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.

 

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Poetically written dystopian novella

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The End We Start From by Megan Hunter

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

A mother gives birth to a baby. However, the parents’ happiness is marred by the floodwaters that are rising all around them. They’re forced to evacuate with the newborn infant. They need to keep moving to find land above the flood levels. The news that is coming to them is not encouraging. Panic has spread and the world is no longer a safe place.

What a contrast – the beauty of the birth of a child and his discoveries of the fascinating world around him against the harsh reality of a planet that may soon be covered in water. This is a hauntingly beautiful novella that I was totally captivated by. Just the author’s brilliant capture of early motherhood is enough to make this one a winner. But the suspense of the ongoing flooding adds such a touch of horror that I was dismayed at the prospect of these lovely people. The author has managed to pack an enormous amount of emotion into such few words. This is an amazing accomplishment and I can’t wait to see what’s ahead from Ms. Hunter.

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

Very well written and compelling novel

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Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

Elena Richardson has always played by the rules. She has a beautiful home in Shaker Heights, a loving husband and four teenage children.  She also has an inherited house that she rents out to those she feels can use a helping hand.  The top floor of the house is currently being rented by Mia Warren and her teenage daughter Pearl.  Mia is an artist and single mother whose nomadic life intrigues each of the Richardsons.

When friends of the Richardsons decide to adopt a Chinese-American baby, the resulting custody battle divides the Richardsons and the Warrens on opposite sides. Elena vows to unearth each and every one of Mia’s secrets.  Elena learns the hard way that playing by the rules doesn’t always ensure safety.

This is a very well-written novel and drew me in completely. I really felt a part of this story.  Each of the characters were alive in my mind and I cared about them.  The author has a wise view of the world and knows how to construct a great story.  I found the custody battle to be a very emotional one and couldn’t pull myself away until I found out how it ended.  The author expertly builds up the tension in the relationships between the Richardsons and the Warrens.  The book is absolutely riveting, the story complex and I loved it.  The only reason I couldn’t give it 5 stars was that I felt the reason for Izzy’s act at the end of the book to be unrealistic and her behavior overly dramatic.  It just didn’t feel right to me.

Recommended.

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

Moving and disturbing

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The Child by Pascale Kramer

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

Claude is a former gym teacher who is battling cancer and losing. He lives in a low-income neighborhood with his wife, Simone.  There has been rioting in their neighborhood with the constant sound of police sirens.  There isn’t much calm inside their home either as they each in their own way try to adjust to the end of Claude’s days.  It’s just the two of them until a young boy comes for a visit and throws everything into even more discord.

The author doesn’t flinch at describing the horrors of a death from cancer. That and the effects of his decline on those around him make for a very disturbing read.  But as in her book “Autopsy of a Father”, Ms. Kramer writes in such a poetical manner that her books are beautiful to read despite the subject matter.  This is an in depth look at the end of a marriage as a result of death that I know will stay with me for some time to come.  It’s a short book, only about 150 pages, and I hope to read it again one day, not so much as to know what happens in the book as I already know that but just to enjoy the writing again.

Recommended.

Handling both motherhood and artistry

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The Resurrection of Jjoan Ashby by Cherise Wolas

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

Joan Ashby is a celebrated author at the peak of her career. She’s been open about avoiding love and motherhood and wanting to give all to her creativity.  But then love finds her heart but she makes it very clear to her soon-to-be husband that there will be no children in their future.  When Joan finds herself pregnant and her husband is ecstatic at the news, Joan decides to devote herself to her family with all intentions of resuming her career at some point.  However, the future holds a betrayal that is a very grievous one.

This author is so very talented. I can’t say that I agreed with her character’s assessment of motherhood and her reluctance to embrace it over her career.  I’ve always thought that being a mother was the highest honor a woman could have.  But then again, I’ve never been a celebrity or in the limelight due to any particular talent of mine so I may have felt differently in her shoes.    Despite our differences, the author gave me a clear understanding of where Joan was coming from and I was immediately pulled into her world.  This is a fascinating portrayal of a woman who selflessly chooses motherhood and pays a heavy price.  The betrayal that I don’t want to give a hint of a spoiler about was truly a shocking one.

As an added bonus in this book, it includes short stories written by Joan which are as entertaining as the main story. Her stories before motherhood are quite dark.  Some of them have a connection with Joan’s story, some not as much, but all are engrossing.

I couldn’t be more impressed with this debut novel and am looking forward to more of this author’s work. This is an intelligent look at not only motherhood but all aspects of being a woman.  Each of the characters in this book will stay with me for a long time to come.

Most highly recommended.

I won this book in a contest given by the publisher and am under no obligation to give a review.

