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.

 

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.

 

Ironic, tragic look at love and marriage

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The Behavior of Love by Virginia Reeves

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

Dr. Edward Molinowski has become a workaholic.  He’s the superintendent of a mental institution that needs every second he can give it.  His patients and his work take almost all of his time, leaving little for his artist wife, Laura.  Laura feels that Ed just doesn’t see her anymore.  Plus, he talks far too much about one of his patients – a young, beautiful teenager named Penelope.  Penelope is an epileptic who calls her doctor “Dr. Ed” and who is obviously falling in love with him.  When Laura starts to give art classes at the institution with Penelope as one of her students, the situation begins to heat up.

It took me awhile to get involved in this book but once I did, I was completely immersed in it.  The author is adept at rendering her characters very believable and true to life.  I cared for each of the main characters, although I felt a lot of anger at Ed throughout the book but that turned around to great sympathy.  There are some truly touching moments in this book and those moments are what makes this a recommended book for me.  The author has given her readers some wonderful insights into how love ebbs and flows and can last through so much.  The several ironic events were mind blowing and will remain with me for a long time.

I was very impressed by the author’s first book, “Work Like Any Other”, so I know I went into this second book with great expectations.  Not all of those expectations were met but if I don’t compare her two books in my mind, I can say that this one was very good.  There are two scenes towards the end of the book, one between Ed and Laura and the other between Ed and Penelope, that were very repetitive and not to my liking.  I also think the book cover will not do the book any favors as I feel it looks too light hearted for this very complex book.  But overall, I found this author’s newest effort to be very compelling and gripping.

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

Exquisite, poetical and utterly unique

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The White Book by Han Kang

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

The narrator of this book doesn’t have a name in the book, although it’s no secret that this is an autobiographical work by this author and is a love letter to her long deceased older sister.  The book starts with a list of white items, including swaddling bands, newborn gown, snow, ice and shroud.  This book is a series of very short chapters consisting of meditation-like bursts of thoughts.  Running through these thoughts is the story of the author’s young mother whose first child died only a couple of hours after birth.  Throughout the years, the author has often thought of her sister and the grief that has never ended for her family.

The author not only writes about her sister’s death and the subsequent grief that death imposed upon her family but also writes in such beautiful detail of her sister’s two hours of life.  I think one of the most touching parts of the book is when the author speaks directly to her sister, telling her how much she would have loved having a big sister.

This book has been short listed for the 2018 Man Booker International Prize and I can certainly understand why.  Ms. Kang never fails to impress with the uniqueness of her work.  “The Vegetarian” and “Human Acts” are both books that I will never forget and wrench my heart just thinking about them.  I know that her newest book will be one that I will pick up again and will open randomly just to enjoy reading one of these lovely ruminations.   I read a review that referred to the author’s short chapters as prayers and I think that is totally appropriate.

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.

 

 

Addictive, well-written thriller

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The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

Alicia Berenson is a famous painter.  Her husband, Gabriel, is a well-known fashion photographer.  They have it all and Alicia loves her husband.  That’s what makes it hard to understand why she would have shot him five times in the face.  Alicia hasn’t spoken a word in years and has never explained why she did this terrible act.  Theo Faber is a criminal psychotherapist who is determined to help heal Alicia and to get her to talk about the murder.

OK, I never saw THAT ending coming!  Quite an interesting book that moves along quickly.  I became very engaged in the story and liked the characters.  I can’t say it was very suspenseful because it’s one of those books that’s more interested in the “why” since we already know the “who” and the “what” but the mystery certainly held me in its grip.  This debut author knows how to captivate his audience and I think this may well be a huge success when it’s released next February.   I definitely want to see how the movie is handled (yes, the film rights have already been snatched up, by an Oscar-winning producer no less) and will be on the lookout for what this author writes next.

Addictive, well-written thriller.  Recommended.

I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway.

An addictive read about obsession, betrayal and morality

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An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

It sounds like an easy way to make some much-needed money to make-up artist Jessica Farris.  Just answer a few questions for Dr. Shields’ psychology study, what could be difficult about that?  But some of the questions are tough to answer and cause Jessica quite a bit of discomfort.  But she tries to be honest and do what she’s being paid for.  Then she meets Dr. Shields and is asked to expand her participation in the study and quite a bit more would be asked of her.  The excellent pay pulls Jessica in further and further until she doesn’t know who to trust or just what to think about Dr. Shields’ strange study.  What will Dr. Shields do with the information she’s gathering and why does she need it in the first place?

