Falls short

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Panorama by Steve Kistulentz

Book Review:  3 out of 5 star rating

This book tells the story of the lives of those involved in an airplane crash in Dallas and their families and friends, both before, during and after.  It’s New Year Eve, 2000.  There’s quite a large cast of characters, including Richard MacMurray, who is a cable news talking head, and his sister Mary Beth and her young son, Gabriel.  Richard has just broken up with his girlfriend, Cadence, and is at a bit of a loss without her.   Mary Beth has decided to take a short vacation with her boss/lover Mike in the hopes that they can discuss their future together, if any.  She leaves her 6-year-old son Gabriel in the care of Sarah, one of Mike’s assistants, at Mike’s home.

The author lets it be known right at the start that there’s to be a crash.  My hope in the book was that I would be caught up in the lives of these characters with the dread of the upcoming incident hanging over each chapter.  But I never did get very involved in the characters’ lives and actually had a hard time concentrating on the book.  There’s quite a bit about Richard’s work and the stories he talked about on TV, but again I really didn’t find much interest in them.  I found some of the language and sexual scenes useless and tasteless.  The characters I cared the most about were Mary Beth and her son Gabriel.  I think the best part of the book was contained in the last thirty or so pages when Richard grapples with the decision of taking on the care of his nephew Gabriel.

I think this author has promise but his debut falls short.

I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway and am under no obligation to give a review.

 

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Extraordinary character study

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The Waters & the Wild by DeSales Harrison

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

One of Daniel Abend’s therapy patients commits suicide.  She was an addict and was depressed so he thought he understood what had happened.  But when he starts to receive mysterious packages and letters, he starts to think there may have more to her death than he first thought.  The letters and packages take a more sinister turn when they lead him to believe that his teenage daughter is in danger.  Whomever is sending Daniel these notes seems to know a lot about his past, which causes Daniel to visit his past mistakes in life.

Writing the above blurb outlining the basic plot of this book makes it sound like an ordinary thriller.  Yes, there’s plenty of suspense, but it’s so much more than that.  It’s an extraordinary, multi-layered look at the life of a man whose sorrows and regrets run deep.  The writing is so luscious, I couldn’t get enough of it.  The author chose to tell the story through a confession written to a priest, which added another layer of intrigue.  It’s a dark, tragic tale and one I’ll never forget.  This is an intense literary work of art and completely took my breath away.  Kudos to the author on his debut novel.  If it doesn’t receive many awards, I’ll be very surprised.

Most highly recommended.

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

Complex, clever thriller

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The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

All is not what it seems in this complex and clever thriller.  Nellie, a New York preschool teacher, is happy with her work and her lifestyle.  When she meets Richard, she’s swept off her feet into quite a different world of affluence.  There are hints galore about “something” that happened to Nellie in her past that has made her a very “nervous Nellie”.  Her telling of the story fluctuates with the telling of the story by Vanessa, Richard’s ex-wife.  She now lives with her Aunt Charlotte and drinks too much like her mother did before her.

The unreliable narrator has become a very popular form of literature these days.  This is one that I felt was quite well plotted and hard to crack before the author “tells”.  There’s a twist halfway through the book that had me sit up thinking “Whaaaat??” and had me questioning everything I had just read.  When you think all the twists have been revealed, there’s still one more that I never saw coming.

Quite an enjoyable read and kept me on my toes.  Recommended.  This book is being published on January 9, 2018 and can be pre-ordered through the publisher:

https://us.macmillan.com/static/smp/wife-between-us/

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

This is literature at its best

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One Station Away by Olaf Olafsson

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

Magnus is a New York City neurologist.  He’s had three women in his life who have had a profound effect on him – his mother, Margaret, who is a pianist who has finally found fame; his fiancé whose time with him is far too short and one of his patients who is comatose.  The author expertly weaves the stories of these three women into a compelling and masterful book.

The gorgeously told love story between Magnus and Malena touched my heart and then broke it.  Their relationship is brought so vividly to life.  The author’s delving into the relationship between Magnus and his parents is told meticulously and expertly and I could feel his confusion and longings so clearly.  I found the medical studies concerning Magnus’ patient to be fascinating and suspenseful.  In each area of Magnus’ world, the author brings us his powerful and insightful interpretation.

I’m looking forward to reading more of his work.  Mr. Olafsson is the Vice President of Time Warner and is best known for his introduction of PlayStation while working at Sony.   I wish he’d devote all of his time to writing but there are a few past books of his already published that I’ll be getting soon.

