Saturday, October 11, 2008

Guest Review: Land of a Hundred Wonders

I'd like to welcome back my good friend and fellow book clubber Melissa. Last month, the Preschool Moms Book Club had the pleasure of talking with Leslie Kagen, author of WHISTLING IN THE DARK (my review) and LAND OF A HUNDRED WONDERS. You can read more about our meeting and discussion with Ms. Kagen here. We actually read WHISTLING IN THE DARK for our monthly selection, but a few of us read LAND OF A HUNDRED WONDERS too. We agreed that it was another wonderful book by Ms. Kagen. Melissa enjoyed it so much that she volunteered to write a review.

Summary: The summer Gibby McGraw catches her big break, the cicadas are humming, and it’s so warm even the frogs are sweating. Brain damaged after a tragic car accident that took both her parents, Gibby is now NQR (Not Quite Right), a real challenge for a fledgling newspaper reporter. Especially when she stumbles upon the dead body of the next governor of Kentucky, Buster Malloy.

Armed with her trusty blue spiral note-book, Gibby figures that solving the murder might be her best chance to prove to everyone that she can become Quite Right again. But she gets more than she bargained for when she uncovers a world of corruption, racism, and family secrets in small town Cray Ridge. Lucky for her, she’s also about to discover that some things are far more important than all the brains in the world, and that miracles occur in the most unexpected moments. -- NAL/Penguin

I love Leslie Kagen! She is one of my favorite new authors. I loved Whistling in the Dark and I absolutely adored Land of a Hundred Wonders. This book is charming, compelling, funny and heart-breaking all at the same time. Kagen masterfully writes with a cadence that is just the right pace for a good read, and one that you can’t put down.

One of the things that I like most about Ms. Kagen’s books is that she literally breathes life into her characters. You’ll find yourself thinking about them as if they are real. Here are a few of my favorites from Hundred Wonders. There is Gibby, the story’s heroine who is NQR (Not Quite Right), as a result of a car accident that claimed both of her parents. She has determined and set herself on a course that will help her become QR (Quite Right) in order to ease her deceased Mama’s worries over her in the beyond. There is Grampa, a tough and gritty old-timer with a big heart. As Gibby’s guardian, he is determined to protect her, even if it means not realizing his own heart’s desire. Then there is Billy, a Vietnam War veteran who has his own demons to contend with. Is he simply a loyal family friend who wants to make sure no one takes advantage of NQR Gibby, or is there more to his feelings? The one who probably charmed me the most was Clever, Gibby’s most devoted best friend. She’s had her fair share of knocks growing up with a less-than-perfect mother who always seemed more interested in men and good times. And, although she’s a little rough around the edges, she’ll do anything to help Gibby realize her goal -- if she can stay out of trouble, that is. These are just a few. Hundred Wonders offers up a plethora of memorable and colorful characters who are weaved seamlessly into the narrative – they’re not just there for candy-coating.

Set in a small town in Kentucky in the 1970’s, Gibby sets out to solve a mystery when she discovers the dead body of politician Buster Malloy. Along the way she must deal with the unwanted advances of Sneaky Tim Ray Holloway, one of those characters you love to hate. Gibby also grapples with the tensions brewing between her African American friends and the white folks of the community. In Gibby’s mind, it’s easy: why can’t everyone just be friends? To top it all off, she finds out her unemployed and unmarried best friend Clever is pregnant. Undaunted by all of these complications, and with the help of a few good friends, Gibby launches and steadfastly maintains her investigation into Buster Malloy’s death. Written in Gibby’s voice, the reader is made to experience some of Gibby’s confusions and befuddlements right along with her. At first, I wasn’t sure how I was going to like this, but Kagen makes it work.

At the heart of this poignant and humorous story is the idea that what makes up the best of the human spirit is not necessarily brains and intellect, but love and forgiveness. For me, Land of a Hundred Wonders is a book about redemption and hope. This is a wonderful pick for any book club and I highly recommend it. I can’t wait for Ms. Kagen’s next novel!

Once again, a big thanks goes out to Melissa for this awesome review! She has a few more reviews in the works, so we'll be hearing from her again very soon.


Cheryl said...

Great review. I also love this author and Whistling in the Dark

S. Krishna said...

Nice review! I haven't read anything by this author but I have 2 of her books on my TBR pile.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the shout out, Julie!
Much appreciated. Hugs, Lesley

Anna said...

I'm going to check this one out. The characters sound interesting. Thanks for the review!

Diary of an Eccentric