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My Reviews

Still Alice by Lisa Genova
 
Book Club Recommended
Insightful, Informative, Interesting
Eye-Opening

Still Alice resonated on a personal level as I have an aunt and uncle who both developed Alzheimer\'s. They were not early-onset cases, but it was still very difficult to watch and tremendously challenging for the caregiver.

It is nice to read a book from the perspective of the person suffering from the disease and reminds us that they are still the people we love and deserved to be respected and treated with dignity.

Gone Girl: A Novel by Gillian Flynn
 
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Dark, Interesting

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Insightful, Inspiring
Invention of Wings - Quilt-like

In the book the Invention of Wings, the one of the characters is a slave seamstress who tells the story of her life in a quilt. I felt that Sue Monk Kidd gave us readers a quilt too in the way she pieced this store together. It was an enlightening read and I highly recommend it!

 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Insightful, Interesting

 
Book Club Recommended
Brilliant, Adventurous, Fun
Fun summer book club read

This humorous book pokes fun at Victorian times and mores, references traditional mystery novels, and includes well constructed time travel. Connie Willis also pays homage to Jerome K. Jerome\\\'s novel, Three Men in Boat.

Once getting over the initial shock of being dropped into the middle of all the action; the story is an easy, enjoyable, and engaging romp through Victorian times, as well as an envisioned futuristic London where time travel to the past is possible. Our heros have a quest to fix an incongruity that occurs as part of their time travel.

Reading this book is a pleasurable adventure and with a mystery to solve.

The Work of Wolves by Kent Meyers
 
Book Club Recommended
Beautiful

A Man Called Ove: A Novel by Fredrik Backman
 
Book Club Recommended
Fun, Insightful, Beautiful
My favorite curmudgeon!

I loved Ove. I might be curmudgeon too, but he was relatable and I understood where he was coming from. I am a mathematician and like the right/wrong aspect of his personality.

The personality of the neighbors were awesome and gave Ove the purpose he needed.

Funny Girl: A Novel by Nick Hornby
 
Book Club Recommended
Romantic, Interesting, Optimistic
Pleasant, enjoyable read - but not gripping.

I found this book to be an easy and pleasant read. I did not find it gripping, but I did enjoy seeing a BBC comedy television show through the eyes of actors, writer, and producer, even if fictional. This book also was a nice period piece and gave a good feel for Britain in the 1960s.

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
 
Book Club Recommended
Dark, Beautiful, Brilliant

The Secret Chord: A Novel by Geraldine Brooks
 
Book Club Recommended
Insightful, Informative, Interesting

 
Informative, Inspiring, Dramatic
A Bit Too Long

I found this book to be a bit too long for my taste. I thoroughly enjoyed the parts of this book that discussed the oarsmen, their history, their personal life, and their desire/struggle to win. These aspects made for a fascinating and informative read. However, at least a third or maybe even a half of the book was about the technicalities of ship building. I found those parts to be slow and boring and not to my taste. However, if those details interest you - then I highly recommend the book.

The Hike: A Novel by Drew Magary
 
Dark, Graphic, Pointless
Violent Video Game: The Book Version

This book was a departure in style for my book group. We all agreed it had to be read with a grain of salt/suspension of disbelief and be taken for what it is. This is not a literary masterpiece. We did not find much to discuss in this book, other than how graphic, violent, and gory it was.

Reading this book was like playing a video game. The main character ventured away from reality and into a different "realm". He faced many challenges that needed to be cleverly beaten and overcome. When he did that there were rewards, rest time, and a collection of items to be used for the next challenge.

Like many studies suggest happens with violent video games, each challenge was more graphic and lasted longer, but as a reader, I felt you became more desensitized to it and just accepted it as the norm. I also felt like I was on the path with the main character and felt myself wondering "Where are we going", "Where is this leading?", and "Will it be worth it in the end?" Sadly, I felt the answer to that last question was no.

As a club, it was good to be pushed out of our comfort zone and read something completely different. I just wish it has been a better book. I would not recommend this to other book clubs or friends.

 
Book Club Recommended
Slow, Interesting, Insightful
Charming village read


Review I read The Summer Before the War as one of my book club selections. This is the first book by Helen Simonson that I have read and, as such, I had no expectations as I started it. However, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It felt like a cross between Downton Abbey and an E.M. Forster novel. Fans of that mixing (or anyone experiencing Downton Abbey withdrawal) will delight in this book. Simonson developed quirky but real characters from the village of Rye during the start of World War I. Almost every type of character is in this story including the aristocrats, the servants, the eccentrics, the provincial mayor and wife, the Shakespearesque groundling ambulance drivers, the teacher, the school boy, and even the Romani. Each character is well developed with their own faults and charms. Some are more beloved than others, but each feels real. There were laugh-out-loud moments as well as reach for the tissue box moments and everything in between.

At times the story felt slow and overly long, but after completing the book, I decided that the length and seemingly slow parts were necessary to fully develop the characters as well as, to immerse the reader completely into village life and the time period. To those reading this novel and wishing for a stricter editor, I encourage you to stick with it as it pays off in the end. I felt that I had a much greater understanding of the character's motives. I also felt part of the village and learned much more about this particular time period.

Even though this is a relatively light and delightful read, some hefty topics were also brought up, like the care of immigrants, the limited opportunities for the working class and women at the time, the cruelty and inhumanity that war can bring about, and the manners/etiquette of the time period. Our book club had a great discussion about the role of and betrayal by fathers, literally and even figuratively in terms of the patriarchal role of "country" and the war machine. (Slight Spoiler Ahead). We also had a great debate, detective hunt through the story, and an ah-ha moment when one of our members asked the question: "Did we think that Daniel was Agatha's son not nephew?"

I would definitely recommend this book. Having read it, I now want to read the earlier work of this author.

 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Insightful, Interesting
Hard But Worthwhile Read

I was very interested to read Hillbilly Elegy as my father and many of his ancestors were born and raised in SW Virginia in the Appalachian mountains. I have not spent much time down there but am very interested in cultural history and ancestry. As such, I thought this would be an interesting read.

After reading it, I believe Hillbilly Elegy will not be an easy read for anyone from a marginally functional family. There are many moments/scenes in this memoir that a reader will find shocking, appalling, criminal, and leave you with a WTF sense of disbelief and anger. IMHO, those are the readers that really need to read this book. Working through those moments in order to gain a better understanding of what is behind them is exactly what I think the author intended. I think Vance hopes to foster a stronger understanding and conversation between culturally different (vastly different) groups of people.

While many of the moments in this book are horrifying, the author writes about it as "par for the course" and normal from his point of view and people. He acknowledges that it is different and in many cases needs to change but he also finds good, love, and pride in many of the moments of his youth. It is all part of who he is, where he is from, and part of what created the man he is today. Vance is very open and honest about this in his book. It is this attitude of acceptance, understanding, forgiving, and yes accountability that made this book so appealing to me. Without hearing voices like Vance's and understanding his perspective, real and useful progress/change is not possible.