I was immediately pulled into this book and was completely intrigued.  I couldn’t read fast enough wondering just what was going on and what this study was all about.  I have to admit that when I found out the “why”, I was a bit disappointed.  But I was hooked by that point and had to know more.  This is a book that has a surprise around each bend in the road.  Like Jessica, you won’t know who can be trusted or what’s next in store for this very likeable character.  Try not to read too many reviews about this one because you want to go in blind and not know too much.  Let these excellent authors tell the story the way only they can.  An addictive read about obsession, betrayal and morality.

Recommended.

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

This one had potential to be much better but failed

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Hunting Annabelle by Wendy Heard

Book Review:  2 out of 5 star rating

Sean Suh doesn’t do much with his days other than sitting in a park and drawing people he sees.  He was in a psychiatric prison for three years and is considered rehabilitated but he’s not at sure he has been.  He still has thoughts and urges that he shouldn’t have and his meds make him feel terrible.  When he meets beautiful Annabelle, he has hopes that he hasn’t felt in years.  But when Annabelle is kidnapped right in front of his eyes, the police give Sean a hard time and have difficult believing anything he says.  Sean’s determined to find Annabelle before it’s too late.

I initially was pulled into this book.  The main character, Sean Suh, reminded me of Norman Bates in The Bates Motel TV series.  Both were characters with psychiatric problems with controlling mothers but they were trying so hard to get better and redeem themselves for past deeds.  That was enough to keep me reading though I don’t think the book was very well written.  I did have sympathy for Sean.  Then I hit the last fourth of the book.  That’s when the author completely lost me.  The book ended up going in the direction I thought it would but I thought it was done in a very silly, cheap and gory way.  I don’t want to ruin anything for anyone who wants to give this book a try but the last part of this book just turned me off and ruined anything of substance that I thought I had found in the rest of the book.  It may well just be me but this isn’t one I can recommend.  It had potential to be much better.

Not recommended.

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

 

Haunting, touching psychological drama

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The Boy at the Keyhole by Stephen Giles

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star review

Nine-year-old Samuel misses his mother.  She’s left him alone with the housekeeper Ruth.  Ruth as told Samuel that his mother had to go to America to try to save the family business.  She didn’t even say goodbye and left in the middle of the night while he was sleeping.  But she’s been gone months and he begins to suspect that something has happened to her.  He begins to believe that Ruth has murdered his mother.

The comparisons of this book to the work of Shirley Jackson and Daphne Du Maurier convinced me that it was a must read.  I believe the book is closer to the work of Jackson than Du Maurier.  The author has created a very tense, suspenseful atmosphere.  At points in the book, you think you know where it’s headed but then the author turns it around, again and again, until you’re really not sure what to expect.  My heart was touched by the anguished plight of young Samuel.  It’s quite a sad story, either way the author decided to go.  I had a hard time putting it down and found it to be a very satisfying read.

Recommended.

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

 

Powerful, emotional read with a shaky start

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School of Velocity by Eric Beck Rubin

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

Jan and Dirk are teenage boys when they meet in the Netherlands.  Jan is studying the piano and dreams of a musical career.  Dirk has already had a career as a child actor.  Jan is a quiet boy, while Dirk is flamboyant and outgoing.  Jan soon is obsessed with Dirk and follows him everywhere.  To his surprise, Dirk seems to want to be with him and they soon become fast friends, with sleepovers where they watch porn.  They lose touch when Dirk goes to America to find his way to stardom and Jan stays in the Netherlands to go to music school.  They don’t see each other again until Jan becomes ill and reaches out to Dirk.

OK, I have to admit that I was turned off by the beginning of this book.  Dirk’s language and topics of conversation were sometimes a bit offensive and while young boys may think of only one thing – sex – it isn’t my preferred reading material.  Dirk’s character seemed to go quite a bit over board with his rebellious spirit although the adults unbelievably took it all in stride.  But I’m very glad I stuck with this book.  It really turned around after they each went off to pursue their adult lives and I became engrossed in the book.  It’s a beautifully written story about male friendship and quite sad.  I also enjoyed the author’s description of a musician’s life and the total absorption in the music.  The book leaves open quite a few questions and that’s fine with me.  I didn’t need this type of book wrapped up nicely.  It’s a powerful, emotional read and I don’t even want to start another book yet as I want to give this one some more thought for a while.

Recommended.

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