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.

 

An engrossing political fairy tale

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The Melody by Jim Crace

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

Alfred Busi is better known in his town as Mister Al, the singer/pianist.  But his venues aren’t as large as they once were and he’s in mourning for his much beloved wife.  He’s not keeping up his home very well and it’s getting a bit worn down.  He’s often awakened in the night by animals raiding the garbage cans in his courtyard.  One night upon hearing the noises in the courtyard, he ventures down to set things right.  He’s suddenly attacked – scratched and bitten – and he’s sure it wasn’t an animal but had the sense that it was a naked wild boy.  The report of the attack sets off a series of rumors of what’s living in the nearby woods and ignites fear and discord throughout the town.

This is a beautifully written tale of love and age and grief and reputation.  It’s slow moving but very compelling and unusual and poetic in nature.  It’s almost like a fairy tale or a dream that just carried me along in its flow.  For all its poetry, it’s also political and makes a strong statement against the prejudices that many of those who are more fortunate have against the homeless and poor.  The author is a past winner of the Man Booker Prize and I had read that he had retired from writing but then came out with this book.  I’m glad he did and am looking forward to reading more of his work.  This one will long remain in my memory due to its distinctiveness.

Recommended.

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

Interesting premise

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The Real Michael Swann by Bryan Reardon

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

Michael Swann, who is in New York City, is talking to his wife Julia on his cell phone.  The phone call goes dead and Julia learns that a bomb has gone off.  Julia rushes out to the car and tries desperately to get into the city to find Michael but is stopped by police barricades.  She keeps trying to text and call Robert but there’s no response.  Then developments are revealed by the news media that prove devastating to Julia.

I thought this was a particularly interesting premise.  As always, I don’t like to give away too much of the plot and leave it to the author to tell his story so I can’t explain why the premise is an unusual one since the publisher isn’t mentioning it in their blurb about the book.   Leave it to say there is more involved than a wife trying to find her husband during a possible terrorist attack.  While I did figure out quite early what was happening, it didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the book at all.  At the heart of the book is the love story of Michael and Julia.  As Julia tries to find Michael or at least get some news about him, she relives their life together.  It’s a beautifully and realistically told story.  There’s a point more than half way into the book where it becomes very suspenseful.  I wouldn’t consider this one a thriller overall but more of a character study.  I liked the author’s book, “Finding Jake”, and his newest effort didn’t disappoint.  The story pulled me in and I became invested in the characters’ plight.

Recommended.

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

 

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.