Poetical masterpiece

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Tell Me Who We Were: Stories – Kate McQuade

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

Mr. Arcilla, a language teacher at an all-girls boarding school, has drowned and it has sent his young students spinning.  Lilith, Claire, Romy, Grace, Evie and Nellie struggle to find understanding of this loss as Mr. Arcilla was their first true love.  They learn that Mr. Arcilla was nude when he was found and that leads them to believe he had been with his lover that evening and they try to work out who that would have been.  This defining moment in their young lives will have an effect on them their entire lives.

This is a series of interconnected short stories following the lives of these young girls.  The stories are inspired by myths about women.  This author is a fearless one and she has her finger on the pulse of what being a woman is all about.  Although these women may have led different lives from mine, I recognized each of them in a deep way.  She covers all areas of women’s lives – their young girlhoods, their loves, their marriages, their desire and fear of having children, their losses and even a bit of their afterlife.

There is such beauty and magic in this book that I don’t even want to start another book for a few days.  I just want this one to sit simmering in my heart for awhile.

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

 

 

Witty satire on the power of the imagination

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The Ditch by Herman Koch

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

Robert Walker (though that’s not his real name) is the Mayor of Amsterdam.  He’s been happily married for many years to Sylvia (thought that’s not her real name).  At a New Year’s Eve party, Robert sees his wife talking to one of his aldermen, laughing at a joke, and despite the fact that he has absolutely no grounds for his suspicions, he’s sure they’re having an affair.  And off he goes on a paranoid journey that may cost him more than he thinks.  Or maybe not.

What a fun, thought provoking book this was!  I thoroughly enjoyed Mr. Koch’s wit and humor in this one, even more so than in his previous books which I also enjoyed.  I thought it was all very clever and engaging.  Despite its humor, it also touches on some serious issues, including what is apparently the Netherlands’ loose idea on euthanasia of the elderly.  That part of the book gave me chills rather than tickling my funny bone.  But even how that all ended up left me chuckling.  Herman Koch’s words expertly crawl into your mind to mess with it.  And oh that ending!  It left me with more questions than I started out with but I thought it was perfect for such a mind altering experience as this book was.  I’m not normally a fan of satire but I do like the way that Herman Koch serves it up.

Recommended.

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

 

When babies become a commodity

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The Farm by Joanne Ramos

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

Golden Oaks seems to offer a wonderful opportunity to young, healthy women who need money.  The review process is extensive but if you’re lucky enough to be chosen to enter its gates, you’ll have great health care, organic food, massages every day and wonderful fitness equipment.  Plus regular pay checks and a huge bonus at the end of your stay.  And all you have to do is deliver a healthy baby for someone else.

Jane is from the Philippines.  She has a little girl she is willing to do anything for and wants to give her a better life.  Jane is one of the lucky ladies accepted into Golden Oaks.  But she soon learns that there is a heavy price to pay in return for the promises made to her.

I enjoyed this story of these women and their stay at Golden Oaks.  Some of the women, like Jane, were looking for a better life for their loved ones.  Some were hoping to give women unable to bear children of their own what they so longed for – a healthy baby.  Some were just looking to make what they thought would be an easy buck.  However, as with anything involving money, greed pokes its head into their plans.  This is a slow book.  This is not a thriller as some reviewers have mentioned though there are suspenseful moments.  It’s more of a look into the hearts of these women who are being used to produce what wealthier people want.  I did not care for the ending at all but I can understand how it was plausible.  This is a well-written, thought-provoking novel about women and class.

Recommended.

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

 

Intelligent and compassionate

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The Body in Question by Jill Ciment

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

A teenage girl has been accused of murdering her toddler brother in a horrific way.  The jury for her murder trial has been chosen and sequestered in an Econo Lodge.  Jurist Hannah, known in much of the book as juror C-2, is a 52-year old married well-known photographer.  She’s married to a much-older man, an 85-year-old Pulitzer Prize winner.  She finds that she’s very attracted to one of the jurists, Graham (known as juror F-17), who is a 41-year-old anatomy professor.  Hannah and Graham find ways to be alone, which is prohibited by the court, and they begin to have an affair.  They don’t discuss the case when alone but find that the affair causes some distraction during the hearing of evidence.  However, the effects of their affair are not seen only during the trial and deliberation but for long afterwards.

