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.

 

Memorable and touching coming of age saga

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This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

Young children are faced with a life that no child should have to face in a school for Native American children called the Lincoln School.  It’s Minnesota in 1932 during the Great Depression and Odie and Albert are orphans living at the school with the Indian children.  Albert tries and usually succeeds in following the rules but Odie is always at odds with the head of the school, who he calls “The Black Witch”.  Odie spends far too much time in the Quiet Room with his friend, Faria – a rat – and endures far too many beatings.  Their best friend is Mose, an Indian boy who is unable to speak.  As their situation becomes more and more unbearable, they break away in a canoe, taking little Emily.

Mr. Krueger is an author who writes from deep within his heart and it shows in every word of his books.  This book is reminiscent of “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and has that same sort of magic to it.  While this can be looked at as a simple story, four young children escaping an abusive situation and striving to find a home, it also has deep layers in it.  Odie struggles with his concept of God.  Is God good and loving or is God like a tornado?  Every time he has a slight chance at a better life, it’s taken from him.

The author also touches on the tragedy of the American Indians in his very special character, Mose.  Mose can’t speak because his tongue was cut out when he was too young to remember why.  While Moses travels with the others, he learns of an awful incident where over 30 Sioux natives were hung without a fair trial and he needs time apart from his non-native friends to absorb this side of his heritage.   I was unaware before reading this book that there were boarding schools like the Lincoln School where Native American children were sent to become more “civilized”.  They were forced to wear American style haircuts and clothing, were forbidden to speak their native language and their names were changed.  They were separated from their families who were living on reservations.

The author has included a large cast of colorful characters, such as Jack, who Odie nicknames the pig scarer, who has demons of his own to battle; Sister Eve, a faith healer traveling with the Sword of Gideon Healing Crusade; the Schofields and their daughter, Maybeth, who lights something new in Odie.

These four Vagabonds, as they refer to themselves, will always have a special place in my heart.  Most highly recommended.

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

Excellent new series by the author of “Vera”

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The Long Call by Ann Cleeves

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

Detective Matthew Venn’s father has died.  Venn is not welcome at the funeral so he stands outside.  His family is part of a strict religious sect and when Venn left that community, he also left his family.  Also, his mother blames him for his father’s death due to the shock of learning that Matthew married a man by the name of Jonathan Church.  Matthew and Jonathan are very happy together.  Jonathan runs Woodyard Centre that houses a day-care center, an artist colony and a counselling service center.

As he stands outside his father’s funeral, he’s called to the scene of an apparent murder.  Simon Walden was a resident of a home owned by Caroline, the daughter of a trustee of Woodyard Centre.  Caroline took Walden in when she learned that he was living with terrible guilt over a drunk driving accident which resulted in the death of a child.  Matthew is torn between investigating this murder or withdrawing due to the conflict of his husband’s affiliation with Woodyard Centre.

I’ve long wanted to read Ann Cleeves books since I very much enjoyed the TV series “Vera”.  When I saw that Ms. Cleeves was starting a new series, I knew this was the time to start reading her work.  This is a very slow paced mystery so if you’re looking for a lot of excitement, you won’t really find it here.  This author delves deeper than just setting up one thrill after another.  She writes from the heart and her characters are very human with all their faults.  I loved Matthew and Jonathan and Matthew’s sergeant, Jen.  And I loved the British seaside setting.  Matthew’s relationship with his family and Jonathan and the treatment of two young Down Syndrome girls are all handled with compassion.  The mystery turned out to a heart-wrenching one.  I’m looking forward to the next installment of this series and do hope it also makes it to the TV screen.

Recommended.

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

 

Melodramatic, gothic tale

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The Nanny by Gilly MacMillan

Book Review:  3 out of 5 star rating

After her husband’s untimely death, Jocelyn Holt has no choice but to move herself and her young daughter, Ruby, into her mother’s home at Lake Hall.  She hopes it’s just temporary because she and her mother have always had a difficult relationship.  When Jo thinks of her childhood, it’s her nanny, Hannah, who she remembers as giving her the love and care she needed.  But Hannah unexpectedly disappeared from Jo’s life and home when Jo was 7 years old and Jo has never gotten over the loss.  As soon as she was able to, she left her home and parents behind.  Now she’s returned home but things are tense between Jo and her mother.  Then Jo and Ruby find a human skull in the lake and the past is pulled into the present and Jo doesn’t know if she can trust her memories.

I found this one to be more of a gothic mystery in nature than a true thriller.  I literally cringed at some of Jo’s behavior towards her mother.  The only sensible one in the book was 10-year-old Ruby and I felt a lot of sympathy for her.  The story is told from several perspectives and the author does a good job of shifting the reader’s allegiances.  There is a certain point in the book that gripped me, mainly due to the horrible situations people can find themselves pulled into.  But then it races to the very distasteful, at least to me, ending.

An average book about an extremely dysfunctional family.

This book was won by me in a giveaway contest.

 

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Chris The Story Reading Ape’s Blog

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A fun, fast read

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The Escape Room by Megan Goldin

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

Vincent, Sam, Sylvie and Jules are at the height of their profession.  They have worked hard and their ambition knows no bounds.  They have received an email telling them that they are to meet for an escape room test.  They get into the elevator hoping that this won’t take long and they can get back to their busy lives.  But the elevator stops, the doors won’t open and the lights go out.  That’s when they realize that this isn’t a game and they’ll have all they do to survive. But these four people have always been dangerously competitive and the stress and fears from their confinement are soon combustible.

