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My Reviews

 
Book Club Recommended
Insightful, Dramatic, Informative
Once We Were Brothers

Be prepared to sit down and read for hours at a time. This is a gripping story and hard to put it down. There is history, drama, romance, suspense all packed into 389 pages.

I have read so many books on the Holocaust that now I tend to only read those that have a unique slant to them. “Once We Were Brothers” certainly has that uniqueness as it is a story of two boys who were once brothers. Ben Solomon is Jewish and lives with his parents in Poland. One day Otto’s father drops him off at the home of the Solomons and asks them to care for him. Times are hard and he can no longer afford to care for his son. Thus, Otto, a non-Jew, joins the Solomon family. Ben and Otto become like brothers. The story revolves around Ben telling about his life in Poland and how Otto’s life eventually went a separate way and they became enemies. The story alternates between the time of WWII and present day 2004. Now Ben is accusing a respected civic leader and wealthy philanthropist of being a Nazi murderer who stole from his family. A young attorney gives up her job in a prestigious law firm to represent Ben Solomon in his attempt to make Otto Piatek pay for his cruelty. All odds are stacked against them.

The story is well-written but does have a couple of points that are a bit unbelievable. One character plays a plot-changing role but there is no explanation of who this guy is. But overall it is an excellent story. Balson writes the characters in such a way that you really care about them. That’s how real they seem to be.

Whiskey and Charlie by Annabel Smith
 
Book Club Recommended
Insightful, Interesting, Gloomy
Unique Chapter Titles

At first I was a bit put off by the chapter titles “gimmick”. Lately it seems some authors spend more time on developing their format than on the story itself. But I am happy to say I was wrong when it comes to Annabel Smith. As children Whiskey and Charlie loved the NATO alphabet so Ms. Smith wrote 26 chapters with each chapter named for the next letter of the alphabet. Thus the chapters were Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, etc. Having a military background, I had no problem keeping up with the chapters. The story flowed really well and I found myself wondering how she was going to work the title of the chapter into the story, especially with chapters such as India, Kilo, Lima, Quebec, and Uniform. Amazingly, she accomplished it very smoothly. I found myself being really impressed with how she worked the title seemingly so effortlessly into the story. I found myself drawn into the story and easily relating to the ups and downs in the story. The family dynamics are so realistic. I could really relate to many of the family issues addressed in this book. The characters were so human. I loved them, I felt their pain, I wanted to shake some of them; I wanted to hug some.

The creation of Charlie was so well done. Ms. Smith took us through his childhood where he felt inferior to Whiskey. We only get to know Whiskey through the eyes of the other characters. So the evolution of the story mostly revolves around Charlie who feels so guilty about his relationship with his twin brother. With Whiskey in a coma, he is afraid he will never have the chance to tell his brother that in spite of their problems he still loves him. I loved Rosa, Whiskey’s wife, and Juliet, Charlie’s girlfriend. Rosa pulled no punches at any time. Her directness was very endearing. Juliet seemed a bit too perfect – beautiful and extremely patient – but I still loved the character.

The progression of the story was at a good pace. At times I wanted it to move faster, but that was only because I wanted to know what was coming next. The characters developed at a pace that let me get to know them and feel the issues they had to work through. Nothing was rushed and I was grateful for that. I wanted to take that ride along with Charlie to see how it would all turn out. I was not disappointed.

The Bracelet by Dorothy Love
 
Book Club Recommended
Pointless, Poorly Written, Adventurous
Savannah Intrigue

The story is set in 1858 in Savannah, Georgia. Savannah, being only a two-hour drive from where I live, is always a great setting. Savannah itself seems to be a major character in stories. “The Bracelet” has elements of history, romance, mystery, and intrigue. Celia has always been in love with Sutton, and he with her. He is in the shipping business and has just returned from several years in Jamaica. Trouble is brewing in the nation’s young capitol as North and South prepare to face off over the slavery issue. But also arriving in Savannah is a journalist, determined to find out the truth about two deaths in Celia’s family home. Celia begins receiving threatening notes and a bracelet that sends a chilling message – death. Her father’s health is rapidly failing.

The daughters of two sisters are at the heart of this story. The sisters died early and the cousins were raised by Celia’s father and his housekeeper Mrs. Maguire. I really enjoyed the story but had to give it only four stars as one plotline was much too easily solved. However there were plenty of other twists and turns that kept me involved in the story.

The Nightingale: A Novel by Kristin Hannah
 
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Informative, Inspiring
Outstanding!!!

There are so many books written about the Holocaust that I am somewhat burned out on them. But every now and then a new one comes out that just is not like all the rest. This holds true to “The Nightingale” by Kristin Hannah. Ms. Hannah has the gift of articulating the complexities of families and relationships. The reader can feel the struggles the characters are encountering – the pain of emotions felt and beatings taken, the fear of being found out and of losing the ones you love most in the world, the agonizing hunger felt each day. You are right there standing next to the characters; you are pulled into and become a part of the story. I thought she couldn’t get any better than her book “Home Front”, but this one is just as good, if not better

In “The Nightingale” the sisters Viann and Isabelle live in the “Free Zone” in France. But this Free Zone soon becomes Nazi-occupied. It is difficult to read of the burdens the French people had to deal with each day for several years. People did what they had to do to survive. Some people were brave enough and humane enough to make attempts to save the Jews. Others, in self-survival mode, looked the other way. Others sadly joined the Nazis in their atrocities. The story here is very real. It reminded me of the book “A Woman in Berlin” about what the women had to do to survive, and they guilt and self-loathing they felt afterwards. One statement in “The Nightingale’ really hit me – “Men tell stories…Women get on with it…We did what we had to during the war, and when it was over, we picked up the pieces and started our lives over.”

The characters are very human with their strengths and their weaknesses. I loved them, I hated them, I feared for them, I rejoiced with them. Now the book is over but the characters live on in my mind.

The Language of Flowers: A Novel by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
 
Book Club Recommended
Insightful, Beautiful, Interesting

Hotel Moscow: A Novel by Talia Carner
 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Interesting, Adventurous
Doing Business with Russian Women

This is one of those rare books that I wanted to rush through because it had me so totally engrossed in the story. I felt the fear and intensity as unbelievable incidents were described. But once I reached the last few pages I found myself slowing down. On one hand I wanted to quickly read those pages to find out what would happen. But on the other hand I did not want the story to end.

Brooke Fielding, an ambitious young investment manager, accepts an invitation to travel to Moscow as part of a team to teach entrepreneurial skills to the Russian women. While eager to share of herself with the women she is also apprehensive. Her parents were born in Russia and escaped from the pogroms against the Jews. Her mother was the only survivor from her family as the others died in a concentration camp. Her father’s first wife and three children were killed. Thus, Brooke has grown up hearing of the anti-Semitism in Russia.

The story begins in 1993 just weeks after the fall of Communism. Left as a country with no laws, the Duma is busy making up laws as they go. However Yeltsin is frustrated and impatient with them and fires them. As the members of their Duma are democratically elected, Yeltsin did not have the authority to fire them. Thus, a stand-off develops between the members of the Duma and Yeltsin as he calls in the Army to remove the Duma.

The entire team encounters MAJOR culture shock. As Communist control ended, theft and gangs quickly filled the void. “Connections” and bribes were required for the simplest of services. Corruption has taken over. Time after time, the Russians are impressed by how white the Americans’ teeth are. Many of them have rotted teeth but proudly support one gold tooth as it shows they can afford it. People stand in line for hours, sometimes days, for food, gasoline, money from the banks. The descriptions of the living conditions of most Russians were shocking. The photos of “communal apartments” in the back of the book were definitely eye-opening.

