The devastating effects of a rape accusation

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Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

James has it all.  He’s married to lovely Sophie, he has two beautiful children and he’s a successful member of parliament.  He’s handsome and could have any woman he wants, even if Sophie weren’t the love of his life, which she is, so why would he commit rape?  Yet he stands accused and faces a trial that could destroy his family, reputation and career.

Kate is the lawyer who is prosecuting the case against James.  She’s sure that he’s guilty and she’s determined to prove it to the jury.  But this case is turning into one that she may not be strong enough to endure as it has dredged up old memories that still haunt her.

At the beginning of this book, I thought, OK, here’s another book about a possibly philandering husband, same old, same old.  But it turned into something much deeper.  The author did an excellent job in describing how hard it was for the woman accusing James of rape to testify at the trial – or is she just a woman scorned? – and the difficulty of finding justice in such a case.  How can a jury decide who is telling the truth when it’s really one person’s word against the other’s?  Is it really all down to how well either attorney presents his/her case?

The author also presented Sophie’s situation very well.  She loves her husband and wants desperately to believe him.  But hearing the testimony at trial and reading the papers where their marriage and life together is being scrutinized just tears her apart and causes confusion and distance in their marriage.  Even the strongest marriages could be strained to the breaking point under such an accusation.

A well-thought-out, heartfelt novel which I recommend.

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

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Out of the mouths of children

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Only Child by Rhiannon Navin

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

6-year-old Zach Taylor is hiding in the closet with his teacher and other classmates.  They cringe in terror as they listen to the sounds of “pop”, “pop”, “pop” in the hallway of their school.  A gunman is loose in the school and they have no idea which room he’ll enter next.  After the police come, Zach goes to the hospital with his mother, where they learn that Zach’s 10-year-old brother Andy is one of the 19 victims of the shooting.  In the days following Andy’s death, Zach’s mother holds the shooter’s parents responsible and goes on a crusade for justice.  She becomes someone Zach doesn’t know.  He finds refuge in Andy’s closet where Zach reads books to Andy and feels a connection to his lost brother.  He tries to sort through his feelings on his own by drawing pictures of his feelings and giving each feeling a color.

This is a very sensitive, beautifully written book about a young boy and his family trying to find their way after the tragic loss of a brother and son.  I thought the author did a wonderful job in finding the perfect pitch for this young boy’s voice.  The character of Zach is very believable and his experiences and reactions are appropriate for his age.  The way he struggles to work out his feelings on his own, as his parents deal with their own grief and aren’t always there for him, just broke my heart.  His brother, Andy, suffered from oppositional defiant disorder and was often cruel to Zach.  Zach wonders if things might be better without Andy but of course then he has much guilt about those feelings.

The books that Zach read to his brother Andy in the hopes that Andy might hear him in heaven were the Magic Treehouse series.  I’ve read several of those books to my grandson and knew the stories that Zach was reading.  That connection made it impossible for me to distance myself from the sadness of this book.  It was just as though one of my little grandson’s friends was telling this story and made the book’s heartache even more potent.

Out of the mouths of children comes wisdom.  Zach’s discovery of compassion and how healing must be done is truly wondrous to read and a lesson that the adults in this book desperately needed.

Highly recommended.

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

A heart-warming book full of charm

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The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

The street where Frank Adair’s music shop is located has seen better days.  The mortar is falling off the buildings and teens are decorating its stores with graffiti.  But some of these shops have been here for many years, including Frank’s music shop, which only deals in vinyl records.  He refuses to carry CDs, which makes him quite unpopular with the record suppliers.  But Frank’s shop is special.  He has a knack for finding just the right song his customers need.  He manages to heal broken hearts and marriages and his store is a popular one with the community.  Frank has made a nice life for himself until one day a woman faints outside of his shop and sets his world on end.

This book is peopled with such unique, quirky characters – Frank’s assistant, Kit, who struggles to control his exuberance; Maud, the tattoo artist, Father Anthony who now runs a religious shop, the Williams Brothers, the funeral directors; and the baker, Mr. Novak.  And then there’s Ilse Brauchmann, who is such a mystery, with her gloved hands and her utter lack of knowledge about music.

My favorite part of the book was when the author takes a look back at the lessons Frank’s mother gave him about music and the music lessons he in turn gives to Ilse.  Frank’s mother taught him to hear the silence between the music notes and to look beyond the music to hear the composer’s heart and soul.  Ms. Joyce obviously has a great passion for music and how music can impact a person’s life is the thrust of her newest novel.

I do wish the author had wrapped up the story a bit earlier than she did.  I felt the book dragged for a while at the end.  But all in all, it was a very enjoyable book and brought a lot of smiles to my heart.

Recommended.

