When babies become a commodity

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The Farm by Joanne Ramos

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

Golden Oaks seems to offer a wonderful opportunity to young, healthy women who need money.  The review process is extensive but if you’re lucky enough to be chosen to enter its gates, you’ll have great health care, organic food, massages every day and wonderful fitness equipment.  Plus regular pay checks and a huge bonus at the end of your stay.  And all you have to do is deliver a healthy baby for someone else.

Jane is from the Philippines.  She has a little girl she is willing to do anything for and wants to give her a better life.  Jane is one of the lucky ladies accepted into Golden Oaks.  But she soon learns that there is a heavy price to pay in return for the promises made to her.

I enjoyed this story of these women and their stay at Golden Oaks.  Some of the women, like Jane, were looking for a better life for their loved ones.  Some were hoping to give women unable to bear children of their own what they so longed for – a healthy baby.  Some were just looking to make what they thought would be an easy buck.  However, as with anything involving money, greed pokes its head into their plans.  This is a slow book.  This is not a thriller as some reviewers have mentioned though there are suspenseful moments.  It’s more of a look into the hearts of these women who are being used to produce what wealthier people want.  I did not care for the ending at all but I can understand how it was plausible.  This is a well-written, thought-provoking novel about women and class.

Recommended.

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

 

Failed to capture my heart

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The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray

Book Review:  3 out of 5 star rating

Althea, Viola, Joe and Lillian were the Butler children.  The childhood was not the best as their mother died when they were young and their father was abusive but wasn’t around very much.  Althea was only 12 years old when she was left in charge of the family.  Their problems as children follow them into adulthood.  Althea is now middle age and is on trial, along with her husband Proctor, for food stamp fraud and taking money from their community members through their charitable works.  Althea and Proctor were highly regarded for all they did for the community so their fall from grace was difficult for them, their family and the entire community.  Their twin teenage daughters, Kim and Baby Vi, are living with Lillian, who has her hands full with them.  Viola is now a therapist but struggling with bulimia and is estranged from her wife.  And Joe – well, Joe has a lot to be regretful about.

This tale of a dysfunctional family and their demons and the effect of Althea and Proctor’s theft on the family and community failed to capture my heart.   I had absolutely no sympathy for Althea and Proctor and the mess they found themselves in.  While I did sympathize with the rest of the family, their plight seemed to be removed and I just read the book from a distance.  I just didn’t connect with the characters much at all.  I found some of the book repetitive and drawn out.  It wasn’t a terrible book and I kept reading to find out what happened.  There was one point towards the end of the book where I thought the book was finished but was surprised to see that it kept going.  I think it would have been a better ending a bit earlier on.  Maybe it was just me and from the reviews it does seem that I’m in the minority but I can’t give this book more than 3 stars nor can I recommend it.

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.

 

 

Not very credible

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The Girl Made of Clay by Nicole Meier

Book Review:  3 out of 5 star rating

Sara and her mother were abandoned by her father when Sara was a young girl and she was left with an emotionally unstable mother and too much responsibility on her young shoulders.   Sara’s father, known as “TR”, was a famous sculptor and his fame pulled him away from his family.  Sara is now a grown woman with a husband and a young son.  Her marriage is not doing well and Sara needs no further complications when she receives a phone call from a hospital telling her that TR was severely burned in a fire and was asking for her.  Old wounds are reopened.

While I well understand that family dynamics can be very complicated, this book just didn’t ring true to me.  I could have been in Sara’s shoes in my own life and I know I would have responded quite differently than she did.  Not wanting to give away the plot, it’s difficult to explain but forgiveness is one thing and being used is another.   I also had a hard time connecting with these characters, maybe because I felt out of sync with them.  It was also too drawn out at times.

I did enjoy the artistic parts of the book and the creative passion that Sara never lost despite her father’s abandonment.  I felt compassion for Sara but it wasn’t enough to make this book a really special one.  It was an OK read and I never wanted to give up on it.  It just isn’t one that I will long remember.

This book was won by me in a Goodreads giveaway.

Not at the top of my favorites by this author

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Alternate Side by Anna Quindlen

Book Review:  3 out of 5 star rating

Nora Nolan has always felt a kinship with New York City and wants to live nowhere else.  Her husband Charlie doesn’t feel the same way.  He’s always trying to convince her to move from the city, mostly because he hasn’t found success in NYC and thinks he’ll do better elsewhere.  Their twins have left home and are living at college now.  The dead end street where they live is a tight knit group of friends and those not well thought of.  Most have dogs and Nora and Charlie’s dog, Homer, opens up channels of communication with many of the neighbors.  They all mourn together when one of them loses a dog.  One of the neighbors, Jack, has anger issues and often that anger is directed at the area’s handyman, Ricky.  When a dispute over parking spaces erupts into violence, none of their lives will be the same.

I have read many of Anna Quindlen’s books and she’s a favorite author of mine.  I couldn’t be more surprised that I can only give her newest book 3 stars.  I’ve read all of the glowing reviews but personally I struggled through this book.  I had so much trouble keeping the characters straight and then realized that I just didn’t care for any of them and they all just blended together.  These are people of privilege and they have lives that others would envy.  And yet they aren’t satisfied and constantly whine.  There’s a line in the book that I can’t find now which said something to the effect that you shouldn’t whine on a luxury cruise and that’s what I felt these people were doing.  And I just couldn’t get interested in their “plight” at all.

