Lacked the emotional impact expected from such a story

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Crimes of the Father by Thomas Keneally

Book Review:  3 out of 5 star rating

Father Frank Docherty seems to attract controversy. He’s a good man and a good priest but his beliefs are sometimes at odds with the Catholic Church.  He was banished from the Australian church in the sixties due to his religious beliefs and he truly wants to return to Australia and their church so he can be near his aging mother.  But events come about that bring him into direct confrontation with the same Cardinal he’s trying to win favor with.  He’s become aware of several incidents of child abuse by a now well-known and respected monsignor.  His conscience won’t allow him to turn a blind eye to these horrendous betrayals of trust.

I had a bit of a problem getting into this book.  In the beginning there are somewhat long essays about church dogma that I didn’t find particularly interesting.  There was nothing in there that was new to me.  And at times the book read almost like case studies instead of a novel.  I found the beginning to be quite dry and didactic.  It took a while for the character of Father Docherty to grow on me.  Certainly the stories of the child abuse and the way the church tried to cover it up were very shocking and disturbing.  But I wasn’t drawn into the story line until late in the book.  Once I was pulled into the story, I enjoyed it more.  I remember reading “Schindler’s List” with much more emotion than I did this one.  His newest book lacked the emotional impact that I had expected from such a story.

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

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The fierce bond of family

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Fear by Dirk Kurbjuweit

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

“I had always believed my father capable of a massacre. Whenever I heard on the news that there had been a killing spree, I would hold my breath, unable to relax until it was clear that it couldn’t have been him.”  (Wording may not appear the same in final published edition).

Randolph Tiefenthaler grew up with a father who had an extensive gun collection. Not only were the guns loaded but Randolph’s father had a bit of a temper.  Randolph always had a fear that one night his father would come upstairs and kill him and/or his brother.  Randolph is an adult now with a wife and children when his father is arrested for murder.  It all started when Randolph moved his family to a new building where Dieter Tiberius is living in the basement apartment.  Dieter is an odd character who turns into a menacing one when he starts to stalk Randolph and his family and accuses the parents of sexually abusing their children.

This is an excellent psychological thriller with deep insight into family bonds and the fears implanted in us as children that we continue to live with throughout our adult life. I’ve seen other reviews saying the author lectures about issues but I thought the whole book was fascinating.  I hung on every word and loved the buildup of suspense.  No one seemed to be able to help this family – not their lawyer, not the police and not children’s services.    At times I thought, just move away, but they hadn’t done anything wrong to lose their home, but since it involved children, I would have been out of there.  Regardless, I was quite impressed by this author.  Apparently, the book is loosely based on the author’s own experience with a stalker so he had firsthand knowledge of what this type of situation can do to a person.

The author is from Germany and he has written 8 novels, many of which, including this book, have been adapted for film, television and radio in Germany. “Fear” is the first to be translated into English.  I’ll be keeping an eye out for any others that will be translated in the future for sure.

I don’t usually give thrillers 5 star reviews as I reserve 5 stars for books that really have a profound impact on me. But in a way I think the book did have a profound impact on me as I’m still thinking about it though I’m writing this review weeks after reading the book.  This story showing how quickly our immediate world can become one that’s horribly distressful fills my thoughts throughout the days.  If you’re looking for a thriller with psychological insight, I highly recommend this one.

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

The Dangers of Superstition

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The Good People by Hannah Kent

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

Troubles have arrived at the Leahy home. When Nora and Martin Leahy’s daughter, Johanna, dies, they are left with their 4-year-old grandson to care for.  But Micheal is not as he was when they last saw him two years ago.  At that time, he was talking and walking and a normal little boy.  Now he’s unable to walk or even stand and he doesn’t talk.  He screams out in the night and flails his bent arms.  Nora sees nothing of her grandson in him but with Martin’s help, they care for him as best as they can.  But when Martin dies suddenly, Nora has difficulty dealing with her grandson and all of the other work now on her shoulders.  She hires a young woman, Mary, to come and help with the house and Micheal.

The entire town starts to have troubles. The cows aren’t producing much milk and the hens aren’t laying many eggs.  Could it be the fairy people (the Good People as they are known) who are causing their troubles?  Or is it the odd little boy, Micheal?  Is he a changeling left by the fairies?  Nora takes Micheal to Nance, the old woman who is known to have “knowledge” of the fairy world in the hope that she can bring back her “real” grandson who has been changed for this distorted version of Micheal.

I enjoyed this book very much. The author quickly creates a tense, unsettled atmosphere.  This Irish community in the 1820’s is inundated with superstition and folk lore.  They see signs in everything and their fears grow out of control.  The book is actually based on a real-life incident.

