Reviews by Louise J

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The Girl in the Garden: A Novel
by Kamala Nair
One of the Best Books of 2011 (9/5/2011)
The story that emerged the summer Rakhee was 10 will stay with me forever! I adored Rakhee, such a caring, intelligent and extremely caring and understanding girl for her age. I loved the other characters just as much, especially Tulasi and Krishna. This story reminded me so much of Rohinton Mistry’s ‘A Fine Balance’, which I also thoroughly enjoyed.

The writing in “The Girl In The Garden” was brilliant, intelligent, fluid and flowed beautifully like a stone being tossed upon the water and watching the concentric circles of water teaming out one after the other. “The Girl In The Garden” could be a best book of 2011 and in my opinion, ranks right up there with ‘The Help’ and ‘The Kitchen House’. This is an unbelievable accomplishment for a “debut” novel!! Kamala Nair writes with the passion and talent of a well-seasoned author.

Thank you Kamala Nair for one of the most beautiful and entertaining stories I’ve read this year!!
Before I Go To Sleep: A Novel
by S.J. Watson
Could be a TOP Book of 2011....Don't Miss It!! (8/23/2011)
This is the first book I’ve read on my brand new KOBO e-reader and what a book it was!!! The mystery and suspense kept me turning page after page. The further the story went along, the faster I read and the quicker I turned the pages. This could very well be one of the TOP books for 2011.

The writing is flawless, the characters well-developed, and the story will just absolutely blow you out of the water.

I felt so bad for Christine. Imagine waking up every single morning and not knowing where you were, who the man in bed beside you was, what you were doing there etc. To have to be told anew at the beginning of each day and then lose it all again once sleep comes would be devastating at best. The ending was incredible and one I didn’t expect.

This is one book that I will highly, highly recommend to EVERYONE!!! Excellent and very, very well done novel!!!
Cross Currents
by John Shors
DON'T MISS THIS ONE! (8/21/2011)
A mesmerizing, poignant, life affirming read! CROSS CURRENTS will leave you with a thankfulness for your life and an awareness of the global tragedies that can pound us without warning. To one day be leading an idyllic and carefree life then to be thrown into a maelstrom of tragedy the next is a reminder to us all just how precious life is. Just how precarious our situations can be. Never take anything for granted because that very thing could disappear in the blink of an eye. Be thankful people, oh so very thankful for what you have in life because the uncertainty of the unknown lurks just beyond your periphery vision. To have it all one minute and lose it all the next is a reminder to live today like it was your last because tonight or tomorrow may just be that - your last!

John Shors has penned a beautiful story of family, love, and the tragedy that befalls not only this family but millions of others. A chilling reality check for us all, don't miss this one!

(Preview copy courtesy of John Shors)
The Homecoming of Samuel Lake: A Novel
by Jenny Wingfield
A Family Reunion You Won't Forget! (8/13/2011)
I absolutely loved this book and couldn’t put it down. For a debut novel, Jenny Wingfield has penned a winner!

This is an emotionally charged book that, at one point, had me sobbing like a baby! I could easily see this novel becoming a classic someday. Ms. Wingfield is an up and coming author to watch for.
Next to Love
by Ellen Feldman
Great World War II Story (8/12/2011)
The book begins in 1944 and ends in 1964. It tells the tale of three best friends: Babe, Grace, and Millie and how they cope with their trials and tribulations and the husbands they love.

It is a deeply moving story about war, friendships, and love. This book is also a bit different from most that tell tales of WW II in that it speaks about the war’s effect on society; not just on the men who fight, their families and friends.

My favourite character is Babe Huggins who works in the Western Union office. She prides herself on the fact that she cuts the ticker tapes as they come out of the teletype with precision and never accidentally cuts off a letter. It also pleases her that she is able to tape the tickers in perfectly straight lines on the message forms. But, like any job, there are unpleasant parts and for Babe it’s a hugely emotional one. She is the one who must deliver the news to families of a lost son, a brother, a husband, an uncle, or a friend.

Babe’s own husband, Claude, (who formerly taught history at the local high school) is a deployed soldier and each time the teletype spits out another message Babe holds her breath and almost passes out from abject fear of seeing Claude’s name.

Not all of the three women get their husbands back at the end of the war, and I can’t tell you who did or didn’t without ruining the story. The way the women deal with their grief will have you feeling the same emotions they do, you’ll become very involved with these three women over the course of the novel and you’ll feel as though you were the invisible fourth friend.
Once Upon a Time, There Was You: A Novel
by Elizabeth Berg
Great Read! (8/8/2011)
John and Irene’s marriage only lasted eight short years. They divorced when their daughter, Sadie, was 8-years-old. Irene moved away making her the prime caregiver to Sadie and John visited when he could and had Sadie every August.

