Book Reviews


Reader Review: "A Good Neighborhood"


by lani (Philadelphia): This storyline is a real departure from Fowler's usual historical novels, but I think she has come up with a winner that could be adapted for one of Reese Witherspoon's movies. Book clubs will have a lot to discuss with the issues that are brought up in fast reading prose. The neighborhood was at peace with Valerie, a college professor of forestry and ecology devoting much time to her trees and outdoor plants. This single parent had a biracial son who was competent, mature and a senior in high school. Everything was smooth until the Whitmans moved in behind their property and tore all the trees down damaging the roots of her favorite oak tree, to put in a big swimming pool. He was the caricature of the swaggering successful business man who loved to emphasize his success with material goods. He also had a beautiful stepdaughter that had taken a viginity pledge until marriage. The story is told from the neighbors' perspective as if they are hovering over the scene, gossiping and commenting on the unraveling of events. Ugliness transpires, with lawsuits, violence, an unjust legal system, and an unwillingness to be colorblind. It is very much a reflection of today's America. May this book be another catalyst for frank discussion.

Reader Review: "Once Upon a River"


by DDRP: In 2006, I fell in love with The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfied. This new third book Once Upon River once again has drawn me into a world of such intrigue and mystery involving children and the adults around them. I savored reading the book and felt as though I were sitting inside The Swan with all the characters listening to a riveting story. This book is entrancing from page one all the way to the end.

Reader Review: "The Sun Down Motel"


by Amy P (Southern Nevada): This was my first time reading this author, and I was not disappointed. The dual time line between Viv in 1982 and Carly in 2017 was well defined with the chapter headings, though there was enough similarity (& overlap) in the characters and the locations that I kept notes to keep it straight (but that's my quirk). Characters were well defined and described, as were the settings. I had all of the characters visualized, and the description of the motel and events were sufficiently creepy. I liked the shorter chapters that kept my attention, reading late into the night, but definitely with more than a few lights on! There were well paced plot twists, so reading this was like peeling back layers of the onion, with each new piece of the puzzle eventually fitting into place. I was quite surprised to find out what happened to Viv (no plot spoiler here), but was somewhat unsatisfied with the story's ending...felt like I was left hanging a bit...but then it helped me identify with the families living so many years with unanswered questions. I enjoyed this book immensely, and can't wait to read Broken Girls by the same author.

Reader Review: "The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek"


by Bev C: This is an incredibly touching story of 19 year old blue skinned Cussy Mary Carter. The year is 1936 and she is a rider for the Pack Horse Library Project of Kentucky. I see her as a shining light of hope and literacy in treacherous Appalachian mountains.

With beautiful simplicity, she touches the lives of anyone she encounters. This is a personal 2019 favorite.

A special thanks to Catherine for sharing with me her enthusiasm for this novel.

Reader Review: "Rust & Stardust"


by Kahlia: This book is based off the true story of Sally Horner's kidnapping, making it that much more heartbreaking. This author took me into the story, and I actually felt my heart racing after a few of the most suspenseful chapters. I finished this book in just a week or two, which is very fast for me. Greenwood gives many different perspectives in a 3rd person limited omniscient (limited depends on which perspective). This book absolutely broke my heart and I cried and hugged my dog when I finished it. HIGHLY HIGHLY recommend this to anyone who can read. Even if you don't like true stories, sad books, etc, just read the first couples of chapters. The action starts almost right away! Very much recommend to anyone.

Reader Review: "All the Ugly and Wonderful Things"


by Nocky: This coming of age novel has been really inspiring . It proves that no matter the circumstances, there's always a way to come out at the top . It's the total opposite of cliche, which was a huge relief and topics that are usually considered taboo aren't romanticized in any way. The reader gets to experience the reality of everyday life of many children growing up in similar circumstances. The story just goes to show that somewhere there will be someone looking out for you, even if it was not who you were expecting.

Reader Review: "American Dirt"


by Lloyd N: American Dirt is a book that embraces you in a tango of drama, love and strong emotions during a time of turbulence and unrest. It's hard to put the book down once you start reading. It is strongly and confidently written and will appeal to many readers, lovers of fiction and history. I would strongly suggest having a Spanish dictionary nearby to translate words that you are unfamiliar with. You won't want to miss a word! I highly recommend this book, and would even consider giving it as a gift.

