Reviews by Diane S.

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by Emma Donoghue
Astray (11/11/2012)
Old newspaper articles, snippets of interest, places visited, all become fodder for these amazing stories by Donoghue. Usually when reading a book of short stories there are always some that are my favorites, some I don't like and some I just don't get, but in this book I really enjoyed them all. That she explains were she got the idea for the story was an extra bonus and a welcome one. Some of the subjects of her stories are the characters often found on the fringes of our society, or strange characters or just those that are lost. Really enjoyed this book and recommend for all short story readers.
Flight Behavior
by Barbara Kingsolver
Flight (11/9/2012)
It is so very welcome to once again have Kingsolver write about the rural and mountain areas that have produced some of my favorite novels of hers. The character of Dellarobia and her children, wonderful and so earnest little Preston, the situations she found herself in as a mother had me chuckling they were so familiar. The pictures painted of the hills and trees covered with amazing butterflies that lit up the forest were absolutely beautiful. The harm we are doing to the environment and our food sources are a particular concern of this author, as it is mine, but at times she does come off a little preachy and repetitive which at times I found a little off-putting. I found the pacing in some areas to be a little slow, the first 100 pgs. seem to take a while and while I liked Dellarobia I also found the way she acted frustrating. Although she does somewhat redeem herself at the end of the book, by far my two favorite characters were little Preston and the scientist. So I liked this book, enjoyed some areas more than others, but I just didn't get into this book as much as I wished I could.
The End of Your Life Book Club
by Will Schwalbe
The End of your lilfe book club (11/2/2012)
A book about a dying woman could be extremely melancholy and I will admit to having teary eyes at various points in this book. Yet, this book is so much more, it is a celebration of a life that was lived well, a life that helped other people, the love of a son for his mother and a love of books, stories and the belief that they can make a huge difference. In this book the author relates exactly how and why books have made such a huge impact on his life, the life of his family and his mother in particular. A celebration of reading and all it entails, how his mother will live on in her love of books and especially in the books that were her favorites and the love of reading she passed on to the rest of her family. A very poignant and heartfelt read.
The Casual Vacancy
by J.K. (Joanne) Rowling
Not a happy little town (10/25/2012)
An unhappy little town filled with unhappy, unlikable people but somehow rather addicting nonetheless. Great characterizations, wonderfully dark, tongue in cheek writing, actually kind of reminded me of the town I live in and our relations with the town just to the North. Of course we have many likable people in our town. This is not a quick read, it has no major actions, but is a study of people, their motives, their inner lives and their phoniness, all exposed for many to see.
The Forgetting Tree: A Novel
by Tatjana Soli
Love this author (10/25/2012)
This was the ideal book for me at a time when I am recovering from a serious illness and hospital stay. A truly complex novel that can be read in many ways, with an extremely strong woman character who pushes things to the limits and beyond. What it means to love the land, family, strengths and ties, to fight for what one believes in and to not give in just because others believe one should. Soli takes this woman, her motivations and tears them down than rebuilding them into a new form. A serious tragedy almost costs this woman her sanity, costs her family much more and only the land, the citrus groves, the belonging to something bigger than herself saves her that time. Than a serious illness threatens once again all she holds dear and this novel takes a bizarre and strange turn. A woman comes to be a companion and caretaker as she fights the invader to her body and the novel shows us the power of letting go. As the groves rot from the outside, the situation with the young woman from Haiti turns serious and quite scary. Are these woman really demented or is there some sense in the way they feel? What can possibly be the outcome of this strange pairing? Why is her family not stepping in and taking over? So many questions, so complex the problems and yet how satisfying, though strange this original and powerful book.
The Bloodletter's Daughter: A Novel of Old Bohemia
by Linda Lafferty
The Bloodletter's Daughter (10/24/2012)
Love the fact that this book is written about a time and place that has not been written about much. The writing style is very reader friendly and I really liked Marketa, felt very bad for her and limited choices. Also liked that so much of this book is based on historical fact, which for me makes the book more personal and informative. It was an added bonus that the author included an afterward and an author interview. Thought this was a wonderful book. sure to appeal to historical fiction lovers and those who just love reading about a subject that has not been over covered. Look froward to this authors' next subject.
San Miguel
by T.C. Boyle
San Miguel (9/18/2012)
I love the clarity of this author's prose, his Drop City is one of my favorite books. This one did not disappoint as I loved the history behind the story. The first half of the novel was rather grim and bleak, the island and the house barely habitable. I always know an author has done a great job when I can feel the dirt, the wind, the rain and the mud, the seclusion and isolation and all that these people experienced. Could picture the rain entering my bedroom from a leaky ceiling, soaking all the bedclothes. Would have liked to have known what eventually happened to Edith but since that part of the story ended on a positive note I decided thing must have turned out well. Looking forward to seeing what this author tackles next.