Svetlana is assigned as the group’s translator. She knows several languages and would have been translator for the Foreign Minister. However, she was labeled as having “loose morals” after being gang-raped. Dr. Olga Rozanova, a sociologist from the Institute for Social Research, is ashamed that the Americans are so poorly treated in her homeland. Brooke forms friendships with these women, but can the friendships survive the anti-Semitism of the culture? And how can she teach Western capitalism to a people who are afraid to even trust their neighbors?

There is a good sampling of the male characters. There are primarily four Russian male characters and they are very different from each other.

Brooke’s early family history is revealed slowly, like layers of an onion being peeled away, layer by layer. Being in Russia makes her face parts of her past that she had been running from her entire life. There is a possible love interest for her but she is very distrustful of men. Her past relationships are also slowly revealed making it understandable why she is so distrustful of men. Brooke carries secrets that she is afraid of revealing. One of the secrets could cost her her job. She also struggles with the question of “What does it mean to be Jewish?” Should she hide her Jewish identity in this land that is rampantly anti-Semitic?

Ms. Carner visited Russia in 1993 and experienced some of the events told in the book. Her descriptions made me think of several social issues. Is this the way all oppressed societies behave once they get that first taste of freedom? I was amazed at the pride the Russian people still exhibited toward their country, no matter how corrupt it had become. Yet underneath it all, people are people, proving that compassion and trust still exist in the most lawless of societies. I also looked at my own Jewishness, just as Brooke was forced to look at hers. In spite of the corruptness, this was a beautiful story. I look forward to reading her other three books.

 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Beautiful, Romantic
Story of Yemenite Jews

Great story revolving around the use of henna by the women of the Jewish community in Yemen. Cultural information and some history also as it tells of the evacuation of the Jews of Yemen. Also a love story.

The Boston Girl: A Novel by Anita Diamant
 
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Informative, Insightful
Young Jewish Women in Early 20th Century

Addie Baum, 85, is asked by her granddaughter "How did you get to be the woman you are today?" This leads her to telling about her immigrant parents and sisters and her multicultural female friends growing up in Boston. Addie is somewhat rebellious, only because she is intrigued by a world that is unfamiliar to her parents. She dreams of things unheard of for women of that time, like college and a career. Humor goes a long way in her survival.

 
Book Club Recommended
Insightful, Beautiful, Informative
Love this author

This is the second book by Talia Carner we have read. (First was "Hotel Moscow" and Talia kindly Skyped in for it.) Everyone in our group loved the book. Good historical research. Good portrayal of how it was/is for women in the ultra-Orthodox community.

The Tears of Dark Water by Corban Addison
 
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Adventurous

 
Book Club Recommended
Romantic, Informative, Adventurous
Jan Moran does it again

I gave her “Scent of Triumph” four stars, but this one is undeniably a FIVE! Loved it, loved it. This book is about family – the struggles, the secrets, the salvation. The subtitle “A Novel of Wine and Secrets” is totally apropos.

Caterina Rosetta is hiding a huge secret from her mother. But her mother has her own secrets. Dreams dashed, futures uncertain. Caterina has grown up on the family-owned vineyard in Napa, California. But now she is at odds with her mother Ava over the daughter Caterina has kept secret. The unexpected notice that she has inherited a vineyard in Tuscany could not have come at a better time. Shortly after her arrival in Italy the family secrets begin to be revealed to her. She learns that Ava kept serious information from her in the belief that she was protecting her daughter. But now Caterina has to deal with the consequences resulting from this “protection”. How can she forgive her mother, and how does she tell the love of her life these secrets – secrets that will possibly destroy them? How can life be so cruel?

Caterina’s story is set in 1956, while Ava’s story is in 1928. Things were much different for women then. A child out of wedlock could destroy your reputation, and men had to give permission for their wives to handle financial transactions. How difficult it must have been then for the women who refused to follow the norm.

Having once lived near Napa Valley (and frequently visited the wineries) I especially loved the setting. The book is beautifully written with luscious descriptions of the Napa region and the wonderful wines produced there. The characters became my family and I rejoiced with them and felt broken-hearted along with the characters when dreams seemed inevitably dashed. I was emotionally spent when reached that last chapter. Jan Moran is AMAZING!

 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Interesting, Insightful
Awesome Read!

I never really had an interest in British royal history, however, Henry VIII surely intrigues everyone. This book is the first in a planned series of books about Henry VIII’s wives. And who better to tell these stories than Alison Weir.

Ms. Weir has spent her life doing research and writing books on British royalty. Her nonfiction works include: “Britain's Royal Families: The Complete Genealogy”; The Six Wives of Henry VIII”; “Lancaster and York – The Wars of the Roses”; “Eleanor of Aquitaine: By the Wrath of God, Queen of England”; “The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn”; and “Elizabeth of York – A Tudor Queen and Her World”.

“Katherine of Aragon, The True Queen” is her sixth historical fiction book based on British royalty. The book is a fascinating read. I learned so much about this period of history from reading it. She includes a timeline and list of characters in the back of the book – great tools since there are so many characters and events for someone not well-read on this historical topic. All the historical figures are brought to life in the telling of the marriage between Henry and Katherine and their ups and downs. Anne Boleyn is portrayed as a marvel manipulator, Henry is besot and controlled by her, while Katherine bears the brunt of both Anne’s and Henry’s attempts to do away with her. I was thoroughly intrigued with how Anne’s schemes led to long-term historical changes. I am definitely looking forward to the next book in the series.
Thank you to Random House for sending me an Advance Copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

All the Single Ladies: A Novel by Dorothea Benton Frank
 
Fun, Interesting, Informative
Good Beach Read

This is the first book I have read by Dorothea Benton Frank. I enjoyed her writing style – very realistic dialogue, good descriptions. I can’t say I particularly enjoyed the story though. It was very predictable. Just a tad of a mystery but not enough to categorize this book as mystery.

It is a story of strong female friendships, which I did enjoy. I loved Miss Trudie, Suzanne’s grandmother. The description of Southern life was humorous and delightful. Carrie was probably my least favorite of the protagonists as she was openly looking for a “meal ticket”. Good beach read as it is very light. No thinking required.

Advance copy received from GoodReads’ FirstReads for an honest review

 
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Informative, Epic
Defnitely Worth Reading

Beautifully written by Ms. Sanna the story moves quickly and smoothly taking you back in time to the Wisconsin farmlands. A couple of twists and turns left me scrambling to rethink my anticipated ending. This is a book definitely worth reading.

No Safe Secret by Fern Michaels
 
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Addictive, Insightful
Riveting

I have read several of Fern Michaels’ books. I find that I don’t enjoy her series books. They are too “lightweight” and predictable. However, her stand-alone books seem to be much better quality. This one was really good, in fact it was riveting.
Maddy Carmichael is a high school senior. Her mother is a drunk and her brother an absolute jerk. It is her prom night and she has bought herself a lovely dress. She hopes to have one night to remember – and that she does. She is brutally raped by several of her brother’s friends. Later that night she flees her home, planning to head North and reinvent herself. However, a final act of revenge follows her.
It is 21 years later and she in now Molly McCann, married to an affluent dentist, lives in a beautiful home, has two stepsons, and a daughter that she adores. From outside appearances she lives the perfect life. But Molly is good at keeping secrets. No one knows about her past, and no one knows how abusive her husband is. At some point secrets come out, and as her life starts to unravel there are secrets she didn’t even know.
I had trouble putting this book down. Each chapter just pulled me in more and more.
Thank you to GoodReads and Kensington Press for the advance copy.

 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Optimistic, Inspiring
Life for the Women of Paris

I was looking forward to reading this book. I read Kristin Hannah’s “The Nightingale” which piqued my interest in how the women in France survived Nazi occupation. I also read CW Gortner’s “Mademoiselle Chanel” which had a lot of information on how she and others like her survived.

