Dark, wonderfully written political thriller

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Small Treasons by Mark Powell

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

Tess is the mother of three children and while she loves being home with them, she’s developed a very odd obsession. She can’t stop watching online terrorist ransom videos.  She gets up in the middle of the night to watch them, particularly one she refers to as “The Man in the Basement”, an American journalist held by ISIS.

Her husband John, now a professor at a small college, has a bit of an obsession, too, his being with the past. He can’t shake an incident that happened at his previous job and he still mourns his dead first wife and his grown daughter who he hasn’t seen or talked to in many years.  James Stone, a man John worked with at his old job, is pressuring him to turn over files of another professor, Professor Edward Hadawi.  The FBI is investigating Professor Hadawi in connection with an extremist religious group.  If John doesn’t turn the files over, James Stone is threatening to bring to light what happened at John’s previous job.

Stone is not only looking for Professor Hadawi but also for a young man named Reed Sharma. Reed is being groomed to be a terrorist bomber.  The growing connections between Tess, John, James Stone and Reed Sharma make up the backbone of this compelling novel.

This is a very suspenseful political thriller and very well-written. The characters are very well developed and I cared about them all.  The most disturbing section was watching how Reed Sharma is convinced that becoming a terrorist bomber has great meaning.  It’s a chilling section and very disturbing.  The author smoothly moves between the interconnected stories – from Reed’s transformation to the personal issues in Tess and John’s marriage to the political undertakings.  It’s a wonderfully written timely novel about obsession, faith and violence amidst our current political climate.  There were sections that moved a bit slowly but three quarters of the way in, there was no stopping this story.  The suspense in the last quarter of the book was quite nerve wracking.  I’ll definitely be looking for more of this author’s work.

Recommended.

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

As magical as the first book in the series

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The Postman’s Fiancee by Denis Theriault

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

Tania, who works as a waitress, has fallen in love with one of her customers, the shy postman, Bilodo. She knows of his fascination with haikus so she tries to learn how to write them herself to attract his attention.  However, fate has different plans for these two and leads them on an unexpected path.

This second book in the series is as magical as the first book, “The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman”. This is the type of book where I hesitate to tell too much of the plot and would rather leave it to the author to tell it in his own unique way.  While this book could be read as a standalone, I do think it would be best to read the first book before reading this sequel as parts of the books overlap.  Like the first book, this one is a quick read.  As in the first book, I very much enjoyed the many lovely haikus included throughout the book.  I found both of these novellas to be completely charming, quirky and engrossing and I loved them both.  I’m delighted to learn that the author’s debut novel, “The Boy Who Belonged to the Sea”, will be translated from French and released in the US in February of 2018.

Highly recommended.

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

A bewitching story that falls flat

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Into the Water by Paula Hawkins

Book review:  3 out of 5 star rating

A woman is found dead in the water, water where many other women have drowned. In fact, this water is known as The Drowning Pool.  Nel’s death has occurred just months after Katie, a friend of Nel’s daughter Lena, was found drowned.  Now Nel’s sister Jules has returned home though she swore she would never return.

This is quite a complex story involving many characters. The book goes back to 1679 during the Witchfinder Trials, where women suspected of being witches are thrown with bound hands into the water with the idea if they floated, they could be declared witches.  But if they drowned, oh well, guess they weren’t witches after all.  Legend has it that The Drowning Pool is haunted by one of these girls.

The author jumps back and forth between the story of the girl drowned for being suspected of witchhood to the present story of Nel’s drowning, the recent story of Katie’s drowning and also a woman who had died a couple of decades ago. I thought the author did a very good job of creating an eerie, haunting atmosphere and I enjoyed that part of the book.  However, I never really got too involved in the mysteries of these drownings and felt the red herrings went in too any directions and became confusing.  There was an overabundance of statements such as “after what I did” or “how can I bear this guilt”, which of course left you hanging not knowing what they did.  But I can’t say that I ever really cared what they did or didn’t do or who did what to whom.  Though I did enjoy parts of this book.  I think it just went in too many directions.

It’s quite a different book from “The Girl on the Train”. It had great potential of being a good psychological character study but I can’t help but feel that the author was trying too hard.  The stress of writing a follow up to her immensely popular first book must have been quite intense.  Here’s hoping that her next one will pull together better as there’s no doubt that she’s a talented author.

Beautifully crafted story of the aftermath of a tragedy

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Ash Falls by Warren Read

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

Ernie Luntz is a convicted murderer and now he’s on the loose and is being hunted by the police. Back at home at Ash Falls, his family and all of the residents wonder if he’ll return there.  That’s where the murder happened and Ernie would be a fool to set foot in that town again.  But his ex-wife Bobbie and his son Patrick still live there and that may be enticement enough for Ernie to return.

I became completely immersed in this compelling tale. Not only is there the suspense of “will Ernie return and what will happen if he does” but there’s also the interconnecting stories of others living in Ash Falls.  This is a quiet book that slowly pulls you in.  The author masterfully tells the story of each of these people who have been touched by the same horrendous event in the past and presents their stories through their everyday lives.  These characters are real – Marcelle, the too-young-to-be-married wife of Eugene, Hank, the pot dealer, Patrick, the gay teenager who is struggling to deal with his father’s crime, and Bobbie, the single mom who feels to blame.  I grew to know and care for these people.  The ending brought me to tears.

