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Rating: 5 out of 5 unicorns
Growing up, football was a constant in my life, not only for the lessons I gleaned but also because of the special connection that it allowed between me and my dad. We were good friends, but football was, at times, our way of communicating.
When reading This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash, I couldn’t help but associate with twelve-year-old Easter Quillby. Baseball is her game, Sammy Sosa her favorite player, and although her father, Wade Chesterfield, had left her and her younger sister when she was nine, now he’s back, and baseball may be the thing that brings them together. Both are keenly following the 1998 race between Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire to break Roger Maris’ long standing record of sixty-one home runs in a season. But Easter is reluctant to let him back into her life so easily. Wade, a washed-up former semi-pro pitcher, has brought back a lot of baggage — most of it stuffed with stolen money.
The Sosa-McGwire race provides an excellent backdrop for the story and grounds the reader in time. The baseball analogies are not lost on the non-sport minded readers. But the book is not about baseball. It is about love and forgiveness and the power of family.
In his first novel, A Land More Kind Than Home, Cash proved his ability to create flawed but endearing characters, and he continues this in This Dark Road to Mercy. Easter and her younger sister, Ruby, who recently lost their mother and are living in a foster home when Wade reenters their lives, will steal readers’ hearts — Easter with her prepubescent pragmatism and six year old Ruby with her desire to please and be loved. But as he did in A Land More Kind Than Home, it is the father characters, the men who are far from perfect yet prove that they are willing to take care of their own, that won my respect and admiration.
Wade Chesterfield is a loser. He gave up the legal rights to his children and must ‘steal’ them in the night to be with them. He has no job, no home and no plan. Pruitt, a ruthless hired hitman seeking revenge, is chasing him. Yet, Wade desperately wants to make things right with his daughters, even though he has placed them in unnecessary danger. To atone for his past, or because he truly loves them? — that is for each reader to decide. I found myself rooting for Wade; a complex character who did so much wrong trying to be right.
Another father character that Cash introduces us to is Brady Weller. Brady is the court appointed guardian of Easter and Ruby who is trying to find and, in his mind, save them from their father. He vows to protect the girls, and again the reader is forced to decide whether it is to make up for his own failures or if his motivation is simply about the girls’ well-being. Brady has his own demons — he’s struggling with his past and is desperately trying to save his relationship with his own daughter.
With straightforward storytelling, narrative that flows effortlessly and characters that are hard to forget, Wiley Cash has quickly become one of my favorite authors, and I can’t wait for his next book. And the next, and the next.
Rating: 5 out of 5 unicorns
John Searles’ third novel, Help for the Haunted, is not what you might expect from the title. Sylvie Mason is a young teenage girl, left in the care of her older sister, Rose, after the murder of their parents. In trying to understand the events surrounding the deaths, Sylvie finds herself involved in a mystery of supernatural proportions–while trying to establish some normalcy in her unusual life.
Not only does Searles have an engaging story to tell, he does so with crisp narrative that makes this a great novel for readers with diverse genre preferences. It is a beautifully sad, haunting tale of two young girls, their relationship to each other and to their murdered parents, demonologists who spent their lives helping ‘the haunted’ find peace. However, the book is not necessarily about the paranormal. It is more about Sylvie’s attempt to find peace for herself in a world that considers her an outcast. As she says, “I do and I don’t believe.” But, then there is Penny, the creepy doll that resides in the basement….
The complexity of Sylvie’s character and the way Searles has given her a voice is masterful. It is one of those rare books that left me, at the end of each chapter, saying ‘just one more’. I ended up reading it in one sitting. And then I donated all my dolls to charity. 🙂