Quite exceptional and destined to become a feminist classic

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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.

Heart-breaking, compassionate tragedy

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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

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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.

 

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

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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

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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

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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.

Lovely story about living life to its fullest

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The Secret of Clouds by Alyson Richman

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

When tragedy strikes the City of Kiev in Ukraine, Katya and Sasha are blissfully unaware of what is happening to their world.  All they know is that the days are unusually warm and the water is like a bath and they delight in it.  Years later when their son, Yuri, is born in America, they learn that unseen forces from that long ago time has caused their baby to be born with a heart condition.  He needs to be protected from germs so is unable to attend school.  A young, dedicated teacher Maggie is asked to tutor Yuri but at first is reluctant to do so because of childhood memories that still cause her pain.  But when she meets Yuri, she gladly agrees to teach him as she knows she has met someone who will be very special in her life.

This lovely book truly touched my heart in many ways.  There’s the love story of Katya and Sasha and Katya’s dream of becoming a ballerina.  There’s the story of Katya and Sasha who come to America as immigrants with so much hope for the future, only to learn of their child’s illness.  There’s the story of Maggie as a young girl who suffered a loss she never is able to leave behind her.  There’s the story of the grown up Maggie whose soul rejoices every time she walks into her classroom and faces the children she cares so much for.  But most of all there’s the story of Yuri, whose soul refuses to bend under adversity and who teaches all around him how to live each day to its fullest.

This is the first book I’ve read by Alyson Richmond.  She’s a writer whose poetic side shines throughout her work.  The ending is one of the most touching I’ve ever read.  I can only wish that my own grandsons will always have teachers as dedicated as Maggie.

Recommended.

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

 

 

Addictive, well-written thriller

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The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

Alicia Berenson is a famous painter.  Her husband, Gabriel, is a well-known fashion photographer.  They have it all and Alicia loves her husband.  That’s what makes it hard to understand why she would have shot him five times in the face.  Alicia hasn’t spoken a word in years and has never explained why she did this terrible act.  Theo Faber is a criminal psychotherapist who is determined to help heal Alicia and to get her to talk about the murder.

OK, I never saw THAT ending coming!  Quite an interesting book that moves along quickly.  I became very engaged in the story and liked the characters.  I can’t say it was very suspenseful because it’s one of those books that’s more interested in the “why” since we already know the “who” and the “what” but the mystery certainly held me in its grip.  This debut author knows how to captivate his audience and I think this may well be a huge success when it’s released next February.   I definitely want to see how the movie is handled (yes, the film rights have already been snatched up, by an Oscar-winning producer no less) and will be on the lookout for what this author writes next.

Addictive, well-written thriller.  Recommended.

I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway.

Quite an entertaining, charming book

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Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

L. Frank Baum wrote a book that would prove to be one of the most beloved books of all times, “The Wizard of Oz”.  What child doesn’t know this magical story?  This new book by Dorothy Letts tells the story behind the story of the Land of Oz.  The book centers on Maud Gage Baum, Frank’s wife, and fluctuates between the childhood and life of Maud starting when she was 10 years old in 1871 and the time period when the movie with Judy Garland was filmed and released.

Not only was Maud the daughter of a well-known suffragette, she was also one of the first few women admitted to Cornell University.  When she met Frank Baum and fell in love, her degree no longer mattered and off she went with him as the wife of a traveling actor.  Frank was a wonderful husband and proved to be just as wonderful a father to their four sons.  What he wasn’t too successful at was making money.  Though their life was lived frugally, Maud and Frank and their sons were happy and content.  Frank always was able to enrich their lives by his entertaining antics.  He was a dreamer and always dreamed of a better life for them.

The section of Maud’s involvement with the filming of the famous movie and her protective feelings for Judy Garland was very entertaining, though I’m not sure how factually accurate it was.  Regardless, I found this part of the book fascinating, filled with little tidbits about the actors and Hollywood.

The best part of the book is seeing how bits and pieces of Maud and Frank’s lives ended up in his book.  I thought that was very clever of the author and apparently is based on historical fact.  I’ve gotten away from historical fiction but knew I wanted to read this one since I love the movie so much.  I’m glad I requested it as it was very enjoyable and in the telling of the background of a magical story, it was quite magical itself.

Recommended.

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

 

A deeply satisfying, gripping tale

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The Lost Man by Jane Harper

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

The Bright brothers are overseers of a vast amount of land in the Outback in Queensboro.  The land is extremely hot, unforgiving and dangerous and no one leaves home without a large amount of supplies.  When one of the Bright brothers, Cameron, doesn’t come home one day after supposedly going out for a repeater mast repair, an alert is put out.  He’s found dead at the foot of the stockman’s grave, which is a great source of legend in the area.  Cam’s brothers, Nathan and Bub, cannot understand why Cam would have left his car, which was fully stocked with emergency supplies, to walk 5.5 miles, which he knew would be a death warrant.  Cam has left behind their mother, Liz, his wife, Ilse, and two young daughters, all of who are devastated and confused.  This has all happened right before Christmas.  While the police and others believe this to be a suicide, doubts and suspicion abound among family members and threaten to tear them all apart.

I was completely glued to the pages of this book.  It’s a fascinating tale and the author is an expert at making her characters come alive.  Not only that, but what a forbidding area this took place in, one where your life depended on having enough water and air conditioning to survive.  It’s a land that could be hated but also loved for its stunning beauty.  The author has created a dark, suspenseful atmosphere that is completely riveting.   This is a slow burning, heart breaking book that blew me away.  It’s not only the mystery of Cam’s death that was fascinating but also the relationship of Nathan and his teenage son Xander and Nathan’s complicated history with Cam’s widow, Ilse.  And then there’s their mother, Liz, who loves them all so dearly.

A deeply satisfying, gripping tale that I most highly recommend.

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