Book Reviews




Reader Review: "Happiness Falls"



by Gloria M (San Jose): Angie Kim is an excellent writer! This is evident from her choice of quotes to comprise her epigraph at the very beginning of "Happiness Falls." Some readers may be initially reluctant to choose a GMA Book Club selection as it is too "popular/trendy" but, at least in this case, that would mean missing one of the best novels of the year.

The plot is imaginative, the characters are compelling and the musings about life and purpose and the connections to our loved ones are thought provoking. Mia is the twenty year old narrator of this tale about a crisis experienced by a Virginian family. Her father is missing and a page turning mystery rapidly unfolds. The personal drama and secrets of Mia, her mom, her dad, her twin brother John, and her younger brother Eugene (suffering from a rare genetic disease and unable to speak) are slowly revealed, layers of a large onion gradually pulled away.

The elements of philosophy and purpose and deep questions regarding our human connections will prove relevant to most readers. It is a well woven piece of fiction and it is difficult to reveal more without divulging spoilers and disrupting the fun of discovering all the details. Without question this book deserves five stars. The characters, the emotions it generates and the musings it inspires will remain in the reader's thoughts for quite some time.





Reader Review: "The Covenant of Water"



by Cathryn Conroy (Gaithersburg, Maryland): This is a monumental and original family saga that is like nothing I have ever read. It is richly imaginative and packs an emotional wallop.

Taking place in Kerala, a state in South India on the Malabar Coast, it spans nearly 80 years and is brutally realistic. This isn't a sweetsie-lovey story. It's about life. Real life. And it hurts the reader sometimes! Children die, loved ones die by suicide, people are killed in somewhat brutal and violent ways, and several suffer debilitating injuries. It's a tough read because I was emotionally connected with the characters and then wham! They die or suffer. But that is the ultimate premise of this book: Finding the meaning in suffering.

Magnificently written by physician and bestselling author Abraham Verghese, this epic multigenerational novel begins in 1900 and ends in 1977, centering on the character of Big Ammachi. She is 12 years old when her father dies, leaving her mother destitute. In a desperate move, this little girl is hurriedly married off to a 40-year-old widower and father of a 2-year-old boy, who lives Kerala, a long day's journey away. She is nicknamed Big Ammachi (Big Mother) by Jojo, the little boy, and the name sticks as she grows up to become the matriarch of a large family living on the 500-acre estate of Parambil. As she soon discovers, this family has a curse, "the Condition," as they call it, that takes the life of someone every generation.

In addition, there are parallel stories that at first are seemingly unrelated. The most intriguing one is that of Digby Kilgour, a surgeon from Glasgow, Scotland, who joins the Indian Medical Service in Madras. His is also a story of joy and tragedy that eventually—surprisingly and explosively—connects with the family in Parambil, although it is a long and circuitous journey to that end.

In addition to a compelling, ever-evolving, and multilayered plot inhabited by bold and vivid characters, this is a profound work of literature that speaks eloquently and poignantly about one family's place on Earth—how they love, how they argue, how they do good, how they do evil, how they worship God, and how they make the world a better place by just inhabiting it. As you can probably tell from the title, the imagery and symbolism of water and specifically how the covenant of water links all human beings is brilliant.

This is also a love letter to medicine—to dedicated physicians, to the scientists who make the medical discoveries, to the hardworking nurses, and especially to all those who give their life to care for the sick.

Bonus: Even though it's told only in words, you'll get a tour of South India that is so vibrant and so realistic that when I Googled photos of the area, it appeared very much like it did in my imagination. The land is so much a part of the novel that it is almost a character of its own. This is truly a magical place with beautiful beaches, elaborate canals, and picturesque mountains filled with monkeys, elephants, snakes, birds, and tigers.

Two pieces of advice to make reading this 700 page book easier: • There are dozens of characters in this novel, and even the Kindle X-ray feature is not that helpful. Go to the author's website and download the character list. Print it if you're reading the paper version of the book. If you're reading it on Kindle, I advise you to use the "send to Kindle" feature. I had this document right next to the book, so it was easy to search for or find the character. It doesn't take long before you'll know who everyone is.

• There are quite a few words in the novel in Malayalam, the official language of Kerala. In most cases, it's easy to figure out the meaning based on the context of the sentence, but I kept my phone nearby so I could Google words I couldn't decipher.





