Falls short

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Panorama by Steve Kistulentz

Book Review:  3 out of 5 star rating

This book tells the story of the lives of those involved in an airplane crash in Dallas and their families and friends, both before, during and after.  It’s New Year Eve, 2000.  There’s quite a large cast of characters, including Richard MacMurray, who is a cable news talking head, and his sister Mary Beth and her young son, Gabriel.  Richard has just broken up with his girlfriend, Cadence, and is at a bit of a loss without her.   Mary Beth has decided to take a short vacation with her boss/lover Mike in the hopes that they can discuss their future together, if any.  She leaves her 6-year-old son Gabriel in the care of Sarah, one of Mike’s assistants, at Mike’s home.

The author lets it be known right at the start that there’s to be a crash.  My hope in the book was that I would be caught up in the lives of these characters with the dread of the upcoming incident hanging over each chapter.  But I never did get very involved in the characters’ lives and actually had a hard time concentrating on the book.  There’s quite a bit about Richard’s work and the stories he talked about on TV, but again I really didn’t find much interest in them.  I found some of the language and sexual scenes useless and tasteless.  The characters I cared the most about were Mary Beth and her son Gabriel.  I think the best part of the book was contained in the last thirty or so pages when Richard grapples with the decision of taking on the care of his nephew Gabriel.

I think this author has promise but his debut falls short.

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

 

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Fascinating feminist fable

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The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

Grace, Lia and Sky have been taught by their parents to fear men.  Their father, King, has taken them to an isolated location and has surrounded the area with barbed wire and has put buoys out in the water.  He doesn’t want anyone to enter, nor does he want his daughters to leave.  The world outside of their safe haven has become a violent one, with men turning against women.  The women in the outside world are growing ill from the toxins of that world and sometimes make it to their shores where the sisters’ mother gives the ill women the water cure.  Grace, Lia and Sky all undergo therapies to keep them safe.  Their father and mother are obeyed without question.  But when King disappears, two men and a young boy wash ashore.  The sisters have no way of knowing whether they will survive this new threat.

I’m amazed that this is the author’s debut novel.  She has the heart of a poet.  This book reads like a fairy tale, the kind that sends chills up your spine.  The life of these sisters just broke my heart.  The rituals and therapies they were forced to endure were without doubt cruel ones and it’s unclear as to their purpose throughout most of the book.  The author creates an atmosphere of constant tension and unease.  While some of the ending didn’t come as a surprise to me, there were points when I was quite taken back by revelations.  All questions aren’t answered but that didn’t matter a bit to me.  It’s a book that I will long remember and I’m sure it’s headed for quite a few literary prizes.

Hauntingly beautiful and most highly recommended.

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

 

A fun read until the end

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A Noise Downstairs by Linwood Barclay

Book Review:  3 out of 5 star rating

When Paul Davis discovers a friend of his trying to dispose of two dead women, his life is never the same again.  He’s struggling to recover from PTSD as a result of almost losing his life.  He’s depressed and having nightmares.  He decides that it might help him if he were to write the whole story down so his wife buys him an antique typewriter to work on.  But that doesn’t help his sleep much as he hears what appears to be the typewriter typing away by itself every night.  Is this the same typewriter that the killer made his victims type their apologies on before he killed them?  Are the victims trying to reach Paul?

This is the first book that I’ve read by this author.  I’ve heard quite a lot of good things about Mr. Barclay’s work so I was very pleased to get a copy of this book.  I thought it was such an interesting premise and I became engrossed in it.  Paul is just an everyday kind of guy who gets caught up in such a mess.  I cared about him and felt such sympathy for him.  I figured out what was happening quite early but that didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book.  What did detract from my enjoyment was the ending.  It didn’t sit right with me at all and just about ruined the whole book for me.    To the author’s credit, he did include a lot of twists and turns and kept the suspense level up there.  But I don’t know that I’ll be too quick to choose another book by this author.  Maybe I just expected more from what I’ve heard of his work.  The book was a fun read until the end.

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

 

Suspenseful, fascinating book

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I Was Anastasia by Ariel Lawhon

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

For fifty years, Anna Anderson fought to be recognized as Anastasia Romanov, who was believed to have been executed along with her father Tsar Nicholas, II, her mother Tsarina Alexandra, her three older sisters Olga, Tatiana and Maria, and her younger brother Alexei.  When a young woman was pulled from a Berlin canal three years after the execution and taken to a hospital, her body was riddled with terrible scars.  When she claims to be Anastasia Romanov, an identity battle erupts.

