by techeditor (Romeo, Michigan): Five stars again for Chris Bohjalian. I have read nearly all his books, and most are five-star, some four. This one, THE LAW OF SIMILARS, is a book he wrote nearly 20 years ago.
Leland is a deputy state prosecutor. He is also a widower with a four-year-old daughter. For what appears to me to be psychological reasons, he develops a sore throat that just won't go away. This leads him to Carissa, a homeopath.
In short order (ridiculously short order, in my opinion), Leland falls in love with Carissa (or maybe mistakes sexual attraction for love). He is so overwhelmed by this love (attraction) that he ignores all ethics of his profession when she is investigated for the murder of one of her other patients.
For a book to merit five stars, it must be unputdownable, and this one is. Even though I say that Leland doesn't think with his brain, it's still a darn good read.
by Abi: Beautifully written and impeccably researched, The Barbizon weaves together a tale that has, until now, never been told. It is both a vivid portrait of the lives of these young women who came to New York looking for something more, and an epic history of women's ambition. An amazing book. Very intriguing. You will want to read more!
by Charla Wilson (Biloxi, MS): I have read many books about WWII and I put this at the top of the list of the best books about the subject! The story is centered around a young Jewish woman, Eva Traube, living in France with her parents when the Germans invaded. Eva becomes a very good forger of documents that help get Jewish children into Switzerland and to safety. While forging documents Eva works with Remy who is also a forger and part of the resistance movement and together they come up with a way to keep a record of the names of the children they forge new names for. The method they use to keep the list is called the Fibonacci sequence which is placed inside an old Catholic Church book. Sixty years after Eva lost everything she comes across an article about the book being in a German library. Even though Eva never told her family about her role in the war, she leaves everything to go to Germany to collect her book. It is on the trip to collect the book that she starts remembering the war and all that she lived through and the story is told by way of her memory. Like all of these stories it is very sad and difficult to comprehend all of the horrible things that happened. But, it written beautifully and I now look forward to reading other books written by Kristin Harmel.
by Anna Rowe (BRANTFORD): I thought this book was quite an accomplishment. It is a novel but reads more like a collection of twelve stories, each about an individual woman who is directly or indirectly connected to the others. It is the depth and development of these characters that is so impressive. They are all so different and unique and she gives them full, complex lives and an abundance of personality. It took me a bit of time to warm up to the structure of the book but once I did, I just enjoyed and appreciated it more and more as I read. A must read for those that love a character driven book.
by Betty Taylor (Macon GA): It seems almost sacrilegious to say this is a beautifully written book while the content is about two violent periods of Vietnam's history. Even though surrounded by violence, respectfulness and gentleness could still be found among the people of Vietnam. This is a story of human endurance, family, loyalty, hope, and the strength of the women.
"If our stories survive, we will not die, even when our bodies are no longer here on earth." Thus, this story follows two timelines, one of Tran Dieu Lan as a young woman during the time of the Land Reform movement of the mid-twentieth century, and the other is told from the perspective of Guava, Tran Dieu Lan's granddaughter after the Vietnamese War that involved the US soldiers.
While I was mostly untouched by the Vietnam war, many around me were not. While I am aware of the trauma the returning American soldiers suffered, I never really thought about the Vietnamese soldiers. It was interesting reading about the division of North and South Vietnam and the impact it had on the people there. The timeline involving the Land Reform reminded me of the book "In the Shadow of the Banyan" which I enjoyed immensely.
The author's short essay at the end of the book was very informational. I am so impressed that she wrote this book while learning the English language!
by Sharon Moorehead: After a Covid year and a nasty hateful election I read constantly to maintain my sanity. I came across this book and knew it was going to help me regain my perspective on life. Humor, tenderness, irony, anger, hopelessness, love and pure joy literally flooded into this novel. I recommend it to anyone, especially if you are looking for escape.
by Mary C (Portland): 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 was a 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.
by Mary C (Portland): Loaded with suspense and action, this is a well-told, superb story. This author is becoming a top ten favorite of mine. Her words are sharp and palpable. Her stories are interesting and fresh. I always appreciate an author that can get to the story or describe something/one without being verbose. I love the author's ability to take historical fiction and enlighten the reader with real facts about real people, women in particular. I became a fan of Macallister with her first novel, The Magician's Lie. This 2nd book is leading the way for more fans like me.
by Jinx Heywire (Oxford): This thrilling first novel in a much wider series sets the reader off on a trail of laughs, mysteries and suspense. When I first read this I was slightly skeptical, because even though many of my friends had loved the series, all I saw was a funny looking skeleton in a suit with some fire in his hands. This will be ... interesting I thought. I was oh so totally wrong. This book was the start of a great series that only gets better. I literally was staying up until midnight to read this, and the only reason I put it down was because I was so tired that I couldn't concentrate on the words anymore. A great read. Would definitely recommend to anyone, especially someone struggling to find something to read.
by Cloggie Downunder (Thirroul): The Rules of Magic is a prequel in Alice Hoffman's Practical Magic series. It is June 1960 when the Owens siblings, Frances, Bridget and Vincent, leave New York to spend summer for the first time with their Aunt Isabelle in the Magnolia Street house in Massachusetts. Their parents are resigned to this, but neither is pleased. Susanna has done her utmost to steer her children towards a normal life, and away from all things magical, but prohibition has been ineffective.
