Powerful look at what our future may hold

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The End of the Ocean by Maja Lunde

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

This book is set in two different timelines.  In 2019, 70-year-old Signe has spent her life as an activist on environmental issues.  A majestic glacier is now being mined for its ice to be sent to the rich to put in their drinks.  Signe performs an act of courage and takes off to the sea, on her way to confront the love of her life whom she hasn’t seen since she was a young girl.  She has precious cargo on board.

In 2041, David and his little girl, Lou, have fled a terrible fire.  They’ve been separated from David’s wife and baby son and are trying to find them.  Europe is in the midst of a terrible drought and there is little water to be found.  David and Lou find an old sailboat and dream of setting off to sea.  However, their connection to the past doesn’t end with the finding of the boat.

I was held in this novel’s grip from the first word to the last.  I cared deeply about each of these characters and the different worlds they found themselves living in.  The book is very well written and the story is profound and heart wrenching.  I well remember this author’s first novel, “The History of Bees”, and knew I would also love her newest.  I pray that Ms.  Lunde’s words will reach the hearts of its readers and will make a difference in our future.  This is the second book in a quartet of novels that Ms. Lunde is writing about the environment and I’m very much looking forward to the next one.

Most highly recommended.

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

 

Languid like a warm Caribbean beach

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Saint X by Alexis Schaitkin

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star review

7-year-old Claire and her older sister, Alison, are on vacation with their parents on the Caribbean island of Saint X.  On their last evening there, Alison disappears.  Days later, her body is found and the police arrest two local men, Clive and Edwin.  Clive and Edwin are soon released as there is not enough evidence to hold them.  So the family comes home.  Years later when Claire is an adult and living in New York City, she runs into Clive.  Claire becomes obsessed with learning the truth of what happened to Alison and she starts to follow Clive around the city.  She’s sure that someday he’ll make a mistake and the truth will be known.

This is the type of book that, while it tells a very interesting story, it’s not the story itself that makes it special but rather the telling of the story.  The author has a wonderful way of bringing her reader right into the hearts and minds of her characters.  Each of the characters has their own tale to tell and even the characters who only make a brief appearance have their chance to share their views.  There are a lot of layers to this intelligent book and I absolutely loved it.  It’s a slow moving, beauty of a book, languid like a warm Caribbean beach, but keeps lovingly pulling you along.

Keep an eye on this debut author.  She’ll be going far for sure!

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

Implausible but lots of fun!

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29 Seconds by T.M. Logan

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

It has not been an easy road for Sarah.  Her boss, Alan Hawthorne, has been sexually harassing her, threatening that she’ll lose her job if she doesn’t sleep with him.  She’s worked long and hard and is deserving of an upcoming promotion.  Plus she’s not sure if her husband is ever going to come home to her and she has two children to support.  Sarah is not only up against Hawthorne but also his old boy network and Hawthorne’s advances have become more and more threatening.    One night she witnesses an attempted kidnapping of a little girl and takes steps to prevent it.  The little girl’s father turns out to be quite influential with some dangerous connections and believes he is now in Sarah’s debt.  He makes her an offer that’s hard for her to refuse.  A 29-second phone call is all that it will take to make all of her problems disappear.

I seriously could not stop turning the pages of this addictive thriller and flew through it in a day.  The position that Sarah found herself in with her boss was very believable and horrifying.  When it came to the attempted kidnapping and the little girl’s father’s offer, it did become quite implausible, at least to me, but I was still glued to the pages.   The author had me a bit fooled at the end and I thought, oh, no, don’t let it end like that!  The end twist is an ingenious one.  This is a well-constructed, suspenseful thriller.

Recommended.

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

An unbelievable foray into the mind of a serial killer

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The Only Child by Mi-Ae Seo

Book Review:  3 out of 5 star rating

Yi Byeongdo is a serial killer sitting on death row.  He hasn’t said much to anyone about the murders he’s committed and the police are anxious to learn just how many murders there were.  Unexpectedly, Yi Byeongdo has asked to be interviewed by a criminal psychologist by the name of Seonkyeong.  Seonkyeong has no idea why Yi Byeongdo has singled her out as she does not know him.

Seonkyeong has just been surprised by her husband with the arrival of his eleven-year-old daughter from a previous marriage, Hayeong.  There has been a fire and Hayeong’s grandparents with whom she was living have died.  Seonkyeong is anxious to help Hayeong feel at home but soon starts to feel out of her depth.  Seonkyeong starts to see quite a few similarities in the histories of both Yi Byeongdo and Hayeong.