For those animal lovers out there, there is quite a bit about mink farming though I felt the author was not a fan of it, which made it easier to read. Though personally I had to skip the part about the day the minks’ skins are harvested.

There were sections throughout this book that I had to stop and read again. This quote may not appear in the final edition but I’d like to share it so you can see this writer’s potential.  “The vista shifted quickly from wheat fields to a wide spread of stunted trees, perfect geometrical grids of them that stretched on forever, naked branches reaching up, shocked, as if crying out to be released from the roots that anchored them into the cold earth.”  This is the author’s first novel, though he did write a memoir, “The Lyncher in Me:   A Search for Redemption in the Face of History” about his discovery that his great-grandfather had incited the lynching of three black circus workers.  I’m looking forward to what he’ll come up with next.

Recommended.

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

Not quite what I expected

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The Only Child by Andrew Pyper

Book Review:  3 out of 5 star rating

Dr. Lily Dominick is a forensic psychologist in New York. She’s assigned a very unique patient.  This patient with no name not only claims that he’s 200 years old but that he inspired the literary monsters in  “Frankenstein”, “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde” and “Dracula”.  He also claims that he’s Lily’s father.  Lily’s mother had been murdered when Lily was a young child and she has always longed to know more about her mother and exactly what happened to her.  So Lily decides to find out just what this patient knows about her past despite the apparent dangers that such an association would bring.

I have always felt that Frankenstein’s monster is one of the most heart breaking literary characters ever created. He was so close to being a part of mankind but would always be doomed to be on the outside, alone and unloved.  When I requested “The Only Child”, I had just finished binge watching the last season of “Penny Dreadful” and was still caught up in all of the emotional and suspenseful aspects of that excellent production.  So I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this latest re-imagination of a similar monster.

This is the first book I’ve read by this author, although I do have quite a few of his titles on my TBR list. The author has such a good reputation that I expected a more complex tale.  I expected to feel great sympathy for the monster who was trying to connect with his daughter.  The book starts off well and I was pulled right in.  But the monster didn’t tug my heart strings at all.  Lily’s character was also disappointing and seemed to jump from one feeling to another too quickly.  One minute she’s fearing a man who was hunting the monster and the next she was in love with him.  What held such promise at the beginning of the book basically devolved into a cat and mouse chase.  The ending was not at all surprising to me.

The book wasn’t a complete disappointment as there were parts that I enjoyed. I just feel like there was so much promise that never materialized.  I loved the basic premise of the book and I would like to try another one of the author’s novels.

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

 

 

A beautiful story of loss and family bonds

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Someone You Love Is Gone by Gurjinder Basran

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

I loved this short, profound book about grieving and the bond of family. Simran is a wife and mother who has recently lost her mother.  While she’s struggling with her grief, she’s also struggling to make sense of her family’s past and her present life.  The author fluidly flows between several story and time lines.  There’s the story of a young Amrita, Simran’s mother, and Amrita’s tragic love for Pyara.  There’s the story of a young Simran and her brother Diwa and sister Jyoti and the mystery of why young Diwa is sent to live with his Aunt Bibi Jeet.  And there’s the present-day story of Simran and her disillusionment with her marriage to Raj.

This book was compared to the work of Jhumpa Lahiri, which is what brought it to my attention as I’m a huge fan of Lahiri’s books. Jhumpa Lahiri is a Pulitzer Prize winner so that’s quite a comparison to make.  I feel the comparison is a just one.  I’m confused as to why the publisher is only releasing a paperback and Kindle edition of this magnificent book.  I think it deserves better and I hope they decide to also release it in hardcover.  The author is very talented and has written a book that takes an in-depth look into the heart and soul of a family, their loves, desires and fears and deep bond with each other.  She also touches on reincarnation and the thin line between life and death.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and highly recommend it. It is due to be released in November, 2017.  I now will have to get my hands on the author’s first book, “Everything Was Good-Bye”.

I won a copy of this book in a Goodreads giveaway and am under no obligation to write a review.

Engrossing personal memoir and murder case

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The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevick has always been against the death penalty, that is until she heard the confession of Ricky Langley, the molester and murderer of a 6-year-old child, Jeremy Guillory. Her reaction surprises her and causes her to want to learn all she can about this particular case.  She feels a strong connection to these people and events and basically becomes obsessed with this case and Langley’s life.  Over the course of ten years, she studies every document she can get her hands on.  She even arranges to visit Ricky Langley.  As she delves into Ricky’s life and family, it opens her up more to the facts surrounding her owned troubled history.  Her family has many secrets that they have struggled for years to bury, including the author’s own molestation by her grandfather when she was a child.

