Excellent literary achievement digging deep into human morals

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The Glass Kingdom by Lawrence Osborne

Book Reivew:  5 out of 5 star review

American Sarah Mullins has come to Bangkok, Thailand looking to hide away.  She rents an apartment in the high-end complex called The Kingdom.  She soon meets three other mysterious women there:  the married Nat, who is a British hotelier; Ximena, the Chilean chef; and Mali, the most mysterious of them all.  But political unrest causes upheavals and violence in the streets surrounding The Kingdom that begin to work their way inside the complex, causing feelings of insecurity for the residents and revealing its inhabitants’ secrets.

This is one of my favorite modern authors and he has not disappointed with this gem of a book.  Mr. Osborne is a master at subtly creating uncomfortable, unsettling atmospheres that will send chills up your spine as you are pulled into his stories.  He also is a master at describing settings that will pluck you right out of your easy chair and place you directly in the heart of the location, where you can clearly see each and every detail, smell each and every scent and odor, hear each and every sound.  I lived in Bangkok every time I picked up this book.  This authors’ books are completely unpredictable and I find them fascinating.

Do know that the book starts out slowly but don’t give up – there is much more here than there first appears.  Excellent literary achievement digging deep into human morals.

Most highly recommended.

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

 

An emotional read

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Book Review:  The Silence by Susan Allott

Rating:  5 out of 5 star

Isla Green has received a middle of the night call from her father.  He has been questioned by the police about the disappearance of a woman thirty years ago.  Apparently, her father was the last person to have seen his neighbor, Mandy, and there has been no trace of her since then.  Isla returns to Australia to support her father and secrets of the past begin to unfold.

I absolutely loved this book and it held my attention like nothing else has been able to.  I kept being pulled deeper and deeper into this unforgettable tale.  The book fluctuates between 1967 and 1997 and the transition between these time frames flows along beautifully.  This is a debut novel by Ms. Allott and she obviously will be a powerful force in the literary world.  I loved each of these characters and found the book to be both very moving and very suspenseful.

There is a very sad true history running throughout this book.   In Australia between 1905 and 1967, Aboriginal children were taken from their homes by the government, supposedly to give them a better life but in fact were taken to institutions where many of them were mistreated.  I first learned of these children when I saw the movie “Rabbit-Proof Fence” many years ago.

I most highly recommend this book.

This book was won by me on LibraryThing in a contest where an unbiased review was requested.

Languid like a warm Caribbean beach

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Saint X by Alexis Schaitkin

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star review

7-year-old Claire and her older sister, Alison, are on vacation with their parents on the Caribbean island of Saint X.  On their last evening there, Alison disappears.  Days later, her body is found and the police arrest two local men, Clive and Edwin.  Clive and Edwin are soon released as there is not enough evidence to hold them.  So the family comes home.  Years later when Claire is an adult and living in New York City, she runs into Clive.  Claire becomes obsessed with learning the truth of what happened to Alison and she starts to follow Clive around the city.  She’s sure that someday he’ll make a mistake and the truth will be known.

This is the type of book that, while it tells a very interesting story, it’s not the story itself that makes it special but rather the telling of the story.  The author has a wonderful way of bringing her reader right into the hearts and minds of her characters.  Each of the characters has their own tale to tell and even the characters who only make a brief appearance have their chance to share their views.  There are a lot of layers to this intelligent book and I absolutely loved it.  It’s a slow moving, beauty of a book, languid like a warm Caribbean beach, but keeps lovingly pulling you along.

Keep an eye on this debut author.  She’ll be going far for sure!

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

An unbelievable foray into the mind of a serial killer

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The Only Child by Mi-Ae Seo

Book Review:  3 out of 5 star rating

Yi Byeongdo is a serial killer sitting on death row.  He hasn’t said much to anyone about the murders he’s committed and the police are anxious to learn just how many murders there were.  Unexpectedly, Yi Byeongdo has asked to be interviewed by a criminal psychologist by the name of Seonkyeong.  Seonkyeong has no idea why Yi Byeongdo has singled her out as she does not know him.