This nonfiction book was well researched for the period 1939 – 1949. The majority of the book addresses the lives of “the rich and the famous” and, I admit, I scanned much of those sections. I was more interested in the everyday people, people like me. I also was not impressed with how much fashion – and entertainment to some degree - continued to be of prime importance during that time. Seems a bit shallow to me when people were just trying to survive.

Life did change for everyone, especially the women. Most of the men went away to war, leaving the women behind to carry on with live the best way they could. And it was indeed a difficult time. Food and other necessities of life were in very short supply. The Germans were the only ones that could afford food – or they just took it. Women faced daily humiliation as they had to queue for hours and then beg (and pay) for the few rations that were available.

Tremendous efforts were made to hide works of art – those in galleries and private Jewish collections. Part of Hitler’s plan was the intention to destroy any sense of belonging by depriving Jews of what they owned. He planned to create his own art gallery.

The British were using women in combatant activities, although it was forbidden by the Geneva Convention. Thus, these women had no protection if they were captured. History has failed to note that many women were among those deported.

When the war was over people who survived were suspected of being collaborators with the Germans. Jews, political prisoners, and prisoners of war recently liberated from camps and prisons, poured into the city – a city in no way ready to accommodate them. Many returned with serious medical issues that Paris was ill prepared to deal with. Perhaps most devastating was that many returned to find that everything they had owned had been taken.

In an effort to try to return to “normal”, women were encouraged to “return to a time of innocence and femininity, to stop making decisions, stop balancing cheque books, stop being aggressively punctual.” This met with mixed responses.

I liked the discussion of what it takes to be a hero. I think I agree with this statement in the book: “Heroism isn’t a matter of choice, but of reflex. It’s a property of the central nervous system, not the higher brain.” Heroes do not think; they act.

This is a book well worth reading, even though it does bog down at times. More and more people are now finally talking about what really happened during the Nazi Occupation. For a long time no one wanted to hear about it so the survivors kept quiet. Now their stories are being told – and heard.

I received an advance copy from St. Martin’s Press vis BookBrowse in return of an honest review.

 
Book Club Recommended
Romantic, Addictive, Interesting
Eternal Love

Two couples separated by 70-so years try to overcome the obstacles in their way. It is 2011 and Dan is trying to find Stella, a woman he met while serving in the military in 1942. They were star-struck lovers who found love but then lost it. In present day 2011 Will and Jess also seek love. The chapters alternate between Stella-Dan and Will-Jess. It was easy to keep straight as to which characters in which time frame I was reading – most of the time.
Dan’s letter is found by Jess who has abusive boyfriend and, having no other place to go, takes shelter in an abandoned house. After reading the letter, Jess then discovers a box of old letters written by Dan to Stella. She decides she must find out who these people and why they were separated.
It was a good story but it just didn’t grab me. I found I could easily set the book aside and not pick it up again for a few days. This story seemed to drag quite often, and then suddenly all the loose ends get wrapped up neatly near the end of the book.
But it wasn’t all negative. I did think that the characters were well-developed and believable. I rooted for some while not liking others. Charles, Nancy, Jess, and Will were products of their time – doing what was expected of them, or rebelling against the social norms of the time. It was easy to judge them based on our societal norms now. It was difficult at times to accept that some of the characters’ behaviors, while not being acceptable in the present day, were the norm for that time. While some turned to finding ways to help, others decided to throw caution to the wind and live as though each day was the last. But above all this is a story of eternal love.

 
Book Club Recommended
Addictive, Dark, Dramatic

This book had me as soon as I read the synopsis inside the front cover. Jack and Grace, the perfect couple – looks, money, prestige. Jack, an attorney who defends battered women, dotes on her; she strives to please him, preparing elaborate meals for guests, always looking perfectly eloquent. Jack insists on having Grace’s younger sister (who has Down’s syndrome) move in with them. But then you have to wonder why she never answer the phone? Why she has no cell phone? Never goes anyplace without him? Something just seems a bit off.

I just wanted to place myself behind closed doors – so I would not be disturbed while on this tense, suspenseful ride. The chapters alternate between present and past, slowly decreasing the time between the past and present. The author expertly managed to build the suspense along both time lines simultaneously. Sometimes I just could not wait until the next cycle and had to skip ahead to see what happens.

Even though I knew from the beginning that their marriage was a farce and some form of abuse had to be taking place, I was still surprised as the truth came out bit by bit. Grace is terrified of Jack but no one must know. No one would believe that charming, handsome Jack who so adores his wife is a psychopath. As I read of their courtship filled with laughter happiness and love, I could easily empathize with Grace’s confusion of how that “knight in shining armor” is also the monster she now lives with. Ms. Paris wrote the book using Grace’s voice so the reader experiences Grace’s fear, her determination to outwit her husband, her despair when her efforts fail, her emptiness as Jack leads others to believe she has emotional problems, her sense of isolation, her pain when she catches glimpses of the man she thought she had married and “how it could have been”.

Once you start this book you will be in another world. A world you abhor but just cannot bear to leave until you turn that last page.

The reason I gave it four stars instead of five is that the book really could have used more proofing. There are quite a few instances of words being left out, or the wrong word being used (mostly likely from spell check which we know is often not correct).

Nothing Is Predictable by Adalina Mae
 
Book Club Recommended
Romantic
Love Hurts

This book reads like a memoir. I had to keep reminding myself that Zara (the protagonist in the book) is not Adalina (the author). However, some of the book is indeed based on true events. So, which parts?
This book was not really my “cup of tea”. However, it was impossible not to like Zara and to be able to relate to her struggles. I think most women will be able to relate to her.
Zara was born in Los Angeles to Lebanese parents. Her childhood is somewhat veiled as she had multiple sexual molestations, one of which is she unable to recall. Her now-deceased father, while pampering his “princess” was also an abusive alcoholic. Zara has one disastrous relationship after another with men. Zara must confront her feelings regarding her father before she can find peace.
The writing flowed smoothly, as if I were reading Zara’s journal. I followed Zara’s travels from the US to Lebanon to Switzerland to Italy. She was quick to fall for men, especially gorgeous men. She was vulnerable and used by some, loved by some, hurt by them all. At times I wanted to wipe away her tears, or slap her and tell her to grow up, or have some wine and get drunk with her.
While not my “cup of tea” I still found the book to be enjoyable. It did keep me interested, wondering what she will be up to next.


Behind Closed Doors by B. A. Paris
 
Dramatic, Addictive, Dark

 
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Interesting, Addictive
Do You Really Know Your Spouse?

This is the first book I have read by Kimberly Belle, and now I will have to check out her other two books. This book had a bit of romance and plenty of suspense. It kept me guessing as to what direction it was going in.
After seven years of marriage you expect to know your spouse, don’t you? Iris Griffith thought she knew her husband Will. But on a morning like any other morning Will leaves for the airport as he is a key speaker at a conference in Florida and Iris leaves for the school at which she is a counselor. But then Iris’ life is irretrievably changed. The news announces the crash of a plane headed for Seattle, and Iris learns that Will’s name was on the manifest for the downed flight.
Iris insists this cannot be possible. However as time goes by she has to face the fact that her husband of seven years lied to her on their last morning together. She is determined to learn what really happened. This leads her and her brother Dave to Seattle, a trip that causes her to question everything she thought she knew about her husband.
As previously unknown people insert themselves into her life in an effort to help her, she soon learns that not all of them are who they claim to be. She becomes more and more confused and frantic to get to the bottom of the mystery.
I don’t want to say too much here as it would give away much of the story. This book is best read slowly, lingering over each morsel Ms. Belle feeds you, guiding you to the anticipated ending. She reveals secrets and more secrets, like peeling away the layers of an onion.