That’s not to say that there weren’t parts of this book that I enjoyed.  I loved the dog Homer who loved every minute of his walks around the neighborhood.  I liked the exchanges between Nora and the “homeless” man.  I enjoyed some of the humor that Ms. Quindlen includes in this book.  Possibly I expected something else.  The previous books by this author that I’ve read, such as “Black and Blue” and “One True Thing”, were much darker books and elicited strong emotions for me.  The only scene that elicited emotion from me in this book was the one involving Homer.

Sorry, Ms. Quindlen, but this book isn’t at the top of my favorites of yours.

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

A heart-warming book full of charm

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The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

The street where Frank Adair’s music shop is located has seen better days.  The mortar is falling off the buildings and teens are decorating its stores with graffiti.  But some of these shops have been here for many years, including Frank’s music shop, which only deals in vinyl records.  He refuses to carry CDs, which makes him quite unpopular with the record suppliers.  But Frank’s shop is special.  He has a knack for finding just the right song his customers need.  He manages to heal broken hearts and marriages and his store is a popular one with the community.  Frank has made a nice life for himself until one day a woman faints outside of his shop and sets his world on end.

This book is peopled with such unique, quirky characters – Frank’s assistant, Kit, who struggles to control his exuberance; Maud, the tattoo artist, Father Anthony who now runs a religious shop, the Williams Brothers, the funeral directors; and the baker, Mr. Novak.  And then there’s Ilse Brauchmann, who is such a mystery, with her gloved hands and her utter lack of knowledge about music.

My favorite part of the book was when the author takes a look back at the lessons Frank’s mother gave him about music and the music lessons he in turn gives to Ilse.  Frank’s mother taught him to hear the silence between the music notes and to look beyond the music to hear the composer’s heart and soul.  Ms. Joyce obviously has a great passion for music and how music can impact a person’s life is the thrust of her newest novel.

I do wish the author had wrapped up the story a bit earlier than she did.  I felt the book dragged for a while at the end.  But all in all, it was a very enjoyable book and brought a lot of smiles to my heart.

Recommended.

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

Quite a captivating book

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The Wildling Sisters by Eve Chase

Book Review:  4 out of 5 stars

Jessie hopes that a move to the country will help her relationship with her teenage step daughter, Bella. Jessie is also trying to escape from being surrounded by memories of her husband’s deceased wife, Mandy, and wants a fresh start.  But their new home is not the haven that Jessie had hoped for.  Bella is caught up in the disappearance of a young girl, Audrey, some 50 years ago.

The book fluctuates between telling the present-day story of Jessie and the story of the missing Audrey 50 years ago. Five years after Audrey’s disappearance, Margot and her three sisters are sent off by their mother to stay with Audrey’s parents, their Aunt Sybil and Uncle Perry.  Sybil and Perry have been housebound since their daughter’s disappearance and pretty much shunned by their neighbors since Perry had been a suspect in his daughter’s disappearance.  Margot is pulled into the strange world Audrey has left behind and the sisters are drawn apart by the attentions of two young men.  When disaster strikes, hard decisions need to be made.

This is the second book by this author and I’ve had the pleasure of reading them both. I very much enjoy the characters and atmosphere that she creates in her books.  While in many ways, it’s a typical tale of an old English house with past secrets, the author has quite a knack for bringing her characters to life and has wonderful insight into the human heart.

Spellbinding and 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.

 

Fascinating portrayal of one day in a marriage that’s on the edge

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Small hours by Jennifer Kitses

Book Review:  4 out of 5 stars

The entire book covers 24 hours in the marriage of Tom and Helen. They are the parents of three-year-old twins and have recently moved from Queens to a small town on the Hudson River.  Helen is working from home and is finding it stressful finding enough time to manage work, home and children.  Tom commutes to his job at a news wire service.  They have come into some financial difficulties and have been less than honest and upfront with each other so things start to unravel.

This is one of those books where everyday events can lead to a powerful punch. The author expertly rackets up the suspense as Tom and Helen’s day proceeds.  I’ve been trying not to rely too much on advertising blurbs and comparisons but I think the publisher’s comparisons to Richard Russo and Tom Perrotta are very close.  I cared about Tom and Helen and I kept wishing they would just sit down and talk things out instead of trying to handle their difficulties on their own.  It was obvious they cared about each other.  The suspense comes into play because you’re just not sure how far the author is going to take the story and you can only sit and watch in dread as the hours go by.  I found Tom and Helen’s story to be realistic and believable and I very much enjoyed the time spent with them.

I did find the section involving Tom’s work place to be a bit slow and that was my least favorite part of the book, though at times it was humorous. Maybe that’s because I’m retired and really don’t want to spend any time at “work”, even in a book.  I could certainly feel Tom’s frustration there.

This is the author’s debut novel and I’m very interested to see where she heads next.

Recommended.

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

 

As magical as the first book in the series

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The Postman’s Fiancee by Denis Theriault

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

Tania, who works as a waitress, has fallen in love with one of her customers, the shy postman, Bilodo. She knows of his fascination with haikus so she tries to learn how to write them herself to attract his attention.  However, fate has different plans for these two and leads them on an unexpected path.

This second book in the series is as magical as the first book, “The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman”. This is the type of book where I hesitate to tell too much of the plot and would rather leave it to the author to tell it in his own unique way.  While this book could be read as a standalone, I do think it would be best to read the first book before reading this sequel as parts of the books overlap.  Like the first book, this one is a quick read.  As in the first book, I very much enjoyed the many lovely haikus included throughout the book.  I found both of these novellas to be completely charming, quirky and engrossing and I loved them both.  I’m delighted to learn that the author’s debut novel, “The Boy Who Belonged to the Sea”, will be translated from French and released in the US in February of 2018.

Highly recommended.

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