Pure escapism centering on the unexpected

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Things That Fall From the Sky by Selja Ahava

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

We don’t always know what’s going to happen to us in this world.  Little Saara learns that when her mother is unexpectedly killed when a block of ice falls from the sky.  Her Aunt Annu unexpectedly wins the lottery – twice.  And Harnish MacKay is expectedly struck by lightning five times.  That’s all I wish to say about the plot of this book and leave it to this talented author to tell her memorable tale.

This is the second novel by the well-respected Finnish author, Selja Ahava, and is a wonderful gem of a book.  I feel an author must be very brave to venture into creating a book such as this.  There’s a fine line between the quirky and the absurd and as unconventional and offbeat as this book is, the author always keeps it real and alive.  It has a rich poignancy to it that I absolutely loved.  It’s tragic and it’s humorous, it’s frightening and it’s inspiring.  This is a high quality novel by an accomplished author.  Not a false note anywhere.

Most highly recommended.

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

Portrait of an immigrant family

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Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok

Book Review:  3 out of 5 star rating

Sylvie Lee is a successful, beautiful woman.  Her younger sister, Amy, idolizes her.  When news reaches them that their grandmother is dying in the Netherlands, Sylvie flies there to be with her.  Sylvie grew up in the Netherlands.  Her parents were too poor to take care of her when she was born and sent her to live with her grandmother and the Tan family.  Sylvie didn’t return to the US and her parents until she was 9 years old.  But now Sylvie has returned to the place she thinks of as home.  But Amy and her parents become deeply upset when Sylvie disappears and they are unable to get any answers as to what happened.  Shy Amy must find the courage to go find her sister.  Her search for Sylvie uncovers long concealed family secrets.

The book fluctuates between chapters detailing Amy’s search for Sylvie and Sylvie telling her story starting a month earlier when she leaves for the Netherlands and occasionally a chapter from their mother’s point of view.  The character development in this book is very good and I cared about this family.  The author does a particularly good job of detailing the cultural differences and problems this immigrant family faced and the racism shown to the Chinese in the Netherlands.  But I was disappointed in some respects and felt parts of the books were too much like a soap opera.  I did not feel that the ending rang true at all and it felt out of place to me.

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

Grit-lit with heart

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Sugar Run by Mesha Maren

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

Jodi McCarty is out of jail, after having spent 18 years imprisoned for manslaughter.  She has only two things in mind – rescue her old lover’s brother, Ricky, from his abusive father and then go home to the land in West Virginia that her grandmother, Effie, left her.  As she sets out to do that, she meets and falls in love with Miranda.  Miranda has her own problems.  She’s estranged from her husband, a washed-up singer, who has taken her three sons from her.  Jodi and Miranda help each other and before long, she and now grown-up Ricky and Miranda and her three sons are living at Effie’s old home.  Jodi is determined to build a better life for them all here on her grandmother’s land.

Ms. Maren is quite an accomplished writer and immediately pulled me into this intriguing story.  A lot happens in this book and the plot covers small town bigotry, the awful destruction brought on by fracking, substance abuse, poverty, the love of land and the shifting of love.  The language can be tough at times but that’s the type of book it is – gritty and raw and earthy.  The language can also be stunningly beautiful.  I admit that I was often turned off and angered by the decisions made by these characters, especially since children were involved.  But then I’d see glimpses of the hope in Jodi’s heart and wanted things to work out for all of them.

I found this one hard to put down and am looking forward to seeing what’s next from this author.  Recommended.

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

An emotional roller coaster

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Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

7-year-old Hanna is such a good little girl for her father.  But things are much different when she’s with her mother.  The little girl loves her father and feels he understands her.  She wants her mother out of the way – permanently.   Hanna has never spoken and though her parents have had many medical tests done, no reason for her muteness has been discovered.  Hanna’s mother, Suzette, has had a hard life.  Her mother was not the best to her and Suzette has vowed to do better with Hanna.  Suzette has also had a lot of medical issues and the stress due to difficulties with Hanna has brought Suzette to the breaking point.