#BookSparks #FRC2016 #KimberlyBelle #TheMarriageLie


We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter
 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Dramatic, Inspiring
A Suspenseful Read

This book is categorized as fiction. However, at the end of the book I learned that it is story of the author’s family. At the age of fifteen Georgia Hunter was assigned a research project in school. Thus began her quest to interview her relatives and learn of her ancestors.
In 1939 the Kurc family was Jewish and living in Poland – father Sol, mother Nechuma, sons Selim, Jakob, and Genek, and daughter Halina. Son Addy was living in Paris. As the war begins the family goes in various directions. For the first half of the book I had difficulty keeping the characters straight. There’s all the siblings, their wives, their children, and aunts, uncles, and cousins. As they went on the run, the story fragments. This is where I found myself flipping back and forth to refresh my memory as to which sibling this was and what had happened several chapters back. The last half of the book was easier to read as by then I had the characters in my head.
Other than that Ms. Hunter’s writing made the scenes so realistic with her descriptions of what the Kurcs suffered and how difficult and uncertain everyday life was at the time. Going along for the ride was terrifying. Life was brutal, and survival nearly impossible. How do you survive when food is scarce, you are on the run constantly, and you feel you can’t trust anyone?
Members of the family dispersed all over -- France, Italy, Kazakhstan (which I found interesting since I wondered how Jews ended up there), Tehran, Siberia, West Africa, Morocco, Brazil, Tel Aviv. Considering how difficult and dangerous it was to travel it was suspenseful wondering who would survive the ordeal and who wouldn’t.
I have read a lot of books about the Holocaust and at first I thought this one was like all the rest. But I was wrong. This book is different and definitely worth reading.

 
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Romantic
Engrossing Read

San Francisco was and is a city of many cultures and has a fascinating history. Thus, being a fan of historical fiction, I was quickly drawn into this story that alternated between present day San Francisco and 1876 San Francisco.
Sarah Havensworth, a former journalist, married into the wealthy Havensworth family. They seem to have the perfect marriage; however, as always, one of them has a secret. Sarah had planned to tell Hunter her dark and painful secret before they got married; however, the time just never seemed to be right. And now she is afraid she will lose him when – not if - he finds out. But, unbeknownst to Sarah and Hunter, his family also has a secret.
With her husband Hunter’s financial support and encouragement, she planned to write a historical novel set in 1876 San Francisco for her master’s thesis. However, she just can’t find the inspiration she needs to bring her characters to life on the page.
But one day, as she is browsing through historical events from 1876, a headline pops up: “January 10: Missing dressmakers believed to be murdered”. This is it! But as she researches the story of Hannelore (Hanna) Schaeffer and Margaret O’Brien she decides she really doesn’t want to write a novel; she wants to fall back on her former skills as a journalist and write a journalistic narrative. Thus begins her search to find out what happened to these two women. And surprisingly, she finds a link to her husband’s family.
The lives of Sarah and Hanna revealed such a contrast from chapter to chapter. While Sarah was pampered by her husband and wanted for nothing, when Hanna’s mother died she was left to care for her three younger siblings and endure an alcoholic, abusive father. Fortunately Hanna, unlike many women of the time, could read and she had seamstress skills. Margaret, who could not read, had an even harder time surviving. She had more siblings than did Hanna, also had no mother, and had a drunken father.
Ms. Jaeger’s writing style effortlessly flows back and forth between present day and 1876. Her descriptions allowed me to envision how San Francisco must have been in 1876 – the noise of the street vendors and horses, the smells of fresh – and rotting – fish markets, the society ladies strolling in their finest apparels, the poor immigrants just trying to stay alive another day. I remained in suspense throughout the book wondering what happened to these unfortunate girls, and what the tie between them and Hunter’s family was.
This engrossing novel is Meredith Jaeger’s first novel, and I hope it is not her last.

The Book of Harlan by Bernice L. McFadden
 
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Dark, Dramatic
Beautiful Writing, Dramatic Story

This is a story inspired by relatives of Ms. McFadden’s. It is beautifully written.

Harlan started out as a promising musician. He had family that loved him and supported him. After his grandfather died, his parents moved from Macon, Georgia to Harlem. This is when Harlan’s career as a musician really took off. He made friends with a fellow musician called Lizard. The two of them became as close as brothers.

Word got around about the talent these two men had, and soon they were on their way to Paris to perform at the “Harlem of Paris”. However while there Hitler’s armies moved into France. Harlan and Lizard end up in Buchenwald, a notorious concentration camp. McFadden writes of the infamous “witch of Buchenwald” and their encounters with her. Harlan returns a broken man who has to dig deep inside himself for the strength to get on with his life.

While the story itself is that of a hard, cruel life, the writing is at times exquisite. The beginning softly beckons you in --
“No matter what you may have heard about Macon, Georgia – the majestic magnolias, gracious antebellum homes, the bright stars it produced that went on to dazzle the world – if you were Emma Robinson, bubbling with teenage angst and lucid dreaming about silver-winged sparrows gliding over a perfumed ocean, well then, Macon felt less like the promised land and more like a noose.”
I couldn’t help liking Harlan, even as he swaggered from bar to bar, woman to woman. His life was like a rollercoaster with its extreme highs and the rush to the extreme lows. Harlan, despite his faults, was an honorable man. My heart was wrenched each time life slapped him in the face. And I so hoped he would be able each time to shake it off and try again. I wanted life to be gentle to him, but it was not to be.

Another lovely offering --
“Surrendering to the lullaby and goodnight of autumn, the flowers threw down their petals and wilted. The trees, as if ashamed, waited till night before dropping their golden leaves.”

Harlan’s story is that of many black men over the years. Sadly, too much has not really changed over the decades. Harlen’s life will resonate within me for some time.

Gratitude in Low Voices: A Memoir by Dawit Gebremichael Habte
 
Book Club Recommended
Insightful, Informative, Interesting
Gratitude Returned

Habte’s story is one of strength through desperation. When one is truly desperate s/he struggles for the strength to escape and survive the situation.
Habte’s story is one we hear little of in the news. For years Ethiopia has been trying to overtake the small country of Eritrea. Most people have not even heard of the country of Eritrea. In the summer of 1978 Habte, his brother, and two sisters began their escape from their homeland. Their perilous journey took them to Sudan and Uganda and finally to Kenya. There he applied for refugee status. He received a work-permit and permanent residence. After a little over a year they were able to apply for sponsorship to come to the US. Through a lot of hard work and good connections he was able to get a scholarship to John Hopkins University, resulting in a job at Bloomberg as a software engineer. But he never forgot an old time-tested Eritrean saying, “To those who have done you favors, either return the favor or tell others about their good deeds.” With that in mind, Habte eventually returned to his country to offer others business opportunities.
I truly admire the courage and determination Habte had. It made me more aware of the difficulties encountered by refugees. Each day on the journey is dangerous and exhausting physically and mentally. Many leave their homes with nothing. At each stop along the way they have to find a way to procure food and the basic necessities. Many are jailed and/or abused at some point along the journey.
I gave the book four stars for two reasons. First, his story is told in a disassociated manner. He detached himself from his emotions. I feel this prevents the reader from really relating to his situation. But the main reason is that over half of the book goes into detail of the history of the country and the many conflicts there. Only then does the story focus on him and his family.
If you know little of this region of the world and their conflicts, it is well worth reading. There is no doubt that Habte is an exceptional young man who never gave up and never forgot his homeland. The acts of kindness he encountered he then returned to others.

 
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Insightful
Lovely Story

I really enjoyed this book, as did all our book club members. It reminded me of "The Kite Runner". Provided insight into life in India for the lower castes.