Seonkyeong has just been surprised by her husband with the arrival of his eleven-year-old daughter from a previous marriage, Hayeong.  There has been a fire and Hayeong’s grandparents with whom she was living have died.  Seonkyeong is anxious to help Hayeong feel at home but soon starts to feel out of her depth.  Seonkyeong starts to see quite a few similarities in the histories of both Yi Byeongdo and Hayeong.

I must say that I was disappointed with this one.  I have enjoyed the writing of other Korean authors and apparently Mi-ae Seo is a bestselling thriller author and screenwriter in Korea.  I just could not get into this story and found it to be written in quite a lackluster way.  There were moments when I thought, OK, here we go, but then nothing much happened.  For being a criminal psychologist, Seonkyeong’s thinking and decisions were disconcerting.  She should have known better in so many instances and that leant the book a feeling of unreality.  There were quite a few unbelievable incidents in the book.  While the author did a good job of weaving the separate storylines together, all I could think at the ending of the book was “You have to be kidding”.

Hopefully this book will find an audience that will love it but it’s not one that I can honestly recommend, even though it did have its moments.

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

 

A powerful, mesmerizingly sad book about a pedophile and his victim

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My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

Vanessa Wye is 15 years old in 2000.  She’s insecure and naïve and oh so young.  She’s an easy target for her teacher, Jacob Strane, who is 42 years old and a pedophile.  While Strane carefully grooms Vanessa towards his ultimate goals, Vanessa is convinced that her actions are consensual and that this is what she wants.

Switch to 2017.  The “Me Too” movement is in full swing.  A former student has accused Strane of abuse.  He’s counting on Vanessa to back him up.  Vanessa assures him that she will since she has always believed that she was the instigator of their affair.  As she reaches back into her memory and reads of the new allegations against Strane, her perceptions and beliefs of the past subtly start to shift.

Wow, just wow.  What a powerful, mesmerizingly sad book this is.  My heart bled for Vanessa as I watched her heart and soul open itself to this abusive man.  She just wanted to feel special, to feel beautiful, to feel loved.  Strane took advantage of that desire and brought such devastation and confusion into Vanessa’s life.  I’ve read reviews saying that this book looks at whether this situation should be considered abuse if it’s consensual, but I truly don’t see how anyone could believe that this was consensual on Vanessa’s part.  Strane wouldn’t stop even as she lay there crying.  She was manipulated into believing this was what she wanted.  Every word that Strane said to her, every look he gave her, every caress he risked was to bring this young girl around to his thinking.  He even used the books he was teaching to convince her of how “special” she was.

Most highly recommended.

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

 

 

More erotica than literary

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The Girl at the Door by Veronica Raimo

Book Review:  2 out of 5 star rating

A nameless 6-months pregnant woman is finding her place in Miden.  Miden is a future society that has grown out of “The Crash”.  The woman lives with her nameless boyfriend, who is a professor.  One day the woman receives a visit from a young girl who claims that she once had a violent relationship with the woman’s boyfriend while the girl was his student.  The girl has made a complaint to those in charge of Miden and they are taking testimony and deciding whether the boyfriend should be banned from Miden.  In alternating chapters, the woman and man reflect on their relationship.

This book is being publicized as literary fiction.  I would place it more in the erotica genre, and low class erotica at that.  The language is consistently and needlessly obscene as are the sex scenes.  I don’t consider myself a prude and believe that sexual scenes can have a powerful effect when done properly.  However, this is more of a case where the story is just an excuse for writing trashy scenes.

I really did try to ignore the language and look beneath that for something of substance but was unable to find it.  I was fooled by the literary fiction description, by the fact that it has been bought for a TV series, by the fact that it was felt good enough to translate into English from Italian, and by reviews such as this:  “this uncompromising, fiercely intelligent novel confirms the moral usefulness of serious art”.  Maybe it was just me.  I’ll give it two stars because there were short sections involving the pregnant woman when she was talking about the baby that I found interesting.  But this is not one that I can recommend.

