Quite exceptional and destined to become a feminist classic


Women Talking by Miriam Toews

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

This book is based on a real-life event, which makes it all the more shocking.  Between 2005 and 2009, hundreds of girls and women were raped by eight men from the Mennonite colony they were all part of.  The men used an animal anesthetic to knock out their victims and then raped them.  At first, the women didn’t know they had been raped but only that they would wake up in the morning feeling exhausted with their bodies bloody and beaten.  They were told that ghosts or demons had done it as punishment for their sins or that they were lying or covering up adulterous affairs or that it was all in their imagination.  Very young children were included in these rapes, as well as elderly women.  Some of the women became pregnant.  In 2011, the accused men were convicted.  Even after the arrest of these eight men, the attacks still took place.

In Ms. Toews’ book, eight of the raped women meet in a hayloft to discuss what they should do to prevent themselves and their daughters from further harm.  Should they stay and fight or should they leave?  They had a window of opportunity as the men were off trying to raise money for the accused men’s bail.  These women were never told how to read or write and knew nothing about reading a map or where they could go.  They were told if they could not forgive these men, they could not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  So they had a lot to discuss.  If a women whose 3-year-old child had been raped couldn’t forgive in her heart, wasn’t it a worse sin to say she forgave the men even if she didn’t mean it?  The women in this community were just commodities to these men and had no say in anything.  In reading this book, it was hard to believe that this happened in 2005-2009 and wasn’t something occurring centuries ago.

The author does such an excellent job of delving into the hearts and minds of these courageous women.  I felt their fear and their heartache and their confusion as to what they should do to make their lives bearable.  The suspense builds as the time for the men to return nears.  In trying to decide what they should do, they have lengthy discussions about religion and faith.  There were times they seemed to forget the urgency of their situation and lectured each other.  There’s some humor in this book, despite its dark subject.  It’s one of the most unique books I’ve ever read.  Don’t expect much of a plot as the book is just what the title says it is – women talking.  I think it was quite exceptional and destined to become a feminist classic.  Not all readers will like the format of this book but the emotional depth of this story is just astounding.

Most highly recommended.

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

Llandeilo Lit Fest Review: “The Peat Dead” by Allan Martin

Book review by fellow blogger, Christoph. Enjoy!


Today I’m reviewing another book featured in the forthcoming Llandeilo Lit Fest.

Five corpses are dug up by a peat-cutter in Islay. All of them have been shot in the back of the head, execution style.

Inspector Angus Blue and his team slowly piece together the little evidence they have, and discover the men were killed on a wartime base, over 70 years ago.

But there is a secret to be protected, even if it means killing again.

Allan Martin will be talking about his book in the Lit Fest session with Sally Spedding.

Hankering After History: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/hankering-after-history-tickets-57211305555

The novel unfolds slowly as we follow what appears to be a harmless historic find of dead bodies. Characters in the investigative team become familiar to us readers while we are in an early and almost unsuspicious stage of the investigation. The interplay of the present day detectives and their chemistry with…

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Heart-breaking, compassionate tragedy


The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted by Robert Hillman

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

Hannah has come to town and wants to open a bookshop though no one believes it will succeed.  She hires Tom Hope to help her build some shelves.  Tom recognizes a heart-broken person in Hannah as Tom is one himself.  His wife Trudy left him and took her son, Peter, with her.  Tom loved Peter like a son and he misses him dreadfully.  Hannah, well, Hannah has met with more grief than most when she was taken to Auschwitz.  Both of these broken-hearted souls will learn whether they can be healed or be haunted by their losses forever.

I was completely mesmerized by this beautifully written book.  I can see why this was compared to “The Light Between Oceans” because it had that same tragic, soul-wrenching quality to it.  This book just wouldn’t let go of my heart.  It’s filled with compassion for the human spirit and treats its characters with such a gentle, loving touch.  I loved Tom, Hannah and Peter and hated to part with them.  I read so many books and some I remember, some I don’t, but I know I will never forget this one.  Just gorgeous.

One added note of a part in the book that I loved.  It was Hannah’s goal for her bookshop to sell twenty thousand books, the exact number of books, many written by Jews, which were burned in Opernplatz, Berlin.  Such a wonderful example of turning something terrible into a thing of beauty.

Most highly recommended.  I absolutely loved it.

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


Perfectly delightful


Professor Chandra Follows His Bliss by Rajeev Balasubramanyam

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

Professor Chandra was sure he would win the Nobel Prize as an economist, but no, he misses it yet again.  Winning this prize has become a necessity for his happiness in his mind.  He’ll need to work harder next time.  But when he’s the victim of a bicycle hit and run, he begins to re-assess his life and work.  He focuses on his relationships with his children and ex-wife.  He’s been estranged from his oldest daughter for years.  He rarely sees his son who lives in Hong Kong.  His youngest daughter lives with the professor’s ex-wife Jean and her present husband Steve in Colorado.  So Professor Chandra embarks on a self-awareness journey.

