Excellent literary achievement digging deep into human morals

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The Glass Kingdom by Lawrence Osborne

Book Reivew:  5 out of 5 star review

American Sarah Mullins has come to Bangkok, Thailand looking to hide away.  She rents an apartment in the high-end complex called The Kingdom.  She soon meets three other mysterious women there:  the married Nat, who is a British hotelier; Ximena, the Chilean chef; and Mali, the most mysterious of them all.  But political unrest causes upheavals and violence in the streets surrounding The Kingdom that begin to work their way inside the complex, causing feelings of insecurity for the residents and revealing its inhabitants’ secrets.

This is one of my favorite modern authors and he has not disappointed with this gem of a book.  Mr. Osborne is a master at subtly creating uncomfortable, unsettling atmospheres that will send chills up your spine as you are pulled into his stories.  He also is a master at describing settings that will pluck you right out of your easy chair and place you directly in the heart of the location, where you can clearly see each and every detail, smell each and every scent and odor, hear each and every sound.  I lived in Bangkok every time I picked up this book.  This authors’ books are completely unpredictable and I find them fascinating.

Do know that the book starts out slowly but don’t give up – there is much more here than there first appears.  Excellent literary achievement digging deep into human morals.

Most highly recommended.

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

 

Powerful look at what our future may hold

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The End of the Ocean by Maja Lunde

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

This book is set in two different timelines.  In 2019, 70-year-old Signe has spent her life as an activist on environmental issues.  A majestic glacier is now being mined for its ice to be sent to the rich to put in their drinks.  Signe performs an act of courage and takes off to the sea, on her way to confront the love of her life whom she hasn’t seen since she was a young girl.  She has precious cargo on board.

In 2041, David and his little girl, Lou, have fled a terrible fire.  They’ve been separated from David’s wife and baby son and are trying to find them.  Europe is in the midst of a terrible drought and there is little water to be found.  David and Lou find an old sailboat and dream of setting off to sea.  However, their connection to the past doesn’t end with the finding of the boat.

I was held in this novel’s grip from the first word to the last.  I cared deeply about each of these characters and the different worlds they found themselves living in.  The book is very well written and the story is profound and heart wrenching.  I well remember this author’s first novel, “The History of Bees”, and knew I would also love her newest.  I pray that Ms.  Lunde’s words will reach the hearts of its readers and will make a difference in our future.  This is the second book in a quartet of novels that Ms. Lunde is writing about the environment and I’m very much looking forward to the next one.

Most highly recommended.

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

 

Languid like a warm Caribbean beach

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Saint X by Alexis Schaitkin

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star review

7-year-old Claire and her older sister, Alison, are on vacation with their parents on the Caribbean island of Saint X.  On their last evening there, Alison disappears.  Days later, her body is found and the police arrest two local men, Clive and Edwin.  Clive and Edwin are soon released as there is not enough evidence to hold them.  So the family comes home.  Years later when Claire is an adult and living in New York City, she runs into Clive.  Claire becomes obsessed with learning the truth of what happened to Alison and she starts to follow Clive around the city.  She’s sure that someday he’ll make a mistake and the truth will be known.

This is the type of book that, while it tells a very interesting story, it’s not the story itself that makes it special but rather the telling of the story.  The author has a wonderful way of bringing her reader right into the hearts and minds of her characters.  Each of the characters has their own tale to tell and even the characters who only make a brief appearance have their chance to share their views.  There are a lot of layers to this intelligent book and I absolutely loved it.  It’s a slow moving, beauty of a book, languid like a warm Caribbean beach, but keeps lovingly pulling you along.

Keep an eye on this debut author.  She’ll be going far for sure!

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

A powerful, mesmerizingly sad book about a pedophile and his victim

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My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

Vanessa Wye is 15 years old in 2000.  She’s insecure and naïve and oh so young.  She’s an easy target for her teacher, Jacob Strane, who is 42 years old and a pedophile.  While Strane carefully grooms Vanessa towards his ultimate goals, Vanessa is convinced that her actions are consensual and that this is what she wants.

Switch to 2017.  The “Me Too” movement is in full swing.  A former student has accused Strane of abuse.  He’s counting on Vanessa to back him up.  Vanessa assures him that she will since she has always believed that she was the instigator of their affair.  As she reaches back into her memory and reads of the new allegations against Strane, her perceptions and beliefs of the past subtly start to shift.

