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Showing posts from May, 2024

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 Hauptsturmführer Kruger who appears to have tak

Book Review: Women and Children First by Alina Grabowski

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  Rating: 3.75⭐ Touching upon themes of social class and inequality, ambition, family, friendship, gender identity and sexuality, abuse, guilt and grief, I found  Women and Children First  by  Alina Grabowski  is an impressive debut novel. “Your choices have to mean something, even if they mean something terrible.” The tragic death of a local teenager at a house party sends shockwaves through the small (fictional) town of Nashquitten, Massachusetts. Structured in ten chapters ( each from a different character’s perspective) in total, divided into five “pre” and five “post” Lucy’s death, this is a slow-moving yet immersive character-driven novel. Among the voices we here from are : a sixteen-year-old who went to school with Lucy and worked with her cousin and was in a romantic relationship with a teacher; a guidance counselor who tries to do right by her students only to have her concerns dismissed by the school principal who is unaware or rather chooses to ignore the possibility that h

Book Review: Old Girls Behaving Badly by Kate Galley

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  Rating:⭐⭐⭐⭐ After her husband of forty-three years leaves seventy-one-year-old Georgina “Gina” Knight to “find himself,” she is forced to rethink her plans for the future. With her adult children well settled in their own lives and the family home about to be sold, Gina not only needs to find a place to live but also a means to supplement her income after splitting the proceeds from the impending sale. When she sees an advertisement for a Companion to an elderly lady for a well-paying week-long assignment that would require her to accompany the family to Norfolk for a family wedding, she is quick to apply for the position. Eighty-nine-year-old Dorothy “Dot” Reed isn’t too keen on having a Companion following her around, but when she meets Gina, whom she instantly likes and shares common interests, she has a change of heart. Unbeknownst to Gina at the time, Dorothy has a hidden agenda – a quest to find the culprit responsible for the theft of a piece of art from her home. She believes

Book (Audiobook) Review: Mad Love by Wendy Walker

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  Plot: 4⭐ Audio Narration: 5⭐ Adam Archer was Gin Talcott’s second husband, whom she married not too long after she lost her first husband Eddie. Piper, Gin’s eighteen-year-old daughter from her first marriage, discovers the gruesome crime scene after a shooter left Adam dead and Gin fighting for her life in their own bed. Piper’s twin brother Daniel, who also might have been present at the time, is believed to have left the scene with the murder weapon, indicating that the twins may have been involved. Detectives Greta Jessup, who was a friend of Eddie’s, and Finn Pate leave no stone unturned as they do a deep dive into Adam and Gin’s lives. Not only theirs might not have been the happy marriage that everyone assumed, but complicating matters further is the fact that Piper , Daniel and Ruth, Eddie’s sister, know more than they are letting on. Parallel to the police investigation, we are given insight into the events that led up to that fateful through a letter Gun left for estate att

Book Review: See: Loss. See Also: Love. by Yukiko Tominaga

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Rating:  4.5⭐️ See: Loss. See Also: Love.   by  Yukiko Tominaga  r evolves around Kyoko, a young Japanese American immigrant in her late twenties, who loses her Jewish-American husband to a freak accident while she is visiting her family in Japan with her eighteen-month-old son, Alex. The narrative is shared in four sections comprising a series of non-linear vignettes from the first person PoV of Kyoko as we follow her upbringing in Japan, her years as a student in the United States, her marriage to Levi and her settling in the United States to how she juggles her professional aspirations, her responsibilities as a single mother and her personal life in the years following Levi’s demise. Kyoko decides to remain in San Francisco with her son. Her parents in Japan are supportive of her decision and Levi’s family, especially his mother Bubbe, extend their support whenever needed. As we follow Kyoko over the years we see her reflect on her marriage and her loss – it is not just sorrow that

Book Review: Whale Fall by Elizabeth O'Connor

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Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Set on a fictional Welsh island in 1938,  Whale Fall  by  Elizabeth O'Connor  revolves around eighteen-year-old Manod Llan, a lifelong islander, who dreams of a life different from the one expected of girls her age in her community. She yearns for a future that would take her away from the island yet feels a deep attachment to the small community (fifteen men, twenty women, and twelve children), her father and younger sister Llinos whom she has taken care of ever since her mother passed on. When a beached whale washes ashore, their isolated island catches the attention of outsiders among whom are two ethnographers who visit the island to study the way of life of the islanders. Manod is a bright girl, well versed in both Welsh and English and the natural choice for a translator who could assist Joan and Edward in communicating with the islanders and transcribing their notes. Joan’s friendship and worldliness inspire Manod and Edward’s promises give her hope. But as she

