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Book Review: Last House by Jessica Shattuck

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Rating:⭐⭐⭐ Ambitious in scope, spanning the post-WWII years to the present day,  Last House  by  Jessica Shattuck  is a sweeping family saga that follows the fates and fortunes of the members of an American family. The story opens in 1953, where we meet WWII veteran thirty-year-old Nick Taylor, employed as a lawyer with American Oil, a part of a team visiting the Middle East along with a former Yale classmate Carter Weston, who “worked for the government” and whose area of expertise overlapped with Nick’s company’s agenda. With the growth of the oil industry in the United States, Nick’s career flourishes, affording his family financial security and material comforts including a vacation home in Vermont – a choice destination for many of his friends and colleagues. As the narrative progresses, we follow Nick, his wife Bet and his children Katherine and Harry - their hopes, aspirations, regrets and the consequences of the choices they make. “Last House” – their home is Vermont bears witn

Book Review: Their Divine Fires by Wendy Chen

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Rating:⭐⭐⭐ “’It is our history that sets us apart from other families,’ Da Ge said. ‘History that sets others apart from us.’” Their Divine Fires   by  Wendy Chen   is a multigenerational family saga that follows four generations of Chinese and Chinese American women as they navigate through personal loss and tragedy, social and political upheaval and much more. Spanning over a century, we follow our characters through a period of great political and social change in China – from the communist party and peasant revolts leading up to the Chinese Revolution, Japan’s invasion of China, the Cultural Revolution- to present day China and the United States. As the narrative progresses, we follow these characters and bear witness to their hardship, their strength and sacrifices and the consequences of the choices they make and the secrets they keep. The story begins in the southern China countryside in 1917 with ten-year-old Yunhong and is shared from the perspectives of the main characters ac

Book Review: Long Time Gone by Charlie Donlea

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Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Recently accepted into a prestigious fellowship program in forensic pathology, twenty-nine-year-old Dr. Sloan Hastings is assigned the topic of forensic genealogy as her research project. To enhance her knowledge and gain a better understanding of the field, she submits her DNA to a genealogy website. She has always known she was adopted but little did she know that the results of her DNA analysis would result in a shocking revelation about her real identity – a revelation that connects her to the mysterious disappearance of three members of an influential family in Cedar Creek, Nevada in 1995 - a young couple and their two-month-old daughter, Charlotte. As Sloan embarks on a quest to find out more about the cold case, her biological family and the mysterious circumstances surrounding her adoption, she travels to Cedar Creek where she meets members of her biological family who are overwhelmed to be reunited with “Charlotte” after all these years. She finds an ally in the

Book Review: Unterzakhn by Leela Corman

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Rating:  3.5⭐️ Unterzakhn  by  Leela Corman  is a moving story that revolves around themes of social class, inequality, generational trauma, social convention and morality, family sisterhood and survival. The narrative follows identical twins Esther and Fanya, daughters of Jewish immigrants, as they navigate their way through life – their childhood in the tenements of New York’s Lower East Side (circa 1910), the people they meet and the choices they make that lead them in different directions and how their paths cross over the years. The narrative also features a past timeline featuring their father and the events that led to his emigrating from his homeland. There is a lot about this novel that is praiseworthy – notably, the sense of time and place beautifully captured and presented through the author’s remarkable artwork and how the author addressed several social and feminist themes from the era (many of which remain relevant in the present day). However, what keeps me from giving t

Book Review: How to Read a Book by Monica Wood

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Rating:⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ “ I am a reader. I am intelligent. I have something worthy to contribute.” Twenty-two-year-old Violet Powell is released from prison after serving twenty-two months for a car crash that resulted in the death of the other driver. Violet, who was driving under the influence at the time, is consumed by guilt and finds it difficult to adjust to her new life in Portland - having lost her mother while serving her sentence and abandoned by her boyfriend, her remaining relatives distance themselves from her including her sister who sets her up in an apartment in Portland (away from her hometown of Abbott Falls, Maine) and tells her to stay away. While in prison, Violet was part of a book club hosted by retired English teacher Harriet Larson. “I miss how Harriet was forever showing us how to read. How to look for shapes and layers. How to see that stories have a “meanwhile”—an important thing that’s happening while the rest of the story moves along.” While searching for a book that

Book Review: The Red Grove by Tessa Fontaine

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  Rating:3.5⭐ “ The women asked: Who is safe? And Tamsen Nightingale said: The women who shelter in this red grove are safe. The women asked: How are they safe? And Tamsen Nightingale said: In this red grove, no woman can be harmed. No violence may come upon her. No injury to her flesh from the flesh of another. The women asked: Who is welcome? And Tamsen Nightingale said: Those who can walk in darkness are welcome and those who affix to the deeply woven roots are free. — The Story of the Sisters , Welcoming Incantation” Set in 1997,  The Red Grove  by  Tessa Fontaine  revolves around sixteen-year-old Luce Shelley who along with her mother Gloria, younger brother Roo and her aunt Gem, has spent the last eight year of her life as a part of the Red Grove, a secluded community in the redwood forests of California. Luce’s family moved to the Red Grove after an act of violence left her aunt in a vegetative state. The community, mostly comprised of women, offers a sanctuary for those seeking

Book Review: A Song of Silence by Steve N. Lee

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  Rating: 4.5⭐ “The German people might want war. But this? This wasn’t war. This was something else. Something the civilized world had never seen.” A Song of Silence  by  Steve N. Lee  opens in a small town in Poland in the Fall of 1939 and revolves around Mirek Kozlowski, a Polish writer who also runs an orphanage with over ninety children under his care, a number that continues to increase as WWII rages on. Mirek’s prime concerns were providing for those in his care and keeping his children safe – a task that becomes increasingly difficult when the Nazis invade their small town, wreaking havoc in the lives of the residents. As the narrative progresses, we follow Mirek as he bears witness to atrocities committed by the SS. As the situation gradually worsens, Mirek struggles to a find way to protect his family while navigating the restrictions imposed upon the residents, censorship, food shortages and the surveillance of the SS headed by Hauptsturmf├╝hrer Kruger who appears to have tak