 

The stuff nightmares are made of

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The Hole by Hye-Young Pyun

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

Oghi has woken from a coma only to learn that he has been involved in an accident that has left him paralyzed and unable to speak and his wife dead. He is left in the care of his mother-in-law and is the object of neglect and abuse.  He only has the small bedroom and his memories and has no control over anything in his life – his health, his money, his home, his future.  His mother-in-law obviously doesn’t have Oghi’s best interests at heart.  She starts to work in her dead daughter’s garden, strangely digging larger and larger holes.

To say more about the plot would be to spoil the author’s meticulous rendering of this chilling story. She builds up a feeling of dread and suspense that had me on the edge of my seat.  There was one scene in the book where I literally jumped out of my chair and walked around the room reading it.  I flew through the book and am looking forward to more of this author.  It’s a short read but definitely intriguing.  Quite a literary accomplishment in the thriller genre.

Recommended.

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

A heartwarming tale of a charming curmudgeon

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The Temptation To Be Happy by Lorenzo Marone

Book Review:  5 out of 5 stars

Cesare Annunziata is a very cynical man. His is a rather lonely life.  He’s a 77-year-old widower who doesn’t have much of a relationship with either his son or his daughter.  His long-time friend, Marino, lives downstairs in Cesare’s building but Marino hasn’t been out of his apartment in years.  Cesare occasionally does see a nurse, Rossana, but he’s not sure exactly how he feels about her.  There’s also the cat lady in the building who Cesare tries to avoid at all costs.

And then beautiful, young Emma moves into the building with her husband and life will never be the same for Cesare. He’s always had an eye for the ladies so he’s completely intrigued by the elusive Emma.  But then he and the cat lady start hearing awful sounds coming from Emma’s apartment and she starts showing signs of abuse.  Should Cesare become involved or keep his nose out of it?

What is a perfect delight this little book is! It’s written in a light manner but has deep philosophical undertones.  I laughed out loud as I read, that is whenever I wasn’t crying.  I continually nodded my head in agreement at the things that Cesare said and thought.  This is really quite a touching story and I absolutely loved grumpy old Cesare and all of the residents in the building.  I was shocked to learn that the author is only 42 as he nailed this elderly man to a tee.  The author is Italian and I believe this is the only book of his that has been translated to English.  I do hope to see more of his work available.

Highly recommended.

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

Quietly discomforting

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Autopsy of a Father by Pascale Kramer

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

Ania is estranged from her father, Gabriel, a prominent journalist, not having seen him for four years. However, she decides to visit him with her young son, Theo.  The visit is an awkward one.  Ania is shocked to learn the next day that her father has committed suicide.  Ania returns to her father’s home where she grew up and tries to piece together the last years of her father’s life.  She discovers that her father was fired from his job when he defended the murder of a harmless African immigrant.  Her father’s actions have released a violent response in the community.  How did her father turn into such a racist?

I was very impressed by this short novel translated from the French language in which the author wrote. It’s a quiet book but kept me riveted to the pages with a chill up my spine.  The title is a perfect one as this book is in fact an autopsy of this man, an in depth look at his life, family and animosity towards immigrants.  It’s insightful and compelling and casts a light on the racial tension in France.

I now want to read more of this author’s work and I’ll be getting a chance to do just that since, along with an ARC of Ms. Kramer’s newest book, the publisher also kindly sent me a copy of “The Child” by the same author. You’ll be seeing a review on that book fairly soon!

Very unsettling and quite fascinating. Recommended.

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

Packed with emotion

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The Stars Are Fire by Anita Shreve

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

This book is based on the real-fire catastrophic wildfire that took place in 1947 in Maine. There’s been a very long drought and Grace Holland and her best friend, Rosie, long for rain.  But the lack of water isn’t the only drought Grace is facing.  From what she hears from Rosie, Grace knows that her marriage bed is not what it should be.  A violent night with her husband leaves her pregnant with her third child.  This is her third pregnancy in less than two years and she’s exhausted.

When Grace is five months pregnant, the wildfires start to rage out of control. Her husband, Greg, leaves her with their two very young children to join the firefighters. The fires wreak havoc upon the homes and lives of Grace and Rosie.  But Grace’s tragedy doesn’t end the day of the fires.

I’ve been a longtime fan of Anita Shreve and she has surpassed herself with this book. I’ve read reviews saying that it’s too slow moving but I thought it was just perfect.  This is a complex plot that only begins with the tragic fires.  The author has done a masterful job of depicting the difficulties of this marriage, its effect on Grace and her longing for a better life.   I was glued to each page of this book and had no idea what was going on around me while I was reading it.  The day of the fire is edge of your seat suspenseful.  The story of Grace and her marriage and the time following the fire is so gorgeously written.   The ending brought tears to my eyes.

Most highly recommended.