Their marriage and relationship was tenuous at best. In my opinion, it failed because of Irene. She is an odd character who is deeply lonely and neither she nor John had much in common other than their beloved Sadie.

When something terrible happens to Sadie, they come together and realize that in all these years they’ve never really figured each other out or even really knew how they felt about each other.

I loved the story but found Irene a very odd person, her own worst enemy at times. She wasn’t ever happy, thought differently and perceived things differently than most people, but isn’t that what makes each of us unique? Although the story involved John, Sadie, Irene and a few friends, I felt the story focused more on Irene than anyone. At times while reading I just felt like I wanted to yell at Irene: “Okay, okay just shut-up will ya!!! Geez!!” Her incessant chatter and what I call whining was weighing heavily on my nerves. I kept thinking “why?” are John and Sadie trying so hard with Irene, she “kept herself” miserable and couldn’t seem to pull herself out of this narcissistic, lonely, complaining place she was in. The story was well-written and any author who can evoke such involvement and emotion in me definitely gets my thumbs up!!
Dreams of Joy: A Novel
by Lisa See
Beautiful Story! (6/24/2011)
A beautiful story of a family challenged by tragedy and time, but ultimately united by the resilience of love. Lisa See has a remarkable ability for writing and I’ve read every book she has written and with each one she just keeps outdoing herself. This is one you won’t want to miss.
The School of Essential Ingredients
by Erica Bauermeister
Absolutely Loved It!! (6/23/2011)
I loved this story! It was like a savoury meal shared with friends. The aroma and flavours of the food matched the conversation and the moods of those participating in the experience. The pungent aroma of spices almost had a hypnotic effect on the chef’s preparing the food as they reminisced about times past, current, and future and culminated into a joyous meal we could all enjoy!
The Last Days of Dogtown
by Anita Diament
Reads Like a True Story! (6/23/2011)
Life just teems from this novel; although we lose some of that life along our way, we are still left with super-imposed memories of those we’ve joined in their most troubled states. Superbly crafted and honed with the skill of a steady plot line that is different and complex at best. Ms. Diamant has depicted the story of Dogtown and its people with a lyrical precision that is hard to find.
Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother: Stories of Loss and Love
by Xue Xinran
Beautiful & Poignant (6/15/2011)
Any family thinking about adopting a child from China, MUST read this book! It lays out the laws of adoption, gives extremely credible cultural perspective and gives a compassionate voice to and for the many Chinese women who, heartbreakingly, were forced to abandon or place their beloved children in orphanages.

Xinran does an incredible job at addressing the unimaginable heartache and pain millions of Chinese mothers suffered as they were pressured to abandon their children in the street, leave their crying infant on the steps of a run-down and inadequate orphanage, and even kill their own child!

Unfortunately, these are the realities of China and for every mother there who has lost a child, they carry unbelievable and undeniable pain, anguish, torment, and suffering that at times, drives them to commit suicide.

This is an emotional book that you MUST read! As a non-Chinese mother, this incredible book evoked emotions deep into my soul and awakening feelings I didn’t even know I had. My heart truly goes out to the millions of Chinese mothers and daughters everywhere who don’t know each other or who wait to someday to meet again on some plane.
Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison
by Piper Kerman
Eye Opening (5/24/2011)
Ten years ago, Piper Kerman was a young reckless, carefree recent college graduate. Not knowing what else to with her life she made some decisions and those choices have finally caught up to her. Ten years prior she delivered a suitcase of drug money to Europe never dreaming she’d ever be caught, especially after all this many years.

Sentenced to 15-months in the Danbury, Connecticut prison for women she was now prisoner #111187-424, just one of the millions of people incarcerated in the United States each year.

On February 4, 2004, 10 years after she committed her crime, Piper’s boyfriend, Larry, drove her to the prison and kissed her goodbye for the final time. Together they walked inside, took a seat and waited. It wasn’t long until a guard with a nasty scar down the side of her face and neck barked out: “KERMAN!” and thus began Piper’s first day of incarceration where she’ll meet women from all walks of life, experience her first strip search, and learns how to navigate her strange new world.

Heartbreaking, hilarious, and at times enraging, Kerman’s story offers a rare look into the lives of women in prison.
I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced
by Nujood Ali
Startling, Eye-Opening & Heartbreaking! (5/20/2011)
A story of unbelievable sadness, pain, guilt, shame, strength, and the courage of one little girl to change the future for herself and other girls her age. The proceeds from her book are going to finance her education in school, starting back in Grade 5. Please purchase this book and give this little girl what she truly deserves. The right to be educated and protected from those who seek to abuse her.
The Year of Fog
by Michelle Richmond
Captivating! (5/15/2011)
I had no idea what to expect from this novel as I’d never heard of the author and didn’t pick it out myself. My husband happened to be going through Costco on Friday and picked me up two books, one of which was this one. I’m pleased to say I was very pleasantly surprised. The book just captivated me and held my attention page after page.