This turned out to be quite a suspenseful and fascinating book.  I’ve gotten away from reading historical fiction because today’s version often seems to be more fiction than fact.  Having had some knowledge of the Romanovs prior to reading this book, I do believe that this book contains more fact than fiction.  The author has done her research.  I think the author overcomplicated things a bit by telling Anna’s story in reverse, which made it hard to follow.  And it felt somewhat repetitive, although I can’t really blame the author for that as Anna’s life was somewhat repetitive, always staying with different people and always being questioned.

The author certainly brings this story to life and takes her readers on a fascinating journey.  Recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher in a Goodreads giveaway.

 

A touching, beautiful fable

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The Boy Who Belonged to the Sea by Denis Theriault

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

Two young boys have lost a parent and become close friends.  They create a magical undersea world where they can retreat in their dreams.  Luc longs to find his mother, whom he has been told committed suicide by drowning when he was a baby but he’s never believed that.  His has been a hard life with an abusive father.  His fantasies grow until his imagination begins to blur with his reality and the boys’ friendship is tested.

What a beauty this book is!  I first came to love this author with his books “The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman” and “The Postman’s Fiancée”.  “The Boy Who Belonged to the Sea” is the author’s first book and reading it has only increased my admiration of Denis Theriault.  He has such a delightful way of creating the most enchanting books I’ve ever read.  “Quirky” and “charming” have been used to describe his books but they are so much more than that.  His stories just wrap themselves around my heart and stay there.

Most highly recommended.

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

 

Amazingly creative look at life’s mysteries

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The Aviator by Eugene Vodolazkin

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star review

A bewildered man wakes up in the hospital and has no memory of past events or even his name.  His doctor tells him his name is Innokenty Petrovich Platonov.  The doctor urges Innokenty to write down all of his thoughts and feelings.  Those writings release a story of a young boy living in Russia in the early 1900’s, traveling through the Russian Revolution.  Some of these memories are blurry and he wonders if they’re real, especially since he starts to see signs of now being in 1999.

The above is a very bare bones description of the beginning of this complex book.  I hesitate to talk too much about plot as I don’t want to spoil this masterpiece in any way for anyone.  This book has so many layers and I read it slowly to absorb as much as I could.  I know I’ll want to read it again someday to find other layers that I may have missed in the first reading.  It’s a book that will make you think about whatever stands out for you.  Possibly it will be thinking about memory and how memories can be different between different people and how events stop being real immediately after happening but live on in people’s memories.  Perhaps it will have you thinking about getting older and the witnesses to your life dying so you begin to lose parts of your history.   The meaning of retribution is explored in a mind opening way.  It will definitely get you thinking about the importance of the written word and how it preserves history and memories.

Regardless of what this book gets you thinking about, it’s a powerful, moving story in and of itself.  It touched my heart in so many ways.  The life of Innokenty Platonov is one that I will never forget.  I’m not a talented enough writer to do justice to a book like this.  All I can say is that it profoundly affected me.

I have long loved Russian novelists and read all of the old Russian classics like “Crime and Punishment” by Dostoevsky and “War and Peace” by Tolstoy.  There was a period of my younger life when that was about all I read.  Now I have another beloved Russian novelist to look forward to and will be reading his book “Laurus” as soon as I can.

Most highly recommended.

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

 

Had the potential to be something beautiful but never made it

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The Pisces by Melissa Broder

Book Review:  2 out of 5 star rating

Lucy has inadvertently broken up with her long-time boyfriend.  She didn’t mean to suggest a separation but that’s what happened.  She never wanted him as much as when she didn’t have him.  He’s now found someone else and Lucy plunges into depression.  Luckily her sister has invited her to house and dog sit for her and she joins a therapy group of lovelorn women.  But nothing turns around for Lucy until she meets a mysterious swimmer with a secret.

OK, I confess, I made a mistake in requesting this book.  I had read about it and didn’t think it was a book for me.  But weeks went by and I saw a review by Kirkus Press that spiked my interest showing a different cover and I requested it.  When I realized which book I had requested, I knew I had made a mistake.  But I decided to go into this book with as open a mind as I could and give it every chance.  Which I really did.  Although this book is marketed as being hilarious, I found it to be horribly depressing.  Do women really feel like this about their relationships with men?  How awful to contemplate such a state.  The book is also marketed as being erotic but I didn’t see it as erotic at all, only extremely sexually explicit, which are two different things.