This book is labeled as a thriller and at times I thought it was spreading into the supernatural genre and/or the horror genre.  But my take on the book is that the situation this family found themselves in was all too real, which made it all the more frightening.  This is a shocking story and at times it felt like it couldn’t possibly happen.  The battle of wits between this fragile mother and her young child was truly cringe inducing.   There is a scene towards the end of the book that completely brought me to tears.  The author does a fabulous job of keeping readers on an emotional seesaw.  One chapter had me thinking, oh, the poor little girl, and the next chapter had me thinking oh, the poor mother.  This was quite an emotional roller coaster of an experience.

This isn’t going to be for everyone and at times I wasn’t sure it was for me but then I’d start enjoying it again.  There are times when I felt like the young girl’s ability to manipulate and plan was unbelievable and I didn’t care at all for the foul language the mother used.  But it certainly kept up the tension and suspense.  Apparently the book has caused quite a bit of controversy and people are talking about it – a lot – so that’s certainly a plus for it.

Recommended.

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

 

Intelligent and profound

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The Dependents by Katharine Dion

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

Gene and his wife Maida and Ed and his wife Gayle have been close friends since college.   They raised their children together and took vacations at Ed and Gayle’s beach house.  When Maida dies, Gene re-lives their marriage and fears that it was not all that he had thought it was.  He has never been very close to his daughter Dary and now they seem even further apart.  He begins to doubt all of their relationships and a horrible suspicion begins to take root in his mind.  Things are further complicated when his daughter convinces him to hire a caretaker whom he’s drawn to.

The characters in this book quickly found a place in my heart.  This is a slow burning, deeply thought provoking, intelligently written book.  This author is a fearless one, ready to take on issues such as how well we know our loved ones, where does our happiness come from, how to deal with the loss of a loved one, how well we remember the past.   She uses great tact and caring in each sentence.   This author is a force to be reckoned with and I have great hopes for her future in the literary field with such an auspicious debut.

Most highly recommended.

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

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.

 

A tender, heartfelt, gem of a book

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The Flicker of Old Dreams by Susan Henderson

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

Although Mary Crampton had dreams of being an artist when she was younger, she stayed on in the dying town of Petroleum.  She lives with her father in the town’s funeral home and works as the embalmer.  She now directs her art to the deceased that she works on, making them appear to be almost alive to help their loved ones through the funeral services.  She’s a lonely woman and uncomfortable socializing.  She feels more at ease with the dead than with the living.  The local children taunt her and call her “Freak”.

Petroleum is a struggling town and has been disintegrating since an accident twenty years prior took the life of a beloved high school athlete, Eddie Golden.  His younger brother, Robert, only 14 years old at the time, was blamed for the accident.  The granary was shut down and the train no longer came to town.  But now Robert’s mother is dying and Robert has returned to Petroleum to care for her.  When Mary becomes friends with Robert, it sets off old resentments throughout the town and ignites old dreams in Mary’s heart.

This is a tender, heartfelt, gem of a book.  Every word of it made its way into my heart to stay.  This is a very talented author who writes like a poet with a powerful emotional punch.  I found this book to be completely breathtaking and I read it in a single day as I couldn’t bear to part with it.  So lovely, so haunting, so human.

Most highly recommended.

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

Vivid portrayal of the cost of an artistic life

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The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

Pinch’s parents are both artists.  His mother, Natalie, is an eccentric maker of pottery and his father is the renowned painter, Bear Bavinsky.  Bear is completely self-absorbed and only cares about his art.   His son strives for his attention and praise.  When Pinch makes his own effort at being an artist, his father tells him that he, Pinch, will never be an artist and Pinch believes him.  Bears abandons Pinch and his mother in Italy and is off to America, where more wives and children await him.  Pinch dreams of writing his father’s biography one day but he becomes completely disillusioned and lost and ends up teaching Italian in London.   When Bear dies, Pinch comes up with a plan that he hopes will secure his father’s legacy.