Wow, just wow.  What a powerful, mesmerizingly sad book this is.  My heart bled for Vanessa as I watched her heart and soul open itself to this abusive man.  She just wanted to feel special, to feel beautiful, to feel loved.  Strane took advantage of that desire and brought such devastation and confusion into Vanessa’s life.  I’ve read reviews saying that this book looks at whether this situation should be considered abuse if it’s consensual, but I truly don’t see how anyone could believe that this was consensual on Vanessa’s part.  Strane wouldn’t stop even as she lay there crying.  She was manipulated into believing this was what she wanted.  Every word that Strane said to her, every look he gave her, every caress he risked was to bring this young girl around to his thinking.  He even used the books he was teaching to convince her of how “special” she was.

Most highly recommended.

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

 

 

Deep, heart wrenching tale

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The Innocents by Michael Crummey

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

A young brother and sister, Evered and Ada Best, are only 11 and 12 years old when they are left as orphans when a devastating illness takes their parents and baby sister.  Their dilemma is made worse by the fact that they live in an isolated cove in Newfoundland.  Their contact with and knowledge of the outside world has been minimal.  Their parents were taken ill so quickly that they were unable to prepare their children to survive in this desolate place.  They know that a ship named “The Hope” comes once a year and that their father took his boat out to the ship with his yearly fish catch and returned with supplies.  Now the young boy is in the position of providing for himself and his sister with little knowledge of how to do that.  They soon learn how in debt to the owner of “The Hope” they are.

This is much more than a book about survival.  It’s a deep look at family and loyalty.  I’ve seen comparisons to Charles Dickens’ work and this story.  The imperiled, hungry children, the colorful characters they come into contact with and the brilliant writing make it easy to see why.  This author is a poet and the language he uses is just lovely.  He adds quite a few quaint Newfoundland phrases that I wasn’t familiar with but enjoyed.  It’s truly heart wrenching to read of the ebb and flow of the relationship between this brother and sister over the years and the battles they faced, not only with the world around them but with each other.  I will now be on the lookout for other books from this excellent author.

Most highly recommended.

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

 

 

More erotica than literary

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The Girl at the Door by Veronica Raimo

Book Review:  2 out of 5 star rating

A nameless 6-months pregnant woman is finding her place in Miden.  Miden is a future society that has grown out of “The Crash”.  The woman lives with her nameless boyfriend, who is a professor.  One day the woman receives a visit from a young girl who claims that she once had a violent relationship with the woman’s boyfriend while the girl was his student.  The girl has made a complaint to those in charge of Miden and they are taking testimony and deciding whether the boyfriend should be banned from Miden.  In alternating chapters, the woman and man reflect on their relationship.

This book is being publicized as literary fiction.  I would place it more in the erotica genre, and low class erotica at that.  The language is consistently and needlessly obscene as are the sex scenes.  I don’t consider myself a prude and believe that sexual scenes can have a powerful effect when done properly.  However, this is more of a case where the story is just an excuse for writing trashy scenes.

I really did try to ignore the language and look beneath that for something of substance but was unable to find it.  I was fooled by the literary fiction description, by the fact that it has been bought for a TV series, by the fact that it was felt good enough to translate into English from Italian, and by reviews such as this:  “this uncompromising, fiercely intelligent novel confirms the moral usefulness of serious art”.  Maybe it was just me.  I’ll give it two stars because there were short sections involving the pregnant woman when she was talking about the baby that I found interesting.  But this is not one that I can recommend.

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

Out of this world, breathtaking literary masterpiece

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The Need by Helen Phillips

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

Mary is a paleobotanist who has discovered some odd artifacts in a fossil quarry, seemingly almost but not quite of this world, including a controversial Bible.  Word gets out about these finds and people are flocking to the pit for tours.  Their discovery has also sparked quite a bit of hate mail and Mary is a bit on edge.  She’s also sleep deprived and stressed from caring for her one-year-old son and four-year-old daughter during her husband’s music tour.  When a stranger in a deer mask appears in her home and seems to know more about her world than possible, Mary’s fragile connection to her world begins to disintegrate.

This is truly a literary masterpiece.  I’m blown away and stunned by its beauty.  There’s absolutely no genre this book can be placed in.  Even without the surreal aspect of this book, it’s a profound look at being a parent, both the high and low, both the joy and anguish.  Coupled with the mind-bending happenings, this makes for an exquisite, unique read.  Not only will this author change the way you look at the world, but she’ll break your heart while she does it.

Most highly recommended.

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