I believe this book is a great read in helping people start to gain an understanding and at least have a conversation about a life-story, culture, and belief system that is foreign to many. His experience focuses on the working-class/lower income and poor white families of the Appalachian area, particularly in parts of Kentucky and Ohio. In today's society, I believe there is a rather divisive sense of us versus them mentality amongst many groups of people (race, class, religion, etc.). I think that can only start to be overcome with listening, trying to understand another person's reality, being non-judgemental about it, and having conversations. I believe Vance's book is a wonderful place to start this much-needed process with regards to the poor and working-class/lower income whites of this area.

 
Book Club Recommended
Optimistic, Interesting, Informative
Option B - Interesting but Incomplete

I found Option B to be an informative read. I chose to read it because I am going through some life transitions at the moment that require facing adversity, building resilience, and hopefully finding joy. I was looking to her story in the hopes of finding some insight that I could use in mine.

Sandberg's situation dealt with the sudden death of her husband and how she grieved, processed this, and dealt with the aftermath. She had some strong suggestions in terms of the 3 Ps that stunt one's recovery, how to achieve post-traumatic growth, and concrete suggestions on how others can be supportive and encouraging during a friend or family members time of adversity. I found many good takeaways from her perspective and experience.

I also admired how Sandberg took her personal tragedy/what she learned from it and translated that into more understanding, flexible, and family-first policies in her workplace. I am sad that one has to experience such a tragedy personally to recognize how it impacts people and their work, but I am glad that employees of her company will benefit. I hope that she will be a trend-setting leader with this regard. I also hope her store will help build compassion and better understanding in those who have not had to face such a personal tragedy/adversity.

One aspect of her story that I could not relate to was that all of this happened to her while she was in a very secure financial and supportive family/friend/employment situation. To her credit, she openly acknowledges this in her book as well as the ease/benefits it afforded her. She does note that adversity like this is harder on single parents, people with lower income, and less flexible work situations and she says we need to help them/change this but offers little in way of solutions. I would like for her to have explored/researched more about facing adversity, building resilience, and finding joy for people in less fortunate situations than hers.

The other aspect of the book that did not resonate with me was that one of her 3 Ps is permanence. In order to face adversity successfully one needs to view it as not permanent. However, many types of adversity are permanent for people, chronic no-cure illness is one. I think it would have been a more thorough story if she had addressed facing adversity for people with permanent issues too.

Aside from those two issues, Option B was an interesting and informative read.

Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson
 
Book Club Recommended
Adventurous, Fun, Fantastic
Alif the Unseen

I read Alif as the monthly selection for my book club. The main character, Alif, summarizes the book nicely when he says "A girl he loved had decided that she did not love hime - at least not enough. How was such a problem usually addressed? Surely not with the clandestine exchange of books and computer surveillance and recourse to the jinn." He later describes his situation as "I was a computer geek with girl issues. That sounds pretty ordinary to me." This story is anything but ordinary. I found it to be a fun, adventurous, and enjoyable read. It can be read for pure entertainment, but, it also has content for deeper investigations and conversations. The author combines classic computer geek culture, modern day socio-political themes, religion, and the supernatural into a fantasy thriller style novel. For me, she was successful, and this was a classic good versus evil story.

Wilson includes quite a bit of tension between the unseen/hidden/belief and the seen/known/reality, as well as between the supernatural and "real" world. The unseen is manifested in many ways throughout the story including the computer aliases that protect and shield the gray-hat hacktivists, the traditional clothing of veils and robes worn by many characters, the unknown state censors, and most importantly to the story, the world of jinns. As the book progresses, that which is hidden and unseen becomes seen and known. This is especially true for many of the characters in the novel. At first, I found Alif to be a rather pathetic main character who lacked courage and whose whining/pining was irritating. However, as Dina so eloquently says to him "I was annoyed with the boy you were, I liked the man I knew you would become." This was also true for me. At the end, I felt I understood and like Alif as he grew and changed. Dina also becomes better known to both Alif and the reader. I truly liked her character. She is a character of piety, devotion, gentleness, and contentedness who chooses to wear veils. Yet none of that keeps her from being a "bad-ass" who can quickly cut to the chase with both her words and actions. Her perceptions, understanding, and believe in and about the supernatural and reality are insightfully keen. Dina truly knows and sees herself, it is up to the reader and Alif to move her from unseen to known. Other characters change and reveal their true selves throughout the story including Intisar, The Hand, NewQuarter, Azalel, and many other of the Jinn.

The story also explores the ideas of the role and importance of religion in society and compares and contrasts it to more ancient supernatural fantasies. I particularly liked when the conversation between Alif and the Sheikh as they were discussing the morality of actions conducted in virtual space. The conversation ends with the quotation, "If a video game does more to fulfill a young person than the words of prophecy, it means people like me (the Sheikh) have failed in a rather spectacular fashion." This was followed by Alif saying "You're not a failure ... It's only that we don't feel safe. A game has a reset button. You have infinite chances for success. Real life is awfully permanent compared to that,". Definitely interesting food for thought. In many places, the novel seems to try and blend mysticism and spirituality. I enjoyed the parallel tracks of have a man of religion along with a jinn.

Other topics that are given a lot of attention are knowledge and freedom. The novel is about the flow of knowledge and stresses coded knowledge heavily. There is the issue of censorship and who can and should control knowledge. The grey-hats try to make all (even morally questionable) content free and available while The Hand works consistently to shut it down. The grey-hats are working for a revolution based on the free exchange of knowledge. There is also the idea of knowledge as power and danger. The central book in the novel, The Alf Yeom, is desperately sought after in order to gain power and knowledge of the ages. The Hand firmly believes he who is knowledgeable enough to read and understand the Alf Yeom and has the powerful means to exploit it will ultimately be the winner. There is also forgotten knowledge and here is where the world of jinns comes heavily into play. As the names of the jinn and their history is forgotten by man, they become less known, seen, and believed. Throughout this novel, the reader gets to explore Wilson's vision of the jinn world. It is very a very enjoyable tour. Additionally, knowledge as changeable is explored, especially with regards to the meaning of words and what knowledge is lost in translation between languages. One character states "There was the Quran, which shattered language and put it back together again in a way no one had been able to replicate, using words whose meanings evolved over time without the alteration of a single dot or brushstroke." Metaphors are described in the novel as “knowledge existing in several states simultaneously and without contradiction.” Lastly, there is the issue of how does one know? Is it by seeing or is faith enough? One character says "that man's innovation is entirely known to God; it means there is no such thing as fiction." and another character says "every innovation started out as fantasy."