I’ve had the author’s first book, “Burial Rites”, on my TBR list for quite a long time but just have never gotten to it. I definitely will now.  This author reminds me of one of my favorite authors, Sharyn McCrumb, who writes of the people of the Appalachian Mountains with their own superstitions and knowings.

Recommended.

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

An average unreliable narrator book

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Best Day Ever by Kaira Rouda

Book Review:  3 out of 5 star rating

What a perfect husband Paul Strom is and what a perfect husband and provider. He’s happily married to the lovely Mia and has two sons.  They’re financially well off with no worries.  At least that’s what Paul would like you to believe.  He’s planned the “best day ever” for he and his wife by taking her to their lake house for a romantic weekend of wining and dining.  But how will that get away end?

The whole book encompasses one day in the lives of Paul and Mia. It’s a very easy to read and quick moving book and whenever I had to put the book down, I did look forward to picking it up again.  Paul is an easy character to despise.  The reader learns fairly early just how psychopathic Paul is and once you learn that, I felt that he quickly became very annoying.  I also had a hard time relating to Mia.  I also found the book to be too predictable with very few surprises.  I didn’t feel the wrap-everything-up-neatly ending was necessary as I had already “gotten it” from what had previously been told and felt it was just repetitive.

But it was a fun read and I’m glad I gave it a try. Maybe I’ve just read too many unreliable narrator books lately.  But if you enjoy this type of book and haven’t been overloaded yet with the unreliability aspect, then I think you’ll enjoy this entertaining book.

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

Quite a literary journey

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The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

This is the story of one man’s life. The book starts off when 16-year-old Catherine Goggin is thrown out of the Catholic Church because she’s pregnant and unwed.  Her family wants nothing to do with her and she’s forced to leave her home.   She travels to Dublin where she gives birth to a baby boy who is later named Cyril.  Cyril is the narrator of this book and it’s his life that the book follows.  Catherine gives up her baby and Cyril is adopted by Charles and Maude Avery.  Charles and Maude never abuse Cyril but don’t show him much affection either and constantly remind him that he’s not a “real” Avery.  This is the story of Cyril’s life-long search for identity.

 

Wow, this was quite a literary journey. I don’t believe I’ve ever given 4 stars to a book that I so often wanted to stop reading.  I was pulled into the story at the beginning and loved reading about Catherine.  And I loved young Cyril and his friend Julian.  However, it’s at this point that the author chooses to direct most of his story to the sexual desires of his characters.  And it’s not just the young Cyril and Julian who are young and curious but everyone they come into contact with.  At first I thought it was humorous and then I became bored with it and then I didn’t want to continue with the book any longer.  It went on and on for hundreds of pages.  I believe the author was trying to show the hypocrisy of Ireland’s sexually repressed society, causing all the people to constantly think and talk about sex.  But it was done in almost a comic manner that I didn’t care for.

But I’m very glad that I continued reading because the second half of the book was gorgeously written and full of heart. Cyril’s struggle with the secrecy of his homosexuality is told in such a forthright manner.  This is an epic novel that covers so much ground – the Catholic Church’s power over the people, society’s cruelty to homosexuals and their struggle to be accepted.  Cyril can be incredibly selfish and then again he can be incredibly compassionate.  He’s a conflicted man who the author completely brought to life.  The loves and tragedies of his life make for a compelling read.  The second half of this book more than compensated for the rocky first half.

Recommended.

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

 

Very well written and compelling novel

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Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

Elena Richardson has always played by the rules. She has a beautiful home in Shaker Heights, a loving husband and four teenage children.  She also has an inherited house that she rents out to those she feels can use a helping hand.  The top floor of the house is currently being rented by Mia Warren and her teenage daughter Pearl.  Mia is an artist and single mother whose nomadic life intrigues each of the Richardsons.

When friends of the Richardsons decide to adopt a Chinese-American baby, the resulting custody battle divides the Richardsons and the Warrens on opposite sides. Elena vows to unearth each and every one of Mia’s secrets.  Elena learns the hard way that playing by the rules doesn’t always ensure safety.

This is a very well-written novel and drew me in completely. I really felt a part of this story.  Each of the characters were alive in my mind and I cared about them.  The author has a wise view of the world and knows how to construct a great story.  I found the custody battle to be a very emotional one and couldn’t pull myself away until I found out how it ended.  The author expertly builds up the tension in the relationships between the Richardsons and the Warrens.  The book is absolutely riveting, the story complex and I loved it.  The only reason I couldn’t give it 5 stars was that I felt the reason for Izzy’s act at the end of the book to be unrealistic and her behavior overly dramatic.  It just didn’t feel right to me.

Recommended.