"This is a riveting drama of how life can change in an instant, of a family torn apart by the search for the truth behind a child’s disappearance, and of one woman’s unwavering faith in the power of love."
The End of East
by Jen Sookfong Lee
Nice Story (5/13/2011)
I wasn’t sure at first whether I was going to like this novel or not but surprise, surprise, it provided such deep and insightful information about each of the characters that I was totally taken aback. The novel provoked contemplation and emotions without effort. A quick read and beautiful story.
The Wild Zone: A Novel
by Joy Fielding
Suspenseful! (5/10/2011)
With its dark secrets, hidden passions and a story filled with intrigue, The Wild Zone will keep you in suspense until the very last page is turned.
Every Last One: A Novel
by Anna Quindlen
Wow! (5/9/2011)
Mary Beth Latham lives with her Opthamologist husband, Glen, and their three children: twin boys Alex and Max, 14 and Ruby, 17. Mary Beth has prided herself on building her life around that of her family’s. She owns a landscaping company and can be around whenever the kids need her.

At the beginning of the story, Ruby is dating Kiernan and busy trying to find a dress to wear to the high school prom but it’s proving to be a much more difficult task than her mother ever thought it would be. With so many dress choices Ruby just can’t make up her mind. Ruby is finding Kiernan to be somewhat of a pain in the neck lately and doesn’t want to date him anymore or even attend the prom with him, although Kiernan has other plans and he intends on hanging onto Ruby for as long as humanely possible. Ruby is snubbing him, giving him the cold shoulder, sitting in her bedroom alone doing homework while Kiernan sits in the kitchen waiting. Kiernan is not taking the hint.

In the meantime, Alex and Max are busy with school and sports until one afternoon Max arrives home with a note from his music teacher expressing his concern that Max appears to be deeply depressed. Mary Beth and Glen feel he is mistaken and chalk it up to typical teenage moodiness.

Kiernan continues to be a permanent fixture in the Latham household as his own home is anything but the “typical” he craves. He doesn’t see his Dad much due to a divorce, doesn’t talk much to his mother and has no brothers or sisters. He NEEDS Ruby and everything that she represents: an intact family, parents who love each other and their children, siblings, confidence, and happiness. Kiernan parks himself at the Latham home even when Ruby isn’t there or upstairs bathing, listening to music, or completing homework assignments. Max and Alex keep pestering Beth as to why Ruby is so mean to Kiernan.

Life is continuing on day-after-day until another teacher expresses their concern over Max’s seemingly depressed mood so Mary Beth and Glen decide there could be more to it and arrange for Max to begin counselling with Dr. Vagelos when suddenly tragedy strikes and Mary Beth is blindsided by a: “...shocking act of violence.”

This is such a normal family in every way and just goes to show that even though we think we are comfortable in our lives and that we’re invincible, bloodshed can happen to ruin what we thought of as our own perfect little worlds.
Rain Village
by Carolyn Turgeon
Magical Masterpiece! (5/6/2011)
You won’t believe what happens to little Tessa from Oakley, Kansas once she finds the circus. This story is simply a masterpiece.
The Kitchen Daughter: A Novel
by Jael McHenry
I Loved It! (5/4/2011)
Jael McHenry’s debut novel is a blast from the past, so to speak and a lesson in what it means to accept the magic in our lives and to never, ever give up on what we know to be true, and above all, to honour who we are and where we came from. I recommend this book for anyone.
Pearl of China: A Novel
by Anchee Min
Compelling and Perhaps the next Classic! (4/29/2011)
Willow Yee lived in Chin-kiang, a small town far away from the city of Peking, on the south side of the Yangtze River in Jiangsu province. She lived there with her father and grandmother, Nai Nai. Her mother had died after her father rented her out to pay his debts and she became pregnant. He had given her “magic root powder” from the local herbalist. It was meant to expel the fetus but also killed her!

Willow was seven-years-old in 1897 and she was terribly afraid she was going to lose her Nai Nai like she lost her mother. Grandma was receiving men in the back of the bungalow they lived in. While Nai Nai was busy entertaining her men, Willow and her father worked as seasonal farm hands, he planting rice, wheat and cotton and Willow planting soybeans. In the off season her father stole and Willow, now 8-years-old, was herself a seasoned thief. Hunger does terrible things to people.