This is a well written and intriguing book. Except for stopping to research the meaning of unfamiliar words (the author has included a glossary in the back), this is an easy and quick read. They pace really picks up once Vikram the Vampire is introduced. They ending is a bit contrived and too neatly packaged for my taste, but the substance and enjoyment in between is worth it.

The Reminders by Val Emmich
 
Book Club Recommended
Beautiful, Optimistic, Fantastic
Pleasant read that I highly recommend.

I heard about the book, The Reminders by Val Emmich, when it was featured on NPR. The premise caught my attention and sounded intriguing. I enjoy books that focus on relationships between different generations. In this novel, Joan is a 10-year old girl who has an autobiographical memory and Gavin is a friend of her parents who just suffered a devastating loss. The relationship that develops between these two characters is real, organic, and a pleasure to read. Joan is a precocious child who remembers everything in painful detail while Gavin is a grieving man who is seeking to forget, or at least move past, his memories.

The pace of the story was engaging and the novel was told in the alternating voices of Joan and Gavin. They each have their own focus, agenda, and story-lines, but the beauty of this book is how they come together to form a strong bond, learn from each other, love each other, accept a loss, and find understanding and peace. Another plus for the book is the numerous references to The Beatles as part of the underlying theme of creativity in art and music.

The Reminders is not a difficult read. In fact, it is a great summer read. Even while dealing with topics of sadness (death, Alzheimer's, the struggles of a gay couple trying to start a family, sacrificing a dream because it is necessary for the good of others, etc.), this story is filled with plenty of joy, love, and laugh out loud moments. I highly recommend this book and am extremely grateful to NPR for introducing me to it.

22/11/63 by Stephen King
 
Book Club Recommended
Epic, Romantic, Adventurous
"Life turns on a dime."

This is the first novel by Stephen King that I have read. I enjoyed this one as a book on tape. I am not a fan of horror stories, monsters, or heavy science fiction. However, 11/22/63 was none of these. The only science fiction aspect of this novel is the time travel and even that is not treated in detail until the very end of the novel. King’s approach to time travel is thoughtful and interesting. The only (nonhuman) monster in the story is “the past” in that it violently does not want to be changed and will fight back when one attempts to change it. The novel focuses a lot on the ideas of “the past is obdurate”, “the past harmonizes”, and the butterfly effect.

While the story is billed as “what if JFK was not assassinated”, I felt it was more about the life of Jake/George. The assassination, and trying to prevent it, is the motivation for the main character and the impetus to the action, it is merely a sideline. There is only a brief, but intriguing and thought provoking, speculation about life if JFK had survived. The majority of the novel focuses on the life of Jake in present day Maine, the life of George in the 50s/60s, and how changes made in the past impact the future.

My husband also listened to this novel with me. He felt it was overly long and could have been edited down by half. However, I appreciated the length and understood it to be needed for the following reasons:
***All of the characters involved in the JKF assassination, as well as the circumstances of their lives and motivation are well-researched and developed in this novel. As I was not alive during this time, I appreciated that level of detail and scene setting. It was informative and interesting to me. I am not sure if that would be true of someone who had lived through the actual assassination and absorbed the details of it first hand. In fact, they might find it tedious.
***The length was used to help the reader “time travel” to the late 50s - early 60s. Although I was not alive during this time period, through his level of detail and storytelling, King transported me to this time period. He made me nostalgic for an older and simpler time. As a teacher, I particularly appreciated the portrayal of high school life in small town Texas in the early 1960s. I loved the juxtaposition between the time periods of “Ago” and “Ahead” that King was able to so thoroughly develop with his length.
***Through the length and meticulous details provided, I got to know Jake/George. He and other main characters in the novel became real and even friends. The characters were fully developed, three dimensional people. King delved into the minutia of every person, city, and situation. There were a lot of characters and sometimes it became a challenge to keep track of them all, but this level of detail provided a richness and fullness to the story that I liked.

Adjectives that I would use to describe this book include: romantic, suspenseful, adventurous, emotional depth, strong imagery, and intense. I highly recommend this book.

The Promise Girls by Marie Bostwick
 
Book Club Recommended
Insightful, Optimistic, Beautiful
Family, forgiveness, love, laughter, food, and art - what a great combination!

Our book club won copies of The Promise Girls by Marie Bostwick from our planning website, Bookmovement. I enjoyed this story. Reading it felt like I was being wrapped in a warm, comfortable quilt and being fed my favorite comfort foods. The Promise Girls was a feel-good read that is heartfelt, uplifting, and filled with insightful observations and comic gems (“If people came into the world as teenagers, the world would be filled with nothing but only children….”). I would not recommend this book to readers who prefer serious literature, but I would recommend it to readers looking for classic women’s fiction/chick-lit that is better than average.

The novel focuses on the bonds of family and how they are not easily broken even in the face of tragedy and betrayal. The Promise Girls are three sisters who experience a difficult childhood but bond together to create fulfilling adult lives and ultimately learn the power of forgiveness and redemption. A central theme in the novel is choices and consequences. Minerva, the girls’ mother, states “of course, if I knew then what I know now, I would have done many things differently… but life isn’t like that. We make the choices we make, at the time we make them, and we have to live with them - and suffer the consequences.” I have felt like this on a number of occasions and I think discussing this idea with book club members would provide a deep and intimate conversation topic. One of the characters in the novel does get a “redo” in a sense. It is enlightening to see what she does with it and to contemplate what I would do with one.

Creative and artistic talent in various forms is also a central idea in this novel. Each sister has their own creative talent and their perspective on it. For example, middle sister Meg states “that inside every person there is an artist waiting to get out … comparison, competition, and perfectionism - the toxic trifecta that is certain to corrode and, in time, destroy one’s God-given, joy filled, natural desire to create.” As I have a number of artists in my book club, I thought this would be an interesting topic to explore and discuss. Another passage worthy of discussion is when younger sister Avery states “People want to believe in what’s magical. Even adults. But it’s easier with children… Kids have faith. That’s our natural mindset, the thing that makes poets pen verse and inventors invent. But somewhere along the way, most grown-ups default to doubt.”

Another topic worthy of exploration in this novel is being yourself. Many of the characters play a “role” in this story. Walt role-plays characters in historical reenactments, Avery takes on the persona of a mermaid, Joanie acts as everyone's mother, Minerva presents a public life story that differs from reality, and each of the Promise sisters plays an interesting but stereotypical birth order role. At one point, Avery indicates that it is easier to play a role than to be oneself. I think there are times when that is true and sometimes necessary. Those occasions and why/why not would make for a lively discussion as well.

So even while this book appears to be an easy, comfortable read, there are some deep themes here that are worthy of exploration and discussion. The careful, thoughtful reader of this book will be rewarded.