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

Complex, clever thriller

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The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

All is not what it seems in this complex and clever thriller.  Nellie, a New York preschool teacher, is happy with her work and her lifestyle.  When she meets Richard, she’s swept off her feet into quite a different world of affluence.  There are hints galore about “something” that happened to Nellie in her past that has made her a very “nervous Nellie”.  Her telling of the story fluctuates with the telling of the story by Vanessa, Richard’s ex-wife.  She now lives with her Aunt Charlotte and drinks too much like her mother did before her.

The unreliable narrator has become a very popular form of literature these days.  This is one that I felt was quite well plotted and hard to crack before the author “tells”.  There’s a twist halfway through the book that had me sit up thinking “Whaaaat??” and had me questioning everything I had just read.  When you think all the twists have been revealed, there’s still one more that I never saw coming.

Quite an enjoyable read and kept me on my toes.  Recommended.  This book is being published on January 9, 2018 and can be pre-ordered through the publisher:

https://us.macmillan.com/static/smp/wife-between-us/

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

A fun, fast read

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The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor

Book review:  3 out of 5 star rating

12 year olds and summer – what a perfect combination.  Eddie and his friends, Fat Gav, Metal Mickey, Hobbo and the only girl in the gang, Nicky, are enjoying every minute of it.  They like to leave each other messages with little chalk stick men drawings.  They’re having a great time of it until they’re led to a dismembered body.  And what has led them to this body?  Little chalk men drawings.  Now they’re grown up and each have received mysterious letters with a chalk stick man.  That’s when they realize that the past isn’t over after all.

The book fluctuates between 1986 and 2016.  I loved the atmosphere that this author created and was pulled right back to the 80’s.  Such fun running all over this English village with these kids, seeing what excitement there is to find on those hot summer days.  This book is reminiscent of Stephen King’s novella, “The Body”, which was made into the film, “Stand By Me”, and is impressive for a debut.  To me, King’s novella is a classic and Ms. Tudor has a way to go before her work can truly be compared to King’s but it did remind me of it but without the deep sadness that King’s book invoked.  It has a spooky feel without anything supernatural going on and I liked that the author didn’t feel the need to include gory details to make her book suspenseful.  Unfortunately, the end didn’t come as a surprise to me and I’m not that quick to pick up on clues.  These clues seemed to be a bit too obvious.  I almost felt like I was a step ahead of the author throughout the book and knew what was coming.  But the book is very addictive, the characters are likeable (at least when they’re children) and it was a fun read.

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

 

An absolute delight!

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The Delight of Being Ordinary:  A Road Trip with the Pope and the Dalai Lama by Roland Merullo

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

What a spot Paolo has been put in.  His cousin, none other than the Pope himself, has asked Paolo to smuggle him and his visitor, the Dalai Lama, out of the Vatican so they can spend some time being ordinary men.  That means getting past all of their security guards and disguising their much-too-well-known faces.  Joining them will be Paolo’s estranged wife, Rosa.  Paolo is soon branded a wanted kidnapper and his name and face are all over the news.  The hunt and chase is on and this promises to be a road trip to remember.

I found this book to have a very refreshing view of religion.  Basically, both the Pope and the Dalai Lama believe that the most important religious “rule” is to show love and compassion to all others.  All throughout the engaging plot, there are religious discussions but they aren’t presented in a pretentious or stuffy way at all.  Both the Pope and the Dalai Lama are shown as very calm, centered men and while they want to be ordinary for a while, they seem to have no objection to being questioned extensively by Paolo and particularly Rosa about their beliefs.  The religious discussions, while an essential part of the book, don’t override the enjoyable plot.   There’s the love story between Paolo and Rosa and the difficulties they’ve encountered in their marriage.  There’s their daughter Anna Lisa and her unexpected news.  And there’s the surprise encounter at the end of the book that may hopefully be leading the author to write a sequel.  Comic moments abound and I had a smile on my face the whole time I was reading this delightful book.

Recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher for discussion in the Goodreads Group “Keep Turning Pages”.

Would make a nice gift for someone with insomnia

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The Mindful Way to a Good Night’s Sleep by Tzivia Gover

Book Review:  3 out of 5 star rating

In my never-ending quest for a solution to my insomnia, I thought this would be an excellent book for me.  I have been learning more about mindfulness and meditation so wanted to implement this in my sleep habits.  I was disappointed, though, that while mindfulness and meditation are touched on, most of the book centers on dreamwork and journaling, which is not something I really want to do.  The meditation, breathing exercises, before bed routines and yoga poses were all known to me.  As for what was mentioned about mindfulness and meditation, there was nothing new that I could use.  So unfortunately this book wasn’t a good fit for me.