 
Book Club Recommended
Inspiring, Beautiful, Insightful
Totally Delightful

What a truly delightful read! It’s like “A Man Called Ove” but without the crabbiness. Arthur Moses, 85, has lunch each day with his wife Nola – at the cemetery. Nola has been dead six months. Arthur is a truly sweet man and has a positive attitude toward pretty much everything.
Eighteen-year-old Maddy often visits the cemetery to get away from the other kids at school. It is here that Arthur and Maddy meet and develop an unusual friendship. Because of his devotion to Nola and his kindness Maddy gives Arthur the nickname “Truluv”. Maddy’s mother died in a car crash when Maddy was only two weeks old. She doesn’t get along with her father and the kids at school pick on her. To ease her loneliness, Maddy escapes into her world of photography.
Also dealing with loneliness is Arthur’s elderly neighbor Lucille. While quite nosy, their lives all change as the three of them form a compassionate bond creating their own version of a little family – oh, and mustn’t forget Gordon, the cat – to deal with life’s struggles and to find hope and a new purpose in life.
This book is a delightful escape from with these delightful people – and Gordon. Smile, laugh, cry – I love a book that taps into my emotions and makes me what the characters in the story feel. That is great writing.







The Breakdown: A Novel by B. A. Paris
 
Book Club Recommended
Addictive, Dramatic
Lots of Suspense

I loved her first book (“Behind Closed Doors”) so had high expectations for this one. The story is truly suspenseful. During a severe storm Cass comes across a car parked at the side of the road. She stops and waits for some indication that the female driver needs assistance. None comes so Cass drives on to her home. The next morning Cass learns from her husband that her friend Jane had been murdered. She is devastated when she learns that it had been her friend Jane’s car on the side of the road.

Besides all the guilt Cass feels wondering if she could have done something different and have saved Jane, Cass begins forgetting more and more things. Cass forgets appointments, she forgets ordering items from the shopping channels, etc. She is afraid that she may be showing signs of Early Onset Dementia, a disease her mother has. She receives silent phone calls several times a day. She sees things that later are not there. Her husband is losing his patience with her.

There are lots of suspenseful moments in the book. However, I did have it mostly figured out by 60 pages. But the writing was still good and kept me anxiously awaiting the reveal. The chapters are short so by the last several chapters I was telling myself “I have time for one more chapter – just one more – just one more.” I don’t think it is as good as the first book but it was definitely worth reading.

Suspenseful – Riveting – Can’t put down until the truth is revealed.


 
Book Club Recommended
Insightful, Interesting, Informative
Compelling Historical Read

Allison Pataki has done it again! I loved her two books on Empress Sissi (“The Accidental Empress” and “Sissi”) and her book on Benedict Arnold’s wife (“The Traitor’s Wife”). With “Where the Light Falls” Allison, along with her brother Owen, has written a compelling saga of life during the French Revolution.
The story begins with the aftermath of the people’s rebellion and the storming of the Bastille. Royalty has been abolished. Noblemen have been imprisoned. It is a bit slow at first as the back-story of the characters is laid out. But once you know who everyone is, the story takes off and never slows down. The Pataki siblings obviously did extensive research to lay out such a well written, detailed story that made you feel you were right there in the midst of the turbulent time. I could feel the disgust and anger the people had toward the nobility. The revolution brought feelings of hope and patriotism for some, but inescapable fear for others. Each drop of the infamous guillotine resulted in a frenzied public becoming more and more blood-thirsty. King Louis XVI – “off with his head”. Marie Antoinette – “off with her head”. The slightest offense to the wrong person could result in imprisonment or execution.
André Valiere is a nobleman’s son who denounced his wealth and status to fight for his people. The Pataki’s took me right into the battles with Valiere. I felt the intensity of the battle at Valmy against the Austrians and Prussians, and then later alongside Napoleon in Malta against the Mamelukes. And even in times of such uncertainty love can be found; thus it was when André met Sophie, a young aristocratic widow. However, a very powerful person is determined to keep them apart, and he doesn’t care who he has to kill to do so.
Also in such times can be found those who are determined to help the “underdog”. Such a man is Jean-Luc who selflessly takes on legal cases for those who cannot pay him. He knows he is fortunate to have the moral support of his wife Marie. But little does he know just how brave his adored wife is.
I studied the French Revolution is school but remember little of it as it was taught in such a dry manner. I learned so much more from reading this book. Historical fiction is such a wonderful way to make learning more fun. The first few times I read historical fiction I was concerned about the accuracy of the stories, so I checked the books against historical documentation and found that the major premise behind the stories stayed true to the documentation. Such a pity that history lessons focus on the dates and not the people. I know that since this book was so engrossing I will remember what I read. And while Jean-Luc, Marie, André, and Sophie are fictional characters, I am sure they are composites of brave people who did really exist.

Best Intentions: A Novel by Erika Raskin
 
Book Club Recommended
Without a doubt - The best suspense read this year!!

Without a doubt - The best suspense read this year!!

Marti Trailor is married to a doctor and has three great children, but now she wants to return to her work as a social worker. She is offered a job in the same hospital where her husband works. Marti now gets a “behind-the-scenes” look at what goes on in the hospital – doctors working 80+ hours a week, exhausted doctors making mistakes, the politics that can cost lives.

Erika Raskin has delivered an amazing work. The characters are totally relatable. Marti is smart and sassy, and her best friend Colby is even more so. Marti’s client Tonya is admirable throughout her pregnancy and the aftermath. As tragedy falls upon Marti’s shoulders, she is fortunate to have Colby and her boss Win at her side. There are a couple of characters that I should really dislike – one being her husband – but I find myself feeling some empathy toward them, but only a bit.

The book is fast paced and the suspense builds keeping you turning pages. I wanted to seclude myself so I could just read.

There are many “psychological thrillers” being released lately. Most promise a “surprise twist” at the end. But many of these books have left me feeling the end was contrived in order to give that twist. I did not feel that with “Best Intentions”. Everything falls into place carrying you to a satisfying end.

Cocoa Beach: A Novel by Beatriz Williams
 
Confusing, Dramatic

 
Book Club Recommended
Scary, Graphic, Addictive
Compelling Susoense

Be prepared – the last half of this book will keep you reading all night.
I think there are times that we all struggle with our inner demons. This is only natural. There’s the part of us that wants to please everyone, and there’s the part that wants to rebel against parents and society.
But for Annie/Milly it is a bit more than that. Since the age of five Annie has been abused in her home. She has witnessed horrific acts done by her mother. Finally at the age of 15 she turns her mother in to the police. Upon investigation it is revealed that her mother has killed nine children. Now Annie is known as Milly and lives in a foster home. The home consists of Mike who is a therapist experienced in trauma cases, his wife Saskia, and teenage daughter Phoebe who is not at all happy with Milly being there.
Milly tries to please her foster family even though Phoebe makes her life hell, especially at school. But Milly is haunted by the voice of her mother. As is typical in child abuse cases, no matter how severe the abuse the child still wants to be loved by its parent. So Milly struggles with the knowledge that she will be the primary witness in court against her mother. She also knows just how manipulative her mother is.
I could see what direction the book was going it, but Ms. Land artfully doled out pieces of the chilling puzzle a few pieces at a time, building the suspense notch by notch. I definitely recommend this book to those who love a good thriller.

 
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Beautiful, Adventurous
Truly Delightful Read

Pampered, stubborn, impetuous, reckless. That’s Lucy Stanhope, granddaughter of an earl. Not a very likeable person…at first.
Set in the early days of WWII, Lucy is living in Singapore with her mother and stepfather. But after a questionable incident she is exiled to England to live with her aunt. Lucy is one of the last people to get out of Singapore before the war reaches the island.
Lucy learns that her mother has perished at sea. While in Singapore Lucy had met Mason Oliver, a Hollywood producer. He gave her his business card and said he would make her a star. So rather than live with her elderly aunt she set out for London to meet with Mr. Oliver before he leaves for the US.
Along the way she rescues Bill, a young boy who has run away from the home he had been placed in. He is determined to find his mother in London. Reluctantly Lucy agrees to help him find his mother. She also encounters a soldier she had met in Singapore, Corporal Michael McKeegan. They have sparred from the moment they met.
“The Way to London” is a delightful read. No alternating perspectives, no back and forth in time. Lucy’s character development was so beautifully written. I loved seeing her slowly mature and begin to put the needs of others before herself. And along the way she discovers what love is…something she had never felt.