Our Souls at Night (Vintage Contemporaries) by Kent Haruf, Alan Kent Haruf
 
Book Club Recommended
Beautiful, Insightful, Inspiring
The Loneliness is worse at night...

I am a fan of Kent Haruf’s novels, particularly the Plainsong series set in Holt Colorado. This novel had escaped my attention until I saw a preview for the movie that will be based upon it. I was excited to see Jane Fonda and Robert Redford starring in the movie and thought - this is a must read before seeing the movie.

I was not disappointed. The book is written in a conversational style without quotation marks or attribution. At times I found it difficult to determine who was speaking. However, it is definitely worth the effort. The story focuses on the later stages of a widow’s and widower’s lives and how they meet their needs, particularly loneliness, versus the opinions, judgments, and expectations of their adult children and the town people. Haruf’s characters are treated with his typical gentle kindness and insight. I found Our Souls At Night to be a quiet, comforting, and touching story. I enjoyed the presentation of the simple things in life and the companionship/experiences of a couple during their golden years.

I was surprised by the ending of the story. The decisions made by Addie felt out of character to me and were disappointing. I could understand them, and perhaps they were realistic, but I definitely did not like them. The end came quickly, felt rushed compared to the first half of the book, and ultimately made me sad. However, even with the ending, I found this to be a delightful and beautiful story filled with wisdom and love. It is one I will reflect on for a while and recommend to others. I was sorry to find out that this is also Haruf’s last novel, but it does seem somehow fitting. After reading this, I can’t wait to see the movie adaptation of this book.

My Wish List: A Novel by Gregoire Delacourt
 
Book Club Recommended
Insightful, Inspiring, Interesting
Love or Money? My wish list ...

I chose this book as I thought the premise was interesting - What would you do if you won the lottery? I started my wish list with a simple wish - “I wish this book was more optimistic” as the beginning felt rather sad and depressing to me. I don’t like to stop reading books; once I start one, I feel compelled to finish it. That, along with the fact that it is an international best seller, made me keep reading.

I was glad I did. The action in the book picked up and it became apparent that the beginning was a necessary set-up for the remainder of the book. What seemed like mundane and complaining details, in the beginning, became insightful reflections on what makes a life worth living, what makes a marriage enduring, does having money impeded your dreams, can you have both love and money, life’s simplicity, and the gifts other people give each other.

The book reads like a diary and seems more like an extended short story or novella rather than a novel. For such a short book, it is very thought-provoking. It focuses on what is truly important in life versus the things people ultimately will regret. In the end, I found the book to be a delightful little read and was glad I did not give up on it.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
 
Inspiring, Insightful, Informative
Enjoyed the medical perspective

When Breath Becomes Air is the story of Paul Kalanithi, a doctor on the verge of finishing his neurosurgeon training, who is diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. For me, the book read like a three-strand braid. The first strand was a biography of Paul starting when he was a teenager trying to discover his calling and concluding with his death. The second strand was Paul’s reflections on being a doctor and the doctor-patient relationship. The third was his philosophical quest for an understanding of what makes life meaningful and an accounting of human meaning in connection with the brain.
I enjoyed his accounting of life as a medical student and doctor in training the most. His perspective on being a doctor and his efforts to ensure that patients were viewed as people, not problems on a to-do list, were particularly revealing and insightful to me. I found his shift from being the doctor to being the patient to be profound and impactful. As one who is also suffering an illness (thankfully not as severe as Paul’s), I connected with his thoughts on and confusion about time and the future.
Through his biographical strand, I came to know Paul and mourned his death with tears of my own. Reading about his courage and dignity in the face of his own mortality was admirable. Paul’s attitude and approach to death was refreshing. His wife Lucy summarized this well in the Epilogue by stating, “Paul’s decision not to avert his eyes from death epitomizes a fortitude we don’t celebrate enough in our death-avoidant culture.”
It was his philosophical quest that I struggled with the most. He described his search for meaning based upon his reading, education, learning, training, and life. His understanding evolved with each new experience and I felt that he wrote his reflections in this same evolutionary manner. Not having had the same experiences as him, I found his revelations vague, unconnected, and lacking in clarity. I understand that Paul wrote this book under extreme time pressure and against extraordinary circumstances. I also understand that it is in essence an unfinished manuscript, however, this aspect of the story felt tedious and left me a bit bored.
I am not sure if and to whom I would recommend this book. I would not give it as an “off-the cuff” recommendation to everyone. Instead, it would be a discussion with someone on how they heard of it, why they wanted to read it, and what they hoped to gain from it that would guide my recommendation or not.

Dark Matter: A Novel by Blake Crouch
 
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Adventurous, Addictive
Parallel Universes

I experienced this novel as an audiobook with my husband as we drove to and from a family reunion. As we both prefer different reading genres, it can be a challenge finding a book that we both will potentially enjoy. This one had promise in that it was a crossover of science fiction and a modern day novel. It was also an escapist read that we would not have to think heavily about while driving.

From the science fiction perspective, the crossing over between the two worlds was fully developed and structurally consistent. The promise of the title, Dark Matter, was unfulfilled and left me with a bait and switch feel. After an early reference in the book, dark matter was never mentioned again. It did not have the significance in the story to be worthy of the title.

The novel aspect focused on the choices one makes and the what-ifs and regrets that may arise from them. In one world, the main characters made career and worldly sacrifices but were happy in a modest manner. In the other world, the same characters made different choices and had worldly success and acclaim, but were not certain of their happiness. The reader was able to experience both of the parallel universes and make their own assessments.

For me, the story became convoluted and less interesting towards the end as more and more characters were introduced. I wanted to focus on the main three or four characters and come to a resolution of just their issues. However, my husband felt the opposite and found the story more interesting as the book progressed with more characters. We did have great conversations about the characters and in speculation about how things would resolve.

Overall it was a fun, escapist read. I would recommend it to friends with a few caveats. It is not hard-core science fiction, the science is a bit weak, and the ending is not completely fulfilling. I recommend it for fun beach type reading and not heavy book club material or literature. Having read it, I do not like the title and feel it is misleading. This set up an expectation that was not fulfilled and annoyed me enough to deduct a full star for it.

 
Book Club Recommended
Insightful, Interesting, Slow
I loved this book!

“I know so well the pain we children clutch to our chests, how it lasts our whole lifetime, with longings so large you can’t even weep. We hold it tight, we do, with each seizure of the beating heart: This is mine, this is mine, this is mine.”

My Name Is Lucy Barton tells the story of a woman, named Lucy, as she recovers from an illness and tries to make sense of/peace with her complicated relationship with her mother. Lucy was raised in extreme poverty by parents who were not able to nurture and show her love in the manner that most children need. These circumstances have a fundamental and lasting impact on Lucy’s understanding of people, including herself, her choices, and the woman she is.