Reader Review: "The End of the Ocean"


by Liz Devlin: I came upon The End of the Ocean by happy accident. This book was a captivating read from page one. The stories of the two main characters seemingly unrelated and their separate stories were both worth a book in themselves. The very gradual hints of the two stories connection made each story important by its self. This was a powerful message in a form acceptable to the uninformed A really good novel with an important message

Reader Review: "Father of Lions"


by Dorinne Dobson (Wickenburg, AZ): This is nonfiction: the true story of the evacuation of the Mosul Zoo. Imad, also known as Abu Laith which means Father of Lions, is a car mechanic and the self-proclaimed zookeeper of the Mosul Zoo. Abu Laith does not have formal training in taking care of lions and bears, but he is an animal lover who is especially fond of lions. The story takes place from 2014 when ISIS took control of Mosul and 2017 when the Iraqi forces retook the city of Mosul, and the description of life under ISIS occupation is particularly interesting. The fight to survive with limited food amid shelling and bombing is difficult for humans, and almost impossible for caged animals in the zoo. Amidst all the angst of living in a war zone, the story is told with humor and pathos. I enjoyed reading this book.

Reader Review: "The Dutch House"


by Challis: I was so sad to reach the end of this book …. sniff, sniff...I always feel like crying a little when this book ends. Especially, this one. I always want great reads to go on forever, but this one in particular is a story and it's telling that I will miss. Ann Patchett was telling me a wonderful, complex, deeply satisfying story. When it ended, it was like I stopped at a traffic light and Ann Patchett got out of the book and it just stopped, this wonderful story and I wanted to keep reading and beg Ann to keep writing this wonderful story; surely there must be more to the story that she just forgot to write? The story was nicely wrapped up, all the loose ends were tied, and the tale was deeply satisfying in a way many books just can't achieve.

Reader Review: "Father of Lions"


by Jane Haase (Prospect, KY): This was a very compelling true account of love and loyalty during the time of war. The author did a great job of setting the scene of what these people were facing from their physical location in a crossfire of war. It was chilling to me how the residents just accepted their fate and adjusted to live through this episode just like they had others until they could return to some normality. The acceptance of what was happening around them was mind boggling. The main character's devotion to his zoo animals through everything as well as the non profit rescue organization's determination to get them out was inspiring on so many levels. It is truly a lesson in deciding what is possible for an individual to accomplish, accepting those limitations, then pushing yourself to succeed where you can instead of just giving up.

Reader Review: "If the Creek Don't Rise"


by Annalisa Damley: "If the creek don't rise," debut novel by Leah Weiss, is a treasure. Set in an environment of extremes-wretched poverty amidst the majesty of the NC mountains, its inhabitants scratch out a living in primitive 1970 Appalachia. The book is written in the first person & each character tells its own story, in the dialect of the time of this isolated mountain community. The richness of the writing and its descriptive prose is a joy to read. It brings to life the culture and nature of this remote corner of years gone by. Birdie Rocas (crone/mid-wife/witch) says some of the most memorable lines: "Two men, skinny as hickory sticks, pointed their rifles at us, ready to do us wrong. I won't the cleanest woman, but they was the dirtiest men I seen all year." I didn't want this book to end and look forward to the writer's next work. Can't recommend enough!

Reader Review: "Olive, Again"


by Reid (Seattle): As with the first book, Olive Kitteridge, this is the story of a singular woman living her brief life on the coast of Maine, creating wreckage with her acerbic tongue and caustic judgments. She is deeply broken, our Olive, and not very likeable, and yet we love her and wish for her to succeed. This is the tightrope Elizabeth Strout has walked yet again in this second volume. How is it that such an unpleasant person can elicit such sympathy from us? I suspect the answer is the resonance we feel in response to her brokenness, how it chimes with our own. Though she is far more unskillful in her dealings with those around her than most of us, we have all had our moments of being the Olive in the room, the one who blurts out the ugly truth or the intolerant judgement, then wonders why we have become the pariahs.

It is rather odd to call this a novel (as it was the first book), because this really is a book of short stories interconnected by a single character, who sometimes is front and center, and other times barely even mentioned. Yet it becomes the story of a single life, much like a paint-by-numbers picture becomes comprehensible with the addition of each subsequent color, different shadings and hues of Olive become more evident with each passing chapter.

I particularly like her relationship to Jack Kennison, a person in whom she has met her match and who loves her despite herself, as did her late husband, Henry. But I also deeply appreciate Strout's expansion on Olive's connection to her son, Christopher, with whom she has both a deep bond and troubling animosity. She wishes to be loved by him, but seems incapable of being lovable with him. It is terribly heartbreaking, but also feels truthful and genuine.