Reader Review: "One Last Kill"



by Cloggie Downunder (Wollongong): One Last Kill is the tenth book in the Tracy Crosswhite series by best-selling award-winning American author, Robert Dugoni. When Seattle PD's corrupt Chief of Police, Marcella Weber sets Cold Case detective Tracy Crosswhite the task of solving a twenty-five-year-old serial killer case, Tracy knows it's a political move: if she solves it, her Captain, Johnny Nolasco will get the credit; if she fails, it will underline the need for the city to inject more funds into the Police Department.

Back in 1993, Johnny Nolasco headed a task force trying to solve the Route 99 killings: thirteen women who were strangled, had a symbol carved into their backs, then dumped. The first nine were of lower socio-economic status; the last four were middleclass wives and mothers who worked for the City. When the killer stopped, in 1995, the task force was no closer to finding the perpetrator.

And while Vic Fazzio was part of that task force, Tracy is forced to work with her least favourite colleague, Johnny Nolasco, who is immediately resentful of having his performance questioned, and is less than forthcoming with what he knows.

And publicising Tracy's role the way Chief Weber has? Several people believe that will push the killer to having another go, to prove his superiority. As well as asking the advice of an FBI profiler, Tracy's lateral thinking leads her to seek out the insights of another serial killer. And whether the initial victims were practice runs, she can't know, but concentrating on what the final four have in common makes the most sense.

Then one of the original suspects is detained for attempting to strangle a hooker. Will his DNA, after twenty-five years, confirm that he is the killer?

In this instalment, Tracy's close work with her nemesis reveals that perhaps Nolasco is human under his reptile skin. Hungry for favourable publicity, their Chief of Police jumps the gun against Tracy's better instincts, to their later cost. There are red herrings and distractions that keep most readers guessing up to the final reveal, a reveal that might need the donning of disbelief suspenders. The resolution, though, not at all neatly tied up in a bow, is realistic. Addictive crime fiction. This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Thomas and Mercer.





Reader Review: "North Woods"



by Ann E Beman: To call these linked stories would do this sweeping novel injustice. The stories are rooted to the ground, overgrowing one another to create a marvelous forest -- a wondrous palimpsest. The novel's fertile ground is a single house in the woods of Western Massachusetts, inhabited by first one soul then another and another. All iterations feature richly drawn characters -- Puritan lovers gone wild, an English soldier utterly infatuated with apples, his spinster twin daughters torn by passion and envy. Further inhabitants -- humans, as well as a mountain lion on the prowl and a ravenous beetle -- claim proceeding chapters. This novel looks at history and the cycles of nature, asking where do we fit in, what are our roles -- during and after our lives? What are our passions, what do we do with them, and how do these actions affect this place we inhabit? I was totally enthralled, beginning to end. Highly recommend.





Reader Review: "One Last Kill"



by She Treads Softly: One Last Kill by Robert Dugoni is a very highly recommended procedural investigating cold cases from a serial killer and the tenth novel in the Detective Tracy Crosswhite series.

When the Seattle Times plans to run a series of articles about the Route 99 serial killer from 25 years ago, Detective Tracy Crosswhite is ordered to reopening the investigation by Police chief Marcella Weber. After thirteen victims, the serial killer seemed to stop and the task force at the time, lead by Captain Johnny Nolasco, reached no conclusion. Weber assigns Nolasco to work with Tracy in solving the cold cases. The two try to set their rocky relationship aside to solve the decades old cases and bring closure to the families of the victims. They also know that Weber is targeting them for dismissal should they fail.

Even the concept that Tracy and Nolasco are working together on a case will certainly be a huge draw for fans of the series who will also be rewarded with many of the characters from previous books making an appearance. Tracy continues to be a fully realized complex character and this time even Nolasco shows more depth and nuance.

As expected, the writing is outstanding. For much of the investigation this is a more cerebral procedural rather than an action-packed thriller, which is to be expected with a cold case investigation from 25 years ago. It will appeal to anyone who enjoys reading about the clues and puzzles that a cold case investigation presents as the evidence is re-examined through a new set of eyes. It also helps that there have been great advances in technology and DNA testing since the original case.

