Book Reviews

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Reader Review: "The Mountains Sing"

 

by Babs: I was overcome with emotion at how profoundly moving I found The Mountains Sing by Nguyen Phan Que Mai. Lyrical prose filled with images that will forever change how I view lives so vastly different than my own. I always viewed the tragedy of the Vietnam war through the lens of American losses...until now. The compelling multi-generational story of the Tran family is beautifully written with two unforgettable heroines, Huong Tran and her grandmother Died Lan and spans from 1920-1970's. I highly recommend what has turned out to be my favorite read in 2020. Actually, I am getting ready to reread so I can facilitate this novel in our Zoom book club in November.

Reader Review: "All the Devils Are Here"

 

by Vivian H (Winchester, VA): Armand & Reine-Marie find murder, intrigue, heartache and betrayal while in Paris awaiting the birth of Annie's & Jean -Guy's second child. While I missed the eclectic residents of Three Pines, this book did not disappoint. The reader is gifted with insights into the Chief Inspector' past, including the fraught relationship with his son Daniel. There are convoluted plot developments that seem forced or improbable. However, these are easily overlooked when compared to the coziness and familiarity of spending a few delicious hours with my favorite Québécois.

Reader Review: "Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead"

 

by Margot P (Mandeville, LA): I went back and forth between 4 or 5 stars but decided on 5 as I have never quite read anything like this. It is comedic, tragic, mysterious, weird but very engrossing and beautifully written. I totally did not see the ending coming as I was so caught up in the magical and astronomical aspects of the book. Janina is a truly memorable character.

Reader Review: "Caste"

 

by CarolT: Wilkerson's easy to read prose kept me reading, but the topic kept me up nights. Everything she says is true. So, when I wonder about a "lower caste" person's promotion, am I wondering because she really isn't as qualified as other candidates, or because she's lower caste? And what, exactly, can I do to improve things? Is just the fact that I stop to think enough?

Reader Review: "The Exiles"

 

by Sonia Francis (Freehold NJ): After reading A Piece Of The World, Christina Baker Kline did not disappoint with her research on the Australian Aborigines, the penal colony and the way the British in the 1800's felt about the Aborigines, albeit , negatively. Actually they thought that they were a nuisance.

My thoughts go to the indigenous people world over who were exploited and raped of their culture and ethnicity. I have always wanted to know more about Australia' penal colony and it was quite an enlightening read I experienced in The Exile.This episode in 19th century Australia and Britain exposes the plight of three women whose lives are bound together aboard " The Medea" to Van Diemens Land, the penal colony.

I enjoyed reading about the bond built by these women , their stories, hardships, and challenges.

Stories are everywhere : from the Native American Indians in the United States who were slaughtered and trampled on, the Africans brought to American shores, the Burmese of Myanmar- change the names and the stories are the same of being colonized and left to fend alone.

I loved this book because it made me want to to read more atrocities suffered under British rule. This was an unapologetic reveal about the past and how history cannot be forgotten.

Reader Review: "Vampires in the Lemon Grove"

 

by Alexia (Perú): For such a young writer, Karen Russell has shown imagination and a freshness of writing that separates her from her peers. Since receiving her MFA in fiction from Columbia, Russell received the "5 Under 35" award in 2009 from the National Book Foundation, was named on The New Yorker's "20 Under 40" list, and was a Pulitzer Prize fiction finalist for her novel Swamplandia!, alongside David Foster Wallace and Denis Johnson. Her newest book, Vampires in the Lemon Grove, is a book of short stories set in a variety of locales that was published by Knopf in February. Full disclosure: Swamplandia! was not my favorite. The novel's characters and plot had Russell's distinctive magical realism, but the fantasy became tedious at a point, stretching the reader too far, which does not happen at all in her shorter works. Russell really shines in her short stories. In the stories, her lyrical imagination is showcased in beautiful ways that let you lose yourself in the words. No matter how inventive the story, it surprisingly easy to suspend disbelief because of Russell's craft in these short spaces.

In the title story, two vampires who have been together for hundreds of years suddenly face a problem when one of them develops a fear of flying. The relationship between the two vampires and the way they interact in the world is intricately described, with lines like "…You small mortals don't realize the power of your stories." A disturbing piece entitled "Reeling for the Empire" weaves the story of women transformed into silkworms and held captive in a factory, who discover personal agency and the power of their relationships in their attempts to transform and free themselves. As the main character Kitsune says, "…In truth there is no model for what will happen to us next. We'll have to wait and learn what we've become when we get out."

Perhaps the most haunting tale in Russell's collection is "The New Veterans," a story about a tattooed war veteran visiting a massage therapist. As the two work together, the therapist begins to realize the tattoos come to life on the Vet's body, and are malleable under her hands. Questions of healing, hurt, memory and honor are all explored in this love story of a different sort.