All that being said, it’s really a lovely book, beautifully designed and written in a very gentle way.  I’m sure it would be of most benefit to someone looking to work out their dreams by writing in a journal or new to mindfulness and meditation.  Personally, if I were to write in a journal to record a dream upon waking in the night, I would never fall asleep again.  But I’m sure there are some people who would benefit from that practice.  Of course, if you can remember the dream in the morning, the journal could be used then.  According to the book, it’s the understanding of dreams that can help us accept our situation in life and will lead to more peaceful sleep patterns.  I strongly recommend that if you’re interested in purchasing this book, buy the paperback and not the e-book.   Some of the pages were slow to load due to the design and there are pages included at the end of the book for your adding of personal comments.  I would like to see a copy of this paperback as I’m sure it would be quite lovely.  There are beautiful quotes about sleep throughout the book.

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

Poignant, moving novel

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An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

Roy and Celestial have been married for about a year and are thinking of finding a bigger house and starting a family.  Roy has a good job and Celestial is doing well creating her artistic dolls.  Their love for each other is strong.   All of that falls to pieces when Roy is convicted of a crime he’s innocent of.   Separated by this unjust verdict, Celestial is finding it hard to hold on to a marriage that hadn’t yet had time to “take”.  She compares their marriage to a tree that has had a limb of another tree grafted on to it but the graft hasn’t taken yet.  In her loneliness, she turns more and more to Andre, her childhood friend.  Will this separation between husband and wife completely sever their ties?

This is a beautifully written book that not only takes an in depth look at an American marriage that has been dealt a severe blow but also racial injustice.  I love how the author switches to using only letters between the characters once Roy is sentenced to prison.  It underscores the separation and distance that has been imposed between these two.  They’re each fighting their individual battles – Roy with the injustice of what has been done to him and all that he’s lost when he has tried so hard to do everything right and Celestial is dealing with a battle between responsibility and desire.

The love story is heart wrenching and the suspense of what will happen is often unbearable.  Highly recommended.

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

 

Intense and unforgettable

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Elmet by Fiona Mozley

Book Review:  4 out of 5 stars

15-year-old Cathy and 13-year-old Daniel have been living with their grandmother but when she dies, their father moves them to a land to which their family has some ties and builds a home for them there.  Their father, John, is a huge, strong man who sometimes will enter into a prize fight to earn some money.  He once worked as an enforcer for Mr. Price, the evil landlord of the story.  While there’s a violent side to John, there also is a very gentle one.  Their secluded life is fractured when Price starts questioning their right to remain on this land.

I’m feeling very conflicted about how I feel about this book.  So many parts of it are 5 stars for me.  And yet I’m left with too much confusion.  I usually don’t mind a book that doesn’t tie up all the loose ends.  But this one just leaves me with far too many questions.  It’s almost skeletal in nature, the bare bones of the story.  And yet I couldn’t tear myself away, compulsively wanting to know more.  I think I would like to re-read this book in time but read it with the knowledge that it’s partly a surreal fairy tale.  I think my first reading had too much of a realistic outlook and that’s why I was left hung up on many of the details.

It’s gorgeously written, intensely suspenseful and very moving.

Shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker Prize.

Recommended.

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

 

This cookbook will be used often

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Sweet Potatoes: Roasted, Loaded, Fried and Made Into Pie

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

Sweet potatoes are one of my very favorite foods and always have been.  So I was delighted to get a copy of this cookbook, featuring nothing but sweet potato recipes.

The book starts off with the basic cooking of sweet potatoes – steaming, roasting, boiling, pureed and fried.  The only recipe I’ve tried so far is the fries.  The author offers two recipes – the hard way and the easy way.  I have to admit I took the easy way and the result was delicious!  I know, all of these delicious recipes and the first thing I do is make fries!   But I had some veggie burgers that I wanted something good with and these were perfect.

Next up, I’ll be making Sweet Potato Risotto.  The book says that in this recipe, sweet potato puree flavors and lightens the risotto while keeping it saucy and reducing the amount of dairy traditionally used.  Sounds great to me!

And how can I resist Grilled Sweet Potatoes with Garlic-Maple Glaze?  And being a vegetarian, I have to try the Sweet Potato “Big Macs”.

There are so many of the breads and backed goods that I’ll be trying this winter, such as the sweet potato biscuits, maple pecan sticky buns and the cake donuts.  Oh, and the sweet potato waffles!

But is the book finished with all of that?  Of course not, there has to be dessert!  And such desserts they are:  Black-Bottom Sweet Potato Pudding Pie, Sweet Potato Ice Cream, Sweet Potato and Sherry Flan and Summer Fruit Cobbler.

There are quite a few recipes that contain meat which I won’t be making but there are plenty here for me to try.   Some of the recipes are a little daunting with ingredients that I’m not familiar with or needing certain appliances that I don’t have.  Also, not all of the recipes contain photos.  But the photos that are included are gorgeous.

I know sweet potatoes will make their way to my table a lot more than they used to!

Recommended.

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