A few quick notes: first of all, though this novel would stand alone, reading the first will give this one greater depth and meaning. Second, if you have not watched the adaptation of Olive Kitteridge with Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins (with Bill Murray as Jack Kennison), please do. They embody the characters so thoroughly and so well, it is difficult to imagine anyone else in those roles.

Reader Review: "The Starless Sea"


by Veronica Earley: I loved this book just as I loved THE NIGHT CIRCUS. Two different reads but Erin Morgenstern is a wonderful writer. THE STARLESS SEA is a book you need to read daily or until you finish it. There is so much going on in this story and it is easy to get lost...but that doesn't take anything away from the story. In fact, getting lost is part of the story's fascination. I was always asking myself could this be happening. The characters are creative, smart and have very little fear of the unknown. Their personalities help make up this wonderful tale. They change each other's lives with love, strength and mystery. I highly recommend this book.

Reader Review: "Inland"


by Reid (Seattle): I am not surprised to see that this strange and wondrous novel has generated a wide range of opinions, that it is found by some to be opaque or even pointless. As with Obreht's previous novel, The Tiger's Wife, there is a bit of magical realism to this book, whiffs of Gabriel García Márquez and Cormac McCarthy, particularly the latter in this novel of the American West. This is a fever dream of a book and it's no wonder that not everyone cozies up to it.

But for my money this is an expertly realized, fascinating read, an invocation of a time and place that resonates deeply, all the more so for its tinge of unreality. All of the characters are caught in a nightmare not (entirely) of their own making and are simply making the best they can of their hard lots in the hardscrabble year of 1893.

There are two parallel plots here, the first that of Lurie, an orphaned child who takes up with rough characters and runs as far as he can with them before encountering a train of camels, brought over from Asia by the United States army in the hope that they can do a better job of transporting goods across the American deserts than horses can. This is factual—I have read elsewhere about this effort, which actually seems pretty sensible (but didn't work out all that well). Lurie ingratiates himself with the camel herders and tries as best he can to hang on to the fragile thread of his life. The other plot line involves Nora, a strong, independent woman of the Arizona desert, trying to stay upright in a world that seems to be doing everything it can to destroy her and her family, especially the drought that is turning her farm and the surrounding community to ash and dust. Everything about their lives speaks of dissolution and decay, though Nora does everything she can to keep herself and her three boys afloat. Her husband has been gone for days, out negotiating for the water they so desperately need, and the situation has become dire.

Thirst is the thematic core of these stories. Lurie gathers water everywhere he goes in a canteen previously owned by his adoptive brother, and it whets but never slakes his thirst to know what is coming and what has been. Nora is perpetually dry, sacrificing what little water she has to her children and, eventually, the dressing of wounds.

But no description of plot or theme can scratch the surface of the beauty of this book, which is carried in the expansive prose Obreht employs. While The Tiger's Wife bore the signs of a first-time author, with its too-careful elucidation and somewhat stilted language, in Inland she has come into a mastery of her craft and never sets a foot wrong in climbing this particularly challenging terrain. This is not a perfect book (often motives are obscure and some of the action seems unlikely, even for the hallucinatory reality it lives in), but it is excellent. One must be willing to surrender, though, to the wonderful strangeness of the world evoked here, and this is not always easy. The reward is worth the effort and I strongly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys the authors I listed in the first paragraph. While not as accomplished as either of those masters, Téa Obreht is clearly a talent to watch and read.

Reader Review: "News of the World"


by Elizabeth of Silver's Reviews: Captain Kidd had experience traveling uncharted lands as he read his newspapers in different towns to spread the news of the world, but traveling with a ten-year-old girl who couldn't speak English was quite a different task for him.

Johanna had been kidnapped by the Kiowa Indians after her family was killed in a raid, but Johanna was now released and needed to be returned to her aunt and uncle. She didn't know who they were, and they didn't know her.

NEWS OF THE WORLD flows beautifully as we follow Captain Kidd and Johanna on their 400-mile journey that Captain Kidd regretfully had accepted. He had to deal with no language communication except for a few words and sign language as well as Johanna's numerous attempts to escape.

NEWS OF THE WORLD was an enjoyable read because the writing was marvelous, the story line was interesting, and the characters were authentic and likable. Johanna grew on you. Mrs. Gannet was charming. Captain Kidd was a perfect gentleman, a wonderful father, and an all-around good guy.?

