Cynthia (Aurora CO)
I was swept up by the force of Wall's protangonist, Olivia Harker. Gritty, combative, dirt-poor, this back-woods Kentuckian is both blessed and cursed with an innate and absolute sense of right and wrong. That's not to say she doesn't do wrong, she just knows what she's doing is wrong. Olivia is brutally honest about her life and her relationships - her love for her "Pap" and the boy Will'm, the hatred of her mother, her friendships with the "coloreds" of her hometown and even in her protectiveness of the silver-faced wolves that live in her mountains. I'd like to think that Olivia and I would be friends.
However, the book is flawed by its ambitiousness. Wall has too many stories to tell here - the life and relationships of Olivia, the plight of the blacks during the early decades of the 20th Century, and the mystery - and they can't be told in 278 pages without neglecting one or two. I think it's the mystery which is the most cheated. The actual mystery isn't presented until the last quarter of the book - although in hindsight there were clues of an upcoming mystery, they were too subtle to put me on alert. By the time the mystery is presented, it's too late and the ending feels rushed and unsatisfying. Which is unfortunate because the storyline is interesting and the characters well worth knowing.
I wouldn't have classified this book as a mystery, but as a woman's book. For a book club that likes strong women heroines, this would be a good read.
Susan (DeRidder LA)
The story is told by Olivia, the main character, as she struggles through a life that is hard for us to imagine today. I loved the writing style, and the author's character development is a strong component of this debut novel. It would seem to me that the book will appeal to a large cross-section of the reading public. It is an excellent read full of surprises, interesting characters and a range of emotions. At no time does the book lose your interest, and it seems to build toward the end so that it is really hard to put down. I would think this a very good choice for book group discussions!
Heather (Orlando FL)
A Great Debut
This book had me hooked from the very first pages. The hard-scrabble daily existence of the characters was captivating and engrossing. The economies that had to be made were many, and the detail of 1930's Kentucky were so precise that it was greatly absorbing. The language was rustic and simple, yet very clear and concise. I found myself wanting to know more about these people, to know more about their lives, hurts and victories. This book has a lot to say about the times that it portrays. The small issues and the great, neither is neglected. There are wise and humble characters as well as wicked and sinister ones. Love, anger, betrayal, duty, honor, racism, death, forgiveness: they are all here. And the tapestry created is one that will stay with me for a long time.
Beth (Rensselaer NY)
Sweeping Up Glass
When I started this novel by Carolyn D. Wall, I thought to myself, "This is crazy, I can't read it". But I kept reading and it took only a few pages -- I was in love. I almost finished it in one sitting. Set in 1938 rural Kentucky, the narrator is Olivia Cross, a woman of strong character and a life full of hard work and incredible loss. As the story goes back in time, we learn more about Olivia and the people that inhabit this small community during the coldest winter on record. You will fall in love with the unusual cast of characters, share their loves, losses and pain, and eventually be swept into a fast paced race to a conclusion that you cannot possibly have imagined. Character development is the author's strength. They command you to read to the end, and leave you wanting more.