Book Reviews




Reader Review: "Real Americans"



by Gloria M (San Jose): I vaguely remember all the great reviews and awards Rachel Khong received back in 2017 for her first published novel, "Goodbye, Vitamin" and thinking I should add it to my TBR list, which somehow never actually happened (which I totally regret-and it's on there now!) but I definitely was thrilled to get a free copy of "Real Americans" (thank you to Penguin Random House.)

I devoured this one in two days-which meant I did not pay much attention to real life-but, that's fine because it was so worth it. On the basic level it is a tale of Lily Chen, a 22 year old unpaid intern in New York City who meets Matthew, a wealthy heir to a pharmaceutical fortune. One of the most memorable quotes is Lily saying "More than I love you, I wanted him to say that he knew me. Who else did?" The expertly written and crafted tale shares their journey to love, with both obstacles and moments of joy, but also goes much, much further than that.

It includes multiple generations, with deep dives into Lily's parents-especially her mother , May and her son, Nick. May preferred her career in biology to her role as a mother, and this understandably resulted in many difficulties for Lily. But, a secret will soon be revealed that changes everyone's lives and raises relevant questions about nurture vs. nature, and the whole concept of family (including creating your own family outside of birth ties.) Throw in the issues of race and class and ethics and Khong has produced a modern classic.

I highly recommend this book to all who love family stories and literary works of art!





Reader Review: "Clear"



by Gloria M (San Jose): After reading the ARC of "Clear" so generously supplied by Simon and Schuster (Scribner) there is a new author on my favorites list-Carys Davies. Succinct and special, this novel eloquently and masterfully tells the tale of John Ferguson, a minister who is in financial straits due to his leaving his position with the established church of Scotland for the newly formed Free Church of Scotland and Ivar, the last remaining tenant of an island whose owners wish it to be completely cleared of humans and animals, so that they can proceed with a money making scheme involving sheep.

The eloquently written portraits of these two men, strangers who do not even speak the same language, and the beautiful descriptions of the landscapes traveled draw the reader into a narrative that slowly reveals their personalities and tragedies from their pasts and takes a journey into their unlikely friendship precipitated by an awful accident that befalls John in his attempt to earn some desperately needed funds as he traverses the island in search of the man he must evict.

Add to the plucky protagonists, Mary-John's loving wife, who bravely chooses to follow her husband's path when it becomes clear he must be in some sort of danger. Her journey is just as important and equally well crafted. This novel has a powerful ending and is ideal for lovers of historical fiction and those who favor literary fiction. Grab a copy and prepare to be enthralled!





Reader Review: "Where the Crawdads Sing"



by Cloggie Downunder (Wollongong NSW): Where The Crawdads Sing is the first novel by award-winning, best-selling American wildlife scientist and author, Delia Owens. In 1952, when she is almost seven, Miss Catherine Daniella Clark, known to everyone as Kya, watches her mother leave. She doesn't return, and her older siblings, fed up with their abusive, alcoholic father, quietly slip away, one by one, leaving her to deal with her Pa, Jake Clark in their North Carolina marsh shack on her own.

They form an uneasy alliance: Pa is often gone for days at a time, and Kya learns to look after herself, conceal her mother's absence from nosy Barkley Cove shopkeepers, hide from truant officers, and appreciate the beauty of the marsh and its creatures. Things get more difficult when she's ten: Pa goes off and doesn't return, meaning the sporadic cash he gives her from his disability cheques dries up and she has to fend for herself if she doesn't want to give herself up to the authorities. Which she doesn't.

She does have Pa's boat, can travel the marsh waters to the estuary, pick mussels and oysters to trade. She covers the fact that Pa is gone, trying to stay under the radar, but there is a boy for whom she keeps an eye out: Tate Walker was kind to her once, shares her love of the marsh, and doesn't feel dangerous like some do. She's unaware that some others are looking out for her, concerned about her welfare and surreptitiously providing some of what she needs.

By the time she's fourteen, she's adept at fending for herself and staying under the radar. Her interest in marsh flora and fauna is boundless; she collects and sketches specimens, and when Tate offers to teach her to read and write, she's able to record what she knows and observes. Abandoned by everyone in her family, she's wary of giving her love, but takes a chance with Tate. Then he goes off to college to study the thing they're both interested in, and breaks his promise to return.