Book Review: I Will Ruin You by Linwood Barclay

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  Rating:  3.5⭐️ After high school English teacher Richard Boyle intercepts Mark LeDrew, a former student attempting to enter the school building with a bomb strapped to his chest and manages to talk him out of entering the building thus averting a mass tragedy, he is hailed a hero. However, the incident also attracts the attention of a former student with a grudge. Billy Finster, an airport baggage handler with shady dealings, threatens to go public with his allegations unless Richard pays him for his silence. Richard vehemently denies Billy’s allegations but suspects that Billy’s accusations might not be completely baseless as Mark had also voiced similar grievances. But Billy isn’t Richard’s only problem. Jealous colleagues, a lawsuit, irate parents protesting Richard’s classroom discussions on books they deem inappropriate and coping with the trauma of almost being blown up and the strain of keeping secrets from his wife complicated the situation further. Unbeknownst to Richard, Bi

Book Review: Days of Wonder by Caroline Leavitt

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Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ The novel begins with twenty-two-year-old Ella Fitchburg in 2018 being released after serving six years of a twenty-five-year sentence for the attempted murder of her former boyfriend’s father, a prominent judge. Haunted by her past and the painful memories of Jude with whom she had dreamt of a future but who disappeared from her life after her arrest, Ella is desperate to locate the daughter she gave birth to and was made to give u for adoption while in prison. Complicating matters further is the fact that she does not have a clear memory of the night of the attempted murder and is unable to locate Jude, who might be able to shed light on the events of that night. Her mother, Helen, who works in a dress shop and loves her daughter, wouldn’t hesitate to relocate so that both of them could start afresh. Despite her mother’s protest, Ella secretly embarks on a search for her daughter. Ella, who earned a college degree while incarcerated, finds it difficult to secure employme

Book Review: Nonna Maria and the Case of the Lost Treasure by Lorenzo Carcaterra ( Nonna Maria #3)

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  Rating: 4.5⭐ Delightful and riveting in equal measure,  Nonna Maria and the Case of the Lost Treasure  by  Lorenzo Carcaterra  is simply unputdownable! When the granddaughter of an old friend approaches Nonna Maria for her assistance in locating treasure hidden by her deceased grandfather in Ischia’s caves, Nonna Maria taps into her knowledge of the history of the island and enlists the help of two islanders who have experience navigating the dangers within the caves. Parallelly, Nonna Maria’s vast network of friends and family also helps her track the movements of a group of criminals who have ventured onto the island to assassinate her friend (with whom she frequently collaborates) Carabinieri Captain Paulo Murino for reasons which are gradually revealed. There is a lot to unpack in this novel, but the narrative is engaging and at no point do you feel overwhelmed or find the plot(s) difficult to follow. I should mention that this installment is relatively more intense than the prec

Book Review: Still See You Everywhere by Lisa Gardner (Frankie Elkin #3)

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Rating: ⭐⭐⭐ In  Still See You Everywhere , the third installment of  Lisa Gardner ’s  Frankie Elkin  series, we follow our protagonist to a remote atoll in the middle of the Pacific in her efforts to find the younger sister of serial killer Kaylee “Keahi” Pierson dubbed by the media as the “Beautiful Butcher” and guilty of eighteen proven murders. Over twelve years ago, after a particularly violent episode involving her wealthy, influential and abusive boyfriend Sanders “Mac” MacManus left Keahi hospitalized, her younger sister Leilani “Lea” then only five years old, disappeared without a trace. When Keahi receives a letter she believes was written by Lea, she has reason to believe that Mac has been holding Lea against her will. Barely three weeks before her scheduled execution Keahi, who has had a tragic and violent past but shows no remorse for her actions, asks Frankie to save Lea, who she believes will be accompanying Mac to an isolated Hawaiian island, the site for his latest busi

Book Review: Morgan's Book Brigade by Janet Skeslien Charles

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Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ A story that touches upon themes of the horrors of war, trauma, resilience and survival, friendship, compassion and the healing power of books and reading  Miss Morgan's Book Brigade  by  Janet Skeslien Charles  is a remarkable work of historical fiction. Based on the true story of Jessie Carson, an American librarian known for her efforts to establish children’s libraries in war-torn France and training young French women librarians, the novel also sheds light on CARD, the American Committee for Devastated France,  (Le Comité américain pour les régions dévastées) , an initiative headed by wealthy American philanthropist Ann Morgan and the women who volunteered to travel to France to help rebuild devastated French communities near the war front in the aftermath of The Great War. The narrative is shared through dual timelines set in 1918 France and 1987 New York City. The 1918 timeline is shared from the perspective of Jessie, as she travels to CARD Headquarters in the