I could not pull myself away from this disturbing but fascinating non-fiction book. This is two books in one that the author has marvelously intertwined into an engrossing tale.  The memoir of the author’s personal story is brutally honest and raw.  Her reporting of the murder case and the entire life of Ricky Langley is completely absorbing.  I’ve never read either a memoir or a murder case study that was such a literary marvel.  The author has created a literary work that is a hybrid composed of two different genres that she expertly weaves together into a coherent whole.   One part never overcomes the other and both stories meld together beautifully.  She’s a very impressive author.

This is a book about forgiveness, secrecy, truth, the bond of family, memory and justice. It’s haunting, it’s heart breaking, it’s disturbing and it’s completely mesmerizing.  Highly recommended.

I won this book in a contest given by the publisher and have no obligation to give a review.

No big surprises in this one

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It’s Always the Husband by Michele Campbell

Book Review:  3 out of 5 stars

Kate, Jenny & Aubrey, although coming from very different backgrounds, become friends when they room together at college. After all, as Kate says, “They say your freshman roommates become your best friends for life”.  But it soon becomes apparent that their friendship has serious flaws.

The book starts out promising with a well-written scene of an unsuspecting woman being led to a bridge and then being encouraged to commit suicide there. Then it switches to 22 years before when the three young women arrive on campus and first meet each other.  I at first liked the girls but that soon started to unravel.  I wasn’t really interested in their daily activities but something certainly did keep me turning those pages.  The first half of the book, which covers the college years, seemed to read as a young adult novel, which I don’t personally care for.  I thought that I would become more involved in the story when the second half of the book starts with the present day occurrences, but unfortunately by that time I didn’t really care enough about which one of them ends up on the bridge or who had led them there.  I didn’t find the ending to be surprising.

But as I said, something kept me turning those pages to find out what happens so I’ll give this one my “It was okay” rating of three stars.

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

The most unreliable narrator of all

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Unreliable by Lee Irby

Book Review:  3 out of 5 stars

Edwin Stith is on his way to his mother’s wedding. He hasn’t met his soon-to-be stepfather, who isn’t much older than he is, nor has he met the gentleman’s two children.  Edwin admits that he’s not completely honest or maybe he’s too honest and the story he’s telling may or may not be true.  He’s a professor who may or may not have slept with his students, he may or may not have killed his ex-wife and/or his girlfriend who may or may not be his girlfriend or he may or may not be a serial killer on a murderous rampage.  Is he completely crazy or is he just unwilling to confront what’s he done?

I felt this book was a spoof on the popular unreliable narrators in today’s literary world. There’s a lot of humor involved and I enjoyed the beginning of the book.  Edwin’s ruminations about what may or may not be going on had me hooked.  It bogged down a bit for me when he arrived home and there just seemed to be too many plot lines going in every which direction.  There’s his old girlfriend from high school who may or may not be crazy who he may now have fallen in love with, or maybe not.  There’s his student who he may or may not be having an improper relationship with who’s on her way to either marry him or kill him.  There’s the dysfunctional family that his mother is marrying into.  There’s a local revolution going on and possibly a shady arms deal.

The more I read, the less I cared about what was true and what wasn’t. I enjoyed the humor and I enjoyed the references to Edgar Allen Poe and the main character’s comparison of Poe’s life to his own.  If you can suspend your desire to make sense of what’s going on and just go with the disordered chaos of Edwin’s mind, you’ll enjoy this story told by a very unreliable narrator.  Or you may just get annoyed with just how unreliable this narrator is, which at times I certainly did.  But the author did keep me interested and did keep me reading.  It was a light, fast read and at times was quite fun.

I won this book in a contest given by the publisher.

Great start but then went downhill for me

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Since We Fell by Dennis Lehane

Book Review:  3 out of 5 stars

When Rachel Childs was a journalist, she encountered an extremely bad side of human nature. As a result of the trauma, she has a breakdown and virtually becomes a recluse, afraid of people.  Her husband, Brian, has the patience of a saint and lovingly tries to help her break through her fears.  I can’t really go any further with the plot in fear of writing spoilers.

The beginning of this book is 5 star, with Mr. Lehane’s usual expertise in bringing his characters to life and finding a place for them in your heart.   I was completely engrossed in the story, knowing that “something” was going to happen to change things and dreading it because, in spite of Rachel’s agoraphobia, the marriage between Brian and Rachel was so strong and loving.  When the change came, it was completely unexpected and the author began to lose me.  The book veers off from being a heartfelt novel about a woman struggling with her demons to an action thriller.  The changes of character in both Rachel and Brian just didn’t ring true to me, though I was still engrossed in the story.  What bothered me most about the second part of the book was the author’s seeming efforts to justify the characters’ actions while trying to get you to still like and respect them.  His efforts didn’t work with me and the longer I had contact with these characters, the less I believed in them.

It seems to me that this book was written more as a movie script and I’ve read that the movie rights to the book have already been snatched up. I grabbed this book because of the author and his phenomenal “Mystic River” and “Shutter Island”.   I never looked into what the book was about.  Possibly if I had known it was a thriller before starting it, I would have been better prepared for the switch in gears.  With the beginning being such a beautiful character study of a damaged woman, I truly wish the author had chosen to continue in that line.  I still enjoyed the book but what started as outstanding turned into just OK.

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