Kya is absorbed in her study of the marsh, but still lonely, until Chase Andrews begins to take an interest in her…

In late October 1969, Sheriff Ed Jackson is alerted of the death of a local by two young boys who have caught sight of the corpse near an abandoned fire tower. Chase Andrews, star quarterback, town hotshot and favourite son of Barkley Cove, has been dead some ten hours, and when the Sheriff and Deputy Joe Purdue examine the scene, they are mystified: there are no tyre tracks or foot prints anywhere near the body. It looks like Chase fell from the tower, but neither are there fingerprints.

There's plenty of speculation in the town: despite being married to Pearl, Chase was known for his tomcatting, so perhaps he fell foul of a jealous husband? But Barkley Cove is a small town, and enough people knew of his regular visits to the Marsh Girl that suspicion falls on Kya.

Owens gives the reader a dual-timeline coming-of-age tale, a love story, a murder mystery and a courtroom drama, all enclosed in some gorgeous lyrical prose. Her vivid descriptions really evoke the setting, the peace and beauty of the marsh, and the era, while there is enough intrigue to keep most readers guessing about the young man's fate until the final reveal. Moving, heart-breaking and beautifully written, this is an outstanding debut.





Reader Review: "Disobedient"



by Anthony Conty (Parkville, MD 21234): "Disobedient" by Elizabeth Fremantle, author of the phenom "The Queen's Gambit," masterfully bridges the gap between the 17th century and today's society, a feat that top-notch historical fiction often accomplishes. As a reader, I was captivated by the narrative, even though I had no prior knowledge of the real story. The book's ability to resonate with modern readers, such as myself, is a testament to its relevance and the author's skill in storytelling. I found myself relating to the protective father's overbearing nature, a universal theme transcending time.

Historically, Artemisia Gentileschi is a famous artist constrained by the limits on women in 17th-century Italy. She suffers a horrible indignity you may know about if you studied her. A little knowledge of art, which I do not have, would help as we examine how people admire and simultaneously dismiss the female artist's work and treat her like an object.

Perhaps I should not have been surprised by the gender politics in Italy during this era, but it was extreme. Any sexual assault was essentially the woman's fault and expected. Artemesia becomes an unlikely symbol of feminism for reasons you would learn from a simple Wikipedia search; nevertheless, do not do that so that the book still surprises you.

Retellings remain one of the trickier genres to tackle since they involve taking actual, well-known events and trying to insert thoughts and feelings into them. Empathizing with strong-willed Artemesia is easy.

The themes of self-reliance, feminism, sexual assault, and individual autonomy remain relevant today. Knowing Artemesia's work makes the story more interesting. It effectively puts you there. Our heroine refuses to follow orders and norms to make her life easier. Art and personal freedom matter to her, and she feels no need to take the easier route. She wanted the right to live.





Reader Review: "Strange Sally Diamond"



by Jill: Narration by: Jessica Regan, Stephen Hogan and Sara Lyman was exceptionally well done and highly recommend.

"When I die, put me out with the bins. I'll be dead, so I won't know any different..." When the time came...I followed his instructions."

—— and you are immediately drawn inside the life of Sally Diamond.

Another chilling and haunting psychological thriller that Liz Nugent has written; with complex characters that I throughly enjoyed. I could not stop listening to this. Following the story of Sally Diamond haunted by a traumatic yet forgotten past. The repressed memories and events of her childhood influence her personality, actions, and psychological well-being.

The novel shifts between various timelines and multiple narrators to unveil the mysteries of her past. Sally receives a gift in the mail that will bring in another theme running through this dark and twisted story.

Examining the dilemma of nature versus nurture and good vs. evil, making for one of the best thrillers I've read in a long-time. Will a series or movie come from this…. I can only hope for. This is Liz Nugent at her best yet.





Reader Review: "The Lost Man"



by Cloggie Downunder (Wollongong NSW): The Lost Man is a stand-alone novel by award-winning, best-selling Australian author, Jane Harper. In outback Queensland, Nathan Bright and his teenaged son, Xander abandon the fence-mending chore on his own property to return to the family's holding when they learn that Nathan's younger brother is dead.