This is an intelligent and compassionate look at two people drawn to each other during a time in their lives when they’re asked to weigh some heavy issues that will result in finding a young girl innocent or guilty of a horrendous crime.  I found these characters to be true to life and believable.  The author handles the plot with delicate finesse and never makes a misstep.  The case at trial is a heart-breaking one and the jurors are not always given all of the facts, which is the way it often happens in trials.  The story of Hannah and her elderly husband is a touching, faithful rendition of the effects of old age in a marriage.  And the affair between Hannah and Graham is portrayed with a non-judgmental hand.  I loved reading this book and thought it was very well written.

Most highly recommended.

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

 

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.

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.

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.

 

 

Compassionate, moving dystopian novel

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The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

A mysterious epidemic starts with a young college girl falling asleep and no one can wake her.  Then another student falls asleep and then another.  Panic begins to spread.  What could be causing this strange occurrence and how far will it spread?  Doctors notice heightened dream activity in these sleepers.  People are falling asleep in dangerous places, behind the wheel of a car, out in a drifting boat or alone and forgotten.  The caretakers of the sleeping are now falling asleep and there are too many sleepers for those awake to help.

What I really liked about this book were the individual stories of the families in this town.  Mei, the roommate of the first student to fall asleep, was a favorite character.  She was a bit of an outcast before the epidemic struck, never quite fitting in.  She teams up with another student as they attempt to be of help to the most people that they can and their affection for each other starts to grow.  A young baby may have been exposed to the virus through donated breast milk.  A survivalist finds he’s not as prepared for such an emergency as he had thought he was and his young daughters are left to fend for themselves.  One of the college students became pregnant the night before she succumbed to this unusual sleep, the growing baby unknown to her.

As much as I enjoyed these characters and their private battles with the virus, the book grew even more interesting when it was revealed what the dreamers were dreaming about.  Thought-provoking questions about consciousness and time are opened up.  Which is reality and which is the dream?  The book is written in a dreamlike way that was quite fascinating.

The only negative thing I can say about the book is that I felt like I was reading a YA book at first since it dealt with the college students and life on campus.  But it soon grew into something much deeper.

This is a well written, compassionate and moving dystopian novel.  Recommended.

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

 

Memorable story of a haunted family

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Old Newgate Road by Keith Scribner

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

Cole Callahan is returning to his home town after thirty years.  He needs some chestnut wood from an old tobacco shed they’re tearing down there to use in his home restoration business.  He hasn’t been back since his father killed his mother in an angry rage.  When he stops by the old house, he couldn’t be more surprised to find his elderly father living there.  His father, Phil, has been released from prison and has returned home.  Phil is showing signs of dementia so Cole feels obligated to stay and help him out for a while.  He’s also avoiding some problems at home.  He and his wife, Nikki, have separated and his son, Daniel, has become a dedicated freegan but keeps running into problems with school and the police due to his high principles.

This is a very dark, deep, layered book about abuse in a dysfunctional family and how that abuse continued to work its evil in the lives of those who had previously endured it.  There’s a lot going on in the plotline of this book but it never gets confusing or muddled.  The only reason why I’m not giving this one 5 stars is that I had quite a bit of trouble understanding the touching scenes between Cole and his father and the affection and care he sometimes showed his father.  This is the man who killed his mother and who made his children’s lives miserable before that.  These scenes seemed to conflict with other things that were said in the book, how much Cole hated his father and never got over the death of his mother.  But I guess family is family, plus Cole was dealing with so much guilt that he wasn’t able to save his mother, which would cause conflicting feelings in him.

Memorable story of a haunted family.  Recommended.

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.