I loved the simple storyline that held my heart throughout the journey.

Odd Child Out: A Novel by Gilly Macmillan
 
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Insightful, Addictive
Great Read

This story revolves around best friends Noah Sadler and Abdi Mahad, both aged 15. Noah missed a lot of school because of medical treatments for his cancer. Upon his return to school he is shunned by the other kids, except for Abdi. Their backgrounds are drastically different – Noah being from an upper middle class white family and Abdi from a black Muslim Somali refugee family. But this does not matter to them.

One night after attending Noah’s father’s photography exhibition the boys wander out along the canal on an adventure. The evening ends in tragedy when an unconscious Noah is pulled from the cold dark waters of the canal. Surveillance cameras show that the boys argued, Noah walked away, and Abdi followed. But this is not the whole story. They both had secrets they guarded tightly. With Noah in a coma, the police question Abdi as to what happened but he refuses to talk. And we all know that silence is usually seen as guilt.

Noah’s parents are beyond grief. Unknown to others, they know that Noah had only a couple of months to live. And now they may not have even that. Anger does not even begin to describe how they feel – devastated is more like it.

Abdi’s family is terrified when Abdi goes missing. Secrets from the Somali refugee camp 15 years ago have shockingly followed them to their home in Bristol.

The story is told from the perspectives of Noah (who as he lies in his coma reflects back on his life and the realization of all the things he will never get to do), Abdi’s 20-year-old sister Sofia (who has stronger maternal feelings for Abdi than does his mother), and Jim, one of the detective’s assigned to the case. I found it interesting that these perspectives were used, especially Sofia instead of Abdi. But this worked well in revealing some of the backstory of Abdi’s family fleeing Somalia. But Abdi has recently learned something that Sofia was never aware of.

I got the impression from some of Jim’s story that this book is part of a series. After looking up her other books I found that Jim is the detective from the book “What She Knew”. But rest assured that you do not need to read that book first to understand this one. In “Odd Child Out” Jim is having to attend sessions with a psychologist over a case he had recently completed – the case in “What She Knew”.

This was an excellent study in teen friendships and how families respond to tragedy. Abdi’s family’s fear and instinctive need to protect their son. Noah’s family is angry because Noah won’t tell them what happened. There is an unreliable witness whose story must be investigated. Detective Chief Inspector Corrine Fraser, Jim’s supervisor, knows that due to some recent racial tension in the city they may be sitting on a powder keg if Abdi is accused of attacking Noah.

The author puts us in the heads of Noah, Sofia, and Jim and allows the story to unfold a bit at a time. The pacing of the story was excellent. No quick wrap-up at the end as so often happens. I thought the story came to a very satisfying closure.

Thank you to GoodReads and William Morrow books for this excellent book.










 
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Informative, Beautiful
Escape to Venice with a Masterful Storyteller

Venice has always held a special allure for me with its alleyways, canals, islands, gondolas. They all beckoned me to explore further. So a new book by Laura Morelli, set in Venice, promises an escape to this historic land.

Set in 1510 we are taken into the world of artists and the “gilders’ guild”. The gilders’ guild is a society dedicated to the practice and preservation of the art of using gold and metal leaf. I had no idea this technique was such a specialty.

But darkness – in the form of the Black Death - has swept over the city of Venice. Plague outbreaks in the 16th century were reported to be even far deadlier than those at the end of the 15th century.

Our protagonist, Maria Bartolini, has worked for her father her entire life and has fallen in love with Cristiano who also works for her father. She dreams of running her father’s business, happily married to Cristiano. But her father has other plans – he says for her own good. He sends her away to be an apprentice to a famous painter, Master Trevisan. For a while, she manages to sneak away occasionally for a few moments of stolen bliss with her lover. However the plague is making it more and more difficult and the streets are being closed in an attempt to curb the spread of the plague. Her dreams of returning to Cristiano and her family business are slipping through her fingers. Soon Trevisan’s servants discover the true reason that Maria’s father sent her away, leaving Maria having to make a very difficult decision. She must do whatever it takes to maintain her family’s reputation.
While the trials and tribulations of Maria’s life held my interest, I was especially enraptured with the chapters where she worked alongside the painter Master Trevisan. I loved reading of how his pigments were prepared and how Maria’s talent enhanced his art.

Morelli’s descriptions of the city and the lives of the character seemed to envelop me into the story. I was there alongside Maria through her joys, her heartbreaks, her grief. I ached for her as she made some near impossible choices, choices no one should have to make. This is one of those few books that I will read again – at another time when I can shut out the world and make Maria’s world my world.

Poison: A Novel by Galt Niederhoffer
 
Book Club Recommended
Poorly Written, Addictive
Great Story, Writing Not So Great

Another “perfect” family on the outside story. Ryan and Cass seem to be the perfect family. Cass has two children from her late first husband. Then she marries Ryan and they have a child together. All seems perfect on the outside but little signs convinces Cass that her husband is having an affair. When she confronts him he becomes the epitome of the abusive husband – denial, anger, blame shifting, threats.

The writing style put me off a bit. The first couple of chapters I immediately envisioned the beginning of a Twilight Zone episode with a narrator looking on the family and setting the stage for us. But as I warmed up to it I found myself inpatient with the daily routines that pulled me away from the book.

Ryan becomes physically abusive – wrapping his fingers around her neck until she thinks she will die, forcefully raping her. Then one day he sneers to her that he is going to kill her. Soon Cass begins having violent stomach cramps and she feels as though her body is short-circuiting. She comes to the conclusion that her husband is poisoning her. She tries to get help but has no proof of any crime being committed. Now it becomes a game of cat-and-mouse. Who can Cass trust? Are her children safe? What would happen next?

It was difficult reading of Cass’ response to Ryan’s cheating and abuse. At first she let herself believe his lies. She always took him back when he turned on the charm. She had been an investigative reporter and was now a college professor. I expected her to not fall for his tricks. But accepting how you could be so wrong about someone is hard to accept. Only when she realized that her children were in danger did she put aside her emotions and once again became the investigative reporter.

Her story is one that many women have faced. The victim becomes the guilty one. What did she do to provoke him? Was she seeking revenge for his betrayal?

It was a good thing the story was very good, as the writing definitely could have been better. Also some aspects of the story just did not seem realistic – they were too forced. But I do feel it was the time reading it for entertainment value.

 
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Informative, Dramatic
Exquisite writing

I absolutely LOVED this book. The author's writing is superb. She intersperses the story of her family and the events going on at the time in Germany and throughout the region. The book also contains several black and white photos and several pages of color photos in the middle. Ms. Willner kept me on edge all through the book as I rapidly read to learn the fate of the remainder of her family. I was horrified at what went on behind the Berlin Wall and amazed at how the people kept going day after day. It was so well written I often forgot I was reading about a real family.

Nina's mother was the oldest daughter and the only family member to escape from East Germany. Years would go by with an occasional letter arriving at its intended destination. East Berliners were totally shielded from news of the West. Anyone interested in history should definitely read this book.

