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.

 

 

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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.

Poetic, majestic, absolutely stunning

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The Dictionary of Animal Languages by Heidi Sopinka

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

Ivory Frame has always been a rebellious one.  She refuses to be subdued by the nuns at the boarding school her wealthy English parents have sent her to.  She finds her way to Paris where she meets surrealists.  She has a passionate love affair with a married Russian painter and becomes an artist herself.  World War II is at its peak in Paris.  When tragedy strikes, Ivory leaves Paris and tries to rebuild her life.  She has always had an affinity with animals and sets out to record animal languages.  Now aged 90, she is still working on her dictionary of animal languages when she’s told that she has a grandchild, which stuns her since she has no children.

This book deeply touched me in a way that few books have ever done.  It was a very slow read for me as I wanted to savor each word.  It’s poetic, it’s majestic and it’s absolutely stunning.  I love how each chapter is entitled a different animal Ivory has studied and the way the author incorporates that animal and its characteristics into the chapter.  Each chapter is a work of art in and of itself.  Some of the chapters are short essays on life and love that are just gorgeous.

The book is loosely based on the life of surrealist Leonora Carrington.  The author spent several days with Ms. Carrington in her home in Mexico City and interviewed her for “The Believer”.  As soon as I finished the book, I had to read up on this artist.  There were some similarities between Leonora Carrington and Ivory Frame but also some quite significant differences.

I’m saddened to see far too many negative reviews of this wonderful book.  It’s true that it wouldn’t be for everyone and it isn’t a light read.  There isn’t always a lot happening.  But the author has a magnificent ability to get to the heart of her characters and brings Ivory’s world vividly to life in the mind of her readers.  I hope this book receives the recognition it deserves in the literary world.

This is a book that I will treasure and love and will read again.  Most highly recommended.

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

A special treat

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Elevation by Stephen King

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

Scott Carey should be more worried than he is.  He’s steadily losing weight each day no matter what he eats but he doesn’t want to go for tests to see what’s causing it because strangely enough, Scott weighs the same with his clothes on or without them.  Even if he puts something of weight in his pockets, he weighs the same.  And yup, even holding heavy weights, when he gets on the scale, he weighs the same.  He trusts Dr. Bob Ellis, a retired doctor, and confides in him.

Scott has also been having an annoying problem with his new neighbors.  A married lesbian couple have been unwittingly allowing their dogs to poop on Scott’s lawn and one of them does not take kindly to Scott’s making a point of asking them to try to prevent it.  The couple have opened a new restaurant in town but it isn’t doing well at all.  Apparently, quite a few of the people in town are prejudiced against lesbians.  Scott would love to get off to a better start with his neighbors and he has a plan.

When King writes an emotionally moving story rather than his typical horror stories, you know you’re in for a special treat.  Not only is this story a timely one dealing with prejudice, but it’s also very imaginative, touching and one of a kind.  I enjoyed every word of it.  It’s not a full-length novel but rather a short novella.  But if anyone can pack a lot into a short story, it’s Stephen King.

Most highly recommended.

Bleak but gripping apocalyptic tale

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City of Ash and Red by Hye-Young Pyun

The unnamed narrator is known for his talents as a rat killer.  The extermination company he works for has given him what many consider to be a promotion and is sent to Country C.  However, when the man gets to Country C, he finds its streets are overrun with rats and piled high with rotting garbage with horrible odors.  There’s also a deadly rampant virus going around and men walk around in hazmat suits.  When he finds out that his new job has been postponed, he thinks things can’t get any worse.  But his world completely caves in when he contacts someone from home and finds out that his ex-wife has been murdered and he’s the prime suspect.

Wow, this author surely knows how to write a gruesome story and keep her readers on edge!  Her imagination knows no limits and the world she has created in this book in a bleak, horrendous one.  I was very impressed with her book, “The Hole”, but this one is even better with a more involved plot.  The book has many layers and I think different people will read different meanings into it.  I see that “The Hole” has won the 2017 Shirley Jackson Award and I can see why.  Her work does remind me of Shirley Jackson’s plus it has that unique Korean touch that I’ve grown to admire.