I must say that I was disappointed with this one.  I have enjoyed the writing of other Korean authors and apparently Mi-ae Seo is a bestselling thriller author and screenwriter in Korea.  I just could not get into this story and found it to be written in quite a lackluster way.  There were moments when I thought, OK, here we go, but then nothing much happened.  For being a criminal psychologist, Seonkyeong’s thinking and decisions were disconcerting.  She should have known better in so many instances and that leant the book a feeling of unreality.  There were quite a few unbelievable incidents in the book.  While the author did a good job of weaving the separate storylines together, all I could think at the ending of the book was “You have to be kidding”.

Hopefully this book will find an audience that will love it but it’s not one that I can honestly recommend, even though it did have its moments.

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

 

A powerful, mesmerizingly sad book about a pedophile and his victim

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My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

Vanessa Wye is 15 years old in 2000.  She’s insecure and naïve and oh so young.  She’s an easy target for her teacher, Jacob Strane, who is 42 years old and a pedophile.  While Strane carefully grooms Vanessa towards his ultimate goals, Vanessa is convinced that her actions are consensual and that this is what she wants.

Switch to 2017.  The “Me Too” movement is in full swing.  A former student has accused Strane of abuse.  He’s counting on Vanessa to back him up.  Vanessa assures him that she will since she has always believed that she was the instigator of their affair.  As she reaches back into her memory and reads of the new allegations against Strane, her perceptions and beliefs of the past subtly start to shift.

Wow, just wow.  What a powerful, mesmerizingly sad book this is.  My heart bled for Vanessa as I watched her heart and soul open itself to this abusive man.  She just wanted to feel special, to feel beautiful, to feel loved.  Strane took advantage of that desire and brought such devastation and confusion into Vanessa’s life.  I’ve read reviews saying that this book looks at whether this situation should be considered abuse if it’s consensual, but I truly don’t see how anyone could believe that this was consensual on Vanessa’s part.  Strane wouldn’t stop even as she lay there crying.  She was manipulated into believing this was what she wanted.  Every word that Strane said to her, every look he gave her, every caress he risked was to bring this young girl around to his thinking.  He even used the books he was teaching to convince her of how “special” she was.

Most highly recommended.

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

 

 

Deep, heart wrenching tale

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The Innocents by Michael Crummey

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

A young brother and sister, Evered and Ada Best, are only 11 and 12 years old when they are left as orphans when a devastating illness takes their parents and baby sister.  Their dilemma is made worse by the fact that they live in an isolated cove in Newfoundland.  Their contact with and knowledge of the outside world has been minimal.  Their parents were taken ill so quickly that they were unable to prepare their children to survive in this desolate place.  They know that a ship named “The Hope” comes once a year and that their father took his boat out to the ship with his yearly fish catch and returned with supplies.  Now the young boy is in the position of providing for himself and his sister with little knowledge of how to do that.  They soon learn how in debt to the owner of “The Hope” they are.

This is much more than a book about survival.  It’s a deep look at family and loyalty.  I’ve seen comparisons to Charles Dickens’ work and this story.  The imperiled, hungry children, the colorful characters they come into contact with and the brilliant writing make it easy to see why.  This author is a poet and the language he uses is just lovely.  He adds quite a few quaint Newfoundland phrases that I wasn’t familiar with but enjoyed.  It’s truly heart wrenching to read of the ebb and flow of the relationship between this brother and sister over the years and the battles they faced, not only with the world around them but with each other.  I will now be on the lookout for other books from this excellent author.

Most highly recommended.

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

 

 

Spending time with old friends

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The Old Success by Martha Grimes

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

A beautiful French tourist is murdered, her body washed up on the Cornish coast.  Two little girls find her body.  Divisional Commander Brian Macalvie doesn’t know what to make of it.  While he and Inspector Richard Jury start their investigation, two more murders occur.  Macalvie and Jury turn to Tom Brownell.  Brownell is retired now but he’s known for solving every case, but one, that he worked on.  Brownell is convinced that the murders are connected.  Will this be the second case that Brownell doesn’t solve?

