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.

Such poetic beauty throughout this literary thriller

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The Trout by Peter Cunningham

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

 

Alex Smyth is living in Canada with his wife when he receives a strange piece of mail containing only a trout fly. Alex has always thought that something terrible had happened when he was a child but the memory is always just a bit past his grasp.  Memories now start coming back and he starts to believe that he may have killed someone when he was a child.  He must return to Ireland to confront his past and get to the bottom of these fragmented memories.

This is one of the most beautifully written books I’ve read in a long time. I’m adding Peter Cunningham to my list of all-time favorite authors and will be reading the rest of his books soon.  This book grabbed my heart and wouldn’t let go nor could I put the book down.  It was completely mesmerizing and awakened my love for truly well-written literature.  I read a lot of books but far too many pass through me without much lasting effect.  This is one that I will treasure and always remember.

The book touches on how elusive memories can be and how they can harm our lives if not brought to the surface. It also touches on how society can convince itself that what they’re seeing isn’t actually happening.  This book is set in such a beautiful location with valleys and hills and rivers and streams and yet what happened there is so tragic and heart breaking.   Predator and prey dominate this story and the author has included short snippets about trout and their lives and their most dangerous predator – man.  It’s a perfect accompaniment for this story that centers on horrific events that take place while fishing.

Most highly recommended.

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

 

I really love this author

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Beautiful Animals by Lawrence Osborne

Rook Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

There are two “beautiful animals” in this book. One is Naomi, a young woman who is spoiled and rich and bored. She’s staying on a Greek island with her father and step-mother, neither of whom does she get along with. Sam is a naïve young woman who is vacationing with her parents. The two become friends. When they find a young man named Faoud hiding on the island, they believe him to be an Arab refugee. Naomi wants to help him and Sam is pulled unwillingly into Naomi’s plans. Naomi figures that money is what Faoud needs to make a new life for himself so she comes up with the plan to enable Faoud to rob her parents’ home.

I love the writing style of this author. I usually am a fast reader but when I’m reading one of Mr. Osborne’s books, his writing compels me to slow down and read every word. He has a beautiful way with words and pulls me into his stories as if I, too, were vacationing on this Greek Island and knew these people personally. This book is many layered, not only the suspenseful plot but also the dynamics between the characters and their families. This is a morally dark, disturbing tale and one that I became completely engrossed in.

Highly recommended.

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

Very strange and unsettling

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Oola by Brittany Newell

Book Review – 2 out of 5 star rating

This is a story of obsession that goes beyond the object being obsessed about. Leif and Oola are in their twenties when they meet and were attracted to each other.  Leif has been getting house sitting jobs all over the world and Oola joins him.  During their travels from one house to the next, they only have each other and become isolated.    Leif’s obsession with Oola keeps growing until he not only wants to know every inch of her, both physically and mentally, but he wants to become her.

I chose this book because of the beautiful writing by the author that the publisher promised. And yes, there is beautiful writing in this book, as well as crude, rough language.  The author writes with wit and black humor but I found the book to be very drawn out in parts and offensive in other parts.  I find obsession fascinating and usually like strange, unsettling books but this book also involves drugs, fetishism and gender bending.  Though in thinking about it, I’ve read other books involving those topics that I thought highly of.  This one was just too coarse for me.  I think the author does a good job in showing the deterioration of this relationship but I think it possibly requires a younger, more modern audience.  Overall, it just wasn’t for me though I did appreciate the author’s talent.

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

A mother’s gift of a bonding road trip to her child

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The Lauras by Sara Taylor

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

13-year-old Alex’s mother is getting restless and tired of the endless arguments with Alex’s father. When she decides to take a road trip into her past, she takes Alex with her.  As they travel together, the mother begins to share stories of her past.  This is the first time that Alex feels the start of knowing anything about her.

I was very impressed by this author’s use of language in her first novel, “The Shore”, for which she won the Baileys Women’s Prize. She has again impressed me with her newest book, although I don’t feel it was quite as good as her first.  That’s not to say that I don’t recommend it because I most definitely do recommend it.  I just enjoyed the subject matter of “The Shore” a bit more.  The author is very talented.  This book is basically just a trip through the mother’s past that she opens up to her child as she tries to set right some past wrongs, visit old friends and find some healing.  While there’s not a very complicated plot, the author makes it such an interesting read.  I felt like I was sitting in the back seat and taking this road trip right along with them.

There was an interesting take on Alex. Alex could be a boy or Alex could be a girl.  Alex isn’t telling.  Alex doesn’t believe in gender and hasn’t quite decided which direction he/she will be headed.  The sexual awakening of this young person is handled in a very realistic manner and yet quite sensitively.

Here’s an example of one of the literary finds in this book, though keep in mind that I read an ARC of the book and this may be changed in the final edition. “We were caught on the thin, hungry edge of the morning, before the sun sliced itself open on the horizon and bled out across the sky.”  I really enjoy the writing style of this author and am already looking forward to her next book, which I hope will be soon.

Recommended.

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