Compassionate story of maternal love

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The Caregiver by Samuel Park

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

Ana and her little girl, Mara, take care of each other in their home in Copacabana, Brazil.   Ana works as a voice-over actress but her job brings in little money.  In desperation, she agrees to take a job posing as a citizen with information about student guerillas in an attempt to lure the violent Police Chief Lima from his post.  Ana then makes a decision that tears their lives apart.

Years later when Mara comes to America undocumented, she takes a job as a caregiver to a woman, Kathryn, who is suffering from stomach cancer.  Caring for Kathryn brings up memories of Mara’s mother and Mara struggles to come to terms with her past.

This is a beautifully written book about the relationship between a mother and daughter and what lengths a mother would be willing to go for her daughter.  The characters are very well developed and the book is full of heart and compassion.

The author, Samuel Parks, passed away from stomach cancer shortly after writing this book.  At the end of the book, his essay that was published in the New York Times is shared.  It’s called “I Had a 9 Percent Chance, Plus Hope” and it’s a must read for all.  After reading this book, I’m even more anxious to read “This Burns My Heart”.

Recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

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Over-complicates Reiki

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The Art of Psychic Reiki by Lisa Campion

Book Review:  3 out of 5 star review

This is a guide to learning the principles of Reiki and how to develop your psychic and empathic abilities.  The author, Lisa Campion, is a psychic counsellor and a Reiki master teacher.  The book guides its readers through Reiki Levels I and II though stresses the importance of having an attunement by a Reiki master.

Where it goes off the path of most Reiki books that I’ve read is that it also shows the importance of developing your psychic abilities and getting in touch with your empathy.  I understand that in some ways we all have some psychic abilities and intuition about the world around us.  When taught Reiki, I was told that sometimes I would “just know” where to place my hands and where the energy was most needed.  This book goes much more in depth into how to communicate with your psychic “guides”.  I’ve heard many Reiki practitioners talk about spiritual guides but my teachers never stressed that and to be honest, it makes me a bit uncomfortable.  I believe Reiki energy comes from our creator and it’s that creator who “guides” the energy to wherever it’s needed most.

In some ways, I think the author over-simplifies Reiki, especially when she talks about giving self-Reiki while watching TV.  On the other hand, I felt this book over-complicates Reiki in many ways and may actually turn some people off from doing Reiki.  To me, Reiki is very, very simple.  I’m just a vessel and I ask God to help the energy flow to where it’s needed.  This was an interesting read but I don’t think it added anything to my daily Reiki practice.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

 

Entertaining, thought-provoking spy novel

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Transcription by Kate Atkinson

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

It’s 1940 and Juliette Armstrong has been recruited to work for M15.  She’s 18 years old and quite naïve.  She’s been given the tedious job of transcribing recordings of meetings of British Fascist sympathizers.  But she’s soon pulled even deeper into this frightening espionage world.  When the war is over, Juliette believes the past is behind her.  But she learns that there are still consequences that need to be dealt with.

There are sometimes light hearted moments in this novel that are deceiving because this is quite a deep, thought-provoking work.  While I very much enjoyed Juliette’s witty remarks, there are layers and layers to explore in this book.  I feel like starting the book from the beginning again and dissecting it, scene by scene, which is not something I’ve ever enjoyed doing.   The fragility of loyalty, how thin the line can be between “them” and “us”, how contradictory our inner beliefs can be and how history can be re-shaped in its telling are all explored.

On the negative side, I did get bogged down some with all of the boring transcriptions but I don’t really see how the author could have gotten around those.  Also, while most of the book is very realistic and believable, there were some scenes toward the end that were a bit far-fetched.

Overall, this is was a very interesting and enjoyable read.  Recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

A “Stepford Wife” society

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Vox by Christina Dalcher

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

There have been some rather extreme changes made here in the United States.  Women must wear a bracelet-type counter that allows them only 100 words a day.  If they go over their quota, they receive a horrendous electrical shock.  Even the written word or sign language is punishable.  Women can no longer hold jobs and girls are not being taught how to read or write but only are taught how to cook and sew.  Dr. Jean McClellan is the narrator of this book.  She’s a mother of four and the wife of a man who she believes is too passive about the whole issue.  She regrets not taking action before this all started.  She no longer has a voice with which to fight.

