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.

 

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.