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.

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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”.

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.

 

A quiet book with a powerful message

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Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

Sentaro feels like such a failure.  He’s working in a little confectionary shop when all he wants to do is become a writer.  He drinks too much and the shadow of his time in prison hangs over him.  He spends his days making mediocre dorayaki, a sweet composed of two little pancakes filled with sweet bean paste.  One day he has a visit from an elderly woman, Tokue, who wants to work for him.  When he tastes her dorayaki, he knows he must learn her sweet bean paste secrets.  Their friendship grows until society’s prejudice cause their lives to change.

This is a slow, beautiful book that I absolutely loved.  It touched my heart in so many ways.  A part of the book explores a chapter of Japanese history that was so dark and sad but the book really isn’t a dark, sad book but rather is very uplifting and inspiring.  This a profound story about the meaning of everyday life that brought me to tears but with a smile on my face.  Gorgeous book that I’d love to read again one day.  I’m going to see if I can get my hands on a copy of the movie, which is called “Sweet Bean”, as I would love to see it.

Oneworld Publication is fast becoming one of my favorite publishers.  There was a list of some of their books on the last page of this ebook and I realized that the list included some of my best-loved books of 2017, including “They Know Not What They Do” by Jussi Valtonen, “The Temptation To Be Happy” by Lorenzo Marone, “The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman” and “The Postman’s Fiancé” by Denis Theriault.  Now I can add this book to that list from a publisher who has a knack for finding unique, one-of-a-kind authors.

Most highly recommended.

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

This is literature at its best

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One Station Away by Olaf Olafsson

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

Magnus is a New York City neurologist.  He’s had three women in his life who have had a profound effect on him – his mother, Margaret, who is a pianist who has finally found fame; his fiancé whose time with him is far too short and one of his patients who is comatose.  The author expertly weaves the stories of these three women into a compelling and masterful book.

The gorgeously told love story between Magnus and Malena touched my heart and then broke it.  Their relationship is brought so vividly to life.  The author’s delving into the relationship between Magnus and his parents is told meticulously and expertly and I could feel his confusion and longings so clearly.  I found the medical studies concerning Magnus’ patient to be fascinating and suspenseful.  In each area of Magnus’ world, the author brings us his powerful and insightful interpretation.

I’m looking forward to reading more of his work.  Mr. Olafsson is the Vice President of Time Warner and is best known for his introduction of PlayStation while working at Sony.   I wish he’d devote all of his time to writing but there are a few past books of his already published that I’ll be getting soon.

Most highly recommended.

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

A powerful, moving novel

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They Know Not What They Do by Jussi Valtonen

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

Joe Chayefski is a highly respected American neurologist. At the beginning of his career, he moved to Finland to marry the woman he loved.  They had a child, Samuel.  But Joe has difficulty adjusting to Finnish life and work.  When his marriage falls apart, he returns to the US, leaving his ex-wife and child in Finland.  His work flourishes in the US and at the present time, he’s married with two daughters.  Animal activists start targeting Joe and his family and it appears that his estranged son, Samuel, may be involved.

This is a many-layered novel which I can’t praise enough. There are all of the social issues it addresses – animal testing and activism, the dangers of social media and internet news and the futility of trying to fix the world but still the need that steps must be taken.  And then there are the in-depth characterizations that Mr. Valtonen has created.  He bares his characters’ hearts and souls to the world.  As Joe struggles to save his work reputation, to protect his family from the violence directed at them by animal activists and to protect his daughters from the internet dangers they’ve been exposed to, the author then turns his readers’ attention to Samuel and his mother, showing the other side of the coin.  To watch these characters’ actions that lead them deeper and deeper into misunderstanding is absolutely riveting.

Animal testing is an issue close to my heart and I find it hard to read bout. Thankfully, this novel, while it delves deeply into both sides of the issue, doesn’t go into specifics about the testing being done.

This is the first of Mr. Valtonen’s novels to be translated into English and I am now longing for his others to be translated.

Most highly recommended. This may well be my top read of the year that has been filled with wonderful books.

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

Entertaining but without the emotional punch promised

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The Goddesses by Swan Huntley

Book Review:  3 out of 5 star rating

Things haven’t been too great for Nancy and her family. Her husband has cheated on her and her teenage sons are lighting illegal fires. It’s time for a change. Their move to Hawaii is an effort to make a fresh start. And things do seem a bit better there. Nancy and her husband have some romantic evenings and she’s hopeful that their relationship has a chance. She begins a yoga class where she meets Ana. Ana is very different from Nancy. She isn’t married, has no children and is a free spirit. Nancy is quickly pulled under Ana’s spell. Instead of calling her Nancy, Ana calls her Nan, which is the letters of the alphabet contained in both of their names – ying and yang. But as their friendship grows and Nancy is pulled more completely into Ana’s world, things take a darker turn.

The blurbs I read about this book promised an emotional punch but I never became emotionally involved in this book at all. I didn’t care about any of the characters and found the two women to be quite annoying. The story does pick up towards the end and I found some interest in it. I was saddened to see the teenage boys taking the brunt of their parents’ poor choices. Overall to me it was an average book with some entertainment value.

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

Positive approach on aging

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Ageless Soul:  The Lifelong Journey Toward Meaning and Joy by Thomas Moore

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

Thomas Moore has written a very compassionate and optimistic book on aging and how to do it well. He points out that it’s not just our bodies that age but also our soul.  And while our bodies may have its limits when it gets older, our soul knows no limits and can mature and improve throughout our lives.

We have all of our past ages now residing in our soul. We have a youthful soul that it’s important to stay in touch with.  We need to keep those souls in harmony, not too much of an old soul, but not too much of a young soul either.  We’re not a complete person if we not retain each of the ages of our soul.  We start our aging process as soon as we’re born and we need to continue to build our character as we age.   Some of us only age physically, while our soul remains stagnant and never really develops.  We need to remain open to new opportunities and learning and how to connect with others.

Mr. Moore writes about how older people can become “elders” and help mentor the young. That’s something that seems to be missing in our society.  It’s a youthful society and the merits of learning from the wisdom of its elders is not as important as it once was.

We need to embrace the experience of growing older instead of dreading it. Mr. Moore has written a beautiful book that can be referred to again and again throughout our lives.

Recommended.

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