I enjoyed the historical aspect of how there were folks who went from town to town reading the news. I loved the descriptions of the undeveloped country and am happy I didn't live back then. It was difficult to imagine there were no paved roads. We readers even get to be in the middle of a gun fight.

NEWS OF THE WORLD is filled with beautiful, descriptive writing that pulls you in I truly enjoyed NEWS OF THE WORLD mainly because of the characters and definitely the warmth and kindness of Captain Kidd.

If you need a quick, enjoyable, heartwarming read, NEWS OF THE WORLD fits the bill along with a history lesson. 4/5

This book was given to me free of charge and without compensation from the publisher in return for an honest review.

Reader Review: "Father of Lions"


by Betty Taylor (Macon GA): This book is much more than a book about a zookeeper and his animals. Callaghan writes of the occupation of Mosul by Daesh, the new laws invoked that make daily life very difficult for the citizens of Mosul, the threat of constant attacks, the fear of leaving their homes in order to escape the notice of the jihadis, Iraqi history and culture.

As the fighting between the government forces and militants intensifies in Mosul, the animals in the zoo are starving. The lives of the Mosul residents are turned upside down as they now live with the constant fear of coming to the attention of the jihadis. Women who had worn western-style clothing now are required to wear the suffocating garb demanded by ISIS. A strict curfew was invoked. Food becomes scarce and very expensive. People live under the threat of constant attacks.

The story centers on Abu Laith who was always a lover of animals. He risks his life to keep the animals alive while having to make difficult decisions in order to keep his family safe. He has a special attachment to the little lion Zombie. Callaghan introduces us to Dr. Amir who is an international rescue vet that becomes aware of the dire situation of the animals in Iraq,

Callaghan performed extensive research to bring us the true story of Abu Laith and his bravery in protecting the animals of Mosul. She details the atrocities and cruelness of a country at war. But she also reveals the compassion and humaneness that can still be found among the ruins. While many thought Abu Laith should just kill the animals for meat, he refused. He truly loved and respected the animals and fought for their lives.

It was a difficult read for me. I ached for the animals who were at the mercy of humans and were fortunate to have Abu Laith fight for them. I also ached for the humans whose lives would never be normal again, people at the mercy of power-hungry, crazy people who hid under the cover of religious fanatics. It was especially painful for me as I worked with the Iraqi military and felt the aftermath of the assassination of a couple of them. Men who only wanted peace and security for their children and grandchildren.

Reader Review: "American Dirt"


by CarolK (CT): American Dirt will be published January 21, 2020. It has already made my 2020 Best List as I was fortunate to be an early reader thanks to Amy Einhorn, and Flatiron Books.

Have you ever experienced a horrible trip or had a bad experience visiting another country, one that made you promise to kiss American soil and be happy to be on solid American ground if you made it home? We take our freedom and homeland for granted. Imagine living in village in Mexico. You are a bookstore owner, you live your life for this and also for your eight year-old son and your journalist husband. Today you are hosting the Quinceañera of your niece. This celebration of the coming of age, the ritual of the transformation of a 15 year-old girl to woman, is stopped short, never to happen but forever to be imprinted in your mind. Instead this festive, proud day turns into a blood-bath of horror when gunmen come out of nowhere and sixteen of your relatives are killed, including the girl, your mother and husband. Only you and your son remain and you know you must flee before you are found. It takes you time to realize there are few places you can hide as this is more than a cartel lesson; it is revenge and nothing will stop the search until you and your child are dead. You must make it out of the country as the Los Jardineros will hunt you down. Many readers might have visited Acapulco for some rest and relaxation at one of its many resorts but probably none of you have thought what it would be like to walk from this southern Pacific Coastal town over 2500 miles to Mexico's border with the US. You will walk each mile with Lydia, Luca and those they meet on this harrowing journey.

In 2001 I read Highwire Moon by Susan Straight. It has always been a book that haunted me, putting face and story to immigrants and undocumented persons in our country. American Dirt is another eye-opener of a novel with characters you will not soon forget. Haunting. I find myself looking for Lydia and Luca on our streets.

Stephen King "defies anyone to read the first seven pages of this book and not finish it". I was hooked in less than that.

One final note. As a bookstore owner, Lydia mentions many of her favorite books. She refers to Love in the Time of Cholera by the late Gabriel García Márquez. Makes me yearn to read that book once again


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