 
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Informative, Fun
A Test of Friendship

I thoroughly enjoyed “The Girls in the Picture” by Melanie Benjamin and learned a lot from it. That is why I have come to love the genre of historical fiction – I always learn something new. I knew very little about the early days of the movie industry and nothing really about Frances Marion and Mary Pickford. This book is the story of the intense friendship between Frances and Mary. In the era of silent films, Mary Pickford was loved and adored by everyone in America. Much of her popularity was due to the excellent screenwriting of Frances Marion, a true pioneer of her time.
Ms. Benjamin took me into the glitz and glamour of the time, and also the intense rivalries. From stage productions to silent films to “the talkies”, she brought it all to life. It was no secret that this was a man’s world, but Mary and Frances broke into that world and made it their own.
Mary had to work from a very early age to support her siblings and her mother. Thus she never had a childhood, and never had a friend - until she met Frances. They understood each other and, more so, Frances understood and shared Mary’s passion for the film world. Frances instinctively knew how to write for the character.
The book addresses the history of the film companies and the partnerships and mergers that took place. Many of the best known names appear in the story – Cecil B. DeMille, Adolph Zukor, Louis B. Mayer, Charlie Chaplin, Lillian Gish, Gloria Swanson, Greta Garbo, and more.
The latter portion of the book addresses the tumultuous love affair and marriage of Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks. Mary and Frances had promised each other that they would never let men come between them. (How often have we heard that one?) As Mary ages and finally is no longer able to maintain the persona of the little girl with the golden curls she loses her fans and her husband. Thus begins her downward spiral into alcohol and insanity.
In the meantime, Frances has maintained a more realistic view of life, especially after spending time in Europe filming the impact of the war on women. Frances has also been “struck anew by how universal my world was, how what we did on a soundstage in Hollywood could travel across the ocean to the battlefields of France.”
Frances soon recognizes that Mary is losing touch with reality and fights to save her lifelong friend. But can she after all the accusations of jealousy and blame Mary throws at her? This is a true test of friendship.

Kiss Carlo: A Novel by Adriana Trigiani
 
Book Club Recommended
Romantic, Fun, Beautiful
Family is Everything

I love family sagas, and Adriana Trigiani is a master at them. “Kiss Carlo” is a story of family, romance, loyalty, trust, dreams, and tradition. It opens in May 1949 in South Philly after the men have returned from war. Dom and Mike Palazzini, brothers in an Italian-American family have not spoken for an estimated 16 years.
Nicky Castone, orphaned at a young age, has lived with his uncle Dom and aunt Jo since he was five years old. He drives a taxi for the family cab company and delivers telegrams for Hortense Mooney. He has been engaged to Peachy for seven years. Nicky has never told Peachy about his evening job with a small Shakespeare theatre company run by Calla Borelli. One night when he has to fill in for an absent actor he finds himself bitten by the acting bug. Working with the determined and passionate Calla, Nicky finally realizes that something is missing in his life. He recognizes that he does not want to marry Peachy.
Nicky struggles to find his place in the world as he flees to Roseto, Pennsylvania while impersonating an Italian ambassador. This then leads him to the hillside village of Roseto Valfortore in Italy. Upon his return to the US, he announces to his family that he is moving to New York City to pursue an acting career.
It took me a while to grasp who all characters were as all of Dom and Jo’s sons and their wives and children still live with them. The characters are beautifully brought to life, revealing their strengths, their flaws, their backstories. She leaves you wanting to be a member of the crazy but loving Palazzini family.

Need to Know: A Novel by Karen Cleveland
 
Book Club Recommended
Addictive, Fantastic, Dramatic
Suspenseful!

Vivian Miller is happily married and an average mother of four small children. But her job is not so average. She is a CIA analyst whose job it is to locate the ringleaders of some Russian sleeper cells in the US. She has developed an algorithm to hopefully identify Russian agents living among us. She loves her work but feels guilty being away from her children. Fortunately her husband Matt can work from home so he watches the children. Then one day she uncovers information that will totally rock her world and make her question who she can trust. At risk is her job, her marriage, and the life of her children.

 
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Addictive, Dark
Know Your Neighbors?

“The Family Next Door” by Sally Hepworth
There sure is a lot of drama in the suburb of Pleasant Court. Fran, Ange, and Essie, all married with children, are all surface level friends. Everyone thinks the family next door is so perfect. Then Isabelle moves in – single, no children.
But behind closed doors, all have their secrets. Like Fran, who compulsively runs several times a day. She also is reluctant to leave baby Ava in the care of her husband Nigel. Ange must be in control of every part of her life, almost to the point of neurosis. The biggest secret is probably Essie’s when three years ago, she took her baby Mia to the park and returned without her. Fortunately nothing happened to Mia but after Essie’s psychotic break her mother Barbara moved next door to help look after Essie and Mia and now the new baby Polly.
Isabelle seems to be the catalyst that begins the unraveling of the carefully guarded secrets. As Essie and Isabelle develop an especially close bond, it becomes apparent that Isabelle had a specific reason for moving to Pleasant Court.
This book is a quick read and kept me turning the pages, eager to know what happens next. It was told from the viewpoints of all five ladies. It a story of female relationships, love, family, betrayal, and moving forward. But I was left with a sense of unfulfillment. (Is that a word?) I felt there were subplots thrown in to deliberately bring the women together but then that subplot went nowhere. I also felt that the ending was rushed and wrapped up a bit too neatly, although not as I had expected (surprise!). I still felt it was a quick, fun read. Good for an escape day. Relax on the lounge with some coffee/tea/wine and enjoy your visit to Pleasant Court.

 
Book Club Recommended
Fun, Romantic, Beautiful
Totally Delightful

The concept of this book grabbed me as soon as I heard about it. There are no coincidences. Rather, there are agents we plan and make coincidences happen. They are “coincidence makers”. I love it!

This book is totally delightful! I found myself smiling throughout much of the book. Sometimes you are just ready for a sweet story. But this is book is even more. I loved reading all the little things that have to happen – and the precise timing – to pull off the “coincidence”. It has to be so precise that a butterfly moves only one wing, not two, in order to get the desired outcome. So imaginative! So creative! So thought-provoking! So much heart in the story!

When I read the last line of the book, my response was “ahhhh”. Perfect ending.

When I told my book club about it they all wanted to order it. Yoav has written three books – all best sellers in Israel. This was his first book and is the first to be translated to English. I am so glad that St. Martin’s Press decided to take a chance on him. I am now eager for his other two to be translated.

Dreams of Falling by Karen White
 
Book Club Recommended
Addictive, Dramatic, Romantic
Best Friends Forever

Karen White’s books are always a perfect blend of family, friendship, mystery, and a little romance. In her latest book “Dreams of Falling” she offers us two generations of strong female friendships. After nine years away, Larkin returns to her childhood home in South Carolina when her mother Ivy takes a life-threatening fall, a fall that becomes the catalyst for exposing long held secrets. Larkin had fled her home insisting she would never return.
When Ivy is found in the burned out ruins of her family’s ancestral home, unconscious and badly injured, Larkin becomes determined to find out why her mother was there. It is in this search that Larkin uncovers the secrets kept by three teenage friends who fifty years earlier had sworn to remain best friends forever, never imagining the heartache that would result from that vow.

 
Book Club Recommended
Inspiring, Insightful, Informative
One of the Most Amazing True Stories Ever

This is one of the most amazing stories I have ever read – and it is a true story! Across the top of the front cover of the book is a very powerful description – “Four Strangers, Three Faiths, and One Extraordinary Escape to Freedom”.

After Anna by Lisa Scottoline
 
Book Club Recommended
Difficult, Dramatic, Unconvincing
Suspenseful!

Have you ever made a mistake in your life and desperately wished for a do-over? For 17 years Maggie Alderman has lived with regret over losing custody of her infant daughter Anna. But Anna’s father has died in a plane crash leaving her in a boarding school, and Anna now wants to come to live with Maggie, her husband Dr. Noah Alderman, and stepson Caleb.

The days of what was once a loving happy family are over…after Anna came to live with them.

How to Walk Away: A Novel by Katherine Center
 
Book Club Recommended
Optimistic, Inspiring, Slow
Great Relationships

The dynamics of the relationships are very relatable. There’s the boyfriend who wallows in self-pity himself and can’t “man up”. It can’t be complete without the domineering mother who steamrolls her way through her daughters’ lives.
My favorite part of the book was the bond between Margaret and her sister Kitty. There had been a rift in the family and Kitty had had no contact with any of her family for the last three years. But she returns to be at Margaret’s side. Kitty is the kind of sister you want, you need, when you are at your lowest. No matter how dark things got Kitty could make Margaret laugh.