The novel is written from Lucy’s point of view and comes across as a mix of a diary, vignettes of events, puzzles with half-revealed truths, but mostly, her own “one true story”. Strout uses language sparsely and with restraint. The novel is a short 191 pages that can be read quickly but should be savored slowly. The details are minimal and pared down to only the essentials. However, those pages resonate with a profusion of intense emotion and the vulnerability of the human condition. Loneliness, longing, pain, and inferiority are all felt strongly throughout the novel but so are resilience and love. At one point Lucy says “I feel I know a true sentence when I hear one now”. Strout filled this novel with true sentences. The novel summarizes itself nicely with the quotation “This is a story about love, … This is a story about a mother who loves her daughter. Imperfectly. Because we all love imperfectly.” I highly recommend this novel and suspect that Lucy will stay with you long after you have finished reading it.

 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Beautiful, Romantic
Lyrical coming of age story

This novel starts with a discussion of the main character’s eyes. “What is wrong with the girl’s eyes?”…”But they are too big for her face.”…”Eyes like that see either too much of the world or too little of it.” Throughout the novel, the main character, Adela sees both too much and too little of the world. She is simultaneously naïve and wise, traditional and modern, dutiful and questioning, scared and adventurous. Adela is a strong, well-developed, female character and Henna House is her coming of age story. On so many levels, her life is filled with love, loss, betrayal, and forgiveness. The novel is a first person narration of her early life, as well as a love story to her cousins, Hani and Asaf. As Adela describes, it is a love story written in henna.

The relatively unfamiliar time and place in history in which this novel is set intrigued me. I knew little about the Yemenite Jewish community of the early to mid twentieth century. Nomi Eve’s novel is meticulously researched and her writing is evocative, beautiful, and lyrical. I was truly transported to a different time and place. I savored her descriptions of the landscapes, customs, and people. During the first half of the novel, Adela, her family, and fellow Jewish villagers all follow the older, more biblical, traditions and dress. She lives with her extended family and gives meaning to the expression, “it takes a village”. For me, this time period and aspect was very reminiscent of Anita Diamant’s book, The Red Tent. I did not know what a gargush or a traditional Yemenite bridal cone was. Eve’s writing is rich, full of texture, and many layers. It brought this time period and customs to life for me. It is not until that last third of the book that Adela gets acquainted with the modern world.

The details about the making of henna, the ritual ceremonies associated with it, and the mysticism surrounding are articulately detailed throughout the book. Henna is used throughout the novel as a metaphor for storytelling and a way of communicating. Blessings for the future, records of the past, and even coded messages are recorded via henna in this novel. Adela is extremely interested in all modes of communication and expression. She learns the art of henna from her cousin and her aunt. She then goes on to use it extend this a way of teaching other females to read and communicate. The traditional rituals and interactions surrounding henna are well developed and detailed in the story. They help to bring the other strong female characters in Adela’s family to life.

When I started reading this book, I had a different expectation of how this story would unfold and what it would cover. I thought it would be about Adela’s entire life, be more fast-paced, and include more action/adventure. However, the first two-thirds of the book cover Adela’s life from age five to sixteen. The remaining third quickly covers the highlights of the rest of her life. This threw me and made me wonder if I really liked the book as I was reading it. However, once I was aware of the real focus of the book and recalibrated my expectations, I did truly enjoy the book for what it is. The pace of the book and its tone reminded me of when I read Willa Cather’s My Antonia. It is should be read slowly and pleasure should be taken in the descriptive sentences and imagery presented. While there are some life-changing events and an airlift rescue to Israel, which occur in the novel, it is not an action/adventure story. Knowing that and accepting that going in would have made the book a more enjoyable read for me. In fact, it might even warrant a reread with this in mind.

News of the World by Paulette Jiles
 
Book Club Recommended
Adventurous, Interesting, Beautiful
A satisfying read

My husband and I listened to Paulette Jiles’s News of the World as an audiobook. Set in the late 19th century, the novel develops the relationship between a 10-year girl rescued from the Kiowa Indians and the retired 71-year old Captain who agrees to escort her across Texas to reunite her with her aunt and uncle. Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd is a widower, father, and veteran of two wars who now makes his living traveling across Texas holding news-reading events for small towns. The Indians kidnapped Johanna after their raid killed her parents. She spent many years being raised by the Kiowa until they sold her back to the American military. Johanna is no longer wanted by the Indians but does not recall her native German-American life, language, or the “proper, civilized” behavior for females.

This is a historical western filled with numerous facts and events from the time period, both local and global ones, as well as vignettes of life in the still rather untamed Texas. It is also an intergenerational novel that focuses on themes of family, trust, moral obligations, and friendship. The Captain and Johanna form a unique and special bond. It is a real pleasure to witness the growth of their companionship and love. The Captain is an extremely wise older gentleman who has a penchant for straight talking and telling it like it is. I love that his character is so matter-of-fact about everything, down to earth, and holds the highest level of integrity. Johanna is a real spitfire. She is courageous in the face of great fear and uncertainty, as well as a very practical traveling companion. She is a perfect match for the Captain. Their free-spirited and wandering natures truly connect them. I loved the characters of both the Captain and Johanna.

Jiles has a talent for description and scene setting. The facts and research included in the story are not superfluous; they enhance the story and enrich the scenes. She makes the reader feel truly present and one can smell the smells, feel the dust and heat, and experience the fears, frustrations, and triumphs. The novel reads at a pace that matches traveling four hundred miles across Texas in a horse-drawn wagon. While that is slow, it is fitting and appropriate for the novel. There are also a number of adventures and quite a bit of dry humor along the way. The writing is lush and lyrical which draws the reader into the journey and makes you want to stay until the end. Both my husband and I enjoyed this book.

Lilac Girls: A Novel by Martha Hall Kelly
 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Dramatic, Inspiring
Excellent book!

“Father loved the fact that a lilac only blossoms after a harsh winter…it’s a miracle all this beauty emerges after such hardship”

The saying goes “don’t judge a book by its cover”. However, it was the cover and title that first drew me to this book. Lilacs are my favorite flower and the ones peaking out from under the cover intrigued me. I am grateful they did because I absolutely loved this book and highly recommend it. Through alternating chapters, Lilac Girls weaves the story of three women, Kasia, Caroline, and Herta, and their vastly different experiences during World War II and its aftermath. Each story is written in the first person and the novel reads like a combination of historical fiction and women’s fiction. The author, Martha Kelly, does a thorough job at the end of the book separating what is historically accurate and what is her narrative. Fans of World War II stories like Sarah’s Key and The Nightingale will enjoy this book.