Another great addition to a winning series! The great news is that One Last Kill can be read as a stand alone. Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Thomas & Mercer via NetGalley.





Reader Review: "The Butchers' Blessing"



by Gloria M (San Jose): The novel "The Butchers' Blessing" is contained within a contemporary timeframe, from 1996 to 2018. Ruth Gilligan has crafted a totally original story and it is so compelling many readers believed this group of butchers were based on an actual folktale. While much of the history and news bits in the book are accurate (the mad cow crisis and the tensions in Ireland etc. etc.,) Gilligan has admitted in interviews that this bunch of traveling men emerged solely from her imagination. Evidently this reveal disappointed and even angered (gasp) many readers! All fiction is by definition not cold hard facts, though of course often reflects real life. As readers, we should be familiar with suspending reality and stick to getting lost in the world of the book we are perusing.

The tale is undeniably captivating. Una and her mother, Gra, are caught in the lifestyle of their head of household, one of the eight male travelers who spend eleven months visiting believers across Ireland to enact the ritual (and mostly gentle)slaughter of cattle. Life is lonely and hard and the females left behind suffer from the prejudices and bullying of their neighbors. An ambitious photographer, Ronan Monks appears on the first page, reminiscing about an old picture of a deceased butcher that has never been released for viewing. Thus a mystery becomes interwoven with the saga; which one of the group died? And was he murdered and if so, by whom? Davey and his parents, Fionn and Eileen are also vital characters. Farmers struggling to survive in the new modern world, they must simultaneously come to terms with the cancer that strikes one of them and then their ties to the old ways.

This was an unexpected pleasure to read. Clever and engrossing, it might not be a concept some readers would initially choose. However, it is packed full of emotion and it generates empathy and a desire for justice and satisfying endings for those deserving them. Give it a chance, you may find yourself thinking about the characters for quite some time.





Reader Review: "The Lincoln Conspiracy"



by Katherine Pond (POST MILLS): Meltzer and Mensch do it again-- they have produced an interesting, exciting and thoroughly researched report on a significant period in American history. Their writing and the use of short chapters made covering almost 400 pages of intrigue and chaos almost easy.

Imagine, if you will, Lincoln's assassination in Baltimore Md on his way to his first inauguration. Traveling from Springfield, Ill to Washington DC on a carefully planned route that covers the border States into the Northeast and then South through Maryland, rife with Southern sympathizers AFTER South Carolina has seceded, a plot to kill him becomes known to Allan Pinkerton and his agents.

Now, somehow, Lincoln must get through Baltimore safely but he has speaking obligations and ceremonies he is unwilling to vacate. How the development of the plot occurs, the investigation steps taken that reveals it and the tactics taken to avert it keeps the reader rapt until the moment of the inaugural speech. But, the authors don't stop there, though reader and they take a breath, before finishing up with the aftermath that leads to the actual assassination in Ford's theatre almost 4 1/2 years later.





Reader Review: "North Woods"



by She Treads Softly: North Woods by Daniel Mason is a highly recommended imaginative historical fiction, but with a different point of reference.

This is a novel about all the lives that lived in a single house in the woods of New England. The novel consists of twelve stories that tie into the seasons and months of the year, all set around the land and house, beginning with two young Puritan lovers who escaped from their colony. Residents also include in part, an English soldier who wants an apple orchard, twin sisters, a landscape painter, the wealthy Farnsworths, and subsequently their daughter and her schizophrenic son, Robert, and a true crime writer.

This is also the story of the land, animals, insects, spores, etc., and the changes experienced over the years. Finally, it is a ghost story, where the former inhabitants may still be haunting the area. Included within the narrative at different points are also folk ballads, letters, diary entries, real estate listing, and accounts of nature's changes, seeds, blights and insects coming to the land. Taken in totality, it all culminates in a tale of how all things in a specific environments are interconnected over time.

The quality of the writing is simply gorgeous and undeniably compelling. The writing will pull you in and keep you reading, however, as with any collection of interconnected stories, not all stories will be as compelling as others throughout the whole novel. The structure and decision to tell a story in this manner, over decades and through different characters on one piece of land, is interesting yet also challenging. I was not especially interested in all the characters and ghosts, however I kept reading for the little gems within the writing. Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Random House via NetGalley.




Back To The Top Of The Page