Cameron Bright was meant to meet the youngest Bright brother, Bub, at Lehmann's Hill for a repair job on Wednesday. Instead, he lies dead against a remote gravestone in the blistering mid-December heat, his car, replete with food and water, parked nine kilometers away. His brothers are mystified.

Sergeant Ladlow, a city-trained stand-in for their local cop, Sergeant Glenn McKenna, asks about Cameron's mood over the previous weeks: it's clear he believes Cam walked away from his car intending to end his life, although how he could have attained that distance in the heat is a puzzle.

With just days until what will be a very subdued Christmas, the family gathers at the homestead, stunned at the news, incredulous, asking each other when they last saw Cam and was there any sign that this was in his mind.

A few things niggle at Nathan: that the two British backpackers employed as hands seem wary of police; the very particular way Cam's car keys were placed in his car; that their farm manager, Harry Bledsoe located the car so easily; and Bub's light mood in the face of such a grave situation. And Xander draws Nathan's attention to the thorough preparations Cam made for the planned repair, hardly the actions of a man intending suicide.

The presence of Cam's wife (now widow), Ilse is also distracting: there is a history between them, and despite his avoidance, the attraction is still there. Nathan's self-imposed exile, born of the same incident that saw him ostracised by the entire community of Balamara, means that he has missed a lot of what has transpired at his family's home. Over the next few days, the funeral and Christmas, what he sees and hears gradually reveals exactly what has happened.

Harper easily evokes the outback setting and the prevalent community attitudes. She gives the reader a tale that features isolation, loneliness and suicide risk, as well as domestic violence, coercive control and sexual harassment. Fans may note that the events of Harper's first novel in KIewarra, The Dry, intersect with the story at a certain point. Brilliant Aussie slow-burn crime fiction.





Reader Review: "James"



by Gloria M (San Jose): I honestly only have minimal memory of "The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn" by Mark Twain. I know I read it after "Tom Sawyer" and I was probably eight or nine years old-that was the time frame when I was borrowing a lot of classics from my local library. I recall Huck's basic character and I did not pay as much attention to the character of Jim. Granted, I was a child and I did not yet care about the perspectives of adults (particularly male viewpoints as I was already a budding feminist!) so I am glad (like thousands and thousands of others) that I picked up "James" by Percival Everett.

This is the book we did not know we needed. Powerful and memorable, funny and poignant, and a masterful work everyone should read. Everett has a masterful writing style and the reader is immediately drawn into the narrative. Giving voice to Jim was a brilliant choice and stirs up so many emotions. This one is a keeper, get it now!! I would definitely enjoy a sequel!





Reader Review: "The Incorrigibles"



by Elizabeth@Silver's Reviews: We meet Annie in 1890 - an Irish immigrant who worked as a housemaid in a wealthy household.

She was tricked by one of the male members of the family she worked for. He took a ring out of his aunt's jewelry box while visiting, gave it to Annie, and denied giving Annie the ring when she was accused of stealing it.

Annie was arrested and sentenced to one year in San Quentin with 20 other women inmates.

We follow Annie as she lives through the awful conditions and treatment in the prison.

Then we meet Judy In 1972 as she has left her husband and is struggling to stay away from Tony and find a job.

Judy finds a photo of Annie inside a book at a photographer's shop where she gets a job and makes it her mission to find out more about Annie.

Judy also attends meetings she learned about from a librarian as she was doing research on Annie.

The meetings focus on the how residents protest against the demolition of areas of San Francisco that the city deems an eyesore. The problem, though, is that the residents have been living there for almost their entire lives.

Annie will pull at your heart strings as you suffer along with her because of the accusation and while she is in San Quentin.

Judy will have you hoping she finds what she can about Annie, hoping she can keep her husband at bay, and hoping she is able to help the residents.

Ms. Jaeger's descriptive writing and amazing research pull you in immediately.

You won't want to put the book down because you want to know if Annie survived and if Judy was successful in finding herself and finding Annie's full story.

The Incorrigibles is another marvelous read you won't be able to put down because of the characters, their stories, and especially if you are a fan of historical fiction. 5/5

Thank you to the publisher for a copy of this book. All opinions are my own.




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