Caroline is Caroline Ferriday, the real New England actress, socialite, and philanthropist. Until reading Lilac Girls I had never heard of Caroline, which stunned me, as her work with and for the Polish survivors of Ravensbruck was extremely compelling, especially once I realized it was all true. Kasia is a fictionalized character loosely based on Nina Ivanska, a real Polish inmate at Ravensbruck. Kasia is one of the “rabbits” of Ravensbruck; Polish women who were selected for the sulphonamide drug medical experiments. As difficult as Kasia’s story was to read, it is a story that must be told and remembered. Herta is Herta Oberheuser, the very real and only female Nazi doctor at Ravensbruck. Her story surprised me the most. When I started reading the book, I assumed that all three featured women would be “the good guys” and were the three women represented on the cover of the book. This was not the case.

At first, the three stories seemed unrelated and connected only by time period. Yet at the end, they all came perfectly and somewhat triumphantly together. The unfolding of the story kept me up well into the early morning hours. I enjoyed the themes of sisterhood/motherhood, women as medical authorities as well as caregivers, the strength and resiliency of women, and the psychological aspects involved in each woman’s journey. Kelly’s power of description and scene setting transported me to the different time periods and locations. The juxtapositions of glamorous and wealthy Manhattan, peaceful and bucolic Connecticut, horrifying and tragic Ravensbruck, and the deprivation of Poland behind the iron curtain gave the novel depth and perspective. The characters were three-dimensional and even the “good guys” had flaws. The power of this novel is that it is based on real people and events, as well as the extensive research done by Martha Kelly. The story of these three women was completely unknown to me, relatively obscure overall, and yet absolutely fascinating. I was enthralled and want to learn more.

 
Beautiful, Insightful, Pointless
Disappointed

Told from the housekeeper’s perspective, this novel starts with the introduction of a brilliant math professor to his new housekeeper. Due to an accident, the professor’s memories reset every eighty minutes. When we meet him, he is covered in sticky notes that remind him of who people are and where he has placed things. He has been through a number of other housekeepers already and is considered difficult. The housekeeper, a single mother, has a ten-year-old son who the professor names Root, as the hair on the top of his head reminds the professor of a square root symbol. Except for the nickname Root, these characters remain nameless. The novel focuses on the interactions between these three characters.

I found the math tidbits, like amicable numbers, shared by the professor to be interesting. I was not aware of many of them, so that was a plus and I used those facts to initiate conversations with my husband who was also a math major. The professor’s mind for numbers never failed him (even as his memory for other things did) and when forced to, this is the way he interacts with those around him and the world. The housekeeper, while insecure about her knowledge of even basic math, is intrigued by the math questions/beauty that the professor presents. She is unafraid of a challenge and is determined to apply herself and do her best in all situations.

The novel’s main theme revolves around family, especially the unlikely ways in which we create our own family. The professor was portrayed as the consummate professor – patient, inspiring, questioning, encouraging, and challenging to both Root and the housekeeper. His relationship with Root was tender and charming, as he became a surrogate grandfather to him. The housekeeper becomes more than a housekeeper as she is the professor’s main caretaker. The three of them create an unconventional family with their own rhythms and traditions.

With this being an intergenerational relationship novel about a brilliant math teacher plus the intriguing memory premise, it should have been a home run for me. Unfortunately, that was not the case. Despite its certain strengths, I did not like this story. The pace was too slow, the relationships were too sweet and even the tragic circumstances surrounding the characters could not mitigate that. Even though the novel was set in modern day Japan, I did not get a sense of the culture or place. The novel could have been set in Middle-America and not lost or gained anything. Ultimately, I was disappointed by this novel and would not recommend it to others.

The Other Einstein: A Novel by Marie Benedict
 
Interesting, Informative, Insightful
Disappointed...

This was a selection for my book club. It tells the story of Mitza Maric, a gifted woman, who met Einstein while studying physics with him at Zurich University. She fell in love with him, married him, and, some might argue, sacrificed herself to him. I didn’t know that Einstein was even married so I thought a historical fiction about his first wife would be informative and interesting. I was really looking forward to this monthly book club selection.

The novel delivered on being informative and it had me researching the events described and people depicted in the story. I was interested in discovering more about his first wife and their children. I wanted to investigate more about the author’s claim that Mitza was a major contributor to (and to some extent the creator of) Einstein’s theory of relativity. I what wanted to know which parts of the novel were based on fact and which parts were completely fictitious.

When writing historical fiction, I believe the author needs to create a realistic/believable motivation for the real characters’ actions. I do not think the author delivered well on this. Mitza was portrayed as being different and set apart for her entire life. She was raised to value her education and learning above all else. I found many of Mitza’s decisions after she met Einstein to be inconsistent with the character portrayed before meeting Einstein. It did seem like the same person. It did ring or hold true for me. I found myself angry at her decisions and behavior. It did not make sense for the character. For me, reading this novel also knocked Einstein off of his pedestal. He was portrayed as a selfish, self-absorbed, glory-seeking jerk. It was hard to believe how he so callously destroyed the things he claimed to respect and love about Mitza. The writing in the novel was not at a level that could make up for the character inconsistencies either. I was disappointed with this selection and would not recommend it for others.

 
Book Club Recommended
Inspiring, Beautiful, Insightful
Tender Story about "What Makes A Family"?

"He supposes a great many ills of adults might be cured by a nap or a good meal or a bit of timely reassurance. But adults complicate everything. By nature they are complicators. They learned to make things harder than they need to be and they learned to talk way too much." - Arthur Truluv

"Why do they pick on her? ... What girls do to each other is beyond description. No Chinese torture comes close." - Maddy

"Oh Arthur, no one even sees you when you get old except people who knew you when you were young." - Lucille

This was a lovely little intergenerational gem of a story exploring "What makes a family"? Arthur Moses is a widower who meets 18-year Maddy while visiting his wife's grave. Arthur is the embodiment of a perfect "grandfather". He is steadfast, loyal, wise, and caring. Maddy nicknames him Truluv due to those characteristics. Maddy is a lonely misunderstood teenager. She has had a rough life and is just craving love and acceptance. Lucille, Arthur's next door neighbor, is a real character. She provides humor, contrast, and a counterpoint to Arthur's character. As Lucille advances towards the end of her life, she realizes that she has not really lived and starts to change this. Through their own circumstances and in their own way, Maddy, Arthur, and Lucille come together to create a "family" of their own.

This is a sentimental story that would make a wonderful Hallmark movie. Readers who enjoyed A Man Named Ove will like this story. I only wish the author had provided recipes for all of the mouthwatering treats mentioned in the novel.

 
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Informative, Dramatic

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley
 
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Interesting, Addictive

 
Book Club Recommended
Dark, Interesting

The Maze at Windermere: A Novel by Gregory Blake Smith
 
Epic, Slow

Calling Me Home: A Novel by Julie Kibler
 
Book Club Recommended
Insightful, Beautiful, Inspiring

“With others, you believe you’ll never be more than acquaintances. You’re so different, after all. But them this thing surprises you, sticking longer than you ever predicted, and you begin to rely on it, and that relationship whittles down your walls, little by little, until you realize you know that one person better than almost anyone.”