Even at fourteen years old, Vincent accepts that they are different, having sought out a copy of the banned Magus downtown. He freely shares his musical talents, but hides his clairvoyance, disturbed enough by it to resort to alcohol, and later ventures into the darker side of his craft.
When April Owens, their eighteen-year-old, rebellious second (or third or fifth) cousin, turns up at Magnolia Street, the sisters are wary, but the connection with Vincent can't be denied.
It's clear that his sisters have gifts too: seventeen-year-old Franny has an uncanny connection to birds; sixteen-year-old Jet can almost always tell what people are thinking. Vincent suggests his older sisters acknowledge what they are. Aunt Isabelle counsels that to deny who you are only brings unhappiness.
By the time they leave Aunt Isabelle's, Franny has read Mary Owens's diary and knows about the curse that afflicts all members of the Owens family: Ruination for any man who fell in love with them. Each of the siblings starts out determined not to inflict this on anyone, but how can you control falling in love? Besides which, one of the rules of magic from Aunt Isabelle's Grimoire said "Fall in love whenever you can."
Jet falls for Levi with tragic and far-reaching consequences, and life changes radically for the siblings. Vincent's lover is someone who understands the curse and is ready to accept what fate throws their way. When Franny finally acquiesces to the love she has been denying for years, her lover has a clever plan to fool the curse. Set against the backdrop of the sixties: the Summer of Love, drugs, the Monterey Pop Festival, the draft, Hoffman tells the story of those amazing aunts who played such an important role in the lives of Sally and Gillian in Practical Magic.
And what a marvellous tale it is: another enchanting story of family and love and magic. The characters are appealing and often a bit quirky, the romance is delightful and the magic fun. Hoffman gives her characters wise words and insightful observations about life. The prequel Magic Lessons, which tells Maria Owens story, is eagerly awaited. Another charming read.
by LinZ (Downers Grove): I enjoyed this book very much! It was like reading a Jane Austen novel! The language and characters were very much in Austen's style. That made it easier to get into Cassandra's mind set of not revealing her true thoughts and doing what society would demand of a single woman. That alone made it a bit unsatisfying for me. Single women of the time , had no rights but tons of expectations placed upon her! Her family totally controlled her daily life, from where she was allowed to live and go, how she could live and who she was beholden to. What a frustrating life!! It did make me grateful to be a woman in our times, but we women still want more! The relationship between the sisters was intense. Not having a sister made it harder for me to understand that , but in view of the entire Austen family, I know of few families that enjoy each other so much, almost to the exclusion of others! It was a simpler time, but the family was positive and negative in its influences. I asked myself several times how did Cassandra give up her own happiness for her family and her fiancé? English duty??
by Melissa C.: I read this book in almost one sitting. The author presents the reader with so many thought provoking topics/issues we face in today's society: racism, sexism, discrimination, violence and sensitivity for the environment. Some readers may not like the book as it isn't "uplifting" but after you've finished, the stories told stay with you and make you question your own and others' values. I highly recommend this book if you're interested in a fast paced story set in a North Carolina residential neighborhood.
by Nancy in Vermont: This novel shows us Cassandra Austen, sister of Jane, as she tries to retrieve some of Jane's personal letters which were kept by her friend Eliza Lloyd Fowle. Eliza's house is being sold after her death, followed by the death of her husband. Through the letters, we learn about the Austen family particularly the relationship between Cassandra (Cassy) and her sister Jane. They had a very close and loving relationship, which is why Cassy wants to prevent any details about Jane's private life to be revealed through the letters. There are many other characters including most of the Austen family and their good friends the Lloyds. Fortunately there is a list of the characters at the beginning of the book. Otherwise it would be a little difficult to keep them all straight. We see the deep and abiding love and friendship between Cassy and Jane and between Cassy and the other members of the Austen family. This is in contrast to the relationship among the three daughters of Eliza Fowle, who seem to have very little regard for each other. A recurring theme in the book is the plight of single women in nineteenth century England, even among the "genteel" classes. If they did not marry, their childhood homes were often left to male heirs upon whose largesse they depended for their support. They were frequently shunted from the home of one relative to another or used as unpaid labor in a relative's home.
