows opening onto the second-floor balcony, the sculpted hedges and stone cherub perched atop the fountain out back. Although the home seems a bit misplaced in an area so remote--who exactly are they showing off for?--it's as picturesque as I've imagined.

the spirit embraces the reader much the same way Charlie's dreams envelope her.

The mystery at the heart of the novel mirrors Young's resonant atmosphere--a quiet, dark and sinister tone in a crime that, at the time, dominated the spotlight. The code of silence surrounding the kidnapping is indicative of the plantation culture, part allegiance and part fear. While Charlie's job is to write about the event, Young's integration of the local law enforcement re-opening the case lends additional credence to the investigation.

Charlie's special gift--her dreams--is delivered with a sense of reverence. She exhibits a fear of what she doesn't understand but also a respect for the duty that comes with it. This approach gives the miraculous events a more grounded effect, encouraging readers to believe instead of expecting them to let go of reality. Young's parallel examination of her characters' faith intensifies this element of the novel even further.

The Gates of Evangeline is adeptly constructed to maintain suspense and a swift momentum. Young times plot twists well and incorporates clever red herrings. She also distracts her reader with fascinatingly colorful characters who stand out in the murky setting of the Louisiana bayou. The Deveau twins, Sydney and Brigitte, reek comically of entitlement while their closeted homosexual brother, Andre, is burdened by the obligations of his family name. A gun-toting gardener from Texas, a detective from the sheriff's department and the Deveau's young cook become Charlie's closer friends, providing a counter balance to the wealthy elite. Young takes advantage of everything from clothing to dialect in the development of these authentic personages.

The Gates of Evangeline is a wonderfully evocative, chilling mystery layered with themes of love, faith and devotion that is sure to pleasantly haunt readers' dreams long after they've turned the last page.

The Gates of Evangeline will be available September 1st in hardcover (9780399174001) from Putnam.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Quote of the Week

'But of course one does not need to have committed murder to write about it, any more than one needs a time machine to write about the Battle of Agincourt. One simply requires an acquaintance with the dark depths of the human soul, along with the inclination to explore them to their very end.'
   –Kate Morton in The Lake House

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Quote of the Week

A maze of books beckoned at me from the back of the shop. I hid in the sewers of Paris on the eve of the revolution and met a woman in snowy, frigid Siberia. I ventured into the world of heroes and gods and visited a lone island where a dethroned prince was imprisoned. Books were cities I'd never visited, filled with pillars of great thoughts and streets of phrases, mazes of abstruse sentence structures and alleys of complicated syllables. They were stores that displayed a wide range of things, punctuation twinkling like the crest of a venerable family, sentences breathing peacefully, words whispering.
   –J.M. Lee in The Investigation (translated by Chi-Young Kim)

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Project Fatherhood - Jorja Leap

My review of Jorja Leap's inspiring story, Project Fatherhood, first appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers. I am posting it today with their permission. Hope you enjoy!

First line: "My relationship with Watts began with a riot."

Gang expert and policy advisor Jorja Leap narrates the touching story of former gang members in Watts, Los Angeles who come together to learn how to be fathers and end up changing their community. Leap, a petite woman of Greek descent, is recruited to the group--because of her master social worker status--by its founder Mike Cummings, himself a former gang leader and now a community activist. Often told by the members that she doesn't understand because she's "not from the ghetto," (note: this phrase appears repeatedly throughout the book, one example of it is p.174) Project Fatherhood is evidence that while she may not fully comprehend their experiences, she loves these men and takes enormous pride in their accomplishments.

At first the African-American and Latino men reluctantly attend Project Fatherhood meetings with the enticement of meals and gift cards. They share their stories and frustrations, discuss prescribed topics and begin to recruit others. The trust they build with one another enables them to reject the Black Muslim's attempt to infiltrate the program, participate in community activism, even feel confident bringing their children so everyone can help them parent when they're overwhelmed by frustration. Finally in an inspiring turn of events, the fathers decide to reach out and mentor the boys of their neighborhood. The students become the teachers.

For her part, Leap discovers the men are correct; there is a lot she didn't grasp. But with their help she learns, and Project Fatherhood is the primer for all who weren't lucky enough to receive the education first hand. Funny, hopeful, heart-warming and eye-opening, Project Fatherhood has life-changing lessons for every reader.

Project Fatherhood is available in hardcover from Beacon Press (9780807014530) and as an unabridged audio (9781494565398), narrated by Randye Kaye, from Tantor Audio.

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Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Quote of the Week

'Ask me whatever you like, but understand this case is colder than a cast-iron commode on the shady side of an iceberg.'
     –The Gates of Evangeline by Hester Young

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