Recommended.

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

 

Compassionate story of maternal love

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The Caregiver by Samuel Park

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

Ana and her little girl, Mara, take care of each other in their home in Copacabana, Brazil.   Ana works as a voice-over actress but her job brings in little money.  In desperation, she agrees to take a job posing as a citizen with information about student guerillas in an attempt to lure the violent Police Chief Lima from his post.  Ana then makes a decision that tears their lives apart.

Years later when Mara comes to America undocumented, she takes a job as a caregiver to a woman, Kathryn, who is suffering from stomach cancer.  Caring for Kathryn brings up memories of Mara’s mother and Mara struggles to come to terms with her past.

This is a beautifully written book about the relationship between a mother and daughter and what lengths a mother would be willing to go for her daughter.  The characters are very well developed and the book is full of heart and compassion.

The author, Samuel Parks, passed away from stomach cancer shortly after writing this book.  At the end of the book, his essay that was published in the New York Times is shared.  It’s called “I Had a 9 Percent Chance, Plus Hope” and it’s a must read for all.  After reading this book, I’m even more anxious to read “This Burns My Heart”.

Recommended.

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

Exquisitely written, intense and profound

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The Water Thief by Claire Hajaj

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

Nick’s father has died and it has caused him to take a hard look at his life.  He’s living in London, works as an engineer and is engaged to the lovely Kate.  Yet he decides to leave that safe life and go off to a poor village in Africa to help build a children’s hospital.  He hopes to absolve his long-time guilt over an incident involving a childhood friend.  He stays at the home of Dr. Ahmed, his wife Margaret, and their children JoJo and Nagode.  There he’s faced with a moral dilemma.  The people are dying from a lack of water.  The Governor is charging exorbitant fees for water delivery.  Nick learns that there is a solution to the village’s problem – a water well can be dug.  But the Governor won’t consider it.  Nick so desperately wants to help these people that he makes a decision that will impact all.

This book completely tore my heart open and made me take a hard look at my own life.  I so admired Nick’s determination to help these people.   He wants to do the right thing and truly doesn’t understand why those in power wouldn’t feel the same.  He’s so torn by his love for Margaret and his respect for her husband.  And JoJo, this young boy on the edge of manhood who longs to become an engineer like Nick, absolutely broke my heart.  The author does an amazing job of bringing JoJo alive and detailing his descent into hopelessness.  The characters in this book will long live in my heart and memory.  This is one of the most thought-provoking, soul searching books I’ve ever read.

This is a masterpiece of a novel, exquisitely written, intense and profound, a book that should be required reading for all.  It should be given every prestigious award for literary excellence.  I most highly recommend it.

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

Gorgeously written literary work

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Paris Echo by Sebastian Faulks

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

Hannah is an American historian who is in Paris to do some research.  She’s writing about the lives of women who were present in Paris during the German Occupation.  She listens for hours to recordings these women made detailing what living in Paris was like at that time and how these women felt about the German soldiers.  As she walks the streets of Paris, memories of her time there ten years before and the love affair she has never gotten over begin to haunt her.  She’s also haunted by the ghosts of the Paris witnesses she’s listening to.

She takes in a boarder, 19-year-old Tariq, who has run away from his home in Morocco.  Tarij isn’t sure why he came to Paris, possibly to find answers to all of the questions he’s had about his long dead mother.  Hannah and Tariq couldn’t be more different and yet they form a friendship.  Tariq is ashamed that he knows so little history and learns that many North Africans hate France for its treatment of Muslims.  One of his newly found “teachers” is a man who thinks he’s Victor Hugo, a homeless man who performs puppet shows in the subway for donations.

This is a gorgeously written literary work, a slow-moving, thought-provoking book.  There are several stories in this book, not only the stories of Hannah and Tariq but also of the women who witnessed Paris during the German Occupation, relating the atrocities committed, and real-life women such as Andree Borrel, a French heroine of World War II who was executed by the Germans.  The ghosts of the past converge with those walking the streets of Paris in the present day and Paris’ history continues to echo into the future.  This is a book that will linger long after the last page is read.

Most highly recommended.

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