by lbrown (Bailey, CO): I must say, I hate books that make me cry, but my book club wanted to read this one so I resolutely slogged into it expecting a deluge. There were some tears but mostly amazement at the book's descriptions (and the character's experience) of a tidal environment with all its diversity. The main character was much like me--I enjoyed her survival story, her struggle to overcome loneliness and rejection, and eventual maturation into an accomplished writer and artist. There's much to be said for a solitary life immersed in nature, but we usually associate this with men such as Emerson, Muir, Thoreau, etc., and not with women. This book shatters the myth and reveals the mysteries that women alone in wilderness can experience. However, I'm always disconcerted that stories about women leading unusual lives always need an explanation of how their childhoods led them "astray." I wish Crawdads had just started with the main character stepping into her boat and motoring off into an incredible adventure and a rich life.
by lbrown (Bailey, Colorado): An amazing book of natural rediscovery. I'm out in my yard awaiting spring so that I can follow the trails through my little aspen grove, smell the pines, and explore the soil at 9,000' in the Colorado Rockies. I'm on my third read and still discovering things that David Attenborough tried to show me in The Private Lives of Plants almost 25 years ago. The Overstory reawakened my perception of the "real" world outside my own door.
by Mary C: I was left weeping and celebrating all at the same time. With the most tender kind of writing for a time in our history where the suffering was intensely exquisite, Kristin Hormel writes with delicacy and in such a warm way that this entire story leaves you breathless, closing the book grateful for knowing this part of history.
When such raw beauty & awe resonates from the pages of a novel, it is because authors like Kristin Harmel can take a character like Eva and make her feel so real to us that we want to reach out and hug her in gratitude!
by Charla Wilson (Biloxi, MS): I loved that this book was written from Jane's sister Cassandra's perspective. It included information from prior to Jane's death, the circumstances leading up to Jane's death and after Jane's death. I loved that the plot was centered around Cassandra's determination to get any letters written by Jane or herself that might have shined a negative light on her family or her sister. Therefore, there were many letters included in the story and I enjoyed reading it because of the letters. I think the author did a great job telling the story and although I cannot be 100 sure, I think Jane would approve. However, I was left trying to determine what disease Jane actually died of. No I didn't expect the author to answer that question, after all I don't think anyone knows that for certain. But, the story did make me think about this dilemma, as well as other ask questions. If a book sticks with me in that manner, it is because it was a well written story.
by STM (California): The cover and the title drew me in right away. However, I stayed for the story, writing, and inspiration. Beautifully written and evocatively plotted, this book uplifted and consoled me during this time of loss and worry. The writing is lyrical and pulls you into the story. I highly recommend it.
by Betty Taylor (Macon GA): "Libertie" was hard for me to get into. While the writing itself is beautiful, the story did not draw me in. While I enjoyed the first portion of the book, I lost interest after Libertie ran off to get married. It did have some very interesting aspects though.
There were moments of beautifully lyrical writing. The book, inspired by the life of one of the first Black female doctors in the United States, was well researched. The book addresses several themes - complex mother-daughter relationships, feminism, and searching for what freedom means for a young female dark-skinned woman in the aftermath of the Civil War. It is also a look at life in Haiti, where women are still subservient to men.
An eye-opener from the book, for me, was how much easier life was for light-skinned Blacks who could pass for White than for the dark-skinned. It was also interesting - shocking - reading of some of the experiments done to treat people. The sea horse one. early in the book. still has me shaking my head. A powerful portion of the book that applies to present days is how even when a person may be freed there is lasting emotional damage that can result in serious mental health issues. We see that today in some of our refugees.
This is a good book for exploring another piece of American history that many of us were unaware of.
Thank you to Algonquin Books for generously supplying me with a review copy. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
by Rosemary (Saginaw, MI): Nguyen Phan Que Mai's novel, The Mountains Sing, is a masterful work: the writing is smooth, educational, and full of emotion.
Although I was in college during the Vietnam War, I have to say that I knew very little about it. Fellow students were in an uproar, and members of the Chicago Seven were our new celebrities.
Mai's book filled in multiple gaps in my background. She provides the political facts and the human information suffered by so many. I was completely enthralled with the story.
Although many painful episodes were described, I could not ever stop reading. Mai's writing was so interesting, so factual, and the story she told was completely gripping.
The intensely brave grandmother was one to whom tribute was owed; what a role model!
At times, I did not necessarily want too many good things to happen (I do not like sweet stories); still I was glad that they occasionally did occur.
I highly recommend this book--most of us do not know enough about the Vietnam saga. This book is first-rate!