The Orchardist: A Novel
by Amanda Coplin
The Orchardist (9/14/2012)
I loved absolutely everything about this book: the cover, the setting, the prose and the characters. That this is a first novel is staggering. Talmadge has lived alone for forty years, after the death of his mother and the disappearance of his sister, tending his orchards and giving a free pass to the wranglers and Indians that come onto his land with wild horses. His characters is stoic, strong, he is someone who always tries to do the right thing and he is someone I would love to meet in real life. Two young pregnant girls appear and they will be the catalyst for one of his greatest joys but also the cause of much sorrow. The beauty of the orchard is sharply contrasted with the violence that eventually comes his way. Although the subject and the tone verge on the melancholic , the novel is so beautifully written , the descriptions of the land, with the orchards so alive that this novel genders much admiration rather than depression. There are so many quotes I could choose from this book but this one is one of my favorites. "Her hair gathered at her neck, its color in the lantern light like a young oak. How like the orchard she was. Because of her slowness and the attitude in which she held herself - seemingly different, quiet - it appeared even a harsh word would smite her. But it would not. She was like an egg encased in iron. She was the dream of the place that bore her, and she did not even know it."
I truly did not want this book to end and wish I could read it again for the first time.
The Virgin Cure: A Novel
by Ami McKay
The Virgin Cure (8/18/2012)
In 1870 over thirty thousand children lived on the streets in New York, and at the age of twelve Moth, the main character becomes one such child, if only for a short time. Had no idea the numbers were so large and that what happened to these children so heartbreaking. This is the story of Moth and also of Dr. Sadie, who tries to help the indigent in whatever small ways she can. Enjoyed this book, and the newspaper articles and small asides were a big plus, helping the reader really enter into this time period. Would have given it a four if not for the ending, which I thought was a bit anticlimactic and rushed. Dr. Sadie was actually modeled on the author's great great grandmother, which T think is wonderful. Very good book for understanding New York in this time period and for fully immersing the reader in the lives of two very interesting characters
The Sandcastle Girls: A Novel
by Chris Bohjalian
The Sandcastle Girls (8/18/2012)
This book was incredibly difficult for me to read, and yet without books like these horrific events and the people who survived them would be forgotten. The Armenian genocide of 1915, is not something we learned in school and Bohjalian does a masterful job of presenting it in all its honesty and horror. Yet amongst the cruelty, there are instances of love and kindness and caring, even by those who were ordered to carry out these atrocities. Human people, with real human feelings, yet just as with other atrocities committed in the past and even now, there are not enough people to help or to even question. Things like this should not have happened and yet we trust that brilliant authors will continue to write heartbreaking stories to enlighten the reader. Well done and a fantastic book.
The Headmaster's Wager: A Novel
by Vincent Lam
The Headmaster's wager (8/15/2012)
This was an amazing and original take on a historical novel because it is told from the viewpoint of a Chinese schoolteacher in Vietnam. Percival is a gambler, a womanizer, oblivious and frustratingly obtuse, yet I could not quite dislike him because he was also loyal. He seems to think that as long as he makes money that he can pay out for bribes the changing sides in Vietnam, the tension from the war do not matter and that business just can go on a usual no matter who is in charge. The cultural revolution is changing the face of China and when he is forced to send his son there he is rather oblivious to that as well. Things do come to a head and he is forced, rather brutally to wake up before it is too late, although for some it was and he almost looses everything. All this is told against a backdrop of a rapidly changing history, but it is also a novel featuring some unique characters. I really liked this novel and look forward to reading more from this author.
The Age of Desire: A Novel
by Jennie Fields
The Age of Desire (8/13/2012)
I loved the setting, tone and descriptive writing in this book. The descriptions of the homes that Wharton and her husband owned were fascinating. I enjoyed reading about the friendship between Edith and her assistant/friend, the trouble is I actually liked the friend much better than Edith. I also felt very sorry for Teddy, who really loved Edith, while she married him just because it was what people did. I also liked reading about her books and how they had been ignored for so many years until the publication of "The House of Mirth", which garnered much attention in the literary world. The literary scene and the cafes in France, the salons and the appearance of Henry James all made this a notable read. The descriptive writing and the Paris scene was by far my favorite parts of this book. Will definitely watch for this author's next work.
The Prophet
by Michael Koryta
The Prophet (8/7/2012)
A small town in Ohio, once the home of steel, now dying, population decreasing and a very good high school football team that means much to the people who haven't left. Two brother, taking different paths after the murder of their sister and someone who wants to test one of the brothers faith. Another winner by Koryta, a thriller that explores the concepts of revenge and redemption, faith and acceptance. It is also a novel about what family means, that despite differences there may be times when this is all one has left. Highly recommended.
In the Shadow of the Banyan: A Novel
by Vaddey Ratner
In the Shadow of the Banyon (7/29/2012)
This book is beautifully written, my only question is would a seven and eight yr. old have the capacity to relate all these things she had seen? I decided that what she didn't understand at the beginning, after everything she sees and experiences, she would have grown up relatively quickly so I think that this is entirely plausible. Great book and one I would definitely recommend.
In the Kingdom of Men: A Novel
by Kim Barnes
In the Kingdom of Men (6/14/2012)
Lawrence of Arabia, Arabian nights, I remember reading so much history centering on Arabia that when I saw this book I knew it was one I had to read.