This is such a beautifully written book, one that I became fully emerged in.  Pinch is such a conflicted soul and tries so hard to impress his father, only to fall flat due to Bear’s egocentricity.  My heart broke over and over for him and I just wanted to shake him and tell him to go live his own life.  Natalie becomes so unstable and insecure but her constant love for her son shines throughout the book.  Bear, as despicable as he can be, also has a charming side and it’s obvious why his son is so blinded by him.  This is a vivid portrayal of a man who has lived his life for someone else’s art, ignoring his own dreams.  I often wanted to Google these people to find out more about them, they were that real.

Most highly recommended.

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

 

 

Entertaining mystery

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The Bad Daughter by Joy Fielding

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

Robin hasn’t heard from her sister, Melanie, in years so when she received a phone message from her, she knew it couldn’t be good.  Robin gets panic attacks fairly often and the news that her estranged best friend, Tara, had been shot and killed and that Tara’s 12-year-old daughter, Cassidy, and Robin’s father had also been shot and were in the hospital in critical condition sends Robin into a tail spin.  Though Robin has no love for her father, she returns home.  There she tries to piece together what actually had happened.  Was this a home invasion or was this personal?  Was her brother Alec involved somehow?  After all, Alec and Tara had been engaged at one time and Alec and Robin’s father had stolen her affections away from his son and married Tara himself.  Quite a good motive, wouldn’t you say?  But that had happened years ago so why would Alec suddenly seek revenge?

Joy Fielding has been writing psychological suspense since the early ‘70s.  I was quite a big fan of hers back then but somehow I got away from her work.  When I saw this book being offered to book reviewers, I thought it was about time I tried one of her books again.   And I’m glad I did!

Ms. Fielding knows how to weave together a good story and how to keep those pages turning for her readers.  The main character, Robin, is down to earth and likeable.  I also really liked Melanie, as obnoxious as she was.  Her witty barbs were entertaining, though not to those they were directed to.  And the ending was quite a surprise to me though I should have seen it coming.  I remember thinking at several points, hmm, that’s odd, but I never took the thought any further.  Even after I learned the big reveal, I didn’t quite believe it.  Very surprising ending indeed!  I think this may be more of a mystery rather than suspense book as I didn’t personally find it suspenseful.  And it’s not the kind of book that I’ll long remember.  But I definitely had to keep reading to find out what had really happened and found it enjoyable.  I think I’m going to have to go back and read those books of this author’s that I’ve missed.

Recommended.

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

 

Out of the mouths of children

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Only Child by Rhiannon Navin

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

6-year-old Zach Taylor is hiding in the closet with his teacher and other classmates.  They cringe in terror as they listen to the sounds of “pop”, “pop”, “pop” in the hallway of their school.  A gunman is loose in the school and they have no idea which room he’ll enter next.  After the police come, Zach goes to the hospital with his mother, where they learn that Zach’s 10-year-old brother Andy is one of the 19 victims of the shooting.  In the days following Andy’s death, Zach’s mother holds the shooter’s parents responsible and goes on a crusade for justice.  She becomes someone Zach doesn’t know.  He finds refuge in Andy’s closet where Zach reads books to Andy and feels a connection to his lost brother.  He tries to sort through his feelings on his own by drawing pictures of his feelings and giving each feeling a color.

This is a very sensitive, beautifully written book about a young boy and his family trying to find their way after the tragic loss of a brother and son.  I thought the author did a wonderful job in finding the perfect pitch for this young boy’s voice.  The character of Zach is very believable and his experiences and reactions are appropriate for his age.  The way he struggles to work out his feelings on his own, as his parents deal with their own grief and aren’t always there for him, just broke my heart.  His brother, Andy, suffered from oppositional defiant disorder and was often cruel to Zach.  Zach wonders if things might be better without Andy but of course then he has much guilt about those feelings.

The books that Zach read to his brother Andy in the hopes that Andy might hear him in heaven were the Magic Treehouse series.  I’ve read several of those books to my grandson and knew the stories that Zach was reading.  That connection made it impossible for me to distance myself from the sadness of this book.  It was just as though one of my little grandson’s friends was telling this story and made the book’s heartache even more potent.

Out of the mouths of children comes wisdom.  Zach’s discovery of compassion and how healing must be done is truly wondrous to read and a lesson that the adults in this book desperately needed.

Highly recommended.

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