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

 

Melodramatic, gothic tale

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The Nanny by Gilly MacMillan

Book Review:  3 out of 5 star rating

After her husband’s untimely death, Jocelyn Holt has no choice but to move herself and her young daughter, Ruby, into her mother’s home at Lake Hall.  She hopes it’s just temporary because she and her mother have always had a difficult relationship.  When Jo thinks of her childhood, it’s her nanny, Hannah, who she remembers as giving her the love and care she needed.  But Hannah unexpectedly disappeared from Jo’s life and home when Jo was 7 years old and Jo has never gotten over the loss.  As soon as she was able to, she left her home and parents behind.  Now she’s returned home but things are tense between Jo and her mother.  Then Jo and Ruby find a human skull in the lake and the past is pulled into the present and Jo doesn’t know if she can trust her memories.

I found this one to be more of a gothic mystery in nature than a true thriller.  I literally cringed at some of Jo’s behavior towards her mother.  The only sensible one in the book was 10-year-old Ruby and I felt a lot of sympathy for her.  The story is told from several perspectives and the author does a good job of shifting the reader’s allegiances.  There is a certain point in the book that gripped me, mainly due to the horrible situations people can find themselves pulled into.  But then it races to the very distasteful, at least to me, ending.

An average book about an extremely dysfunctional family.

This book was won by me in a giveaway contest.

 

A fun, fast read

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The Escape Room by Megan Goldin

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

Vincent, Sam, Sylvie and Jules are at the height of their profession.  They have worked hard and their ambition knows no bounds.  They have received an email telling them that they are to meet for an escape room test.  They get into the elevator hoping that this won’t take long and they can get back to their busy lives.  But the elevator stops, the doors won’t open and the lights go out.  That’s when they realize that this isn’t a game and they’ll have all they do to survive. But these four people have always been dangerously competitive and the stress and fears from their confinement are soon combustible.

This was a fun, fast read.  Although some of the plot didn’t come as a surprise to me and the book didn’t get my heart racing, I enjoyed the story.  It was like watching a train heading for a wreck – you knew there was going to be a blow up scene and you couldn’t look away.  The author does a very good job of bringing her characters to life and slowly building the plot.  The only likeable characters were Sara and Lucy but it’s fun having Vincent, Sam, Sylvie and Jules to despise.  And such an excellent moral lesson is in this book.  Watching these people claw their way to the top with the only goal being to make more and more money was sickening.  They worked so many hours, they never had a chance to enjoy what they were earning.  Completely crazy but the author ensures that her characterizations are believable.  She takes great care to show how these people got to where they are. The scenes in the stuck elevator are the best parts and the author has great fun getting these four ruthless people to turn against each other even more as their suspicions and distrust grow.

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.

 

Obsession in Hollywood

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The Paper Wasp by Lauren Acampora

Book Review:  3 out of 5 star review

Abby has high hopes for a career making movies but she’s still living at home with her parents and working at a local supermarket.  She keeps all magazine and newspaper articles about her friend, Elise, who has gone on to become a movie actress.  She meets Elise again at a school reunion and is thrilled that Elise not only remembers how close they were but wants them to become close again.  Elise gives Abby her phone number, swearing her to secrecy, and tells her to give her a call if she’s ever in LA.  Abby steals her parents’ credit card and surprises Elise in LA where she finds an Elise more vulnerable than Abby imagined.  Abby is pulled more and more into Elise’s world.  When things begin to shift in their relationship, Abby’s desires and ambitions take a strange turn.

I’ve always been attracted to books about obsession.  This one satisfies in that regard.  Abby’s obsessions with Elise makes for an absorbing read.  Abby is a character who at first I felt sympathy for but she soon becomes a much darker character.  The end gave me chills as unbelievable as it was and played out as obsessions so often do.

On the negative side, a large part of this book is about dreams and their meanings.  Abby believes she has dreams that foretell the future and that when she dreams of people, they are actually there and that they are dreaming the same dream.  I had a hard time staying focused during these forays into fantasy.  Abby actually becomes a member of the Rhizome, an organization who interviews its members about their dreams.  It was very strange and I can’t say I enjoyed these sections of the book much.

While parts of this book were well worth the time spent, as a whole it didn’t leave much of an impression on me and is not one that I would recommend.  It felt a bit too much like a Young Adult or Chick Lit, although on the dark side, for me.

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