The approaches of these eight stories are so different from each other and have such lives of their own that this is a book that almost defies description, in the best way possible. Who else could tell a story about a massage therapist working on a war veteran whose tattoos come alive and change the lives of those involved, or make your heart hurt for a vampire? The way Russell can manipulate fantastical images and make them almost mundane is a gift, and one that makes you carry the characters around in your head, long after you've turned the last page.

Reader Review: "Burial Rites"

 

by Sandi W. (Illinois): I like historical fiction in general, but I really liked this story. Add mystery on top of historical fiction and that made it all the better. This was based on a true story, and even some names and places are actual, while others were changed for privacy reasons and the story was filled in where no actual fact could be found.

It is 1829 in Iceland. A woman is sent to be housed with a family, that doesn't want her, while she waits her execution. She is to be executed for murdering her previous master. Her crime and trial is based on the stories of others. While working as free labor for this host family she is visited multiple times by a young priest and it is through his visits that her side of the story is told.

You know going in that Agnes dies. She is the last person to be beheaded in Iceland. But it is her story that captivates. How she got into the position to be charged with killing two men, how she survived the loneliness and cruel treatment of her host family, and how she withstood her trip to the gallows.

The writing is impeccable and transfers you to that North Iceland homestead Agnes has been assigned to. You feel her loneliness. You empathize with the family forced to harbor a criminal. You await the execution right along with Agnes, as you finally hear her side of the story. It is very easy to lose yourself in this harrowing story, as you feel the pending doom and commiserate with Agnes.

Reader Review: "The Vanishing Half"

 

by Sandi W (Illinois): We all know that our past helps to dictate our future. We can run from our past, turn our backs on people and places from the past, disavow our past in many ways, but still it remains. Everyday of our life stays with us, including the past.

Two girls, twins, take separate and very different paths in life. African American, but very light skinned, one remains black and one chooses to be white. One twin was defiant, one recessive and shy. How different their lives become.

We spend time getting to know these twins as children, how they were raised. Then after they separate, we follow the lives of each adult, comparing and contrasting. This pattern also tracks the offspring, each of their daughters. Both so very different. Until one daughter seeks the truth and finds her cousin.

I found this book to be even better than I expected. Having read Bennett before, I knew how strong her writing was, how well she developed characters and how intricate her plot can get. I think this book is ever better than her debut book, The Mothers. However... similar to her first book, I was disappointed in the ending of this story. If Bennett has a flaw in her writing ability, it is book endings. As with her first book the ending of this book just seemed to fall off, fall flat. It does not leave you wanting more, it leaves you with a loss, a feeling of non completion. The ride through the story was great, nice and smooth, entertaining and comfortable, then it came to a screeching halt, lost in a fog, wavering disbelief, no idea of what path to follow.

In hopes that her story endings will improve, I will not hesitate to pick up another Bennett book. The ride is worth the dubious ending.

Reader Review: "The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires"

 

by Karen: 3.5 stars. This book started out strong for me. I'm familiar with Mt. Pleasant South Carolina where the characters live, which made it easy to visualize. The book club read a lot of books that I have read. So it brought back memories of books I read in the 1990s. And I love a book about books. But the author lost me when one of the women mentioned in a chapter early on in the book that Gazpacho is an Italian soup. It's actually Spanish. Was the author trying to show that these women were uneducated? Or was it an author mistake? Then there was a scene in a bank where the bank president actually recommended that Patricia and James Harris deposit cash under $10,000 so it's not reported to the government. As a banker myself that is not something a bank person would ever suggest it's actually called structuring which could impose penalties to the employee and the bank. However it was never mentioned that this bank person knew this and was basically a crook himself, which I could have been on board with. The banker was never mentioned again. Nitpicking here? Maybe. But these little inaccuracies were enough to make me take a step back and reevaluate the book. Though the scary scenes where definitely scary and bloody at times, it did keep my interest. I did find myself turning the pages to find out what happened next. If you are looking for a scary read for Halloween with vampires stick with Salem's Lot by Stephen King. But if you are looking for quirky fun I recommend this book.

Reader Review: "Leave the World Behind"

 

by Lorri (Pompton Lakes): This book! Alam has managed to write a perfect COVID-era book that is not about COVID, but the desire to keep what we love safe in times of terrible uncertainty and coming away with no good answers. Harrowing is the word I keep coming back to. Couldn't put it down. Recommended for fans of St. John Mandel's Station Eleven. Forget DeLillo's upcoming novel, this is the book you want to read.

Reader Review: "Piranesi"

 

by Anna Maria Rowe (Brantford): This is one of the most cinematic books I have ever read. It is a feat of imagination. Be prepared to expand your mind a little before you start this. It challenges perceptions of reality and identity. It's going to take you to another world of labyrinth halls, marbles statues and sweeping tides of sea. What a pleasure to read.