Before all of these changes, Jean was a cognitive linguist working on a cure for aphasia, the loss of the ability to understand or express speech caused by brain damage.  All of her research stopped when women’s rights were taken away.  But now the President’s brother is suffering from brain damage and Jean is asked to resume her work.

The only fault I had with this book is that at times it felt too much like “The Handmaid’s Tale”.  There are so many similar restrictions.  But I felt that the writer does a very good job in telling this story and Jean is a very believable narrator.  The added interest comes from Sonia, Jean’s 6-year-old daughter, who doesn’t remember what it’s like to be able to speak freely.  There’s one terribly frightening scene involving Sonia that really made the whole book seem so real and possible.  It’s one thing to have your own rights taken away but entirely another when it involves your innocent child.  The way the schools were now teaching young girls was so tragic.

Interesting story told in a realistic manner.  Recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

 

 

Exquisitely written, intense and profound

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The Water Thief by Claire Hajaj

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

Nick’s father has died and it has caused him to take a hard look at his life.  He’s living in London, works as an engineer and is engaged to the lovely Kate.  Yet he decides to leave that safe life and go off to a poor village in Africa to help build a children’s hospital.  He hopes to absolve his long-time guilt over an incident involving a childhood friend.  He stays at the home of Dr. Ahmed, his wife Margaret, and their children JoJo and Nagode.  There he’s faced with a moral dilemma.  The people are dying from a lack of water.  The Governor is charging exorbitant fees for water delivery.  Nick learns that there is a solution to the village’s problem – a water well can be dug.  But the Governor won’t consider it.  Nick so desperately wants to help these people that he makes a decision that will impact all.

This book completely tore my heart open and made me take a hard look at my own life.  I so admired Nick’s determination to help these people.   He wants to do the right thing and truly doesn’t understand why those in power wouldn’t feel the same.  He’s so torn by his love for Margaret and his respect for her husband.  And JoJo, this young boy on the edge of manhood who longs to become an engineer like Nick, absolutely broke my heart.  The author does an amazing job of bringing JoJo alive and detailing his descent into hopelessness.  The characters in this book will long live in my heart and memory.  This is one of the most thought-provoking, soul searching books I’ve ever read.

This is a masterpiece of a novel, exquisitely written, intense and profound, a book that should be required reading for all.  It should be given every prestigious award for literary excellence.  I most highly recommend it.

This book was given to me by the publicist in return for an honest review.

Gorgeously written literary work

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Paris Echo by Sebastian Faulks

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

Hannah is an American historian who is in Paris to do some research.  She’s writing about the lives of women who were present in Paris during the German Occupation.  She listens for hours to recordings these women made detailing what living in Paris was like at that time and how these women felt about the German soldiers.  As she walks the streets of Paris, memories of her time there ten years before and the love affair she has never gotten over begin to haunt her.  She’s also haunted by the ghosts of the Paris witnesses she’s listening to.

She takes in a boarder, 19-year-old Tariq, who has run away from his home in Morocco.  Tarij isn’t sure why he came to Paris, possibly to find answers to all of the questions he’s had about his long dead mother.  Hannah and Tariq couldn’t be more different and yet they form a friendship.  Tariq is ashamed that he knows so little history and learns that many North Africans hate France for its treatment of Muslims.  One of his newly found “teachers” is a man who thinks he’s Victor Hugo, a homeless man who performs puppet shows in the subway for donations.

This is a gorgeously written literary work, a slow-moving, thought-provoking book.  There are several stories in this book, not only the stories of Hannah and Tariq but also of the women who witnessed Paris during the German Occupation, relating the atrocities committed, and real-life women such as Andree Borrel, a French heroine of World War II who was executed by the Germans.  The ghosts of the past converge with those walking the streets of Paris in the present day and Paris’ history continues to echo into the future.  This is a book that will linger long after the last page is read.

Most highly recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

Quite entertaining

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Lies by T.M. Logan

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

When Joe Lynch unsuspectingly follows his wife’s car one day at the bequest of his small son who wants to “surprise” mommy, he sets off a series of terrible events.  He’s now being framed for a murder that he believes never even happened.  Just when you think things can’t get worse, they do and the noose keeps getting tighter and tighter around Joe’s neck.