This is a very humorous, delightful book that takes a look at some quite deep issues.  It’s not a laugh-out-loud type of book but rather prompts a chuckle now and then.  I found the Professor and his adventures to be very realistic and there were many times throughout the book that I just wanted to give him a hug.  For the past couple of years, I’ve been on a spiritual journey myself, leading me to the law of attraction, meditation, Reiki and qi-gong so I was very receptive of this author’s message.  Regardless of that, it’s quite an entertaining book.

Recommended – take a journey with Professor Chandra to make some uplifting discoveries for yourself.

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


A must read for true life crime readers


The Trial of Lizzie Borden by Cara Robertson

Book Review:  4 out of 5 stars

Most people are familiar with the murder that Lizzie Borden was accused of as there have been numerous books and movies based on it.  In August of 1892, Lizzie’s father and stepmother were brutally murdered in their home.  Lizzie was accused of the murder and the trial became a sensationalized spectacle.  People then and now all have different opinions of what happened that day in Fall River, Massachusetts.  Was Lizzie a guilty murderess or was she wrongly accused?

I have read many accounts of this murder and even saw a play based on it.  Ms. Robertson’s book is one of the most extensively researched and unbiased accounts I’ve read.  This most definitely does not read like a historical novel as well it shouldn’t, though never ceased to hold my interest.  This is a fact-based accounting based on Ms. Robertson’s twenty years of research.  The book itself ended at 65%, the rest being a list of notes detailing the source of almost every sentence in the book.


What I found the most impressive about the book was that the author includes much information about society at the time of the murder and the way people perceived women.  The men on Lizzie’s jury just couldn’t imagine a lady such as Lizzie committing such an atrocious act.  For a women to do what was done to these two victims, she would have had to have been a monster and that would have shown in her countenance.  The book also touches on what was thought to be the cause of “hysteria” in women.

The book not only covers the trial in detail but also the discussions that were taking place outside of the courtroom and newspaper accountings, as well as rumors.  Another plus is that the book is chock full of photos that help the details to life.

A must read for true life crime readers.  Highly recommended.

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


Lackluster collision of alternate realities


If, Then by Kate Hope Day

Book Review:  3 out of 5 star rating

Four neighbors begin to feel their worlds upend when they start seeing visions of either themselves or a deceased family member.  Mark is a devoted father whose visions of himself start him on a paranoid past to protect his family.  He’s also convinced that the local volcano Broken Mountain isn’t as dormant as others think.  His wife, Ginny, is a surgeon who hasn’t spent much time with her family.  She begins to think she has a brain tumor when she begins to see visions of herself apparently having a loving relationship with her female co-worker.  Samara is seeing visions of her deceased mother.  Cass is a young mother, struggling with taking care of a new baby while her husband is away.  She’d like to return to her scholarly work but she’s having visions of herself having another baby.

I’ve become quite interested in alternate realities and the law of attraction so I felt this book was a must read for me, but I definitely have been left with the feeling that something was missing.  I had difficulty becoming emotionally involved with these characters and found Cass and Ginny to be annoying.  Samara was my favorite character and I loved the scene where she goes to the thrift store where her father had taken all of her deceased mother’s things, gathering them up with the intent to buy them back.  She’s really the only character I felt any connection with.  The visions of the alternate realities was one thing but when the realities began to overlap, that sometimes became confusing.

This felt like a screenplay for an upcoming TV show and it may well work better in that capacity.  While it kept my interest throughout, I didn’t feel it was anything special and can only give this one 3 stars.

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


Powerful Russian saga


Zuleikha by Guzel Yakhina

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star review

Zuleikha lives with her abusive husband, Murtaza, and her mother-in-law (whom she thinks of as the Vampire Hag) in Soviet Russia in 1930.  Her life with them is a very hard one.  When communist soldiers come to take over their farm, her husband is killed and she’s sent to Siberia.  It takes them many difficult months on a train to get there, with many dying along the way.  The other survivors include a painter, a mind sickened doctor and the man who killed her husband, Commander Ignatov.  Together they begin to build a new life for themselves.

This is a powerful Russian saga, giving an immense overview of life under communist rule.  It covers such a wide range of political and religious issues.  This author is a master at painting an image of the world as it was then in Russia for dekukalized peasants.  I felt like I was watching a movie on a huge screen as I read this book.  The author is also a filmmaker so that may well be why the book has such a cinematic feel to it.  She doesn’t hold back on how brutal their lives were and there are some scenes that are horrific.  The only reason that I’m not giving this book a full 5 stars is that there were times when it dragged a bit for me and at times when the plot seemed to be a bit contrived.  But overall, it’s a wonderful read.  The characters were deeply portrayed and Zuleikha’s life is a heart wrenching one.