Lucy’s irresponsibility in her care of her sister’s home and ill dog was beyond belief.  This was not a young, impressionable girl but a 38-year-old woman.  There was nothing about Lucy that I could relate to.  To any animal lovers reading this review, beware of the heartless neglect of a dog which destroyed any sympathy I may have felt for Lucy.

I recently saw “The Shape of Water” and enjoyed it very much.  I had hoped in reading “The Pisces” that there would be traces of that story that would lend some beauty to the book but any similarity is very superficial.  Granted, I don’t believe it was the author’s intent to write a beautiful love.

The book did hold my interest but in looking back at it, it just left me with a bad feeling all around and I can’t recommend it.

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

 

Unexpected joy of a book

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Theory of Bastards by Audrey Schulman

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

Francine (Frankie) is finally able to live her life the way she’d like to.  Up until now, her life has been full of pain due to an undiagnosed disease but now she’s pain free.  She’s well known for her scientific discovery, “The Theory of Bastards”, and has been given a grant to study bonobos.  When a dust storm is expected and mandatory evacuation is imposed, she makes a decision to stay and care for the bonobos, along with the man she loves.

This was an unexpected joy of a book.  It takes place in a futuristic world, full of human computer implants and driverless cars.  The story jumps back and forth from Frankie’s life when she struggles with her pain and present day.  I would have given it five stars except for the fact that there were parts of the book that I felt dragged a bit, especially when Frankie first comes to the Foundation to start work with the bonobos.  The slow parts are not completely without merit, though, as they include real-life studies of the bonobos that I found to be quite interesting.

The story really picks up when the dust storm hits.  I hadn’t realized up until that point how much I had grown to care about each of the bonobos and Frankie.  The last quarter of the book was very suspenseful and I clung to every word.  There’s quite a lesson on the dangers of a society so dependent on technology.

Ms. Schulman has given us a well-written book with true heart.  It’s a very original look at humanity and mankind’s relationship to the animal world.  Recommended.

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

 

A purely malevolent tale

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The Garden of Blue Roses by Michael Barsa

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

Milo and his sister Klara have received the news that their parents have died in a car crash.  Their father was a highly acclaimed horror fiction author.  The car crash may or may not have been an accident.  Milo continues to work on his model Greek warships, while his sister Klara turns her attentions to redoing the grounds of their home.  She hires a gardener named Henri.  Milo feels he knows this gardener and then realizes that the gardener reminds him of one of his father’s fictional psychotic characters. Are his father’s fictional creations now coming to life?

This book is chock full of unreliable characters and you never know who or what to believe.  This is one very dysfunctional family for sure. The author has done a fine job of creating a haunting, unstable atmosphere that keeps the readers on their toes.  While there’s a lot of dark humor in the book, I found it at times to be quite frightening and spooky and I don’t frighten or spook easily!  One of the blurbs described the book as malevolent and that’s exactly how I felt about it.  The story’s malevolence seemed to leap off the page and surround me with its evil.  This book and its characters grabbed ahold of me and wouldn’t let go.  A shiver just went up my spine just thinking about it.

Recommended.

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

 

The buzz this book is getting is deserved!

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Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier

Book Review – 4 out of 5 star rating

Georgina Shaw (Geo) has made quite a success of her life.  She’s an executive in a Seattle pharmaceutical company and is engaged to marry the rich CEO of the company.  All of that falls apart when she’s arrested for a murder that was committed fourteen years ago.  Her best friend Angela Wong disappeared then when she and Geo were 16 years old and now her mutilated body has been found.  Also arrested for the murder is Geo’s boyfriend at that time, Calvin James.  Calvin is also accused of three other murders.  On the case is Det. Kaiser Brody, who has loved Geo since high school.  When new bodies turn up, murdered in the same way as Calvin’s prior murders, the past explodes for them all.

This book has certainly been all the buzz around the thriller world and it turned out to be quite an entertaining read.  It’s well constructed and very realistic.  I thought the author’s description of prison life was excellent.  I felt like I was there with Geo and the dangers of her life there sent chills down my spine.  I’ve always been attracted to books dealing with obsession and Geo’s obsession with Calvin and what it led to was done to perfection.  The author is adroit at knowing when to drop shockers on her readers.  While I only give 5 stars to books that have had a deep impact on my life and not to thrillers, this is quite an excellent thriller.  Snagged me from the first page.

Recommended.

I won a copy of this book in a Goodreads giveaway and am under no obligation to write a review.  I found it quite charming that the publisher included an actual jar with some conversation hearts with sayings from the book.  Enjoyed the book and the hearts!