There’s nothing better than spending time with old friends.  This is the 25th Richard Jury mystery that Ms. Grimes has written, with the first one having been published in 1981.  I’ve read every one of them, including a couple of her standalones.  The mystery always seems to be almost insignificant as its Grimes’ characters that draw me to her books.  She has written some of the most loved, eccentric and humorous characters I’ve ever read.  I was in stitches in this current book when Melrose Plant brings in a young boy who he tells Aunt Agatha is a blood relation and Aunt Agatha squirms from the thought that she might not inherit everything after all.  I love this author’s wry sense of humor.  I do think that it would be wise to read from the start of this series to get the full benefit of the development of these characters.  A new reader starting with this one may feel a bit lost without the backstory.

Recommended.

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

 

 

More erotica than literary

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The Girl at the Door by Veronica Raimo

Book Review:  2 out of 5 star rating

A nameless 6-months pregnant woman is finding her place in Miden.  Miden is a future society that has grown out of “The Crash”.  The woman lives with her nameless boyfriend, who is a professor.  One day the woman receives a visit from a young girl who claims that she once had a violent relationship with the woman’s boyfriend while the girl was his student.  The girl has made a complaint to those in charge of Miden and they are taking testimony and deciding whether the boyfriend should be banned from Miden.  In alternating chapters, the woman and man reflect on their relationship.

This book is being publicized as literary fiction.  I would place it more in the erotica genre, and low class erotica at that.  The language is consistently and needlessly obscene as are the sex scenes.  I don’t consider myself a prude and believe that sexual scenes can have a powerful effect when done properly.  However, this is more of a case where the story is just an excuse for writing trashy scenes.

I really did try to ignore the language and look beneath that for something of substance but was unable to find it.  I was fooled by the literary fiction description, by the fact that it has been bought for a TV series, by the fact that it was felt good enough to translate into English from Italian, and by reviews such as this:  “this uncompromising, fiercely intelligent novel confirms the moral usefulness of serious art”.  Maybe it was just me.  I’ll give it two stars because there were short sections involving the pregnant woman when she was talking about the baby that I found interesting.  But this is not one that I can recommend.

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

 

THIS is why I love to read!

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Pursuit by Joyce Carol Oates

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

Abby Hayman has not had an easy life.  When her parents disappeared when she was 5 years old, she went to live with an aunt, who had troubles of her own.  Abby grew up confused by her memories of things she had been too young to understand.  She has a recurring dream of walking in a field of skeletons, which she finds completely terrorizing.  She’s 20 years old now and has just married William Zengler, a devout Christian who is madly in love with her.  That makes it all the more difficult to understand why she steps out into traffic the day after her wedding when she was so happy to be William’s bride.  Was it an accident or a suicide attempt?

The first two pages of this book proves, once again, that Joyce Carol Oates is a master at her craft.  Those pages were so chilling and pulled me right into this compelling, heartbreaking tale.   This is a very intense, dark story with some extremely brutal moments.  It’s more of a novella at only 144 pages, but Ms. Oates knows how to make every word count.  It punches your heart with a powerful emotional wallop.  Ms. Oates writes compassionately about the long term effects of war on soldiers and the devastating effect of violence on a family.  This one is going to haunt me for a long time to come.

Most highly recommended.

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

Tender story of a mismatched pair of relatives

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Akin by Emma Donoghue

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

Noah Selavaggio will soon be turning 80 years old.  In celebration of this milestone birthday, he’s making plans to visit Nice where he was born.  He’s discovered some old photos taken by his mother that are quite puzzling and he hopes to find some answers in Nice.  However, just days before he leaves, he receives a phone call from a social worker asking that he temporarily take care of an 11-year-old boy, Michael, who is his great-nephew.  Noah has never met Michael but he’s the closet relative the boy has other than his mother who is in prison and his aunt whom they’re having trouble reaching.  Noah well remembers Michael’s father, Vincent, and feels obligated to take Michael along with him to Nice.

This book is on quite a different level than the other Emma Donoghue books that I’ve read.  There’s a lot more humor in this one and I enjoyed the witty sparring between this unlikely pair.  Michael is very foul-mouthed and can be quite obnoxious but knowing the life he’s led, his character is very believable.  I admired the patience Noah shows Michael but then again Noah also knows about loss.  He still has long talks with his deceased wife.  Both of these characters are brought to life with compassion and understanding.  Noah’s mother’s photos lead them on a hunt for the truth that is quite a heart wrenching one and made the book quite compelling.  Could it be that Noah’s beloved mother was a Nazi collaborator?

Recommended.

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