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


Beautifully written tale of a battle with nature and the evil of men


The River by Peter Heller

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

Two young men, Jack and Wynn, are the best of friends.  They complicate each other well.  Jack is a rugged, outdoors guy who was raised on a ranch in Colorado.  Wynn is a large man with a sweet, gentle soul.  They are both book lovers.  They’re enjoying a canoe trip down the Maskwa River in Canada, happily picking blueberries and fishing.  They’ve seen signs of a huge fire that’s on its way towards them but they have plenty of time.  That is, they did have plenty of time until they make the fateful decision to return to where they had heard a man and woman arguing in an effort to warn them of the oncoming fire.  They search for the couple but don’t find them.  The next day, a disoriented man comes down the river telling them that his wife has disappeared.  Has this man done something to his wife?  Or did the two drunk men they had also passed have something to do with this?  Should they return to the scene again to look for her with a devastating fire fast approaching?

Wow, this one certainly had my heart racing.  The dangerous predicament that these young men find themselves in is a suspenseful one.  But even more than that is the author’s brilliant characterization of Jack and Wynn.  These young men have always been on the same page about everything but now they are starting to see things differently and are starting to split apart.  Jack is suspicious of everyone and on the alert for danger, while Wynn believes the best of everyone and is harder to convince.   I absolutely loved both Jack and Wynn and took their divisiveness to heart.   I felt like I was riding down the river with them, even when they weren’t in the river themselves, as the author starts out leisurely describing beautiful landscapes and then the pace of the plot picks up faster and faster.  This is pure entertainment as we watch Jack and Wynn battle with nature and the evil of men.  I’ve read other books by this author and have loved each of them.  The author is a contributing editor to “Outside” magazine and “National Geographic Adventure” and has a deep understanding of nature and is expert in his depiction of it.

Most highly recommended.

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

Exquisite, poetical and utterly unique


The White Book by Han Kang

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

The narrator of this book doesn’t have a name in the book, although it’s no secret that this is an autobiographical work by this author and is a love letter to her long deceased older sister.  The book starts with a list of white items, including swaddling bands, newborn gown, snow, ice and shroud.  This book is a series of very short chapters consisting of meditation-like bursts of thoughts.  Running through these thoughts is the story of the author’s young mother whose first child died only a couple of hours after birth.  Throughout the years, the author has often thought of her sister and the grief that has never ended for her family.

The author not only writes about her sister’s death and the subsequent grief that death imposed upon her family but also writes in such beautiful detail of her sister’s two hours of life.  I think one of the most touching parts of the book is when the author speaks directly to her sister, telling her how much she would have loved having a big sister.

This book has been short listed for the 2018 Man Booker International Prize and I can certainly understand why.  Ms. Kang never fails to impress with the uniqueness of her work.  “The Vegetarian” and “Human Acts” are both books that I will never forget and wrench my heart just thinking about them.  I know that her newest book will be one that I will pick up again and will open randomly just to enjoy reading one of these lovely ruminations.   I read a review that referred to the author’s short chapters as prayers and I think that is totally appropriate.

Most highly recommended.

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

Failed to capture my heart


The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray

Book Review:  3 out of 5 star rating

Althea, Viola, Joe and Lillian were the Butler children.  The childhood was not the best as their mother died when they were young and their father was abusive but wasn’t around very much.  Althea was only 12 years old when she was left in charge of the family.  Their problems as children follow them into adulthood.  Althea is now middle age and is on trial, along with her husband Proctor, for food stamp fraud and taking money from their community members through their charitable works.  Althea and Proctor were highly regarded for all they did for the community so their fall from grace was difficult for them, their family and the entire community.  Their twin teenage daughters, Kim and Baby Vi, are living with Lillian, who has her hands full with them.  Viola is now a therapist but struggling with bulimia and is estranged from her wife.  And Joe – well, Joe has a lot to be regretful about.

This tale of a dysfunctional family and their demons and the effect of Althea and Proctor’s theft on the family and community failed to capture my heart.   I had absolutely no sympathy for Althea and Proctor and the mess they found themselves in.  While I did sympathize with the rest of the family, their plight seemed to be removed and I just read the book from a distance.  I just didn’t connect with the characters much at all.  I found some of the book repetitive and drawn out.  It wasn’t a terrible book and I kept reading to find out what happened.  There was one point towards the end of the book where I thought the book was finished but was surprised to see that it kept going.  I think it would have been a better ending a bit earlier on.  Maybe it was just me and from the reviews it does seem that I’m in the minority but I can’t give this book more than 3 stars nor can I recommend it.

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