This story employed a writing technique that I really enjoy. It was a dual narrative with one story in the past and the other in the present. The past story dealt with forbidden love and its consequences, as well as the relationships between parents, children, and siblings. I found the relationship between the main character’s parents to be very unusual for the time and this is the one part of the story I found hard to believe and understand. Otherwise, I felt the author did a fabulous job creating a sense of time, place, and history that drew me in and was very realistic. I could feel the heat, smell the dust, and taste the lemonade. I also really enjoyed slowly discovering the story of Robert and Isabelle. I am fortunate to be friends with a number of mixed race couples and I would love to get their perspective of this story.

The present-day story dealt with a journey for Isabelle and her friend/surrogate daughter, Dorrie. This journey showed the ways in which people’s attitudes and prejudices have changed and remained over the last few decades. Many elements of the race relations in this novel are relevant to today’s climate and headlines. Also, the emphasis on motherhood displayed during this journey was profound. I was partial to how beautifully the author showed that family is not only those born to you, but can be found and nurtured in the most unlikely places. I found Isabelle to be a force of nature and a woman whose time had not yet come. I admired her spunk, courage, perseverance, and way of looking at the world. She is a formidable main character that I will not soon forget. The backbone and grit she displayed reminded me of my own grandmother.

This book stayed with me for quite a while after finishing it. I kept thinking about the characters, their experiences, how I wished situations could have been different, and how much circumstances have changed yet still remain the same. The novel was about friendships, love, parent/child relationships, race relationships, segregation, tragic consequences, and loss. This was the author’s debut novel and I was impressed with how sensitively and delicately she handled these themes. I look forward to reading more from Julie Kibler.

 
Book Club Recommended
Beautiful, Interesting, Addictive
Wow, just wow

“Most of what she knew, she’d learned from the wild. Nature had nurtured, tutored, and protected her when no one else would. If consequences resulted from her behaving differently, then they too were functions of life’s fundamental core.”

“In nature – out yonder where the crawdads sing – some behaviors that seem harsh to us now ensured the survival of early man in whatever swamp he was in at the time. Without them, we wouldn’t be here. We still store those instincts in our genes, and they express themselves when certain circumstances prevail. Some parts of us will always be what we were, what we had to be to survive – way back yonder.”

Wow, just wow – I loved this novel. Survival, nature, poetry, coming of age, mystery, prejudice, and isolation are all explored in this story. The main character, Kya, grows up isolated in the coastal marshes of North Carolina where she must learn to take care of herself, trust, and come of age amongst gulls, fireflies, and shells. Intermixed with Kya’s story is the mystery surrounding the death of the local town’s notable young man.

This is Owens’ debut novel. She is a wildlife scientist whose previous published works involved extensive nature writing. I felt that nature, in particular, the coastal marsh, was its own character in this novel. Kya observed the creatures around her and used them to learn about life, love, and human behavior. Along with her, I learned quite a bit about the lives and mating cycles of many of the marsh insects and animals. The author’s lyrical prose evoked a very real sense of time and place. Nature poetry also features prominently in this novel. At one point, Kya states that “some words hold a lot” and this is especially true of the poems highlighted throughout the story. Kya used these poems to help her understand people and situations and to process her emotions.

What does it mean to be a good person? What makes a good man or a good woman? These topics are explored and developed in detail throughout this novel. In particular, the end of the story leaves the reader to ponder this. Most of the locals in this novel act out stereotypical small-town prejudices, apropos of the time. The “March Girl”, as they called Kya, was different. She was poor, raised in a swamp, and therefore less than them. She was seen as an object of ridicule and a dirty person who was to be feared and avoided. At one critical point in the novel, the townspeople are called to task and asked: “did we exclude Miss Clark because she was different, or was she different because we excluded her?” However, a few of the locals rise above these biases. The story contrasts these people including two young men with whom Kya interacts. It also contrasts the parents of the two young men, as well as Kya’s biological parents with her “adopted” parents. Are the differences clear-cut good versus bad? What motivates people to do what they do? Are their choices and behavior biological or learned? There is a lot of room for discussion of these topics.

This story will stay with me for a long time to come. I look forward to reading more from this author.

Lost Roses: A Novel by Martha Hall Kelly
 
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Informative, Dramatic
"Poor lost roses. Like us, I suppose."

I received a free advance copy of this novel from NetGalley in exchange for a review.

“ She nodded toward the plant on my nightstand, its two white buds now flowered. “Your rose.” She stood, leaned down, and breathed in its scent. “Mr Gardener’s antique.”
“When I went back to the house I found it in Agnessa’s ruined hothouse. Kept it alive since I left Russia.” …
“Poor lost roses. Like us, I suppose.”

Lost Roses follows the lives of three women, Eliza, Sofya, and Varinka, throughout the years 1914 – 1920 and the impact that World War I has on them. This novel is a prequel, of sorts, to Lilac Girls in that it focuses on the life of Eliza Ferriday, who is Caroline Ferriday’s mother. Caroline, the main heroine of Lilac Girls, appears as a young teenager in this novel. Like Lilac Girls, this novel is inspired by real and actual events. The format/structure of the two novels is similar in that the chapters alternate between the stories of the three main characters. The two novels also share a number of locales, including: the Ferriday’s Paris apartment, their summer home in South Hampton, their country home - The Hay, and their New York City apartment. Instead of the atrocities occurring in Germany, this story tells of the horrors befalling the upper class in Russia as Tsar Nicholas is overthrown.

Ms. Kelly continues to focus her stories on strong, formidable women. Sofya faces almost insurmountable hardships with grit and determination. The lost rose, referenced in the title, is very apropos of her journey. Eliza is a woman before her time. What she is able to accomplish as a widowed, society woman in NYC is admirable. This novel clearly shows that sacrificing, doing your Christian duty, and helping everyone is a not just preached but lived daily in the Ferriday family. The way the Ferriday’s rally to help Russian émigrés would provide book clubs considerable fodder for discussion, especially in light of current affairs in the US. I found Varinka to be an interesting, aggravating and maddening character. I thought her change from being oppressed to oppressor would also provide content for a lively discussion Hers was the story I found disappointing. I wished there had been more illumination of her story resolution, as well as Taras’ and Radimir’s story.

This is a well-researched historical novel. I quite enjoyed reading the Author’s Note and discovering the amount of studying and traveling that the author did in order to write this book. Her knowledge added an authenticity to the character’s voices as well as made both Paris and Russia come alive. Russia and its culture during the early 1900s almost become another character in this story. I found myself wanting to see pictures of the beadwork, crafts, linens, dolls, and fashions described in detail throughout the book.