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

Fascinating novel based on the true story of the case of the Greenbrier Ghost

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The Unquiet Grave by Sharyn McCrumb

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

Sharyn McCrumb is a long-time favorite author of mine. Her ballad books are food for my literary soul, with her hauntingly beautiful tales of the Appalachian Mountains folklore. This time she’s veered away from those ballads with a historical novel based upon a true incident. There actually was a murder trial where the accused, Erasmus Trout Shue, was brought to trial for the murder of his wife, Zona Heaster Shue, based on the testimony of his deceased wife.  Zona’s mother attests to the fact that her deceased daughter appeared to her and told her how she was murdered, an autopsy was ordered and Trout Shue was brought to trial.  The murder took place in 1897.

The author has done a marvelous job of pulling out the facts from all of the folklore surrounding this murder. She researched census records, birth and death certificates, property records, maps and photographs and a long paper trail.  She brings these people back to life and I was completely captivated by their story.  The author lets her story be told alternately by Zona’s mother, Mary Jane Heaster, and by Shue’s attorney, James P.D. Gardner.  Interestingly, Gardner tells his part of the story to a psychiatrist while he’s confined to a mental hospital in 1930.  Gardner was the first black attorney to practice law in the State of Virginia and this is his most memorable case.

I would have given this fascinating account of such a very unusual trial 5 stars except for the quite lengthy examination of the checkered career of the lead prosecutor, W.P. Rucker. While I can certainly understand why the author wanted to include this since it’s of historic interest, that part dragged a bit for me.  My main interest in the book was the mother’s quest for justice for her beloved daughter’s murder.  I felt such empathy for her as she struggled with her fears for her daughter as she entered this obviously unstable marriage and her grief when her daughter’s life was so brutally ended.

Recommended.

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

A realistically written holiday road trip

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Start Without Me by Joshua Max Feldman

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star review

What would holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas be without family drama? This book covers one Thanksgiving Day in the lives of Adam and Melissa, two strangers who meet on this more-than-stressful-for-them day.

Adam is working in a bank and trying to live a sober life. He had been quite a successful musician but the life on the road and a broken love has led him to alcohol abuse.  He hasn’t spent a Thanksgiving with his family in years and although this is the year he really wants to try, he’s not sure he’s strong enough to get through the day without messing things up again.

Melissa is a flight attendant who has married into a rich family that she’s never felt a part of. She and her husband have had some recent difficulties and she knows a holiday with his family will be a stressful one.  Plus the secret she’s carrying is a difficult one to deal with.

I had my reservations about this book at first. I didn’t immediately connect with the characters and thought it was just going to be a road-trip book with two unlikeable characters trying to sort out their family issues.  And actually that’s what it is.  But it’s the mark of a talented author who can take that type of premise and turn it into such an emotional journey for the reader.  The author writes with a realism that is completely believable and human.  I realized that I didn’t have to like these characters or understand their decisions in life to connect with them. Their humanity touched me.   This author knows how to twist his characters around his readers’ hearts.

Recommended.

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

Dragged for me

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The Sinner by Petra Hammesfahr

Book Review:  3 out of 5 star rating

Cora goes to the lakeside to enjoy the sun and water with her husband and young son. There she inexplicitly stabs a man to death.  There are witnesses and Cora’s own confession but the police commissioner does his own investigation into Cora’s past, uncovering secrets even Cora has trouble remembering.

I, like many others, was pulled in by the trailer for the USA mini-series starring Jessica Biel. I figured the book had to be good to have been made into a TV series.  But it really dragged for me and I can’t count the times that I thought of putting the book down for good.  But something kept making me pick it up.

This is yet another unreliable narrator book. Sometimes Cora admits to the reader that she’s lying but sometimes she’s not even sure if she’s lying.  So it’s a bit hard to follow what’s happening.  Events are gone over again and again, each time a little bit differently.  The book has its merits as the story is quite unique and I didn’t see the reveal coming.  I’ve recorded the TV series and will probably watch it even though I now know what’s going to happen.  I’m not sorry I read it but I really didn’t find it as gripping as described.

Moving and disturbing

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The Child by Pascale Kramer

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

Claude is a former gym teacher who is battling cancer and losing. He lives in a low-income neighborhood with his wife, Simone.  There has been rioting in their neighborhood with the constant sound of police sirens.  There isn’t much calm inside their home either as they each in their own way try to adjust to the end of Claude’s days.  It’s just the two of them until a young boy comes for a visit and throws everything into even more discord.

The author doesn’t flinch at describing the horrors of a death from cancer. That and the effects of his decline on those around him make for a very disturbing read.  But as in her book “Autopsy of a Father”, Ms. Kramer writes in such a poetical manner that her books are beautiful to read despite the subject matter.  This is an in depth look at the end of a marriage as a result of death that I know will stay with me for some time to come.  It’s a short book, only about 150 pages, and I hope to read it again one day, not so much as to know what happens in the book as I already know that but just to enjoy the writing again.

Recommended.