This was a fun, fast read.  Although some of the plot didn’t come as a surprise to me and the book didn’t get my heart racing, I enjoyed the story.  It was like watching a train heading for a wreck – you knew there was going to be a blow up scene and you couldn’t look away.  The author does a very good job of bringing her characters to life and slowly building the plot.  The only likeable characters were Sara and Lucy but it’s fun having Vincent, Sam, Sylvie and Jules to despise.  And such an excellent moral lesson is in this book.  Watching these people claw their way to the top with the only goal being to make more and more money was sickening.  They worked so many hours, they never had a chance to enjoy what they were earning.  Completely crazy but the author ensures that her characterizations are believable.  She takes great care to show how these people got to where they are. The scenes in the stuck elevator are the best parts and the author has great fun getting these four ruthless people to turn against each other even more as their suspicions and distrust grow.

Recommended.

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

 

Wonderful collection of unique short stories

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We Love Anderson Cooper by R.L. Maizes

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

A young girl’s father dies and her mother gives her a parakeet to cheer her up but that only worsens her feelings of loss.  A young boy decides to use his bar mitzvah as the time to come out about being gay.  A struggling artist turns to doing tattoos which are more real than usual.  A Jewish man struggles with his jealousy of his cat’s affections for his Christian girlfriend and her desire to celebrate Christmas.  A cat named Grievous makes a profound impact on her family.  A therapist finds a couch for her office that does a better job than she does.  Petal and Tanner are two dogs that are sorely missed by their owner.

I couldn’t have been more impressed with these wonderful, unique short stories.  Many of the stories have pets as a focal point.  The author uses these conflicts caused by pets as a fascinating way of exploring grief, loss and jealousy.  Another theme the author uses in these stories is that of being an outsider.  Some of these stories are humorous, some are tragic and some are pure magic.  The last line of the last story, “Ghost Dogs”, quite literally tore my heart in two.  I just sat there stunned.  This isn’t a book I requested but it found its way to me anyway and I’m so glad it appeared one day.  Thank you, Celadon Books, for sending me this lovely book.  I will treasure it always.

Most highly recommended.

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

 

Dark, gritty tale

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Bad Axe County by John Galligan

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

Heidi Kick’s parents were killed fifteen years ago.  The police said it was a murder/suicide incident but Heidi has never believed that.  She’s still looking to solve the mystery of her parents’ deaths.  Heidi is now acting as Interim Sheriff of Bad Axe County.  While people think she’s doing a great job and want her to take over as fulltime Sheriff, there are many others who will do anything to stop that from happening.  There’s now a missing girl that Heidi is investigating, who most likely has been caught up in a sex-trafficking ring.  She’s also led to information of the disappearance of another young girl four years ago and is determined to find her, even if finding more about that disappearance implicates her husband, Harley.  All of that while facing a dangerous ice storm that’s headed their way and trying to find time for her husband and three children is a heavy burden for Heidi to carry.

This is a dark, gritty, intense, violent book dealing with some of the cruelest characters I’ve ever read.  At times, I thought, “No, this really isn’t my type of book at all”.  But then there was Heidi, the former Dairy Queen, in all of her brokenness and I had to love it and keep reading.  She was the heart of this book and made it an excellent one.  Bad Axe County was one horrible place to live and even Heidi often questioned why she would want to raise her children there.  The author is adept at character development and his depiction of the hard side of the human heart.  I absolutely raced through the final chapters.  I chose this book to read because one of my favorite authors, William Kent Krueger, said it was a dark, beauty of a book and he was right.

Recommended.

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

Not one of my favorite Oates’ books

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What I Lived For by Joyce Carol Oates

Book Review:  3 out of 5 star rating

A day in the life of Jerome “Corky” Corcoran is quite a day indeed.  It’s Memorial Day, 1992.  Marilee Plummer, a black woman who had recently accused a black city council member of raping her, has apparently committed suicide.  Corky doesn’t make any political friends when he calls for a full investigation.  Nothing’s going right for Corky.  He feels betrayed by his lover, his financial empire is in trouble and his troubled step-daughter is causing him grief.  Corky has never gotten over his father’s cold-blooded murder and he may soon discover some answers.

Joyce Carol Oates is one of my favorite authors but I can’t say that this is one of my favorite novels of hers.  It’s a very uncomfortable book to read and Corky is a very hard character to like.  He’s a womanizer, he’s patronizing, he’s conceited although he also hates himself, he’s racist and he has a horribly foul mouth.  I felt like I was being assaulted by the hard language used throughout this story.  On Corky’s behalf, he’s a self-made millionaire and has come a long way from his difficult start.  This book is over 600 pages (it’s a reprint, having first been published in 1994) and there were times I wasn’t sure I could spend any more time with this guy.  I’ve always known that Ms. Oates is a brave author and I think this is probably one of her bravest efforts.  But I’m not at all sure that Corky warranted such attention.  I wish I could have come to care about Corky.  The first chapter of this book is a heartrending one but it wasn’t enough for me to justify what Corky becomes as an adult.

This must be the first Joyce Carol Oates book that I didn’t love.  Sorry, Ms. Oates. I do appreciate the opportunity to read this work of a well-loved author.

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