Unlike Lilac Girls, this book started slowly. It did not fully grab my attention until about halfway through it. However, once it grabbed my attention, it was hard to put down. I read Lilac Girls first and loved it. In comparison, I did not like this book as much, but it was still a good story and I am glad I read it. If I had read this one first, I doubt I would have been disappointed at all. One does not need to read these two novels in any particular order. I will also be reading Kelly’s next novel, which continues the story of strong female characters in the Ferriday family.

Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton
 
Book Club Recommended
Adventurous, Informative, Beautiful
Love Affair with Cuba

“ I am Cuban, and yet, I am not. I don’t know where I fit here, in the land of my grandparents, attempting to recreate a Cuba that no longer exists in reality. Perhaps we’re the dreamers in all of this; the hopeful ones. Dreaming of a Cuba we cannot see with our eyes, that we cannot touch, whose taste lingers on our palates, with the tang of memory.”

“I walk down these streets, and I look out to sea, and I want to feel as though I belong here, but I am a visitor here, a guest in my own country… then you know what it means to be Cuban … we always reach for something beyond our grasp.”

This story revolved around Marisol Ferraro and her grandmother, Elisa Perez. As the book begins, Elisa had just passed and in her will, she requested that Marisol disperse her cremated remains back in her beloved home of Cuba. As a wealthy, influential family that supported Batista, the Perez family chose to flee Cuba as Castro rose to power. Elisa was a privileged young woman with great hopes that they would soon be able to return home. However, she spent the remainder of her life in Miami regaling her children and grandchildren with tales of her love for Cuba. “Next year in Havana” is a toast that the family never stopped saying because the dream of returning never came true. The novel tells the parallel stories of Elisa’s last year in Cuba and Marisol’s visit to Cuba. Both women, decades apart, face complicated love stories with ardent revolutionaries and live in perilous political climates that ultimately force them to face what it means to be Cuban. Can one “be of a place” without being “from the place”?

Cleeton allows Cuba to shine and be a star character in this novel. She captures and shares its beauty, people, history, customs, fortunes, and misfortunes with great care and devotion. She displays a real passion for Cuba and contrasts the dream of “old Cuba” with the reality of current Cuba. During both decades, the characters dream for a better future and hope to stop being guests in their own country. As a reader, I learned quite a bit about the past and present political climates of Cuba. My one complaint about the novel was that at times it felt too much like a political lecture about Cuba. I suspect the author’s intent with this was to show how important political forces were and are to the Cuban people in terms of shaping their lives and country.

Next Year in Havana was an interesting book and definitely worth the read. It was a love story, on multiple levels, combined with a history and politics lesson. It makes the reader both feel and think. Cleeton has another novel about the Perez family coming out in April 2019 titled When We Left Cuba. It follows Elisa’s older sister, Beatriz. I look forward to continuing to read about the family and, of course, Cuba.

 
Book Club Recommended
Fun, Interesting, Adventurous
Settle in with "the lovely cup of tea" and enjoy a great read!

“Anthony saw all of this in Laura and knew that he had chosen well. She understood that everything had a value greater than money; it had a story, a memory, and most importantly a unique place in the life of Padua.”

Short story writer, Anthony Peardew, tragically lost the love of his life too early. As a result, he spent the remainder of his life lovingly collecting and cataloging lost items (such as buttons, puzzle pieces, and cremated ashes). He did this with the hope of bringing joy to people by reuniting them with their special lost items. As the novel begins, Anthony is near the end of his life and decides to leave his sanctuary-like house, named Padua, to his housekeeper Laura with the request that she continues his work of trying to reunite the lost items with their owners. Thus begins Laura’s story as she works through this request, comes to know Anthony’s full story, makes Padua her home, heals her own wounds, and steps out into “real life”.

I finished this book and immediately thought – what a sweet book! Not sweet in the saccharine sense, but in a charming, feel-good way. To me, this book was reminiscent of A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. Hogan masterfully wove stories within stories. As Laura’s story progressed, Anthony’s story unfolded and the stories behind many of the lost items were revealed. The characters in each of the narratives danced around one other – sometimes coming together and interacting, and other times only being in each other’s orbit. I found it refreshing that the author did not feel the need to connect everyone in the end.

Hogan’s novel was imbued with British humor that had me laughing out loud throughout the book. There was also a touch of the mystical as the ghost of Anthony’s fiancée, Therese, made her restless presence known by haunting Padua. I also appreciated many of the author’s references like naming Anthony after Saint Anthony of Padua (the patron saint of lost things) and his last name Peardew was suggestive of the French word “perdu” meaning lost. Obviously, the theme of loss played a major role in this novel. Even the characters that were drawn to Padua (Laura, Freddy the gardener, Sunshine the neighbor, and Sunshine’s parents) were lost people who found solace, sanctuary, and healing in the house. Other themes included grief, reunion, love, and how seemingly insignificant things/moments/people can have powerful meanings.

I loved this book. Ruth Hogan presents a cleverly imaginative and whimsical novel. After I finished reading it and understood the arc of the story, I wanted to go back and reread it immediately to find and appreciate more of the author’s nuisances. I highly recommend this book – settle in with “the lovely cup of tea” and enjoy!

 
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Insightful, Fun
Unusual protagonist - worth the read!

“These days, loneliness is the new cancer – a shameful, embarrassing thing, brought upon yourself in some obscure way. A fearful, incurable thing, so horrifying that you dare not mention it; other people don’t want to hear the word spoken aloud for fear that they might too be afflicted.”

“If someone asks you how you are, you are meant to say FINE. You are not meant to say that you cried yourself to sleep last night …”

At first, Eleanor Oliphant seemed to be similar to The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion in that the story focused on a socially awkward person seeking love. However, it was so much more than that and very definitely worth the read.
This novel focused on the themes of loneliness, particularly in the younger generation, social awkwardness, acceptance from others and of oneself, healing, and taking healthy risks. Prior to the start of the novel, Eleanor Oliphant had a horrific childhood and difficult adolescence. She was still dealing with those implications and fallout when the novel began.

This story is dark, funny, and ultimately endearing. Eleanor is a complex, deep, and well-crafted character. The traumatic events that happened to her, how she internalized them, and people’s reactions to her were dark and difficult to read. However, Eleanor is a plucky character and her actions, opinions, and how she faced the world made me laugh out loud numerous times throughout the story. I can’t imagine finishing this book and not loving Eleanor. She is a very unusual protagonist!

I wish this novel had been a book club read for me, as there is so much fodder for discussion here. I particularly liked how multi-layered the title of this novel was. There are so many ways to interpret it in light of the story. I loved Eleanor’s observations about life, particularly about what it takes to socially fit-in and how that is so different between men and women. The way Eleanor gradually opens up to other people and life itself was also fascinating. I highly recommend this book and was very glad I read it.

 
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Informative, Dramatic

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