Most highly recommended.

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

The fierce bond of family

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Fear by Dirk Kurbjuweit

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

“I had always believed my father capable of a massacre. Whenever I heard on the news that there had been a killing spree, I would hold my breath, unable to relax until it was clear that it couldn’t have been him.”  (Wording may not appear the same in final published edition).

Randolph Tiefenthaler grew up with a father who had an extensive gun collection. Not only were the guns loaded but Randolph’s father had a bit of a temper.  Randolph always had a fear that one night his father would come upstairs and kill him and/or his brother.  Randolph is an adult now with a wife and children when his father is arrested for murder.  It all started when Randolph moved his family to a new building where Dieter Tiberius is living in the basement apartment.  Dieter is an odd character who turns into a menacing one when he starts to stalk Randolph and his family and accuses the parents of sexually abusing their children.

This is an excellent psychological thriller with deep insight into family bonds and the fears implanted in us as children that we continue to live with throughout our adult life. I’ve seen other reviews saying the author lectures about issues but I thought the whole book was fascinating.  I hung on every word and loved the buildup of suspense.  No one seemed to be able to help this family – not their lawyer, not the police and not children’s services.    At times I thought, just move away, but they hadn’t done anything wrong to lose their home, but since it involved children, I would have been out of there.  Regardless, I was quite impressed by this author.  Apparently, the book is loosely based on the author’s own experience with a stalker so he had firsthand knowledge of what this type of situation can do to a person.

The author is from Germany and he has written 8 novels, many of which, including this book, have been adapted for film, television and radio in Germany. “Fear” is the first to be translated into English.  I’ll be keeping an eye out for any others that will be translated in the future for sure.

I don’t usually give thrillers 5 star reviews as I reserve 5 stars for books that really have a profound impact on me. But in a way I think the book did have a profound impact on me as I’m still thinking about it though I’m writing this review weeks after reading the book.  This story showing how quickly our immediate world can become one that’s horribly distressful fills my thoughts throughout the days.  If you’re looking for a thriller with psychological insight, I highly recommend this one.

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

Dragged for me

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The Sinner by Petra Hammesfahr

Book Review:  3 out of 5 star rating

Cora goes to the lakeside to enjoy the sun and water with her husband and young son. There she inexplicitly stabs a man to death.  There are witnesses and Cora’s own confession but the police commissioner does his own investigation into Cora’s past, uncovering secrets even Cora has trouble remembering.

I, like many others, was pulled in by the trailer for the USA mini-series starring Jessica Biel. I figured the book had to be good to have been made into a TV series.  But it really dragged for me and I can’t count the times that I thought of putting the book down for good.  But something kept making me pick it up.

This is yet another unreliable narrator book. Sometimes Cora admits to the reader that she’s lying but sometimes she’s not even sure if she’s lying.  So it’s a bit hard to follow what’s happening.  Events are gone over again and again, each time a little bit differently.  The book has its merits as the story is quite unique and I didn’t see the reveal coming.  I’ve recorded the TV series and will probably watch it even though I now know what’s going to happen.  I’m not sorry I read it but I really didn’t find it as gripping as described.

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.

Do we ever know anyone?

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Watch Me Disappear by Janelle Brown

Book Review:  3 out of 5 star rating

Billie Flanagan is the mother of teenager Olive and the wife of Jonathan. She’s a bit on the rebellious side and despite warnings of hiking alone, she sets off for Desolation Wilderness and doesn’t return nor has her body been found.   A year after her mother’s disappearance, Olive begins to have visions of her mother asking that Olive find her which convinces Olive that her mother is still alive.  Jonathan is trying to have Billie officially declared dead so he can access insurance money that the family desperately needs but he’s having doubts as to what happened to Billie as he has found secrets that she has kept from him.

I had trouble getting into this one. Some of the characters’ decisions just didn’t gel with the characters’ nature as the author described them.  Some of it was hard to believe, especially the ending.  The parts concerning Olive mostly seemed written in a YA style.  The author does do a good job of describing the characters’ grief and their struggles following Billie’s disappearance.  And it certainly did keep me guessing right up to the end.  While I did find some enjoyment in reading t, the book didn’t impress me enough that I want to read the author’s other books so I can’t give it more than 3 stars.

An average book that I enjoyed.

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