A Place for Us: A Novel by Fatima Farheen Mirza
 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Interesting, Insightful
Beautiful Writing

I am amazed that this is Ms. Mirza’s first book. It is beautifully written, describing the family dynamics of a Muslim Indian-American family and their intense desire to remain devout to their religion and continue their cultural traditions here in the US. Just like any family, anywhere, of any faith, the children strive to live up to their parents’ expectations of them, often feeling frustration at the constraints they feel their parents have unfairly put upon them.

Shelter in Place by Nora Roberts
 
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Insightful, Fantastic
Raw Emotions, Suspense, Romance

Wow, this book jumped right into the heat of things. Simone, Mi, and Tish have gone to the mall to see a movie. A typical Friday night – or so they believed. During the movie Simone has to go to the restroom. She can’t wait. And that saved her life. Because the shooters came and nothing was ever the same again.
When Ms. Roberts wrote this book she had no way of knowing there would be so many mass shootings within such a short time. Due to this horrific state of affairs, I wondered if she might face some backlash. But much of the book focuses on the survivors, the loved ones grieving, the first responders, the hospital personnel. Life is never the same for them.
So right up front we have the mass shooting and we have the compassion for the survivors. But this isn’t going to fill the 438 pages of this book. So I wondered where is she going to go with this? Well, I should never doubt the story-telling capability of the amazing Nora Roberts.
Without once losing the compassion for the survivors, she moves us forward several years and into the twisted mind of one individual that can’t move on and wants revenge, no matter how long it takes. From teens to young adults we learn what the survivors have done with their lives, and how obsessed one person is that they were even still alive.
The characters were very well developed, very genuine. I felt like they were my friends, my neighbors. At the end, I did not want to let them go. Amidst the fear and suspense there is also laughter, quirkiness, friendship, love of family, and romance. Reed, CiCi, and Barney were my favorites, so delightful. I was totally glued to the story.

Boardwalk Summer: A Novel by Meredith Jaeger
 
Book Club Recommended
Romantic, Inspiring, Adventurous
Story will linger with you

I really enjoyed this book. I did not realize until after I finished the book that its author also wrote “The Dressmaker’s Dowry” which I really enjoyed.
The story alternates between Violet Harcourt in the 1940s and Marisol (Mari) Cruz in 2007. Violet Harcourt was a beautiful California girl who dreamed of making it big in Hollywood. Although married at the time to an abusive, controlling husband, she entered a local beauty pageant in her hometown of Santa Cruz and won. This was her ticket to Hollywood. Violet found that the glittering world of Hollywood didn’t meet her expectations. So she made a shocking choice that left people to wonder why this beauty queen died so young.
Then in 2007 single mother Mari, while researching the history of Santa Cruz, also her hometown, comes across the story of Violet’s death. She discovers that her grandfather Ricardo Cruz, once a famous Boardwalk performer, had a connection to Violet. So, of course, she had to find out what their connection was.
Everyone is keeping secrets – Violet, Mari, Mari’s grandfather. Why? Who were they protecting? And who will be harmed when the secrets are revealed?
This story of tragedy and courage kept me captivated. The characters were endearing – well, most of them. While there are moments of heartbreak, there are also moments of joy. Betrayal overcome by the bond of friendship. Cowardice excelled by love. It is a beautiful story that will linger with you like water lapping at your toes as the tide comes in.

Me, Myself and Them by Dan Mooney
 
Book Club Recommended
Inspiring, Insightful, Brilliant
Surviving a Tragic Loss

It seems almost perverse to say that this book is delightful. Denis was once a normal 23-year-old fun-loving man who enjoyed evenings with his friends, a loving family, and his beautiful girlfriend Rebecca. But one night seven years ago he suffered a tragic loss, a loss that he feels responsible for, a loss that he can only endure by cutting himself off from people and feelings. His guilt leads him to believe that he has brought everyone pain so now he must cut himself off from them, assuring everyone that he is just fine. In order to maintain control, he now lives a VERY strict life of orderliness. His day is planned to the minute. “Walk into town – 40 minutes. Purchase a newspaper and select a coffee shop – 16 minutes. Spend some time with both of his friends – 120 minutes. Walk to the hospital – 50 minutes. Spend some time visiting Eddie – 20 minutes. Walk home – 90 minutes.’ He cannot bear to be touched by anyone. He is in control – except for his four roommates, “four monsters”, who create chaos in his home.

 
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Beautiful, Insightful
Heartwarming Story of Healing after Loss

What happened to Mackenzie Cooper could happen to any of us. She took her eyes off the road for just a moment to look at her GPS. But that moment changed her life. Her daughter dead, her marriage destroyed, turned away by her family, and hounded by the media, she changes her name and location and starts over.
Devon is a quiet little village in Vermont. People there ask no questions about one’s past. Mackenzie, now Maggie Reid, has a warm little cabin, two cats, and a dog. She works as a makeup artist at the local spa. She has new friends but is always afraid they will discover her past. She has only four months left on her probation period and is trying to keep her probation officer at arms’ length. The last thing she is looking for is a romantic relationship.
But when her friend’s teenage son is accused of hacking into a powerful man’s social media account, Maggie has to decide which is more important – her privacy or loyalty to a friend. It is always said that secrets will come out, and so they do. Standing up for what she knows is right sets into motion events that Maggie never could have predicted.
Barbara Delinsky always writes compelling stories of love, heartbreak and healing, family, and relationships. Through her beautiful style of writing I am able to fall into her characters’ world and experience the heartbreak and grief she so masterfully laid out on the page. The characters are realistic, engaging and are written to remind us that everyone has a story. The story moved at the right pace. A true heartwarming story. I especially loved Maggie’s relationship with her pets. All pet lovers will relate. My only complaint would be that Edward is just too perfect. Where can I find a man like that!

Library Of Legends by Chang Janie
 
Book Club Recommended
Beautiful, Epic
Stunning!

First, you have to get beyond that gorgeous cover. Go ahead and gaze at it, absorbing that artistry. Then once you are ready, open the cover and enter the fantastical world Janie Chang has created, a story blending Chinese history and Chinese folklore.

Amidst the brutality of the Japanese invasion of 1937, the books containing all the lore throughout Chinese history must be saved. A convoy of university students, carrying the 500-year-old collection of books, set out on a treacherous journey of over 1000 miles across the country. The story focuses on three of these travelers – Hu Lian, Liu Shaoming, and Sparrow. Friendship, romance, enchantment, secrets, the brutality of war, spies, the strength of the human spirit – all elements of this fascinating story. And above all the value of story – a belief that threads its way throughout many cultures.

The magical storyline involves humans who can see the spirits living among them, spirits who have taken the form of humans. At the center of this storyline is the love story of the Willow Star and the Prince. The Willow Star has been waiting hundreds of years for the Prince to recognize her – only then can she take him home with her, back to the heavens.

My heart ached for The Willow Star’s seemingly hopeless situation. I also felt great sadness for the spirits, having inhabited earthly forms for a long time, were now forced to leave those forms as the Japanese moved further inland. I am not normally a fan of fantasy, but the historical aspects of this stunning story held my attention. At the start of WWII many of China’s universities began migrating to interior regions of China in an effort to safeguard their intellectual legacy. Ancient literature was stored in caves under the care of university servants. This story focuses on one of those universities.

“Maybe immortals feel the passage of time differently than we do. Maybe a hundred years to her is only the blink of an eye, a single beat of the heart.”

Thank you to the publisher William Morrow and the Tall Poppies authors for an advance copy to read and review.

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