One day they met a missionary named Absalom Sydenstricker who walked the streets holding a Bible and proclaiming God was people’s best friend. He held his church services in an old store. Willow’s father befriended him for the sole purpose of stealing from him. Absalom’s wife, Carie, was beside herself and in tears when he even stole the churches doormat. After stealing his wallet, Willow hurried down a side street and out of town. She felt as though someone was watching and following her so she took off running as fast as she could toward the hills, after a couple of miles she stopped and sat down. As Willow began to open the wallet she heard a noise and knew someone was approaching her. Suddenly she heard: “...you stole my father’s wallet”! It turned out to be Absalom and Carie’s daughter, Pearl. Pearl would eventually become known as none other than Pearl S. Buck!

I have read all of Pearl’s books but had never really read too much about her personal life. I assumed she was a happy, contented, well-educated woman and author all her life, but I was terribly mistaken. What I learned in this book about Pearl’s “personal” life was truly sad and literally devastating. The book is rich in history, wars and revolutions, love of family and the importance of friendship. The friendship between Willow and Pearl is all consuming and will touch the very deepest parts of your heart. The scene near the end of the novel at the grave will have you weeping from the beautiful one woman service.

This was an extremely well-written novel. I was so taken in that I kept turning the pages faster and faster. It was one of those books you didn’t want to put down. If you haven’t read any of Pearl S. Buck’s books, I highly recommend “The Good Earth”, along with this one, of course.
Snow Falling in Spring: Coming of Age in China During the Cultural Revolution
by Moying Li
Compelling (4/29/2011)
Moying Li was 4-years-old in 1958 and lived with her maternal grandmother and grandfather, Lao Lao and Lao Ye in a traditional Chinese house. It was also occupied by her mother and father, her 3-year-old brother Di Di, aunts and uncles, the family of a tailor, electrician and a clerk.

In the fall of 1958 Moying returned home one day to find the backyard, her beloved playground, strewn with: “...bricks, holes, and scrap metal”. A huge big black furnace, as tall as her father, was standing in the center. Her family was gathering materials for the “Great Leap Forward”, launched by Chairman Mao. The leaders believed: “...they could catch up with the West...” mainly Britain: “...in just ten to twenty years – in a giant single stride. The family was trying to gather strong construction materials and using the furnace to melt them into steel. Women were giving up their favourite frying pans and woks. Too little Moying the furnace looked like: “...a roaring dragon”.

Between 1958 and 1961, China underwent a siege of disasters. First a plague of insects, then a serious drought and finally far reaching famine in which millions of people died.

Moying remembers with clarity the day her childhood ended. It occurred one evening in the summer of 1966, when her elementary school Headmaster hanged himself. Moying was twelve-years-old.

In the summer of 1963, Moying was packing to attend a school , two-hours away from her home. She would reside there Monday to Friday. Moying was one of many students selected to attend this school were they would learn nine languages! The expectation was that after: “...ten years of training, many of the students would continue their studies in leading universities, with the possibility of diplomatic careers”.

In late spring of 1966 disturbances at Beijing and Tsinghua universities began. Large character posters were accusing school authorities of: “...departing from Chairman Mao’s teachings”. The posters demanded that these educational facilities be opened to workers and peasants instead of the privileged minority. Classes were cancelled and the students began to form groups, calling themselves, “Red Guards”, and displayed red arm bands on their sleeves.

In midsummer, Chairman Mao stood at Tinanmen Square, on top of the “Gate of Heavenly Peace” telling the large gathering crowd that he supported the Red Guards. Like piles of newspapers catching on fire one after another, Red Guard units appeared in all universities and high schools denouncing authorities.

One afternoon there was a scuffle in their headmaster’s office. Moying and her friends went to see what was going on. The high school students were pasting a sign up in the room saying he should confess his crimes, he was poisoning their minds with western ideology and that he was training students to follow capitalism instead of communism. Moying and her friends were shocked and wondered why their headmaster would try to poison them? After speaking to a friend’s sister, they were told that she was denounced the right to become a Red Guard as they believed she was following the headmaster’s teaching. Moying and her friends were more confused.

Every day uncertainty abounded. There were posters everywhere and some now included not only the headmaster, but teachers as well.

The Cultural Revolution continued on with every family losing someone to a labour camp. I have left a lot of information out of this review as I didn’t want to give away any spoilers, expect maybe one.

Moying Li’s memoir was penned with deep thought, deep feelings, and the love of her country which touched her heart and soul. This is an excellent memoir that I would recommend to all and at 176 pages you’ll be done in 2 hours. This book had more information and histories packed into it than some books of 300 pages do, truly amazing!

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