Reader Review: "The Winemaker's Wife"

 

by Joyce Clark: We lived in France for 5 years and visited Épernay and the champagne region as often as we could. The author captured the passion and even the smell of this incredible region. The bravery and strength of the Resistance came to life through this book. I especially loved the way the author connected the past to the present through the characters. The surprise twist at the end of the book was the perfect finale.

Reader Review: "Memorial Drive"

 

by Mary Hayes (Phoenix): Domestic abuse remains a topic of discussion so horrendous and difficult to comprehend that the why or what of circumstances never explains the outcome. It is a tribute to Natasha's mother that she expressed her love and support for her daughter while living in fear daily.

Although together they sought and received help in shelters, the mental health status of their pursuer never was questioned or restraint exhibited. Because this man was 'troubled' the whole family suffered and paid the price. The mother and daughter, loving, intelligent, trying to lead a comfortable happy life were always in the shadow of an unfathomable tragedy. What a loss for Natasha. What a brilliant recovery to achieve harmony in your life.

Reader Review: "A Girl is A Body of Water"

 

by Xandra Brooks-Keys (Clarksdale): This was a great read! The main character was a strong personality, demonstrating the ability to overcome anything - the rejection from a mother whose supposed to be the greatest example of love and the death of a father who tried. There were a few too many characters that I had to remember, making the book quite lengthy but I was determined to get to the end because of the story's richness!

Reader Review: "All the Devils Are Here"

 

by lani (philadelphia): I have loved all of Penny's books about Chief Inspector Gamache and the quirky inhabitants of Three Pines. When I read these books it felt like I was coming home, sitting at my desk with a cold beer on a hot day. Set in Paris this novel takes a different tack. The whole Gamache family is in Paris and his daughter is about to give birth. His godfather Stephen meets him in Rodin's garden but delivers some quirky comments. It turns out that those declarations would prove to unlock a sizable mystery. The plot felt much more involved and accelerated from her previous books, as the others were characterized by a languid gait. Stephen is hit by a hit-and-run driver and another person is found dead in his quarters. Uncovering the multilayered plot becomes the central issue of the book with an emphasis on family love, togetherness, and actions based on miscommunication. I really enjoyed it, but kept missing the old folks back home. However, that is not a criticism of the book at all. It is just Penny's ability to make one so involved with the characters that you ache when they are not there.

Reader Review: "Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line"

 

by Robert Murray (Smyrna, GA): In a corrupt society where the poor are lumped in the with garbage surrounding them, a boy tries to channel detective skills he learned from TV to solve the random disappearances around him, aided by two school friends. Reading this novel was a delight from start to finish, and it was hard to put it down throughout. The setting and the characters jumped off the pages, making some of the gut wrenching scenes even more powerful. Mix in some humor and the infectious enthusiasm of youth, and you have a great story that I'll think about long after the last page.

Reader Review: "The Vanishing Half"

 

by Karen T (Melborne, FL): Can't put it down! It's our book club's choice this month. Almost finished reading it. Told through multiple perspectives across decades. The characters development was excellent and even though the main focus was on twin sisters and their daughters there are so many side characters. It's emotional and thought-provoking. Addresses issues about identity, family and race in a thoughtful manner it's not harsh, just a genuine perspective.

Reader Review: "The Secrets We Kept"

 

by Anl (Henderson Nv): And yes I am old enough to have seen Dr. Zhivago on the big screen. And read the book. And lived through the cold war spirit of the times. And the Russian regimes. So the book had an identifying interest to me. Her approach to the events and characters is very well done. I did think the book could have been about 2/3 the length. I found myself saying "okay i got this concept, let's move on." And I did giggle at how often the typists could afford to eat out at a restaurant. I recommend you at least see the movie before reading this book. It is a timeless piece, just like Sound of Music or Gone with the Wind.

Reader Review: "The Black Count"

 

by Kymberly East (Santa Cruz): 1790s France was a renaissance of social justice. Though largely forgotten today, 18th century France pioneered the world's first civil right's movement. And at the helm, Pulitzer Prize winner Tim Reiss tells us, stood a figure resplendent in stature, dwarfing Napoleon's own domineering presence and troubling his ambitions, France's pride and heart of the republican cause, the mixed race Haitian born General Alex Dumas. Tim Reiss plunges us into the unfathomable exploits of a black general successfully erased from popular history at the behest of Napoleon Bonapart, whose own rise attracted the sponsorship of the reigning sugar and slave trades that made France a world power. Tim Reiss's Pulitzer Prize winning "The Black Count" beautifully captures the obsession of a son to write a beloved father back into the remembrance of a once adulating public. Reiss's seemingly effortless writing style thrusts us into not only the adventure of this dynamic figure, but also of Reiss's own detective work, which is a story in of itself. Riveting, heartwrenching, improbable, Reiss does for us what Alexander Dumas could not. If you have ever loved The Count of Monte Cristo or The Three Musketeers-- indeed any of the great author's work--then The Black Count is a must for your personal Dumas canon.

 

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