In the 1960's Gin McPhee finds herself, with her husband in Saudi Arabia when her husband finds work with the Saudi American oil company Aramco. Ginny who was raised, after the unfortunate demise of her mother and grandmother, in Oklahoma by her often punishing grandfather, who was a Pentecostal minister. They live in an American compound, strictly guarded, due to the restrictive nature of this society towards its women. In elegant prose, and beautifully rendered scenery we follow Gin as she attempts to find fulfillment in this place, that she finds so stifling but at the same time fascinating. Tempting fate she takes chances and stumbles on to a secret that has adverse effects for all involved.

This is a wonderful novel, not only about the curiosity of a woman who wants to grow and find out what she can become but also for the political strife between the Arabs and Israel and the impact of the oil company in this country. Loved every minute of this book.
by Chris Cleave
Gold (6/11/2012)
What an emotionally intense and powerful read I found this to be, who knew? When I first started reading this novel I thought "Super, a book about Olympic caliber cyclists" which was for me of interest in and of itself. Yet this book was so much more, Cleave has an unusual talent in developing characters that are easy to identify with. Yes it is about the athletes conditioning, dieting and training, which I found to be absolutely amazing, but it is about friendship and sacrifice as well. Loved the character of little Sophie and her total love of all things Star Wars, but my favorite character was the old trainer Tom. Loved his private musings and his crusty old knowledge. This is a novel that slowly sucks you in and I found myself almost holding my breath at the end. Another wonderful novel by Cleave.
Broken Harbor: A Novel
by Tana French
Broken Harbor (6/10/2012)
I love Tana French and her twisty psychological novels and in this one the psychological is played up in a very big way. Veteran detective, Scorcher and his new partner, Richie are called to Briantown, an estate that the builders have pretty much abandoned.There most of a family is found murdered in their house. There is quite a bit of discourse between the two detectives on how to be a good one and not miss anything. All the characters have some type of psychological condition or psychological problem in their past or present. It is this that forms much of the nucleus of the plot and is the key to solving the murders. Twists and turns abound, which made for riveting reading.
The Secrets of Mary Bowser
by Lois Leveen
The Secrets of Mary Bowser (6/4/2012)
I have read many novels about slavery and the Civil War but what sets this novel apart from others is that it encompasses so much and so it so well. That Mary was an actual person and that the letters and newspaper articles were factual just adds to the wonderful telling of the story that unfolds. This novel shows both sides of the slavery issue, what both white and black abolitionists went through as well as how blacks were treated in the Northern states that had already outlawed slavery. Loved the characters of Mary, her mom and Dad and Bets, a white woman who risked much in Virginia, for the abolishment of an institution she found unjust. Loved reading this story and would loved to have met many of these people. (less)
Heading Out to Wonderful: A Novel
by Robert Goolrick
Heading out to wonderful (5/29/2012)
As I started reading this novel I kept picturing the black and white movies I used to watch with my grandfather, the ones starring Bette Davis or June Allyson because that is the feeling and the tone that this novel sets. It opens with a chapter narrated by an man in his sixties, telling the story of what happened in this town when he was a young boy of 5 and 6. So we know from the beginning that this is not going to be a happy little novel. I was not a big fan of Goolrick's last novel but I absolutely loved this one. The prose and the descriptions are wonderfully elegant, the townspeople for the most part likable and at the same times complex. . The time period of the forties and the wholesome goodness and innocence of that time are all wonderfully related. Charlie himself, could have been any drifter albeit one with quite a bit of money, looking for a town to call his own. The tragedy, from this man's telling was such a downfall, and totally shocking to this reader, such a shame. Really did not see it coming. So many things are touched on here, black and white relations, religion, moral standards and yes an all consuming love. To be honest I will probably go back and read it again just to see what I missed and try to figure out exactly why it happened. Thought provoking novel of a time gone by and one that will engender many discussions.
The Year of the Gadfly: A Novel
by Jennifer Miller
The Year of the Gadfly (5/26/2012)
I have to say I am drawn to any book with an academic setting and this book took me right back to high school days. Iris is not quite your ordinary 14 yr. old, as she seriously wants to become a journalist, and her hero is Edward Murrow, who she talks to quite often. Yes, she knows he is dead but the fact really alarms her parents. Mariana Academy is a school for intense students who want to go to an ivy league colleges and it was founded by Prisom with a serious honor code. There is a group Prism Party, that is bent on revealing all infractions of the honor code, by students or teachers. But is Prisom Party good or are they out for their own nefarious purposes. This is one of the things Iris hopes to find out. Miller does a wonderful job exposing the vulnerability, self consciousness and heartbreak of the high school years. She uses three different characters for her narration, a great vehicle for exposing the reader to all sides of the story. This is a remarkably well written, yet easy to follow story, showing the many ways that these school days mark our lives for good or bad and that some people can never progress from those days. I am so glad I have and also glad that I do not have to go back and do them again. Will appeal to fans of coming of age stories, those who like academic settings and those who like very likable young characters.

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