This is quite an addictive book and I really cared for Joe and his plight.  He’s such a good guy, good father and good husband that the course of events seemed so very unfair.  Social media and technology play a heavy hand in this suspenseful thriller.  It was quite scary to see how easier this app or that app can be downloaded onto your phone and your privacy is completely gone.  How realistic the tale was, I’m not sure but it was certainly a fun ride.  And I never saw the end coming.  Not only was this a fast thriller but it also touched on the fragility of our relationships with others and how destructive lies can be.

Recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

 

A delight that will break your heart

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The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

Nana is living the life of a stray cat in Tokyo.  He’s claimed the top of a van as his home.  He’s doing just fine, thank you, until one day when he’s hit by a car and injured quite badly.  Satoru, the cat lover who owns the van and who has been leaving Nana food, takes Nana to the vet and brings him into his home to recuperate.  Nana reminds Satoru of a cat he had as a child that he had to give up.  That cat’s name was Hachi and Satoru still mourns the loss of that beloved cat.  Five years pass quickly when Satoru tells Nana that they have to take a journey.  Satoru has to find another home for Nana but doesn’t tell the reason why this is so.

Have you ever had a cat that you loved beyond all reason?  Then this is the book for you.  Nana the cat is the witty narrator of this delightful yet poignant story.  I’ve read several books by Japanese authors over the last year that had the same charm and quirkiness.  These books are written in such a simple manner and yet are so profound.  They read like a folktale with deep meaning and I’ve on the hunt for more like this one.   This delightful book truly touched my heart and I know I’ll never forget it and that’s all I can ever ask of a book.  Nana and Satoru crept into my heart and there they will stay.

Most highly recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

 

Haunting, touching psychological drama

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The Boy at the Keyhole by Stephen Giles

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star review

Nine-year-old Samuel misses his mother.  She’s left him alone with the housekeeper Ruth.  Ruth as told Samuel that his mother had to go to America to try to save the family business.  She didn’t even say goodbye and left in the middle of the night while he was sleeping.  But she’s been gone months and he begins to suspect that something has happened to her.  He begins to believe that Ruth has murdered his mother.

The comparisons of this book to the work of Shirley Jackson and Daphne Du Maurier convinced me that it was a must read.  I believe the book is closer to the work of Jackson than Du Maurier.  The author has created a very tense, suspenseful atmosphere.  At points in the book, you think you know where it’s headed but then the author turns it around, again and again, until you’re really not sure what to expect.  My heart was touched by the anguished plight of young Samuel.  It’s quite a sad story, either way the author decided to go.  I had a hard time putting it down and found it to be a very satisfying read.

Recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

 

Totally bleak, exhausting novel

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Ohio by Stephen Markley

Book Review:  2 out of 3 stars

Four classmates come back to the hometown of New Canaan one summer.  Bill Ashcraft is an alcoholic and drug abuser and has completely lost his way.  Stacey Moore comes back to confront the mother of her former girlfriend.  Dan Eaton is a veteran of the Afghanistan War and has never forgotten his first love.  Tina Ross has something to settle with the former captain of the football team.  There are actually four novellas in this book, each involving one of the above characters and all interacting with one character, the deceased classmate, Rick, who was killed in Afghanistan.

This book has all the markings of a book I should have loved.  It’s a truly tragic story and I had read such good things about the book.  But I truly did not like it.  Before I chose this book, I had read that the author uses beautiful language but any beautiful language used is negated by the constant course language used by the characters.  I had read that it was an emotional book but to be emotional for me, a book needs to have characters the reader cares about.  I did not like these characters and couldn’t relate to their problems.

This book seems to be a social commentary on how 9/11 left our country and its people in shambles.  I don’t believe we’re all suffering from PTSD as this book indicates.  It’s almost written as a dystopian novel, creating a horrible, destroyed world I’m not familiar with.  It seemed to me that most of the characters, though certainly not all, used 9/11 and the war as an excuse for not getting their lives together.  I soon tired of reading about their self-indulgences involving alcohol, drugs and sex and sickened of them wallowing in their self-misery.

Not recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.